Communication Does Not Begin With Words

Professor Leo Buscaglia recounts the true story of a little boy whose neighbor’s wife passed away. Seeing that the elderly man was heartbroken and grieving, the boy’s mother warned her son not to bother the neighbor.

It wasn’t long before the mother noticed the little boy crossing into the neighbor’s yard and climbing up into the old man’s lap. He remained there for some time, sitting quietly.

When the boy returned home, his mother met him with her hands on her hips. “I told you not to bother him!” she scolded. “What were you doing?”

“I wasn’t doing anything,” the little fellow answered. “I was just helping him cry.”

Communication does not begin with words; it begins with CONNECTION. If you want to impact a person’s heart and mind, if you want to have influence you first need to CONNECT. True communication is first and foremost, about CONNECTING, coming together, the sharing of life and self, a seeking to know and be known. Communication is born as two human souls come together and touch or CONNECT. So, your task as one who stands in a pulpit week-after-week is to enter the space and the language of another.

God was born as a man – entering into the space and language of humans – so that He could communicate the heart of the Father and reveal the true nature of God. He CONNECTED with us, becoming one of us, so that he could communicate. We must be no less with the people He has placed into our care and called us to win into the Kingdom as we seek and save the lost.

The Latin root for our word “communication” is communicare, meaning “to share together,” or, more literally, “to make common.” Regretfully, we think we have communicated when we stand and proclaim the truth of God’s Word to the people. We see communication as the mere transmission and reception of information. We speak before we listen. We communicate before we connect. We work at inserting into another person’s mind bits and bytes of information. So, communication becomes an impersonal exchange of messages, a one way street. Author Margaret Miller describes the resulting conversations as, “simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness.”

True communication – even from the pulpit – is never monologue; it is dialogue, the coming together of two living being. Oh, it may not happen while you are speaking on a Sunday but it must happen for there to be true communication. CONNECTION always precedes communication. Without CONNECTION communication is impossible. But when lives touch during or before the actual speaking of words on a Sunday life begins to flow. So, great communicators, before anything else, seek means of connection.

As one who teaches many times in any given month and who on a daily basis writes articles, blogs, and teachings that are posted on the internet and read by hundreds of people in both English and Russian – I am well aware of the truth I am attempting to communicate. Each day I spend much time on the phone, I write between 40 to 50 text messages a day, countless emails, Tweets, speak to people in numerous nations by Skype, and, on an average day, speak at length face-to-face with at least two or three people. I am CONNECTING so that when I teach, write, or publish it is relevant, spoken in the heart language of people, rising out of a time of hearts touching that resulted in the sharing real life together.  CONNECTION before communication. Life before words.

This work of coming near for the sake of CONNECTION is the foundation of all fruitful communication. It is at the very heart of the Christian faith. As Jesus’ closest friend, John the apostle described Jesus’ life, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1) That which was far off, removed, and distinct came near. He dwelt in our space, spoke human language, addressed our most pressing needs, and even tasted our pain. CONNECTION.

One author states it this way, “From His first screamed breaths in dank barnyard air, to His last pain-wracked gasps on the cross, Jesus’ life was continually a work of connecting to those He sought to reach. His every act of communication, whether verbal or otherwise, was anchored in choices to CONNECT with His audience – always moving toward, reaching into, drawing from their daily experiences.”  Jesus was always ready and willing to enter into the space of others. Through every means at His disposal, Jesus drew near to those with whom he sought to communicate.

Simple, descriptive phrases from the Gospels capture this approach, startling only for their ordinariness:

  • Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues…
  • Jesus reached out His hand and touched the leper…
  • While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him…
  • When Jesus entered the ruler’s house…
  • Jesus went through all the towns and villages…
  • When Jesus came into Peter’s house, He saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in the bed with a fever. He touched her hand…
  • He went in and reclined at the table…
  • Coming to His hometown, He began teaching the people in their synagogue…

He dined with the wealthy as a guest at their feasts. He conversed with religious leaders in their synagogues and temples. The poor He sought out in the alleys and gutters, the destitute on their sickbeds. Even the outcasts and the immoral encountered Jesus at their sides, their homes, at their tables.

