Saturday, 6 December 2008

Youth Alpha

At the moment we're running a Youth Alpha course at our church youth group, which meets on a Friday night. Yesterday the subject was "what about the church?", a talk which I had been invited to do. It's hard enough trying to prepare a sermon that 11-18 year olds can all engage with and learn from. What makes it harder is that the speaker is often challenged to fit certain words into his or her talk, usually with not much notice.

Previously, I have been given the words "penguin", "skingraft" and "Ronald Reagan" (a real tough one - as you can imagine - I think someone still owes me a drink for getting that one in) among others, which I have tried to casually slip into talks about worship, grace and other not quite so random subjects.

Last night I was challenged to use both "boondoggle" and "perspicacity", the latter being a word I had never heard of, and had to look up on the internet to find a definition. As it turns out, perspicacity is means something like "keenness of understanding" so it wasn't too hard to slot in. The problem is that if they're completely bizarre words you can lose your audience a bit; a word like boondoggle is quite conspicuous, regardless of subject matter.

It was suggested that we could hold back on the silly words, but it's good to keep a preacher on his/her toes, so it'd be good to think of other challenges that we could set. Like, who can construct the longest alliterated sentence perhaps. Any ideas?


Sunny Sunshine said...

As a teacher and an English language lover, I feel the word challenge is worth keeping. I have learnt 100% of my vocabulary from other people and am thrilled to hear new words that make our language so vibrant. If it wasn't for teachers, relatives, the Times crossword and preachers using words previously unknown to me, my vocabulary would be very poor indeed. The occasional new and 'silly' word in the right context can be educational and serve to keep the audience engaged with the preacher. I believe this challenge is less distracting than preachers who speak at length about numbers and data, particularly for those of us who are discalculic.

Preachers should obviously never be grandiloquent or exclusive but speak plainly and truthfully. A strong message with Jesus at the centre will survive the addition of the odd 'silly' word, even for those who are less passionate about language or don't understand the joke.
Other rhetorical devices and challenges will be thrilling for some and a turn off for others.

What is more interesting though, is why we do this with our preachers, with our lecturers and those speaking in public. I believe it is because we love to relate to the speaker. We want to feel a sense of personal engagement with them through the humour of the challenge. As long as this doesn't detract from the message or exclude others, I think it is one of the joys of having a real-life, authentic speaker and not just a celebrity in a T.V.

If God has blessed you with the skills to preach, to engage with the audience through humour and personal relationship, and given you a love of rhetoric, you should be nothing but encouraged.

Here endeth the rant.

Anonymous said...

Cheers Sunny, that is encouraging. I guess there's a knack to using language appropriately in every situation - a knack we should all want to get hold of.

Or should I say, "a knack, of which we should all want to get hold".

Dan said...

Ha ha, great! I might try this. I just came across the definition of Booyakasha a Jamaican word used by Ali G.

"It comes from the Irish word "buíochas" (pronounced bwee ah kuss) which mean "glory to" "or praise be" as in "buíochas le Dia" which means "thanks be to god". Oliver Cromwell sent 1000s of Irish to the plantations in Jamaica"