Show and tell

th-30I’m not one who’s got it all in place

Telling you what you should do, no;

I’m just one old hungry beggar

Showing you where I found food.


When I wrote this song, I don’t remember being aware of how I used the words “telling” and “showing,” but I can say now that it has huge significance. “Telling” you what you should do, versus “showing” you where I found food for both of us is a big difference in posture. In my experience of Christianity, there is simply too much telling, and not enough showing.

Telling focuses on doctrine — on getting it right. It focuses on the message, which is all well and good, unless it means you don’t focus on the person or how the message relates to you. We used to even practice a sort of hit-and-run telling with non-Christians, where you deliver the message and then get out of there as soon as possible. It was a witnessing raid. We weren’t supposed to be in their circle of influence anyway lest we get led astray.

We like telling because we can keep a distance from sinners and from our own sin. Telling means anybody can do it as long as you memorize the message. You can tell with a book or a tract. You can let someone else tell, or let a tool do the telling and follow up later. Telling allows you to keep your distance.

I walked out of an Angels baseball game the other night and walked by two guys holding up lighted signs about repenting of your sins and getting saved. I watched them for a while and noticed that no one came up to either of them and said anything. They were all alone in a crowd. Their signs were telling people what to do. But it’s more meaningful to put your sign down and walk with me a while. Show me something about what it means to believe. What are some of your sins you got saved from?

Showing may put you too uncomfortably close to the sinner.

Showing may put you too uncomfortably close to your own sin.

If you ask my friend Arnold how he came to be a believer today after a lifetime of being an atheist, he will say it was from getting to know me. It wasn’t any particular message I told him and requested a response, it was from basically sharing my life with him, or better yet, sharing our lives together.

When I found out he had had a bad experience with the church at an early age, I told him about my bad experience with the church at an early age, and then I walked him through what I did about it. I showed him through my life how I worked through some of the things that had become obstacles to my faith. I didn’t tell him what to do about his faith. I showed him what I did about mine.

To be sure there is some telling involved in our relationship, especially now that he is a believer and is hungry to know more, but even then, it’s how you tell that’s important. When I tell, I basically say, “This is pretty much what it seems to be saying to me. What do you think?” And I find out that he has some deep spiritual insight already. He may have had it all along. The point is, I’m not telling him, we’re showing each other.

Telling is delivering something to someone, and the typical positioning of telling is that the teller is above the person being told. With telling we are handing down truth. With showing, we both come to the truth together and share how it relates to us. What does this mean to me? What does it mean to you? How does it relate to our lives?

Show and tell is great; we just need more show and less tell.

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5 Responses to Show and tell

  1. Mark D Seguin says:

    Amen to this: “Show and tell is great; we just need more show and less tell.” Simply becauz I know how much I need to apply it! ❤

  2. Jesus Aguilar says:

    Good morning my name is Jesus Aguilar and I am alcoholic.
    Simple. “Having had an spiritual awakening” – to me this means that the person that has been guided through the prior eleven steps, now has an spiritual awakening, capable of some humility to accept our new responsibility to carry this message. The key word here is “CARRY” – wear it, show it, but never, ever tell it. If we tell, no one is going to hear. Let us be aware of what Jesus our LORD, did when he walk the earth; he show the apostles what to pray, how to pray, and by making miracles on front of them, He was teaching them how to make miracles.
    Jesus Aguilar

  3. Carole Oglesbee says:

    My friend, JT, shared there are two ways to witness: You can grab a guy by the neck and shove Jesus down his throat, or you can place a bit of Jesus on the table and invite him to taste. In the first scenario, the fellow is likely to gag, throw it all up, and retain nothing. In the latter instance, he may be so intrigued by the flavor that he asks for more…

  4. We’ve all heard this old saying before: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. You may even be nodding your head in agreement right now. Sorry— this saying is all wrong.

    When a person is starving, that’s not the time to fill their head with knowledge. The right thing to do is to first give the person a fish – banishing their hunger – and only then teach them to fish.

    Far too often, people ignore this common sense first step. They see someone who is struggling, and they rush to offer wisdom. “Let me tell you what I’d do in your position,” a well-meaning individual might offer.

    But few of us understand the anxiety, confusion, and uncertainty that comes with overwhelming need. People in the midst of personal disasters are reeling. They can’t think straight. Their nerves may be shot. Their confidence may be non-existent.

    We all know affluent, outwardly successful professionals who lack confidence and – at least temporarily – the ability to think straight. Can you imagine how people must feel in the midst of outright failure?

    Rushing to offer a struggling person long-term advice is a waste of time.

    Instead, it makes far more sense to help them regain their equilibrium. Once this happens… once their ears, heart and mind open, then you have an opportunity to teach a new skill.

    What does it take to decide whether a person needs a fish before a fishing lesson? Two things:

    1.) The ability to pay attention: Is the other person open and receptive, or looking at the world through narrowed eyes that tip off just how terrified they feel inside? You can’t just take their words at face value, because claiming to be alright is a basic survival skill. You have to look at how the person acts and what they don’t say.

    2.) Empathy: The more successful you are, the harder it is to imagine what it must be like to be the opposite.

    ~ Originally written by Bruce Kasanoff (Author, Storyteller, Ghostwriter)
    “Do NOT Teach a Starving Man to Fish” – Published 11-17-14

  5. jwfisch says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Bob. This is all about coming alongside.

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