“Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words” (always attributed to St Francis, but who knows whether he actually said it..)
“More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
‘Cause I’d already know” Gary Cherone 1990 (defintely him)
Words hurt. Words elate. Words inform. Words frustrate. Words strengthen. We are all aware of how much latent power words can wield. How often have you wished that you hadn’t pressed send or could just have that last contribution to the conversation back! Maybe yours is a more positive experience of encouragement or congratulations. Words are everywhere and a vital part of our culture and society.
Words are also integral to our mission in the church. Words are used to explain things. Words are used in our shared worship, in prayers and in songs. Words are used in healthy debate. They can also be used to inform prejudice or to re-inforce stereotypes, and for some, words become empty, irrelevant or even, dare I say it, counter-productive.
All this said, I love words and love learning about new ones. Finding the meaning of a word can give us context, and help us know when we can use it. (https://public.oed.com/updates/new-words-list-january-2018/ for Oxford’s new word list for 2018) But, what role do words play in our mission together? What are some of the practical things we can share concerning words? Here’s a list:
- Use words that people understand – The church has embraced vernacularisation (see what I did there..) for centuries, and we should continue to do so. When speaking to people about faith, or talking to a group who aren’t aware of churchy matters – remember that even some of the more basic Christian jargon is not in their vocabulary. We are well-past dropping in ‘propitiation’ and ‘justification’ in mission, but I propose that even words such as ‘salvation’, ‘sin’ and ‘faith’ are tricky for some people to readily hear or use. Be careful using too much churchy language. Maybe speak about ‘love’, ‘journey’ or ‘friendship’ when talking about God and what he has done for you!
- Don’t use too many words – I don’t know about you, but I find it mildly frustrating when people use 200 words, when 10-15 will suffice. Keep it simple. It’s thought that most people’s attention span maxes out at about 7 minutes. More than 7 minutes of words is often too m…zzzzzzzzzzzz
- Use words creatively – People love a catchy slogan. Many organisations have been extremely successful in doing this over the years, and I believe we can be too. Write a two or three word phrase to encourage people to pray. Pledge2Pray from Thy Kingdom Come is a good example. Write a poem to share your faith. Encourage young people to write down prayers in a rap or a drama.
- Hashtags are OK – #JesusLovesYou #JesusBringsHope #LoveYourCommunity
- Maybe smile when using words about God? – One of my hobby horses… I was once in Newquay, and a couple of guys from a local church were giving a very thorough gospel presentation to the constant throng of shoppers and holidaymakers. The main speaker whilst I was there was using strong words of love and hope, but didn’t appear to smile once. I thought this was a shame. Our faith is something we are passionate about, it’s something that we love, it’s something we enjoy; it wouldn’t hurt us to deliver it with a smile!
- Words can divide – This is probably an amalgam of much of the above.. be careful where words could bring division. Jesus was brilliant at this; his words often caused conflict and consternation. It’s good for us to use words which challenge, but if the words cause unnecessary upset, then we can rightly ask ourseslves whether they are worth delivering in the first place.
- Silence speaks – Sometimes we just need to keep our mouths closed and not use any words.
- Actions sometimes render our words useless – Do our actions match our words? Read James Chapter 2 in the bible for some good stuff on this. Words are one thing, but do we back up our words with our actions. Are we authentic? We are used to judging authenticity in politics, media and our family. We will be heard in our words and seen in our actions – they are both vital to our life of mission.
- People remember what we say – Whatever your context for mission is, whether it is school, college, your home, your work, the church, the community – your words count! How often has someone said to you “I remember you saying … ” or ” I recall when you posted about…”. Words stay with people, so be encouraged to use them wisely.
When words fail or divide where do we turn? We mustn’t get downhearted In our mission as a church, we turn to the one who breathes life into all our words. We seek the one, true and lively word; Jesus himself. He hears all of our words and knows all of our struggles with them.
So, we should be encouraged to use words in mission. They sit with our attitude, our actions and our faith, as an outworking of what God is doing in our lives. They won’t always be perfect, but if we continue to hope and pray that they will be inspired and inhabited by God’s perfect presence, then we’ll be on the right track.