Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Three Rules for Christian Communication

The events of the last twenty-four hours has me thinking about the ways Christians engage in the world: particularly the way we speak. In difficult situations, what should we say? How should we interact? What role does social media play in all of this?

I realize that the questions I ask myself when participating in church business meetings apply beyond the church setting. As Christians, we are called to speak truth in love, but how can we do that? How can we talk in ways that honor Paul's words in Romans 12:2: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind?"

When deciding what to say--or if to speak at all--here are three guiding principles.
  • 1. Is it true? Is the thing I am saying true (as opposed to "truthy")? Can I back up my speech with facts, actions, deeply-held beliefs? If there is legitimate question about the facts behind my speech (even when that speech is opinion speech), it ought not be spoken. I give my statements credibility, just like credible statements reflect positively on me. When I speak things that prove to be untrue, I damage my trustworthiness and I reflect poorly on God and God's church. Snopes is your friend! Every time you spread a rumor that isn't true, truth is degraded.
  • 2. Is it kind? Notice the question is not, "Is it nice?." Niceness is pleasantness, and it can lead to conflict-avoidance. We don't always need to be pleasant, and conflict--intentionally used--can lead to growth. Kindness is a more theological way of being. It reflects that you are made in the image of God, just as I am. I can speak difficult truths kindly, with a reverence for who you are and Whose you are.
  • 3. Is it helpful? We all know people with no filter: the kind of folk who say, "Well, that's just who I am: I say what's on my mind." And not every thought--true, though it might be--is helpful. One of the perils of social media is assuming that everybody wants to know everything you think about everything. That's just not true. Most of your thoughts should stay in your head! Judging helpfulness leads to speech that is directed towards a goal. It need not be a lofty goal; you may just think I need a laugh. And what you are saying may be true! But not all true speech is helpful, at least in every instance. If you see me having just stubbed my toe, that's probably not the time to remind me that I need to lose a few pounds. And speaking with people in deep grief is not the best time to tell people you think they are wrong.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it has helped me discern what to say, and when.

What about you? What questions do you ask yourself before speaking as a Christian? What guidelines do you use?

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