communicate

The Illusion of Obscure Language

Photo by https://unsplash.com/@markusspiske

Photo by https://unsplash.com/@markusspiske

A typical American Christian uses obscure archaic language with the expectation everyone else what they're saying. But this is an illusion.

As a general rule, Christian believers are oblivious to this illusion. Being in contact with nonbelievers and nominal believers in God and I'm keenly aware of this.

When talking to nonbelievers I find it necessary to use simple, non-Christian wording to explain spiritual truths and concepts. I wrote about how I saw this need in a previous post—IYOW.

When I answer a question about why the Bible says this or that, I'm intentional to explain what the Bible says without the usual Bible terms, common clichés, and phrases Christians often use called Christianese.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. A lot!

It's the language

Language is important. It's how we communicate thoughts in our minds and hearts so we can understand each other.

Christians don't need to become bilingual or multi-lingual, although that would be valuable and advisable when speaking to people from other nations. We need to be clear with our language—the language we use in everyday life and the language we use to share our faith.

Over the past several years, I've had the pleasure of interacting with many people of different backgrounds from mine, in various work environments. I've gained insight into the inner workings of street gangs and gained some perspective on the current worldview of twenty-somethings.

Working three part-time jobs gave me this opportunity. Each type of work and its social environment has its own collection of terms and catch-phrases.

Thankfully, when I ask for explanations and clarification, people are happy to help me. Some also admit their own ignorance of these things at one time.

This is how Christian believers need to be with nonbelievers.

An obscure language

I read somewhere that an obscure language in a far away land will become extinct soon. Why? Because only a few people know and speak it, and they will die soon.

In a way, this is my hope for Christianese—the general term for all those Bible words and Christian catch-phrases and clichés. 

I would love to see Christianese become a dead language.

It's already dead in one sense—only those who speak it know what it means. Even many of those who speak it don't understand it very well. Christianese is self-limiting in that way.

Why? Because it closes off understanding for those who don't know anything about God and confuses those who have a limited knowledge of God. It's obscure language.

Christianese is self-limiting. It's obscure language and closes off understanding for those who don't know anything about God

When Christians use specialized terms and catch-phrases with over used clichés, ignorance is not bliss nor is it enlightening.

When believers use this obscure language—Christianese—we close people out of our circle of understanding. We block the entrance to the Kingdom of God with obscure language.

Is there a solution? Yes!

Christian believers need to use simple and clear words when they share about their faith in Jesus. What we share needs to be grounded in real life experiences of faith.

Even the simplest of words, like faith, need to be explained without quoting Bible verses or using theological terminology. It's ok to use those terms and biblical wording, but be sure to explain what they mean with simpler words.

It's ok to quote Bible verses and use Christian terminology if they are explained in a simple, clear way.

Christian believers need to translate biblical, spiritual truth from what is obscure language to the unitiated—nonbelievers—into plain wording that anyone can understand.

How to explain Christianese

This takes some work on the part of believers. We need to understand the Bible verses and terms we use and put them in our own words.

This requires thinking through the meaning of words and phrases we use so they can be put into our own words—IYOW. That's the work—thinking—with the guidance of God's Spirit.

A simple way to do this involves two basic things anyone can do—

  1. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy and use it! (there's an app for that!)
  2. Read various translations and versions of the Bible, even paraphrases—these will give you some ideas of how to put things in different wording
  3. Oh, and one more thing—pray! As Paul says, "Pray continuely." (1 Thess 5:18 NIV)

I use my apps for the Bible and dictionary a lot even though I've been doing this for many years—putting things IYOW.

Give it a try! I use the God's Word translation quite a bit but there are many, many others to choose from.

This is important!

I come back to this topic from time to time because it is so important. It's important to me and important if we truly want to share our faith in the Lord so others can understand and believe.

What is your experience with confusing Christian lingo?

Share it in the comments, and maybe I'll write on one of your experiences. ;-)

Thanks for reading and feel free to share this post!

Are You Ready?

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Readiness is important when an important task is at hand. In the book of Second Samuel, a messenger named Ahimaaz (A-hee-ma-oz) wanted to bring a message to King David. His father was an important priest named Zadok whom the King trusted.

However, the news to be sent was not good, so King David’s general, Joab, chose to send a different messenger.

In those days, certain messengers were sent based on the content of the message; one was sent when it was good news, another with bad news, and another who could bring either good or bad news. Ahimaaz was a messenger for good news.

An incomplete message

The story unfolds in the eighteenth chapter of 2nd Samuel after King Absalom died in battle. He was David’s rebellious son who stole the hearts of Israel and staged a coup that sent King David running for his life.

Though Absalom had become his enemy, he was King David’s favored son. Joab knew the news of his son’s death would devastate David, so he wanted to send a more neutral messenger, a Cushite. (1)

However, Ahimaaz, because of his devotion to King David, wanted to bring the message. Joab’s response was, ”Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?" (2 Sam 18:22 NKJV) Since Ahimaaz insisted on running, Joab gave him permission.

Ahimaaz out runs the Cushite and arrives first, but is told to stand aside because his message is incomplete—it lacked the news most important to David—news about the life of his son, Absalom.

