I really liked Philips (@ps32vs8) response. I watched the Ravi Z and Tim Tebow live stream discussion (Discuss: Face to Face with Ravi Zacharias and Tim Tebow), and one of the things that really stood out to me was setting the tone in a discussion or organisation. Here is the transcript from the video (copied and pasted from youtube).
I was at Michigan State University along with Abdul Maria Abdul went to University of Michigan and we’d done the first night University of Michigan next night forum at Michigan State; about 9,000 out for that open forum it is a snowy night and we had a fantastic forum.
The students were courteous they were very gracious and the way they asked and we were there probably for three hours for the evening and a lot of wonderful things happened after that forum which I won’t go into, but I remember meeting the vice president of the university afterwards a lovely african-american woman, highly qualified in her educational background, and spoke at such excellent terms of their goals of Education and all of that and I said
I just want to say something to you your students were remarkable ma’am the way they treated us with courtesy and respect through the whole evening she said this and it got me completely by surprise, she said you two men set the tone when you spoke and they were just reciprocating and responding to the tone that you’d said and boy that that was wise caution to us from a very fine scholar herself you set the tone what’s happening in Washington today who sets the tone what’s happened to the tone even if they were to agree on something they won’t because they disagree with the person so much leave alone the ideas and I think this is the lost art of true dialogue in our time and we have lost civility because nobody is there to set the tone anymore and say let us talk in the terms that I think we need to understand with each other one congressman wrote to me after a recent forum we did in DC called at the table and he’s been in Congress for many years he wrote to me and he said Ravi years ago when President Reagan was shot Tip O’Neill went to the (continues)
I also think that this principle can be carried into our own conversations, if we are the one starting a discussion.
If we (rightly) want to have a followup discussion with a speaker, we need to think how we are approaching topics before we even speak. Our body language, and manner of speaking set the tone even before we get to a topic.
If a lay pastor (or even a paid pastor), senses that someone is genuinely interested in the topic they’ve spoken on and would like to further their own understanding; and if that person asks questions in order to learn more about how each other thinks, then the pastor/speaker will naturally be keen to have a friendly chat over a cup of coffee (this was a good insight by Philip as I’m also learning how to improve in this area).
If the approach sensed by a pastor/speaker is more a ‘you are wrong, and I’m right’ they naturally, because they are just as human and fallen as everyone else, will have their guard up and the conversation may not be that productive. No-one likes conversations like this when they’ve just put their best effort forward to speak.
and that’s before you’ve even discussed a topic of interest.
I’ve heard plenty of messages where the pastor tries their best to share from their heart but says things I disagree with (or for a lay pastor who has a full time day job to pay the bills, doesn’t even have time to do large amounts of research of a topic) ; I notice this especially in areas of very high academic or heavy theology/philosophy which we all struggle with such as free will vs God’s sovereignty, a proper understanding of the complexities of mental illness, and other areas of specialty.
Also, speakers are at a disadvantage now. They speak on a topic and everyone in the audience pulls our their mobile and googles every available alternative view while they are speaking.
I reckon we, as listeners, can set a positive tone by first appreciating the work that goes into preparing a message, and can ask questions and learn together from a humble perspective; I would say, also pick your battles, and before even raising a topic ask what is the outcome you want yourself from this discussion. Start discussions from a point of agreement, and then move to a disagreement, and finish conversation on a point of encouragement?
Now of course, if the tone set by the speaker is a little negative, it takes a lot of maturity and humility to then turn this into a positive tone of conversation…
I’m writing from the perspective of a pastor’s son-in-law; pastors, and lay pastors, need all the encouragement they can get to continue the work of sharing the Gospel…
I hope this is a helpful post… and I really hope my own ‘tone’ in this post is positive!!