We don’t always say what we think we’re saying.
Communication is a funny thing. It’s more than just the message itself. Have you ever said (or texted, or emailed) something you thought was quite clear, yet found out later the other person misunderstood you? Maybe you didn’t speak clearly. Maybe they weren’t listening. Maybe there was a double meaning. Maybe there was a cultural bias or a back story you weren’t aware of. Miscommunication happens all the time.
As a first year Speech Pathology student, I studied the three parts required in all communication – a sender, a receiver, and a message. However, the communication cycle really becomes effective when a fourth element is added – feedback.
Without feedback, miscommunication is inevitable. When people aren’t able to respond, or ask for clarification, they’re not likely to buy into your message – or even get it in the first place. If you’re not listening to them, why should they listen to you? No, seriously, why should they? If the communication is a one-way channel, the “listener” becomes a critic, cynically evaluating whether they should pay attention to you or not. As soon as the channel becomes two-way, it is a relationship – and the “listener” becomes an equal partner, not an undervalued commodity.
In the past, we were prepared to tolerate the constraints of the system. At University, I had to put up with sub-standard lecturers, employed for their research skills, not their teaching talents. Today, I can study whatever I want, at my own pace, in my own time, in my preferred medium, for my own purposes – thanks to the networked intelligence of the world, available at my fingertips. In the marketplace, I used to buy products based on advertising and clever marketing. Today, I go straight to product review sites to hear from real people how well the product works in real conditions, before making any significant purchase. In church, I used to take what inspiration I could from the worship time and the sermon, making the most of whatever message the paid professionals had prepared for the masses that week. Today, I prefer to meet with God’s people face-to-face, to share our stories and our lives, and explore God’s story directly together, teaching one another and ministering to each other.
Without feedback, churches aren’t saying what they think they’re saying. An expert on the stage providing a one-way monologue isn’t communicating to people that they matter, that their opinion is valued, that they have something to contribute. Dialogue is more powerful than monologue. It’s time to open up the channel of communication and give God’s people a voice.