This morning, we observed Pentecost Sunday in our church. The lectionary Scripture passage was from Acts 2. As it was read aloud from the pulpit, I was struck by one verse in particular. After the author (Luke, according to tradition) tells us that the apostles were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues" (NIV), he says in verse 6, "a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language."
From that point on, my mind fixed on that verse. The apostles had been filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit had enabled each person in the crowd to hear them speaking in his/her own language.
Today the challenge to the church . . . the challenge to Christian institutions . . . the challenge to Texas Baptists Committed . . . is daunting. Perhaps the biggest challenge is persuading people that our mission is relevant to their lives.
I'm convinced that one of the most significant obstacles we face in meeting this challenge is our insistence on speaking to others in our language rather than theirs. It may be across racial lines or cultural boundaries. There is often a wall of misunderstanding across gender as well. And one of our biggest challenges is first becoming relevant - and then communicating our relevance - to younger generations.
We will fail in our mission if we keep insisting on using "insider" jargon and focusing on long-past events for which others have no context. We need to stop preaching long enough to listen to them and learn their "language" - the context of their lives, their experiences, their concerns. We will not truly be relevant until we let the Holy Spirit fill us with understanding and speak through us in language to which the hearer can relate. It's the only way we can expect to be heard.
But even then, let's not forget that it was the Holy Spirit who enabled the hearers to understand what they were hearing. A few months ago, I did a Baptist Briefs video series on the Youth Revival Movement that started at Baylor in the 1940s. What most impressed me about the students involved in that movement was their complete dependence on God - spending hours in prayer every night as they prepared for revival.
The story of Pentecost is ultimately not about the apostles. It's about God's Holy Spirit. As we try to engage and involve people in our mission in 2011, the lesson of Pentecost is to learn their language, ask God to speak through us in their language, and pray that God will move them to hear, understand, and respond.
God has met us where we are. We need to do the same for others. Faithfulness to God's call demands it.