In my many travels this last month, I’ve been blessed with much time to simply reflect. One theme that seemed to keep coming back was communication. We have something to communicate with people that will not only change their lives now, but will impact them for an eternity! With a message that important, certainly Christians must be experts in communicating that message as clearly and beautifully as possible. But I’m not convinced that is true.
Spoken vs. Communicated
I think we assume that if something comes out of our mouth, that it is instantly communicated. But communication is more complicated than that. You may say one thing, but another person may take that a completely different way. We like to use the word “justify” to talk about our renewed relationship with God through Jesus. But most of the world uses the word “justify” to prove that something they did was right, often trying to get away with something they did wrong. “God justifies you” could easily tell someone that they can just get away with everything so long as they believe in God. Not true! Just because you said it doesn’t mean they actually understand it.
Do you know that approximately 80% of communication is nonverbal? 80%! And it’s true. Let me give you an example. What can you learn about someone from a handshake? How firm is the handshake? Are they really happy to see you? Do they make eye contact? What about the expression on their face? Do they slouch? Do they dress well? All of these things and more communicate something to the other person. We can tell people about Jesus and eternal life through him, but if we show them with the other 80% that we don’t really care and are rather bored with the whole thing, what do you think they will hear? Now, you may really care and are very interested, but so often we don’t show that. We assume people will hear our words and take them to be 100% of the communication. Meanwhile we’re neglecting the other 80% and telling them something we never intend to say! Think about it. What do you say without ever really intending to?
I’ve also found that it’s important to know who’s listening to the message. For instance, a few months ago I used a baseball analogy for a sermon. It worked beautifully at 9:30. But when I got the African worship service, I knew that they wouldn’t get the analogy and then lose everything else that I said based on it. I had to make some changes on the fly. I think we often assume that the person listening is just like us. So, if we understand it, they will understand it. This is not true. If we really want to communicate we need to get to know the world of the other person so that we can use verbal and nonverbal communication that truly will send the message.
Why do I rant here about communication? Because “faith comes from hearing the message.” We can’t make people believe it. But we must be in the business of making sure that the message of salvation truly makes it from our lips to their hearts. Once they understand it, then the Holy Spirit takes over. But if they are left without understanding the truth then nothing has happened. If their contact with a Christian results in miscommunication, then the person has not heard the message.
What Does this Mean?
I believe the world has changed and the church needs to wake up and learn how to communicate with the people of the year 2008. The message has not changed, but our world has. In a world of so many avenues of communication, it’s amazing how bad we are at it! Practice good communication. I promise, it will help you in every avenue of your life. Most conflict is a result of poor communication! Just think of the problems that can be avoided! And just think of the people who will hear the Gospel because the people of God don’t just assume the message got out. So, let’s get practical. Here are a few steps to good communication:
1. Listen to where they are coming from.
2. Send a message that is appropriate to the recipient.
3. Be aware of verbal and nonverbal pitfalls.
4. Listen for reassurance that the message was received.
Here’s a bonus list of steps for communicating Christ.
1. Do I care that people are going to hell?
2. Am I willing to let God use me to communicate Christ?
3. Follow the above steps with the message that Jesus died for their sins so that by faith they may go to heaven.
4. Rely on God for the results.