Over spring break, the family went to visit my sister and her family in St. Louis.  My nephew is graduating this year and, because of Annual Conference (yearly gathering of clergy), I will be unable to attend.  It was a perfect time to hang out with him.

Hang out. That is still what the cool kids call it, right?

Any which, one night he was showing me his computer setup. Now, I am a fairly computer-literate fellow. I have built computers, do a lot of network admin / IT-type stuff for my home and my office, but my nephew was on a whole different level.

He was tossing around things like Agile development methods and dense matrixing and “I used  to code in php but its messy, so now I like using python because it looks cleaner”…  lets be honest. I was barely able to keep up.

When you start talking computers, networks, coding, etc there is a whole different language. (see what I did there?) And my nephew was fluent while I was barely keeping up.  To his credit, by the end of the conversation I totally understood what he was talking about.

Ok, I sort of understood what he was talking about.
Ok, I had a vague sense of what he was talking about.

No matter what, It took effort and concentration and a lot of explaining from him, but I (for the most part) understood what he was telling me.

How can this moment in life not remind me of the Church?

I remember the first sentence said to me in my first class in seminary … “ In our attempt to exegete the scriptures we ultimately isogete our own anthropological discernment into the text.” All I could think was: What the heck are you talking about?  My second class was not much better – it was on the Gospels. I thought “hey, I got this one made… I know there are 4”.  But imagine how confusing it was when the teacher said “when we try to extrapolate a neumotological understanding in John, we ultimately end up with the question of the nomenclatures of the Parcelete.”

We (those that follow Christ) have a language that is difficult to follow, at best;  Full of metaphors, innuendos, and hidden meanings. At worst, a bunch of 5 syllable words that only the college professors understand.

A lot of phrasing and language comes from our reading the Scriptures and yet the average Christian could not tell you the real meanings of what they say, much less cite the source.  They just know that it makes them a part of the in-crowd to toss around the insider language.

If I was a closet Luddite and sat down with my nephew, I would have been lost. He might as well be speaking Spanish to me.  Strike that, I speak a little Spanish… more like he would have been speaking Mandarin Chinese with no hope of any sort of communication possible.   Because of my background (and because he was very patient in explaining the finer points) I followed along.

Our world is full of those who were not raised in “the church”.  There is a rise on people who are more “None” than any particular faith or denomination.  They should not be expected to speak our language; in fact, far too often I find our language to be a barrier to them.

Over the past few years I have tried to bring my preaching and teaching to a common language. When I need to use the insider-words, I also try to unpack them. I do NOT feel this is dumbing things down… instead, I want to help people understand just as my nephew wanted me to understand.    I do not do this perfectly, yet.  Maybe I never will.

But as long as my faith calls me to make disciples, I will try to remove barriers that keep me from adequately communicating with those that seek… on whatever level… to know Jesus. And if one of those barriers is the language I use, so be it.

Fred Willis

About Fred Willis

Husband, Father, Brother, Reverend, and Avid Cook. Rev. Fred Willis is currently the Lead Pastor at Holy Covenant UMC and has been an ordained Elder in the Texas Annual Conference for going on 20 years. He became a homecook first as a hobby (and because he loves to eat!) but it developed into a passion for learning. Be it food, faith, or his family, Fred is always trying to get better at the things that matter.

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