I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.
Podcasting to the Unconvinced
It’s a funny thing. You wake up one day, go about your business and have no idea that your life is about to change. That’s what happened to me in the fall of 2000. My wife and I were about to find out we were going to be parents. I was still in school, but had only about a year left.
I went to seminary because I felt like God told me to. I didn’t know why because being a pastor was never on my radar. About six months earlier I’d taken a class in college that had answered that question. I was meant to do technology. It was so clear to me.
I took a class called “Servant as Leader”. My professor took us on a field trip to a church that would change everything I knew about church. The pastor told me that they were a church for people who didn’t like church. He told us how they were people who had little experience with church even in the United States, even in the south.
I was one of the ones who asked how they could target people that didn’t know Jesus without compromise. He told me they could talk about Jesus and make His message relevant and could do so without compromising the message just by changing language and communication techniques. This was surprising to me.
A couple of months later my wife and I went to this church and found that what the pastor had said was true. In fact, the message was clearer than in the churches we’d grown up in because the language was what we used everyday, not special terminology for Sunday only.
That church became my church and that pastor became my pastor. The reason was simple for me. Their mission was always my mission: “transforming unconvinced people into whole-hearted followers of Jesus.” I’ve seen so many lives and eternities changed. I want more and more; that’s why I’m writing this book.
Consider your audience
No one would talk to preschoolers about the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture (using those words at least). You’d tell the children that God knows us well enough that when He made the Bible, He made it so that people could understand it well enough to want Jesus to be their forever friend.
If someone doesn’t use the same set of terminology that you do or the terminology means different things, it’s not talking down to them or compromising the message to translate for them, it’s loving. You’ve seen this in your life already. My wife’s mother has MS. I was there when the doctor came in to discuss what she thought the issue was. My mother-in-law was having issues where her legs weren’t working all the time. Sometimes they were fine, but not always.
After a bunch of tests, the doctor told us that she thought it was Demyelinating disease. I’d never heard of such a thing. My wife’s father and grandparents didn’t know what it was. My mother-in-law (who was a cardiac nurse at the time) wasn’t quite sure what it was because she dealt with the heart not the brain. Finally someone asked what it was. The doctor told us “multiple sclerosis”. You don’t want to hear those words, but you’d rather hear the actual diagnosis than think that it’s some new disease that no one has ever gotten before.
Churches are often guilty of telling people the diagnosis in words they can’t understand, making them feel like the treatment is uncommon. Part of the catalyst of the Protestant Reformation was a change from Latin, a dead language, to the language of the people. Slowly over the years, antiquated terms have crept back into the vocabulary of churches and so the people that need most to understand about Jesus can’t.
When you use any communication medium, you should consider the audience and tailor the message to them. I believe that when people see who Jesus really is they tend to either want Him or be repulsed by His message of radical forgiveness. Nobody that met Him in the Bible said, “He’s just a wise man.” They wanted to worship or kill Him.
If your audience is supposed to be people that don’t know Jesus, change your language so that they know you’re talking about God. You’re not talking about a good man or a prophet. Unleash Jesus from high-sounding terms. He talked about the kingdom of God in agricultural terms. He talked about the relationship He offered as being like being born again or like marriage. We complicate it with theological or ancient words.
If you’re speaking to seminary professors, using the same words you’d use with people that don’t know anything about Christ, might feel like you are talking down to them. Keep in mind that it’s better to speak simply using words correctly than to look foolish because you really don’t know what you’re talking about.
The difference between talking to children, the church, unchurched people, professors, etc is not what you say, but how you say it. The message is what matters. Delivering it in a way that the hearer can understand adds value to the message, not because it changes the message, but because it clarifies it.