How important is tact in the work of the ministry? The answer is given in the following sentence: "Tact and good judgment increase the usefulness of the laborer a hundred-fold."—Gospel Workers, p. 119. What a tremendous increase, and what else could accomplish so much?
Tact is defined as "sensitive perception, keen discrimination, and nice discernment of what is appropriate to say and do in dealing with others, especially in difficult situations." It is another term for courtesy, politeness, and good manners. It is the knack of getting along with others. It is the intuitive appreciation of what is fit, proper, or becoming for the occasion or emergency. It is doing and saying the right thing at the right time. And who needs a greater supply of tact than preachers who deal with all kinds of people and problems? Someone has said that tact is the ability to make a man feel at home when you wish he were!
Henry Varnum said that "tact is something more than manners, but manners enter largely into it. It is a combination of quickness, firmness, readiness, temper, and facility. It is something which never offends, never excites to jealousy, never provokes rivalry, never treads on other people's toes." Archbishop Temple said: "Good manners demand three things, self-control, self-denial, and self-respect." Some preachers, like many others, find it difficult to distinguish between two words that sound alike—tact and tack. However, their meanings are very different. One soothes and wins, and the other pricks and irritates.
Another similar word in sound is fact. A well-known writer said in a letter to a young preacher: "You are an enthusiast for fact. . .. Now try to be an enthusiast for tact. Some ministers are strong on tact, but weak on tact. Their pastorates are brief. Others are strong on tact but weak on fact. Their pastorates are futile."—EZRA RHOADES, Case Work in Preaching, p. 73.*We need informative sermons with plenty of facts, but we also need a liberal supply of tact in presenting them. Tact is impossible for a preacher with a superiority complex who is a stranger to humility. If he has a lot of ego, and feels that he stands on a sort of pedestal from which he looks down on "the common herd" to whom he speaks as a patriarch to little children, he cannot but irritate his hearers who resent his attitude and find it difficult to listen to his Sermon.
Jesus was our example in tact as in everything else. Of Him the prophet said: "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth" (Isa. 42:2, 3). James Moffatt's version reads: "He shall not be loud and noisy, he shall not shout in public; he shall not crush a broken reed, nor quench a wick that dimly burns." t
In the light of this statement and others can anyone think of Jesus as being other than a very quiet man in both private and public life, possessing a "meek and quiet spirit" even in His preaching? Noisy, emotional, sentimental sermons offend the better class of people, winning those who are unstable and whose sojourn in the church is therefore brief. The tact of Jesus led Him carefully to avoid bruising or wounding even a soul as weak and tender as a bruised reed, or quenching the spiritual spark that is as nearly extinguished as a dimly burning wick with only a little smoke as evidence of its existence. Like Jesus, the minister should deal with such persons tenderly and tactfully and attempt to fan the spark into a flame. He should never be guilty of dropping such persons from the church membership in order more easily to reach the per-capita goals of the church.
Of Jesus we read: "Coarse and uncouth manners were never seen in our pattern, Jesus Christ. He was a representative of heaven, and His followers must be like Him."—Gospel Workers, p. 91. "In the work of soul-winning, great tact and wisdom are needed. The Saviour never suppressed the truth, but He uttered it always in love. In His intercourse with others, He exercised the greatest tact, and He was always kind and thoughtful. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave unnecessary pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes.
He never made truth cruel, but ever manifested a deep tenderness for humanity. Every soul was precious in His sight."—Ibid., p. 117.
Again we read: "The religion of Jesus softens whatever is hard and rough in the temper, and soothes whatever is rugged and sharp in the manners. It makes the words gentle and the demeanor winning. Let us learn from Christ how to combine a high sense of purity and integrity with sunniness of disposition. A kind, courteous Christian is the most powerful argument that can be produced in favor of Christianity. Kind words are as dew and gentle showers to the soul. . . Christianity will make a man a gentleman. Christ was courteous, even to His persecutors; and His true followers will manifest the same spirit. . . . True refinement will never be revealed so long as self is considered as the supreme object. Love must dwell in the heart. . . . Love imparts to its possessor grace, propriety, and comeliness of deportment. It illuminates the countenance and subdues the voice; it refines and elevates the entire being."—Ibid., pp. 122, 123.
These statements constitute a good summary of the subject under consideration.
The tactfulness of Jesus was illustrated in His treatment of Judas even though He knew he would betray Him. In the upper room He treated the traitor as the honored guest by washing his feet first, placing him at His right hand at the table, and serving him first with the bread and wine, all in an effort to save him, and we are told that His kindness almost brought repentance and a confession. That was real tact in operation. Consider His dealings with Peter. Jesus had foretold his denial. He knew what was going to happen. He heard the denial and cursing, after which their eyes met. Peter expected a look of condemnation and scorn, which he knew he deserved, but instead saw an expression of love and pity and tender sympathy, and it broke his heart. He hurried out to the Garden where Jesus had agonized in prayer, threw himself on his face and "wept bitterly" in repentance and confession, and left the Garden a different man.
On the morning of His resurrection Jesus told the women to tell the disciples "and Peter" that He had arisen. Immediately Peter and John ran to the tomb to confirm the testimony of the women. Jesus later commissioned Peter to feed His sheep and lambs, and chose him as His spokesman on the day of Pentecost when one sermon resulted in three thousand souls won to Christianity, the largest number ever reached by a single sermon in all history. A modern conference committee would never have permitted Peter to preach so soon after his tragic failure, but Jesus could read his heart and knew that his conversion was genuine.
Space will not permit a discussion of the dealings of Jesus with Nicodemus, the woman at the well of Samaria, Mary Magdalene, the woman taken in adultery, Zacchaeus, and others. He went beyond the second mile in love and sympathy and tactfulness. His preaching was in the positive rather than the negative. His was not a religion of don'ts. Even the truth should not always be spoken, for there are times when silence is golden. Jesus knew when to speak and when to refrain from speaking. It is not a virtue to always speak our mind and then boast of our courage. It may even be an act of cowardice. Not the denunciation of the Papacy but justification by faith is the third angel's message in verity.
We talk about increasing and even doubling our membership, but what would happen if we would greatly increase our tactfulness in dealing with people? Here is the answer: "If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 189. What a tremendous increase, not by preaching from the pulpit but by being living epistles of Christ which are "known and read of all men." Read also Gospel Workers, pages 117 to 120, which tells us the great results that will come from tactful preaching, and how loveless and tactless sermons arouse "prejudice" and "combativeness" and close doors through which we might have found "access to hearts."
In Proverbs 13:15, we read in Moffatt's translation: "A man of tact is popular: the way fools live stirs up dislike." + The language indicates that an untactful person is a fool. Someone made the following classic statement in regard to the conduct of tact: "Aristocracy of mind treats the duke and the ditch digger alike—both as the duke, though as with Jesus, slightly in favor of the ditcher." Let us ever remember that "tact and good judgment increase the usefulness of the laborer a hundredfold," and possessing the seven essentials for success in the ministry of book knowledge, consecration, integrity, intelligence, industry, energy, and tact, the minister cannot be inferior but will have a commanding influence for good.
*Published by Fleming H. Revell Company. Used by permission.
+ From The Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt, copyrighted 1922, 1935, 1950 by Harper and Brothers. Used by permission.