We were blessed to spend a few days with my step-son’s family this Christmas. We have two adorable, energetic, 3-year-old twin grandsons who constantly communicate. If you have seen the movie “Despicable Me” (and if you haven’t, you must!), then you will understand when I say that my grandsons sound exactly like Gru’s minions. When the minions speak to each other, they understand each other completely. They are speaking the same language. When they speak to Gru, it takes several times for them to convey their message, and even then it doesn’t always get translated correctly. But there are some great scenes in the movie where the minions can’t convey their understanding in words, but translate the words into actions that demonstrate their understanding of the concept. (The unicorn toy is a priceless example of this.)
Semantic noises in communication occur when the receiver cannot clearly understand the language used by the sender. The twins are speaking the same language, and so they understand each other. They are not speaking the language of my husband, and he is not able to decode their speech. It is gibberish to him. I’m usually in the middle, understanding about half of what they say and acting as translator for my husband.
Here’s the lesson for creative communication in the church:
If you are a trained theologian (pastor), you learned a lot of words that help you understand God and our relationship to him. There are a lot of people who don’t speak that language. We live in a postmodern world where many people have never engaged in church and so do not know the language. We do not impress them with our use of theological terms. We confuse them. If our language is not relevant to them, it is just a lot of semantic noise, and they cannot decode it into action.
There are a lot of church leaders who push against the “relevant” label, and if you are one of them, I urge you to change your mind. [Relevant comes from the Latin “to raise up.” Isn’t that what the church is charged with: raising up worship to God and raising up disciples?] Raise up your communication to the church and the community. Determine how you can use examples from the culture (like movies) and real life to teach God’s principles. It’s their first language. Learn it. Reduce the semantic noise between you, your congregation, and your community, so that they can turn the teaching of the Bible into action.
A great way to put this into practice is by having a sermon series planning team. When different people with different backgrounds come together and hear the topic of the sermon series, you will be amazed at the different thoughts that arise about the topic. These ideas can be used in how you communicate your series to the community. Hearing ideas for songs, drama or video elements, object lessons, and personal stories from others will help you to realize the variety of languages that people speak. Incorporating these into weekend worship will help you to communicate with more people in your congregation.
This is just one idea about how to decrease the semantic noise that occurs when you communicate to your congregation and your community. How have you learned the language of your people? Do you have an example of reducing semantic noise on your staff or with your congregation?