In two decades as a pastor, I've seen countless churches and ministries slide toward failure. Some recover, but many fail to learn how to resolve their problems. Sadly, they end up splintering, dwindling in size or becoming altogether extinct. When this happens, the people involved search for reasons for their failure. They blame lack of funding, an uncommitted staff, bad timing or even "missing the will of God."
I have concluded that something else is often an issue in failed or failing ministries: poor communication.
In everyday ministry, wise communication has primary importance. Clear language in the right tone can be the difference between successful, life-giving ministry or defeat. Saying what we mean and meaning what we say reveals our hearts, not just our thoughts. Authentic communication is open, honest, truthful and transparent.
In Paul's famous outline of the various ministry offices in Ephesians 4, he highlights the role of communication in ministering to the body of Christ: "It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Eph. 4:11, 15-16, NIV, emphasis added).
By "supporting ligament," I think Paul means the relationships that bind us together so that we can strengthen one another to fulfill His ministry. In other words, in order for the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to be effective (in order for churches and ministries to work), we must be experts in healthy, long-term relationships that have wise communication.
One key to healthy relationships in the body of Christ is thoughtful, wise communication that speaks the truth in love. Many times, struggles within the body can be solved when people sit down together and talk with one another honestly and openly. Such conversation is also rooted in love, forgiveness and humility.
With the following simple guidelines, those conversations can heal old wounds and provide good will for the future:
1. Use a mutual friend. If there has been a dispute, let a mutual friend (an outside party) determine the timing for the discussion. If people try to talk things out while emotions are flared, they can't come to a constructive conclusion. Mutual friends who are respected by both parties often have the wisdom to know the timing for the meeting.
2. Don't talk about the issue to others. It won't help. Keep quiet and speak only to the primary people involved or to the one who will oversee the conversation.
3. Honor and respect one another. When you get together, show honor and respect to the one who has convened the meeting and be respectful toward all who are invited to attend. And let people finish their sentences. Remember:
Be kind but to the point.
Don't be distracted or drawn into discussions on superfluous issues.
Stay focused, think, say what you mean and listen.
Be humble. Frankly, you ought to be grateful that anyone else even cares what you think. And keep in mind that the world doesn't revolve around you or your opinion.
4. Look for the win-win solution. Listen closely and try to find the reason why God has the various groups in the body and find a way to compliment one another.
When the body functions like a healthy family, every member has an opportunity to make others successful and effective. But if the body is sick, or the family is dysfunctional, no one will be able to fulfill their highest calling.
Simply put, it's worth the effort to communicate effectively and constructively in order to build healthy, lifelong relationships that fulfill God's call.