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On February 4, 2015, managing editor and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted to embellishing an incident that occurred while covering the Iraq War in 2003. Within days of his apology, he announced he was taking a temporary leave of absence. NBC News announced on February 10, 2015 that Williams was being suspended for six months without pay. The fallout from Williams’ exaggerations provides several lessons for pastors that are worth considering, particularly as it relates to sermon content and delivery.

The Story is bigger than you. In reflecting on Williams exaggerations, it seems that he forgot the most fundamental principle of journalism: Seek truth and report it. This principle is a reminder that the story is bigger than the one reporting it. For pastors, this is critical to remember as we are entrusted with sharing THE Story: the gospel. The story of the gospel is bigger than anyone who is sharing it. We must be mindful of that fact. And we must remember that as heralds of the truth our responsibility is to report it, to preach it, to all who will listen. It is the story—the gospel story—that has the power to change lives, not our attempts to “improve” it.

You are not central to the story. As the story of Williams’ exaggerations continued to unfold, it quickly became clear that he had engaged in a fairly regular practice of making himself part of the story. Whether it was pretending to have been in a Chinook when it was shot down or seeing dead bodies floating outside his hotel during Hurricane Katrina, Williams made himself part of the story he was supposed to be reporting. Pastors are often tempted to do the same thing. When we make ourselves the heroes of illustrations, we take the focus away from the true Hero of the gospel story.

Trust is always held in a delicate balance. According to The New York Times, after his announcement Williams fell from the 23rd most trusted person in America to 835th. That is a significant tumble directly tied to not being completely truthful. In a church setting, most pastors could not afford that kind of freefall. Indeed, the lead pastor must be one of the most (if not THE most) trusted person in the church. Failing to recognize that such trust is held in a delicate balance can lead to one taking it for granted. Doing so can be disastrous. This is why it is vital for pastors to make sure that the stories they are telling, the illustrations they are using and the statistics they are quoting are accurate and true. There is simply no excuse for marrying the glorious story of the gospel to embellished illustrations or made-up statistics.

My hope is that these lessons will be helpful to pastors, teachers and church leaders. We are entrusted with the greatest story ever told. Let’s make sure we do not try to embellish it, insert ourselves into it as the hero or try to pump it up with falsehoods. The gospel really is enough.

Rob Pochek is senior pastor at Raleigh Road Baptist Church in Wilson, N.C. He also is the author of the "Faith, Family, and Freedom" blog. You can follow him on twitter: @pastorrob7

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Victoria Coulter

commented on Feb 23, 2015

Good word for all of us.

Rev. Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht, United Brethren Communi

commented on Feb 23, 2015

I have always been uncomfortable with the style of preaching which requires pastors to tell personal stories about themselves or members of their families. If you look at the parables which Jesus told, you soon realize that Jesus told parables about ordinary people - but did NOT reference specific people or talk about people whom He had known. For example, Jesus never said, "Once upon a time, when Peter and I were out walking...." Jesus never said, "Once upon a time, when Joseph and I were working in the carpentry shop..." There were NO parables which Jesus told which started out, "Once, when I was a boy in Nazareth...." You can check out the sermons preached by Jesus and the early disciples, and you will discover that their sermons do not sound like most of the sermons which have become a commonplace "model" in modern churches. Hopefully, the public response to the reporting style of Brian Williams will cause many pastors throughout the modern Church to go back and re-examine the preaching styles of Jesus and the early Disciples. In I Corinthians 2, Paul tells the Corinthians - And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power - That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. - All pastors who wish to discharge their duties responsibly would do well to pay close attention to the demonstrations of preaching styles which can be found in the histories of the New Testament preachers.

Leslie Montgomery

commented on Feb 23, 2015

What Jesus did do was say that He only said and did what He saw or heard His Father saying or doing. If we keep to that standard as well we'll do just fine.

Jerry Chiasson

commented on Feb 23, 2015

Wasn't it jesus that used storys to illustrate his point.....

Patrice Marker-Zahler

commented on Feb 23, 2015

Thanks for the words of wisdom. I too have been uncomfortable with using family, friends or myself in illustrations. However, in more than one instance, I have heard older pastors tell younger pastors that if they know a good story, to put themselves into the story. It would make it more believable and the audience will relate to it better. I have always been uncomfortable with this and see it as out and out lying, and being disingenuous to your audience.

Leslie Montgomery

commented on Feb 23, 2015

Profound point and one we must all remember on a daily basis even in our day-to-day conversations! Thanks for allowing God to share His wisdom through you.

Bryan Thompson

commented on Feb 24, 2015

The lesson here should be "Don't lie". That's a pretty simple lesson and the one I'm taking away from this. Speak the truth. Pretty simple stuff. No need to "embellish" the point of the Brian Williams story beyond that.

David Parks

commented on Feb 26, 2015

I have seen another manifestation of this problem. On several Occasions I have heard preachers tell stories they had gotten from other preachers or sources and tell them in the first person.

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