What We Learned From A Year Without Going to Church: Communication and Control

 This is a continuation of the series “What We Learned From a Year Without Church

Click to visit other posts in the series.  Part 1: Worship Services and Relationships | Part 2: Busyness and Self-Awareness

Communication and Control

Have you ever stopped and listened to someone talk? I don’t mean to hear what they are saying but to see how they choose to do it? The choice of words, the cadence of their voice, the inflections and tones they use – all of this together communicating and creating a message. Sometimes the goal is to demonstrate care and empathy for the person. Sometimes it’s to show a depth of knowledge and to transfer that to someone else. Yet, sometimes it’s to project power and authority to not be questioned.

Corporate America has teams of people who study and perfect the art of this. Sometimes its called “the spin.”  It’s the attempt of an organization to control the feelings of the public and help produce a more favorable outcome and impression of themselves. This is done through using particular and well thought-out messaging either in response to an event or just in general. This is often the job of a Public Relations department – to get the organization’s name out there and to make it recognizable and to be admired.

The Curated Self

This is not just the case with corporations or organizations but with normal everyday people too. We also try to present ourselves in ways to others, for multiple reasons, that will elicit a favorable response. And if we were honest, sometimes it is even to produce some jealousy as well. We curate our Instagram and Facebook feeds to provide a strong and attractive personal brand so that people can see us the way we would like them to see us. No one posts pictures that present a bad perspective of ourselves, right? I should clarify that I think there is nothing wrong with posting great pictures or telling great stories.  It’s just half the picture and it happens to be the only half we really want people to see.

The presentation of the “curated self” is doing far more damage then we would like to admit. It is a subtle burn but it will burn and damage nonetheless. As we continue to present ourselves, curated with all our best versions and strengths of ourselves, we do this at a cost. This is because while we all may be attracted to strengths, people actually connect in weakness. Vulnerability and transparency are the vehicles used to see deeper into a person and know the real self,  past the curated self with all their strengths. This is the place connection and growth really happen. Instead, we keep isolating ourselves by presenting our created self and continue to hurt ourselves and our ability to grow into a healthier person. Without these guiding principles to direct our pursuits, freedom and wholeness becomes just be a hope deferred.

The Church

Does this type of practice move into the church? Unfortunately, I have seen many churches function the exact same. This should not be a surprise though as a church is a collection of people and the same people that struggle with this personally will struggle with it corporately. I have watched churches ‘spin’ things and it has been disheartening. Watched churches fractured by small tiffs to major and devastating scandals. I have seen people attack, curse, demean, and injure people for a multitude of reasons. People have left, churches have been left broken, and people have mourned what used to be. It is awful to experience.

Yet, something strange seems to happen pretty regularly. Without fail, just like the corporation, the ‘spin machine’ starts. This looks different in many situations but it’s the same idea. It could be congregation wide with a sterilized announcement from a leader using platitudes that aim to quell the feelings and present a motivating and inspiring message. It could happen in a small group with the leader trying to hold together what is left by sending out a communication with a new direction forward. Or it could happen in a group of people who start sending out a version of the story to ‘get ahead’ of the narrative that people are being told. Either way, the goal is the same – to change the perspective of ‘self’ into a more favorable one.

The Narrative Effect

Let me just say, for all to hear, this does nothing good for the church. This does nothing good for the people. This does nothing good for the gospel. If we feel the need to control the message in order to present a better-curated self, we should be sure to first ask what our motives are.

If the church desires to present a sterilized and corporate-type message to the people, we should not be surprised that the people don’t learn to deal with relation strife. We have taught them that the best course of action regarding a hard relational issue is to produce a strong, self-favoring message in order to stem the pain. Yet, like I said before, when we do this we circumvent the road to healing. We actually remove the vehicle and means of transparency and vulnerability or at least teach them it’s not as valuable as saving face.

As a large caveat, there are some issues that are so sensitive that I would agree need to be handled properly in a larger corporate Sunday setting. It may require personal and small groups of people being addressed rather than the whole church. That is the point though – it requires a response. A response that addresses the issue and not the possible negative feelings toward the organization.

What if in our lives and our churches, however big or small, we made promises to move toward people in transparency and vulnerability so that we could heal? What if instead of controlling the message and communicating a curated version of ourselves we let people see all of who we are, both the good and bad, and let our weakness connect us? It may be the place that we start to learn to who we were made to be.

This is a continuation of the series “What We Learned From a Year Without Church

Click to visit other posts in the series.  Part 1: Worship Services and Relationships | Part 2: Busyness and Self-Awareness

Greg Smith

Blogging about faith, life, church, and everything in between.

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