Dave Meigs

David Meigs is a novelist with a background in youth outreach, specializing in ministry to at-risk youth and their families. Though his writing is enjoyed by all ages, his novels provide a unique, life-changing quality, critical for the youth of today. David and his family lives in Seabeck, Washington.

What Language Do You Write In?

What you talking about, Willis?

One of the joys of working with teens over the last few decades has been to watch the ever-changing meaning of words. Each new generation makes its own contribution. For instance, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, my generation hijacked the words trucking, free love, freedom, and changed what it meant to go on a “trip.” A few years later, what used to be “cool” was now “rad” (short for radical), and being “gay” changed from a state of euphoria to become, well, something entirely different.

I’ll never forget a meeting I had nearly twenty years ago with the parents of a teen in my church youth group. They were fearful because of the many changes their child had undergone since becoming a teenager. Almost overnight their darling son had morphed into a stranger.

“He came home from school and said, ‘Word, Mom.’ When I asked, ‘What word?’ he just laughed and went to his room. And there is the strange handshake, or whatever it is, that he does with his friends. Do you think he might be using drugs?”

I had to bite my lip. I assured them that in my opinion their son was only exerting his own individuality. I was glad to encourage them that I was seeing many positive signs of a growing walk with God. I even went on to predict that their son would someday grow into an exceptional youth pastor—which he eventually did (after all, this kid did the best Steven Urkel impression I ever saw).

And we Christians do it too.

I grew up in a non-Christian family and knew nothing about Christians. In fact, I had only one friend who attended church, and he was the rowdiest of us all. Church was a touchy subject with him, so nobody brought it up when he was around. But his elderly father was a whole other story. In the grocery store or walking along the street, my friend’s dad went out of his way to tell everyone about God. He called it witnessing. I remember how the old man’s face seemed to ignite like a lantern as he spoke.

The problem was that I never understood what he said. He would go on and on about crazy things like “the eyes of God look to and fro,” and something about “being lifted up on wings like eagles.” And then after talking for twenty minutes or so, he would ask me to pray with him. Often as not, those prayers seemed just as weird to us as the things he had “witnessed” about. I may have been clueless as to what that old man was trying to say, but I could not deny how those prayer sessions made me feel strangely warm inside.

Unfortunately, my friend’s dad died a few years before I came to Christ. It took me two or three years of Bible reading and attending church to decipher the hidden meaning of his talks. I look forward to the day when I can thank him for those times he prayed with me, and maybe even laugh with him over the things he said.

It is called Christianese, and all Christians speak it.

The problem is that those outside of our church-centric culture do not speak it, nor do they understand it. Our terms and their definitions come straight out of the Bible, a book that few ever read outside of the church. Let’s face it, we Christians live inside our own little bubble. In the secular workplace, our clumsy attempts at witnessing causes more confusion than ever before. Our coworkers thank us and smile, even as they pretend to understand who the “enemy” is, and try and shake the mental images we provoked with statements like “Putting it under the blood.”

More than half of my ministry experience comes from working for parachurch organizations concerned primarily with outreach to the unchurched. This has been an eye-opening experience in many ways, and it especially made me conscious of how the gospel message was portrayed to nonbelievers. In the back of my mind, I never forgot how confusing Christians had been to me. That said, I also remembered how praying with my friend’s elderly dad made me feel. I experienced the presence of a loving God in those prayers, and I wanted more.

Who is your audience?

If you want your books to be read only by Christians (and there is nothing wrong with that), then this advice is not for you. But if we want to be understood by the unchurched, we may want to be careful when using terms such as born again, intercession, salvation, saved, sinner, Savior, justification, Holy Spirit, testimony, evangelical, redeemed, redemption, saved, assurance, repentance, witness, confess, or phrases like found the Lord, standing in the gap, have a burden, give it to God, or lift it up.

I am not suggesting that we abandon our churchgoing characters in the novels we write, or even change the way they speak. I am only suggesting that we be careful to write it well enough that the unchurched reader understands what those characters are talking about. Above all else, we need to put the love of God on display, and we can’t do that if we are misunderstood.

In the years between the well-intended witnessing attempts of my friend’s elderly dad, several Christians crossed my path. Some even invited me to church once or twice. Sadly, everything they said went over my head. And then one day, almost thirty-eight years ago, a pretty girl walked up to me and started telling me something about how God was like an orange and could not be experienced without first removing the peel. I don’t know if I ever figured out what she meant, but she did invite me to her church to hear some music, where Pastor Dan Womack led me down to the altar and broke down the message in a way that even a heathen like me could understand. Thank God he did.