Using Language as a Missional Liturgy: The Need for a Paradigmatic Shift in our Language

I was reading Genesis 41 this morning where Joseph is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. Pharaoh exclaims to Joseph, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Responding, Joseph pointedly states, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Strikingly, Joseph tells the so-called “god” that his God is the true interpreter of dreams and will be the one working through him to deliver Pharaoh a favorable answer.

Joseph could have simply stated something like, “Yep.” Rather, his response reveals how we can use our language as a missional liturgy. Liturgy could be defined as a practice prescribed for public worship; therefore, language as a missional liturgy would be using our everyday language to point people the lordship and kingship of Jesus. Not only do we see Joseph using language as a missional liturgy, but we see men and women throughout Scripture exercising their language, their words, their every day verbiage, as a missional liturgy. Another example can be found in the New Testament. The proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” particularly in a Roman governmental climate where Caesar was lord, certainly was an example of language as a missional liturgy. While the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” still is a missional liturgy, it does not carry as much weight in North American democracy, especially at a time when the linguistic use of “lord” carries no weight. In fact, most people today, when they hear the term “lord,” probably think back to the medieval days, at a time when lords ruled the lands.

Although the language that that Joseph (and others) used was counter-cultural, missional, and liturgical, it was still ordinary, common, everyday, and natural— language that transpired in everyday simple conversations. This is something that believers need and must recover to be effective witnesses in today’s pluralistic secular world. However, there are three major obstacles we must be aware of in order to employ language that is missionally liturgical.

First, we must be aware of our doxological assumptions. Doxological assumptions can either be that we assume the person we are talking to believes the same way we do, therefore we have no need to stress the importance and weight of God in our life; or we assume that the person already knows how important God is to us, therefore we (again) have no need to stress it. Second, we must be aware of the dichotomy that has taken place between public facts and private values. In other words, over time our growing pluralistic and secular culture has privatized faith as a personal value—not a public fact (To read more about this, read Lesslie Newbiging, “The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). Therefore, when it comes to our everyday public language and conversations we omit God, privatizing him to our prayer language, church language, and bible study language. I think this obstacle will be the most difficult for many, because bringing the private things in our life out into the public may be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we must remember that Jesus is the cosmic public King, not a private god for personal use only.

Third, we must be aware of how mechanical evangelism has become, dumbing it down to evangelistic presentations. There is great need to reset ourselves to be natural, composed, and authentic. Personal evangelism is not some rehearsed set of propositions and presentations that one has learned in order to implement them on a person. [Please do not misunderstand, I am not against evangelistic training. I think for some, evangelism trainings are beneficial. However, I do believe that teaching evangelism like a Math class equips people to either learn something there will never use, or memorize a set of steps only to mechanically regurgitate them.] Personal evangelism is simply the personal proclamation that Jesus is Lord of your life. Personal evangelism is simply bearing witness to the truth claim that Jesus is Lord, God, King, and Savior. Thus bearing witness to him should come naturally in everyday conversations.

When it comes to simply everyday language and word usage, in what ways can we use our language as a missional liturgy, publicly pronouncing the lordship, headship, kingship, as well as the glory of Christ in our life? Here are a couple of examples; I will leave room for our creativity.

–  When someone asks you, “How are you today?” Our response can be something like, “Jesus has been so good to me,” “I am loved by the King,” or “I am graced.” Responding like this, expresses that your condition is not based upon how you feel, or what has happened, it is based upon your identity and condition in King Jesus.

–  When someone asks you, “What do you do?” Our response can be something like, “I serve Jesus as a barista at Starbucks,” or “Jesus has called me to be a teacher.” Responding like this, expresses that your identity is not wrapped up in your vocation, but is wrapped up in either the vocation Christ has called you to, or how you use what you do in the service of King Jesus.

In any case, there is great need for believers to have a paradigmatic shift in the way we use our everyday language. If we can find natural ways to express the kingship of Jesus, his lordship over our life in everyday conversations, then we will be able to use our language as a missional liturgy.