We are living in a time when interpersonal, face-to-face communication is generally not being
encouraged or improved. We are teaching our young people to communicate by text rather than
orally; by email or Facebook Messenger rather than by face-to-face or telephonic, verbal
communication. Not surprisingly, many younger people no longer feel skilled at interpersonal
communication, and they often avoid it. Given the choice, they will text rather than call on the
phone, even when the subject matter would be more appropriately handled orally, or in live, inperson
Why has there been such a shift to electronic, nonverbal communication forms? One reason
is because texting is often easier. It is faster, and can facilitate multiple conversations almost
simultaneously. When all that is needed is a short response, if any, texting is ideal. Similarly,
email has many advantages, and can easily include attachments, multiple copies, blind copies,
etc. It’s not surprising that these forms of electronic communication now account for such a large
percentage of the conversations occurring between people, even in business or professional
settings where such would have previously been unthinkable..
Texting, and other forms of electronic communication have advantages, but here’s the
problem: when we tend to communicate entirely in an electronic, impersonal manner, we forfeit
many of the nuances and advantages of face-to-face contact, or live, oral communication. We no
longer see the raised eyebrows as we are speaking. We do not pick up on the nonverbal cues,
such as shifts in posture or position, facial expressions, and a thousand other things skilled
communicators use to effectively communicate.
In the church especially, it’s important to maintain and sharpen our interpersonal
communication skills. This is because we recognize that people are actually souls, with eternal
implications. Christianity is a deeply personal religion, concerned with converting the heart and
lives of people, not just checking them off like so many numbers. It’s about more than
broadcasting our message. It’s about noticing the responses as we do, and adjusting our
methodology accordingly. Adjusting our methodology – not the message. The message doesn’t
change, but the manner and methods of presenting it in various situations constantly do. The
skilled teacher or preacher of God’s word knows how to read the responses of people, emphasize
certain points accordingly, and move more quickly over areas of agreement.
Our Lord was a master of interpersonal communication. Time and time again, he demonstrated
remarkable skill in reading his audience, adjusting his methodology accordingly, and maintaining
a relationship with his hearers which was nothing short of remarkable.
He expects no less of his followers. For example, in Matthew 18, Jesus gives specific
directions to engage in closely controlled interpersonal communication in particular situations.
The context is one of fellowship, and maintaining good relationships between brethren. How is
this done? “If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if
he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother,” (18:15). Notice what Jesus did not say: “If thy brother
sin against thee, send him a scorching text or burn off a good Facebook post.” He did not say to
send him a letter, or a bawl-out email. There is something of value in personal, face-to-face
communication. And that valuable feature is to be seized upon and used in situations like this. If
this is true in the case of a brother who sins against us, could the face-to-face approach have
special value in other situations as well? Obviously yes.
When Paul needed to correct Peter, he “withstood (resisted) him to the face,” (Gal. 2:11).
Why? “Because he stood condemned.” Why didn’t Paul send a letter or convey the message
impersonally and indirectly as so many prefer to do today? Because he recognized that a soul
was at stake. A look in the eyes was needed, and Paul was just the man to do it. Because he loved
Peter’s soul. We need to be careful that we remember our love for others, and the fact that they
have an eternal soul at stake. Texts and Facebook posts are fine in their place. But here in the
church we are dealing with souls. And, after all, isn’t that worth our absolute best efforts?
– by Robert C. Veil, Jr.