Lost in Translation


This week, I am traveling to Honduras for a mission trip.  While we are there will be ministering hundreds of children, teenagers and their families.  My team and I have been preparing for weeks – messages, games, bible stories, worship, etc.  You name it, we have thought it through.  There is just one final hurdle remaining….

    I don’t speak Spanish.

I’ll need to use a translator while I am there in order to minister to the people. Without the translator there to assist me, the people I am ministering to would be lost in translation. Because while my message may be relevant, my delivery is not.

Many youth leaders face this same problem when it comes to ministering to our students.  You carry a relevant message.  But many times, we make the mistake of delivering our relevant message in a way that is irrelevant.  It is not received because our delivery offends their culture.  You see, the truth is that there is no getting around the culture of your students.  You have to deal with it.  You have to learn to be relevant.

    Relevancy Defined: delivering timeless principles in a method that is received.

 So how do I do that, you might ask? How can I be relevant? The key to relevancy is listening.  In order to give your students what they need, you have to learn to listen to what they need.

Jesus was a master of relevancy.  Whether it was the tax collector, the Pharisee, the demon-possessed man or the centurion, he knew how to talk to people. Did he compromise his timeless message to speak to their culture? Nope.  But he was still relevant.  How did he do it? He listened to people.  He listened to them, and by listening to them, he determined what they needed to hear and how they needed to hear it.

To the woman at the well, he was conversational and caring. He spoke to her in love, regardless of her lifestyle.  To Nicodemus, he was academic and theological, a method of delivery that appealed to the scholar in him.  To the disciples, he was a mentor and a teacher. He took every opportunity to prepare them for what was to come.  In every conversation, he packaged the message of God in a way that would guarantee delivery to the hearer.

Relevancy has nothing to do with chasing the latest fad.  It has everything to do with being heard.  It is about listening to the needs of your students and teaching them in a way that translates to where they are at right now.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

     So when you sit down to write a message to your students, ask yourself, “How can I package the message of the word of God in a way that they will hear?” It is not about the “Christianese,” or sounding like a theologian.  It is about ministering to the students in a way that knocks on their hearts, and challenges them to open the door to a knowing and growing relationship with God. It is our job to make sure no one gets lost in translation.

2 Responses to “Lost in Translation”

  1. Lesley Scearce 10/02/2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I love this post. Relevant and very timely…

  2. Shou Mo 10/03/2012 at 7:52 am #

    I have a missionary friend who had a great story. He led a team from his home church south of the border to a remote area, a village among an indigenous ethnic minority they’ve been supporting for nearly a decade. While only 10 miles from the border, it takes 8 hours on mountainous, dirt trails to get there. Upon arrival they were approached by an elder from the next village. He had heard that the missionaries were coming for someone had just passed away in his own village and they needed someone to perform a funeral service. In their minds, a missionary was close enough to a pastor. While my friend does speak Spanish, the language of the area was Indian. He heard something about a funeral and was interested in witnessing the local customs, so he volunteered to go with this elder. Unknown to my friend, this village was nearly 2 hours away. His main concern was how to be dressed during the occasion. As a missionary gringo, he’d been prepared to do construction work and did not bring any formal wear. His guide’s response to all his questions was, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” When they arrived, some of the village women had a jacket for him wear. When he asked them who would be the officiant of the ceremony, they looked surprised and said, “Why, you are.” He had performed a few funerals before, but never in a language he didn’t even speak. Fortunately, they had a translator present that spoke English from yet another village. So my friend briefly interviewed the family of the deceased and got up in front of the congregation. He was able to perform a moving funeral service without even knowing the deceased and even included an evangelistic message through the interpreter. After about an hour my friend turned to the interpreter and said, “I don’t know what else I need to do. And I don’t have anything else to say.” The interpreter responded, “Don’t worry, keep talking. I’m not done preaching.”

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