Words are not neutral or convey only information. Words and language have creative power. Words influence people. It can harm people or build them up (Eph.4:29) and can change their attitude and behaviour. Words inform and “perform” when they are being used in language. The creative power of words is one of the ways in which we as human beings reflect the image of God. When God speaks, things happen (Gen.1;Isaiah 44:26-27; 55:11).
Israel Galindo said the following about the importance of language in a faith community: “In a faith community, language serves a formative function and is one indicator that a congregation is a genuine community of faith. That is, the community’s idiom – consisting of its vocabulary, patterns of speech, spoken rituals and rites (like blessings and prayers)-functions in ways that shape the faith of its members.” (What makes a congregation a real faith community). Words do not only shape the faith and practices of a congregation, but it also plays an important part in shaping our worldview and the reality we are living in. Words give expression to the way we see ourselves and life in general. Our identity and destiny are described and influenced by the words and language we hear and use every day.
Since language and words are such a normal and continues part of our lives, we are not always aware of the tremendous impact it has on the way we think, feel and behave. The transformation of Christians and congregations will however always includes change in the language of the individuals and the congregation. Language will give expression to and shape the new identity and behaviour of transformed Christians and congregations. This change in language may in most cases be a spontaneous and even to some extent an unconscious process. However, when leaders want to stimulate transformation in a congregation, they must in a pro-active way introduce new words and language in the congregation as part of the process of change and transformation. The introduction of new language which reflects the desired outcomes and the values upon which the transformation should build, does not, and should not be seen as a way to enable the leaders to control the process of transformation or to force change in a detailed manner. Unexpected change and results may flow from language which focus on a commitment to a new set of values or identity.
In transformation the introduction of new language should go hand in hand with the introduction of new habits and behaviour which support and strengthen the new values and identity of the congregation. These habits must also help the congregation to give practical expression to their transformed world view and identity.
Leaders who want to promote multicultural congregations and intercultural ministries in the congregation and in the community, must take language and habits of the congregation very seriously. First there is need to get a picture of how the current language, habits and practices in the church promote or prevent multicultural ministries. While efforts are being made to get rid of harmful language and habits, new words and practices should be introduced in the congregation. Over time these new words and practices in the congregation may in a direct, but also more subtle indirect way, promote change and transform the congregation. It is important to realise that in most cases, repetition and time will be required for the effect of language to bring lasting change.
The effect of language and new habits or practices in the congregation depends largely upon the willingness and enthusiasm of those in leadership to use and model it. When the pastor and other leaders make a deliberate effort to lead by example and coach others over time to use the same language and participate in habits which will promote intercultural ministries, it is likely that change will come in unplanned but effective ways.
Words or expressions which could be introduced and used repeatedly in different contexts in the congregations are for example:
- “God gives us our brothers and sisters”
- “The ministry of the church is in the world among all people”
- “Our hearts and hands are open for all people”
- “Strangers are friends whom we have not yet met”
- “To follow Jesus is to cross boundaries among people”
- “We are a family without boundaries, reaching out to all people”
- “Diversity enriches and challenges our congregation”
- “Unity makes diversity fruitful”
- “Seek Jesus among the outsiders”
- “Express love to everybody, at all times and everywhere”
- “Expect and embrace new things”
- “Listen to everybody everywhere”
- “Overcome anxiety for strangers by meeting them”
Habits which the congregation may introduce and model through leaders are for example:
- Regular opportunities for members of the congregation to have social interaction with strangers in the congregation or the community: Tea or meals together ; Games or sport events ; Forums; Outings and tour
- Testimonies and stories of people from different communities and backgrounds in congregation
- Opportunities to be exposed to different places, communities and groups in area of congregation
- Opportunities to explain or discuss cultural differences
- Debriefing opportunities for people involved in intercultural ministries
- Fixed opportunities for listening to God and others with regard to intercultural ministries : Leadership meetings, Listening to members of the congregation
- Regular liturgies which promote intercultural sensitivity and ministry
- Establishment of small bridge relationships with people of unknown communities or groups
The ideal is not to introduce as many as possible new habits or expressions in the congregation, but to introduce a few well selected habits and words for a congregation in its specific circumstances as part of the process of transformation for multicultural congregations and intercultural ministries.