Our then 5-year-old was in the backseat, and she asked a really good question: “Dad, how does the car know which way we are turning?” She asked the question because she could see the little green indicator light pointing to the right, yet she didn’t see me trigger it. She thought the car had Extra Sensory Perception. I gave her a rather lengthy explanation of how it works and how the indicator lights on the back of the car alert drivers behind us, etc. After my discourse, she said with emphasis, “Dad, I don’t have a clue what you just said.”
I wondered how many parishioners leave the sanctuary every Sunday saying the same thing. We preachers have our own language – the language of Zion – that we like to use to show off that we have been to seminary – words like justification, sanctification, and regeneration. These are words that we would never use on the sidewalk, but we use frequently in the sanctuary. We ministers are in the word business and we should choose our words carefully and take seriously what the writer of Proverbs says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (25:11).
Years ago, in a Sunday morning service, during the sermon no less, a CB (Citizens’ Band) radio kept breaking in over my voice. We preachers are hard enough to understand anyway without having to compete with “10 – 4, good buddy.” CB’ers have their own lingo, just like preachers, and maybe some of their words and phrases would work from the pulpit. “Put the pedal to the metal” might be a good synonym for “Get your life straight now,” and “Catch you on the rebound” would be somewhat like “We’ll be here for you if you mess up your life again.” However, I think it would be wise for us clergy to avoid, as much as possible, both preacher talk and CB talk. And by the way, we don’t seem to think very highly of words in our culture:
“Talk is cheap.”
“Words, words, words. Anybody can say that.”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Words. Preachers and churches should be careful about words. Words are too important to be careless with them. Paul says in Romans 10 that all people will have access to the word of God. How? By the speaking and hearing of a word. Of course, Paul knew nothing about texting, movies, videos, and emails.
Jesus was very clear when He spoke. Most of the time (with the exception of some of his parables), the people on the sidewalk “got it” when He spoke. And His words were powerful:
“Your sins are forgiven,” He says, and a lame man walks.
“Let him who is without sin…” and a woman is set free.
“Lazarus, come forth…” and a dead man lives.
Meanwhile, I struggle to communicate with my congregation. It’s so hard to put into words what God put into flesh. But I will keep trying to choose my words carefully and communicate as clearly as I can. Pray for ministers who have this awesome responsibility each week. Then maybe someday my daughter and church members won’t say, “I don’t have a clue what you just said.”