I was talking to my wife after leaving church last Easter. We were out of town, so we visited a church that was recommended to us. After the service, my wife and I introduced ourselves to the pastor and offered greetings on behalf of our home Church. I also told him about the book that I was working on.
When we left, I mentioned to my wife how I thought the conversation didn’t go very well.
“What do you mean?”, she asked.
“I just felt like (the church’s pastor) didn’t really connect with what I was saying. And when I asked him questions, he really didn’t respond”, I answered.
“Well, I noticed you really didn’t show much interest in him. You only talked about what you want to talk about. You didn’t talk to him. You ‘processed’ him”.
When I thought about how I behaved, I saw my wife was correct. My efforts to get to know the pastor were overshadowed by my desire to get him interested in my book. Instead of getting to know the man, I worked to get to what I wanted out of the conversation.
From that moment on, I’ve started to pay more attention, not only to how I talk to people, but the nature of conversations in general. What I’ve noticed is that more and more discussion seem to be transactional. More and more conversations seem to go something like this:
“Hey Bill! How’s the children’s ministry going?”
“Hi Tom. It’s going OK. We’ve got a couple of events coming up.”
“Have you completed the quarterly update? I’m collecting them from all the ministry leaders.”
“Not yet. I should have it finished by Wednesday. Can I email it to you?”
“That’s fine Bill. Have a blessed week.”
Now some of you might see this and think that this is normal discussion between two people after church.
What I’ve noticed is how amazingly similar in-person conversations like this are to an email, IM, or text message. First, the minimal greeting, followed by the real purpose of the exchange (getting the question answered). The information is exchanged, and then the conversation ends. I found this pattern in my emails and text messages as well. I’ve experienced these types of stunted dialogs with people in all types of settings. I’ve also had others tell me they’ve noticed a similar pattern in their regular exchanges.
We are increasingly engaging in conversations that are more like police interrogations. The cause? I have a theory.
Technology has allowed us to connect with infinitely more people. Could it be that now that we have so many more people to talk to, the way we talk to each other has changed?
Because the speed of our communication has changed, with emails, texts, and IMs being delivered instantly, our expectations for a response have sped up as well. And since we all have more people to talk to, we have to be more efficient (aka faster) in the conversations we do.
In other words, efficient communication technologies encourage efficient conversations.
If this is the case, then it would make sense that our conversations would more become transactional. There’s no time for anything else.
So what’s wrong with efficient conversations with others?
The problem is that Christ-like love and relationship aren’t efficient.
They are sloppy, unpredictable, and confusing. And most of all, relationships are inconvenient. They frequently don’t fit nicely into your schedule. You can bet that the next time your neighbor needs to talk to you about a painful experience, it won’t be a convenient time for you.
If we are to love people as Christ loved them, then our priorities must change. Our top concern when engaging others can no longer be getting what we need. To love others as Christ did, we must put the needs of others above our own. Paul exemplified this in 1 Corinthians 11. There he instructs mature Christians to sacrifice their freedom to eat whatever they want for the sake of believers who were new to the faith. This was an issue because some believed that eating meat from animals sacrificed to non-existent gods somehow endangered one’s salvation. Paul encouraged the mature Christians to put the needs of others first. Acts of like this demonstrate a sacrificial love. They are necessary if we are to build strong relationships. They are necessary if we are to love others as Christ commands.
In the same way, we must re-order our priorities when we interact with each other. Make whatever exchange we have – a face-to-face conversation, an email, even a text – about the other person first.
Start with a salutation. Follow up with a QUESTION about the other person. Actually LISTEN to the answer. Offer to help if you can. CARE. That kind of sacrifice is necessary for strong relationships.
Loving people isn’t efficient, but its necessary if we want to worship God.
Technology has given us the ability to connect with each other, but each of us must choose to use it in a way that builds Christ-like relationships.
Have you noticed similar behavior in your conversations? Share your thoughts in the comments!