Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

Think back on the last three conversations you had with middle schoolers. How would you characterize those conversations? Were you relaying information, trying to persuade, or building personal relationships?

In his book the “Contemplative Pastor,” Eugene Peterson notes that there are three types of language he uses in running a church:

  1. Descriptive Language – This language informs the listener of ideas or content. Peterson says that descriptive language is about, or in other words, it names what is there. It expresses reality. He rightly notes that schools specialize in this language.
  2. Motivational Language – This language seeks to persuade or convince the listener to do or think something. This language is for, or in other words, it “uses words to get things done,” as Peterson explains. It is generally used to get someone to do something that they wouldn’t do on their own initiative.
  3. Personal Language – This language is the language of relationship. It connects the speaker with the listener. This language is to and with. Words are used to bring two people closer and more connected.

The interesting revelation that Peterson expresses is that churches specialize in the first two types of language – descriptive and motivational – while the third type of personal language is strangely absent. I have to say that I couldn’t agree with Peterson more, and here’s why:

Personal language opens and reveals our scarred hearts. 

Unless you have a steady discipline of vulnerable conversation in your life with trusted friends and family, the likelihood is that you will be very uncomfortable with personal language in ministry, and especially with middle schoolers. But what is the language of prayer? What is the language of the love of Christ? It is not descriptive or motivational, but personal. Yes, we need to teach and explain prayer and love, but how will our kids ever experience the depths of God’s grace if they are not loved into the kind of relationship that speaks in a personal language!

I know my tendency as a pastor/teacher. I am apt to explain a passage, exegeting and picking apart each verse to reveal the correct interpretation and application of the words of God. I am apt to artfully combine words to persuade kids to feel the need to change in their lives according to the words of Scripture. But do I naturally express my own personal love language with God? Do I naturally lead students in such a way as to build the relationship between them and God? Do I pray in such a way in front of students that models my inward personal connection to Jesus? Unfortunately for me, the answer is no. But I am working on it!

In the book Sticky Faith by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin, they revealed findings from their research that showed a conspicuous absence of prayer in the lives of college students after they graduate from our youth ministries. They said that “Less than half of the surveyed students said they prayed daily, and only 83 percent claimed to pray at least once a week” (143). Seriously?! While that number might seem promising, it still isn’t where it should be. Why is this the case? I think kids are unaware of the relational depth that prayer can bring to their lives because it was never modeled for them.

We need to train ourselves, youth pastors, parents, and our small group leaders to specialize in all three types of language. We need to equip those who lead our middle schoolers not just to communicate information, not just persuade students to make changes/do something, but also to model personal language that seeks to build relationship. How can we expect our students to have a dynamic, honest, vulnerable relationship with their Father if we never use that language in front of them?

Most of us are good at the descriptive and motivational languages. Not many are good at the personal language. How are you balancing the three types? Do you tend to lean towards one type of language more than the others? What can we do to bring more personal language into our families and churches?