Lead like a journalist

Christian leaders are, among other things, in the language business. Here are three writing rules from veteran editor Tim Radford that will help you be a better leader in your community.

Christian leaders live in the thicket of words, as they busily preach, plan, counsel and persuade. They tell the story of their church, school or organization. They cast the vision for a community. They’re in the language business.

British journalist Tim Radford has spent decades learning what makes words work, and he has distilled that wisdom into “a manifesto for the simple scribe.” Here are three insights about well-honed prose that translate into lessons for flourishing ministries.

1. “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”

To navigate life, you need a map that’s simpler than the landscape before you. People make their way in the world by relying on patterns that filter chaos, whether in the form of traffic signs, social graces, or our deepest moral intuitions. Christian leaders guide communities (daily faced with bewildering choices) as cartographers, putting the world in perspective -- not as calligraphers, endlessly embellishing upon its complexity. Heaping confusion upon chaos just to showcase brilliance doesn’t help a community; it only boosts a leader’s own sense of ego.

2. “The classic error in journalism is to overestimate what the reader knows and underestimate the reader's intelligence.”

Christendom’s decline has been a gift for Christian leaders in that they more and more must preach and enact the gospel before an un-churched audience, before people desperate for good news, but who don’t speak any denominational mother tongues. Christian leaders cannot assume people will find their hearts inflamed by impassioned preaching on “justification,” though they might be moved by talk of a God who is setting the world right. Ministering to these communities requires not only a rich understanding of the Christian tradition, but also the daring to translate it creatively into new idioms, and so to bring forth from our treasure things new and old (Matt. 13:2).

3. “Good journalism should give you the sensation of humour, excitement, poignancy or piquancy. ‘Trivial’ is a favourite insult administered by scholars. But even they became interested in their subject in the first place because they were attracted by something gleaming, flashy and – yes, trivial.”

Nothing empties a room faster than a message shrill with self-importance and jargon. True, Christian leaders have serious tasks before them, and more than a few develop Atlas-complexes, trudging dully under the world’s weight. But Christians worship a joyful God, the Father who delights in his Son in the light of their Spirit (Matt. 3:16-17). Beauty and humor are not so many balloons adorning your serious message; they are the world’s true shape. Be winsome. Be playful. Cultivate delight and desire in your communities. Because, as Radford wryly remarks, “although you -- an employee, an apostle or an apologist -- may feel obliged to write, nobody has ever felt obliged to read.”