Learning a language as an adult, even one that linguists list as an “easy” language, is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. When you are already suffering culture shock as a missionary, the last thing you want to do is have people tilt their head and look at you like you’re from outer space, laugh at you, or shake their head and walk away.
But learning the language is essential to really knowing the culture, making close friends, understanding the worldview, and profoundly impacting the people as you desire to reach. So pray and ask God to help you, and ask others to pray for your language skills.
Learning a language is like digging a well that you, your family, and your hearers, will drink from for the rest of your life. Dig deep and get to clean water by learning it well.
Here are ten ways to help you to do so.
- Immerse yourself in the language.
Yes, you can learn a lot of the language in high school, college, or through self-study, but you can never speak the language as the people do without living among them. Your language skills may begin at the “Tarzan” level where you sound a little like a caveman, progress to survival language level where you can ask where the bathroom is and actually understand what they say when they answer you, and then be polished to socially acceptable levels.
Living among the people helps you to learn colloquial ways they phrase ideas, use idioms, pronounce words, and even the rhythm of their speech patterns. Live among the people, spend time with them, and interact with them as often as you can.
- Learn the grammar and vocabulary.
Children grow up in a culture, developing language proficiency, and learning grammar and vocabulary intuitively. As they are corrected along the way, they seek to match the communication styles of their linguistic world. Living among a people is a wonderful way to polish your skills, but you need something to polish. The hard work of learning new grammar rules is even harder when you never learned your own very well, but it is essential. Memorizing vocabulary words is necessary so you can distinguish words in what sounded at first like one long sentence.
- Teach someone else.
Make it a practice to teach someone else what you learn along the way—whether a roommate, a spouse, a child, or a friend. In a mission context, there are often others learning the same language and explaining to others what you are learning each day is one excellent way to teach. It deepens the lessons you learned, answering questions you might not have previously considered.
Accept that you will always be in a fog. You start there, but after a week or two, the first lessons seem clear. Unfortunately, the current lesson is not, and you wish you could just go back. As you progress, you will accumulate an increasing mass of “clear” lessons, even though it seems you don’t understand today’s lesson. Encourage yourself by the growing list of lessons that are now clear, and help explain them to those who are behind you.
- Interact with people.
Knowing how to read and write the language is a great advantage, but it’s not helpful merely to make good grades on the written part of language school if you can’t communicate with others. A helpful key to learning the language is speaking what you know every day.
Interacting with native speakers helps you “hear” how they speak the language. Sitting in a class practicing with others from your home country only helps your ears hear how expatriates speak the new language and teaches your brain that this pronunciation is okay. Rather than do that, you must learn how people of all ages, education levels, and regions of the country speak their language and interact with them appropriately. Get out there.
- Learn a new word every day.
Make it your goal to add a new word to your linguistic repertoire before the sun sets every day. Take a new word each day and learn its meaning, pronunciation, and how it is used in context. Then find opportunities to work it into conversations periodically throughout the day.
- Read, read, read.
Read the Bible in the language every day—at least a verse or two. Read the newspaper, a devotional book, even the back of the cereal box, but read something every day. Look up words you don’t know and keep a log of new words you are learning.
- Write it down.
Make sure you keep a written record of your new words so you can review them and build confidence as the list grows. Write out prayers and get them grammatically correct so you will be able to pray coherently when called upon in church.
Write a paragraph or two in your new language in a daily journal. Just as in English, you will soon develop a reading vocabulary that is richer than your speaking vocabulary. This will help you follow conversations, understand sermons, and read in the language as you encounter words you normally would not have known.
- Ask for help.
As should be obvious by now, if you want to learn another language, you must slay your pride. Get used to asking people, “What do you call this?” and “How would you say…?” In this way you will not only be learning to use the language as it should be used in context, you are building relationships too.
- Make a fool of yourself.
Nobody wants to be laughed at or embarrassed, yet this is an unavoidable part of learning a new language. The faster you accept that you’re not going to be at expert level the first week, the quicker you will begin to speak out loud, and learn to laugh at yourself.
Craig Storti says the fastest way to make a fool of yourself is to begin learning another language. Embrace it. The alternative is never to speak out loud so no one will ever snicker at you. You may avoid being embarrassed about your language skills, but you are exchanging temporary embarrassment for long-lasting shame and frustration that you can’t speak the language, and can’t minister as a missionary in the culture to which God has called you.
