Are your words really relevant?
REACH’s Mark Greenwood looks at the importance of the words that we use when we are talking about the gospel.
It was late Friday evening, we lived in Huddersfield and my wife had arrived home from Southampton where she worked as a freelance consultant business analyst – I opened the door to give her the customary greeting.
I could see she wasn’t happy and so I cancelled said customary greeting. Initially I thought like every husband does, and asked, “What have I done?”
“It’s not you,” she replied. “It’s them.”
Safe in the knowledge it wasn’t my fault, I kicked into pastoral mode. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “They didn’t QA the baseline,” she said. I showed my full disapproval expressing that it was totally unprofessional that they hadn’t. I assured her it was a basic expectation and that I was so cross for her and felt her frustration – she had every right to be upset. I mean, come on, everyone knows you should QA the baseline, right?
When Emma returned to work on Monday, she asked her colleagues, “Who didn’t QA the baseline?” They knew full well what she meant. Why? Because the words she used were relevant to them.
Sadly, they meant nothing to me in my context, rendering them irrelevant. I’m not going to lie, to this day I don’t know what ‘QA-ing’ the baseline is. Granted, I could see the emotional effect on my wife but I didn’t know what that emotion was really all about!
We may be passionate about God as we speak about him (which of course is great), but if we are using words and metaphors that people don’t understand, the passion isn’t earthed and just dissipates into the air like steam.
We don’t need to make our faith relevant, as that rather implies it isn’t relevant to start with. What we need to do is show its relevance, and that means there is a lot we need to honestly look at, including the words and metaphors we use to explain the message of Christianity, as well as the way we demonstrate it. Failure to address our language and use words that connect actually brings compromise because what we are saying isn’t what they are hearing.
I remember a proposal put forward at our business sessions at the Elim Leaders’ Summit a number of years ago, as to whether we should remove the word ‘fundamental’ from our public language and core beliefs. This wasn’t because we wanted to compromise but rather because the word itself is already compromised i.e. it means something very different now to what it meant 20 years ago.
The truth is not that the word doesn’t communicate – it does, but it communicates something very different and in a very negative way – and this is something we would want to distance ourselves from.
In Elim we believe that relevant communication of the Christian faith is so important. This affects the public perception of our Movement, the impact of our local churches, and the individual witness of our members, as together we seek to make disciples in a world that increasingly knows less about what we believe.
How much of what we say assumes a knowledge that isn’t there or, worse still, enforces a perception that is? Let’s work on our delivery (how we say it) as much as we work on our content (what we say).
We want to let as many people hear about Jesus as possible but we want to make sure we are clear in our communication – that our words are relevant.
Legends such as John Wimber spoke about proclamation, presence and power. I have felt a stirring in my heart and a sense of the Spirit breathing new life into these dynamics for us as a Movement .
When you look at the life of Jesus, he was certainly all about these. I am inspired by Acts 10:37-38, which says, “You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
Jesus was committed to preaching relevantly and demonstrating the miraculous and doing good because he cared.
Throughout our history in Elim we have focused on some more than others, but the Spirit of God is calling us to build our evangelism equally on all three – without this we will limp along. And I don’t know about you, but I find that when I limp, it’s a real frustration, it creates imbalance as well as a lack of forward movement.
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