Reading the RoomSeries: To the Ends of the Earth
Starting when I was in 1st grade and continuing through high school, I competed in yearly speech competitions at my school. These competitions were opportunities for students from different schools to compete against each other by memorizing and performing a piece of speech. Speeches were divided into different categories; I usually memorized a patriotic piece and competed in that category.
Over the years, while competing and developing a speaking ability, I also was unknowingly developing another valuable tool: reading the room. When getting up to speak, being able to read people is incredibly important to delivering an effective speech. People’s posture, facial expressions, demeanor, etc. are all keys to the speaker and how the speech should be given. I used to hate having to compete right after lunch. Generally, people were too relaxed, a little sleepy, and already tired from hearing a morning’s worth of speeches. If I was going to speak after lunch, I knew I had to come out hard in the first 10-15 seconds of my speech and really grab their attention. This usually involved being more expressive, louder, and generally more animated than usual.
As we move further away from our Christian foundations in America, we as Christians need to be able to develop the skill of reading the room. Christians will need to be able to discern what is needed in the moment and be judicious in the way in which we speak and act in a post-Christian society. This is what Paul does in Athens in Acts 17. He doesn’t blast them for believing in a bunch of silly idols. Instead, by reading the room, he finds a connecting point. They had an idol to an unknown god. Paul says, “Let me tell you about him…” By finding the connecting points, we gain a greater hearing.
I love what Paul says in Colossians 4:5-6 about reading the room: Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.