- Make friends.
Rarely are we profoundly impacted or positively influenced by total strangers, even if our relationship with them is merely through mass media. We need language skills to build relationships and relationships help us to learn the language.
The best way to learn the language is to learn the culture and the best way to learn the culture is to learn the language. Making new friends and building relationships is the best way to do both. These all go together. Learn the language, learn the culture, make friends, and keep the cycle going.
Alfred Loisy expressed the dilemma many feel about the relation of church and kingdom in the biblical narrative: Jesus preached the kingdom, but it was the church that came! The underlying assumption of the dilemma is that kingdom and church are different realities. Those who heard Jesus preach the kingdom would naturally have understood it in terms of the future kingdom predicted and prophesied in the Old Testament. That kingdom was to be a political reality on earth. The church, on the other hand, is a spiritual reality. These are antithetical realities. Or are they?
It should be obvious that one’s understanding of the relationship of church and kingdom directly affects how one reads the storyline of the Bible. At the risk of oversimplifying, there are three basic ways one might explain this relationship:
1. The first is what we might call the redirected narrative. The Old Testament predicted a future kingdom. Jesus preached the kingdom, but He proceeded to change its meaning to something different from what the Old Testament expected. He redefined the kingdom as the church. So, of course, the church came.
The most common versions of this view argue that it was never God’s intent to bring about a future kingdom on earth in the literal manner in which it was presented by the prophets. The Lord accommodated ancient peoples’ inability to comprehend a spiritual kingdom by presenting it in type form as a political reality. Jesus, however, revealed the church as the spiritual reality that had always been the true meaning of the kingdom. Obviously, this view would also say that there is no future for Israel nationally or territorially in the plan of God. The Old Testament promises regarding Israel are all part of the typology that is “fulfilled” in the church. This view is typical of many books by covenant theologians presenting a redemptive-history reading of canonical Scripture.
The problem with this view is that it contradicts the promises of God in the Old Testament. Such a serious charge might be considered if the New Testament specifically required it. However, nowhere in the New Testament is the kingdom clearly redefined. Jesus speaks of the kingdom in such a way as to expect His hearers to be familiar with it—a familiarity that they would presumably have received from the Old Testament. Furthermore, Jesus refers to political, material realities as expected features of the coming kingdom. In Matthew 19:28-30, He speaks of thrones, houses, and lands to be inherited in the kingdom. In Matthew 25:31-46, He speaks of the Son of Man assuming His throne over the nations when He comes in all His glory, a feature fully consistent with Old Testament expectation. In addition, Jesus speaks of a future restoration of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24). Both Peter and Paul speak of the restoration of Israel at the coming of Christ (Acts 3:19-21; Romans 11:25-32). All of this is fully consistent with the expectation of the coming Kingdom of God presented in the Old Testament.
2. Another approach might be called the interrupted story. Jesus preached the kingdom just as the Old Testament predicted it, but He also spoke on occasion of the church, not as the replacement of the kingdom or as its spiritual fulfillment, but as a different and distinct program separate from the kingdom. The New Testament then presents more revelation on this distinct program of the church.
This would be the view of traditional dispensationalism. The story of the Bible is actually two stories—one of a future political kingdom for Israel and Gentile nations and one of the church, a spiritual reality that interrupts the kingdom story. So, it was a surprise to many that the church came after Jesus preached the kingdom, but it is a surprise that will run its course, after which, the kingdom preached by Jesus will come exactly as He and the Old Testament expected.
The problem with this view is that it ignores the many ways in which the church in the New Testament is connected to the kingdom theme preached by Jesus and expected by the Old Testament. For example, some of Jesus’ parables on the kingdom in Matthew 13 speak of an inter-advent age that corresponds to the time of the church. Paul, in Colossians 1:13, speaks of believers in the church of Colossae as having been transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son. John says in Revelation 1:6 that God has made us to be a kingdom of priests. The teaching of Ephesians 1:22-23, that Christ has been given as head of the church, His body, which He fills with His fullness, is framed in a description of kingdom authority. To this may be added the many connections made in the New Testament between the church and Old Testament covenant promises.
3. The third approach might be called the crucial clue. It is the approach of progressive dispensationalism, or what might be called a holistic kingdom theology.
