By: Tera Ertz
“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:16b
One of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had was as I was first beginning to understand spiritual gifts. I was sitting in a Sunday morning sermon, and a few lines within the sermon started this whispering hum of “untruth” in the back of my mind. This not only frustrated, but confused me as well. I happened to know our pastor fairly well by that time. I knew not only that he was a godly man called to preach, I also knew that the message he was preaching was biblically sound. It took me nearly a week to finally understand what made my warning bells start clanging. His message was truth, but there was a piece of truth missing from it.
I asked him about that some time later in a small group setting. He explained the reason for his omission in that particular sermon. He was speaking to a mixed audience, some mature Christians, some new Christians and some who were not Christians at all. He also only has about twenty minutes to deliver God’s message before folks start checking their watches because stomachs are starting to rumble. In those circumstances, he chose a focus in the sermon that would communicate the core message to all those who were there to hear it. The content of that same message would be slightly different in a small group, say our Discipleship Training class, where all those present were mature Christians actively seeking a deeper understanding.
I have noticed in online conversation in particular we often face the same dilemma. We read a comment, article or link someone posts and feel compelled to rebuke them for something we perceive as untrue. We go on a twelve-page rant attempting to cover every possible aspect of a topic. Of course, this then sparks others to join the fray, condemning us for not upholding this or that part of our common ideals. Whether it is politics, faith, or even sports, we are forever on the prowl to find fault with the quality of another’s information. We are insistent on asserting our own. The more wrapped up we get, the more our language degenerates into either crudity and insult or esoteric technical jargon that demonstrates how “in the know” we are. It results in a huge failure of communication, and mostly it stems from a complete lack of attention to who we are addressing or who the intended audience of a particular piece of information was.
One of the key aspects of effective speeches in my Communications class was identifying the audience. Whether our intention is to inform, persuade or celebrate, who we speak to needs to determine the content of our speech. Are we speaking to an audience who is already aware of our subject matter and viewpoint? Are we speaking to a hostile audience in the sense that they already believe they know the subject and disagree with our views? Are we speaking to those who are new to the subject? Do the words we are using mean something different in the technical language of the topic than they do in the common language of our audience? Is the audience we are speaking to a mixture of all of the above?
Just as importantly, when it comes to social media, who is the person posting the material you are responding to? Who was the intended audience of the piece? Is your reaction relevant to the intended audience or to the person posting it? Is the focus of the content different because it is skewed or inaccurate, or is it simply different because of the audience being addressed?
If we desire to foster discussion and reasoned debate in our social interactions, rather than argument and outrage, we need to understand the importance of audience. We need to seek to make our speech easy to understand by knowing who we are talking to, and who those in our conversation are speaking to as well.
- Define our audience – Friendly? Hostile? Expert? Novice?
- Once we have defined the audience, we need to use that along with our purpose to choose content that will meet that goal for those people.
- For those of us who are Christians, we need to remember that Christ spoke to farmers about farming and tax collectors about taxes. If we are to be effective witnesses for Christ in all areas of our communications, we must remember that our first audience is God, and He calls us to speak His truth in love. We can’t do that effectively if our only focus is on what someone else is missing or if we our language is so technical those who hear won’t be open to His words.
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Tera Ertz is the founder of Hope and Change Ministries, author of God Talk: The Beginning, mother of five, and a child of God. You can find her on Facebook, or subscribe to Hope and Change Ministries or Contagious Transformations to keep up with the latest.