Most problems in churches are due to a lack of basic communication practices. Notice that I do not say that problems are due to a lack of basic communication “skills.” Although it is true that we can all become more proficient at communicating, fact is that one cannot be a functional human being without basic communication skills. From the moment we are born and begin to cry for assistance, to the moment of our final breath…every human being communicates.
It is important to note that the habit of not seeking to solve interpersonal challenges in a timely manner is not a virtue. In fact, for many people it is a vice that mares the love that is supposed to distinguish Christ’s disciples from the world. (John 13:35)
Oftentimes we use a variety of excuses as smokescreens in order to hide the main reason why we lack basic communication practices in our churches: THE EGO. The very ego we’re supposed to crucify with Christ so that Christ may have an existential presence in and through us, in all aspects of life. (Gal. 2:20) If the Word of God lives in our hearts, then we already have all we need in order to have effective communication skills. If the “Divine Communicator” lives within us, then we cannot but communicate like him! That is, unless we love our carnal pride more than we love Christ.
A. The Victim Syndrome.
We have all known a “victim.” Usually it’s the person standing in a corner with a couple of “concerned” persons around the victim. They are easy to identify, because they’re not being boisterous or joyful; in fact, they seem to be engaged in a reserved conversation with a tense posture and the occasional side glance to see if anyone is noticing them.
The victim loves his or her ego through the self-delusion of being victimized. There is a variety of spiritual and psychological reasons as to why the victim prefers to talk about the alleged “victimizer” (referred from now on as “the bad guy”), than to lovingly confront the alleged “bad guy.” But whatever the peripheral reasons that are used to justify this sort of action, the main reason is that the “victim” is an insecure person with a low self-esteem who needs to feel his or her pride stroked, supported and encouraged.
Every victim has “supporters” on different levels of commitment and/or agreement. Whether they completely agree with the “victim” or not, doesn’t matter. Most “supporters” are attracted to the predations of the victim because on some level they sympathize with their basic, dysfunctional needs. But although the “victim-supporter” relationship is one of mutual “benefit” in assuaging their perceived victimization, the reality is that the main victim is simply taking advantage of the social needs of the “supporters” to belong. Every human being needs to feel a sense of “belonging” because we are social beings by nature.
One thread that both the alleged victim and the supporters hold in common is their insistence on not confronting the “bad guy” with their grievances. One of the reasons for this is because the “bad guy,” regardless of how “bad” they perceive her to be, becomes the bond that gives them a common identity and a sense of belonging. Rather than love being the bond that binds them, it is hate, manifested through criticism.
Once a “victim-supporter” relationship is established, it never ceases to grow until the ultimate, spiritual purpose is accomplished, which is to discourage and destroy the character of the “bad guy.” They oftentimes are like piranhas who smell and taste blood…they will irrationally continue to bite their victim until their mission is accomplished.
Galatians 5:15 (NIV) If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Almost always, once their mission is accomplished, they turn on each other for lack of a common “bad guy” to criticize. Once their emotional needs are satisfied, they act like addicts who constantly crave their drug, in this case, the tearing apart of a prominent person.
If they do not find a common person to criticize and hate, eventually their relationship becomes a burden. Eventually, talking about the person they hated will get tiring; this leads them to either turn on each other or let their relationship fall into a state of stagnation and decomposition.
Some think that the solution to these dysfunctional relationships is to simply confront them. But time and again, confrontation only strengthens their projection upon the person they’re criticizing. No matter how loving the “bad guy” is when confronting the victim-party, it is ALWAYS interpreted (and described) as an act of aggression. Once the victim-party has decided to categorize itself as the victim, nothing the “bad guy” does will be able to change their way of thinking.
The one thing that a church can do is to educate its members as to the dysfunctional roots, consequences, and Cross-centered cure for the victim-syndrome. Once a particular church falls victim to the predatory nature of the “victim,” they are bound towards quarrels, schisms, and perhaps death.
But there is a basic solution to this type of church dysfunction that if implemented, will definitely improve inter-personal relationships in the church. Of course, this requires that those involved love God more than they love their egos.
I. Fostering the right attitude
When it comes to communication, nothing beats having a right attitude. When we finally decide to confront a person in love, we must remember 2 basic things.
1. We are children of God– The Bible says in John 1:12 that those who received Christ, have been given the right to be called the children of God. One of the reasons why the victim-party to not confront their “bad guy,” is because they do not consider their alleged victimizer to be a child of God. But once we come face to face with the reality that our counter-part is a child of God like ourselves, we will place that person on the same psycho-emotional level as ourselves.
2. We are all sinners- Romans 3:23 says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Its not enough to see one another as children of God. Since we have not received our glorified bodies, sin dwells in our bodies (Romans 6), and oftentimes lead us to fail in fall terribly. NO ONE is exempt of this… Once we come face to face with the reality that our counter-part is a sinner, JUST LIKE OURSELVES, then naturally we will begin to feel a sense of compassion, mercy and great patience.
II. Perception is Illusory, so STOP ASSUMING!
One of the common dysfunctions of a victim-party is the fact that they rely primarily on the perceptions from which they draw their assumptions.
In order to demonstrate that perceptions are illusory, Hindu Gurus will oftentimes mix white powder in a bowl with black powder. The result will be a bowl filled with gray powder, but if analyzed under a basic microscope, it will be evident that the gray is an illusion. In reality, the grains of powder still remain black and white.
The reason why the victim-party avoids loving confrontation is because of the fear that the deeper reasons they hide in their will be discovered, and therefore, discrediting them before the supporters that inflate their ego.
Oftentimes the victim-party will project their own weaknesses upon the person they are hating, and caricature them according to their own dark inner person.
III. Foster a listening attitude.
It has been proven that listeners usually make up the most sort out friends. The reason why we appreciate them is because they actually close their mouths and let us finish what we’re trying to explain! In order to listen effectively, it is not enough to just shut our mouths, but we must also learn to quiet our minds. If one is making a list of pithy answers in our minds, we’re not listening! We’re conspiring with ourselves in order to have the “right” answer that will morally destroy our perceived opponent.
A good sign that a person is listening is when he or she re-phrases what one has tried to explain in different words. This is a sign that the person has been properly digesting our thought patterns and re-interpreting them correctly. A busy, conspiring mind cannot listen.
James 1:19 (NIV) says: My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
IV. Details, details… EXPLAIN THE DETAILS.
Most of us are not mind readers. We do not know what people are actually thinking or the motives for their actions. Some people boast about their proficiency in reading non-verbal communications, but that too is deceptive, because it is based on one’s cultural upbringing. For example, for Caribbean Hispanics, to gaze into the eyes of a parent that is correcting us is an affront to their authority. A Hispanic son or daughter must lower their gaze if they want to demonstrate respect and submission. On the other hand, for many Anglo cultures, parents would consider it an affront to their authority and a disrespectful act if the child does not gaze into their eyes intently. EXPLAIN THE DETAILS of your thoughts, feelings, motives and actions. Don’t assume that people understand you.
Interestingly, the Bible tells us that the person of Jesus Christ EXPLAINS the Divine.
John 1:18 (NASB) No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
In the next article on communication, I will explain the divine dynamics of communication, and how they are intrinsic to the very nature of the Triune God. Remember that in the end, only LOVE endures forever!