“It is certain that at the time of early Christians, no one covered as many kilometers as he did over land and over the seas, with the sole aim of proclaiming the Gospel.” – Pope Benedict XVI
If you think about it closely, communication seems an impossible task. First, articulate in your limited vocabulary the varied and inexpressible notions racing through your mind. Then, know you audience well enough to make imaginative leaps to connect your thoughts to their experiences. Communication requires the ability to articulate knowledge in a way receivable by the audience, which may be composed of one thousand mysteries of persons or one irreducible mystery of a person. Either way, communication is a tough skill to master, but one that business persons need to cultivate.
Fortunately, there are ancient truths about communication that Scripture reveals: We can actually find business skills in the Bible. One of the strongest Biblical examples of a business skill is found in the effectiveness of St. Paul’s communication. What made St. Paul such a strong communicator?
Paul’s Communication: Passion
A main strength of St. Paul’s communication lies in how intimately he identified with his message. Infused with a sense of being called to breathe, speak, and live the Gospel, St. Paul was passionate, so much so that his audience could not help but be affected. He was “all in,” giving everything he had over to Christ. St. John Chrysostom describes:
In the same way that fire in setting light to different materials burns ever stronger…. So Paul’s words won over to his cause all those with whom he came into contact, and those who were hostile to him, captivated by his discourses, became the fuel of this spiritual fire (Panegyrics, 7,11).
Essentially, St. Paul was proclaiming Christ, and had himself become a new man in Christ through his conversion. St. Paul was proclaiming his own identity— who he was at the core of his being— and this caused his message to resonate strongly.
Paul’s Communication: Places
Beyond St. Paul’s identification with his message, we can gather communication lessons from smaller details of St. Paul’s apostolate, such as his choice of location for speaking. Fr. Jean Baptiste Edart identifies two of these choices of place. First, St. Paul chose public forums:
Paul’s strategy focused on urban centers, centers of Roman administration, Greek culture and Jewish presence, so that the Gospel might spread from the communities he founded there, outwards to the rest of the country.
Another setting St. Paul used for preaching was the private home. This was an ideal choice, Edart describes, because “the life of the first Christian communities was closely connected to the home, which included the whole ‘family’ including servants and slaves.”
Besides giving careful consideration to where to preach, St. Paul intentionally chose how long to stay in a particular place. St. Paul often stayed in a mission territory for months or even years. As he planted seeds through his preaching, he knew he needed to water those seeds until they were strong enough to grow on their own.
Paul’s Communication: Poverty
St. Paul also entered into his communication efforts with a spirit of poverty. St. Paul was not shy about using resources available to him, such as his Greek rhetoric skills, but his use of these resources was far from self-serving— he laid them down at the altar of Truth. Any desire to please his audience was subordinate to the heart of his message: Christ Crucified. We know that St. Paul dearly loved the Church communities he founded, even calling the Philippians, “my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). Simultaneously, however, he realized that these communities and individuals belonged to God, and St. Paul entrusted his followers to the heart of the Father.
Despite incredible suffering, St. Paul did not let fear prevent him from speaking the message of the Gospel; rather, he used his inadequacies as opportunities to rely more whole-heartedly on God’s grace. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). St. Paul’s communication efforts were not significantly impeded by his imperfections as a communicator because he did not see himself as the ultimate communicator. St. Paul knew that the words we speak are significant, but won’t change hearts without the Holy Spirit acting as well.
Business Skills in the Bible: How Would Paul Preach Today?
St. Paul’s communication powers show how we can indeed find business skills in the Bible. His modeling of effective communication has lessons that reach beyond his historical context, all the way to our present time. If values from his communication methods still apply today, how do we preach the Gospel to our modern world as Paul did to his?
Proclaiming our Identity in the Gospel
First, we need to identify with our message. Our world is still longing to hear and see passion. How do we as evangelizers identify with the Gospel? If our identity becomes located in the Gospel and its Author, we will be able to speak with a passion that affects others.
Each of us needs to reflect on these questions: What are the touchpoints of the Gospel that most strongly affect me? How has my identity in Christ affected my communication with co-workers? As Pope Benedict XVI notes, passion fueled St. Paul to travel more than anyone else in the early days of the Church, proclaiming the Gospel incessantly. How can I become more willing to engage the truth with persistence, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?
When our identity is the message, we are also protected against the problem of undercommunicating our ideas. Influencer Adam Grant describes how, when students are asked to tap a familiar song on the table— such as “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star— they are fairly confident that listeners will correctly identify the song they are tapping. But, while students in an experiment predicted listeners had a 50% chance of correctly naming the songs, a mere 2.5% of listeners actually identified the songs.
Grant uses this as an example of how our own familiarity with the big picture, the vision, can make us assume that others will correctly understand and follow what we are doing or saying. But, since others don’t see the vision inside our head, we run the risk of undercommunicating our ideas, which cripples our effectiveness. On the other hand, when our vision intimately affects how we are living, as in the person of St. Paul, listeners will be less apt to miss the message we communicate. In short, we won’t undercommunicate the Good News if it radiates from our life.
Seeking Effective Environments
Secondly, St. Paul reminds us to ask where the most effective places to preach are as missionaries. Often it is in the relationships that already exist in our families and friendships. Are there more public areas of your community that might also be an effective place of evangelization, from which goodness and truth could spread?
Of course, choosing effective environments and contexts to share a message in is based off of knowledge of who you are speaking to. In Nudging Conversions: A Practical Guide to Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, Catholic author Carrie Gress gives practical examples of the importance of knowing your particular audience and communicating based on that knowledge. She writes:
Is your friend a reader? An intellectual? More an emotional type? A movie buff? Sportsman? A foodie? The different interests of a soul will give you important clues about what might be effective to reach his or her heart. Where we spend our time is usually where our heart is. Finding a medium that can reach that point of interest is a good step in the right direction. Apologetics come in various packages. Knowing a person’s weaknesses or wounds could also prove insightful. Does he or she need logical arguments? Mercy? A good book? A combination? Nothing seems to work? Just prayer? Fasting or other sacrifices?
Speaking in Humility
Additionally, like St. Paul, we speak boldly with a spirit of impoverishment, knowing that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate communicator, not us. Do we love what is good about our culture, while being willing to relinquish it for a greater good? St. Paul affirmed the goodness we can find in human wisdom: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
And yet, St. Paul refused to stop at the purely human level, but called his listeners beyond it. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,” he wrote, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Conviction as a Speaker
Pope Benedict XVI comments on the passage above, describing how it was St. Paul’s conviction in the love of God that kept him strong and even joyful through his many sufferings: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God and this love is the true treasure of human life.” This treasure is the ultimate thing we have to communicate in our actions and words, and all other communication is less important! Let’s turn to St. Paul for inspiration in speaking with passion, selecting an effective environment, and maintaining a spirit of poverty in our conversations.
For further consideration of St. Paul as a missionary and communicator, check out Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008-2009 general audiences on St. Paul.