Merrily-merrily going along, another morning seated at the same dining table, in the same chair with my favorite coffee cup lovingly placed alongside a carafe filled with Folgers by my wife who had shot off to work an hour or so before I drug myself from the bed; I flipped open the Mac and pressed the power button. Not to mess up my weekday morning’s routine, after having entered the password into the laptop, I poured myself a glass of iced tea, unsweet (though you couldn’t tell by looking at me), then sat back at the table, filled the cup with coffee and watched the wisps of steam rise up reminding me to sip, not gulp.
The computer fully booted, I checked the company communications system for any “need to know now” messages alerting me to any predawn changes with my patients, looked over my emails, then sailed on over to Facebook collecting my bonuses from the games I am admittedly addicted to and went a few rounds with a couple of them. All done with that I scrolled down the wall scanning through posts by my FB friends with an eye out for what I call the “faith builders”. Those inspiring picture quotes and encouraging expressions others share that get me out the door and off to work with the right mindset to avoid those aggravating driving moments when road rage tempts me to act in a non-chaplain like manner. Know what I mean?
Before exiting and shutting down the computer, though, a few new notifications popped up so I opened and read. Grabbing my attention was a post from an apologetics page I follow – oh yeah, I thought; more bullets to place in the clip of my “defend the faith” Glock awaits a mouse click. It was a great post, well written, on target, insightful, informative and helpful – to me. What about others, though, I asked myself? It read as it were an excerpt from a Ph.D. dissertation and perhaps it was, big words easily understood by the scholarly, but not the average person you would run into at Walmart. Granted, or perhaps better said, guilty. I too have many times wrote (preached too) in the same manner, but why? If the intent is to help people along in their faith journey, writing or speaking words they probably won’t understand is kind of self-defeating, isn’t it?
Mulling the thought over, I googled this: “Education and Religion Statistics”. After having combed through several articles written on the subject I clicked open surveys conducted by pollsters Gallup and the Pew Research Center, both being reputable research organizations. What I found noteworthy yet alarming was the bottom line they found true.
1) The higher people climb the ladder of education, the less involved they become in a religious practice and the more likely they are to reject God altogether, and
2) With as much as those with a High School education are more likely to express a belief in God and attend a church or synagogue on a regular basis, it is that same group polls indicate to be falling away from the church in greater number. Research presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in 2011, found “those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s”.
In his book, “Christ Centered Preaching”, Bryan Chapell points out, “Preachers tend to use complex, archaic language which the average person does not understand; sermons often contain too many complex ideas; too much theological jargon.” The unfortunate result is “the message given is not always the message received”, writes Joey Rozek in an article appropriately titled, “Pastor, Are You Really Speaking the Language of Your Community?”
I can remember a time when I wondered what denomination the church I was attending that day really was. I know what the sign out front claimed it to be, but I was almost certain the preacher was speaking in an unknown tongue – not a practice of the local FBC. I wanted to find a Deacon and suggest the church consider hiring an interpreter for their pastor.
In many churches today, a barrier exists between the pulpit and the pew, a language barrier that may be a contributing factor in why the less educated are opting out of the church. In the book of 1 Corinthians Paul (in a review of his first visit to that church) wrote, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, [I] did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:1-2 ESV).
Corinth was an influential city, home to well-educated philosophers and skilled orators known for their eloquence of speech. Although quite capable of going head to head with the best of them in a contest of verbal skills (as may have been the case when he addressed the philosophers on Mars Hill), Paul chose to keep it simple knowing as he would later write, “the wisdom of this world is folly with God (1 Corinthians 3:19). Perhaps we should take this under advisement as we write and speak.
Looking back over my years behind the pulpit; I pulled out an old binder from the closet marked “Sermons” blew off the dust and began to read (re-read actually) through some of the messages I had delivered in days gone by. Honestly, I was amazed one of my deacons hadn’t suggested placing dictionaries alongside the pew bibles back then. So many five-dollar words I offered up to a congregation with only nickels and dimes in their pocket – who was I trying to impress?
I thought of my grandchildren, all fourteen. I wouldn’t consider any one of them a child prodigy, just normal kids, and I wondered; How many times might they grow restless and fidgety, or need to go to the bathroom during the pastor’s sermon unnecessarily, and why? Could it be they are bored out of their minds being clueless as to what the guy on the platform is saying. Give ‘em a break parents, they get lost in the dark too.
“Any preacher can lose himself and his congregation in a theological fog,” writes Thomas Lindberg, and so very many parishioners today are finding that fog extremely thick. Interestingly, an on the opposite side of that fence, it is said of Billy Graham that during one of his most successful crusades held the Summer of 1969 in Madison Square Gardens, “76 percent of Graham’s words were one syllable”. Every preacher can learn a lesson.
Personally, I sometimes think many ministers would better serve the church as a professor in a seminary rather than a preacher in the pulpit. Might we need to take a second look at how we communicate the gospel? Might big words in the pulpit make for a big mistake in the pews? Is it time to consider a vocabulary overhaul? – Just Thinkin’