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They Can't Hear You

(I'd like to thank Gary Lamb for allowing me to post a picture of his truck.)

A few weeks ago I was speaking to a large youth department. The students were into the message and I was approaching the crux of the talk when I just had enough of these two kids to my left about 10 rows back. They kept turning and making gestures to each other. I got frustrated and had enough. I paused my message and called out these guys for their disrespect.

This afternoon I sat down at a coffee shop to do some work and respond to some emails when I noticed that my MacBook was running out of juice. I grabbed my chord and scanned the area around me for the one plug near where I am sitting. Sure enough a guy is sitting at his computer playing a video game with what looks to be an Xbox controller. He's got a web cam set up so I can only assume he's playing online. I approached him with chord in hand and said 'excuse me sir'. He didn't look up. I inched a little closer as he smashes away at his controller... "Excuse me sir." The man doesn't budge. I wait but on the inside I'm getting angry. How can this guy playing a video game not have the courtesy to scoot his chair in and let me plug in my computer. I mean, I have the important work to do here. After what seemed to be 2 minutes (it was about 15 seconds) the guy looks up.

There is a common thread in both of these incidents. God used both to speak to me.

The common thread is that both of these people were deaf. Literally. They were physically unable to hear. The young man in that youth department was getting sign language from his buddy next to him and he was totally into the message. The guy playing games at the coffee shop was equally medically unable to hear.

The real problem however was not with them. It was with me.

As the communicator one of my chief responsibilities is to know my audience. I got frustrated in these two occasions because I felt I was being disrespected. The truth is that I was being disrespectful to those willing to receive my message by being upset with their inability to hear.

In the church we often have this same problem. We look at "The World" and get so angry that they won't hear our message but I propose that the problem is in many cases they simply cannot hear.

As we plant this church I pray that we are the type of church that gets to know our audience so well that we not only craft a message that is clear and compelling but we also consider our audience and the circumstances in their life that make them unable to hear.

The single mom cannot hear about the love of Jesus because it's flippin' hard to get a few kids up and drag them to a service they won't enjoy. It's not worth it to her to fight the munchkins to get dressed, out the door, buckled in the seats only to park her car and navigate carrying 3 bags and a stroller while Johnny is pulling Suzie's hair.

The macho guy won't hear about Revelation 19:11-21 Jesus because the environment we're inviting him to feels more like a tea party than a place where revolutions begin. Like it or not he is unable to hear what you have to say because the message you are sending through your non verbals (which communicate much louder and much more consistently than your words) are telling him that the place isn't for him!

The CEO can't hear the message that he can find true significance in Christ (not his business model) because he can't imagine participating in an organization that lets their property fall apart the way we do. The thug who wants to turn his life around and get out of the hood can't walk into your building in his neighborhood because for as long as he's been alive it's the place where 50 white people meet each week for 1 hour and then return to the 'burbs to watch football and have their cookouts.

When I realized that student was deaf I asked his interpreter to ask him how I can say "idiot" in sign language. I then made that gesture and apologized. I moved back into my message and that student remained engaged the entire time... to the guy giving him the signs, not me. When the gentleman playing video games looked up at me he pointed to his ears to show me he could not hear and then gladly moved his chair in to accommodate me. I said 'Thank You" to where he could see my lips. He gave me the thumbs up.

We can agree that the world needs the gospel message but we need to first think about our delivery. We need to find ways to accommodate for their inability to hear. Part of us finding a way has to be that we are constantly praying for the Holy Spirit to move. Move in that person to allow them to hear our message but also move in us so that we care enough about the community to speak so that they can hear.

I'd love to hear from you.

How does this play itself out in your church/organization? What are you doing right? What do you need to change so that your message can be heard?

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Monday, December 29, 2008


At 9:43 PM, Blogger Nick Blevins said...

As a new church plant we had a clean slate in terms of how we did things and our vision from before we launched was to reach people who are not a part of any church. I think the language we use is probably the biggest thing we focus on. We try to see "we" and "us" instead of "you" and "them". We try to talk about the Bible as if the audience has never opened it. We try to explain everything we do each week, assuming there are people who have no idea why we do certain things, such as sing worship songs.

Obviously we mess that up from time to time and can always improve. I think it's easy to slip in some of those areas if we're not constanly evaluating with fresh eyes. We always need to improve but I don't know of one specific area that's more glaring than another.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Twyla said...

Nick, I really like your "we" attitude. I recently attended a Christmas party that a church was hosting for a group of children that had been removed from their homes. The atmosphere was definitely "look what WE are doing for YOU." I wish the party could have been for ALL of us, and less pointed. I hope in Baltimore we can be more like the "we" minded like you speak about.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Nick Blevins said...

Twyla, all the credit for that goes to our Lead Pastor. He has a great ear for those kinds of things and has often showed me where I missed a subtle hint of you/them language.

Unfortunately it's easy to drift away from using inclusive language, or never use it to begin with.


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