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We live in a world full of words! If you work in student ministry, then you have noticed that words appear to be in a constant state of evolution. Just when you think you understand a word well enough to use it in conversation with students; you discover it is dated or irrelevant. The same thing happens with ministry communication.

Let me be clear, I am not talking about doctrinal distinctives or the non-negotiables of Biblical principles. One of my friends said it well, “If a man stands for nothing, then he will fall for anything.” We need to be clear about what we believe not just passing off our differences as semantics. We should be kind while speaking the truth in love.

However, there are times when our ministries are simply set apart by nuances and terminologies. One ministry illustrates their philosophy using a square while another uses a triangle. One uses the word philosophy and another refers to their values. I think it is important to take the time to listen to one another, discovering the core meaning.

Several years ago I was guest lecturing for my friend Dr. Dennis Wilhite, School of Global Ministries Dean at Baptist Bible College, when we made a great discovery. We were saying the same things but we were using entirely different terms. Consequently, the students thought we were diametrically opposed as had those who had graduated in previous years.  As we talked, we came up with the term ministry linguistics.

We did not change any definitions, theologies, philosophies or principles but we did change some minds. Dennis and I were already on the same page but we had graduates and undergrads who were ready to go to war!  One side was “of Paul” (Dennis) and the other “of Appolos” (Mike). They just did not understand our core meaning.

We had never taken the time to illustrate for them how the two worlds merged and complemented one another. We began team teaching through our lectures putting the diagrams side by side and showing relative terms to the students who in turn began making new areas of connectivity. The project was a success and the students benefited.

Ministry linguistics can be as simple as demonstrating how two concepts are supportive of each other and how they can help “blow up (I hope that term is still good) your youth ministry.

Next week, we will examine a case where we need to change our ministry linguistics because the words we are using are not communicating to this generation. Check out next Tuesday’s post – Ministry Linguistics: I Can’t Hear You.

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