Communicating Well in a Fast-Paced World

What I wonder about, however, is if we sometimes moved so fast and have so much communication happening that we aren’t stopping long enough to see if we are communicating correctly? Could we be eagerly moving ahead so fast in ministry methodology that we aren’t stopping to think about the theology behind the methodology? Are we stopping in the midst of fast communication to see if the words we are using are actually theologically correct? Everything we do as leaders has theological implications, and it is so subtly easy to move fast without considering these implications. Words are powerful. Words frame beliefs. Beliefs shape actions. As we use certain terms, are we stopping to see if they have unintentionally and subtly shifted their meaning to people?

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We live in an incredibly fast-changing culture. It is quite thrilling to see how amazingly quick communication, information and the exchanging of ideas can now occur. What happens in Tel Aviv or Baghdad is reported on cable news minutes later, and even live video coverage is now possible across the globe. We can follow celebrity news and get caught up in watching the development of young starlets in crisis and get daily and even hourly reports all over the news and Internet. Emails are used over regular mail and text messages over emails as instant and faster ways of communicating develops. Twittering from Blackberries is making its way into a faster and more detailed form of blogging about personal updates being shared. You see the same thing with the speed of language changing as cultural buzzwords and phrases are created that catch on for a while and then fade out as new buzzwords enter our cultural lingo. Suddenly words have new meanings, and their former definitions may not even be known by those growing up in our fast-paced, newly developing culture.

As we lead those in our churches, we also use technology to communicate information. We give out more information, more emails, more sermons and more podcasts, and we communicate and set up lots of activities and events for people to intake and participate in. Books, blogs, emails, websites all communicate new and changing information faster and faster. It is a thrilling time dreaming of the potential these forms of communication have for making the Gospel of Jesus known and helping people grow in their maturity as disciples of Jesus.

What I wonder about, however, is if we sometimes moved so fast and have so much communication happening that we aren’t stopping long enough to see if we are communicating correctly? Could we be eagerly moving ahead so fast in ministry methodology that we aren’t stopping to think about the theology behind the methodology? Are we stopping in the midst of fast communication to see if the words we are using are actually theologically correct? Everything we do as leaders has theological implications, and it is so subtly easy to move fast without considering these implications. Words are powerful. Words frame beliefs. Beliefs shape actions. As we use certain terms, are we stopping to see if they have unintentionally and subtly shifted their meaning to people?

For example, if you were to grab a 20-year-old who is part of your church and ask him or her “What is worship?” there is a very high probability he would say “music” or “singing.” After all, we call the musician who leads the singing the “worship pastor” or “worship leader.” After the sermon is over, the worship leader usually says something like, “Let’s now worship,” essentially equating worship with the singing. So naturally, when we ask a 20-year-old to define worship, the first thing that comes to their mind is singing. As they are in a conversation with someone and say, “I love to worship at my church,” it usually means they love the music. We know as leaders that singing is but one very limited understanding of what worship is. But week after week we let it go, reinforcing the common perception through our language. In the hectic and fast-paced nature of life and ministry, we may not be stopping to wonder if the people we lead are understanding theologically what “worship” really is. This does have theological implications to our day-to-day living. If the people we lead subtly begin equating worship with singing together, then we aren’t understanding the concept of holistic sacrificial worship as Romans 12:1–2 teaches. So worship takes place mainly at a meeting when we all sing, not as a lifestyle. An extreme dichotomy can occur in one’s spiritual formation and how they live their life and view themselves as a worshipper.

If you were to listen to a discussion with people in our church, do they say phrases like they “went to church” that day? Do we as leaders say things like “invite them to church” or “go to church”? If so, the reality is that we are again reinforcing incorrect theology. As we all well know, the Church is the people, not the place or building. To say we went to church or that we go to church, is to say we went to ourselves or go to ourselves. I sometimes joke how there was a satanic plot to introduce false theology at an early age with the children’s nursery rhyme of “Here is the church; here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” This reinforces the church is the building and the people are inside the church. Petty, yes. But think of the ramifications of how constantly reinforcing that we “go to church” can subtly lead to dichotomy of church just being the place you go to on Sundays. How does one view their decisions during the week and lifestyle as a natural result of this theological way of thinking?

