As the mother of two preschoolers, I find myself saying this thing that used to make no sense to me, but now does. I say it often–like, multiple times a day– with varying degrees of effectiveness. This phrase used to sound absurd to me. Now, it rolls off my tongue with startling natural ease. In fact, it is the only response I can muster in the face of a young child having a meltdown.
“Use your words!”
Both my kids are super articulate, and have been stringing together english-major worthy paragraphs since right around their second birthdays. Still, they are kids. And sometimes those evolving language skills have not caught up to physical development and the needs of ‘right now.’ When it’s been a long day and the world is a lot to process, there will be tears, laying on the floor, the throwing of toys and–sometimes–just all-out-shrieking. “Tell me WORDS!!” is sometimes all i’ve got. Just tell me some %*$%^#@! words, for %*$& sake, and i don’t mean the words that I’m thinking right now. Tell me words, and stop bloody screaming in my ear.
And then they go to bed, and i go pour myself a glass of wine and stare at the wall for awhile. Because really, what else can you do?
Sometimes, when it comes to communicating who we are, what we do, and why people should care, the Church exhibits the vocabulary of an average 3-year-old, with an even less-evolved sense of self. In the face of declining participation, community standing, and financial security, we tend to lay on the floor and scream a lot, but we can’t quite use our *%$^#@ words and say what it is we want.
I read an article last week about some hopeful trends in church giving. Turns out, despite the economic downturn, many of us are seeing good news in the bottom line for the first time in over a decade. These researchers cited changes in stewardship practices and engagement of younger donors as a primary source of improved stewardship.
As much as i appreciated the article, something bugged me about it. The vocabulary was all wrong. And this is not me the English major talking. This is not even me the writer talking. This is me, the pastor talking. Nothing about the language of this piece reflected the good news that it had to share. I came away with the conclusion that it was written by a statistics person, a money person, possibly even a non-profit person, but by no means a ministry person. Whoever wrote this piece does not speak the lanuage of gospel.
Here’s why: I kept coming upon irksome little phrases like ‘churches recruit new members,’ or ‘pastors persuade people to come to worship.’ I mean, does that sound like the Kingdom of God to you? Does that make you want to read more? Does it make you want to praise the Lord?
Faith has a language, and for my money, it should not include passive or corporate words like ‘recruit’ and ‘persuade.’ Our faith language should also avoid use of vague ‘to-be’ words that would have my high school English teacher going crazy with a red ink pen. Oh, the dreaded red pen…
When you work long and hard to articulate the language of faith–to craft a meaningful sermon, to build an effective website, and to reach the unlikely church-goer–well, then, you get a little sensitive when others make the whole business read like the owner’s manual for a new toaster. Thing is, I’d like to THINK it is only the corporate stats people who make faith sound so straight-forward and boring. Thing is, i am certain that, often, we church folks don’t do much better.
During the season of Lent, we seek to pair down and purify. We may purge our diets of processed foods, our closets of ill-fitting clothes. We might simplify the liturgy of our worship services, or trim down the meeting schedule. Many of us try to spend less, consume less, judge less… What if, this year, we just practiced using our words? What if we took this season of discipline and simplicity to focus on our language of faith? In our own lives, and as vital communities, this could be a powerfully transforming practice–to eliminate from our spoken and printed material the kind of language that makes people wish they’d slept in, and fill it with power verbs that speak of new life, energy, hope and resurrection. Got anything like that?
If your church’s mission statement reads like minutes from the building committee meeting; if your responsive call to worship sounds like a lullaby; if the welcome on your webpage sounds like it was written by a statistician and not a passionate believer; then get out the eraser, or find the edit feature, and get to speaking faith. Get to using your words and telling good news in a language that people will care about hearing.
‘Persuasion’ is for fussy toddlers. ‘Recruitment’ is for the boy scouts, and possibly your neighborhood recycling drive. If this is how you tell your story, then your story might be missing something vital. Is this truly the story of your faith? Your experience of the holy?
What happens to your verbs when you start engaging the language of the Holy Spirit?
Empower, engage, equip, energize, ignite, call, commission, speak, preach, evangelize, prophesy, serve, renew, refresh, repent, restore, revolutionize, begin, initiate, transform, challenge, push, pray, shout, rejoice, praise, go, innovate, testify, justify, seek, invite, hope, envision, imagine, proclaim…
Proclaim with words… the good news that God lives and breathes in our midst, and does new things–new things!–every day. With us. In spite of us. Because of us. That news bears telling. It merits some power verbs. Time to get up off the floor, and use our big kid words.