I teach communications as my pastoral side hustle. As a former disc-jockey and radio sports reporter, I fancy myself a student of the discipline. But like the Lord Jesus said, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself’” (Luke 4:23).
Many of us stink at personal communication. In marriage, family, and pastoral ministry, developing faithful, consistent communication is critical for relationship health. Given what’s going on in our world, it’s more important now than ever.
What are we Saying to Others Passively?
When I was a youth pastor, I called another local youth pastor to connect for the first time. We were both on staff at two of the more visible churches in town. He wasn’t available, so the church secretary took a message. A week went by and I called again. Same story – different day. I called the church a week later, and another week later. After a while I started hearing echoes of the 1970s Joe Walsh lyric from “Life’s Been Good,” Just leave a message, maybe I’ll call.”
Feeling I had a personal mission to test this guy’s resolve to ignore me, I determined to call him every day for a month. I didn’t want to talk to him anymore, I just wanted to communicate my own message, though in my immaturity I wasn’t sure what that was. He never called back. After that month I didn’t either. Whatever point we were both trying to make, without ever having spoken a word to each other, we were communicating.
Years ago a pastor in my church network committed suicide. A senior leader of the movement communicated through mass email that we should pick up the phone and call him if any of us ever felt like doing the same. The problem was, over the years lots of pastors “picked up the phone” or emailed the leader on a host of issues and got zero response so the offer of “care” rang hollow.
You Can’t be too Busy to do Job #1
Any of us justify our lack of availability with the, “I’m a busy guy,” excuse. This message communicates we’re rarely, if ever, available. In The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson wrote that our idolatrous desire to be seen as important often motivates pastors to be busy and ignore the calls of those we deem less important. “The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker.”
On the other end of the spectrum are pastors who imply availability, but don’t answer email in a timely fashion, if at all. This is a type of disingenuous posturing that communicates indifference to friends and worse, to the congregations they serve.
Shepherds/Pastors communicate with your people intentionally, responsibly, and lovingly. If you call yourself a leader of people (let alone Pastor) but people can’t get you to respond to emails in a reasonable time-frame, you’re intentionally or unintentionally communicating they don’t matter much or aren’t valued by you.
Communicate to Faithfully Represent the Prophet, Priest, & King
If we’re God’s ambassadors to our people, what erroneous things about God might they hear through our poor communication? He doesn’t care about them? They aren’t important enough to respond to? While it’s true that God responds in His time, He always responds. As His ambassadors, we must take the responsibility of response to others (let alone pursuit of them) seriously. If you find yourself bothered by phone calls, emails, or texts from people in your church or on your staff, it may be time to reconsider your call to pastoral ministry.
It was popular for a time to think of the pastoral calling as “Tri-perspectival” in nature: Prophet, Priest, & King. Jesus was all three and we’re called to imitate Him. However, some settled into the idea they weren’t “gifted” as a priest so they left the “caring” to others while they prophetically preached and kingly bossed everyone else around. This is an unfortunate excuse that robs us of sanctification and growth opportunities — the equivalent of a Christian saying they don’t have the gifts of an evangelist, so they’re never going to share their faith.
Turn Away from Passivity
The number one requirement of being a leader is being the SERVANT of all (Mark 10:42-45). Regarding communication with others, Calvin College professor Quentin Schulze calls this being a “Servant Speaker.” If servant-hearted communication with others doesn’t come naturally to you, add it to your list of other weaknesses and by His grace and strength, follow and imitate Jesus. Repent of your selfishness and pride and make needed changes so others can see the grace of God in and through your communication.
During this time of national chaos, our pursuit of our people is more important than ever. They may not respond, and may be communicating something by not doing so. However, our job is to communicate the love, care, and pursuit of Jesus to them. Perhaps this international pandemic is an opportune time to get with our leaders and explore how to shepherd people more effectively in our communication. By God’s grace, when we see people in person again, we’ll be more effective communicators of His love for them.