Clarity in Communication

I remember well the first sermon I was asked to preach as a student reader in theological college.

The Rector knew I was nervous and asked me to come and have tea with his family a few days beforehand. He invited me afterwards to come down to the church and preach the sermon to an empty church. “There will be no one there only God, you and me,” he told me, with a twinkle in his eye, “and we are all on your side!”

I launched into the first line and he stopped me. “What did you mean by that?” he asked me. “I meant this,” I said, as I explained. “Well, why don’t you say it that way then?” he asked. I had prepared the sermon rather like an essay I was going to submit to the college. It contained lots of big theological words which I felt rather pleased about. I thought they made me sound very intelligent indeed!

The Rector, however, stopped me repeatedly on hearing these big words asking me to explain what they meant. “You know what they mean, Jono, and I know what they mean,” he said, “but will Mrs. Jones, who sits down the back here and wears a hearing aid, will she understand all that stuff you are telling me?”

It was a master lesson from a very gifted preacher. He helped me to think about what I was doing and how I was trying to communicate. He did it in such a way that it didn’t shatter my confidence, but it helped me to think about the words I said. Were they clear, could they be understood? Did they help to connect the Scriptures to everyday life?

Campbell College, Belfast

A few days ago, I sat in a large school assembly hall with about 100 other parents. Our son’s school was holding an information session to explain various facets of the school’s methods of teaching and communication.

Various teachers stood up to speak. They maybe had a role as a tutor, as a year head, as a member of the senior leadership team. They spoke on different subjects, like the channels of communication between school and home, or how they would expect our sons to respond to different challenges in their new environment. They spoke about expectations and standards. The bit I remember was that, if your son was late four times in a calendar month, he would have to spend an afternoon in detention! The rationale was that, if we were late in our employment, various disciplinary measures would be taken and, so, it was good to start early to build good habits like punctuality and strong attendance.

We were then invited into different classrooms to meet our son’s tutor so we would know who this person was if we ever needed to express a worry or concern.

A lot of information was packed into an hour and it was very well presented in a very clear way. 

It got me thinking about the ‘church without walls’ and how we communicate things in terms of following Jesus. As we try to grow in our own discipleship, are we good at offering opportunities for others to do the same?

Do we recognise, for example, as schools seem to do, that people learn in different ways? Some people will be more visual and like to draw things out to understand them. Others prefer to hear a lecture or a talk and write notes to help them understand what’s being taught. Others learn best through doing an activity. If we are saying that reading the Bible daily is a core value of the Christian life in order to hear God, how do we model this? Can we sit people down and show them this is the way we go about this in our own lives? It would be embarrassing to try to do this if we weren’t doing it ourselves, wouldn’t it?

If we speak about the importance of loving our neighbour, or sharing our faith with others, and we can’t remember the last time we spoke to one of our own neighbours or shared with anyone how our faith became important to us, it will hardly be a surprise if not many new people are coming to church. 

How do we distil the essence of what’s important into the activities and practices of the church, into the way we ourselves seek to model our lives on the life and teachings of Jesus? Sometimes, as one of the teachers said in our meeting at school, we get it terribly wrong in our own lives. He told us he wasn’t a very religious man, but he believed in redemption, in giving people a second chance. When it goes pear shaped and we feel we have made a terrible  mistake, it’s not the end of the story. There are people in the school structure who are there to guide you and help you learn from your mistake and get you back on the right track.

I really liked what I was hearing, and I wondered if that’s what people feel about their local church. Is it a place that has certain clear expectations of our lives? Following Jesus is not a walk in the park. Jesus said some very challenging and powerful things, but he did so in order to help us become more like Himself.

When there’s more of him and less of me on display, it’s surprising how fulfilled we become. We learn by doing, we learn by hearing, we learn by observing.

Is your local ‘church without walls’ somewhere that you can make a mistake, but find support as you pick yourself up and go again?

The Message translation of Matthew’s gospel puts it rather powerfully as it translates Jesus’ words.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11 verses 28-30)

Can I ask everyone to keep the people and community of Creeslough in Co. Donegal in your prayers, please? The pain and suffering is immense as they bury those who died in the tragic explosion last Friday and our hearts go out to them. Sometimes, our silence is the only response in the face of such tragedy as we look to God to minister His help and comfort to those who are suffering so terribly.

A reminder that the Sanctuary course will not be meeting tomorrow night, but will resume next Wednesday, 19th October at 7.45pm.

A brief meeting will take place in the top hall tomorrow night, 12th October at 7.15pm to finalise arrangements for our community fun day on 22nd October. If you can help, we would be delighted to have your assistance.

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.

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