RICHLAND -- Does your church have detailed, carefully worded plans for mission and evangelizing but nothing much seems to happen? Have you told everyone your New Year's resolutions but your motivation to fulfill them is waning?
We are a culture that can't seem to stop talking, and I guess I should include writing on flipcharts, texting and tweeting! The problem goes beyond a loud person on a cellphone or an irresponsible person texting while driving, or the rolls of vision and mission statements languishing in church closets.
Overtalking is replacing taking action, in a world where so much needs to get done.
"Less talk, more action:" it sounds simple, but we've developed a culture that's drowning in words. So much information via so many devices, everyone's opinion posted everywhere! We talk things over, and over, and over.
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The Gospels say that Jesus often admonished his followers to "tell no one" what they saw him do. I don't think he was just publicity-shy. He knew the power of words: to heal a wounded heart, to inspire the mind, to liberate the soul, and to torpedo best laid plans.
Jesus wasn't looking for people to merely spread the word about what he was doing. He wanted disciples who would listen carefully, discern their commitment prayerfully, and then go forth and do what Jesus was doing: heal, inspire, liberate. The Acts of the Apostles, not just the plans.
If you ever have served in a leadership position in a congregation, you know about the annual vision, mission, goals workshop. Hours of discussion producing miles of flipchart paper. Good ideas exhaustively word-smithed into vision and mission statements and lists of goals. It's the church New Year's resolutions process, and too often is about as effective as our own New Year's resolutions!
Some church development professionals have discovered that long, thorough talking about every idea and wordsmithing every statement, ends up giving the participants an exhausted sense of a job well done, mission accomplished! All this talking replaces the drive to do what was planned.
A recent diet study by New York University shows that talking to friends and family about weight loss goals can get a person so much affirmation for their plans that they get a sense of accomplishment that substitutes for any actual loss of weight. More overtalking trouble!
I'm working on how to do church planning using a "less talk" approach, without people feeling stifled. Periods of being quiet and listening for God's input is a part of my tradition not widely done these days, either by groups or by individuals. It will be a challenge to lead a committee of "let's get at this, time's awastin'!" church leaders in the practice of stillness of tongue and mind, listening for their God, not their ringtone.
I'm arming myself with the Letter of James: "Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak ... doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves."
Ancient wisdom, so perhaps over-talking isn't just a modern problem.
* The Rev. Jan Griffin is the Congregational Developer for the Southwest Region of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane. She is retired from parish ministry in Richland.
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