I hate taking my car to the shop. It’s more than the cost; it‘s the mechanics. I dread talking with them, the way some people dread going to the dentist or a call from the IRS.
So I try not to go to the repair shop. It’s easy to avoid the whole thing anyway—until the delays catch up with me. As it turns out, turning up the volume on your car stereo doesn’t actually fix that weird sound coming from the engine. Who knew?
Though I often need a mechanic’s help, I refuse to listen. Why? Honestly, a lot of the problem is language. I know that, once I finally bring my car in, the mechanics will tell me what is wrong with my car using all sorts of technical terms and shop talk—of which I’ll understand very little. As a result I’ll just nod my head (though I’ll secretly suspect I’m being talked down to or being taken advantage of).
Thankfully some people I know well, who happen to be great with cars, have taken me under their wing to teach me the basics of auto repair with patience and understanding. I’m still no expert, but I can do a lot of the simple things myself now, and when I do have to go to the shop, I understand much of the language.
It strikes me that this can be the experience of people who want to know more about their faith but don’t yet have all the categories and language of their tradition figured out yet.
A new Christian, or someone just starting to ask questions about Jesus, comes to someone they know has been a Christian for a long time. They have questions, doubts, and all sorts of new ideas to sort out, but when their well-intentioned, long-time-believer friend tries to talk with them, all they hear are theological terms and spiritual shop talk—language like “sin” and “sanctification”—important words but words that, in our culture, mean very little or come attached to all sorts of misperceptions.
Like me with the mechanics, these seekers and new believers may find themselves nodding their heads, confused, and making mental notes to avoid such conversations in the future.
The nuance and the language will come with time, but first we need to help people get the basics down. They don’t need a perfect presentation—or for us to get everything just right—but they do need us to meet them where they are and to speak to them in a language they can understand.
The “shop talk” serves a very important purpose, providing precision and brevity to the language of the Church; it’s just not the place we ought to start. I might know the difference between an alternator and a caliper now, but first I needed someone to show me how to change the oil.
There is great value to boiling it all down, communicating in simple terms the good news that Jesus came to make a broken world new again.
Dr. Stanley talks about how evangelism can be a gradual process, guided by the Holy Spirit, in his article, “Giving Away the Faith.”