Have you ever tried to do something right, and it blew up in your face? This happened recently when my wife and I sensed it was time to leave the church we were attending. It’s a smaller church in the process of growing. We had come to the church a few years earlier to help with the youth ministry. We had recently stepped down from leading the youth group and were backing away from commitments. When we knew for sure God was leading us to leave, I met with the pastor and told him where God was leading us. I told him we wanted to leave the “right way” and would do so over the next couple of weeks.
Kaboom! It all blew up. He was stunned. He genuinely had no idea this was coming. He thought we were still in leadership and committed to the church. In that moment, I was stunned as well. How could he assume that? We had just stepped down from leadership. We were purposefully backing away from responsibility. I just couldn’t understand how this came as such a surprise?
Over the course of that lunch, as we attempted to talk things through, I realized why he was so shocked and why things were going so badly: We had a breakdown in communication. The lines had broken down, and now our relationship was crumbling.
I found out the hard way that in any relationship, communication is key. It’s the foundation for a solid and healthy one. If it’s cracked, crumbling or missing, the relationship will not stand.
As I look back at what happened, I have come to realize there are three very important ingredients to healthy communication.
This one gets us every time. We are so afraid of offending people, we don’t speak the truth. Now, common sense says not every situation we are faced with deserves a no-holds-barred honesty. (Example: “Honey, do I look fat?”) But there are times we shouldn’t hold back. We need to learn to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said.
I should have told him from the beginning that we were only at the church for a time. Then, I should have told him, when we stepped down, that God was beginning to lead us elsewhere. I didn’t do either of these, for fear of upsetting or offending him. I should have bit the bullet and been honest.
[SPEAK REGULARLY.] Our communication with others—especially those we love—needs to be regular. If it isn’t, things will get backed up in our relationships, and all kinds of problems will ensue.
When I first started attending the church, the pastor and I would meet once or twice a month. After a few years, however, that ended. Until that fateful lunch, we had only met five or six times over the course of the last two years. Because we didn’t talk regularly, a lot of things went unsaid and were assumed. It never would have happened if we had kept speaking regularly.
[SPEAK CLEARLY.] We can never assume the person we are talking with understands what is being said the way we understand it. It’s vital we speak what is on our hearts. Then we can ask them if they understood what we are saying. If there is any confusion, we can clarify the issues.
Hindsight being 20/20, I can see that neither one of us were really clear about what we were saying. He thought I was still committed to the church when my wife and I stepped down from the youth ministry, but stayed at the church. I meant something else. Clarity would’ve done away with the damaging assumptions.
Do these three things guarantee rock solid communication? No. Truth be told, there will always be times we don’t say everything we mean for fear of the reaction we might get. Or we don’t take the time to speak with someone because we are angry or offended. Or we are not clear in what we mean because we assume they see it like we see it. But, if we make the effort to be honest, regular and clear, our communication will be better, and our relationships will be that much stronger.[Chris Dalton is a freelance graphic design artist and writer. He has worked with teenagers and college students in his local church for the last 10 years.]