How Christ-like is your communication? Are you able to patiently lead others to answers? Do you feel the need to speak up, or are you able to stay silent sometimes?
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In this episode, I’m discussing communicating as Christian leaders. Through the year, we’ve had a few episodes related to communication but today I want to look at our best example of communication: Jesus.
When I look around at the way we as Christians are communicating lately, both within our own faith community and to those in the world around us, honestly, it breaks my heart. It seems we have really lost sight of what it means to follow Jesus in the way we use our words.
There are hundreds if not thousands of books about communication, conflict, and conversations. A quick google search can yield hundreds of articles full of advice and guidance for how to approach hard conversations and how to communicate effectively. But for us as Christians, there’s one primary source we should look to as our guide. And more specifically, one person whose life and conversation style we seek to emulate: Jesus Christ.
Just like Jesus sets the example for us for leadership, specifically servant leadership as we discussed in episode 122, he also is the best example for us in the way we communicate. So today we’re going to look at 5 ways Jesus approached communication and conversations with others.
5 Ways Jesus Communicated
1. Asking questions
One of the most common ways Jesus communicated with others was by asking questions.
When the Pharisees and other religious leaders questioned Jesus, we see that Jesus often replies with another question. Luke 20:1-7 is a good example of this. Jesus doesn’t go straight to the answer… he first asks the question which reveals their motives for questioning him in the first place.
In some cases, Jesus initiates the conversation by asking a question.
- In Luke 14, Jesus asks them a question about whether it’s lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They don’t respond to him. Then, he heals the man, and follows up with another question, which illustrates the weakness of their viewpoint. Scripture states: “And they could not reply to these things.”
Jesus didn’t always ask questions to cause the other party to recognize their error. In some situations, he asked questions to get the other person’s perspective.
- In Mark 10:51, Jesus asks a blind beggar what he wants him to do for him. Of course we know that Jesus already knew the answer to this. He could have simply told the man “you are healed.” Instead, he asks the man what he wants. This shows us that Jesus was interested in hearing from the person he was interacting with.
- In Matthew 16:13-20, we see an interaction between Jesus and his disciples. He asks them questions to engage them in the conversation, first starting with who other people say Jesus is, and then who they say he is.
Asking questions was a key part of Jesus’ communication style.
2. Speaking the truth
Next, we can gather from Scripture that, although at times Jesus chose to ask questions, other times, he did not pull any punches about speaking the truth.
- When questioned about who he was and even threatened with death, Jesus stated the truth. In John 5:18-47, we can see that Jesus is proclaiming who he is to the Jews. The things he is saying are not easy or sugar coated: he is calling out their lack of belief.
- In Matthew 27:11, Jesus is asked “Are you the King of the Jews?” He simply replies, “You have said so.”
When truth needed to be spoken, Jesus did not shy away or beat around the bush.
- In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus told her what he knew about her marriage situation. This was normally something that would have been used to shame her, but that is not how Jesus approached it. Rather, he spoke the truth and revealed himself as someone to be taken seriously.
3. Engaging the other person
Another common practice Jesus had in his communication and conversations was engaging the other person. He did not just go out and preach to large crowds all the time… many times he had personal, 1:1 conversations that engaged the other party.
- In John 8:2-11, we find the story of the woman caught in adultery. Once again the Pharisees are trying to test Jesus and see if he will do something that will allow them to accuse him of wrongdoing. They bring the woman caught in adultery and ask if she should be stoned.
At this point, Scripture tells us that Jesus wrote with his finger on the ground. Then he states: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, they walk away. What’s most interesting to me, though, is what Jesus says to the woman. He asks her if anyone has condemned her, and she responds “No one, Lord.”
Then he tells her that he does not condemn her either, and tells her to go and sin no more.
There’s something powerful about the way Jesus does this, though. He asks her for a response rather than simply stating the truth. He could have just proclaimed “You are not condemned; go and sin no more.” Instead, he engages her in the conversation. He gets her to acknowledge her standing before him. He gets her to state the truth rather than simply telling her the truth.
This simple exchange can teach us so much about the power of conversations. It’s vital that we engage the other person, especially when it comes to matters of acknowledging sin or the standing we have before God.
4. Stories and parables
Jesus often used examples, stories, and parables to make his point.
- In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is eating in a Pharisee’s home. A woman who is identified as “a woman of the city” and “a sinner” comes in and begins weeping at his feet, and anointing his feet with ointment. Of course the Pharisee is thinking that Jesus should not be allowing this to happen, so Jesus tells him a story to illustrate his point.