In many ways, Christian believers are more like Ahimaaz than the Cushite. When delivering the message of God’s story of reconciliation (the gospel), it is often incomplete. The part left out of the gospel is the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.

The resurrection

The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin, and the believer’s hope in eternal life. It also gives insight into the mystery of this earthly, physical body being changed into a new, indestructible body, which enables a person to enter and live in the presence of God.

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth about the foundation of all he taught them. He exhorted them to continue to believe in the full truth of this gospel and not listen to teaching contrary to it. If they allowed false teaching to influence them, it would jeopardize the work of God’s grace in their lives.

God's story

Additionally, Paul delivered the gospel they heard and received in person. This may seem incidental but is very relevant. The gospel is not just truth about God passed on by any means available, it is God’s story—the personal testimony of God. It relates how God rescued humanity through His Son, Jesus. God's story is most effective when it’s told person to person.

The believers in Corinth heard the gospel preached to them with apostolic authority. God gave this authority to Paul, His apostle, and messenger, to preach the gospel to the Corinthians. It was God’s story relayed by God’s messenger.

Once they received the gospel as true, they began to live their lives in a different way. The foundation of their lives was a new destiny, one of eternal life in the presence of God. Paul exhorted them to continue, not only to believe but to live according to what they believe, “unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1, 2).

3 Important truths

Paul reminded them of three things about the resurrection and the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-3)—

  1. It is the most important truth
  2. He personally received the gospel from God
  3. It agreed with the OT Scriptures

First of all, the gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers. All other teachings must be considered in light of the gospel. Secondly, Paul passed on what was revealed to him by God. This is what all believers are to do—share with others what God reveals to them.

Lastly, the truth of the gospel is found in the Scriptures given to the chosen people of God, the Jews. The history of God’s first relationships with people is linked with the gospel.

Adam, the first man, had a face-to-face relationship with God prior to sin’s interference. God’s relationship with Abraham was significant because Abraham was considered righteous on the basis of his personal trust in God. Both men and their relationships with God are found in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Experiencing God's grace

Many of our national staff at Rainbow Village Ministries were staunch Roman Catholic, but they lacked the assurance of eternal life. Entrenched in their religious beliefs and traditions, they refused to consider a personal relationship with God by grace.

Anya (her nickname) was a faithful Roman Catholic who would argue dogmatically against the “Born Again” gospel of grace. (2) But during a women’s retreat hosted by another ministry, Anya came to believe in Jesus in a more personal way—based not on religious conviction, but on God’s grace—His unearned favor. Her testimony for days and weeks later was, “I feel so different inside.”

She experienced a spiritual transformation in her heart that changed her entire life. She continues to live as a born again believer because she experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in her life.

Are you ready?

There are various versions of an urban legend about the vanishing hitchhiker. One of those stories tells of a hitchhiker who announces "the Lord is coming soon!" Then asks, "Are you ready?" When the driver looks to answer him, he's disappeared!

Indeed, we do need to be ready for the Lord's return, whether you're a believer or not.  But there's another readiness all believers need—a readiness to share God's story with others.

This is a major point in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story. Sadly, many believers are like Ahimaaz, their version of the gospel story is incomplete and they're not ready to share God's story of redemption with others.

The resurrection of Christ is essential to understand and include when sharing God's redemptive story with others. But first, you need to be familiar with it yourself so you can communicate it to others in a simple, clear way.

How about you? Are you ready?

Are you ready to share God's Story with others?

Here are some Bible references to help you—

  • The resurrection story— Luke 24:1-12
  • Why the resurrection is important— 1 Corinthians 15:1-24

(1) Reference— 2 Sam 18:19-33– The context of this story makes this distinction more clear. The Cushite (a foreigner) could bring either good or bad news, whereas Ahimaaz was more known for good news (note verse 27).

(2) “Born again” is the common tag for evangelical believers or those of the Protestant faith within the Philippines, as a distinction from Roman Catholicism. This is a reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and what many evangelicals tell Catholics they need.

Talking Into the Air

unsplash.com_JRosewell

unsplash.com_JRosewell

Engaging someone in a conversation can be very satisfying, even when there's a difference of opinion. There's a sense of give-and-take, of listening and responding. This is true dialog.

On the other hand, you've probably experienced a more lop-sided conversation where you're doing all the listening, or perhaps you're doing all the talking. One-sided conversations aren't really conversations, they're monologs and aren't very productive.

What's even less productive than a monolog is when one person talks over another without listening. Even worse is when a person speaks in another language or uses terminology foreign to whoever is listening. This is like talking into the air.

Another language

One day while walking across a small island in the Philippines, I engaged a young man in conversation as we both carried a cooler full of drinks and food. He listened and nodded as I went on and on.

Years later, he told me how little he understood of our conversation at that time because he didn't understand much English. I spoke little of his dialect but thought he understood me. In reality, I was just talking into the air while he listened.

Since then, we've known each other for over 20 years and developed a fruitful relationship of mutual respect. I've learned to listen more and he's become more confident in communicating what's in his heart and mind. In the beginning, I was the teacher and he was my student. Now we are friends and partners in ministry.

