Improving Our Communication Skills
Tony Cooke

1 Corinthians 14:9b, NLT
“If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space”

As ministers, a constant focus should be to make sure that what we are sharing is genuinely connecting with our listeners. This is more than simply asking, “Is my doctrine solid?” and “Are my points good?” Those have to do with us, but much of effective communication has to do with our hearers, and this brings us to two vital issues: (1) Do we really know our audience? and (2) Are we really connecting with them?

I was recently doing a small graveside service that was made up of mostly family members, and one of the ladies came up and explained that her eight-year-old niece was really struggling with the death that had taken place, and could I say some things in my remarks that would help this little girl. Moments like that remind me that the words we speak not only have to be true, but they also have to relate to those listening. 

Though it wasn’t in my notes, I remembered hearing the story of how astronauts put on a spacesuit when they travel into space. When they return from space, they no longer need that spacesuit, so they take it off and live here on earth. Likewise, while we are here on earth, we wear an “earth suit”—our body. When we no longer need that earth suit, we take it off and live in heaven. I added that to the committal service, and I believe it was helpful (perhaps to some adults as well).

Early in traveling ministry, Lisa would sometimes remind me (relative to Sunday morning services) that I was no longer teaching full-time Bible School students or speaking at a Pastors’ conference, and she (rightfully) encouraged me to remember that I had to work to make my messages helpful to regular, every-day church folk, not just those who already had a lot of Bible knowledge.

In 1 Corinthians 14 (verses 23-24, NLT) Paul identifies three types of individuals who may be in attendance at church services:

  • Believers
  • The Uninformed
  • Unbelievers

I began to review my notes and asked myself three questions:

  • How much in this message would connect with and help a strong believer?
  • How much in this message would connect with and help a young believer who knows very little about the Bible?
  • How much in this message would connect with and help an unbeliever?

Of course, the Holy Spirit can take anything we say that is word-based and true, and connect with any person, but I was shocked to find that in terms of my own focus and preparation, I had given little to no thought to what would help an immature believer or an unbeliever. I determined to make some adjustments and become more strategic. 

Some people at this point might assume I’m talking about watering down or compromising the message, but that is not at all what I’m referring to. What I am saying is that the Bible describes scriptural content in terms of milk and bread, not just meat.

Stop and think for a minute about what made Brother Hagin so effective and impactful. He is known as a great Bible teacher, and I would not dispute that for one second. But consider how he ministered. Of course, there is the anointing, but stop and think about his mechanics. Perhaps I am oversimplifying, but Brother Hagin typically did three things when he taught.

  • First, he would share a Scripture. He always put the word of God first. 
  • Second, he would explain the principle conveyed in the Scripture. 
  • And third, he would tell stories that illustrated both the principle and the Scripture(s) he had used. 

I’m not saying he did that 1000% of the time, but I think that is a fairly accurate overview of how he typically taught.

I also remember hearing Brother Hagin share how that while he was preaching, he would watch the eyes of one or more of the people in his congregation who were “less sharp intellectually” (my words). He said that he would not move on to the next point until he saw that person’s eyes “light up.” In other words, he wasn’t trying to only reach the smartest and most spiritual people in the room; he wanted to make sure that “the least of these” was getting what he was teaching. 

From a church history perspective, Gregory the Great (AD 540-604) referred to himself only as “The servant of the servants of Christ.” (If I remember correctly, he was the last Pope that John Calvin held in high regard.) He reminded the pastors who he oversaw that in their preaching, they needed to be very mindful of the types of people who would be listening to their messages on a given Sunday.

Gregory writes, “According to the quality of the hearers ought the message of the teachers to be fashioned.” He also said, “Every teacher should edify all in the one virtue of charity and touch the hearts of the hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation.”

In other words, he was telling them that while they never alter the truth, they should adapt the delivery to the audience. He told them to remember that listening to their messages would be the following types of people:

  • Men and women
  • The poor and the rich. 
  • The joyful and the sad. 
  • Servants and masters. 
  • The wise of this world and the dull. 
  • The forward and the fainthearted. 
  • The impatient and the patient. 
  • The kindly disposed and the envious.
  • The whole and the sick. 
  • Those who fear scourges, and therefore live innocently; and those who have grown so hard in iniquity as not to be corrected even by scourges.
  • The too silent, and those who spend time in much speaking. 
  • The gluttonous and the abstinent. 
  • Those that are at variance, and those that are at peace. 
  • Lovers of strife and peacemakers.
  • Those who deplore sins of deed, and those who deplore sins of thought.

In essence, the awareness and adaptability that Gregory advocated simply reflect the types of communication that Jesus did with those to whom he ministered. Simply think of the different ways Jesus ministered to different people, such as Nicodemus and the woman at the well.

I hope this doesn’t intimidate any of us… I suppose it easily could. However, I hope it inspires us to not get in a rut in our communication but to always strive to improve and be better. Of course, nothing takes the place of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, but we can also increase the effectiveness of how we use the tools God has given us.