When you have Nothing to Say, Say Nothing

In his report during the 2005 business meeting, former EPA Executive Director Doug Trouten suggested that saying nothing at all may be better than presenting the mundane as profound.

Editor's note: The following is adapted from the "executive director's report" presented during the business meeting of the 2005 convention.

We call this the executive director's report, but it's not really about the business of the organization. By this point in the business meeting we've discussed that already. Instead, I like to use this time to talk more broadly about what it is that we're called to do – about the important work God has given us.

A member sent me an e-mail story the other day, about a pastor's daughter watching her father write his sermon. She asks him, "Daddy, where do you get the things you're going to say in your sermon?" Her dad says, "God gives me the words." And the daughter asks, "Then why do you keep crossing things out?

We work in a profession where we regularly depend on God to give us the words. And I think we've all had the experience of sitting down to create something and having it just pour out of us as God's spirit fills our hearts and minds with his words, his message. When it's done we look back at what we created and realize that we played only a small role, and we often wind up creating something that speaks to our own hearts, as well as to others.

But sometimes deadline strikes and inspiration doesn't. What do we do?

I remember hearing Richard Foster talk about this at an EPA convention in Chicago in 1985, 20 years ago. He talked about special spiritual challenges that face Christians who created printed pieces. One he mentioned was having to deal with deadlines regardless of whether we think God has given us something to say or not. And he spoke about the dangers of taking the uninspired and passing it off as inspired, of trying to package the mundane as though it were profound. The danger, he said, is that we can forget that there's a difference.

During this convention's Tuesday night free time many of us attended a media screening of Ron Howard's new film "Cinderella Man," which tells the true story of a depression-era boxer. It was a moving film, although there did seem to be a lot of hitting. There was also some cursing, including some misuse of God's name, and after the film we had a discussion about modern entertainment that takes the Lord's name in vain. But I think the biblical admonition against taking God's name in vain goes beyond saying "God" or "Jesus" in a less-than-reverent context. In our work we each face the temptation to take God's name in vain, to slap a "Thus saith the Lord" sticker on something that doesn't deserve it. As Richard Foster noted 20 years ago, we need to avoid that temptation.

If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Printing blank space probably isn't an option for you, but you can reprint an old piece. You can print somebody else's piece. If nothing else Foster suggested that you can print Scripture, so you're guaranteed to have something filled with God's truth.

Sometimes we're tempted to think that it doesn't really matter, that it's not a big deal. But it is a big deal. God has given us an incredible opportunity to touch the lives of thousands, and even tens of thousands of readers on a regular basis. Every time we publish something, thousands of people read it, think about it, and let it affect their lives.

We have been given important work to do. God has called us to do important work for His people. Our goal with these annual conventions is to leave you refreshed, energized, equipped and enthused for the year ahead. I hope we've done that this year, and I hope you come join us next year and let us fill your tank again.

Doug Trouten is the former executive director of the Evangelical Press Association.