Finding the Right Words

It seems like every walk of life has its own lingo, a special technical language that is unique and largely only understood by the folks working in that profession or area of specialized skill.

When we were new farmers, we tried to sound like we knew what we were talking about down at the local feed mill as we tried out new and various terms related to agriculture, and especially livestock. We learned about tools of the trade, such as knowing the proper seed population per acre, or how best to deliver subcutaneous injections to the sheep. We learned about crop planting techniques, cultivation practices, pre-emergent herbicides and soil test analyses, and slowly but surely we picked up some of the language of agriculture.

Then, like many other specialists in a field, we quickly forgot that most other folks don’t speak that language, and communication can be hindered or rendered ineffective if we don’t meet people where they are.


For example, last growing season we had some very kind ladies who helped us to harvest sweet corn with a large group of volunteers. They received instruction on the proper technique to handpick the corn. Some time later, we noticed that these fine people were seriously lagging behind the others in working their way down the long rows of corn. When we asked them if they were having difficulty removing the ears from each stalk, they said no, it was just a laborious process. When we approached them to see how we could help, we noticed that they had meticulously shucked each ear, including carefully removing each strand of silk. This is how the corn appeared at the market where they shopped, and they thought this is a requirement of the harvest process.

Another example was found in the orchard. As we attempted to train the volunteers on good apple harvest quality control, we have had to warn our apple pickers to stay clear of the damage of the insidious coddling moth, most clearly visible on the bottom of the apple where small holes resembling drill bit shavings appear. This is an important step in quality control, because nobody wants to bite into an apple where the center is inhabited by the worm of this moth. The infected apple might otherwise look wonderful if you are not wary of the telltale blemishes created in the bottom of the fruit. Ultimately, we have to stop explaining about the coddling moth and just say don’t keep any apple that looks like it has been drilled into on the bottom.

We have learned to be as clear as we can be in our use of language, and to remind one another that we should meet people coming to help on the farm exactly where they are, and take nothing for granted with regard to their understanding of terminology about the crops or harvest process. After all, we have been on the other side of such communication, and it can be downright frustrating.

Recently, in the face of a major health challenge, we gave up trying to understand our test results and medical records. It seemed that every word on the page had seven syllables and many strange combinations of consonants, such as x, y and z.

Similarly, when we try to speak with others about the Lord, our excitement and desire to share our witness or application of scripture can leave some people shaking their heads in bewilderment if we fail to use language that is familiar to them. If instead we employ too much Bible-speak, using words like salvation, sanctification, grace or righteousness, without explaining their meanings, we can lose people even before we have the chance to point to the love and glory of the Lord.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he spoke about his freedom and the opportunity to meet people where they are for the sake of sharing the gospel. In 1Corinthians 9:19-23, he said, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

This is a good encouragement to remember that we can show our love to others by acknowledging that faith does not require an in depth knowledge of the Bible, or theological language. It is simply a response to a loving God who has made himself known in a personal way, and through a personal Savior.

This post was originally featured on Lancaster Farming.