A listening Church

Pope Francis’ open and friendly communication style has stirred interest globally, especially among communication-study specialists. Much attention has been focused on his personal style in communications, but he is also developing and implementing a new style of communications within the church itself. When the pope urged candid discussions at the recent assemblies of the Synod of Bishops on the family, it was interesting to see how it worked and where it proved challenging among church leaders.

But the issue is this: How does a tradition of centralised hierarchy interact with and communicate effectively in a decentralised digital world? This devolution of power is a current challenge for many centralized organisations and power structures globally.

When he spoke to the bishops on his trip to the United States, Pope Francis spoke of a “culture of encounter” in which “dialogue is our method.” He recognises that whatever challenges may be encountered in official, centralised communications, there is a deeper and more basic level at which communication—in the sense of dialogue and encounter—is at the heart of the church’s mission to carry the message of the Gospel to the world.

While the recent synod meetings provided plenty of evidence of difficulties with and even occasional resistance to this commitment to dialogue and encounter, Pope Francis was not deterred. He showed patience at synod sessions. This patience is motivated, it seems, by a long view of how the process of dialogue within the church needs to develop.

The pope has said that the church should not be run like a top-down organization, with all authority and power radiating from the center; he said it should be an “inverted pyramid” in which the bishops and pope exercise their authority and deepen their identification with Jesus “in serving the people of God.”

Indeed, these challenges are not new. Churches have found their one-way messages are not being heard or valued either internally or externally, especially by young people. Desperate individuals and leaders have not been listening appreciatively to each other; gridlock has spread.

Communication theory and practice are keys to the church’s future success. Digital communication technologies are an essential part of the infrastructure of connection, but they can be used effectively only if the church learns how to integrate dialogue and listening at the heart of its structures of authority. It is also critical if “the people of God,” predominantly at the level of local churches, are to be deeply involved in this renewal. – Full text @ americamagazine.org

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