Tag Archives: Communication

Language Lessons


“If the Bible has been translated, why do you need to learn Greek and Hebrew?” That’s a question I got posed quite a bit when I was preparing for seminary. After seminary I was posed a different question by some of my fellow pastors, “I’m a pastor, not a language scholar, why do I need to waste time with Greek and Hebrew?” It’s fair question, especially in our world of hyper-specialization, so let me give you my reasons for continuing with the language tools I learned I Seminary.

Before I begin, let me agree with my pastor friends. I am not a language scholar, nor will I ever be one. I simply don’t have the temperament for that sort of pursuit. This, however, makes the question posed by some of my fellow pastors all the more relevant. If I’m not a language scholar then why do I bother keeping up with the Biblical languages? I have two reasons.

First, translating the text helps to flip on the dormant language learning center of my brain. In many ways, I think multilingual pastors have an better grasp of the nature of preaching because they are in a state of interpretive flux by default. They realize communication requires bridges to be built between different sets of cultural assumptions. A monolingual pastor, such as myself, is more likely to miss this very important point. After all, if we understand one another’s words, we automatically understand each other’s meaning, right? Wrong. This is why pastors often get into trouble. We make the assumption the people with whom we are speaking naturally understand our meaning. Because of this, we forget communication isn’t a six lane highway, it’s actually a rickety old bridge which can be perilous to cross unprepared. When I translate Scripture, I’m reminded of that important lesson.

Second, translating my texts reminds me I am not merely crossing the bridge between my world and those of my congregation. I also have to remember there are multiple cultural settings within the text of Scripture. There are differences between pre and post exilic Israel. There are differences between the different Jewish sects in the New Testament, and even more among non-Jewish converts. There are even differences among the cultural history for the interpretation of a given text. When I prepare a sermon this awareness also has to be part of the discernment process – and translating the text helps me remember to keep it in mind.

Translating the text, then, reminds me communication is the process of continually crossing and/or building bridges between cultural understandings. It’s partly what keeps me on the lookout for stories, pictures, and other cultural expressions which may help me in that process. Do you need to be multilingual, or know Greek or Hebrew, to benefit from that awareness? No. My mediocre language skills are what help me to remember all communication is, at its core, translation and interpretation. I highly recommend it, but I’ve met many pastors who are fantastic communicators without knowing Greek and Hebrew. What’s important is learning the language lesson regarding communication, and daring to cross cultural chasms as a result.

Rule of communication

A picture of wezlo

I want to take a brief pause in my “styles” series to share some thought on how/when I choose to communicate. I'd love to hear your own thoughts in the comments! I'm calling this a “rule,” in that it helps to order my electronic communication life.

Phone Calls

I am well-known for my general aversion to voice calls. I feel as though I am intruding on another's time. Probably because I find them intrusive myself. I have several friends I will talk with at length on the phone, but for “just sharing a line of data” moments phone calls get in the way.

Having said that, I have many people with whom I minister who use the phone their method of choice, and I accede to their style in order to stay in touch – but I have a rule for doing so.

  • Unless it is an emergency I never call a number before 10 AM, and never after 8 PM. People need time to be by themselves. Most people I call at a home number are seniors, and I find those hours work best for them.
  • When calling a cell phone, I try to be aware of when people might be on the road.
  • I never call any number between 5:30 an 7:00 because I want people to be able to enjoy a meal without interruption.


Texting is interesting because it is not as intrusive as a voice call, but also implies a sense of immediacy. I try to keep both these aspect in mind when communicating this way.

  • I don't text before 9 AM unless I'm set to meet someone and I'm letting them know my location. Before this time people are often settling in to work or preparing for the day, so I let them do so.
  • I don't text after 9 PM unless it's a “shared” experience. I'll text about a Phillies game with a friend, or about a show I know someone else is watching. I won't just text, “Hey, what's up?”

Instant Message

Instant Messaging is still a way I enjoy communicating. The rule is simple.

  • If someone's status is green, I can strike up a conversation regardless of time. If the person responds or doesn't respond is entirely up to them.
  • I'm someone's status is yellow, which means idle, I have no problem leaving a message.
  • If the person's status is red, I won't start a conversation unless they have an away status which show they are not occupied with work. An “in a meeting” means I won't strike up a conversation in any circumstance. If the status is, “I'm at lunch” have no problem leaving a message. If there is no specific status given, I don't send a message.

Social Networks

Social networks are simple.

  • Anything but instant messaging is “anything, any time.”
  • Instant messaging is something I will only initiate with a friend I actually know, and then keep the conversations brief.


Email is the most simple of all.

  • Unless I know the person is on vacation, I'll write a message any time.

A thought on iBooks

A window

If a picture is worth 1000 words...

I am writing my first book using iBooks author. It's nothing major, just about 50 pages on a presentation concept I call “Idea Painting.” As I continue to research the concept, and do more reading on communication theory, I be adding to the book over time, and issue updates through the iBooks store. Yes, there will also be editions for the Nook and Kindle, but the multi-media aspects of iBooks Author make it idea for my subject.

