Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Credible and Authentic

Two of the most pivotal aspects of effective communication are also two of the most overlooked: credibility and authenticity. One of the reasons they are overlooked is because many people don’t know what they represent.

Here’s a primer:

Be Credible
Being credible reflects one big idea: you have to be believed to be heard. So how do you gain credibility?

First you have to start with accuracy. Nothing blows your credibility faster than to engage in what I have come to call the “misses” – mispronouncing a word, misquoting a source, or misrepresenting a perspective. 

Early on in my ministry at Meck, I gave an illustration that referenced the Mackinac bridge in Michigan. I had never crossed the bridge myself, but I read a great story about it. When I told it, I pronounced it the way it is written – with a hard “c” at the end. That is not how it is pronounced. It’s actually pronounced “Mackinaw.” Immediately after our Saturday night service, a first-time guest who had just moved from Michigan came up and corrected me. And then, when they had finished, a second person (also from Michigan) stopped to correct me. 

Once is helpful; twice is annoying.

But I really was glad. Particularly that it happened on a Saturday night and protected me from repeating it throughout the Sunday morning schedule of services.

It also taught me a valuable lesson to double-check everything. Because when you are accurate, enormous credibility can be developed. 

After a talk on homosexuality, a woman who was a lesbian and who had been attending our church stopped me and said, “I knew what you were going to say, I just didn’t know how you were going to say it. It was fair, and you gave me something to think about.” In fact, she bought several copies of the message to give to her friends. Her line of thinking intrigued me, because the starting point for her was accuracy: “Is he going to distort homosexuality and the homosexual life?” By avoiding stereotypes and caricature, I earned the right to speak to her about my understanding of the Bible's perspective on homosexuality. 

Attention to accuracy will serve you well beyond the immediate topic, because when that same woman listens to me talk about other subjects – such as the issue of salvation and eternity – she will probably have greater trust in me. I was found to be accurate in an area where she had firsthand knowledge, which is a good sign that I will do my homework on other topics and can be trusted there as well. 

Another important area that is crucial in regard to building and maintaining credibility is the practice of personal integrity. No speaker can effectively model the entire body of Christian truth with perfection, but if the gulf is too wide between word and deed, then credibility is at risk.

If people know that I am committed to my family, and that I have raised my kids in a way that has produced godliness and character, they listen to me more intently about parenting. If they know that I live within my means and have managed my money well, they listen to me talk about money with more openness.

Credibility is found in doing what we say we’re going to do and be. There’s an old line that says, “Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” We could adjust it a bit to read, “Who you aren’t speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.”

Be Authentic
Authenticity is no more - and no less - than being a person who can be believed, accepted, trusted, and relied upon to be that which is as presented

I talked with a woman in our church who had been unchurched for seventeen years before coming to Meck. I asked her what it was about our team of communicators that had impacted her. I was surprised that she did not even have to pause. She said, “I never felt preached to. Instead I felt talked to. I could identify with you as people. You shared your struggles - your life experiences - in a way that I could relate to. You didn’t come pretending to have your act together, talking down to everybody.”    

Authenticity is when a speaker is willing to share who they really are, without masks or pretension. I’m not talking about being maudlin, or having little or no discretion in terms of revealing your personal life. The key is to be authentic, which means to be real.

People in your audience know that you have junk in your life – they’re just waiting to see if you’ll own up to it. Many of us were taught to withhold our true selves from those we serve. The idea was that if the realities of our life became known, we would lose our moral influence and ability to provide spiritual leadership. 

In reality, the opposite is true.

A mother who has lost her child to a drunk driver has a greater ability to speak to the subject of drinking and driving than the average police officer. A person who has struggled in a difficult marriage and remained committed is much more winsome and compelling than someone who proclaims, “We never argue with each other.” 

So share when you have screwed up more than when you were the hero. And share where you have life-long struggles. I know, this is tough, but it can be so helpful to others. Most folks at Meck know that I’ve struggled with relationships and community. I never had much of either growing up; and my personality reflects my struggles with intimacy and openness beyond my family and a close circle of friends. Knowing that this is one of my “areas” brings an honesty to my speaking.

Authenticity does something else, too: It gives the listener permission to be authentic. When we are open and authentic about our lives, it allows those to whom we minister to be open and honest about their lives. Ministry begins when you can create a context where people can stand up and say, “My name is John, and I'm addicted to porn; My name is Betty, and I have breast cancer; My name is Steve, and my marriage is falling apart; My name is Bill, and I have AIDS; My name is Carol, and I just lost my job; My name is Alice, and I’m lonely.”

When this happens, we open the door to the giving and receiving of both grace and truth.

And isn’t that what we’re trying to accomplish as communicators?

James Emery White

 

Sources

For more on effective communication, see James Emery White’s, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker).

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

Face to Face with Racism

Racism is very, very real to those on its receiving end. The dilemma is how distant it can “feel” to those who are not on its receiving end and, thus, not confronted as vigorously as it should be.

This was laid bare in a social experiment where a man (who spoke English) asked strangers in Lithuania to translate a Facebook message he received from Lithuanian to English. 

At the start of each encounter, the man says he has been in the country for two weeks and wants each Lithuanian to translate a stranger’s message he cannot understand.

He asks: “Please, can you translate this for me? On my Facebook page someone wrote it to me. I don’t know the person.”

