One of the teachings from journalism school that stuck with me is that communication is not what we say, it is what the other person understands. This concept is not only crucial for people who work in communications. It’s a concept for life; a concept for us as Christians and as a church.
As someone who has had their fair share of culture shock over the past three years since moving countries, I know for a fact that when communicating, there is nothing more frustrating than being misperceived or misinterpreted. It’s even worse when it causes damage to our reputation and credibility.
A good reputation and credibility are two of the most precious things one can have in life. Solomon said it: “A good reputation and respect are worth much more than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1, CEV).
Even though some people say they don’t care about what others think of them, as Christians we should all strive to have a good reputation. Otherwise, how are we to successfully do the work God commissioned us to do?
I’m not suggesting we should dedicate our lives to pleasing others — that would eventually drive us all to a mental health crisis. Nor should we live an inauthentic life, like modern Pharisees. When we do the right thing just for the sake of keeping up appearances, we run the risk of trying to please men more than God. And Scripture emphasises that “we must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29, NIV).
Choosing to live according to Christ’s standards, we must be prepared for rejection from this world. While on earth, Jesus Himself experienced rejection for staying faithful to His mission. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3, NIV). Because His heart was in the right place, He wasn’t worried about His reputation amongst the wicked.
While we shouldn’t worry about our reputation before the wicked eyes of this world, a big part of our testimony to the world is setting a good Christian example to those around us.
In today’s fast-paced and hyper-connected society, how we behave and what we say can take on massive proportions and affect others’ perceptions of us more than ever. Consequently, from us as members of a body, the body of Christ, those perceptions will be projected onto our community.
Jonathan Bernstein explains, in his book, Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management (McGraw-Hill, 2011) why everyone plays a part in the reputation of the organisation we’re associated with. Although he’s speaking of employees, his point carries into the church as well. “The fact is that every employee has a role in crisis management, like it or not, because every employee is a representative (at some level) of the organization.”
You might not be a church employee, but regardless of titles, we are all called to be ambassadors of the kingdom. As such, we all have a responsibility for the reputation of the church.
A tree is recognized by its fruit. We ought to cultivate a good reputation (Acts 6:3), abstain from all evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), and be careful not to become a stumbling block to others so that our ministry will not be discredited (2 Corinthians 6:3).
Being mindful of what we say, how we say it, and how others might perceive it is of extreme importance for the mission of the church. The consequences of how we communicate, even in a simple Facebook comment, can be eternal.
In journalism school, we were taught that the communication process can be broken down into eight essential components, and the first four are (1) source, (2) message, (3) channel and (4) receiver. Ellen White explains our role in this process: “All is done in the name and by the authority of Christ. Christ is the fountain; the church is the channel of communication” (Christian Service, p. 20). As the channel of communication, we must make sure that we are so well connected to the Source that His message can reach the receiver without getting lost in the noise of our human flaws.