Teaching Christians to Speak Christian: 12 Essential Words

Nicene-Constantinopolitan-CreedOne of the things I enjoy about distance running is the time it gives me to think. While on a long run this morning, I began to think about our task of making disciples of the Jesus way. I was thinking these things not because I am employed at a church and the word “Discipleship” appears in my title. I was thinking about these things, because I have been baptized into a community marked with this distinct vocation—to go into all the world and make disciples. On my run, I was specifically thinking of something I read from Stanley Hauerwas. In his new book The Work of Theology, he tackles a number of subjects including the connections between theology and ministry. As a self-proclaimed “high-church Mennonite,” Hauerwas cares deeply, and has written widely, about the importance of the church. Those who have been given the task to lead churches, we who are pastors, ministers, priests, and ordained clergy, are by nature theologically-driven people. Theology is after all what we say and what we think about God. Theology has (or should have) everything to do with our pastoral vocation.

In the context of the connection between theology and ministry, Hauerwas writes, “one of the essential tasks of the theologian is to teach speech; it is to teach Christians how to speak Christian” (The Work of Theology, 111). I am surprised I had never thought of this idea before. Hauerwas is quite right. A part of my job as pastor and a member of the church Jesus is building includes teaching Christians to speak Christian. Words are important after all. Words have the power to shape the world we live in. We are a storied people in that we are the stories we tell and we are the stories we believe. While it may be theoretically possible to tell a story in images, good stories, well-told stories, are communicated with words. Learning new words give us the capacity to think in new ways, opening up new possibilities. In order to help Christians grow as true disciples, which includes a renewing of the mind, a reshaping of one’s worldview and beginning to think Christianly, we need to teach Christians the essential language of the Christian faith.

So what are the core words that form the essential Christian vocabulary? I began to compile a list in my mind while running. I couldn’t keep all the words in my head so I grabbed my iPhone and used Siri’s assistance in recording the first couple of words that came to mind. I then took to social media and I asked my friends and followers a simple question: If the task of disciple making includes teaching Christians to speak Christian, then what are 10 words Christians should have in their vocabulary? Here is the master list I complied thanks to the help from my friends online:

Salvation, Trinity, disciple, faith, hope, love, resurrection, Christ, Lord, Grace, church, surrender, Paschal mystery, relinquishing control, redemption, incarnation, transformation, justification, reconciliation, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, Father, intimacy, Eucharist, servant, Bible, prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace, proper theology, formation, Jesus, fruit, repentance, holy, mercy, ministry, communion, apprentice, humility, covenant faithfulness, baptism, justice, peace, praise, Maranatha, and theodicy. Also mentioned: tithe, transubstantiation, and Shibboleth which were all jokes except “tithe,” that one was half joke/ half serious.

These words are good, but I want to condense this list down to the essentials. Maybe 10 words is too limiting, so I am going with 12. These are essential words in the Christian vocabulary. There are more words to learn, for sure, but these are the essentials, the big overarching words, every Christian must have in his or her vocabulary.

1) Jesus
God’s Son, Israel’s promised Messiah, and the world’s true Lord and Savior; fully God and fully Man

2) Trinity
The one God of Christian worship revealed in a holy community persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

3) Disciple
A follower of Jesus who learns from him, obeys him, and lives according to his teachings

4) Church
The gathering of disciples devoted to worship, community, and justice

5) Grace
God’s expression of love in the world to sustain and transform

6) Salvation
God’s act of rescuing people from sin and death and bringing them into his covenant family

7) Humility
A lowly mind, thinking of other people as more important than yourself

8) Ministry
Finding greatness by serving the church and others according to the gifts one has received

9) Formation
Becoming like Jesus in thought, character, and action

10) Forgiveness
Removing a person from the penalty they deserve to promote healing and wholeness

11) Love
Seeking the good and well being of another with heartfelt devotion

12) Resurrection
The victory of God in raising Jesus from the dead and our future hope

My description of each word is not intended to be complete, but to open up conversations about the essential words of our story.

Thoughts?

  • Will Douglas

    Derek, I appreciate this post. I like the list and believe I’m going to have to make Hauerwas’ book a must-read. For what it’s worth, I was surprised that something akin to “cross” and “suffering” was absent from your list. Though American Christianity often ignores these words, Jesus-followers must grapple with their weight and ubiquity in scripture as well as the life of an exile committed to “the Lamb that was slain.”