Written and oral communications are alike and different in a number of ways. First, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes different from spoken communication. Spoken communication contains partial sentences, inflections, and nuances that are heard differently than when they are read silently. On the other hand, written sermons are sometimes similar to oral communication. Most people who can speak well, can learn to write well; most who can write well can learn to speak well. One who can organize his thoughts for one can do so for the other.
Second, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes more dangerous than oral communication. It is like leaving a “paper trail.” When something is written down, it can be traced back to the author for good or bad. If a passage is found incorrect or inflammatory, it can do harm to the author, his organization, or to others for many years to come. It is harder to retract a written statement. If a retraction is necessary it must be done in written form as well. When it is not written it can be denied or taken back more informally. On the other hand, written communication is sometimes less dangerous than oral communication. The author can think through what he is going to say more carefully during the writing process and therefore more easily protect himself from error.
Third, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes more satisfying than oral communication. Oral communication often receives little feedback, whereas, written communication, since it is longer lasting, can be responded to for generations. On the other hand, written communication is sometimes sometimes less satisfying than oral communication. There is a supernatural and person to person dynamic in preaching that is very rewarding, while there is no face to face element in written communication.
Fourth, on the one hand, written communication is sometimes more difficult than oral communication. It is a painstaking endeavor, especially for publication, to make sure that what is written is what is meant and only that. On the other hand, written communication is sometimes less difficult than oral communication. It is done in private, rather than in front of a group of people, so that when mistakes are made, they can be corrected without embarrassment.
Most often I prefer written communication, First, I tend not to think as well on my feet and tend toward perfectionism, so I appreciate the opportunity of written communication so that I have time to think through the issues. The writing process helps me clarify my thoughts without embarrassment.
Second, I gain a sense of accomplishment when I write something down. In the intangible world of ideas, it is something tangible that I can see, touch, and give to another person. Someone has said, “Until you get something ‘down’ it’s only an idea. Lots of people have ideas, but don’t get it ‘down’,” whether it’s a sermon, a screen-play, a song or whatever. Moreover, so much of ministry is intangible, I need the “tangibleness” of writing as a balance. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I finish a paper for school, an article for the church newsletter or even my daily journal entry. As a church musician, I often felt frustrated that when I did a service or a musical event, it simply “went into the air” never to be heard again except in the hearts of the hearers since we didn’t have the proper equipment or personnel to make good recordings. I imagine that a pastor may feel the same frustration about preaching. This relates to the next item.
Third, I like being able to refer back to written communication. When I write something down, I can go back to it later to see what my thinking was at that point in my life or ministry, to see where I’m making progress spiritually, emotionally or intellectually, or whether I’m in a holding pattern. I can see the strengths, the weaknesses, and the inspiration in my life at that time.
Fourth, I discover thoughts I didn’t know I had and can preserve them for consideration later on.
I need to stretch myself more in the area of writing and speaking. I have been reluctant to try to prepare something for publication and reluctant to speak for at least two reasons. First, I am afraid of the evaluation of others. Second, I am afraid of my own self-evaluation. This is an area in which I need to grow in faith.