I took a rigorous writing course this spring. Amid the grammar exercises, weekly writing assignments, peer feedback sessions, and assigned readings, one simple piece of advice stood out for me: remember to show, not tell. That’s right. Good writers resist the elementary school urge to “show and tell” in favour of “showing, not telling.”
The worst way to write is to tell the reader what to think. Telling the reader that a dog is “loyal” holds little weight. Describing how the dog—emaciated with cancer—still fetches his owner’s slippers every night paints a more convincing picture. Telling the reader that a character is “heartless” evokes no emotion. Describing how the character pushes a pregnant woman into a busy street—now that stirs up some emotion!
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The best books show the reader the evidence and allow the reader to decide how to think and feel. This is certainly true for the Gospels. The author of John, for example, doesn’t hide the purpose of his book: he wants to convince his readers that Jesus is the Christ so that they may believe and have life in his name (Jn. 20:31). But the Gospel writers knew that it wasn’t enough to simply tell who Jesus was. They needed to show who Jesus was: how he lived, where he went, how he treated people, and what he did.
And so, the Gospels give us many accounts of Jesus in action:
- Healing people
- Welcoming children
- Spending time with outcasts
- Weeping with his friends when they were grieving
- Keeping a party going
- Feeding people
The accounts of Jesus are powerful because they are tangible. The Gospels give us intimate snapshots of Jesus’ life and allow us, as the readers, to decide what to do with the evidence.
Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory” and the “exact representation of his being.”
Therefore, the life that Jesus lived on earth gives us a picture of our heavenly Father. Jesus’ actions—his healing, his feeding, his weeping—show us what God is like: compassionate, generous, and tender-hearted. Jesus calls us to follow in his footsteps and use our actions to point people to the Father.
“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
As a Christian leader, you are telling a story with your life, and people are watching. What do people see when they “read” the story of your life? Does your “showing” speak louder than your “telling”?