“My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:4-5
Have you ever been present for a conversation where you knew the people involved were speaking the same language as you, but you couldn’t figure out what they were saying? Maybe the discussion was so laden with jargon and unfamiliar terms, it felt like they were talking in code. Or maybe the words were all familiar, but the way they were being used didn’t make any sense to you.
We’ve all been there. Both as the confused person, and as the person speaking code.
A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a leader about how it was getting harder to recruit people to be ushers in church. I suggested part of the problem was that the leader was relying on the same list of people without seeking new participants, and that list was shrinking. “You need to get up front and wave the hospitality flag from time to time,” I told her.
That Sunday morning, the very harried leader stopped me in the hall just before service. “I can’t find it!” she said.
“Find what?” I asked.
“The hospitality flag!”
There was no hospitality flag. I had used the phrase “Wave the ____ flag” plenty of times as a metaphor for getting people’s attention, and it had worked just fine. Until I used it around someone unfamiliar with the phrase. Whoops.
When we gather to worship on Sunday, we often risk being misunderstood because of the way we speak. We have all these terms we never bother to explain – and I suspect sometimes we don’t even know what we mean when we say them. Things like “Agape love,” “Gospel,” and “disciple,” for starters.
And then there’s all our denominational code.
Open and Affirming.
That weird UCC logo
No wonder people get confused.
On the other hand, we have the example of God throughout the Bible.
God, who knows everything, consistently spoke to humans in language they could understand. Who talked about the Sun rising and setting, rather than the rotation of the earth. Who simply described close family marriage as unclean, instead of trying to explain the genetic reasons behind that rule. Who, as Jesus, told simple stories instead of giving theological lectures.
Perhaps we could learn a lesson from those choices.
How can we make sure our meaning is understood?