When we were kids my brother gave me a mug with a message printed on. It said, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.”
We don’t engage and we don’t listen; we tell people what we want them to know. Even then, we don’t check that they have heard and understood. I have spoken, therefore you have understood. Otherwise you might be suggesting that I don’t communicate clearly. Surely not?
Why is communication such a difficult and scary thing? So difficult that, at all levels, even when it is most critical, we tend to get it wrong.
We think no one will find out—the less said the better—or that people don’t need to know. Even powerful Presidents of the United States, such as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, who thought they had the power to make things go away, have discovered to their cost that there are no secrets. Your staff or your customers or your partner will find out sooner or later. Rather let them hear from you than from elsewhere, or pick up rumours that only give half the story—the worst half.
In the church we are particularly guilty of making assumptions. We assume everyone knows or we think they don’t have to know. This is particularly true of the activities and rituals of worship.
The fact that we have prepared activities to enable others to worship should be enough, shouldn’t it? People should just experience what we have prepared and, well, worship. Shouldn’t they? Well, sometimes that works, but equally often, I surmise, people are left wondering what is going on.
It is often the small, seeming insignificant things that bother people and interfere with their ability to enter into worship. People often don’t hear the sermon because something (big or small) was bothering them. Perhaps we read one of the Psalms which speaks of smashing babies’ heads against a rock. Only we left that verse out, so now they are wondering what it means or whether it’s OK to ignore some verses that don’t seem to ‘fit’. And while they are thinking about that our carefully planned message is lost.
Why do we stand up when the offering is brought forward? Some people call it offering, others collection. Does it matter?
Why do some churches come to the rail for communion and others receive it in the pew? Does it matter? And is it Communion or Mass or Eucharist, or…. And are they all the same, or different? Some break whole loaves of bread while others use little wafers.
Some crosses have Jesus hanging on them while others are bare. Some crosses are shiny gold and others are made of rough wood. Some are a strange shape. Are some right and others wrong? Does it matter?
What we say is lost because of all the things we haven’t said.
We cannot hope to anticipate all the unasked questions and answer them in advance, but if we are in the habit of explaining things (a word here, a little there) people will be more inclined to ask questions. Instead of using the sermon time, for example, to ponder something they are too shy to ask, folk will be more likely to put their questions aside and raise the issue later.
What do you think?