Monday’s post offered answers (from a variety of people) to this question: What do you think are the biggest obstacles to unity in a local church? I noted a connecting underlying theme in many of the answers, a theme about communication. For example:
* Non-discipleship in how to process and actively engage the offenses we pick up…What do we do when we are hurt? Do we attack or avoid? Do we have the skills and spiritual formation for a way beyond those natural responses? [Note it mentions skill and spiritual formation. More below.]
* People don’t know the difference between authenticity and impulsivity.
[Yes, those are different. Being authentic does not mean blurting out whatever and being a jerk!]
* The false ideal that we need to agree on every minute detail theologically, politically, etc, to have communion. [The old adage applies here: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.]
I’ve blogged about shallowness and lack of accountability in small groups. A friend shared with me that she thought a key underlying reason for this problem is that too many Christians are like 2 year olds when it comes to communication… emotionally immature, lacking in therapeutic communication skill. Some people who long for depth have either given up on small groups or keep it shallow on purpose -because- they learned the hard way that Christians can be like 2 year olds.
I hope that doesn’t sound like too harsh of an indictment!
Personality types, family background, past experience…all come into the picture. Some people are not to blame for their faulty communication, rather, they have simply never observed healthy communication. And as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. At times we need an extra measure of patience, kindness, and self-control as we live in community with others.
Some misunderstand accountability. When I’ve shared about its importance in the past, it became clear that there is misunderstanding about accountability. They think it means a group of people saying blunt things to each other. “You are a self-centered jerk Jim!” “You are an immature gossip Sue!” – Uh, no. They have confused authenticity and impulsivity. Love is truthful, but love is not rude either. Instead of calling Sue an immature gossip, perhaps politely but firmly state “I think we should not talk about that without Lisa present” and move the conversation in another direction.
A lack of spiritual development can be part of the problem. However, skill comes into it. Sometimes we need practical training in how to communicate with others.
Did you note the phrase therapeutic communication above?
I was a nurse for 18 years, and nursing school requires a class in therapeutic communication. I have long thought that EVERY college major should require it because we all have to communicate in life!
While the following article is from an online school I know nothing about, it gives a good overview of therapeutic communication techniques: 17 Therapeutic Communication Techniques. — Please read it.
While it is worded as between nurse and patient, it can be adapted for many interactions in life. I think a brief class on therapeutic communication would be an incredibly helpful requirement for becoming part of a church small group.
I’ll highlight some key communication skills…
⇒ ⇒ “Acceptance isn’t necessarily the same thing as agreement.” – Yes! You CAN accept or empathize with someone without agreeing with them fully. There are essential Christian truths, but too often we treat non-essentials as essentials. (Same for other life issues.) We pounce when there is no need to do so.
I’ve observed someone share how they feel and the response is something along the lines of “A Christian should not feel that way!” and maybe a Bible verse is thrown at them. If someone is sharing how they feel (angry, sad, hopeless) this is not the time to tell them they are wrong or give a lesson in theology about why a Christian should not feel hopeless. There is a time for a theology lesson, but not now! Simply acknowledge how they are feeling. Be empathetic. Be a presence. Listen. Again, this does not mean you are endorsing anything.
⇒ ⇒ Listen first, advice later. Why do we so often feel the need to quickly jump in with advice or judgment? Maybe we feel helpless or uncomfortable? Do we really think that we are so filled with awesome wisdom and incredible spiritual discernment that we can immediately offer stellar advice or needed chastisement? In relationships, there is a time for advice and accountability, but at minimum you should FIRST be sure that you have properly understood the person and situation. Life is complex, and listening to understand is crucial. As it says below, “a problem is often half solved when it is clearly stated.”
⇒ ⇒ Be a skilled and active listener. Listening involves more than saying nothing. Many of the 17 therapeutic communication points are related to listening. For example:
Summarizing and clarifying is helpful. After you’ve listened to someone for a time, you might say “If I’ve heard you right, your main concern is “x” – is that accurate?”
As you listen, help someone focus and reflect. Periodically ask a question that promotes insight into their situation. If they make a statement on their own that you find particularly insightful about their situation, help them move in that direction. Make a comment to help them expand their thoughts in that way. This can help them come to a conclusion on their own, rather than you telling them.
For Christians, there is an important spiritual and biblical dynamic to all this. We should help each other focus and reflect in a way that keeps us on target spiritually, leading a life that pleases God.
If Christians can’t properly communicate with each other this leads to so many problems… it can hinder spiritual growth (Christians need each other!) and it is definitely an obstacle to unity.
That was the end, but here is an excerpt about listening that I shared in the past:
“To get to the root of problems, a leader must develop into a skillful listener. Too many strong personalities are compulsive talkers. ‘He won’t listen to me’, complains a missionary. ‘He gives the answer before I have had the chance to state the problem.’ To many people, sympathetic listening is inefficient – merely waiting until someone else can state a point. But genuine listening seeks to understand another without prejudgment. A problem is often half solved when it is clearly stated. One missionary casualty moaned: ‘If only he had listened to me, I needed someone to share a problem.’ Leaders who want to show sensitivity should listen often and long and talk short and seldom. Many so-called leaders are too busy to listen. True leaders know that time spent listening is time well invested.” – J. Oswald Sanders