A Great Communicator -part 4

This is the fourth and final part in a brief series on communication as part of the very quality of God and His Kingdom. It is also a clarion call to that Kingdom to become excellent at this vital issue, the very thing we were made for. You can find part one in the series here.

When people don’t see what we are doing as vital in their lives (and I mean everything from a church picnic to a Sunday sermon) then they begin to look at church services and events as religious duties performed by the faithful, but having little real meaning or import.  They actually begin to view these times as something that must be endured, often primarily in order to maintain their fellowship with the people in the church.

This premise is held up by statistics.  Our young adults are leaving the Church in record numbers.  The reason that they list for this boils down to the fact that they don’t see Church as being something vital and essential in their lives.  These statistics are addressed in both The Essential Church by Thom and Sam Rainer, and Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  These 18-30 year-olds are not leaving randomly.  They are leaving after fellowship in their church is interrupted by going off to college, graduating youth group, and a change in job schedule.  Put simply, people are leaving Church when they are unable to maintain fellowship with the people they are close to in their church, because they don’t see the other functions of the Church as being important to their lives.

We cannot believe that the other functions of Church are not essential, but maybe we are making it seem that way.  Our fellowship seems to be very good.  In all of this, I am suggesting a deep examination of our communication styles, methods, and practice.  Then based on that, we should endeavor to be the world’s foremost experts in communicating.  Our pulpits should be studied and taught as the model of how to best share, motivate, and inspire.  It is not just a good idea, it is our mandate. –Ryan

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A Great Communicator -part 3

This is the third part in a brief series on communication as part of the very quality of God and His Kingdom. It is also a clarion call to that Kingdom to become excellent at this vital issue, the very thing we were made for. You can find part one in the series here.

I sit in staff meetings often trying to figure out why announcements are not communicating effectively. There will be times when an event that we know meets the needs of our community and has been sufficiently announced will be quite modestly attended. It is not a rare occurrence when we hear after the fact, “Oh, I wish I had known we were doing that,” when I knew that person sat through several Sundays of announcements on that very event. Now, our church is a healthy and growing congregation with vital and growing ministries.  People are not bored with out church, and our events are usually well attended.

Honestly, I am not griping about my church, its announcements, or especially my congregation. I also don’t think that this is an issue that is particularly unique to our church. I hear very similar complaints from other pastors across the nation. Chalk it up to over-advertising, busy lives, congregations who are trained to not listen, whatever you want, it doesn’t solve the issue.

In communication theory, there are always at least two parties involved. There is the sender of the message, and the receiver. Imagine two people on opposing sides of a tennis court. One person serves the ball to the other. The ball is the message that is trying to be communicated. The main difference is that in tennis the goal is to get the ball past the person receiving. In communication, the goal is to get the receiver to either return the ball, or commit to action based upon the message.

When a teenager comes home from school, the parent says “How was school today, Junior?”
The teenager responds with “Fine.”

The ball isn’t really returned in this case. The teenager really has no interest in returning the ball, but the parent has also not done a good job in serving, either. The goal was to start a conversation. In this case, the attempt was a failure.

In Church, most communication is of the other sort, though. A sermon is not intended to motivate people to talk back with the pastor, but to put into action in the people’s lives what was talked about. A sermon about loving one’s neighbor is intended to motivate the parishioner to go home and act in God’s love to someone who is around them (and someone who is not so easy to love).

This brings up a difficult question. If our announcements are doing a poor job of motivating more than a handful of people to attend the, All-Church Prayer Night, is the Sunday sermon on loving your neighbor motivating more than a handful of people to go out and love people? How many of our Sunday morning tennis-serves are coming up aces? If we are really honest, I bet the number is depressingly high.

I am not saying this as an attack, far from it! I think that preaching has power, infused by the Holy Spirit of God to change eternities, motivate the faithful, and break down walls that the Devil, himself, has built in our midst. I believe that God has called His Church to be a Kingdom of preaching priests. I believe that we are called to be amazing communicators of the most amazing message ever created. But if a tennis player must continually practice his serve in order to insure that he is effective on the court, shouldn’t we be working ever so much harder to insure that our serve is the best it can be?