4 Insights for more effective communication

This story illustrates and provides a few insights for me that I'll share here. These are some basic things to help make communication more effective so we're not just talking into the air.

  • @@Language and wording are important, that is how we convey what we say to someone@@
  • @@We need to know and understand our listeners to whom we're trying to communicate@@
  • @@We need to find a common point of reference or interest with whoever we speak to@@
  • @@Find the most effective means or way to express and convey what you want to say@@

As pointed out last week, effective communication needs to be a dialog, not a monolog, and listening well is essential.

Language

@@Words and phrases are like containers for our thoughts@@. Even with sign language, each gesture expresses some meaning or idea. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make it easy to open these containers that convey our thoughts.

Two simple ways to make them easy to open are—use simple words and translate terms and expressions or idioms into our own words.

Working overseas with students who are non-English speakers I ask them to put answers to my questions in their own words (IYOW–in your own words). This requires them to process what they are learning so they understand it better.

Putting things in simple wording also requires us to process what we're trying to communicate, and helps us to hear things more from the point of view of those who hear us. When we bring things it a simple level, we make it easier for others to understand what we're trying to say.

Understanding

As a pastor or teacher, or with any public speaking opportunity, I observe who I'll be speaking to before I get up to speak. I consider the demographics of the audience. Who are they? Where do they live? What to they do in life?

Basically, I'm looking for the most common factor among those gathered. When working with the division of fractions in arithmetic, we look for the lowest common denominator. That's the idea I have in mind.

I look beyond the better-educated people and those who seem like they'll grasp what I say more easily. I aim for those who might have a harder time understanding what I want to say to the whole group. If it's a church, I look for the younger believers and whoever might be non-believers and aim my message at them. They're my most important listeners.

Common point

@@Part of understanding who I'm speaking to involves finding a common point of reference@@ with them as a group, or maybe a couple different points of interest. If the people are older or younger, I try to relate things so they will receive it best. I tailor illustrations, examples, and stories to fit them. I even try to use idioms and words that are most familiar to them.

Jesus is our prime example for this. It never seemed to matter who was in front of Him, He knew how to communicate so they understood Him. What Jesus said to the woman at the well (John 4:7-26), is different than how He spoke to Nicodemus (John 3:1-12), or how Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus who climbed up in a tree to see Him (Luke 19:1-10). 

I don't speak to young IT students the same away I do to farmers in the mountains of the Philippines. I need to adjust what I'm saying and how I convey it in a way that relates to them best. Believers can quote Paul who said, "I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22), but do we really do this?

Ways of communicating

All of this leads up to how we communicate to others or the way we convey what we have to say. @@Different situations or circumstances also impact how we communicate@@. I'm not going to preach a sermon to a small, informal gathering. I'd rather engage people in discussions rather than talk at them.

Some of the ways I'll speak and communicate with people is to use stories, questions, or find some way of listening and responding to them. Basically, whether preaching, teaching, or just talking with someone, I want to engage them in dialog in a way that interests them.

Jesus used questions and provocative statements many times with His disciples and even in public gatherings (Matt 16:5-12; John 7:37-39). He used stories (parables) that connected with the people who gathered to hear Him (3 parables in Luke 15). As noted above, sometimes Jesus simply engaged people in conversation.

@@I've found people much more open to hearing God's redemptive story after I engage them in genuine dialog@@ rather than to immediately launch into a presentation of the gospel. I've also used each of these ways to engage people while traveling and while teaching and training leaders.

Final thoughts

These four ways of developing effective communication are useful in whatever role you have in life or in various life situations. They work for pastors, teachers, cross-cultural missionaries, writers, supervisors or staff, coaches or teammates, leaders at any level, or those who listen.

Again, @@listening well is critical to good communication. It shows people we're interested in them@@ rather than our self or our own agenda.

Practical application

@@Discipleship is a long-term investment, not just a training course to equip believers@@. Pastoral care involves understanding, patience, listening, along with a practical application of mercy and grace.

Good teachers build a strong foundation and framework for learning before delving into a deeper understanding of the truth. Cross-cultural missionaries need to find bridges and points of connection between their culture of origin and the culture of the people they want to reach.

Effective leaders need to understand the goals, passions, and struggles of their staff or team members. People in the trenches of life and work need to understand what's expected of them.

All of these life roles and situations work better when communication is done well. Those of us in roles of leadership at any level need to model these ways of making communication more effective.

For example, as a teacher, when my students aren't understanding what I'm trying to teach them, then it's my responsibility to find a way to help them understand. I need to model for them what I want them to learn to do.

When we can connect with people in these ways, we'll communicate better and make the world better around us.

How about you? How can you put these insights into action in your life?


Resources–

  • Here's a simple Glossary for some Christianese terms from the addenda of my book
  • If you'd like to know more about developing questions for an interactive Bible study, check out the Bible studies under Inductive Bible Study on the Resources page.
  • If you'd like to know more about how to tell stories in your own words (IYOW), contact me via email through the Contact form at the bottom of the Resources page.