*image by Lisa Kew
In Communication Ethics, our final paper required us to evaluate a communication act within the church – I chose the mentoring relationship. I’m think this is the most time and energy I’ve ever put into a writing project.
As I spent countless hours researching and writing it, I would love for you to read the paper and tell me your thoughts (I’ve included the PDF). However, I would also like to offer some of these thoughts in shorter form.
I think entering into communication with another is something like stepping out on a tight rope, a high wire.
In our communication, we offer ourselves in some way. And when you offer yourself, there is the potential to miss and be missed.(I hesitate to say “miscommunication” because I don’t really know what it means).
When I have a conversation with my best friend, I am can easily offer myself wholly, or at least mostly. I might make a fool of myself, but the stakes aren’t very high. You might say the wire isn’t very high off of the ground. If things go south, I can step off and tight rope and go on my way, not much the worse for wear.
But what about when there’s farther to fall? What about when I’m asked to speak in front of the whole class, or the whole church, or the whole city? The rope seems to have gotten higher – there is suddenly much farther to fall. And herein, I believe, lies the choice. Do I walk on out, or do I compromise the routine for my own safety? Do I use the balance bar to help me walk, or lower it to the ground for a walking stick to prop me up?
It seems to me the best communicators (speakers, mentors, pastors…) are those willing to keep walking out on the wire without looking down. They are faithful regardless of how high the tightrope gets and how far there is to fall. And fall they will. No one nails it every time. Why else would pop stars lip-sync?
Part of being a great communicator is to stop caring about what the audience thinks. You must love the audience while totally disregarding their opinion. If a speaker’s primary concern is a positive response from the listener, it is certain he will change his message to get the response he wants. He’ll say what he knows will get the amens, the applause, the adulation. And he has not loved his audience, he has loved what they can give him at the expense of the truth.
I have seen people who did not come to be patted on the back, applauded, or congratulated. They came to serve and to love, unwilling to distort their words to gain favor. It is a difficult thing to accept, that the worth of our work is not dependent on the yield. That is not the capitalist model. We are taught, from the time we are old enough to grasp a dollar bill, that if what we’re doing is producing good results, then it must be worthwhile. And it isn’t so.
Jesus told parables that confused both the crowds and the disciples (not by accident). “On hearing [the teaching], many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ . . . From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6) Jesus allowed people a choice, he did not manipulate or coerce them. He could have made a lot more converts by telling the stories more clearly, or just giving clear advice. But the point was to communicate the words given to him, to obey his father, not to get applause or trophies.
In the context of mentoring, or really leading in general, I think those who are mentoring or teaching must be willing to really make themselves vulnerable if they are to love those whom they are serving. It is not enough that they are older, or more popular, or have more experience. To be in relationship with people is to encounter them with your whole being, not a part of yourself. It is to realize that none of us are yet fully formed, completed.
It takes humility and courage to encounter each other truly, with our whole selves, to walk on the wire – but it’s what we need from each other.
The full paper can be read here: Manifesting the City of God in Mentoring Relationships