It surprises me how often I and my colleagues use language from the pulpit that we understand but few others can. Sometimes people can understand the words. They just don’t mean much. “Freedom,” “Grace,” “Love,” etc. are words we throw around and use frequently. We leave them to themselves, and the listener to understand what they mean without explanation. When politicians today say, “Freedom,” they think everyone understands what it means the same way. Not so.
If I use words like “justice,” “Gospel,” “Kingdom,” “For the sake of the world,” (and I should), then I need to help people see what that means, precisely. This provides clarity for the listener and accountability for the preacher. I must know exactly what I’m trying to say if I’m going to throw around big words, I need to know what they mean and what actual relationship they have to the text I’m preaching.
Take “Kingdom.” Jesus himself was known to say, “The Kingdom of God is like…” and then provide people a snapshot of the Kingdom. Holy ambiguity isn’t a very effective way to preach–yet I continue to step into it.
I’m not at all encouraging a “dumbing down” of language we use from the pulpit. I’m calling for the opposite. Use the big words.
And the small ones.
The colorful and beautiful words.
However, let’s not create a fog or dumb down our language by overusing powerful language that begs to be embodied verbally. Perhaps we use such words and keep on moving for a couple of reasons: 1) We ourselves may not be exactly sure how what we’re saying looks like lived out, 2) We think everyone knows what we mean. Even if the aforementioned two things aren’t applicable, why wouldn’t we want to put flesh and life to the words and concepts we’re bring out of the Scriptures.
I know the creative side of some loves the mystical side of using language. We think to ourselves, “let them wrestle with it.” Well, it may be better to save their wrestling for God. Instead, let’s introduce them to the God with whom they can wrestle by helping them understand His Will clearly. I don’t want them to wrestle with my words. My words should paint a vivid picture of One who transcends them.
Thoughts? How would you like to see preacher’s use language more effectively?