Development is all about communication – enabling people to share ideas and good practice, stimulating change and innovation. The book of Acts is about the way the first disciples communicated clearly to those around them.
Read Acts 17:16-33
(16-22) Paul met with misunderstanding and questions. As he discussed the gospel in the synagogue and in the marketplace in Athens, Paul’s listeners knew this was something new. At first they did not at first understand what it was all about. Paul had caught their interest and they wanted to know more. Communication takes time and does not always succeed first time.
(22-23) Paul used what he saw around him. He was given the chance to hold a meeting. To get their attention he referred to the idols and altar he had seen. They all knew about these things and could identify with them. He declared he was going to clear up one of their very own mysteries: who is this ‘unknown God’? Communication works best when we address the interests of the listener.
(24-31) Paul explained, starting from their ideas. The Greeks in Athens thought gods lived in temples, so he explains how the Lord of heaven is different, being the Creator of everything. He goes on to quote the local poets, using what they have said to back up his message. All this prepares the way for the new message: to turn to the risen Christ. Communication needs to start with what the listener already knows.
(32-33) His listeners reacted. If people react to what we say, we know we have communicated clearly. Paul’s listeners reacted in various ways – some believed, some wanted to hear more, some rejected the message. Clear communication does not guarantee that others will accept what we have to say, but it will always result in feedback and comment.
- What is really new in the messages I need to communicate? How can I get that across effectively?
- In communicating with local communities, what local knowledge can I build on?
- How can I use the local culture and language to make sure that my messages make sense to the listeners?
Clear communication gets a response – discuss with your coworkers what kind of responses you are getting when you communicate, and ask why.
Clinton Robinson is director of SIL-UK Literacy and Development Unit, a member of Tearfund’s West and Central Africa Board Committee and previously worked with SIL in Cameroon.