Speaking the Same Language
With baseball season underway, I am reminded of an experience that happened when I was in high school. My family were big fans of the Reds and since Riverfront Stadium was a little over an hour away, we would go to games as often as we could. I am not a big fan of the game, but I am a fan of the fans and loved to go just to watch the people.
One game in particular we got there early so we had a chance to watch the players. Tony Perez was warming up close to where we were sitting so we, like other fans, were yelling at him to come over and sign some autographs. People would call out “Hey, Tony” or “Hey, Perez!” I even think some people tried calling him Mr. Perez, but he was busy with warm-ups and ignored us all until one voice called out.
With us was an exchange student from Columbia. She also yelled to Tony—but in Spanish. He stopped what he was doing and came over and they had probably a five-minute conversation in their native tongue. She had gotten his attention because she spoke his language. (Side Note: I think she also got an autograph and I am guessing it made Tony’s day just as special as he made hers.)
We in the church often wonder why everyone doesn’t see how amazing it is to be a Christian: to come to church, to worship God, and share our joys and concerns, knowing others are praying for us. We just can’t figure out why everyone isn’t as excited about God and church and worship as we are.
The answer for many people who don’t attend is simply they don’t understand the language. We all might speak English, but the problem is the big “church” words we use to describe our beliefs. Let me give you an example: Jesus Christ came to offer himself as an atonement for our sinful world. His death was a propitiation for our transgressions. It is through his sacrifice that we receive grace and forgiveness for our lives which leads to eternal salvation.
Do we really expect people to understand that sentence with its “church-speak” words? (Do you even know what propitiation means? BTW: It means the act of appeasing someone. In this case Jesus’ death was an appeasement for our sins. As a pastor, I spend many hours with people who are in the hospital. On occasion, I am there when the doctor or specialist comes in to explain the situation. Some doctors are great at speaking in a language that makes sense to the patient—but others are not. Sure, they spoke English but the words were not the words that we use every day and they were certainly not words that make much sense to anyone other than a another doctor.
The same is true of us. As believers speaking to a prebeliever or someone who has never been in church, we too often start tossing around words like grace and salvation and sin—and people look at us like we are from another planet. Even if people think they understand words like sin and grace, it’s more likely they understand them with a different definition; they understand the words as the world does, rather than as a Christian does. They see no difference between what it means to believe and live for Jesus Christ than simply being a “good” person. Most people believe good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. What they don’t understand is that it is only through the mercy of Jesus Christ that one enters heaven. Sin as defined in the Bible never enters the picture.
There is a language barrier and we have created it. As soon as we start coming to church or hanging around with church people, we pick up a new vocabulary and it begins to become a part of us. The problem is if we are to reach outside of the church we need to remember back before we knew church lingo.
Sharing Jesus Christ is as simple as telling your story of faith— and we all can do that without using ten-dollar words. The world needs to hear why you are who you are and why you choose to believe as you do. Tell them—but tell them in words they understand. Jesus did. He used stories of planting and sowing and fishing and lost sheep and lost sons. We will become greater communicators of the Gospel when we think about the Jesus method of communication.
What story do you have to tell? “May the Lord lead your hearts to express God’s love and Christ’s endurance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5, CEB). That’s all Christ wants; all he wants is for you to share your story one-on-one with your friends—just like he did. Keep it simple but tell it with all the love in your heart and words your friends can understand.
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