The story causes Simon to acknowledge the truth without Jesus directly telling him, at least initially. Then, Jesus uses the story to parallel what had just happened. And in the end, he tells the woman she is forgiven, and that her faith has saved her. Once again, he does not pretend that she is not a sinner or that she does not need saving. But he also acknowledges her faith in doing what she did.
There are dozens of other examples of Jesus using stories and parables to illustrate a point. In fact, it was probably the most common way Jesus taught. Often, these parables did not have Jesus telling the crowd the point… rather he often was leaving it to them to draw a conclusion about the point of the story, or he would ask a question to get them to recognize what he was saying.
5. Staying silent
Finally, the last communication approach that I want to mention that we can see Jesus doing in Scripture is that he stayed silent. He chose, at times, to simply not engage in a conversation.
- In Matthew 27:12-14, Jesus is being questioned by the chief priests and elders as well as by Pilate, and he does not respond to them. He previously has acknowledged the “accusation” of being the King of the Jews. And now, he remains silent.
There is power, at times, in remaining silent, especially when we are being criticized, attacked, or accused. By remaining silent, Jesus refused to engage in an argument or provide any more ammunition for his accusers. We would do well to learn from Jesus’ example here.
What we can learn from Jesus’ approach to conversations
What I believe we can see from looking at Jesus’ conversations in Scripture is that he did not have only one tactic or formula for engaging with people around matters of sin, faith, and salvation.
It appears that he based his interactions and conversations on a number of factors:
- The audience or other party in the conversation. Jesus changed his approach based on who he was talking to.
- The attitude or heart stance of the other person. Jesus had the advantage of knowing their hearts and perceiving their intentions. While we do not have the same ability, we can use wisdom and discernment in our conversations and adjust our approach accordingly.
- The onlookers. In some situations, it seems that Jesus catered his approach not just to the person who was the primary focus of the conversation, but also to those who may have been onlookers.
Ultimately, we see that Jesus did not shy away from hard conversations or from conflict with other religious people. He was willing to say hard things, even when it meant he would not be liked and even when he would be killed. The people who Jesus was hardest on were the religious leaders. He shows us that calling out false teaching within the religious community is not necessarily wrong, and that just ‘being nice’ is not the answer.
Jesus did not shy away from hard conversations or from conflict with other religious people.
In other circumstances, we see Jesus staying silent—he shows us that there are times when it’s not necessary to speak, and we allow our previous words and/or our actions to make our point.
Jesus also shows us examples of how to interact with those who are not yet familiar with the truth. We see that Jesus often spoke in stories and in ways that the listener could understand and relate to. He showed compassion and mercy on people who did not understand.
In addition, he spoke to people who were considered unclean or untouchable. He engaged in conversations with women, with tax collectors, and with lawyers. Jesus had conversations with people and in ways that made those around him scratch their heads.
Finally, Jesus shows us the power of listening and asking questions. Jesus had all the answers, but he didn’t always give them out right away. Instead, he participated in a conversation and engaged the other person in discovering the truth.
As a follower of Christ, I’m challenged when I look at these principles. Am I doing the same in the way I interact and converse with those around me? If I’m honest, I know there are plenty of times when I simply want to give people the answers instead of listening. When I want to tell someone how it really is instead of staying quiet. Or when I want to avoid those conversations with someone different, because I know it’s going to be uncomfortable, and that I simply may not know what to say.
Our first step as Christians who want to communicate and lead more effectively is to consider how our conversations should reflect the love of Christ.
When others hear us communicating or having conversations, are they seeing and hearing Jesus?
Paul says in Colossians 4:5-6
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
It is our job as Christians and especially Christian leaders, to set an example in the way we communicate. This takes practice… it usually does not come naturally to us. I believe that the first place we should look to learn how to communicate more effectively is by looking at Jesus and emulating his approach.
Action Step: Which one of these 5 things do you need to implement in your life this week?
“We need to look to the best example there is of how to communicate with love, and that is Jesus.”
“We should follow Jesus’ examples of how he spoke to others, and how he interacted and communicated with others while he was here on earth.“
“Rather than us telling people where they stand, we should engage others in that conversation.”
“Sometimes we rush into trying to tell people the truth or what we think they should believe… but stories and illustrations are often way more effective.”
“Jesus called out false teaching, and he is still the epitome of love.”
“Ask God to show us how we can apply this in our leadership on a day to day basis.”
Confident Conversations is a mini-course designed to help you initiate and lead hard conversations as a Christian woman… even if you struggle with confrontation, aren’t sure what to say, and want to avoid hurting people in the process.
Find out more and grab this mini-course here: http://confidentconversations.co/
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