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Speak Simply

November 18, 2013

“He [Paul] had a special gift for speaking in language that people could understand. Again and again, he took his pictures from the ordinary affairs of the people to whom he was speaking.”[1]

Have you ever tried to listen to a sermon as a new believer? Many are filled with church language which sounds odd or even disgusting – think “bathed in the blood of Jesus” – to someone who has not been initiated into the Christian culture. Or illustrations are used which depend on the hearers knowing and understanding the intricacies of the faith to understand. It is bad for a pastor to do this, but it is just as bad for any Christian to do this. It excludes people from understanding what you are trying to say.

How can we prevent this? First, discuss it with people close to you. This should be a group of people who are willing to let you know when you are communicating in this manner. You learned to speak the Christian Culture Language (I will call it CCL for short), now you must unlearn how to speak it. Having those close to you remind you when you say things like “Jesus made a substitutionary atonement for you” that you are speaking CCL is a start.

Second, find illustrations in everyday life. There are examples all around you every day – in the grocery store, in the restaurant, in the deer blind. There are real life examples people can relate to all around. Use those for your examples, not something that requires prior knowledge of the Christian faith to understand. Doing this will keep the audiences interest and will reduce error in the interpretation of the message you are sending. Simply put, it will be easier to gain an understanding of what you are saying.

Last, listen closely to what your audience is asking and then answer their question. This sounds obvious, but all so often we start formulating our answer long before they finish speaking. When this happens, we fail to actually hear their question and in turn we fail to answer the question. When we are not answering people’s questions, they will feel we are simply babbling and Christianity does not have a valid answer for their issue.

All of this seems overly simple, but the sad reality it we fail at simply communicating to people every day. Make today the start of a lifelong pursuit of speaking simply.

[1] William Barclay. The New Daily Bible Study: The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003). 54

  1. In a recent article in Relevant Magazine, Jon Acuff ( addressed this very issue. My mom and I had a unique discussion on the phrase “a hedge of protection.” She felt like his approach was very disrespectful, whereas I felt like maybe she was taking it a bit too seriously. I understand the phrase having grown up in the church. My friends on the other hand who were raised without God or without any type of church background might not quite understand how a leafy green bush would help out their daily life…I think we need to change with the times 🙂

    • In this post-Christian, postmodern era we have to realize the Christian community no longer has the majority say, even if they are the majority. We are walking out our front doors into America the mission field. That is why we need to adjust our terminology when we preach, teach, and communicate with others who are outside the faith. That way they don’t think we are taking blood baths that make us white as snow or growing our heroes high and think to guard our homes. We must learn to speak more clearly and in a language our audience understands. After all, if your audience does not understand you, then we should just close up shop and move along.

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