We live in a society whose vocabulary is waning, and quickly. It has become more trivial over the years, and my hunch is that texting and the plethora of social media phenomena have done nothing to aid this widening gap.
Here at IFWE, we talk a lot about stewardship. Indeed, so does the church at large. Perhaps you’ve heard about stewardship of the “three T’s,” that is, “Time, Talents, and Treasure.” These categories often come up in sermons about giving and stewardship, and rightly so.
However, when’s the last time a pastor spoke to your congregation about stewarding your language?
I’m not talking about whether or not curse words are acceptable for believers. I’m talking about the way that we speak day in and day out. How often do we consider speech (or any linguistic communication, for that matter) as a domain within our biblical roles as stewards?
I propose that stewardship includes how we employ words, both in verbal and mediated communication.
The marvel of human language is a gift from God. As with any other gift he has given us, it ought to be received and stewarded with joy, wisdom, and gratitude.
Elusive Language and Stewardship
There is much that can be addressed in terms of language stewardship—the loss of rich vocabulary, the act of defaulting to unexamined phrases, the cultural erosion of words, etc.—but I shall focus on just one segment here:
The use of elusive language.
Um… do you, like, have any—like—idea what I, like, mean? …You know?
Pardon the extreme example, but please tell me I’m not the only one that has had far too many similar encounters. Such speech has become surprisingly accepted and remains largely (and ashamedly) unchallenged.
This is not merely a style of speaking relegated to preference, nor do I believe it is an issue only for young people. We all must be wary of the tendency to allow these unnecessary words into our speech.
It is vital to understand that what is really at work when such words are employed is the evasion of precision.
For example, when a declaration is qualified by “like” (as in, “I ate like an entire pie by myself”), such statements forfeit most of their potential impact.
Additionally, tossing “or whatever” at the end of a statement all but invalidates the words preceding.
A less benign example with greater implications for the workplace may sound like this: “Why don’t we meet at, like, 1:00?”
Does this imply that the speaker is intending to begin the meeting at approximately 1:00? Will this meeting start on time? There is no guarantee, as the statement is imprecise. In this case, stewardship of words is connected to stewardship of time—both the speaker’s, and any other meeting attendees’.
Now think back to a presentation you heard recently that was laced with “ums,” “likes,” and other such elusive fillers. Did this reflect well on the represented company, product, or individual?
This is a familiar example, showcasing how we can all intuitively sense the inappropriateness of such use of language. But do we filter and examine our own speech as frequently or harshly as we criticize that of public speakers?
Consider again the example of a speaker representing a company or product. However, this time consider the product is the gospel message.
How do you desire to represent God’s truth? Everyday speech reflects our speech habits. If we intentionally work at refining our everyday speech, we will be better prepared to communicate God’s truths more clearly.
Thankfully God, in his grace, does work in spite of us, however our speech may come across (consider Moses). Moreover, if we are overly conscious of our speech, we may not open up to share the good news.
Yet, one way we can be better prepared to give an answer to those who ask us (1 Peter 3:15) is by stewarding our words well in “ordinary” conversation.
Becoming Wise Stewards of the Gift of Language
Like any realm of stewardship, language must be approached with care and intentionality. If anything is going to change in our own lives and others’, we must develop good habits of language stewardship.
As with any habit, behaviors do not change simply due to the acquisition of knowledge. This will take practice. You may find yourself frustrated at how much you start to notice elusive language is present in your speech—and additionally frustrated at how difficult it can be to remove—but take heart. Awareness is the first step.
Over time, as we approach the formation of our communication with awareness and care, we become more able to shape what we say rather than having unexamined phrases merely slip off of our tongues.
As bearers of the very Word of God, our speech is paramount to our witness. Whether explicitly telling someone about Jesus or simply recounting what we did over the weekend, may the beauty and appropriate seasoning of our speech evidence God’s truth to a watching—and listening—world.