Communication Rules


I was just beginning my ministry at a new congregation, shaking people out of the building on a Sunday night. A sister came to me, shook my hand, and roared, “I’ve been sick two weeks, and nobody came to see me—not even the preacher!” I was surprised and embarrassed. I was surprised because I didn’t know she’d been sick. I was embarrassed because she said it in front of several other members. I was trying to get off to a good start in my new work.

I asked her if her doctor knew she was sick. She said he did. I wondered how he found out. She said she told him. I replied, “That’s the only way the good Lord gave me to learn things.”

About seven years later, I didn’t think my salary had kept up with my expenses. It hurt my feelings because the elders hadn’t given me a bigger raise.

“What did the elders say when you told them?”

Well, I didn’t tell them. I thought elders ought to know things like that.

That makes relationships complicated—when we expect people to read our minds.”

Paul wrote:

For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11, NKJV).

You don’t know what I think unless I tell you. I don’t know what you think unless you tell me.

I hope no one fails to ask for what they need, then I fail to do what I didn’t know they wanted me to do, and they want me to feel guilty. I hope this doesn’t happen. If it does, I won’t cooperate by feeling guilty.

My commitment to you: I’ll tell you what I think will be helpful:

  1. From the Bible.
  2. From my experience and observations. Remember the waste basket is always available.

My request from you: Please tell me how I can be helpful to you.

Tell me when you are sick if you want me to know. Tell me if you would like a visit or, if you’d rather I pray for you and not visit.

In my early ministry, I visited everyone in the local hospital every day, twice if they were very sick, and three times if they were dying. You didn’t want to see me the third time the same day. That was a bad sign.

On surgery day, I came to the hospital before a person received a “happy shot” and we prayed. I sat with the family during surgery. After the person was out of surgery, I went to their room, had a prayer; then I left the hospital…until a day in Dalton, Georgia. Marlene Griggs approached me one Sunday morning and said, “Jerrie, Bob’s having knee surgery Tuesday. I’d appreciate it if you would NOT come to the hospital and sit with us during surgery.”

I was shocked. How could I break my rule?

She continued, “You know how anxious I am. I don’t want to have to entertain someone. I’ll have my Reader’s Digest. Steve, Carol, and Leigh Ellen will be there. Are you going to be in town Tuesday?”

I replied I planned to be in town.

Marlene continued her communication, “We expect everything to go well. But, if something bad were to happen, would you come to the hospital?”

I told her I would.

Marlene said, “I appreciate it. If I need you, I’ll call you.”

Wow!!! What good communication. I began to reflect on my previous practice.

I wonder how many times I’ve bothered people by my presence when they’d rather I’d been somewhere else.

I now have a new policy: please tell me how I can be helpful in any circumstance. I’ll try to cooperate.

When I was serving as an interim at the Collegeside congregation, I met the best communicator indawn-reeves-2 Cookeville, Tennessee — Dawn Reeves. The Sunday I explained my Communication Rule, Dawn came to me after services and said, “When I have an operation, I want you to visit me, and I want you to bring chocolate. I don’t have any surgery scheduled, but when I do, please visit and bring chocolate.”

And it came to pass before I left Cookeville, Dawn Reeves had surgery. I visited and brought chocolate. Why did Dawn Reeves receive chocolate from me when others didn’t? Because she asked for it. She is an excellent communicator.

I encourage us to follow Dawn’s example. There would be less disappointment if we told people what we wanted from them.


I use electronic communication. I am active on Facebook. I post a “thought of the day” on Twitter. I email and Message.

I won’t ask anyone to connect on Facebook while I serve as an interim in this congregation. I will confirm with anyone who requests me to be a friend on Facebook.

Anyone from this congregation who follows me on Twitter, I’ll follow.

I use email and Messages to communicate facts such as the time and place to have lunch. I don’t do counseling, Bible studies, or try to settle disagreements by Message or email. For those, I like to look someone in the eye. I’ll be glad to set a time and place by Message or email.

What is a communication principle you’ve found helpful?
Please comment below:

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

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