A closer examination of Old Testament predictions of the kingdom reveals that although it was certainly to be a political order, it was not merely that. The Old Testament reveals the problem of sin that threatens all aspects of human existence and destabilizes all forms of human organization. The future kingdom was predicted in concert with covenanted promises to forgive and cleanse away sin (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25, 33), based in an atonement offered by a coming Servant of the Lord who would subsequently be exalted (Isaiah 53:10-12). Israel’s position in the kingdom was said to be secured by the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit transforming their hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-27; this leads to the kingdom order pictured in Ezekiel 37).
These are the same salvation realities referenced in the New Testament description of the church. However, the New Testament is clear that only a down payment has been given in the present time. The full blessings of complete sanctification and the immortality of resurrection life await the return of Christ. Also, the New Testament teaches that the full realization of kingdom promises likewise awaits His return (Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-21). Although all authority has presently been given to Him, His direct political administration of nations awaits His return (Matthew 25:31-46).
A unique feature of the church in biblical history is the equality of blessing of Jew and Gentile in Christ. No distinction is made between Jewish and Gentile believers in the gift of the Holy Spirit and in their personal union with Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:6; Galatians 3:26-29). It is this feature that is often cited in the claim that the church is the spiritual reinterpretation of the kingdom. However, the explanation given at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) for the phenomenon of the baptism of Gentile believers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10-11) draws upon a literal descriptive feature of the coming kingdom in Old Testament prophecy. It is not offered as a spiritualization of kingdom description. James, drawing upon Amos 9:11-12, notes that in the future kingdom, Gentiles as Gentiles will be called by the name of the Lord. The future kingdom in Amos is still the same worldwide political order that it is in other future kingdom prophecies. However, the church saw that Gentiles would bear the name of the Lord as Gentiles in that kingdom. Some work of God on Gentiles was necessary for that to happen. That work was now seen to be an equal sharing in the regenerating, sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit that had previously been revealed for Israel. And with that, the key to the everlasting stability of the prophesied multi-national kingdom—of Israel and all nations—was revealed.
The church in the New Testament is sometimes referred to as an inaugural form of the kingdom. However, in New Testament explanation, it is best seen as an inaugurated form of a key aspect of the future kingdom—a Spirit-wrought unity of holiness and sanctity achieved by an equal indwelling of God in the hearts and lives of all kingdom participants regardless of ethnicity or nationality. The presence of the church does not indicate that other kingdom features specifically covenanted by God—namely national, ethnic, and territorial features—have been spiritualized. There remains, for example, a national and territorial future for Israel in the kingdom plan, as well as blessings for Gentile nations.
Nor should the phenomenon of the church be taken to indicate a completely new and other work of God in addition to or alongside the kingdom. Rather, what has been revealed is a crucial clue to the fulfillment of the kingdom plan and program revealed in the Old Testament and proclaimed by Jesus.
Yes, Jesus preached the kingdom and the church came. But it did not come as an alternate reality interrupting or redirecting the plan for the kingdom. It came as an inaugural revelation of the glory that is still yet to come.
Israel cried out, “Give us a king!” (1 Samuel 8:6). Against his will, God gave his people what they wanted. A real superstar. Saul was the handsomest and tallest man around (9:2). That didn’t work out very well, did it? It never does ...
Dr. Craig, my question has two parts.
First, would agree that if the body of Christ were to be found that this would give good reason to think Christianity is false? Assuming of course that we could know that the body was in fact Christ's body. This seems to be a reasonable proposition in my view.
Now, the question I'm wrestling with is this: you examine and refute a number of natural explanations for resurrection of Christ and the facts surrounding this event. However, if it should so happen that archaeologists find Christ's body tomorrow morning, then one of those natural explanations for the resurrection of Christ would have to be true! Yet you have ardently maintained that they could not possibly be true. Is this at all problematic philosophically? ...
Three times each semester the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Seminary hosts a special speaker and lunch for the worship majors enrolled in the Boyce College and Seminary music and worship programs. In the past we’ve had a wide variety of guests including Matt Boswell, Keith Getty and Mike Harland. We try to expose our students to influential voices in the area of worship leadership and ministry beyond the classroom. You can hear recordings of past presentations here.
In his chapel message at SBTS on February 21, Dr. Denny Burk spoke on 2 Timothy 2:22, where Paul reminded Timothy to “flee youthful passions.” It is not coincidental that Dr. Burke is sensing the same concern for students throughout the entire seminary that we have for our worship majors.
