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Home > 2003 > December Online Only > Leader's Insight: Christians Talk Too Much

From my journal: I am romanced by a comment attributed to Henri Matisse. "Artists," he said, "should have their tongues cut out." What could he mean? Perhaps he felt that the artist's message was to be communicated only by paint on canvas. Or perhaps he worried that artists were spending too much time explaining their work and that they should let the painting speak for itself. Maybe Matisse simply thought artists were blabbing too much in Parisian coffee-houses and that anything but painting was a misuse of time. Then again, Matisse may have been saying something else I'm not smart enough to discern.

Might we Christians consider Matisse's advice—that is, having our tongues cut out? While I can think of certain of my preaching friends who would die at this thought (my treasured friend, Tony Campolo, comes to mind, he thought smiling), there is a sublime merit to the idea.

The modern Christianity I know is far too wordy. We talk about what we should do and lash ourselves for what we're not doing. We talk about what we are doing and why we're doing it (or why we think we're doing it). And then, when it's all over, we talk about what we did and what significance we think it had. Oh, and we talk an awful lot about what the "the world" is or shouldn't be doing. I fear that I am a major donor to this palaver. These paragraphs may be exhibit A.

Much of this talking, I fear, seems to be bent on convincing ourselves that we (or our organizations) are significant or that what we are doing deserves other people's praise or, alternatively, their financial gifts. As I said, some of our talk seems targeted on those who have pursued other ways than ours. If we can highlight how bad, how different, how misguided they are, then we can justify why it is that we are doing what we're doing. And that makes us feel better.

Going over old journals, I am struck with my own wordiness. Many things about which I was formerly passionate are meaningless today. And some things on which I stood silent now stand out as life-altering (for myself or others). How many billions of words have I spoken which were pointless, inaccurate, unwise, hurting to others, slanderous, or pompous.

Matisse, where were you when I needed you?

Many quote St. Francis as saying something like, "Preach all you can, and, if necessary, use words." Whether or not it was Francis's idea, the thought has weight, and it causes me to recall a poem written by Elizabeth Patton Moss:

St. Francis came to preach. With smiles he met
The friendless, fed the poor, freed a trapped bird,
Led home a child. Although he spoke no word,
His text, God's love, the town did not forget.

I have much more to say on this topic, but Matisse just got to me.

Notes from England: I listened to Bill Hybels talk to 2,500 or more UK pastors and church leaders about the power of the church to amend society, and I marveled. Forty years ago the church would have been a laughingstock to most serious thinking people. The parachurch organizations ...

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Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Posted: December 2, 2003

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