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Culture of Communication (Pt. 1)

I’ll be honest. For the last several years, I’ve found myself wrestling with my own frustration around communication. Specifically interpersonal communication. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances where grace is needed, of course, but I’m talking more about a habitual pattern of not responding in a timely manner (or at all) or responding in a way that isn’t clear or considerate. What I’ve come to realize is that many models of ministry promote and highly value public communication, yet give very little consideration to thoughtful and timely interpersonal communication.

I’m convinced, however, that interpersonal communication is a topic for everyone to consider, especially if you’re in a position of leadership (or ever hope to be). Don’t get me wrong, I love being on the receiving end of some great onstage communication! The people who have this gift (or skill, if they’ve had to work at it) have an incredible ability to stir up inspiration and passion in the moment. It’s valuable and there’s a need for it. But it alone doesn’t typically create lasting change. 

It’s not actually all that makes someone a great communicator.

It’s certainly not all that makes them a great leader.

onstage vs offstage communcation

In Worship School, there’s an entire session where I get to ask students about their experience with this. The group comes up with a list of qualities they use to determine whether someone is a great onstage communicator or a great offstage communicator. 

For onstage communication the answers are things like:

engaging, good eye contact/posture, knowledgeable, confident, funny, good at storytelling, prepared, and clear. 

But off the stage?

It’s words like genuine, kind, intentional, patient, fully present, active listener, thoughtful, and attentive.

Interesting. In both situations, we’re talking about being good at communication, but these lists are very different. And I think the answer to what that difference is, really matters!

Here’s what I propose:

With ONSTAGE communication,
people are mostly experiencing our competence.
With OFFSTAGE communication,
people are mostly experiencing our character.

Like anything, it’s not 100% on either end of the spectrum. There are certainly elements of character that come through our onstage communication (or there should be!), just like there are competencies we can work on to improve offstage communication. But by and large, I believe good offstage (interpersonal) communication is an expression of CHARACTER because it’s a form of compassion and empathy. It requires high access and it takes time.

People who are the best at offstage communication have learned to put themselves in other people’s shoes. They’re essentially asking, “If I was that person, what would I need or want to know? How would I feel knowing only what they know?” They’re not just thinking about themselves or their perspective. Their care for others spurs them to action!

ministry vs secular vocations

Here’s the kicker:
The majority of the people I’ve polled about this have ALSO observed that those partially or entirely in the secular (non-ministry) world are generally much more responsive and reliable when it comes to interpersonal communication than those who work solely in ministry. Some have even gone so far as to say that if people in full time ministry jobs were transplanted into secular jobs, they wouldn’t last long if they maintained the same level of communication! 

In my 13 years in full time ministry, this topic of interpersonal communication is one of the most consistent and yet most unaddressed areas of frustration I’ve experienced as both a member of a team and now as a leader of an organization.

But this should matter in ministry spaces MORE THAN EVER.

why does it matter?

Good communication ONSTAGE has the ability to INSPIRE a larger number of people over a relatively short amount of time.

Good communication OFFSTAGE has the ability to EQUIP a smaller number of people over a longer period of time.

What does that sound like to you? (If you’ve gone through Worship School, alarm bells should be going off in your head!) What else takes consistency, care, and compassion to truly equip a small number of people over an extended period of time? Discipleship.

Our willingness to lean into and value interpersonal communication with the people on our team, our volunteers, and in our life directly impacts our ability to be an effective disciplemaker!

Here’s the bottom line:

COMMUNICATION creates CULTURE.

Always. Whether you intend it or not. 

There’s NEVER a moment where you’re not communicating. Even if you’re not saying anything, you better believe you’re communicating something.

Communication (or lack thereof) is always creating culture. The question is, is the culture being created one where community can truly thrive? Because community and family is where true discipleship actually happens. That’s why communication matters. 

Interestingly, when it comes to communication, most of us don’t need to be convinced of the need to be able to communicate well ONSTAGE or in front of a group of people – mostly because we feel really dumb, or at least very uncomfortable or awkward if we can’t!

Here’s the part that might ruffle some feathers:

If you don’t value communicating well with people offstage, you probably shouldn’t be in a position of communicating with them onstage!

But how often do we excuse the poor offstage communication of people who are really good at onstage communication? We say things like “Oh they’re just an artist! They’re such a visionary! They’re such a good speaker!” We’re trying to make it seem okay that they’re not responsive or responsible or reliable in normal day-to-day life because they’re so good at what they do from a distance.

When we do this, we’re literally valuing competence far above character, and goodness that’s a dangerous position. Again, it’s not that competence ISN’T important – it absolutely is! It’s just half the equation.

a call to growth

As always, our strengths or giftings tend to naturally lean more in one direction than the other. That’s ok, but it’s important that we can name this about ourselves. We tend to be very quick to name the competencies we want to improve – playing an instrument, singing, songwriting, communicating from stage, etc. But we also have to be self-aware and brave enough to name the areas of our character we want to improve. 

I’d encourage you to take some time to reflect on this. Ask yourself – better yet, ask others in your life – what it’s like to be on the other side of your interpersonal communication? How is that impacting the strength of your relationships? Do people generally feel that you’re willing to take time for them and care for them in this way?

God’s Kingdom is meant to go into the world through His people. How? By making disciples. We’re each called to do that in the lane and space God’s given us, with our unique giftings and wirings. It will look different in different seasons, and you’ll have to be discerning about who your “people of peace” are because you can only truly disciple a limited number of people at a time. But we can’t do any of that well unless and until we’re willing to give people access to us and commit to truly caring for and walking with them. That means leaning into and valuing interpersonal communication.

How? I’m glad you asked. That means you’re on the hook for the next blog on this topic! My biggest goal for Part 1 was for you to walk away acknowledging WHY it’s important to consider and work on interpersonal communication. In Part 2, we’ll dive more into the HOW by looking at Jesus’ communication, as well as additional practical tips and considerations on the journey to becoming a better interpersonal communicator as you move through life.