If we use the same language that we’ve always used—the words and terminology that we unconsciously learned and accepted without fully understanding, are we really having conversations? Or are they just unintelligible monologues? If we don’t define and explain our terms and ideas clearly in a culturally understandable way we’re communicating little more than the teacher from the Peanuts’ programs: wah-wah wah wah-wah-wah.
When it comes to inviting others to follow Jesus, we need to use words that will be at least familiar to those to whom we’re talking. Otherwise we just end up clouding the truth, hope, and beauty of the gospel. If we can’t unpack and define the terms and give them clarity, perhaps we don’t really understand them ourselves.
Those of us who have grown up going to church are notorious offenders of this type of behavior. Part of the work that we need to be doing is to continually evaluate and sharpen how effectively we communicate with people.
Lest you think this is some useless attempt at being relevant it’s important to note that our model for this type of communication is Jesus himself. John put it most simply and clearly when he wrote:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The decision of the Godhead to make himself known to the world, to reveal himself, was not to use overly high and indiscernible language, but to come and live among his people, taking their very form and speaking their limited language. He used stories and parables and concrete language. He changed his method depending on the audience and he started with what was familiar to draw them to the truth and to the hope that he offered them.
Words take work. Communication takes a commitment to clarity. It takes listening to people to be able to recognize where they are and what they’ll understand and what will resonate with them. Each conversation will certainly be different and draw on different symbols and illustrations to communicate the truth. But each will afford new opportunities to show the beauty of the gospel as well.
If I truly love Jesus I will put in the effort to clearly and creatively communicate as he did so that through my words others may come to love and follow the Word.