As a person who enjoys teaching, perhaps the most frustrating thing I experience is when a person has a confused look on their face when I’ve finished communicating. When that happens, I’m not frustrated at them, but at myself for not doing my job adequately.
Well, I seem to be witnessing that confused look more frequently. And it’s stirring a very uncomfortable feeling inside.
When I was back in professional ministry, I would spend a lot of time crafting my teaching, whether it was for small groups or for Sunday sermons. I’m a conceptually-oriented person, so I tend to enjoy theories and concepts. But I also know that people are wired differently. So I would spend considerable time trying to discover creative and fresh ways to communicate concepts. (This is something I learned from Rick Warren and I’ve always admired his ability to do this.) I would use pithy one-sentence summaries, movie clips, stories, object lessons and a variety of other methods to help people hear God’s Word.
But since leaving professional ministry, I haven’t been making the time to practice what I would call the discipline of pastoral communication. Part of the reason is the lack of time in my life. Part of the reason is I don’t really teach anymore since our community’s time is discussion-based. And quite frankly, part of the reason is my own pride.
Over the last couple of years, I have maintained my discipline of study, consuming volumes of theology books. As a conceptual person, this is a fairly easy task for me. But I haven’t counterbalanced that discipline with the discipline of pastoral communication. Instead, I would just write or speak what I was learning without spending the necessary time to craft for the people around me. So now, what naturally comes out of me are mostly concepts and technical language. This is usually followed by confused looks. Then when I try to explain, I find myself really struggling for words. This is usually followed by more confused looks. I have a friend who has told me, “Jason, whenever you open your mouth, a dissertation comes out.”
I know the problem is on my side. The people around me are extremely smart people. I know it’s me and not them.
The awareness of my laziness has been reinforced lately by a sermon series by Brian McLaren called “What is the Emerging Church?” This guy is a master communicator. John Frye has called him a “pastoral artist.” Brian has the ability to communicate extremely complex ideas so simply and naturally. What takes me paragraphs to explain, Brian does in a couple of sentences or with a simple metaphor. It’s amazing to experience.
As a pastoral communicator, I’m out of shape and flabby. And like recommitting to return to the gym, I know the road to fitness will be somewhat uncomfortable and painful. But it’s something I’ve got to do.