Language Fluency and Gospel Fluency: What's the Difference?
You can often reach basic conversational fluency in a language within a few months to have simple conversations with people. But, that's not our language goal, is it? Our goal is discourse fluency. Discourse fluency takes more than a few months to reach. It takes years. Discourse fluency is the ability to describe, narrate, explain, and persuade. And to do all of this on lots and lots of topics in daily conversations with our neighbors.
Here's the key: Gospel Fluency is the practice of discourse fluency using redemptive content.
You can begin to practice Gospel Fluency early on, even as you start to have basic conversations with people. And especially as you reach discourse fluency. I want to describe the practice of Gospel Fluency from a couple of examples.
In chapter 9 of 1000 Cups of Tea I mention a time in my language journey I was able to have lots of conversations with neighbors on lots of topics, but I was struggling to communicate the gospel to them in fluent and clear ways. I shared this with my language partner, Yohannes, who was a believer and also my neighbor. He told me to start having my quiet time in the language. I didn't know I could do that?!
As I started doing this I began to hear from God's word and pray in my new language - all very simply - on my own, in my new language, as a part of my quiet time. Imagine my excitement! I would then share what God was showing me to Yohannes. At first it was rough. Yohannes would patiently listen and respond, provide bits of helpful feedback about my language and expression, perhaps a cultural tip or two. He would help me work through this process of communicating the gospel in simple conversational ways. This was the most enriching language learning I had ever done! I loved it!
I was so motivated to be able to take what I had prepared and practiced with Yohannes and share the gospel with my neighbors! As I practiced presenting and conversing the gospel with Yohannes I found that I could do this more and more fluently with my neighbors in daily conversations.
This changed my life. And this formed the core of how I do ministry both then and now, as I learn more and more language. I call this Language 180. This is an example of the practice of Gospel Fluency.
I want to share another example of the practice of Gospel Fluency from my wife's ministry.
Jenn makes a point to regularly ask new believers she's discipling, "So, what did God show you from his word and in prayer today?" She sometimes receives blank looks but this opens the door for her to share what God has shown her. She then makes a point to practice this together with her disciples, while exhorting them to continue this practice each day.
As a follow-up question, Jenn will often ask something like, "So, how has this reminded you of the gospel in your life and the gospel for your neighbors?" That invites new believers to rejoice in the grace of God in their lives in very specific ways, and to fervently pray for lost neighbors and seek opportunities to share the gospel with them.
Here's what's cool: Many of these ladies now ask Jenn, "So, what did God show you from his word and in prayer today?" with heartfelt anticipation to hear and share from God's word together! This tells me they're getting it. They are practicing what it means to abide in Christ. They testify of the joy of the gospel in their lives. And they prayerfully share the gospel with their neighbors. They are starting to practice gospel fluency.
So, what does this have to do with language fluency? Precisely this: Every time Jenn asks these questions or shares from what she's reading, praying, or experiencing, she's speaking (and conversing!) from God's word, telling (and listening to!) life stories, and communicating truths in practical and meaningful ways. She's teaching just as much as she is conversing. Topics that seem tangential come up all the time. Without deep and wide language and cultural fluency, she may miss how so much of this relates to the gospel at work in the lives of these precious neighbors she disciples and shares the gospel with them.
Remember: you can practice the basics of Gospel Fluency with even a basic conversational fluency in the language. You can really dive deep and wide into Gospel Fluency as you reach full discourse fluency in a language. But you cannot practice Gospel Fluency without daily abiding in Christ. That's the key. That's the essential practice. Abide in Christ. And practice this in your new language!