"Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots."
Frank Howard Clark
In Mark 7:31-35, we read about Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. The man didn’t approach Jesus on his own; although the man could walk, the Bible says “they” took him to Jesus. Perhaps the man didn’t realize his limitations or lacked the courage to go to Jesus. What is interesting is the fact that someone made an effort to help him. Someone cared about his limitations
Perhaps you have known a selfless, good-hearted minister whose effectiveness is limited by some type of speech problem. It is easy for us to criticize a pastor with a speech problem. The pastor’s message may be wonderful and the content of the sermon of singular importance, but we may find it difficult to focus on the lesson because we are distracted by the pastor’s hoarseness, incorrect pronunciation, or inability to form certain sounds.
Let us consider not the importance of correct speech but rather our responsibility to help our colleagues grow and improve their talents. We need to talk to them about the importance of speaking well. If needed, we may gently guide them to a source of help, perhaps to a speech therapist. We can be like the friends who led the man with a speech impediment to Jesus. We need to do this lovingly. It is good for pastors to learn ways to improve, for they are presenting God’s message. We are each to offer the Lord our very best, including our way of speaking. Ellen G. White emphasizes that “unless we know how to use the voice correctly, our work will be a failure.”
Often the church elder is the person who can best guide the preacher, helping to prevent criticism and suggesting resources that are available.
POLISHING YOUR APPROACH
Before approaching the preacher about this matter, do your research and look for local resources. What is available? Pray about this. Dedicate time to guiding the preacher who has difficulty with speech. Be patient and tactful when you bring up the subject. Cultivate a humble spirit and do not speak as if you are an authority. Try to be specific. Write down a few sample mistakes and seek ways to resolve specific issues. Do not hesitate because of fear. Start by giving an honest commendation and approach this task with love and a sincere desire to help.
EXAMPLES OF WHAT TO SAY
There are many ways to initiate this kind of conversation. Here are three suggestions:
• “Brother X, I enjoy hearing you preach. Your messages are always enriching to me. I know you desire to serve God in the best way possible. That is why I wrote down some of the words that pronunciation seems difficult for you, so that you may practice them.”
• “Your sermons are always full of vitality and fervor, but I’ve noticed that you have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. Here is the phone number of someone who specializes in the area of communication. Perhaps he/she will be able to help you.”
• “Your sermons are always a blessing—well-prepared and with real spiritual depth. I know you are dedicated to serving God. I have also noticed that speaking is sometimes difficult for you, and your voice is often hoarse. I know a speech therapist who may be able to help you.”
THINK ABOUT THIS
When we see someone who is in pain, we run to help them. We should also take speech problems seriously. Remember that Jesus took time to cure one who had difficulty speaking.
Do your part—gently. Jesus will help you know the words to speak.
Alexandra Sampaio is a speech therapist in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.