On Minions and Semantic Noises

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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? 

Go Tell It On The Internet, Over The Hills & Everywhere…

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Tim Schraeder wrote An Open Letter to Church Communication Directors, which includes a lot of encouragement for people who do church communications for a living.  Read it here:  http://www.timschraeder.com/2010/12/17/an-open-letter-to-church-communications-directors/

[I personally think that everyone who works for a church is in church communications.  Even though one person may be the “specialist,” everyone is in the business of communicating the good news to the world.  If they aren’t, they should get a secular job that pays better.]

Tim’s ending charge to church communication directors was “We’ve got the greatest story to tell, how will YOU help your church share it?”  As we celebrate Christmas, this is a question that we can ask ourselves, and maybe make a resolution to help our church share the greatest story in better ways through creative, impactful, intentional communication next year.  How will you tell it?

Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint

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During the next term of my studies, I will be studying Organizational Theory and Design.  Many of my posts over the next twelve weeks will concern organizational communication.  I’ll try to leave out the boring bits, but if you want to know what today’s doctoral student in Organizational Leadership is learning about organizational communication, stay tuned!

One of the texts recommended to the class is Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint, 5th Ed. [Eisenberg, E. M., Goodall, H. L. Jr., Trethewey, A. (2007). Bedford/St. Martins: Boston, MA.]  The book costs $73 and is not required, but I was attracted to the title, so I bought it used. There were pages marked with post-it tabs, and on those pages were highlighted text.  I thought I’d share one of those tabbed, highlighted sections that applies to this blog’s purpose, creative communication in the church.

“All leadership has a communicative component and involves the purposeful exercise of influence over others” (p. 286).  Organizational communication focuses on the leader effectively communicating with employees, which requires openness, supportiveness, motivation, and empowerment. 

No one communicates the lack of effective organizational communication better than Scott Adams through Dilbert.  Sunday’s strip celebrated this:  http://www.dilbert.com/strips/2010-12-19/

As we begin to discover what it means to creatively communicate in the organization, have you had many Eisenberg et al moments, where there is a purposeful influence that was open, supportive, motivating, and empowering?  Or have your organizational communication experiences been better reflected by Dilbert cartoons?  When you communicate, which are you?

Technology and Church Communication

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The Church has a long history of fighting against technology.  William Tyndale had the audacity to use Gutenberg’s invention to print an English version of the Bible and disseminate it to the masses.  Around the same time that Tyndale was was being strangled and burned at the stake for using this newfangled technology, Calvinist churches in Holland would not allow organs to be played in church.

Recently, Rev Cedric Miller was in the news due to his requirement that all married staff members close their facebook accounts, claiming that facebook accounts lead to infidelity in marriages.  Immediately following this pronouncement, Rev. Miller’ own sexual misconduct was brought to light, deeds dating back to before the advent of the world wide web.  Apparently, desires acted upon cause infidelity, not the internet (James 1:14-15).

What we really fear is what we do not understand.  If we don’t understand how technology can be used as a force for good in the world, then we will only see it as an evil.  Sometimes we view it as a necessary evil, and utilize it in the church only because we must, as in “We can’t reach young people if we don’t have cool video/lighting/media/websites/technology.”  Consider how technology can be used to help you communicate to your congregation and community.  You do not have to preach the gospel from a pulpit in order for it to be heard, or only have the oppportunity to disciple people when you see them in person.  Better yet, you can track the discipleship process using technology so that your evangelism and discipleship ministries will bear more fruit.  Isn’t that why you got into ministy in the first place?

To learn more about using technology in disipleship, check out http://www.churchleaders.com/, a website that offers pastors free resources.  This month, Church Community Builders have offered a free ebook download of Getting Disciple Making Right: 7 Ways Technology Helps Churches Win at Making Disciples.  You can download a copy for yourself here: http://bit.ly/f8TKox

How is your church using technology to fulfill the Great Commission?

The Church and Communication

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The Church and Communication
Consider if…
God had created the world, and created mankind, but chose not to communicate with them, or
Man sinned and was removed from paradise, and God had a plan of salvation, but chose not to communicate it, or
The angels didn’t communicate the incredible Good News of Jesus’ birth to Mary, Joseph, or the shepherds, or
Jesus didn’t communicate His message to his disciples, or
The disciples didn’t accept the commission to take His message to the world. 
Where would we be without communication?
Often, we think of communication as talking, emailing, or sermonizing.  We think that communication is just one aspect of our job as a pastor, an assistant, or church.  If we tell someone something, we have communicated.  We send an email, and we have communicated.  We give a sermon, and we have communicated.  But communication is so much more than “me” sending a message to “them.” 
Communication is not a part of our job.  Communication is our job.  Without communication, the Church would not exist.  Doesn’t the Church exist to:
Communicate the plan of salvation which is the good news of Jesus’ message, and commission disciples to communicate the plan of salvation which is the good news of Jesus’ message…until his return?
In every communication, there is an idea.  That idea is turned into a message.  We then encode and transmit that message, and hope that it is received by the intended party.  The receiver decodes the message.  In the midst of all of this coding and decoding, there is noise: internal, external, and semantic. 
This blog is an effort to look at how all of this matters to the church.  I hope that you will return and these postings will generate important kingdom conversations.