Pastoral Tact

Remember the teacher or seminary professor you had who lacked tact? Learning was regularly sacrificed on the altar of fear. You wondered each session if that was the day you’d be singled out and embarrassed through some public put-down.

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Remember the salesman you encountered who lacked tact? Once you found that out (and it usually doesn’t take 60 seconds), you wanted only one thing—to get away!

Remember the boss you worked for who lacked tact? You never knew if he ever understood you or considered you to be a valuable person. And who could forget that tactless physician? You weren’t a human being; you were Case No. 36—a body with a blood pressure, a history of chronic diarrhea, and stones in your gall bladder—“and you need surgery immediately.” All this was spoken in perfect monotone as he stared at a folder stuffed with x-rays, charts, and papers covered with advanced hieroglyphics. Brilliant, capable, experienced, dignified, and respected . . . but no tact.

Ah, that’s bad . . . but you know what’s worse? A tactless pastor.

The classic example of tactless humanity, I’m ashamed to declare, is the abrasive pastor who feels it his calling to fight for the truth with little or no regard for the listener’s feelings. He seems to delight in developing a devastating pulpit that scourges rather than encourages, that blasts rather than builds. This preacher plows through the feelings of people like a John Deere tractor, leaving them buried in the dirt of blame and shame and, worst of all, deeply offended. Of course, this is supposedly done in the name of the Lord, right? “To do anything less would be compromise and counterfeit.” His murder weapon is that blunt instrument hidden behind his teeth. His favorite modus operandi is either to overlook or openly demean others . . . and the backwash is a back alley strewn with the litter of broken hearts, bitter souls, and former-church attendees.

May I remind you: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,” writes Solomon. That which turns away wrath is “a gentle answer,” wrote he. The wise person uses his tongue to make “knowledge acceptable,” he adds. And don’t forget the impact of the proverbs, “The tongue of the wise brings healing,” and, “A man has joy in an apt answer and how delightful is a timely word” (see Proverbs 15:28; 15:1-2; 12:18; 15:23). I love the words of Paul to young Pastor Timothy:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24–26)

As we stand and deliver this Sunday morning, let’s intentionally guard against hurting and spend our efforts healing. We don’t need to compromise the truth of the Word of God. I’m not suggesting that. I’m urging that we be gentle and sensitive when we are touching the tender feelings of others. Go back and read Paul’s counsel once again––slowly and thoughtfully. Let’s get aboard the Lord’s bus and enjoy each other, as we leave the striving to Him.

Love and acceptance of one another are nurtured in a context of tact.


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