Tip #3: Become a Wordsmith

[for context, see the original post Ten Tips for Becoming a Better Pastor]

The third tip for becoming a better pastor is to become a wordsmith. Words are the tools of your trade. You need to master the use of them.

I’m not talking just about preaching. I’m talking about praying and counseling and writing and leading. A pregnant, powerful, arresting turn of phrase can often be the means the Holy Spirit uses to bring repentance, growth, or transformation. But if you, like, just keep rambling on until you, like, think of something to say… well, you know.

Reverse engineer this: God gave us his revelation in words. That means that the Creator intended human language to carry the freight of eternal, divine Truth. It matters what you say. It matters that you say. And it matters that you say it well. As those “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), as those who believe that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), there’s a lot at stake in our words.

Yes, I’ve read all the studies about how we live in a “sound bite culture,” and how the average adult attention span is 20 minutes, and how people don’t retain information. When you hear these things, you need to remember that they are usually written by people who a) stink at writing and preaching and b) were educated in government schools. ‘Nuff said.

There’s a reason why Will Rogers is funny. There’s a reason why people still listen to MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech. There’s a reason why the works of Lewis and Chesterton are classics while Left Behind is just a book. It has to do with the power of words: words fitly chosen, rightly framed, and provocatively delivered. You will probably never be Lewis or Chesterton or MLK. But you should be a keeper of their tradition.

Learn to love words. Pay attention to their use. Keep a notebook to record interesting phrases. Listen to good musicians and ponder their lyrics. Read (good) poetry. Read your Bible profusely. Study a foreign language. Choose your words more carefully, even in conversation. Hang out with word nerds more often.

Don’t just say it; say it well. Become a wordsmith.


Leave a Comment

  1. Bob – Great post, and I completely agree. The right word carries more power than 10 close-to-the-right words. It is worth the effort to find and use clear, persuasive, and powerful language. Sometimes the real value of trying to be a wordsmith is that it forces us to think more clearly. When we have to find the perfect words or phrases, we have to know exactly what we want to say. The process of writing is often just as valuable to us as the product of writing can be to others.

    I am really enjoying these posts! Thanks for the work. I am looking forward to the rest.

  2. Great post….I remember many a conversation about this particular aspect of writing and thinking.

    I will point out the obvious though. Being a wordsmith is not the same as being a word “bully.” Here’s an example I just read the last couple of days:

    “Once the forensic, elocutionary act of justification is spoken then there is a host of perlocutionary effects. These perlocutionary effects are the sum total of the new creation…it is the elocutionary alpha point for the entire redemptive reality applied to believers…as expressing the architectonic structure of his ordo salutus as it depends on justification as an elocutionary speech act that brings all these perlocutionary effects…”

    I am not entering this debate here but for one unfamiliar with the debate, this kind of language leaves one totally in the dark and is not helpful. It lacks the clarity demanded of the teacher of God’s word. Being a wordsmith should reflect (i.e. image) the character of God and one of the highlights of God’s written revelation to us is perspicuity (clarity of God’s word).

Leave a Reply