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Allan Taylor: six myths about communication
Since words are the tools of our trade, we must know how to use them. We must craft them in a way that is useful to those who will hear them and use them. Therefore, teachers are “wordsmiths”--craftsmen who need to become masters of their trade.
There are many myths about communicating. Public speaking has been tagged as the greatest fear that people encounter which has given occasion to the rise of many communication myths. These myths have spooked off many potential Bible teachers in our Sunday School classes. Let’s examine some of these myths.
Myth 1: Communication is only for the well educated.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Obviously, the more educated a person is, the greater the potential to be a good teacher. The base for all teaching is content knowledge. Ignorance certainly is not bliss. The first hurdle to clear in teaching is to know something which is the foundation of all teaching. The ability to communicate knowledge then becomes the second hurdle to jump. Many knowledgeable people are poor teachers because they lack the ability to present their knowledge in a way that connects with the learner.
To assume only the well educated can teach is shortsighted. The issue at stake is not how well educated you are but are you still learning. Simply put, learners are teachers. If content knowledge is the base of all teaching, then teachers need to be the best and most progressive learners in the class. It is not good enough to survive on yesterday’s knowledge. Do not feed your class stale bread left over from days gone by; bake them fresh, hot bread. When you feed fresh bread, people will show up at meal time.
Myth 2: Communication is the mere exchanging of information.
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11).
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Communicating the Word of God innately releases truth, power, life, and transformation. If not, then we are merely cheap politicians, peddling our ideologies on others. The Bible is filled with information, but information alone will not change a life. Truth, on the other hand, will.
Myth 3: Communication is all in the words.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
Communication travels on the modeling you provide. Truth is transferred by example. Your life speaks much louder than your lips. The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth: “Be ye followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1).
If words equaled communication, then our children should understand everything! Words are great vehicles in transferring truth but not the only way to convey thought. When Jesus wanted to teach servanthood, He took a towel and a basin of water and washed the disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-16) When He wanted to teach humility, He received little children. (Mark 10:14-16) When He wanted to teach that He could forgive sin, He healed a man with palsy. (Mark 2:1-12) Words, coupled with example and illustration, make a powerful communication tool.
Myth 4: Communication is the result of many words.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:1-2)
Words without knowledge are worse than no words at all. The old country proverb provides good advice: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt!” Using many words can be a deterrent to communication. It has been said that lawyers are the only people in the world who can write something 10,000 words long and call it a brief. The issue is not to count your words but to make your words count! Communication is not dependent upon the length of your words but the strength of your words!
People grow weary with wordiness and senseless talk. The book of Job exemplifies much talk on the part of Job’s three friends. There is a constant volley of words being batted back and forth with little accomplishment. Finally, exasperated with all of the words, Job asks, “Shall vain words have an end?…” (Job 16:3) He further states he is “weary” with it all. (Job 16:7) He probably represents the sentiments of many Sunday School attendees who must endure a battery of impotent arsenals that are misaimed each week.
Sometimes when I fly back into Atlanta, the pilot will have to circle the airport a few times before waiting his turn to land. I am not impressed with his ability to circle the airport. Once I arrive at my destination, I want to land. So it is with your learners. They are not impressed with the amount of verbiage you can use. They want you to make your point and then land that baby. As someone has suggested, “Let your yea be yea, your nay be nay, and your ‘in conclusion’ be your conclusion.”
Myth 5: Communication is derived from using fine-tuned techniques.
“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:16).
As important as methodology is, it will never supercede authenticity! I have heard speakers who butchered the “king’s English” but were so real and spoke from the heart that they greatly transferred their passion into my soul. On the other hand, I have heard those who were “slicked up and polished down” but could not move me one step closer to God or His will. I think authenticity is the missing ingredient in our Bible teaching today. Our lessons ride on the rails of trust; and when the rails are damaged, the train will be destroyed. We have those who attempt to teach the Word without first living it, who “talk it” but don’t “walk it,” who proclaim it but don’t practice it. In essence, we make ourselves hypocrites and become like the Pharisees.
Myth 6: God wants you to be a powerful communicator.
“And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
God does not need a powerful communicator; He needs a powerful message! He imparts no power to enhance our audience with clout or attraction. He is not impressed with our charisma or charm. He desires to give authority only to those obedient souls who are committed to His agenda and purposes. Therefore, His ultimate goal for every teacher is to be an obedient follower.
In both of these cases, God was not looking for an eloquent speaker. Instead He was looking for a submissive, obedient child! We live in a day when charisma is more favored than wisdom. I see many preachers and teachers who have phenomenal charisma and personality. It is a gift from God and ought to be used for His glory. However, charisma falls short of achieving the esteemed rank--unlike wisdom.
“Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:5-7).
The wisest man who ever lived next to the Lord Jesus Christ was Solomon, and he did not admonish us to get charisma. Instead he said, “Get wisdom.” God does not need you to be powerful, charismatic, or gifted. He needs you to be wise because “a wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels” (Proverbs 1:5). Your wise words will be esteemed by others.
“When the ear heard me, then it blessed me...Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel. After my words they spake not again; and my speech dropped upon them” (Job 29:11, 21-22).
We not only need to know the myths of communication, but we need to know how to master communication. I want to suggest five simple ways that a teacher can begin to communicate truth and become an effective “wordsmith.”
[To find the five things, see Allan's book.]
Allan Taylor is one of the speakers on the All Star Sunday School Training Team.