communication

An Unknown God

unspalshcom_RLukeman

unspalshcom_RLukeman

Black and white—the epitome of contrast. This contrast may bring various things to mind for you, but what comes to mind for me is the dualistic dilemma we all face. It's a carry-over from the first humans who ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:17; 3:1-13).

As a rule, we tend to divide most everything in life into either-or categories—good-bad, right-wrong, big-small, etc. But life isn't that neat and tidy. There's a lot of color within the color spectrum between black and white.

Black is the absence of light and color, whereas white is the presence of light and all colors. Aren't you glad life in this world isn't just black and white?

I'm thankful for all the vivid colors that exist and that life can't be categorized into either-or categories. Neither does God nor His story of redemption fit into neat categories.

A lesson learned

Many years ago I taught a workshop to a group of pastors and leaders in the southern region of the Philippines. I needed the assistance of an interpreter, as I taught them the basics of Inductive Bible Study (IBS).

I tried to emphasize the importance of the biblical text as it's written in black and white. But my interpreter added his own take on what I said with, "It's either black or white."

I learned two important things that day. First, I need to be clear how I say things if I want to be understood. Secondly, I need to have confidence in my interpreter and be sure he or she understands me. True communication results in a fruitful dialog.

Words and ways of connecting

Last week I alluded to ways of sharing the redemptive message of the gospel other than traditional or trendier ways.

My experience as a cross-cultural missionary helped me learn how to teach in a simple yet effective way. I first needed to learn about the people I hoped to teach. This required time, many observations, a lot of listening, prayer, and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

As I gained more insight, I looked for ways to personally connect with those I taught and relate what I taught in words and ways they could understand.

This is what I see the apostle Paul do when he encountered people in a situation different from his typical experiences sharing the gospel.

Reception and resistance

Acts chapter 17 begins with Paul and his ministry team's encounters in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Paul went to the Jewish synagogue as was is custom. He reasoned with them for three days concerning the purpose for the death of Jesus the Messiah on the cross and His resurrection.

But when the Jews became jealous of those who believed the gospel and began to follow Paul's teaching, things turned rowdy. So they moved on to a town called Berea. Again, Paul went to the Jewish synagogue to explain and prove the gospel from the Scriptures.

The Bereans were honorable men and serious students of the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-12) and received and believed the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. Once again, things turned badly when men from Thessalonica came to stir up trouble for Paul (Acts 17:13-15). So, Paul was sent off to Athens until the rest of his ministry team could join him.

Provoked and challenged

Arriving in Athens, Paul walked around the city and his spirit was disturbed and provoked by what he saw—a city full of idols. He went to the synagogue as usual but also preached in public at the marketplace.

The philosophers in the marketplace thought Paul was preaching about foreign gods because he spoke of the resurrection as he shared the gospel. Wanting to hear more from him they brought him to a place called Mars Hill where much debate took place (Acts 17:16-21).

The context of Paul's message to the Athenians helps us understand how and why he shares what he does (Acts 17:22-31). He speaks to them about the One whom they call "the Unknown God." Paul explains how this God is greater than any manmade image or religion.

A matter of perspective

The message Paul shares with the philosophers at Mars Hill serves as an example for communicating the gospel to people who are not familiar with Christianity or the Jewish Law, so it's well-suited for a postmodern, post-Christian mindset.

How Paul conveys the gospel at Mars Hill has come under fire by various Bible teachers because he doesn't present the gospel in a more typical direct evangelical approach. Some of my friends who are solid Bible teachers say Paul's message wasn't effective because the blood of Jesus and the crucifixion aren't mentioned.

But is this valid criticism? I think not, and nothing in the book of Acts or the NT epistles indicates that is was lacking validity. The problem comes from our own perspective of how it ought to be.

But that's exactly the issue—it's our perspective and doesn't take into account how others hear it. Or, in many cases, how they don't hear it because they have no frame of reference to understand a more direct modern evangelical presentation of the gospel.

Seeing a new perspective

I see 12 elements in Paul's message to the Athenians on Mars Hill where the redemptive message of the gospel is clearly expressed. Next week I'll go through those twelve points with cross-references to support each one.

Until next week, I encourage you to read through Paul's message at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31) to see if you can identify these twelve points. Look at the context of the entire chapter (Acts 17). This should help provide the why to how Paul expresses his message.

The goal is not to pick Paul's message apart from a western evangelical perspective but to understand why and how he communicates the gospel the way he does.

Understanding this will provide greater insight for reaching people who don't have a Judean-Christian framework of understanding, whether in America or anywhere in the worldwith any unreached people group.


My interest in Paul's message at Mars Hill was originally stirred through the teaching of my friend Danny Lehman at a missions conference several years ago. He's a long-time and well-traveled missionary who speaks a lot about evangelism and has written quite a bit about it.

I highly recommend his book,  Beautiful Feet– Steps to a Lifestyle of Evangelism, if you're interested in learning how and why to share your faith with others.

Talking Into the Air

unsplash.com_JRosewell

unsplash.com_JRosewell

Engaging someone in a conversation can be very satisfying, even when there's a difference of opinion. There's a sense of give-and-take, of listening and responding. This is true dialog.

On the other hand, you've probably experienced a more lop-sided conversation where you're doing all the listening, or perhaps you're doing all the talking. One-sided conversations aren't really conversations, they're monologs and aren't very productive.

What's even less productive than a monolog is when one person talks over another without listening. Even worse is when a person speaks in another language or uses terminology foreign to whoever is listening. This is like talking into the air.

Another language

One day while walking across a small island in the Philippines, I engaged a young man in conversation as we both carried a cooler full of drinks and food. He listened and nodded as I went on and on.

