Is Christian Communication Different?
Yesterday, I spoke on communication at an event for Christian young adults. When I was asked to speak about communication, my initial thought was "where do I even begin?" How do I summarize nearly ten years of learning and experience in just an hour?
Unfortunately, communication is one of those things that, because we've all been doing it since we were born, we think we've got it all figured out. But what many people don't realize is that communication is an art form that takes study and practice to do well.
Especially as a Christian.
I firmly believe that good communication can save the world and that bad communication is at the root of nearly all of the world's problems. People are too busy talking to listen, too busy fighting to talk and too afraid to be vulnerable with people who are different so they create enemies.
Is Christian communication different? Well, it should be.
In my opinion, the most basic and important principle of Christian communication is that it honors the dignity of each and every person. Every moment of communication should be a moment of encounter, from which each person leaves feeling more human, even when the subject matter is difficult.
It's easy for us to communicate well when we are feeling at our best and when we agree with the person, but that becomes difficult when we feel sad, anxious, stressed or threatened. Then good communication is all about the work we've put in to prepare for moments like these. But are we putting in that work? Or are we just treating communication like a matter of luck?
I believe that the biggest obstacles to communication that truly honors human dignity are our habits, our lack of empathy and our own ego.
When we feel stressed, angry or threatened, we will revert to our most habitual nature, and unless we work to create good habits, that isn't usually very pretty. Might I recommend one habit we all kill dead in our lives right now? For the love of everything that is good in this world, when you are with other people, put down your dang phone. When you are on your phone with other people, you are telling them that they are unimportant to you, whether you mean to or not. When people are on their phones around me, I immediately feel that my presence has no value to that person. Less value anyway than a good scroll through Instagram. Engage with the person sitting in front of you now. Ryan Reynolds latest tweet will still be there when you get back.
The second big obstacle is a lack in empathy. Christians are notoriously well-known for lacking in empathy when it comes to certain issues, and people didn't get that impression from having never met a Christian. If people have poor opinions of Christians, that is nobody's fault but Christians, and we need to learn to communicate better to repair that damage.
We have to let ourselves love people who are different from us, even though that makes life so much more complicated. And while disagreeing with a person doesn't mean you hate them, some people do hatefully disagree, yet still call it love. You don't have permission to correct a person until you've built a relationship with them. And once you've done that, then you can communicate in a loving way about even the most difficult things.
To communicate with love and to say things well, we have to get out of our own way. Our own ego can be the biggest obstacle to good communication. Are we communicating to encounter, or are we communicating to win?
Only by communicating with truth, goodness and beauty, all three at once, can we truly honor the dignity of each person we encounter, and thereby truly communicate as Christians.
Last night, I asked everyone in the room if they thought communication was in a good place in our world right now, specifically in our country, and they laughed, emphatically shaking their heads. I imagine you would have done that, too. But complaining about what other people are doing to ruin our world gets us nowhere. It starts with us.
So, I asked them to tell me one thing we can do to improve communication in our world starting today. They told me that we have to learn to listen. In this world of 10 second soundbites and 140 character limits, people are dying to be heard, and if we show up ready to listen, what greatness couldn't we do in the world?