When they do surveys asking churches what the number one problem they have is, always in the top five is communication. It is the same in relationships. One study I often quote in remarriage counseling is that the top three cited reasons for divorce is money, sex, and communication. But when you break down the issues with money and sex you find that they are often times about communication and the way we hear what is being communicated to us and the way we respond to it. In organizations like churches, communication is always difficult because you often do not have the same group together twice. Just think of worship; each week some people come and others do not. So if something is announced at church, not everyone will have the opportunity to hear.
This is actually why we do this letter, so that the entire congregation might see the announcements about what is going on at the church, often in my letter you can also begin to see the struggles that Session is dealing with. Though often people will come back and complain that they did not know this or that. What I often find frustrating is when I show them in the newsletter or bulletin the issue they brought up. What I often find in the church, though, granted this is not unique here, is that people do not always hear the communication.
It reminds me of a sermon I preached in a previous congregation. After the service I had the church over to my house for a discussion. The Sermon topic was about inclusivity and how we need to be inclusive of all God’s people. Being in North Carolina, that was a difficult topic with lots of baggage, even though the church was multi-racial. During the discussion, an older woman brought up how awful my sermon was and how I should know better than to advocate for separation of racial groups. My mouth dropped, and before I could say anything another man came forward to ask her where she heard that? It was almost funny how the discussion devolved from there to be about what we think we hear and what was actually said.
People who study things like this say that more often than not the problem with communication is more that the hearer makes a conscious or subconscious choice to hear or not hear what is being said. When I was a kid and throughout all of my schooling, I was taught active listening. This is a way of listening that engages the talker so that you can better understand what they are saying. This is often why I stop people, and make statements or ask questions to see that I am understanding what is being said. This is important because to hear we must understand what exactly is being communicated to us.
The truth in the Presbyterian Church is that we are not a congregational polity, so often by nature of the way we are organized, not everything is always going to be known by everyone. Saying that, the Session is going to try and do a better job of communicating the points and issues that we’re discussing at session. But beyond that, one of the best ways for people to solve feeling like they are not being told what is going on is to get involved. When you are involved, you have a better connection to what is going on because you see it.
Whether it is in your personal life, work, communities, or the church, when you feel that you are missing out on communications, step back and ask, what is it that I do not feel I am being told. Then assess who to approach. If it is an area of interest, like Christian Education or Finance, maybe you need to join those committees so you know what is going on, but to better understand and hear what is being communicated I suggest:
We often forget that the church is not a divine organization, nor are the people working and attending it, but we are all trying to serve God the best we can, and that means that we all have the responsibility to do the best we can to communicate and to hear.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen