In the Apostle Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders, he gives us a summary of the responsibilities of leaders in church that also applies to those who lead in church communication:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Acts 20-27-31
Though Paul shares a number of challenges we can apply in our work as church communicators, one of them is especially difficult to apply:
“For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”
As we communicate God's messages to his church, we need to make certain we are taking time to communicate all of it, the difficult parts as well as the more pleasant and encouraging ones.
We don't seem to have trouble communicating the upbeat and the positive, quoting God's promises and blessings and we should do that. Those messages alone, however are not the whole will of God and if that is all we are communicating we will present a distorted picture of the Christian message.
The blessings and good things that come from God are not automatic and not given to humanity because we have earned or deserve them. They are either gifts of God's general grace and kindness in the present, or part of our eternal inheritance because of the price Jesus paid for them in securing our salvation by his death on the cross.
Though we may have little to do with God's gift of blessings, the Bible is clear that we are responsible for actions that can cause us to lose his blessings, both in this life and in eternity. We must be as willing to communicate the consequences of disobedience as we are the joy of blessings if we are to be the kind of faithful shepherds Paul challenges church leaders to be.
Starting out faithfully as a preacher and teacher
Samuel, the last of the judges of Israel, provides a useful example of what it means to preach the whole will of God even when it is not comfortable to do so.
I've always loved the story of how, as a little child he responded to God's call by answering, in 1 Samuel 3:10, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” It's pleasant and comforting to stop there, to think that God can and does actually speak to us when we are willing to listen, but the passage goes on with a message that is not very pleasant:
And the LORD said to Samuel: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, 'The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.' I Sam 3: 11-14.
The first message Samuel was called to share was one of judgment. As a little child, he had to go and tell the religious leader of his people and the man who fed, housed, and took care of him that God was going to judge him and his sons. Verse 18 tells us “Samuel told him everything.”
It is never easy, but necessary to communicate everything God commands
I'm sure it wasn't any easier for Samuel to tell Eli God's difficult message of judgment than it is for us to communicate the consequences of sin, but he did it.
He didn't (as far as we can tell) yell, scream, cry or carry on in any way as he shared God's message. He simply shared it. The result:
The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel's word came to all Israel. 1 Sam 3:19-4:1
Because Samuel was obedient and shared the difficult message at the start of his ministry that God commanded him to share, God continued to reveal himself to Samuel and made him his prophet.
So how do we communicate the whole will of God in our church communications? Several suggestions:
In our teaching, don't skip the difficult passages. So much of the message of salvation in Jesus has lost its meaning because many people have no idea what they are being saved from. Jesus didn't die to save us from an OK life to our best life now, unlimited free parking, and airline upgrades. He died to save us from damnation, eternal separation from God, unending conscious regret and suffering for that decision.
We don't need to share difficult messages in a screaming from the pulpit fire and brimstone voice. It's said that when Johnathan Edwards preached his famous sermon on “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” he preached it looking down, reading his notes and in tears. We don't have to be loud or harsh to share a difficult message. We are always to teach and share “with gentleness and respect,” as we share the whole of the Biblical message.
In our outreach and PR, don't be phony happy or perfect. When I look at a website or professionally produced postcard or other PR of happy, smiling, thin, and perfect people in addition to fighting down a gag reflex, I always wonder where they get those people.
Nobody(or very few) in my church look like that and I live in Southern California, land of beautiful, sun-tanned folks.
It isn't just the pictures that are often phony. When the events advertised at the church are always presented as fun, happy, upbeat—I wonder what planet these people are living on? Yes, there can be joyous, fun times in the Christian life, but it isn't always like that. The constant parade of fun can make an outsider wonder the Bible has anything to say to people who are going on their second year of unemployment? Or of people who can't afford to go to the dentist or get eye-glasses? Or to people who are lonely, confused and may not be beautiful or pleasant to be around--is there anything for people like that at church? What about real answers to spiritual questions that may not be easy or answers that may be difficult to hear, but are true, does our PR and outreach reflect that? If it doesn't we aren't communicating the whole message.
Churches used to be where the hurting came for healing; so many today seem to be where the bored come for entertainment.
Listen like Samuel did
Ultimately, I can't tell you how you to share the whole will of God to the people to whom God has called you to communicate. We all have gaps in the completeness of our communication.
Perhaps the best thing to do next, is like Samuel, to listen quietly before the Lord to be willing to share the complete message he gives us.