Years later, he told me how little he understood of our conversation at that time because he didn't understand much English. I spoke little of his dialect but thought he understood me. In reality, I was just talking into the air while he listened.

Since then, we've known each other for over 20 years and developed a fruitful relationship of mutual respect. I've learned to listen more and he's become more confident in communicating what's in his heart and mind. In the beginning, I was the teacher and he was my student. Now we are friends and partners in ministry.

4 Insights for more effective communication

This story illustrates and provides a few insights for me that I'll share here. These are some basic things to help make communication more effective so we're not just talking into the air.

  • @@Language and wording are important, that is how we convey what we say to someone@@
  • @@We need to know and understand our listeners to whom we're trying to communicate@@
  • @@We need to find a common point of reference or interest with whoever we speak to@@
  • @@Find the most effective means or way to express and convey what you want to say@@

As pointed out last week, effective communication needs to be a dialog, not a monolog, and listening well is essential.

Language

@@Words and phrases are like containers for our thoughts@@. Even with sign language, each gesture expresses some meaning or idea. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make it easy to open these containers that convey our thoughts.

Two simple ways to make them easy to open are—use simple words and translate terms and expressions or idioms into our own words.

Working overseas with students who are non-English speakers I ask them to put answers to my questions in their own words (IYOW–in your own words). This requires them to process what they are learning so they understand it better.

Putting things in simple wording also requires us to process what we're trying to communicate, and helps us to hear things more from the point of view of those who hear us. When we bring things it a simple level, we make it easier for others to understand what we're trying to say.

Understanding

As a pastor or teacher, or with any public speaking opportunity, I observe who I'll be speaking to before I get up to speak. I consider the demographics of the audience. Who are they? Where do they live? What to they do in life?

Basically, I'm looking for the most common factor among those gathered. When working with the division of fractions in arithmetic, we look for the lowest common denominator. That's the idea I have in mind.

I look beyond the better-educated people and those who seem like they'll grasp what I say more easily. I aim for those who might have a harder time understanding what I want to say to the whole group. If it's a church, I look for the younger believers and whoever might be non-believers and aim my message at them. They're my most important listeners.

Common point

@@Part of understanding who I'm speaking to involves finding a common point of reference@@ with them as a group, or maybe a couple different points of interest. If the people are older or younger, I try to relate things so they will receive it best. I tailor illustrations, examples, and stories to fit them. I even try to use idioms and words that are most familiar to them.

Jesus is our prime example for this. It never seemed to matter who was in front of Him, He knew how to communicate so they understood Him. What Jesus said to the woman at the well (John 4:7-26), is different than how He spoke to Nicodemus (John 3:1-12), or how Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus who climbed up in a tree to see Him (Luke 19:1-10). 

I don't speak to young IT students the same away I do to farmers in the mountains of the Philippines. I need to adjust what I'm saying and how I convey it in a way that relates to them best. Believers can quote Paul who said, "I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22), but do we really do this?

Ways of communicating

All of this leads up to how we communicate to others or the way we convey what we have to say. @@Different situations or circumstances also impact how we communicate@@. I'm not going to preach a sermon to a small, informal gathering. I'd rather engage people in discussions rather than talk at them.

Some of the ways I'll speak and communicate with people is to use stories, questions, or find some way of listening and responding to them. Basically, whether preaching, teaching, or just talking with someone, I want to engage them in dialog in a way that interests them.

Jesus used questions and provocative statements many times with His disciples and even in public gatherings (Matt 16:5-12; John 7:37-39). He used stories (parables) that connected with the people who gathered to hear Him (3 parables in Luke 15). As noted above, sometimes Jesus simply engaged people in conversation.

@@I've found people much more open to hearing God's redemptive story after I engage them in genuine dialog@@ rather than to immediately launch into a presentation of the gospel. I've also used each of these ways to engage people while traveling and while teaching and training leaders.

Final thoughts

These four ways of developing effective communication are useful in whatever role you have in life or in various life situations. They work for pastors, teachers, cross-cultural missionaries, writers, supervisors or staff, coaches or teammates, leaders at any level, or those who listen.

Again, @@listening well is critical to good communication. It shows people we're interested in them@@ rather than our self or our own agenda.

Practical application

@@Discipleship is a long-term investment, not just a training course to equip believers@@. Pastoral care involves understanding, patience, listening, along with a practical application of mercy and grace.

Good teachers build a strong foundation and framework for learning before delving into a deeper understanding of the truth. Cross-cultural missionaries need to find bridges and points of connection between their culture of origin and the culture of the people they want to reach.

Effective leaders need to understand the goals, passions, and struggles of their staff or team members. People in the trenches of life and work need to understand what's expected of them.

All of these life roles and situations work better when communication is done well. Those of us in roles of leadership at any level need to model these ways of making communication more effective.

For example, as a teacher, when my students aren't understanding what I'm trying to teach them, then it's my responsibility to find a way to help them understand. I need to model for them what I want them to learn to do.

When we can connect with people in these ways, we'll communicate better and make the world better around us.

How about you? How can you put these insights into action in your life?


Resources–

  • Here's a simple Glossary for some Christianese terms from the addenda of my book
  • If you'd like to know more about developing questions for an interactive Bible study, check out the Bible studies under Inductive Bible Study on the Resources page.
  • If you'd like to know more about how to tell stories in your own words (IYOW), contact me via email through the Contact form at the bottom of the Resources page.

A Failure to Communicate

unsplash.com-3gens_LAnderson

unsplash.com-3gens_LAnderson

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

Communication gaps

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

Communication failure

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

Until then...

Are you a good listener? Are you willing to hear more than being heard?

Remember, we were created with two ears and one mouth!