What the Trinity can Teach us About Communication as Leaders

By: William D. Shiell

In March 1994, Kelly and I and the rest of Samford University were stranded on campus during a major winter storm in Birmingham. Phone lines were down, and power was out throughout most parts of the university. The only way to communicate was by word of mouth, and we were told to go to the school cafeteria. When we arrived, the Associate Dean spoke to us through a megaphone. He didn’t know when the power would return, and he was not able to contact all of our parents. He told us, however, in no uncertain terms, “If you want to survive this storm and eat, you will do exactly what I say.” We were prepared to listen.

In times of crisis and opportunity, one of the most powerful tools leaders have is communication. We don’t need a winter storm to remind us how important it is for Pastors to communicate to the staff and congregation. A sign of a healthy congregation is free flowing, formal and informal channels of information in a timely manner.

Most organizations have problems communicating because humans are involved in them. The higher anxiety, the lower the trust, and the less we share. We can’t share everything we know at once, nor can we simply withhold information afraid the wrong thing will be said. Through a calm presence and trust in each other, we learn to share and listen at the right place and the right time. The Trinity can teach us how to communicate better.

Two lectionary texts for Trinity Sunday this week address the inherent problems we face as humans. We are like college students stranded on campus during a Winter Storm. We can’t hear, and we’re in a crisis. We need wisdom for the decisions that are to come, and we need help from the outside.

God helps us through his voice and instructions. Wisdom “calls out, and understanding “raises her voice” in Proverbs 8. In John 16, Jesus wants to share more information, but the disciples can’t handle everything at once. They need the Spirit to advocate for them and guide them into all truth at a later time (John 16:11-15). Jesus had to trust that the disciples would eventually understand and learn to listen to the voice of Wisdom.

Parents and Pastors understand similar problems. We can’t always tell our children or our congregations everything at once, but we trust that the Spirit’s presence and years of maturity and experience will fill in the gaps.

Last week was my older son Parker’s 15th birthday. This means that Kelly and I have been parenting for 15 years. I still remember thinking when he was just born, “No book can ever prepare you for this.” The wonder, worry, and joy of parenting continues to amaze me to this day. Now we’re preparing him for a learner’s permit. If we had tried to teach Parker how to drive a car at age 5, he wouldn’t have been able to understand—even if we had communicated every detail. Instead, we tried to show him good driving habits along the way. Now he’s beginning to take the wheel v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

The Trinity is the way God communicates to the world. Like an Associate Dean with megaphone in hand, God the Father speaks by his Word. Jesus is the megaphone—the mouthpiece—showing us God’s message in the world. Jesus not only speaks the Word; he is the Word made flesh. He demonstrates the message through his sacrificial gift of love and resurrected life today. The Spirit confirms that message, convicts us of wrongdoing, and supplies the words we need even before we ask. The Spirit gives us the wisdom to act when we’re stranded and alone.

That day in the cafeteria at Samford, we listened carefully. We ate “V-8 vegetable soup” and retreated to the dorms. We played in the snow and ice, and I enjoyed the heat of my apartment. Our part of the campus was the only one with electricity.

God doesn’t wait for another crisis to communicate with us; we just listen better when we’re desperate. This Trinity Sunday, lift your ears to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity has a message for you.

For those interested in pushing further into these leadership questions and possibilities, join us on June 17th!

Leadership and Engagement: Church, Incarnation, Exile ~ with Michael Frost
This is the Inaugural “Theology and Mission” Lectureship.
June 17th, 2016, Lombard (Chicago), IL

May 20, 2016

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William



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