Handing the Lithuanians his tablet they eagerly begin reading the post.

But then, as they read the message, they realize its content.

It’s a racist message.

The ensuing reaction of the various translators, including that of a child, was arresting; captured in a short YouTube video, viewed nearly 4 million times.

Suddenly, for the translators the hate is real.

The empathy flows.

The heart melts.

But this is precisely what is missing from most of our lives. Racism is a concept, a hypothetical, a category.

It’s not an experience.

And until it is, we may never rise up against it the way we should.

So maybe watch the video again.

And start feeling it.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Click here to watch the experiment.

Francis Scott, “Heartbreaking video shows man asking strangers to translate a racist Facebook message he’s received but they struggle to get the words out,” DailyMail, July 21, 2016, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

"Students' Broken Moral Compasses"

A recent article in The Atlantic had an arresting title: “Students’ Broken Moral Compasses.” The author, a high-school English teacher, lamented the absence of character education in the classroom.

And chronicled its great need.

He tells of presenting the following scenario to his junior English students: 

Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you, or should you not, turn him or her into the police? 

The class erupted in commentary, universally agreeing on one thing: loyalty to their friend was paramount. Not one student said they would “snitch.” They were equally united in their lack of concern for who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario.

The teacher then worked overtime to help expand their thinking about who and what is affected in various ethical dilemmas, and why it matters. In the end, he asked, “Do you think you should discuss morality and ethics more often in school?” The vast majority of heads nodded in agreement.

Engaging in this type of discourse, it seemed, was a mostly foreign concept for the kids.

The article brought to mind something I wrote about in my book A Mind for God.

Kay Haugaard, a professor in Southern California, reported an experience in The Chronicle of Higher Education that she could only describe as chilling. 

Her twenty students were discussing Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” which is found in numerous literary anthologies designed for students. 

Set in a small town in rural America, the townsfolk gather for a seemingly innocent ritual deemed critical for the well-being of the crops and the community, of which the center of attention is a lottery. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, come forward to draw pieces of paper. As they draw their paper, anxiety; as they find it blank, deep relief. Suddenly, the story reveals the frightening reality that the draw is for a human sacrifice. In the end, a woman draws the slip of paper marked by a black spot. Stones are gathered; she is circled, and killed. 

Even her small son had pebbles in his hand. 

When the New Yorker first published the essay in 1948, it was met by a storm of outrage. The story’s moral - the danger of “going along” in blind social conformity - was repugnant to the generation that had stood up to Hitler. 

Times change.

On the warm California night that brought chills to Haugaard, her class registered no moral response at all.

“The end was neat!” one woman offered. 

“If it’s a part of a person’s culture... and if it has worked for them, [it’s okay],” another suggested. 

“At this point I gave up,” wrote Haugaard. “No one in the whole class of twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand [even against] against human sacrifice.”

So yes, students today have broken moral compasses.

But God help us if we feel the answer is throwing moral education into the school curriculum.

The place to throw it is into the home before they get there.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Paul Barnwell, “Students’ Broken Moral Compasses,” The Atlantic, July 25, 2016, read online.

James Emery White, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press).


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

The Church's Oxygen

During a recent trip to Peru, I experienced something new: altitude sickness.

I traveled in a short period of time from sea level in Lima to the city of Cusco, which is around 12,000 feet above sea level. Within three hours, I was as sick as I have ever been in my life. Vomiting, headache, and extreme fatigue set in with a vengeance.

All because of a lack of oxygen. I suffered through the night in my hotel room, and it was all I could do to get out of bed the next day by checkout time to head to my next destination.

I must have looked pretty bad because at the front desk, the first thing out of the attendant’s mouth was, “Do you need some oxygen?”

Apparently altitude sickness is common enough among travelers that within minutes I was provided with an oxygen mask and tank for a quick hit.

After five minutes of breathing through the mask, I felt an almost instantaneous return of energy and a calming of my nausea. The headache lessened dramatically.

It was startling to me how sensitive the human body is to a lack of oxygen in the air we breathe. I have been equally startled by how sensitive the church body is to a lack of what it needs to breathe.

What is the oxygen of the church that, if deprived of, would lead to sickness?

That’s easy.

Unity.

When there is relational unity within a church, there is health. When there isn’t, the very oxygen the church needs to live becomes thin. More quickly than you can imagine, the church gets very, very sick. Not just around the area where there is a relational breakdown, but systemically sick.

There is little sense of worship. Evangelism wanes and few, if any, people get reached for Christ. Ministry becomes lifeless and programmatic. Discipleship rings hollow. 

All because of the lack of authentic community.

It is true that the body can acclimate itself to high altitudes and thin air. With the body, this can be a good thing. With the church body, it never is. But sadly, many churches have “acclimated” to disunity and live with the sickness as if it is normal.

Which is why there are so many dysfunctional churches with diminished impact.

No wonder that disunity was the one thing Jesus prayed against in His great High Priestly prayer before His crucifixion (John 13-17). Jesus prayed for unity and love among those who would share His name, for, He said, it would be the ultimate apologetic for His message and the message of the church.

In other words, it would be the very air we would need to breathe. Without it, not only would we grow ill, we would have nothing to offer the world’s great deprivation.

So breathe deep. Inhale and exhale the very oxygen Christ wanted for our lives. And when you sense a little altitude sickness coming on,

…do whatever it takes to put on the mask quickly.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

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