“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
Communication is tough. As pastors, we are supposed to be extremely good at it. Yet we find ourselves frustrated when we overhear comments about the sermon and ask, “Is that what they took away from the message?” You think you really came up short. Guess what? You probably did. I am in churches all the time. I am amazed at what the pastor says and then I listen to the leaders of the church and realize they are miles apart on what is the church’s vision or strategy. Here are a few thoughts on closing this communications gap.
Quit talking and start listening. I know a pastor who had the answer for everything. He was very smart but not very self-aware. He could refute any objection made, but it got to the point that no one said anything because they knew it wouldn’t do any good. Even though you may have answers, they might be the wrong ones. If you move from a monologue to a dialogue, the conversation changes. It becomes a “We” rather than an “I” conversation. If you begin listening, you will start to value the person to whom you are listening. They will know you care about them because you are showing interest in them by listening.
Make your words count. In today’s world, words are cheap. Think about it. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and blogging means we live in a world of words which is all the more reason to make your words count. Person to person carries a whole lot more weight to it than sending an email. I know of a pastor who tried to recruit volunteers through email and the bulletin. Really? He wondered why he had trouble with enlistment. People know you care and will be more open to listening over a cup of coffee or even finding them at church and speaking personally to them. A good exchange takes place when you listen and make every word count.
Intentionality makes a good conversation. I recently had lunch with a pastor who has a difficult ministry issue. Let me put it this way, how would you feel if your congregation was being taken away from you? This pastor has a ministry to the homeless and the city in which the church is located wants the ministry to cease. As I listened to this pastor tell me his story, I think I spoke perhaps one or two sentences in 45 minutes. I could feel the tension, hurt, anxiety and torment with which he was dealing. My heart went out to him. The one thing he said to me after lunch was, “You are a great listener.” Our conversation meant a great deal to him. After I left, I felt that I had given him what he needed – a listening ear. I didn’t have any solutions to his problem but I knew I could be there in that moment and listen to him.
Don’t let the current take you down the coast. When I lived in southern California, the one thing you constantly heard in the coastal communities was, “If there is a riptide, let it take you! Don’t fight it. Ride it out.” The most common problem is that people try to swim to shore and they can’t. They panic and then they drown. In a lot of our communication, we assume what is immediate is important. You receive messages, texts, phone calls, and emails all requesting you communicate with the sender. Don’t drown in the riptide of this barrage of communication and allow it to dictate your priorities. Don’t let it take you away from having the really important conversations. Will those emails change the trajectory of your mission? Probably not. Spend more time thinking about emerging issues or significant problems. Stick with what is really important.
At the end of almost every conversation, I ask the question, “Is this helpful?” I want to make sure that I am clearly communicating. Often, I also ask a second question, “What are your next steps?” Again, it helps to clarify that a good conversation has taken place.
Keep working on closing the communications gap and pray for clarity.