I am positive that there is some great effective preaching out there. But I am equally aware, and I think the Church needs to be, over the fact that there are a lot of us who are convinced that we are serving 90 mile-per-hour scorchers down the line, when we are hitting the net almost every time.

Now there is a danger inherent in saying this. The danger is that we turn ourselves into consumers of preaching. We must never come to the point where we look at the pastor in the pulpit thinking, “How effectively is he motivating me to do something?” If we do that, then we are de-stringing our own rackets, and are being ineffective hearers. It also creates the danger of deeply hurt feelings.  Preaching and teaching are deeply personal endeavors, and criticizing your pastor’s sermons will do little to help anyone. But these dangers should not stop us church communicators from asking ourselves these difficult questions.

For as long as I’ve been preaching, I have secretly distrusted the “Good message this morning, Pastor,” comment as folks exit after church. It isn’t that I really can’t take a compliment, or that I think people are lying to me. However, I am fed in my preaching by the occasional, “I thought about what you said last week and decided to…” That is success. That is what we should aim for.

So in looking toward this target, maybe we need to start re-assessing how we are communicating. How many people in our church know what our church’s mission statement is? What is the measurable fruit of our Sunday sermons?  What methods are bearing fruit in trying to communicate upcoming events and ministry opportunities in our church? If people aren’t attending or getting involved, is it because they don’t know, or is it because they don’t see these opportunities as vital and important? –Ryan

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A Great Communicator -part 2

This is part two in a brief series on communication as part of the very quality of God and His Kingdom.  It is also a clarion call to that Kingdom to become excellent at this vital issue, the very thing we were made for.  You can find part one in the series here.

Communication as being part of the very nature of God is not confined to exegesis of John 1.  In Genesis 3:9 after Adam sins God asks him, “Where are you?”  This is amazingly profound.  God obviously knew the physical location of Adam.  There was no question He couldn’t answer.  The real question should actually be seen as ‘why are you suddenly distant?’ or ‘Where has our intimacy gone?’ Before this moment there were no walls.  Man was naked and unashamed, hiding nothing.  This side of eternity, God would never again walk with man directly, unobstructed.  There was now separation.  The rest of human history is the story of God closing the gap.

Later, God reached out to Abram.  He sent prophets to give His words to people.  He confined Himself to using human language, human idioms, and human culture.  He spoke to rebels who were working directly against Him.  He confined Himself to locations where mankind could experience Him in locality.  Even our loving statement that “God is present,” or “God is here”  testifies to God’s self-limiting.

Then, God participated willingly in an astounding humiliation. He entered His creation as His creation.  He became human, subject to all the frailties (save sinfulness) inherent in that.  As such, he allowed Satan to influence the story.  He even permitted the ultimate disgrace.  He let His own creation torture and murder Him for crimes He had never committed.  Of course, He had the last word, triumphing over death in resurrection.  These seem to be great lengths to restore intimacy, community, and communication with what He had made.

The death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.  As Christians we not only know this, but base everything on it.  But in some sense we often fail to grasp the depth of that.  This event even marked a complete change in God’s public relations policy.  The Kingdom of God was now completely non-localized, no longer based on messages handed down from a high priest or occasional prophet.  Now all of God’s people would hold the role of priests and prophets.  The Kingdom would now be carried forward by the empowered creation itself.

The Word would now be in us.  But what does that mean, exactly?  It means, among other things that we are to be the mouthpiece and the communication of God to the world.  We are to be above anything else, communicators.  That is our major.  That is our profession.  That is our hobby.

