Brian Williams’ professional free fall has been stunning. He has gone from being one of the most respected journalists in the country to being the subject of scorn and ridicule in less than two weeks. And he did it without having an affair or getting caught in a drug bust. In a country where lying has become the norm, who knew the truth mattered so much?
Obviously, it’s different if you’re a news reporter. You’re held to a higher standard. The same could be said of preachers. People want to know that the person behind the pulpit is telling the truth.
I’ve often wondered how we preachers would fare if we were all hooked up to lie detectors while we preach. How many of our personal experiences are exaggerated to create a greater impact? (Hyperbole is one thing, but do we embellish too much?) How many of our statistics would stand up to some serious research? What percentage of our quotes are accurate and properly attributed? How often do we fact check a powerful illustration before we run to the pulpit with it?
I once had an editor (Yes, Lynn Pratt, I’m talking about you) who drove me crazy, demanding that I have airtight documentation for every stat and illustration I used. She made me prove that none of my numbers or stories were made up or exaggerated. I wanted her to trust me, but she wouldn’t. I had to send her packets of photocopied pages from my sources. Boy, that was a pain. But you know what? It was the right thing to do. Those books we worked on together are factually airtight.
Oddly enough, Lynn Pratt stands out as the best editor I’ve ever worked with. The hardest and most demanding, yes. But she made me better writer. Well, maybe not a better writer, but a more thoughtful and careful writer. It’s even affected my preaching. When I am tempted to embellish, I hear Lynn’s voice in my head reminding me about the importance of absolute integrity.
Thank you, Lynn.
One more thought: I’ve learned that sometimes the sources themselves are wrong. For example, I’ve seen the same quote attributed to two or three different people. And I’ve seen statistics that stand in conflict with each other. There’s nothing we can do about that. However, to the extent that we are able, we preachers need to make sure that what we tell our people is true. God doesn’t need us to help him by embellishing. The Gospel is amazing enough as it is.