The sobering story of Brandon Watkins
Last week, we had a speaker named Brandon Watkins. Brandon drives a Schwan’s food truck. He gets up every morning at 2:30 a.m. and delivers frozen food to the customers on his route in this region of Kentucky. He didn’t always work for Schwan’s. Several years ago he was a student at Southern in what was then the School of Church Music. Throughout his high school and college years, Brandon sang for a traveling evangelist in a ministry that took him all over the world. When Brandon speaks you can tell he can sing. . . he has that natural, resonant quality to his vocal tone you often hear from someone on a stage in Nashville.
Until about seven years ago, Brandon was a full-time worship pastor in a large, growing church in the south. He was married and had two little girls. But he lost them and everything else in life because of an addiction. While he was in high school he, like so many other young men, began looking at pornography. As a Christian and a traveling musician in an evangelistic ministry, he convinced himself that he could “manage” the sin. After all, good Christians (especially traveling evangelists) aren’t supposed to struggle with bad things like porn, and he didn’t want to admit he had a problem.
Brandon said this to our students:
“When sin isn’t exposed to the light, it leads to a stronghold, and when a stronghold isn’t dealt with, it leads to an addiction.”
Brandon’s story is heartbreaking. At the height of his deception, he still thought he could “manage” the double life of being a worship pastor and a daily customer at a strip club. He justified his actions by saying that God didn’t answer his prayers. Here was his prayer: “God, if you want me to quit going to the strip club, then take my voice away from me.” He told our students it was incredible the things he would come up with to justify his double life. His singing voice stayed strong, the ministry at his church flourished, and he kept right on living in the darkness of what he thought was a secret sin.
Finally, the stress and burden of lies and deceit became too much and he confessed to his wife, his pastor, and his church what he had been hiding. For the next six months, he lived the life of the prodigal son. There was no more hiding what he had become, and he stepped completely out of the light and into darkness. Five months later, on his 31st birthday, he was alone on the back porch of his empty house. The water and heat had been turned off, and other than a mattress and a table, there was not any furniture in the empty rooms of the home he once shared with his family. As he sat on his porch and looked down at the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels next to him, reality finally hit him—he had hit bottom.
Watkins’ testimony opened the eyes and ears of several of our students. He told them his pride kept him from asking for help and his arrogance duped him into thinking at each stage of his growing addiction that he could “manage” his sin and deceive everyone around him. Through his tears, he looked at our students and said, “Each one of you is living in one of three categories right now:
- You are actively and intentionally protecting yourself from a fall because you know you are vulnerable.
- You are in the middle of a fall.
- Or you are arrogantly thinking you will never fall—and if that’s the case—you’ll be calling me within five years and asking for my help because you’ve lost everything.
I once heard a pastor say that among men who are no longer in ministry because of moral failure, the fall was never a moral blowout, but a slow leak. Those men let down their guard on the small things, like a second look at the tabloid in the grocery store check-out line, or a daydream that fueled lustful thoughts. For Brandon, and all of us, this is a battle that never ends. The measures of protection match the severity of the sin. Brandon and his new wife, Kala, do not have internet at their house.
Why should we take address a topic like this? Because so many worship leaders and pastors are struggling with the devastating sin of pornography. During the Q&A time with Brandon, one of the students asked, “Why aren’t we talking about this more and being proactive in battling against it?” Brandon said that when he was younger he didn’t want to share his battle because a worship leader wasn’t supposed to be dealing with a sin like porn.
As he ended his testimony, Brandon introduced his mentor, Ray Carroll, who has a book and a ministry called Fallen Pastor (www.fallenpastor.com). In the last few years since he began this ministry, Ray has spoken with more than 500 pastors who have fallen. Over and over throughout Brandon and Ray’s talk with our students, they encouraged the students to seek help, develop true accountability, and shed light on the sin.
So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
Joe Crider is the Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of Church Music and Worship and serves as executive director, Institute for Biblical Worship. He also serves as worship pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, Kentucky.
Los cristianos son seguidores de Jesucristo. La palabra que se usaba en los tiempos de Jesús para designar a sus seguidores es discípulos. Por lo tanto, ser un cristiano es ser un discípulo de Cristo (Hechos 11:26).
