Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“The Communication Sandwich” by Garris Elkins

I will never forget the impact our eighth grade graduation speaker had on my young and developing life.  The impact was not positive.  I only remember the beginning words of his opening sentence.  To his credit, he may have said more, but I shut down and became emotionally deaf when I heard his first words.

The speaker said, “You kids will not really change in the future – you will most likely remain the same person you are today.”  I’m sure he must have said something more like, “You will only remain the same if you let yourself” or “Change is possible if you put your mind into it” or some other encouraging word – at least I hope he did.  All that I remember were his first words, “You kids will not really change in the future – you will most likely remain the same person you are today.”

The person I was the day of my eighth grade graduation was not all that impressive. I felt pudgy and undeveloped. I was leaving boyhood and entering my early teens.  I had a few pimples and I still combed my hair the way my mom liked.  I had yet to discover who I was.  The person I was that day wasn’t sure he would ever get a date with a girl or drive a car or have any kind of success in life.  I was caught up in all the inferior feelings my developing hormones were producing.

Over the years, I have come to realize how important it is to begin our conversations with words of hope.  Most of us hear the first thing someone says and if it is positive, it gives us a healthy context to hear what might follow.

I wonder what would have happened if our graduation speaker would have started his message with something like this – “You have all the potential in the world to become anything you desire.”  If our graduation speaker had said those words first maybe that really insecure kid named Garris Elkins, sitting in his assigned seat in row 8, would have felt better about the possibilities of his emerging future.

What if I remembered words like these, “You have all the potential in the world to become anything you desire. You kids will not really change in the future – you will most likely remain the same person you are today, unless you see yourself for the awesome person you are now, looking forward to a bright and hopeful future.” 

This preferred way of communication actually has a name.  It is called, “The Communication Sandwich.”  I first heard of this about 25 years ago from a friend of mine, Jared Roth. I don’t know if the concept was original with Jared, but that was the first time I heard it.

Jared was speaking in our church when he shared how to speak a challenging word to someone.  Jared said to place the hard meaty thing that needs to be said between two slices of encouragement.  In other words make a sandwich to house the challenge. 

I have spent the last 25 years working in a spiritual delicatessen building sandwiches.  Whenever I need to bring a challenge to someone, I make sure to bring twice the amount of encouragement as I do challenge, so that what I have to share can be digested. I put the tough word between slices of hope and destiny before I ask the person to take a bite of our conversation. If I don’t have all these ingredients, I am not yet ready to assemble the sandwich and enter the conversation.

The next time you have a challenging word to share with someone, remember, it is not difficult to throw out a tough word.  It does, however, take time and a willing ear to allow God to give you the slices of encouragement to wrap around what you need to say.  After doing this so many times, I have come to realize it has been the slices of encouragement towards hope and destiny that have had the greatest impact on people– even more than the challenge I thought I needed to bring.

When people are communicated with in this way they leave our challenging conversations feeling empowered.  If we neglect to build the Conversation Sandwich, people will leave our conversations feeling like I did that day listening to a graduation speaker throwing out a tough piece of meat without the slices of hope and destiny that would have changed everything.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

“The Myth of Heroes and Success” by Garris Elkins

Twenty years ago, I sat in a large convention center with several thousand pastors.  We were attending a denominational conference.  One of the scheduled speakers had to cancel at the last moment and Roger Whitlow, a pastor of a large and impacting church in Fresno, California, was asked to speak in his place.

The Valley Christian Center in Fresno had grown over the years to thousands of people who called this ministry their spiritual home.  The church had a beautiful facility and school.  Its ministry impacted a city and a region. On several occasions I heard Roger speak and he is one of the most solid and balanced leaders I had ever listened to. I still have some of his notes from when I was a student and they ring as true today as they did decades ago.

When Roger stepped up to speak at the conference the following (to the best of my memory) were some of the first words out of his mouth. Roger said,

“Many of you think what is taking place in Fresno is because I am some great leader.  You see the numbers of people coming to our church and think its all happening because of me.  Let me tell you the truth.  God decided to do something special in Fresno and I just happened to be the pastor leading the church when all of this happened.  It wasn’t because of me.  It was because God decided to do this under my watch.”

When Roger finished speaking there was a pause.  The atmosphere of the meeting began to shift.  Something strange took place – I could sense a collective sigh of relief sweep across the room.  I was one of those sighing. Something was being broken off of our lives.

At the time of this conference pastors in the American church were in the midst of a season when we were being asked to attend conferences with titles like, “Breaking the 200 Barrier.”  Numerical markers were being laid down to denote ministerial success.  Your emotions and self-worth were determined on which side of the numerical barrier you found yourself.

A subtle message was being sent out via the large glossy conference invitations that came to our church mailboxes inferring that only beyond certain numbers could we really be doing something significant for God.  It didn’t help that denominations across the nation supported this error of thinking by platforming pastors of larger ministries as a way to encourage to us “break out.” It didn’t work.  It just got a lot of us depressed in the process of comparison.

As Roger Whitlow’s words of freedom were released, the weighted yoke of having to produce something defined as numerical “success” began to lift off many of the leaders present that day. What was being broken off was the yoke of the lie that says, “Bigger is Always Better”.

Today, many of the leaders I talk to within the Church are waiting for something to happen.  The danger in times like these is they can become similar in response to what we did 20 years ago when we succumbed to the false belief that the answer to our inquiry was the discovery of another shallow solution.  What we really need today, like we did 20 years ago, is an encounter with God. We really don’t need another conference or the acquisition of a new skill set. 

Most of us have attended the conferences, enrolled in the self-analysis programs or even added a fresh skill set in an attempt to do old things in a new way.  These attempts have failed as a jump-start to our lives and ministries.  They fail because they try to do what only God can do.

Anymore, when I pray for people, I only pray for an encounter with God.  I pray for one of those supernatural Book of Acts kind of encounters that so radically shifts the life of a pastor that the culture of the church they lead is also shifted. When the Church discovers God in a fresh way the culture will also share in the shift. This is the domino effect of a God-encounter. 

Over the years, I keep hearing the words of Roger Whitlow.  They make more sense today than when I first heard them twenty years ago. Roger reminded us then that what we need is for God to show up, not another leader at a conference who makes us think that anything other than a God-encounter will make a difference in the long run.