Communication is vital for many reasons. This isn't just well known, it's obvious. As vital as it is, it's difficult to do well. Language is often a hindrance, but not nearly as much as other common culprits.
Things like pride, arrogance, and stubbornness are major factors in poor communication. This is illustrated well by a short dialog from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke. The chain-gang boss Captain says, "What we've got here is... failure to communicate."
The number one most helpful and critical need for good communication is listening well. Marriages fall apart when spouses stop listening to each other. Negotiations break down when either or both sides are only concerned with their own agendas.
Listening well is a skill that requires time and willingness to develop. It's not a means to an end but a way to begin genuine communication.
The number one most helpful and critical need for good communication is listening well
As new generations emerge a disconnect is common between younger and older generations. It was true when my generation (boomers) came of age, and it's true today.
Typically, each generation blames the other for various and perceived wrongs. The result is the inevitable generation gap. But is a generation gap inevitable or just typical? Either way, it's a gap that can be bridged, but it's a bridge that needs to be built from both sides of the divide.
I've read several articles and posts addressing the departure of millennials from the church. Depending on whose point of view, it's often a list of perceived complaints or criticisms. A lack of listening is a common complaint.
Listening well is a skill that requires time and willingness to develop
Of course, one generation blames the other. And, well, both are right because neither wants to listen to the other. It's like two young boys fighting over the same toy. When an adult intervenes and encourages them to apologize and shake each other's hand, each boy says, "I will if he will."
Part of the solution
No doubt you've heard the cliche, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." When it comes to pursuing the common ground of understanding, listening well is key. It's a gateway to being part of the solution.
Years ago I heard a veteran missionary friend of mine speak on personal evangelism. He used the term hot communication and spoke of the importance of listening. The concept isn't new and it's an acronym with a few different meanings. One explanation I like best is—Honest, Open, Two-way.
Much of the time, communication is one-way or unidirectional. That's called a monolog.
When communication is a two-way street it's called dialog. But the listening part needs to be honest and open to facilitate hot communication, or else it remains cold and likely won't lead to true understanding.
Much of the time, communication is one-way or unidirectional—monolog
Humble enough to listen
My friend Danny also gave the example of Jesus as a twelve-year-old in the Jewish Temple listening to and asking questions of the teachers. Those in the temple were astonished at what He understood and how He answered (Luke 2:46-47). What's astonishing to me is the humility of the Lord.
Paul, in his plea to Philippian believers, also uses the example of Jesus. He reminds these brothers and sisters to have the same mind or attitude as Jesus—
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)
Understanding one another, the intended goal of true communication, requires both humility and mutual respect and consideration.
If one generation wants the respect of another, then respect needs to be extended, and it needs to be mutual, not unilateral. This is what people saw in the twelve-year-old Jesus and the one who ate with sinners and healed the poor and hurting.
Understanding one another requires humility, mutual respect, and consideration
I see a communication failure when it comes to reaching the millennials and the next generation with the gospel.
Those of us in older generations can find fault with self-focused younger generations, but this only shows our own lack of humility. We (boomers) were once that self-focused younger generation.
If we refuse to listen and respect those younger than we, we remain just as self-focused but older. Those of us from the Jesus Movement ought to know better. We need to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Too often it's the opposite.
In my own involvement mentoring people of younger generations, including millennials, listening and observing are essential when working with them.
Next week I want to begin exploring ways to reach younger generations with the gospel, especially those without a Christian frame of reference and those who've walked away from the church.
Listening and observing are essential when working with other generations
Are you a good listener? Are you willing to hear more than being heard?
Remember, we were created with two ears and one mouth!