It’s tough when you’re trying to play “catch up” with what everyone else already knows. I didn’t take biology in Grade 10, but because I needed two sciences to graduate I had to take it in Grade 11. Early in the course, my teacher told me I would fail. (Not sure if this was a backward way of inspiring me or if he just thought I was stupid.) It was tough sitting in class day after day feeling left out of the conversation and having to whisper and ask what certain terms meant.
The same thing happens in church when we use terms like “saved,” “the blood,” “converted,” “here I raise my Ebenezer,” “have you been through the waters.”
Shall I go on?
Let’s add some theological terms: “justification,” “sanctification,” “incarnation.”
How about “eschatology,” “pre-tribulation,” “the rapture,” “the second coming.” Tired yet?
Do This and Improve Your Preaching This Sunday
So what, are we not suppose to use those terms at all? That’s not what I am saying. Using “insider language” is only of benefit to those who believe. When you explain terms you let new people know that you understand they are there.
Our evangelical churches once operated in societies in which Christian vocabulary was not wholly alien to any listener. That is changing rapidly. – Tim Keller
This quote should be a guidepost as we prepare our messages. It’s not difficult to address this fact by taking a few moments and adding an extra sentence or two when you bring up a term or idea you know may be foreign to many in the audience.
- Justification – “Just as if I never sinned.”
- Incarnation – “The theological idea that Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time.”
- The Rapture – “When Jesus comes back in the clouds to take those who believe in Him to heaven.”
- Water Baptism – “The way the Early Christians identified themselves as Jesus followers.”
But these words and ideas are deep and you just touched the surface, and you are exactly right about that. My goal is to help orient listeners to the idea, not bog down the message with a theological defense. For instance, I was addressing the idea of being chosen and needed to talk about “calvinism” and “arminianism.” I explained that this is a debate that has been ongoing for years and bigger minds than mine have written on this. Then I simply explained the two concepts and continued with the message.
Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. – Chip/Dan Heath, Made To Stick
As you prepare for Sunday, take a few moments and ask yourself, “What might be new or hard to understand for new people this Sunday?” Of course, you can’t address every issue, but which ones are important this Sunday. This simple adjustment can really improve your message.
We have a new family in our church with no church background at all. When I prepare, I think of them and go the extra mile to make my message as understandable and relatable as possible. Seems to me that’s what Jesus did.
Have anything to add?
This article originally appeared here.