When you start thinking about this, it really plays out in a lot of ways. How about the title “pastor”? Part of our roles as leaders is to shepherd people. But because we have turned the spiritual gift of shepherding into a formal title for the paid person, what do we communicate? Can we subtly be teaching theologically that the people of the Church who have the gift of pasturing really don’t have the gift to the same degree like the paid pastors do? Can we set up a false understanding and even cause people to not think they can “pastor” others because they think the title applies only to the paid people? Subtle, maybe. But think of the theological ramifications of what happens with this and how it can twist the priesthood of all believers into something it theologically isn’t. It can set up incorrect expectations of everything from the role of the paid pastor to the role and gifts of the people of the church.

Let me press this even further. Do we think theologically about the way we set up the room for worship? The setup communicates theology to people. Does community mean rows of chairs all facing a stage, with someone up front? What does this teach about the priesthood of all believers versus a separation of those with strong enough gifts to make it to the platform? Have we stopped to ponder what this can communicate or do we simply imitate what we have seen and know, and then continue this way without thinking about it theologically. How about video venues? God seems to be using them in wonderful ways. But are we stopping in the rush of it all to consider the longer-term implications of what this communicates about ecclesiology? Do we ponder what the medium eventually communicates about the message, or even how it might change the message? I don’t have answers to this one, but are we stopping to theologically thinking about it as leaders?

What about all things emerging and emergent? We can be very fast to jump on trends and new ideas (or what sounds like new ideas). But are we stopping to critically think about why we may be drawn to something and think change is needed? Change very well may be needed. But as we make change, do we stop long enough to look back on church history? Lessons have been learned in the past; do we stop and look at patterns of methodological or theological movements and consider whether this has occurred before? And if so, where did it ultimately end up?

I am fully aware—and agree—that there is a longing for change due to the dissatisfaction of the often overemphasizing of some doctrines or even sins and not enough emphasis on others. Or perhaps too much emphasis on orthodoxy without enough emphasis on orthopraxy. But as we respond, are we careful to examine the degree to which we react? Are we guarding those we oversee to make sure they understand the implications when we remove focus on one part of our theological spectrum and focus on another? Or look at patterns in church history that we can learn from? Theology and doctrine is important, and understanding how methodology teaches theology and doctrine is important. We have that responsibility, but we must take the time to stop, amid the fast pace of books, information, excitement and change, to gain perspective.

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As leaders, are we are stopping to listen? Are we paying attention to how definitions of words might possibly change? Do we listen and ask questions to see what the people in our churches are thinking of terms we use? Maybe having someone not define “worship” or “church” correctly is important. How about when we start hearing subtle changes of definitions of words like salvation, hell, the Gospel, sin, atonement? It’s possible we have been using those words incorrectly, and if so it is important to make corrections. But are we listening and stopping to see if the people we lead understand these words in the way we think they understand them?

The world we live in is totally thrilling. But it also means church leaders need to sharpen themselves theologically all the more. We need to view all we do theologically—our teaching and our methodology. We need to stop long enough in the face of change to ponder the trajectory of theological changes we may become interested in. We need to study church history to understand patterns of the past. Certainly, we need to build leadership skills and grow as leaders. At the same time, however, we need to be theological thinkers. As we look to the future, we also need to be looking to the theological future and what paths to carve.

We have a holy responsibility as leaders in this culture today to be thinking theologically about the decisions we make. About the words we use. About the changes in theology we should run to or run from. About the methodology we choose to use and what theology it communicates. It is exciting to be a leader today, but more exciting to be a theologically thinking leader. And as shepherds, we really don’t have a choice whether we take this very humbling and holy leadership responsibility seriously.

This article originally appeared in Neue Quarterly Vol. 01.

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