It's the ability to update editions, and push them out to clients, which intrigues me. This morning I receive a FaceBook message from a friend who happens to be a missionary in Israel. Apparently the newsletter he mailed to us bounced back to him and he wanted me to confirm my mailing address. I provided it, but I also told him to save the cash and just email me a PDF of the newsletter to me (I hate paper, saving cash for him was a win-win). The newsletter is laid out pretty well, and has some good updates. My friend is a decent writer, and so you actually get to meet a little bit of his heart in his stories.

As I waited for my iPad to open up the PDF, I began to wonder if there might be an even better way for him to send out his updates. What if he could still write his stories – but include videos, sideshows, charts, and interactive maps with them? What if he could have his friends and supporters download his newsletter once, and have it updated automatically when he adds new content? If this were possible, his readers wouldn't have to dig through an in-box or rustle through papers to try to find the newsletter which was “on the counter somewhere.” As an added bonus, the newsletter could grow over time, with each successive updated becoming a new chapter. Old reflections and highlights can be easily referenced and searched, and updates on previous stories can be linked back to their antecedent thoughts for better context.

I find this idea compelling. Of course, the drawback currently is that comparatively few people currently own an iPad, which would limit the field such an edition could reach. On the other hand, uploading this edition to the iBooks store would also make it discoverable by anyone, with a good description and some word of mouth it could have a wider audience than we might think. There other major eBook stores would also be remiss if they left something like iBooks Author to go unchallenged, and there are currently technologies for eInk type displays which can do both color and full motion video. In the next several years an edition similar to an iBooks Authored work should be available on all the major platforms, so why not begin to practice with the concept? It's certainly worth a shot.

I see two downsides to this concept.

First, it puts a third party between a missionary and supports which is outside the missionary's organization. The iBook stores are businesses, not missionary or philanthropic endeavors. Still, missionaries have been using government mail services for years so adding a third party intermediary does seem to be a huge obstacle.

Second, and more difficult to overcome, is a lack of subscriber data. I know magazines have negotiated with the major eBook stores to gain subscriber information. I have yet to see if such information is available to eBook authors. If this information is not available, then this might not be a path to take as missionaries really need to form something akin to an actual relationship with those who subscribe to their updates. Still, if updates could be submitted as a free magazine, subscriber information could be obtained. I have no problem with this as long as the authors let subscribers know their information will be shared!

Anyway, just a thought on yet another way for workers in the field to share their amazing stories.



Individualism, every era needs a myth

Human beings are distinct persons, created in the image of God.  The idea of an “autonomous individual,” however, is a little lie we tell ourselves in order to make the modern world work — there is no such thing.  We human-beings are social creatures, and every action we take is done under the auspices of (or in reaction to) the groups to which we belong.  Those teachers we take, the books we read, the friends we embrace, the families from which we spring, and even the sources of our news and information we use all serve to color our perceptions.  It is inescapable.

Now, the idea of the “autonomous individual” isn’t without it’s uses.  It serves to mitigate some of the more destructive aspects of a herd mentality (where any deviation from the norm is quickly punished).  It also frees people to innovate because we believe we are “doing our own thing,” and in that innovation we’re all moved forward.  Some kicking and screaming.

We are not, however, autonomous.  This is a truth we must be aware of so that, even as we embrace the myth of individualism, we are able to recognize the impulses of our herds/clans/groups/packs on our ideas and decisions.  For, if we don’t train ourselves to recognize them and believe myth without reflection, we leave ourselves open to the very destructive impulses individualism seeks to correct.

From the Garden to the City – Week 3, Reflection

Note: Two weeks ago I had a massive project to finish for my denomination’s annual meeting – because of this, I’ve lost time to read, much less write. I’m slowly getting back to a decent equilibrium, but it’s taking time. I must demand that people stagger their “start-up” events so that September ceases to be an annual nightmare!

What struck me in this chapter is John’s reminder that language is, in itself, a tool. By use of language we identify and categorize the world around us, but at the same time our identification process turns back, as all tools do, and shapes us. The instinctive recognition that language shapes reality is probably behind the frequent push to make English the official language of the United States – because, it is believed, the values and attitudes of citizens of the United States are tied into the way our dialect of English interprets the world. It’s an understandable instinct, which falls short in it’s lack of self-awareness – after all, perhaps there are destructive blind-spots in our interpretation of the world which are exposed by the way another language works!

I agree with John that language is an important tool which structures the world and transforms our own perceptions, nor is it limited to the words which we speak. The images, symbols, and rituals through which we communicate have are deeply influential in the way we perceive the world around us. We should probably keep that in mind the next time we’re tempted to say, “Oh, that’s just a symbol!”

