Wow. I feel better already.
Well, not really, because fancy titles, even in foreign languages, don’t take pain and crying away, especially not from crying children. And that’s what I care about, especially when they are my children.
Now, I’ll be honest. I hate crying kids. Not so much the kid part of it, but the crying. As every parent knows, the pain of a child is an almost immeasurable burden. There’s just nothing you can do. In fact, for the little ones, you don’t even know what’s wrong.
What parent can forget the ear infection of a one-year old, especially when it was only last weekend? At least a seven-year old can tell you what hurts—his throat. That was this weekend.
But these hurts can’t be easily solved with a popsicle, a long and tight hug, or a kiss on the forehead. You can’t rub it out, like you might when they ding their elbow on the doorway, or their knee on the sidewalk. A little cuddling on the couch with a blanket and a friend won’t help them to swallow without pain.
It’s worse than that. In fact, it’s so bad it requires non-parental intervention, usually from someone who knows more and has the power of the prescription pad.
So the Doc gives it a fancy name, prescribes some medicine, and sends you on your way. Now you have some hope.
Let’s be honest. The name doesn’t really matter, does it. The name doesn’t give hope. In fact, it’s more useless than the popsicle, the hug, the kiss, the cuddle, or the stuffed bear … all put together.
But describing what’s wrong and how to fix it? That’s priceless.
Well, not actually priceless. There’s a price that goes along with it, and these days it can be rather steep. But the diagnosis and the prescription is worth its weight in gold. Or at least in antibiotics.
So now we have name: streptococcal pharyngitis.
What more do we know? Nothing really. Because big words only mean things to people who know what big words mean. The throat still hurts, no matter what label we attach to it.
Oh sure, every parent knows the word “strep.” So we break it out every time the sore throats come around, as in, “You might have strep.” You may not have known the actual name is streptococcus, often followed by some other name (at least according to Google, which is every parent’s friend and probably every doctor’s nightmare).
But as parents know, breaking out big words with children rarely helps. They just kind of look blankly at us, and cry a little more. They might even say, “No, my throat hurts.”
They are completely unimpressed by big words. They want relief.
I daresay most Sunday congregations are more like children than doctors or even parents. The big words don’t really matter much to them, and they will have forgotten them by the time the closing hymn starts. Their temptation at a trip down the aisle after the message might be driven by their desire to know what that word meant.
They want relief. They want help. They want food, a spiritual meal that gets them through the week.
They need something that lifts their eyes beyond the immediate, and focuses them on the transcendent, with the result that He becomes immanent.
Their marital difficulties won’t be improved by a good dose of Greek or Latin. Their workweek won’t be dramatically altered by knowing what the church fathers called something. Their fear of the upcoming doctor’s appointment will not be dissipated because they heard you identify a present passive participle or, me genoite, a genitive absolute. If those things are helpful, it is only because you used other words to explain them.
They need to know the truth, in plain language.
And they need to know the remedy for what ails them, in plain language.
So dear brother pastor, preach like mom, not like a doctor. Tell them what’s wrong in words they can understand. Don’t shy away from the truth. Just make sure they know what it means. And by all means, give them the remedy for it in a way that they understand.
Use big words if you like. But only rarely. And make sure you tell them what the big words mean. And remember, you’ll probably have to tell them what the big words mean next time as well, what with people forgetting and new people coming and all that.
Remember, the “goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). That requires intelligibility, not impressiveness. Latin won’t bring love; Greek won’t create a good conscience; confusion won’t bring faith, at least not a genuine faith.
So preach to them and teach them where they are. Speak in language they can understand. Give them the remedy in a dose that they can take.
Because there’s no glory and no transformation in a message people do not understand.
Larry is the husband to Jan, and the father of three children. He has been the pastor at Grace Baptist Church in River Rouge, MI since 1999. He is a graduate of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.He blogs here and at "Stuff Out Loud."
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