The residue of Palestine’s dusty roads coated Jesus’ feet. He breathed the sour odors of the crowds. Fishing boats and hillsides served as His platform as often as pulpits or podiums. The unlovely received His gaze; the untouchables felt His hands.

Even His words were distinctly NEAR to His audiences. He spoke not with ivory tower phrases and abstract doctrines. Instead, he painted vivid word pictures that could be touched and tasted and smelled: baking yeast, a field of wheat, sheep and goats, falling towers, zesty salt, and scintillating light. And, always, he returned to stories – a form as accessible to children and the illiterate as to the educated elite.

No matter what audience, Jesus continually conveyed His message in their terms and on their turf.

Can we do it like Him? Absolutely. But be warned – it will require risk and even loss. To have impact you need involvement. And real connection with real people on their terms and on their turf is not without great risk. CONNECTION requires that we draw near through whatever means available. This was Jesus’ way. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” “Dwelt” literally means ‘to pitch a tent.’ Jesus didn’t commute to the job site – He moved right into the middle of the people He desired to reach. And, it cost Him everything. Whatever the cost, the quest to draw near marks all who effectively CONNECT.

Jesus desire to connect with those he desired to communicate with was not just the focus of and approach to His life; it also defined His words as well. Jesus spoke and taught in parables or stories.

Parables were foundational to the way He communicated. The word “parable” comes from two words: ‘para’ meaning “near” and ‘ballo’ meaning “to bring.” Parables are “near-bringers.” A ‘paraballo’ is any story or phrase that connects a distant, hard-to-visualize thought or concept with something vivid and familiar. As one author stated: “Jesus never forced His listeners to wade off into the realm of abstract principles and doctrines. Instead, He brought the ideas He wished to convey close to them. Using these ‘near-bringers,’ He imbedded lofty ideas and principles in the dust and grime of the people’s workaday lives.”

Now this may seem obvious and you may be saying at this point, “well, of course.” But it here that we most often fail and thus miss communicating the truth as set forth in Scriptures. Jesus never complicated things. As Dr. John Maxwell is quoted as saying: “Educators take something simple and make it complicated; communicators take something complicated and make it simple.” Jesus was a communicator. And, He used four simply methods to present and communicate complex truths.

1>     The narrative: Love for stories is universal. Jesus harnessed stories as His primary means of communication, telling tales of kindly Samaritans, and forgiving fathers, buried treasure and mouth-watering feasts. Whether Galilean farmers or jaded North American teens, everyone delights in a story or a tale well told.

2>     Simplicity: Jesus’ themes were grand and expansive. But He always offered truth in bite-sized chunks even illiterate labourers could digest. People of all walks of life gathered to listen to Jesus for days at a time. Adults and children, educated and uneducated. If they sincerely wanted to learn they would never go away empty-handed.

3>     Familiarity: Jesus’ communications was always fashioned from the stuff of His listeners’ everyday life. He drew from their history, their Scriptures, their daily experiences, and from current events with which almost every listener would certainly have been familiar. People feel comfortable and connected when they hear references to things they recognize and interact with regularly.

4>     Concreteness: Even when speaking of the lofty and eternal, Jesus never allowed His ideas to become disconnected from the realm of the concrete. He translated each concept intro vivid images: a man plucking out his eyes, moths and rust devouring hoarded wealth, pigs trampling pearls. When possible, He involved physical examples as well – a small child, a coin, a man with a withered hand. Jesus made everything He spoke about real and tangible.

Communication that is simple, familiar, concrete, and makes ample use of stories – whether addressed to a large stadium or the teenager next door – brings us near to our listeners. It CONNECTS us to them and to their world.

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