Unfortunately, that is not what we often see happening in the Western Church, at least.  If you want something communicated to the world in expert fashion, you call in an advertising, or public relations agency.  These are people who have spent 4-6 years in college to learn about the best ways to communicate things, because it makes them money.  We believe that the ultimate eternal outcome of humanity rests on the transmission of the gospel message, and we occasionally employ ad agencies and public relations firms to do this.  Doesn’t this seem incredibly backwards?  Shouldn’t ad agencies be calling churches when they get stuck on a project, not the other way around?  After all, the advertisers have a lot of money on the line, but the Church has eternity in the balance, a far more serious risk.

If we are honest, many pulpits around our nation are not seen by even regular church attendees as being vital communication channels from God.  Many Christians would say that it is important to have, but most could not recall what was talked about by the middle of the next week.  Many will even admit that the sermon is usually boring and irrelevant to their lives.

Ministers Sunday task is to communicate the truths of the Bible in ways that impassion His people and emboldens them in their faith.  The message in short should be, “God is vital and powerful for your life, and because of that He wants to help you adjust yourself to His plan.”  I am not sure on the whole that this message is what we are communicating. –Ryan

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A New Series

I am soooo happy to be back blogging after my weeks moving and making my house livable.  There is a new blog series I’m posting on my Post-Christian page.  You can start reading it here.

A Great Communicator -part 1

God Communicating

This is part one in a brief series on communication as part of the very quality of God and His Kingdom.  It is also a clarion call to that Kingdom to become excellent at this vital issue, the very thing we were made for.

As Christians looking at the Bible for matters that are important to God and thus important for us, we tend to think of sin, righteousness, helping the poor and hurting, eschatology, and others.  These are all very important biblical themes.  But we tend to miss something huge that is both inherent and explicit in the Bible, communication.  It seems simple, a ‘no brainer,’ but it just may spark deep issues related to our faith that we often forsake.  I know we talk about communicating the gospel (good news about Jesus) message, but I think our understanding of a theology of communication should be much broader than that.

The famous passage in John 1:1-2 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.”  The common exegesis of this passage in today’s pulpits is mostly along the lines of, “Well…’The Word’ is just kind of a code word for Jesus…kind of like a nickname.”  But this misses a huge concept that the Bible spends much of its pages trying to get across.  In order to really understand this, we need to turn back a few hundred pages, to the very beginning.

God created the world by speaking it into existence.  He said “Let there be light, and there was light.”  Interestingly, God wasn’t saying “Turn on the lights,” but “Let light exist.”  God created the very concept of light by simply speaking it into existence.  The same goes for everything…literally, everything.  All that is came into being through God’s word.

In John 1 we are transported back to that moment in Genesis 1 when everything came into existence.  The passage starts with the exact same phrase as Genesis (Septuagint), “en archae,” and contains the same concept of creation.  That is the purpose of the passage in the first place.  The other gospels have their genealogies, showing Jesus lineage from Adam, from Abraham and David, but John gives Jesus genealogy from the beginning of all and preexistence with God from eternity.

But John 1 goes beyond just a lineage (or lack thereof).  Going further in the John 1 passage we read, “Through Him all things were made; Without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3)  Anyone thinking about the tie to Genesis would quite easily recognize that John hadn’t stopped the parallelism here.  John was saying that Jesus was the speaking into being that did the creating.  He doesn’t leave it in doubt at all.  Nothing was made at any time through any means other than Jesus, God’s word.

The concept of trinity to start with incorporates into the Godhead fellowship.  God is in Himself community.  Community requires communication.  The more intimate the community, the more intimate the communication must be.  In fact, communication is not a function of community (or vice versa) but the essence of it.  We, made in God’s image are by nature community-building communicators.

I have some dear friends with a small 1+ year old child.  This little girl has not yet developed the verbal skills to be able to actually tell me what it is that she is thinking, but that doesn’t stop her from trying, and try she does.  She will be involved in all manner of toddler intrigue and dawdle up to me as I sit on the floor.  Putting her hand on my shoulder in order to share with me some deep secret of the universe, she then belts out “phlat ab da phfff.”

This little girl, though currently unable to get it quite right, is doing what she was made to do.  She is sharing her world with me.  There is something beautifully human about that.  It is also a reflection of God Himself.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this series

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