Language means a lot to me. How you say what you say is at least as important as what you say, and often more so.
Psychologists wax quite eloquent over how much meaning non-verbal communication (body language, intonation, inflection, and energy) adds to the actual words we say.
Politicians and pundits parse every syllable and phrase to extract every possible nuance of meaning from every word. The politically correct will spend enormous amounts of effort making certain we say what we mean in the correct way.
Honestly, I get confused by all of the jargon, but I work at it. I have no desire to offend, but sometimes I just can’t keep up, so I pray my intent comes across. For example, I am hoping that someone someday will explain whether I should use the terms “black man and white man,” “black American and white American,” or “African American and European American or just plain American.”
I am not being funny. I just don’t know. Frankly, your skin color does not matter to me. I actually think the different shades of skin in the world are beautiful.
In church our vocabulary is just as important. We as leaders can tend to communicate using an insider language about as transparent as a QR code.
America is no longer predominantly Christian. Contrary to a century ago people live next to us who have never been inside a church or heard the truth of who Jesus actually is. When they do show up at church they can be bombarded by a completely different vocabulary:
- The Lord’s Supper
- The Lord’s Blessing
And the list goes on . . . .
I am not suggesting these words are wrong or unusable. What I am suggesting is that we must be thoughtful about how we speak.
When you are talking about spiritual things one on one or from the platform, consider a few things:
- Spiritual Background. Has the person or the people you are speaking to ever been inside a church or have any knowledge whatsoever of Christian things?
- The Golden Rule. Remember that you are no better than the person or people to whom you are talking. Give them the grace you want for yourself.
- Patience. Keep the end in mind but remember that people may need a long time to come near to Christ. It is your responsibility to love them like Christ, but it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to help them actually love Christ.
- Humility. I love big words and I can find myself using them because they make me feel good and not because I am being thoughtful of the other person. Check your pride at the office door and speak normal coffeehouse English. You might be surprised at how much more effective you are at communicating spiritual things.
A story before I go.
My dad is a retired pastor. When he was first called into pastoring he was nominated not because he had a seminary degree or was the most polished speaker. He was a teacher who loved God and could encourage and instruct people, but he was not and has never been a professorial intellectual.
Dad was asked to consider the pastorate because he loved people on their level. He would show up early in the morning for breakfast at the restaurants in that rural farming community, and he would eat with the farmers. The farmers came to love him and felt like they could talk to him. They still do to this day.
Love people on their level, not on yours. It’s not about you or me; it’s about embracing people in the midst of their broken lives and admitting that you and I are a bit broken as well.
How are you communicating spiritual things to others? What can you do better to meet them and love them where they are?
Postscript: A friend reminded me of this Tripp and Tyler clip making fun of all the things Christians say. Enjoy.