Five Dangers of Speaking in Hyperbole

Sam Rainer

March 6, 2016


Pastors and politicians are notorious for speaking in hyperbole. I’d rather not blog on politics, so I’ll focus this post on pastors and church leaders.

Most pastors communicate with good intentions, and most pastors are genuinely excited about God’s work in their churches. In fact, one of the main questions I get when I consult with pastors is How can I get my church more excited? I start by telling them it’s unlikely anyone in your congregation will have the same level of passion as you do. As a pastor, you’re the shepherd. You lead by example. Leading out with passion is part of shepherding people.

I’ve noticed a recurring theme among pastors, especially with—but not limited to—social media. We tend to exaggerate. I’m among the guilty bunch. For example, every Sunday isn’t the BEST EVER. Not every social media post about your church needs three exclamation points!!! Telling people an average Wednesday night gathering was the CAN’T MISS EVENT of the year is misleading. If you’re like me, you don’t intend to be disingenuous with hyperboles. They simply overflow from genuine passion.

The danger with speaking in hyperbole is it can backfire. Badly. Just ask Howard Dean. (I know I just used a political example, but I didn’t want to link to a pastoral example on YouTube. No more politics. I promise). How can hyperbole backfire? I’ll give you five ways.

  1. Passion detached from reality moves people backwards, not forward. Hyperboles are exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally. Making use of literal hyperboles (“We PACKED.IT.OUT on Sunday!”) confuses reality. If by PACKED.IT.OUT you mean it was an average Sunday with a typical number of seats filled, then you’re detached from reality. And leaders that can’t recognize reality will lead people backwards, not forward.
  1. A constant barrage of hyperboles compromises true celebration. Leaders who consistently exaggerate diminish true celebrations. When everything is THE GREATEST! then nothing is the greatest.
  1. Hyperboles can have a longer life cycle than you want. Early in my ministry I made the mistake of telling a church member, “This is truly the greatest banana pudding I’ve ever tasted.” For the next two years, I received weekly tubs of her banana pudding.
  1. Leading with hyperboles eventually sinks into a game of one-upmanship. If the church down the road has the BEST WORSHIP EXPERIENCE EVER, then the temptation is to one-up their best. They invite [insert big name] to speak on Sunday, so you invite [insert bigger name]. This game does not honor Christ’s name because it’s all about the name on your church sign.
  1. Hyperboles have diminishing returns. Generating excitement with hyperboles has the effect of diminishing returns. You draw a crowd the first time you say, “Be here tonight! It will be our BIGGEST event ever!” But each time you employ the tactic, the result is inevitably less than the previous time.

The root cause of leading with hyperboles is an unhealthy focus on self. It’s hard to write these words because I’m guilty. A leader who consistently uses hyperboles is passionate, no doubt. The problem is this passion isn’t for Jesus. It’s rather a passion for attention.

5 comments on “Five Dangers of Speaking in Hyperbole”

  1. Hugh Davidson says:

    That was the greatest article I’ve ever read and I’ve read thousands!

  2. Christopher Woodall says:

    NO, Jesus never used Hyperbole. and I mean NEVER. Of course, you are targeting the superfluous use of hyperbole & I get that point.

  3. Bill Pitcher says:

    Hyperbole is but one of many tools. I own many hammers, if I used the 8 pounder to drive a small finishing nail, it would be disastrous. That is, I’m afraid, what some preachers and pastors tend to do. Thanks for bringing the matter up.

  4. Jack May says:

    When using hyperbole, it’s easy to forget audience and context are king.

  5. ryan says:

    Speaking almost exclusively in hyperbole appears to be effective for some people.

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