Not sure if you caught this article on cnn.com this weekend about Speaking Christian. “Can you speak Christian?” asks author John Blake. The article speaks towards terms like ‘rapture’ and ‘salvation’ and others like it that the average person in our culture wouldn’t necessarily understand. It caught my eye because Bethany (the church I belong to) has had a summer course about “Speaking Christianese.” The problem with speaking Christian, the author suggests, “When Christians develop their own private language for one another, they forget how Jesus made faith accessible to ordinary people.” Jesus spent his ministry drawing people in, does our church do that? Jesus spoke in such a way that all wanted to hear more. Do we do that?
One writer said this about Jesus: “He communicated in images that both the religious folks and nonreligious folks of his day understand.” Jesus didn’t give a lot of requirements to be his followers. He didn’t create a system for leaving people out. Think of how he started the most famous of all his sermons in Matthew 5: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Down and out? Good news, Jesus says, you are on my team. Everything is going to be okay.
It’s important as our church grows and we seek to expand God’s people that we are speaking and discussing God in such a way that people can connect with. When I was in high school, I spent 2 years studying Japanese. Studying might be a bit of an overstatement because the final year my Japanese class was independent study. I basically was allowed to sit in the common area between the classes and have a Japanese book open in front of me. Friends were heading over to a buddy’s house to play dunk ball during Japanese? No problem! I’ll study more tomorrow. At the completion of two years of Japanese, and while receiving A’s in the course, I could say the following words or phrases in Japanese: “hello…good morning….you are welcome.” And that was it!
That summer we had some guests from Japan at the fishing lodge where I work. This group of men spoke only Japanese and not a word of English and after hearing that I had studied their language, I was assigned to be their fishing guide in their boat for the next day’s fishing trip of 8 hours. They spoke Japanese at me for the first hour and I muttered, “Hello…good morning….you are welcome.” By mid morning they were painfully aware that I didn’t speak Japanese at all. They stopped speaking to me, and the next four hours they spoke between themselves while I looked on (it was a very frustrating day because they also broke 3 fishing rods that day). My problem was that I was familiar with the letters and the sounds and the feel of the Japanese language… but I couldn’t speak the words. It had no meaning for me.
Sometimes in our churches, we speak Christian words and phrases and terms that no one understands. We assume people know the value of the words we use but it’s like we’re speaking Japanese. And people feel left out. The answer isn’t to “not speak Christian” but rather to act in such a way that the language for our actions comes from the things we do, not the phrases we repeat. The world has heard a lot of what the Church says, but I would argue, needs to see more of what we do. Even Jesus at the end of Matthew commands the disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” ‘Don’t teach people to speak the words,’ Jesus says, ‘but rather show them how to follow Me with their lifestyles.’
I hope our church grows by continuing to develop into people of action, using our lives as our greatest figures of speech. May we be held accountable to the ultimate truth of speech, that it should only flow after our lives reflect the values we believe in. This is how we’ll start to speak the language of the culture today as people can see the church stepping in and helping feed the homeless and restore broken relationships and genuinely allow people to learn more of God’s great love for them. This is the highest of callings for us as we continue growing into God’s people.