Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Communicators of the Gospel

Communicators of the Gospel – Why those aspiring for a career in ministry should consider a Bachelors of Arts in Communications Studies.

Quincy Wheeler, Associate Pastor in East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, B.A. in Communications Studies from Baldwin-Wallace, M. Div. from Ashland Theological Seminary.

As I begin my post-seminary career in ministry, I am thankful on a daily basis for my decision to major in Communications Studies in my undergrad work at Baldwin-Wallace. When I first looked at Baldwin-Wallace, I debated majoring in Religion, as I knew that I wanted to be involved in ministry. However, knowing that seminary would help further my knowledge of Scripture, theology and church life, I tried to identify a course of study that would be most helpful to me as a minister of the Gospel. After a brief consideration, the clear choice became to enroll in Baldwin-Wallace’s Communication Studies program.

I would like to outline ten ways that my communication studies degree continues to help me, on a daily basis, engage in my work as a pastor. I will also try to distinguish what elements a Communication Studies degree provides that may not be found in a degree in Religion.

(1)Communications Studies honed my public speaking skills. In whatever ministry you try, you will need to speak publically. Communication studies taught me how to develop a well-organized speech, how to speak without looking at notes, and how to use gestures, vocal movement and diction to drive home a point.

(2)Communication Studies developed my conflict resolution skills. Conflict resolution is probably the single most important skill to learn going into ministry. It is rarely covered in religion or seminary coursework, from my experience.

(3)Studying Communication theory assisted me in understanding dynamics at work in the personal and public settings for ministry. Ministry entirely consists of caring for people as people interact with you and with each other. Communications offers insight into those interactions.

(4)Executing a research project for my Communication Studies degree allowed me to discover ways to collect, interpret and apply meaningful data for ministry purposes. Performing an experiment-based research project taught me data-collecting and analytical skills I utilize every day.

(5)Communications Studies increased my self-awareness of my communication style and my understanding of those around me whose styles differ from my own. I am simply more aware of the communication needs and tendencies of others around me than I would have ever been, had Communication Studies not informed me that those needs and tendencies are there, and offered me tools on how to manage them.

(6)Communications Studies' lessons are easily contextualized. The problem with philosophical and theological truths is that they are not always easily applied. Psychology, also, gets confusing when trying to mix it with the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Communication Studies includes aspects of psychological and philosophical truths that can be easily translated into ministerial contexts.

(7)The primary challenge of the Church in the modern age is encoding the Message… message-encoding just happens to be the primary learning outcome of Communication Studies. We have to communicate the Gospel to a society that increasingly does not believe in God, nor does it accept the revelation of God in Scripture as authoritative. We must discover how to communicate the Good News so that it sounds like good news and reaches a new generation. Communication Studies provides a wealth of information on how to make messages meaningful, relevant and transformative.

(8)Communications Studies focus on group dynamics and organizational communication processes, both incredibly important aspects of ministry which receive little attention in seminary. As I chair committees and serve on ministry teams, I constantly turn to insights I received in my undergraduate studies in Communications. As I continue to interact with staff members and help with church visioning, I remember and apply lessons I learned in my Organizational Communication classes.

(9)Communication Studies teach the importance of good listening skills, which is often-times overlooked as we seek to engage in the task of communicating the gospel. A pastor who is unwilling to listen to his people will soon speak a message that no one wants to hear, let alone understand. The study of communication demands development of listening skills.

(10)Communication Studies add important marketing and public relation insights which seminary training rarely addresses. Packaging of the Gospel has to be noticeable and appropriate, concerns amply addressed in Communication classes.

As I continue into a career in ordained ministry, I am constantly grateful that I chose to major in Communication Studies. If you are attending a non-Bible college, I would highly recommending minoring in Religion (for basics in Scripture and theology) and majoring in Communication Studies before seminary. I really benefited from and loved my seminary training. However, the focus of seminary was at least 75% on knowledge-based learning, and maybe 25% on practical matters relating to communicating the Gospel. Between the preparation offered by Communication Studies and the education received at Seminary, however, I feel adequately prepared for ministry and effectively resourced for the challenge of preaching the Gospel in any context.