Missionaries to countries where another language is spoken must, inevitably, learn the language or languish in incredible ineffectiveness. In order to disciple people to and in Christ, you have to speak a language they understand.
So what do we do when the young adults, college students, and teenagers that we are trying to make disciples among don’t speak our language any more? How do we communicate when the people we’re ministering to don’t understand us?
Several years ago the National Study for Youth and Religion found that most teenagers (now young adults) are “incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs, and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives.” Not only do the majority of young adults not know how to express their faith, many also simply don’t speak the language of faith at all or are operating on vastly different definitions than most ministry leaders.
It’s not just young adults. The language of western culture is shifting increasingly away from the religious. Biblical literacy is swiftly decreasing, both within and without the church walls. How are we to communicate the gospel to those who don’t speak the language that the church has trained us to speak?
In Psalm 19 David writes;
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
(Psalm 19:1-2, ESV)
Somehow the skies are communicating God’s glory across cultural and language barriers without any problem. While many with decades of ministry experience are using language that’s increasingly insular and incomprehensible to the majority of millennials and the wider culture, creation is making moment-by-moment proclamation of the glory of God.
In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath lay out a framework for communicating ideas in ways that gives them “sticking” power. The third principle they lay out as critical for stickiness is concreteness. They state that, “Trying to teach an abstract idea without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air.“ (115)
The problem with much of our evangelism and mission is that we start with abstract ideas that many have little to no concrete foundations for. What exactly does “saved” mean? Why should I care if Jesus “died as a sacrifice for my sins”? What exactly does justification mean? Does it even matter?
Read the rest of this post at the Verge Ministries blog.