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Ministry linguistics, as I addressed it in last week’s post Ministry Linguistics: Connecting Core Concepts, may be as simple as communicating how two concepts are supportive of each other. However, sometimes the issue is not comparing concepts: it is clarifying terms.

If while talking about your favorite sporting event or high school memory, students look at you as if you have “two heads” because you use outdated, out of touch language – that has minimal consequences. But we should always speak with clarity, especially when it comes to communicating the truth of the Word of God.

One of my all-time favorite cartoons was in a Sunday newspaper. (You remember those don’t you?) It was a Family Circus cartoon and the mother was talking to her four children, all of different ages. In cartoon fashion, her words were in a little bubble over her head. And in little bubbles over each child’s head were the words they were hearing her say. All were different.

What a great example of what sometimes happens in our youth ministries with the diversity of students sitting in the room each time we share the Word. We know what we are trying to say but may not be communicating to this generation regardless of how sincere we are about our task. The problem is not our sincerity, burden or passion: it is our understanding of the generation and of ministry linguistics.

Realizing that we all want to be effective in our ministries, I want to give you five suggestions to help in your communication to students:

  1. Spend individual time with students to gain greater personal understanding. You will not learn student culture or their language from a distance.
  2. Pretend you are talking to someone who is attending your church for the very first time. Now consider all of your churchy/theological terminology. Would they understand? If not, then define the terms so they can.
  3. Prepare every devotional, Sunday school lesson or sermon like you were speaking to children. I am not suggesting watering it down; I am suggesting you break it down to its basic foundational truth and then build from there depending on your group.
  4. Have someone write down all the “church terminology” that has attached itself to your speech like barnacles and work at eradicating it.
  5. Make a fresh commitment to teaching the truth of the Word of God. Students can understand doctrine and difficult passages of scripture. It is our failure if we don’t build bridges to make the truth accessible to them.

The most crucial time for clarity of our message is when we give the Gospel. Next Tuesday I plan to address Ministry Linguistics: I Want to Believe but What Did You Say?

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