Call and Response

Pastoral leaders are in the communication business. Whether preaching or listening, communication is at the heart of pastoral ministry because it had to do with people – knowing them, caring for and about them, organizing them, influencing them, blessing them. And that requires words. Most of pastoral communications are what you might call routine, even mundane – phone calls, emails, texts, words spoken over coffee or at a hospital bedside, words shared in a staff meeting. They may not have the grandeur of a sermon but I suspect they are just as lasting in their effect and lay the necessary groundwork for more substantive speech.

So, preachers, how do you communicate out of the pulpit? Are you responsive to phone calls in a timely manner? Are your emails and texts clear and reserved largely for information sharing? (Emails and texts can express encouragement, support, and information, but can’t quite hold up in more complex emotional and social conversations and especially not when they are freighted with emotional tension. Most of us could tell stories about the critical, annoyed, or injudicious emails or texts we have received and some, perhaps, that we have even sent.) Do you communicate frequently (newsletters, websites, planning)? Is your “out of pulpit” “voice” consistent with your pulpit voice in a way that is authentically you.

With the plethora of communication platforms now available, most of us settle on a few which are most natural and effective for us (even if our organization may have other means and posts regularly on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). A friend of mine puts as part of his signature on all his emails the following disclaimer, “During the week, I check email daily and typically respond within 24 hrs. If your message is urgent, text or call my cell.” This has the effect of managing expectations while proactively being clear about his own practices and standards. Another friend routinely has as his out-going voice mail something like, “Hi, this is Ed. Leave a message and I will be back in touch with you by the end of the day.” He was about the busiest person I ever met, in a very demanding job and I am not sure how he did it, but he did!

I’m really only making one point in this whole article and that is, if there is a call, it is worthy of a response. If someone sends you a communication, it is important to them. If you go days or weeks without responding (or never respond) you are sending a powerful message (whether intentionally or not) that their reaching out to you Is not important to you and, not infrequently, you may be holding up an important project, or piece of planning. It may seem a small thing, but your responsiveness is actually a way you honor and value others.

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