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The Effective Communicator

Communication:  the Missionary Paradigm
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Many people commonly understand the term "communication" in a narrower sense than I will be using in this column.  I see the basic role of the missionary in terms of communication.  I mean this in a comprehensive sense.  I believe communication offers a basic and comprehensive model, or paradigm.

The model of communicator as the role of the missionary is comprehensive.  Everything involved in the missionary role can be summed up in the concept of communicator.  This involves much more than may be commonly thought.  In one of our exchanges of correspondence over the years on the question of effectiveness, Dr. Donald N. Larson pointed out the importance of intent.

We know likewise that The Process Theory of Communication entails intent, both the initial intent of the communicator and the effect on the intent of the hearer.  In defining the communication event, this theory deals with encoding and decoding the message through cultural "filters."

This concept of filters includes decision-making, and thus decision-making procedures, formats and values from the "culture' of both the communicator and the hearer.  That is, these decision-making parameters are part of the "culture."  It seems that a narrower view of communication focuses on the result, and primarily the result in terms of information.

The broader view focuses on the process .  The dynamics of interpersonal relationship are integral to the communication event.  We fail to be effective many times because we focus on the result, usually a result or goal defined in terms of our Western worldview, rather than by the host culture.  Focus on the process is consistent with the concept of incarnational ministry.

Incarnation seems to entail participation in the process.  The communicator is effective when engaging the hearer in the decision-making process, not just in presenting the information thought to be important in making the decision.  Another way of saying this is that it is not so much the information, but the involvement of the communicator in the process, that effects the decision.

Process and Result
Speaking of the effectiveness of the missionary task focuses on the end result.  Speaking of effectiveness in terms of the process of communication focuses on the interpersonal process entailed.  It seems this emphasized the character of the missionary, on the "being-ness" of the missionary, more than on the "doing-ness" of the missionary.

Speaking of effectiveness in terms of the process and relationship introduces the question of the character of the missionary.  The type and quality of the relationship involves the integrity of the missionary.  Relationship determines much of the "what/how/why" commonly dealt with in "communication."  But it also involves the "who" which often goes ignored.  We cannot ignore the character and integrity of the missionary – who he/she is seems to me to be at least as important, but probably more important than what he/she does.  At least it affects how the missionary does what the missionary does.

The process of communication comes into focus more if relationship is valued (a strong trait of African society, a weakness of Western society).  Of course, moral responsibility and personal integrity are critical in the Christian ministry.  Integrity in the encounter/relationship is maintained and the procedure becomes less critical than the process.  The communicator takes responsibility for the result, for the response (at one level), for the effect of the communication event on the hearer, who is seen as a partner in the encounter.

More than Information
The missionary communicator then not only accepts responsibility for the information conveyed, but "takes care" of (handles with care) the whole communication event.  The communicator "follows" the whole process to be more certain the response is what the communicator intended, to see that the result matches what he/she intended.  Communication is a comprehensive and inclusive paradigm or model for the missionary role.


Published in the series The Effective Communicator in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, a cross-cultural communications newsletter, Nairobi, Kenya, June 1992
First posted on SLRK 13 October 2008

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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