A s per my travel custom, while packing last week for my new job, I ironed several shirts prior to putting them in my suitcase. My wife thought this was a curious practice. She asked me, “Why in the world do you iron a shirt and then put it in a suitcase? Doesn’t it just get wrinkly again?” Good question. I told her it was a veteran road warrior trick. “You never know what you’re going to have to deal with on the road. It’s better to have it mostly ready to go. If able I can go back later and finish off a few wrinkles.”
I am thankful my parents taught me to iron my own shirts. My Dad, a retired Army officer, showed me a set of tricks about starching shirts (spray the cuffs and collar, roll them up and let the starch soak in to the rest of the shirt) and how to use an iron. He believed that a professional shouldn’t be dependent on a service to take care of such a ongoing, basic need.
One time a guy made fun of me for ironing. He said I’d make somebody a good wife. Of course, he was wearing a wife-beater shirt at the time he said it.
My new job is taking the the creative and communication helm at a large local church. I’m the key person for the creation and execution of all messages – all stories – in the life of the church. I work with the pastoral and program staff to help craft and produce the work that changes lives. There are wrinkles everywhere. Communication has been the upscale but wadded-up shirt at the bottom of the hamper.
As I get started, I aim to set one thing straight quickly. I tell people, I am not the communications guy.
Most say, huh?
What I mean is that in some large churches and organizations, communications, with a plural, is a department of marketers, producers, and designers–specialists who handle all communication needs. I believe confining communication to an internal agency is a bad idea. While some tasks and projects call for professionals, communication in any organization is too large to funnel through one tiny pipe. Communication is not just a job for the specialists. It is a job for everyone who has or wishes to have influence. Every leader should be able to iron out the wrinkles in their own message.
One of my goals at Peachtree is, through education and modeling, to create a culture where everyone embraces the fundamentals of effective communication. Here are three principles I believe about communication and the church.
1) Every person is creative.
Some left brainers in the room might deny this, but every day we make many creative decisions, from how we look to what we eat to what music we enjoy to how we execute our jobs. I am not claiming that every person is an artist. But we are all creative, because we all have imaginations. Most of us just have our imagination crammed into a little pocket in school. After a while it gets coated in pocket lint, and we develop insecurities about pulling it out and using it.
2) The greatest means to leverage our imagination is through metaphor.
Jim Collins says the answer to every problem is a “who.” I like that, and use it a lot, but I’ll add one piece – the answer to every problem is also a “like.” When we are trying to communicate a complex idea or solve a seemingly intractable problem, metaphor is the alternate route that cuts through the mental traffic jam. If we can explain what we want through metaphor then we’re halfway to making it happen.
3) The greatest way to express our metaphorical, imagined concepts is through reference.
A blank page is daunting. Don’t start there. Instead, start with inspiration. Find something that captures a piece of what you want, even if not the whole thing. Designers do this all the time. The next great ad campaign or event presentation may seem entirely original but is actually built on any number of other sources.
Anyone can do these three principles. You don’t need to be an artist to do them. They are critical to connecting with our digital, creative culture. Even if you have your own in-house communication person, work on learning how to smooth out your own message.