In the previous article we considered one administrative skill that is important for good leadership: the ability to resolve problems in a timely manner. A second crucial skill is the ability to communicate clearly. I was interested to note that the Funk & WagnalStandardCollege Dictionary gives as the primary meaning for the term communicate: “to cause others to partake or share in.” The definition we might have expected, “to transmit or exchange knowledge,” is given farther down the list, showing that communication is a much broader word than simply verbalization. In fact, understanding this concept is critical to fellowship in thelocal church.
In Old Testament times, prophets spoke representing Israel’s God who (unlike the gods of the Canaanites) did not reveal Himself as a figure or shape (KJV – similitude), but as a Voice communicating His word (Deut 4). “Thus saith the LORD….” was their watchword. In the New Testament we learn of the Lord Jesus, God’s communication to man. He was called “the Word” by John the apostle. Jesus taught that man lives by the very words God speaks (Matt. 4:4).
The epistles abound with references not only to the act of speaking and the message conveyed, but to the related idea of fellowship. At the end of the Bible, the heavens are opened and the Lord whose name is called “The Word of God” returns to earth to reign with His people (Rev. 19:13). How important this matter of human words and communication ought to be for Christians!
I would like to mention four areas in which communication skills affect church elders. First, these skills are important in the transfer of truth, as in teaching, preaching, counseling, and a host of other gifts and efforts aimed at edifying the people of God. Second, they are essential for building quality relationships through interaction, listening skills and various non-verbal exchanges. Third, communication skills are needed to investigate and clear up problems, both personal and organizational. Finally, these skills are of critical importance for successfully managing or leading a group of people. The assembly of God’s people must be a place where practical fellowship can blossom; an environment where the vision, decisions and goals of the local work can be understood and applied.
Transfer of Truth
Space does not allow us to make a detailed analysis of these four areas but let’s think briefly about how they affect the work of elders. Clearly, communication is at the heart of the elder’s work. God’s leaders must be good communicators, as implied by such passages as “apt to teach” (I Tim. 3:2, KJV), or “that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince….” (Titus 1:9).
Charged with feeding God’s flock, elders must promote spiritual health and growth, through positive activities such as preaching and teaching, as well as protecting the flock by restraining those who by their words would do harm (Titus 1:11). Whether delivering messages, chairing meetings, making announcements, or visiting people, elders must be certain that communication is clear, sincere, timely, and edifying. While it is true that “the Word of God builds the church,” it is also true that good communication is essential to this process.
Communication is both an art and a science, and must be worked at continually. Many passages exhort believers to take this seriously, as communication forms the basis of relationships, and relationships are nurtured in an atmosphere of honesty and trust. We must be slow to speak (James 1:19), and be certain our speech is always with grace (Col 4:6).
In Eph. 4 and 5, Paul provides a whole list of forms of speech forbidden to Christians as well as those good things that should characterize them. This touches every believer; no one is exempt. Fully half of all spiritual gifts given to the church are utterance or speaking gifts. No wonder Paul equates spiritual maturity with the ability to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:14)!
Nor is this subject limited to speech alone, but includes the larger matter of fellowship, one of those factors prominent in the early church (Acts 2:42). Thus the local church becomes a place for learning the art of communication and sharing together in the good things of God.
An important corollary to this subject is listening. The Lord Jesus cautioned his disciples “Take heed how ye hear [or, listen]” (Luke 8:18). These qualities, when modeled by the leadership of the assembly, will set an example for those younger in the faith, and should become evident not only in Christian relationships but in healthy marriages and families. In the gathered assembly, in small groups, and in private discourse, all things must be done for edification (I Cor. 14:26).
One indispensable part of elder’s work is to address and resolve doctrinal and personal difficulties that threaten the work. In questioning, listening and deciding, careful interaction is essential. Paul writes “And the servant of the Lord must not strive [or argue], but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose him….” (II Timothy 2:24-25).
Prayer, which is really just communication with the Lord, should surround the whole matter. The process may be lengthy and difficult, but once a determination has been made, clear communication with the church is essential to prevent gossip and to advise the believers of actions they should take. The goals are always restoration of those who sin, and protection of the church. The fruit will be a joyful, growing company, as opposed to a discouraged one.
Finally, elders must communicate a vision for outreach, discipleship, service and mission. Leadership meetings must allow opportunity for brothers to sharpen one another, and each should welcome suggestions for improvement. Prudent use of those who are more gifted communicators will pay dividends. Of course, not all elders will have the same communication skills, but each should seek to improve his own abilities so that his interactions with others can be clearly understood.
Remember, in dealing with people, we must look beyond what is being said, and try to understand what people perceive us to be saying. Feedback is valuable. Don’t be afraid to ask: “What did you gather from our announcement this morning?” or to a single mom “What is our best tool for keeping you informed about leadership decisions?” Humility will keep elders approachable.
Working with people is rewarding, but it’s hard work. Learning good communication skills will make the job easier for the sheep and the shepherds.