You look to your friend to see their face, it seems ok….ok, it should be fine. The prayers are next. Again, nerves arise, heart is pounding. The leader is speaking feels weird and different, nearly unusual. You think to yourself 'I wonder what my friend is thinking? I wonder if it's all a bit weird'
But let's admit, sometimes church is a bit of a weird world. Churches sing together, sometimes really old songs. That's weird. They pray, sometimes together. That's weird. In some churches, they chanting together liturgy. That's weird. In some churches the music is so loud, it's like a rock or dance show. That's weird. In some churches, a smile is hardly seen as they confess that they aren't good enough. That's weird.
Don't get me wrong, I love the church. It's great to be part of a community that looks out for people, tells others about the freedom of knowing God , Jesus and the wonders of the His gospel. I love the church in all its accents, its colours and different ways of doing things.
I love that I can go on a break, and attend a church thousands of kilometres away, and still feel part of that congregation even though it isn't the one I attend regularly. With all this, there is something I have noticed across different churches I have attended. It seems we have a way of speaking.
One of the channels on free to air television I am growing to really enjoy more and more, is actually one of the ABC channels for children, ABC 3. A lot of their shows are doing a great job of being both educational and entertaining. Such shows like Deadly 60, Operation Ouch, Horrible histories are an excellent example to name a few. One of the shows I found recently is ABC 3s News.
This show attempts (and does an excellent job) of bringing the big news for the day to younger views, using language that they may understand. I may even start using this news service as my occasional news source. I hear you ask 'why would you watch a children's show to get your news', and I think that is an excellent question. The reason is language.
Listening to the language that ABC 3 uses is a spectacular lesson on the use of clear language. They explain to children big news events, not just events that you think are relevant for children. Hearing them explain the tragedy of the Malaysian airline that was shot down last week was very impressive. It was news that was important, it was part of life.
They talked about this event in such a clear way, being mindful to not use big or ambiguous words that other news services used. This was the point that really made me reflect on the language we use in our services.
Language for children
Last week, I helped a fellow leader in our church look at the language we use in prayer, so that children may be able to understand it. It was quite a hard exercise, whilst hearing him say 'I must admit I have never thought about the language we use, and how children hear it'. As I have spoken before, children are concrete thinkers.
As I started, an easy way to test the language you use at church, invite a friend. It is funny how things suddenly stand out, as you put yourself in their shoes. Another way to test, is to ask a children 'What is this part about', or even better ask 'Why do we do this (sing or pray or even listen to the bible) in church?' to anyone, and if they give you an unclear answer then I suggest you think about the language you use in church. We want to be an environment where anyone can come at any time, not just 'Bring a friend Sunday'.
If we consider lowering the reading age of church, we will find that everyone will be able to understand better, not just children. It is also an excellent challenge to try some weeks, so we are thinking about the language we use from week to week, and so we don't get stuck inside our own little 'culture bubble' telling people this is why we do it… just because.
We want our churches to be places where anyone can walk in anytime to hear God's Word, and see what we are on about. Church should be a place where events are explained in clear, possibly even engaging way. We can still be who we are, with our accents and ways of doing things, whilst also being a place when every week is 'bring a friend week'.
Stephen Urmston is based in Melbourne and is completing a Masters of Divinity at Ridley Melbourne. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and Music and has been involved in children's ministry since 1999. He adores music, puppets and movies, and regularly performs with his puppets in his own church and around Victoria.
Stephen Urmston's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/stephen-urmston.html