Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Art of Communication

My wife and I just returned from seeing Stuart McLean host of the Vinyl Cafe which airs on CBC Radio. It was a thoroughly entertaining and wholesome show. In our day of ultra modern technology Stuart managed to fill Hamilton Place with people of all ages who came to here him tell his stories and to listen to some very talented Canadian musicians. Stuart's stories connect with men and women, and young and old alike. They connect because he is a careful listener and observer of human beings in their relationships with each other and the world around them. It is fun to watch talented performers at work. They make the magical look easy.

But I can never sit and watch something like this without reflecting on what I have just seen and asking myself if there are any lessons to be learned, this time with regard to communication in our day. In this show there are a number of things that stand out. Before I get to Stuart himself, the music is worth noting. A guitarist who also played the trumpet, a pianist, a base player and two singers who themselves played the flute and electric guitar respectively. This worked very well and it is what people are used to in our society. How organs and pianos were attached to biblical orthodoxy I do not know. And why churches are so slow to utilize various forms of musical expression is totally beyond me. Some of the extreme positions taken in this regard makes me wonder if we are dealing with Christians at all or just conservatives, and the two are not necessarily synonymous. Or perhaps we are afflicted with antiquarians who just like things the way they were. Whatever the reasons it is a shame that sometimes it seems that we go out of our way to make Christianity unattractive.

Stuart's story-telling connects with real people living their lives. Now I realize that there is a world of difference between preaching and teaching the Bible and telling Christmas stories but there are still some things we can learn. We should not be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the stories because that kind of simplicity is the result of very hard work. Thought has been put into what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. Sometimes too much time is spent reading commentaries and examining the original languages and not enough time on how to communicate the unchanging message of the Bible in a way that will connect with the listener. We need to learn from the great preachers of the past the importance of touching the lives of the people in our day, not their day! From Spurgeon, for instance, we can learn the importance of communicating but not necessarily how to communicate today. And there is a difference. We are not preaching to 18th or 19th or even 20th century man. We are speaking to people living in the 21st century and we need to become better observers of what makes them tick. This will never eliminate the need for the life-giving power of God to make the blind see and the deaf hear, but it will put us in a place where God can use us if he sees fit.


Jer said...

All I can add is this:


Thad said...

These are great words:

"We need to learn from the great preachers of the past the importance of touching the lives of the people in our day, not their day!"

I appreciate how you pointed out that, not only do we need to caution against preaching to Victorian England or Calvin's Geneva, but that we also CAN learn from great preachers of the past how to communicate today (if we read in the right way).

Every time I come away from reading Spurgeon, I am amazed at how much he doesn't say--that is, how much mind-breaking minutia (that makes up so much commentary work) he leaves behind and focuses on the central, plain themes of Scripture, unpacking them in a way his hearers could get.

Spurgeon reminds me that I need to work harder to make sure my sermons don't sound like spoken commentaries, but instead come across in a language and with illustrations that might actually suggest that God has something to say to people living today.

Thanks for the reminder, and have a Merry Christmas.

Michael Dewalt said...

if you could please email me at to talk about helping me in blogs that would be helpful, thanks!

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Thanks for your comments Jerry, Thad and Michael and have a blessed Christmas. The challenge of bringing the word to people today in a real and personal way is daunting. But as we give ourselves to this task I believe the Lord will show us what is required as we proceed.

Michael... what kind of help are you looking for?

Ken Davis said...

I knew there was a reason I liked you - another Stuart McLean fan. You have my envy for having seen him in person.

Now then, will oyu be listening Monday night to Foreside Al read "The Sheherd"?

Ken Davis said...

That should read "Fireside Al"

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Ah Ken... good old "Fireside Al!"