Communication in the Vernacular

The translation of the King James Bible by scholars of old is testament to the vision of men and women to begin to seek out the truths of God for themselves. It is a gift and vision for us in the English-speaking world that we can easily take for granted, especially because there are now so many different translations available to us, and it is quite possible to find the translation which says what we want it to say, over and against what God wants us to hear!

I am writing this post from a conference of church leaders in Sweden.  I do not say this to add weight to my contribution, but rather as a demonstration of the need and responsibility to be actively engaging with people in their own language.  This conference is being simultaneously translated into six languages.  I am constantly reminded that we risk assuming that an English text is sufficient for understanding.  As we become an ever expanding globalised world, the nuances of culture and the different languages that are used (words, actions and emotions) need to be understood too:  there is no such thing as cultural objectivity.

The challenge remains as true today as it has done throughout history – how do we communicate the truths of faith in ways that connect with, and use the language of, different people groups, generations and cultures?

It is with this question in mind that a campaign is launched this week to help dispel some of the myths and challenges on one of the most controversial subjects within the Christian church: Evangelism.

The aim of the Tell.Show.Be. campaign is to dispel some of the myths about evangelism and to create a resource that can be freely accessible to people around the world.  Einstein has said that ‘to raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.’  The Methodist Church have taken this seriously and as such, developed a multi-lingual, multi-platform, interactive, social media campaign.

Accessibility has been no easy task in developing this campaign.  Not least because as Walter Brueggemann, in his Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism, has reminded us—despite the urgency of the task, ‘there is no ready agreement among us on the meaning of evangelism’ [1].  If we are unsure of what we are talking about, it is even harder to communicate a message within a culture, subculture or national group.

In a global world, multilingual means that the whole site is available in English, Welsh, Portuguese, Spanish and Mandarin.  The campaign is thereby accessible to four of the top eight most spoken language groups in the world. As an animation, accessibility is also offered to those who are illiterate – from a UK perspective, this is a higher proportion that one might initially assume.

With an interactive element, the site and concept demonstrates our recognition that communication (and evangelism) cannot be a one-way exercise.  Communication studies highlight the need for a feedback loop – a means for people to respond and to react as well as to receive and listen.  Within our postmodern society, this relationality and responsiveness is increasingly important, even with an on-line resource.

Bruggemann says that ‘evangelism cannot be a program strategy, but a revolutionary way of enacting the hope and energy of the believing community’ [2] As our forefathers recognized, the task remains to communicate and build relationships that cross boundaries and enable discovery in the languages that they speak and enact.  Tell.Show.Be is one opportunity to take the contextual need seriously and to offer to the world a small gift to help revolutionise faith based conversation, creativity and communication theory.

How do you communicate in the vernacular of others?

[1] Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism, Abingdon Press, 1993, 8
[2] Ibid., 13.

Joanne Cox MA PGdip BA, is the Evangelism in Contemporary Culture Officer for the Methodist Church.  In 2008 she co-edited The Call and the Commission, a book exposing the disconnect between recognized vocation and those entering full time Christian ministry.  Joanne has recently completed her DThM on leadership challenges within ‘Fresh Expressions’ of Methodist Churches. Joanne drinks tea, bakes cake and asks questions (although not always in that order.) See for more information.

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