“But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.”
(1 Corinthians 14:19 NLT-SE)
Last night J and I were reading together. We are finishing up a series on love in the church and I thought I would read the chapter after my text for Sunday. That would be 1 Corinthians 13, nice chapter gets used quite often really for all sorts of things. This Sunday it’s going to be coupled with a baptism. Which reminds me I need to order a jar of marbles… anyway I digress.
Chapter 14 starts with a six word exclamatory sentence…( I did hear what school teachers were saying, even if it took 20 some odd years for me to listen to what they said.)
Let love be your highest goal! Already Paul is telling us that all the other things I’m about to talk about in this part of the letter are important, but they are not the MOST important, they aren’t the thing that has the most value. He isn’t discounting anything that he is about to say, he is just saying that you all think that these things are the most important issues you are facing, I have news for you they aren’t. Love is where I want you all to camp out. I want you to get very good at Love. Love should be the focus of your interactions with each other and with the world around you.
Anyway as I read through this chapter I began to look at it with a different set of eyes. Growing up the way I did you always look at verses that speak about tongues and get mystical about them. Sure that’s a basic view, and it is more nuanced but the general assumption for many is that speaking in tongues shows you and everyone around you…in the club…that you’ve got something special. You’ve got “it.” of course there are the times that people take umbrage at labeling the Holy Spirit an it so they tried to say you got Him, Some say you got the power…there are all different explanations to the whole thing that tongues is to a large contingent of Christians. My thoughts when it comes to gifts and God and all that is that all things equal God can do whatever he wants or needs. It’s not my job to tell him what those things are, it’s to be available…. anyway enough of that.
What struck me this time around was this verse…
“It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.”
(1 Corinthians 14:9 NLT-SE)
Follow me here for a moment. This has been used to talk about the charismatic practice of speaking in tongues. But it holds true for so much more than that.
Christianity like any religion has words that are used by people in the club. Calling everyone brother or sister can be strange. Talking about communion and blood and all that could be off putting, but there’s more to it than that. Even when speaking full sentences in English they don’t necessarily mean what they sound like. Churches have a language all there own. Services, and Gatherings, and small groups, fellowship, Christian Education, Buy In, Outreach, Service. These are concepts that have basic easily understood meanings to people in the church but if you asked people outside the church it’s highly possible likely probable that those same words would take on a different meaning.
Churches take way too much for granted. Even when we as church leaders are told not to take things for granted there is a part of us that continues to do so. When you are in a smaller church, or a church in a part of the country that is not as wide open as some of the fasted growing church areas things go from disappointing to depressing really fast. We work in most cases with people that remember when… shoot we remember when…and all the stuff from when, the words that we spoke and the language that was used through events and outreaches makes sense to us because it’s what we are used too, meanwhile the people we are supposed to be reaching aren’t getting the conversation, both verbal and non verbal from churches, but more importantly from Christians. We use Bait and Switch tactics more than we should and many times we don’t even realize it consciously.
Here’s the thing. If we started talking the language that people understand instead of the language we want them to understand we would be so much further down the road.
Sharing our faith is more about living it in front of people in such a way that they become curious, the trick is that once they are curious we need to stay away from the in club words and move toward authentic conversation, building a relationship, getting to know the person and letting them see what makes things in your life different, letting them see what makes my life different. Sure there will come a point when they understand what a small group is, what a worship service is all about, and why we sing the songs we sing. But in those first few weeks and months if they come to church they are going to be in a foreign land, they are going to see the worship time as a concert let them, and if you’re sitting with them treat it the same way. They may wonder why someone gets up and talks for 20 to 40 minutes depending on the church, answer their questions if they have them but be sure to do so in an in-churchy way. Don’t bring out scripture and verse that talks about how important it is for Christians to be together, bring out practical you based examples of how important it is for Christians to fellowship together. I can almost guarantee the deeper in they get the more they will begin to understand that worship isn’t a concert, teaching is a chance to look at the Bible and what it says and how it has meaning today even if it’s been around for a few thousand years, and that service is a way for us to be the hands and feet of Christ extended not just a way for us to get the warm fuzzies.
Some people think that the approach I’m advocating means that I’m willing to toss out the Bible, etc. Far from it. I want what the Bible says to be the foundation on which these conversations and interactions grow. I want people who claim to follow Christ to follow him so hard and so fully that they can have a conversation about the last movie they saw and not feel like they haven’t done enough to spread the gospel.
See sometimes a movie can just be a movie, a song can just be a song, a meal can just be a meal. It doesn’t always have to lead to the ABC’s of salvation. What it does have to lead to or at least what it should lead to is authentic relationship that is nurtured and cared for and ready for that moment that will come when all hell has broken loose in a person’s life and they turn to their friend…not their pew mate…
We have to use words that people understand because that’s the only way we will get to use words that will bring the light and truth of Christ into a persons life in real lasting ways.