Summary: Paul’s Levels of Persuasive Power in the Presentation of the Gospel - Acts 26
Paul’s Levels of Persuasive Power in the Presentation of the Gospel - Acts 26
On the vertical scale we want to look into the levels of how people speak about the case studies. While some people may speak with a high level of emotional involvement others may speak with a detached sense of calm. The tone of voice tends to determine about 35% of what we understand by another’s message. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand how to control the tone of our voice, but also the approach that is taken through the interpersonal interactions.
1. Reserved Level - At this level it would really be unfair to call the case study interactions a discussion. We have all been involved with group meetings where a chairman tends to dominate the conversation while rarely pausing to see if their are any major objections from the members. I remember being in a board meeting recently where the chairman launched into a 30 minutes dogmatic presentation of his view on an issue. Afterwards, the group seemed unwilling to respond except to say, "Thank you Mr. Chairman!" Even though the leader of the group gets to feel that he maintains control of the discussion, few lasting impressions are made. The Reserved level is often used by the authoritarian leader who is incapable or unwilling to engage in exchange of ideas. At this level, the leader comes to the meeting with his preconceived notions about how issues will be resolved and is seldom willing to listen to any other side of the issues. Unfortunately, many of the members quickly become demoralize and end up with apathetic attitudes toward their involvement in these kinds of group meetings. Without the ability or willingness to be transparent and open to the ideas of others, groups will quickly die. However, there are times when the Reserved level is necessary when someone becomes critical on sensitive issues. Even the apostle Paul assumed a sense of Reservedness when he came under severe attacks by the Jews. Acts 21:10-14:
"When Paul heard about Agabus’s prophecy of his impending persecution in Jerusalem, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord’s will be done."
At times it is necessary for the chairman to move the purposes of God ahead, even when everyone else is in disagreement. In those rare times, when we are compelled to go against the corporate desires of the Spirit led leaders, let us be sure that we are doing the will of God rather than our own plans. A case study discussion needs a leader who knows when to use his powers to command, but not to remain so high minded that the meeting becomes completely didactic.
2. Normal Level - Wise case study leaders learn to use the cultural norms of each group. Whereas one group will be more accustomed to having the leader dominate the discussions other groups prefer to allow each group to have equal opportunities to offer their opinions. What is normal depends on the people’s background, conditioning, and levels of education. The more traditional the people in the group, the less likely they will feel open to share their articulated ideas freely. The more formally educated your participants the more you will need to allow for time to discuss various aspects of the case studies. Paul found that the Jewish leaders expected him to obey the purification rites without questioning their authority, which he did in Acts 19. However, when he went to Corinth he found the people much more free to debate issues so he writes in normal conversational language for the Greek trained thinkers:
"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs - how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world - how he can please his wife - and his interests are divided...I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. In my judgment as woman is happier is she remains single - and I think I too have the Spirit of God." (I Cor. 7:32-35,40)
Paul spoke in conversational language that the Corinthians would considered appropriate, relevant, and contextual.
If he would have spoken this way to the Jewish elders of Jerusalem synagogue, they would have quickly labelled him a heretic. Paul expected every Christian to become a thinking, discerning person who would not depend on a missionary, but on the Spirit to guide him. Normality became a social reality that would not become the ultimate reference point for what is the will of God. Yet, Paul used the social, political, and religious norms to help support individual’s choices in discerning the full will of God. Paul knew that without normalizing the habits, attitudes, and behaviors of a Christian community into a sound system of morals, the individual would have a hard time discerning what was good, better, or the best decision to follow in completing the whole will of God. There was quite a bit of leeway in the approaches that Paul took. Personal preferences were respected. No one was commanded to obey exactly in matters of secondary importance. For example, at Rome some felt that there were certain days that should be used to celebrate festivals, yet others thought these days were unnecessary festivities. Some thought it was right to eat certain kinds of meat and others consciences were not bothered in the slightest for eating all kinds of meats. Paul did not demand that people follow what he considered to be normal in controversial matters. He expected each fellowship through prayer and consultation to arrive at their normal procedures. Let us not try to regulate people’s choices, with our own standards as some of the early missionaries did. Let each church seek their normal ways of carrying out the will of God both individually and corporately under the guidance of the world of God and His Spirit. Paul said, "Each one should firmly make up his own mind. (Rom. 14:5) Hopefully, these convictions will become the norm of each local church so as to form a guide, but not a legal club to guide its members. Case study leaders should remember Paul’s contextual example in leading discussion so that they seek to springboard off of spiritual, religious, and social norms as far as it is possible so that we can be at peace with all men.