During his presidency, I wrote about a deliberate strategy by Barack Obama to use words to inspire and motivate his audiences rather than offering specific steps for actual change. That’s not a “for or against Obama” comment. It’s a comment on strategy. I say this, because it’s not that different from a lot of pastors out there today. They don’t really know the Bible that well, and have become motivational speakers more that actual teachers and pastors.
In my book, “Unique” I talk about the fact that when I visit many pastor’s offices today, I notice that the bookshelves that used to be filled with books on theology, doctrine, and church history, have now been replaced by the latest bestsellers on motivation and marketing.
I got that same feeling from Obama. He seemed to be well spoken, and did a really great job of inspiring audiences. But he never really laid out too much in the way of specific steps for HOW he was going to make this vague sense of “change” happen. In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan echoed the same sentiment. She wrote:
“Barack Obama’s biggest draw is not his eloquence. When you watch an Obama speech, you lean forward and listen and think, That’s good. He’s compelling, I like the way he speaks. And afterward all the commentators call him “impossibly eloquent” and say “he gave me thrills and chills.” But, in fact, when you go on the Internet and get a transcript of the speech and print it out and read it–that is, when you remove Mr. Obama from the words and take them on their own–you see the speech wasn’t all that interesting, and was in fact high-class boilerplate. (This was not true of John F. Kennedy’s speeches, for instance, which could be read seriously as part of the literature of modern American politics, or Martin Luther King’s work, which was powerful absent his voice.)
Mr. Obama is magnetic, interacts with the audience, leads a refrain: “Yes, we can.” It’s good, and compared with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, neither of whom seems really to enjoy giving speeches, it comes across as better than it is. But is it eloquence? No. Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With Mr. Obama the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments.
Our country can be greater, it holds unachieved promise, our leaders have not led us well. “We struggle with our doubts, our fears, our cynicism.” Fair enough and true enough, but he doesn’t dig down to explain how to become a greater nation, what specific path to take–more power to the state, for instance, or more power to the individual. He doesn’t unpack his thoughts, as they say. He asserts and keeps on walking.”
It’s a great strategy – for Barack or pastors – until you get found out. Real change is more than motivation or inspiration. While that’s an important part, without concrete steps to make that change happen, everything simply stays the same.