I am thinking of putting this on a blog affiliated with our denomination. It's much more generic than I would like, but it will be seen by denominational leaders and people across our denom. I think I'm pretty much seen as a disgruntled, idiot-fool by most of them, so I didn't want to be too specific. I needed a place to park it. You can let me know what you think if you like.
In the previous thread a couple people shared their personal pet peeves. One of mine is communication (or lack of it). I get irritated by the fact that, for people who have the greatest message in the world, communicating with one another seems to be such a problem for many of us (myself included). I am not just talking about stating facts, but actually getting across to people what they need to know and/or what is going on.
As Christians we are urged to "be prepared in season and out of season," to "always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have," to "go and make disciples..." and a whole host of other verses calling for us to communicate with others. So why is it so hard for us to do that within the church? Whether we're talking about the denominational office, regional offices, local church leaders, or Christians in general, I think it does us good to occasionally ask ourselves how well we are doing, and is there anything we can do to improve.
I certainly don't want this to be a political post, but the new President of the United States took office with a very high approval rating. I think this was in large part due to his communication skills. Perhaps there is a thing or four we can learn from him.
OPPORTUNITY OVER TRADITION
President Obama utilized new technology and social networking tools like no politician before him. Some would even say he was emailed, facebooked, and twittered right into the oval office. He was downloaded, linked, quoted, advertised, and funded in ways some candidates don't even know exist. And this was just to become president of one country in one part of the world. As Christians we have the Good News of Jesus Christ that is for all people all over the world. Why would we not take advantage of every opportunity we can to get that message out? As the Apostle Paul said, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." How about, 'To those who facebook I will facebook, so as to win those who facebook. To those who twitter I will twitter, so as to win those who twitter. To those who email I will email, so as to win those who email.' You get the idea.
These are not the ONLY means of communicating, but if you want to reach the world, these are ways the world is communicating. I am glad that our denomination has a nice website. Many of our churches do too. However, are we teaching our people the importance of outreach and keeping in touch through some of these other social networking tools? With websites, email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and the like, it would seem the only thing that can keep us from communicating with others is our lack of trying.
VISION OVER WONDERING
As someone who followed President Obama's campaign, I never had to wonder what he was talking about or what he was going to do next. I got emails every day (and still do), his web site listed his stance on everything under the sun, every time I got on Facebook or Myspace there was another message from him. Now, granted, some of that was to gain notoriety, and I don't know that we need to be trying to make celebrities out of our church leaders. However, I think the writer of Proverbs has a warning that applies here: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Vision needs communicated. And if we're not sharing it, then we're going to leave people wondering, and eventually perishing.
If you take a look at the CGGC Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churches_of_God_General_Conference_(Winebrenner)) it says we are a fundamentalist group. Yet I have been told by those in leadership that we are not. It has left me wondering. As pastors and church leaders, are we taking every opportunity to share vision, or do we think it will just be 'caught'? Poor communication leaves a better chance of catching a cold, and that is nothing compared to missing out on life in the way of Jesus.
Contrary to church growth principles from yesterday, I don't believe we need nice little vision and mission statements. I believe we need to be sharing our hearts, and our dreams, and what is on our minds... let alone sharing what the Bible says, or God's love for the world. By not communicating these things, we leave too many wondering and risk their perishing.
INCLUSION OVER EXCLUSION
I believe a big reason President Obama has rallied people around his vision is his ability to make people feel like they are a part of what is happening. By not communicating with people, it leaves them feeling like they don't count, like they're not important, like they are excluded.
I shared in a comment on another post that when I first became a pastor I had a church executive tell me something along the lines of "You should never tell anyone any more than you have to. It cuts down on complaints and ammunition they can use against you later." I immediately lost all respect for this person as a church leader. That kind of arrogance conveys an "us vs. them" attitude that I have seen too much of in the church. Either we ARE the body of Christ (together), or we are NOT. I know we can't always share everything with everyone, but consistently withholding information from people - whether it is in the local church, region, or denomination - leaves people feeling unimportant and excluded to the point that they eventually just don't care. And then we church leaders wonder why we can never get anyone to do anything!
On the other hand, I once had an older gentleman in my church who knew I was planning to make changes. He said he might not like all of them, but he would be much more apt to support them if I would at least have the decency and respect to let everyone know what I planned to do beforehand. I believe that is not only fair, but smart. Sure, people will complain from time to time. But I would rather have some complaints than leave people feeling excluded and watch them give up and not care. Is our communication (or lack of it) leaving people feeling included, or excluded?
HOPE OVER FEAR
A constant message throughout President Obama's campaign has been the idea of 'hope over fear.' This is a great political slogan, but it should be much more than that for followers of Jesus. Do we really believe in the hope Jesus offers, or are we more afraid of what people are going to think or say? If we truly believe that Jesus is THE WAY, then we need to stand like Joshua with the message "Be not afraid!" Taking advantage of every opportunity, sharing God's vision with our churches and the world, seeking to include people in the kingdom rather than exclude them. Shying away from communicating with others often leads them to think we are driven more by fear than hope. It also raises the question of what it is we are afraid of.
I certainly understand that communication can and does happen in a variety of ways. Not everyone is going to be able to utilize every mode available. That doesn't mean we can't encourage the use of internet technology and social networking tools by others though. I was deeply saddened when I heard a church leader had referred to bloggers as "nothing but whiners and complainers." To me this communicated an attitude of traditionalism, exclusion, and fear.
I didn't write this because I think the internet is the answer. But I get the feeling some people just don't believe communication - or a lack of it - matters all that much. Consistently not making information available, or only giving out the minimum, says a lot. It creates an aura of secrecy and deceit, and I believe this does a great deal of damage not only within our churches and denominations, but in the minds of people toward the church in general. I believe it is important for our denominational leaders to be communicating with our church leaders, and our church leaders to be communicating with our congregations, and our congregations communicating with the world at large. Not to do this seems contrary to our evangelical roots and the word of God.
Certainly we do have people in our denomination who do a fine job of communicating... But I think some of us could do a whole lot better. This is important stuff. After all, we have the Good News of Jesus to share! So, in the words of Paul (2 Thess. 2:16-17), "May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed AND WORD." Amen.