Nov 23, 2022 | By the Rev. Steven Morton

“We speak of these things in words—words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”   –I Corinthians 2:13

“What did you say?”

Some of my best ministry ideas have gone unheard or underappreciated, at least initially.  I remember 20 years ago when I first encouraged my congregation to develop a “daytime” Christmas Eve worship service (and I didn’t mean the children’s service).  

“Who’s going to come to that? How do you sing ‘Silent Night’ and light candles while the sun is still up?  People are already too busy on Christmas Eve. Don’t you know the Eagles play at 4:30 p.m. that day?”  (Ok, that’s a protest you’ll hear this year, too.)  

But guess what?  Once the vision was articulated—regularly and with clarity—success followed almost immediately. Within a half-dozen years, we were seeing nearly 400 people in worship, in not one but two traditional Christmas Eve services offered in the midday hours.

In times of innovation and change, communication is critical. “How do you overcome fear of the unknown?” asks Michael Canic in Ruthless Consistency.  “Make it known. Communicate. Overcommunicate during times of change.” (p. 116)  

You know why you’re doing what you’re doing; your people don’t!

Communication must come from the pulpit,” says Thom Rainer (The Post Quarantine Church, p. 97), but also “from the church’s website.  From social media.  From newsletters.  From informal conversations. From meetings.  Repeat.  And repeat again.  Simply stated, there is no such thing as overcommunication in changing times.”

Does it surprise you to recall that in a survey among our EPA Conference churches back in 2020, the number one skill desired in our pastors was clear, creative, consistent communication?

Some of the brightest visionaries in the Church today overflow with great ideas–but those ideas die on the vine. Why? Because “…such leaders often lack the abilities to collaborate or communicate effectively,” particularly in giving and receiving feedback from the people most involved in the change (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, p. 74).  

Your brilliance is completely underserved, pastors, if you run too far ahead of the crowd you’re leading and fail to dialogue with them relentlessly (which includes listening, by the way). You must engage them in regular dialogue to share the vision compellingly. 

Communication skills can be taught (Goleman et al, p. 99).  The Lord promised a reluctant Moses, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” (Exodus 4:12) 

What’s coming out of your mouth?  Or your pen?  Or your keyboard?  Do you understand the import of clear, creative, consistent communication?  That means communicating in words and images, in digital and print media, in videos, even in music if you can. Are you working to ever-enhance your own skills?  With so much good news to share, let’s make sure it does not go unheard. 

Questions for reflection:

  1. When have you tried to use clear, creative, consistent, two-way communication to promote understanding and agreement when sharing an innovative ministry idea or change? In what ways did you try to use clarity, creativity and consistency, and what results did you observe?
  2. Identify an idea that did not succeed or gain support, and suggest how more clarity, creativity and consistency, plus getting more feedback from the people most affected, may have helped it win the day.

Note: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” is the memorable line in Paul Newman’s 1967 classic movie titled “Cool Hand Luke.”

Steve Morton is the EPA Conference’s Leadership Development Manager, whose work focuses on EPA’s Pathways to Congregational Fruitfulness & Health initiative. Learn about