En Lucas 14:25-35, y en otros pasajes más, Jesús establece los requisitos para los que quieran ser sus discípulos. Grandes multitudes le seguían asombradas de su mensaje y autoridad. Sin embargo, Jesús no estaba complacido solamente con que mucha gente le siguiera sino que él deseaba que aquellos que tomaran la decisión de hacerlo, lo hicieran de acuerdo a unas normas específicas. Así que, Jesús se detuvo y delineó en esta ocasión cuatro características indispensables para sus seguidores. Para ser un buen cristiano o discípulo de Cristo es necesario cumplir con las condiciones que Jesucristo indica.
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As a high school student, I went to a two-week worldview experience in the mountains of Colorado Springs called Summit Ministries. I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. Looking back now, over two decades later, I realize that it was one of the most formative faith experiences of my life.
Although there were probably a couple dozen speakers at Summit (who addressed all sorts of worldview issues related to theology, economics, apologetics, science, and more), my favorite was Dr. Jeff Myers. He has since become a good friend of mine, and he is now the president of Summit Ministries, a vital worldview experience for students. Dr. Myers is a popular speaker, the author of many books (including one of my favorites, Handoff), and is one of the most important contemporary voices in the church ...
I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely frank: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I live that is notorious for snarled traffic, often for a couple of hours on both sides of rush hour. I avoid it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.
And I am not alone. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour. Why is it so difficult for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.
Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord is one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that helps us understand what the LORD told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8).
We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and then we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.
We wait, but we don’t surrender to passivity.
The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent seven years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14).
Many seminary students will complete their theological training then do the last thing they anticipated: wait. I snail-mailed or e-mailed more than 200 resumes and suffered through seemingly as many interviews with schools and churches after completing my Ph.D. before leaving Louisville for my first full-time ministry, a pastorate in Alabama. Total wait time: three years. The last year of that period was particularly agonizing as I watched my closest friends take off, one-by-one, like jets off an aircraft carrier, and soar through ministry doors God had opened.
But there I sat, feeling a bit like mold or moss, waiting. But it was for my good.
As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear:
“But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.”Lessons from God’s school
What a glorious promise! And yet our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait on God. Still, waiting on the Lord does many good things for us. Waiting:
- Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy, and he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful, and the outcome of our waiting proves him wholly true.
- Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
- Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.
- Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical. In waiting, we actually experience God’s lordship in an intimate way.
- Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” As we wait God instills in us patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues.
- Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
- Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectation, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance as we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Corinthians 4:18: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Though it’s difficult for us to see, waiting, in God’s economy, is for our good. Even our waiting achieves God’s sovereign purposes. And waiting must not paralyze us. It should not delay ministry, even if it’s not what you are presently doing full-time. If you are called to ministry, unleash the gospel where God has planted you, even as you await his providential guidance for the future.
As Paul Tripp puts it, waiting on God is not at all like the meaningless waiting you do at the dentist’s office:
We don’t just wait—we wait in hope. And what does that hope in God look like? It is a confident expectation of a guaranteed result. We wait believing that what God has begun he will complete, so we live with confidence and courage. We get up every morning and act upon what is to come, and because what is to come is sure, we know that our labor in God’s name is never in vain. So we wait and act. We wait and work. We wait and fight. We wait and conquer. We wait and proclaim. We wait and run. We wait and sacrifice. We wait and give. We wait and worship. Waiting on God is an action based in confident assurance of grace to come.
I pray that God will sanctify my impatience. After all, isn’t that the word that really describes our distaste for waiting? Perhaps it really is a sign of God’s love for me that I seem to find the rush hour traffic jam virtually every day.
In our day, wherever it is found, the fruits of intellectual inquiry grow from the conviction that there is such a thing as truth out there to discover. Take an axe to the existence of truth and you no longer have education, you have propaganda. Ideologies that deny the very possibility of truth can be found in many (thankfully, not all) fields of education. In the quip of postmodern philosopher, Richard Rorty, truth is simply a matter of whatever your colleagues will let you get away with saying. With no truth to seek and discover, we are left with only social constructs to endlessly dream up and deconstruct. In the words of one lamenting Harvard graduate, “The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true." When the very idea of truth is considered so out-of-fashion, schools gradually turn from the pursuit of knowledge to the business of data transfer, indoctrination, and diploma-printing ...