The five year lag

The other day I had a brief twitter conversation with @johndyer (whom all my readers should follow) about technology in the Church. John often hears complaints that churches are “five years behind the rest of the world” technology-wise and, being a thoughtful technologist remind the complainers, “Look, its 2011 and George Lucas has JUST gotten Star Was on Blue Ray.” It’s a good point, the rest of the world is sometimes not as far ahead as we think.In our exchange however, I pointed out that the irony was that Blue Ray was a DOA medium anyway, so John may have picked a better example. His response was, “Doesn’t that make it a better point?” Again, he has a good thought, people are so keen on “catching up” that we end up running blindly into dead ends. I agree, which is why I think that John wasn’t really talking about the “five year lag” at all. Our conversation ended with me asserting that the real problem facing churches is not a five year lag in technology, but rather the continued assumption that technology is just another gimmick “to get young people in.” Full disclosure, the quoted segment made no appearance in our twitter exchange – I was thinking it, but didn’t write it.

As churches, we need to stop looking for “the next big thing.” It is a dead end which leaves us looking like the outcast in the corner who has no confidence in their social skills but keeps on shouting, “Look at me, look at me, I can be cool too!” We owe our Savior, and the world, something better than that. What we’re seeing now is not a fad to be latched on to until something better comes along. We are seeing a significant social shift in the ways people connect with each other that is literally re-mapping our brains. It is powerful, pervasive, and has been going on longer than we sometimes think (I’d argue the telephone started the transition in earnest when it started entering people’s homes).

There is much in this shift to be heralded. For example, the speed and accuracy which which information can be passed and acted upon is something to be marveled at. Yet there is also much to be cautious about. Our communications shift is having an effect on our ability to memorize information (accelerating a process which began with the Gutenberg Press). It also further blurs the line between “urgent” and “important” because all of our data seems to demand immediate attention. This blurring creates an inability to be “present” in any given situation, which creates problems for spiritual activities like worship and prayer.

If churches drop their tendency to see technology as just another gimmick, then we can deal with both the positive and negative aspects of our communications with much needed wisdom. For example, we can accept people’s packed schedules by moving our “meetings” into an online space like a private email list or forum. This would give people an opportunity to interact with ideas over time, and become part of their daily rhythm. On the other hand, we can make deliberate moves to slow worship and prayer down. Instead of succumbing to the “more more more!” ethos of our culture, we can teach people the beauty of the contemplative prayer traditions and the freedom they bring to our communion with the Triune God. As we engage the positive and negative aspects of our cultural shift perhaps we’ll stop complaining about a five year lag in the tools we use and start contemplating on how we can communicate the Gospel well in this world.

Thanks, John, for spurring my thoughts!

The freedom of immediacy

“I’ll e-mail it to you when I get home.”

Thus has much important data been lost in congregations all over the world. Most congregations, for better or for worse, are volunteer organizations. This means that, for better or worse, most of the people doing the work of the congregation have a life away from it. This often means that “regular life” distracts people from following through on tasks they are being counted on to accomplish. While many pastors, including myself, tend to offer complaints about this state of affairs — the truth is we often commit the very same violations. Usually we commit them in organizations other than the congregation we pastor, but we even commit them for “Church work” that tends to fall out of our normal realm of activities. Stuff just “comes up” and we forget. When this happens, it leads to some rather awkward board meetings.

Yet, we don’t have to “send it out later.” A link to a story, the results from research, the worship songs (order, lyrics, and music), meeting notes, event invitations, and even data analysis can all be done before we even get home. When you have a smart phone, tablet, or even a laptop (as long as there is wifi acces) whatever information was going to be passed on later can be passed on immediately. It’s becoming increasingly the case that other members won’t even have to get home before they receive the data, as they have mobile access to the Internet themselves. For tasks which need to be accomplished later, the same devices can be used to program reminders (both for the one assigned to the task and to for the rest of the group to encourage a task’s completion). This way, a great many of the communication which needs to be passed on between meetings can happen before a meeting is over, and even be presented in a format which encourages continued dialog.

This freedom also works for members of a committee or team who may not be present for a meeting, but can be available. If someone was to get a quote for a purchase but was unable to get to the meeting, for example, there is no need to shelve the proposal until the next meeting. Text messages can reach someone wherever they are, and replies can be easily sent back (Central Baptist got our quote for mulch via this method — I didn’t say it was exciting, just efficient).

Is there a downside? Of course. People are used to contacting me immediately which can be a pain when, like now, I’m on vacation. I might be IMing a friend, but someone from work can still chime in as well. My phone still rings, and I have to remember not to answer it when it’s a work related number. Text messages are still pushed to my device, and it’s difficult not to jump into something during my “down time.”. I said, “Hard,” however, not, “Impossible.” just like pastors from previous generations, I need to guard my times of rest. Sure it’s a difficult spiritual discipline to master, but it’s one worth striving for nonetheless. While might say that this always connected world makes it more difficult to find down time, I disagree. It is because I’m always connected that I am so free! I’m not chained to an office, or even a phone, I can to pastoral check-ins at any time of the day without worrying about intruding or interrupting a meal. I can discuss an issue, make a proposal, and come to a decision with people without needing to wait for a monthly meeting. I’ll take being always connected towards old-school church any day.

if you’ve discovered that, “I’ll get it to you later” really means, “I’m going to forget to do send this to you,” then perhaps it’s time to try something new. We can say, “How about you send it to us now?”. You’d be surprised at how freeing it can be.