Maybe People Aren’t Listening
Because You Aren’t Explaining
I love airports. While waiting to board my flight, there is almost always an intriguing character to watch or an interesting conversation to be had with a stranger.
A few weeks ago, as Hannah and I were flying back from Texas, sitting next to us were two pilots talking about their jobs. Since I don’t know much about airplanes or flying, I only understood about half of what they were talking about. If it had been two professional hockey players, brain surgeons, or archaeologists talking about their respective careers, I probably would not have understood much of what they would have been talking about either.
The reason for this is simple: when we become specialists in a particular field of interest or study, words take on new meaning. We develop words and phrases that have definitions and meanings only other specialists can appreciate. People who are not “experts” in our respective areas may not understand the lingo we know so well.
When hockey players talk to other hockey players, this is fine. When accountants talk to accountants, or computer technicians to computer technicians, or car mechanics to car mechanics, this is perfectly normal. In fact, progress could not be made if language could not adapt to various levels of expertise.
But when Christians talk to non-Christians, this is not okay. We make a mistake when we assume people know what we are talking about when we use words like “Calvary,” “sanctification,” “fellowship,” “baptism,” “denominationalism,” etc. To the average person now days the meaning of these words has been largely lost. Even words like “sin,” “grace,” “salvation,” and “evangelism” have lost their meaning in our postmodern culture.
Do Not Assume People Understand Biblical Words
The solution is certainly not to dumb down our message. On the contrary, Christians need to take people to new depths of spirituality. This partially means we must teach people the words the Bible uses. What is the point of language if we throw out perfectly good words simply because many have stopped using them?
Yet we initially need to communicate the rich message of God’s Word to people in ways they can understand. When talking to someone with little background in Christianity, it is counterproductive to use words like “reconciliation,” “propitiation,” “blood of the Lamb,” “regeneration,” “sanctification,” and “remission.” Not because these words are without meaning, but because many people lack the Biblical background necessary to appreciate their meaning. We must be careful not to assume that people know what words like these mean.
Communicate Your Message As Simply As You Know How
The apostle Paul wrote, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law” (1 Cor. 9:21). Implied in this statement is the fact that we need to speak to people at their level of comprehension. This is simply a matter of treating people how we would like to be treated if we were in their shoes (Matt. 7:12). If I did not grow up attending church, I would want Christians to talk to me about spiritual things in ways I could understand.
Christians need to consider their audience to find effective ways to illuminate the timeless principles of God’s Word. When Paul spoke to people who were unfamiliar with Scripture, he utilized different methods to communicate the same gospel. At times he even used poetry and philosophy (cf. Acts 17:16-31) to peak his audience’s interest and make spiritual application of Biblical truths.
Patiently Explain The Gospel
The next time you have the opportunity to talk to someone about the gospel, take time to communicate, as simply and as concisely as possible, the problem of sin. What is sin? Who defines sin? Why is sin so serious? What does sin do to my relationship with God? How can I be saved from my sin?
Study to make a logical defense of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? How do we know Jesus is the Son of God? How do we know He really walked on Earth? How do we know He really was resurrected? What does His resurrection mean for me?
Be patient to explain how God expects His children to live. What does it mean to be holy? What does this mean in practice? What happens when a Christian sins? What does God demand of His children?
Be patient when people do not automatically understand the nature of the church. As you talk about the religious confusion that exists in the world today, explain how sensible and beautiful it is that Jesus established one church. Then make sure you explain what denominations are, otherwise people will not understand the importance of restoring the New Testament church.
Our job is not to show people how much we know. Our job is to bring non-Christians to Christ and weak Christians to greater faithfulness. As more and more people are being raised in non-religious homes, we need to change the way we share our faith with others. We must “become all things to all people,” so that by God’s grace perhaps some will listen with honest hearts (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22).