Campus Blog

Language Barrier

Neil Downey

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.   Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Colossians 4:5-6 (ESV)

Life in the Downey house just got more interesting. We are hosting a Spanish Immersion Intern (Teacher’s Aide) for the semester. Angela, who will be teaching at my youngest son Griffin’s school, flew in from Bogotá Saturday night. Considering this is her first time in the United States, she is transitioning very well. In less than 48 hours, she has already become a member of our family.

While she is functionally fluent in English, Angela has to really focus during conversations in order to comprehend our dialogue. We’ve already had several amusing misunderstandings, one involving the difference between a “teacher” and a “t-shirt.” Our family is learning to speak slowly and carefully as we try to communicate as clearly as possible. (It helps that Angela is a kind and gracious follower of Jesus, giving us plenty of grace in our attempts to bridge the cultural and language barriers.)

Our brief experience with Angela has exposed some of our own cultural bias. As English-speaking Westerners, we expect the rest of the world to understand us. We are naturally ethnocentric, assuming that people will adapt to our language and culture, and getting frustrated when they don’t.

The same can be true when it comes to how we communicate as Christians: we use “insider” language, choosing words and phrases that only those who have been immersed in Evangelical Culture really understand. A few examples: feel called to, testimony, on fire, believer, lift up in prayer, love on, get in the Word, be a blessing.

There is nothing wrong with any of these phrases in the right context. However, if we spend time around non-Christians (Paul calls them “outsiders”), any of these phrases can sound like a foreign language to them and can be a barrier to the gospel.

Just like speaking with Angela, we must be intentional about what we say and how we say it when interacting with people who don’t know Christ. If we expect people to hear and understand the gospel, our language must be full of patience and love, speaking in a way that lets the grace and truth of Jesus resound.

We’ve still got a lot to learn when it comes to communicating with Angela -- and with the “outsiders” God places in our life.

What about you? Do you ever catch yourself using Christianese around non-Christians? What have you done to prevent this? 


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