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Becoming Conversant

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Have you ever found yourself in conversations with others and you can’t quite decipher what they mean? What happens when you hear words you thought you understood in a context that is incomprehensible? What do you do when one person’s jargon doesn’t line up with yours?

When we spend time with people of different generations, perspectives, cultures and faith traditions, it often takes time to become conversant. It often takes time and intentionality to hear what the other person is saying, if the words and concepts don’t precisely line up with our own.

We might assume that if both conversation partners speak Arabic, or Cree, or English, or French, they will understand each other perfectly. And yet, how often have you been in conversation with someone in the same language, and still needed clarification?

It happens all the time.

How do those of us engaged in ministry amongst youth take this into account? Do we take time to decipher the linguistic nuances of our young people? Do we take the time to understand their particular dialects, and the particular cultures and subcultures out of which they have emerged?

If we don’t take this time, how will we be able to dialogue about the gospel in a way that’s comprehensible to their lives? If we don’t hear their stories, if we don’t explore the stories of individuals and communities, how will we be able to translate the good news of Jesus Christ?

Here are a few questions we might ask ourselves (and the young people in our lives):

  • How comprehensible are your church’s practices to the young people in your community?
  • How do young people interpret what happens during the liturgy?
  • How would a young person explain the reasons why the church does what it does?
  • How does the practice of Christian faith interact with the whole of my life?
Andrew Stephens-Rennie

About Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Andrew is an Anglican lay leader who loves pioneering responsive, contextual solutions to the challenge of being church in the 21st Century. He serves as an assistant to the rector for Evangelism and Christian Formation at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver and is a founding member of the emerging St. Brigids community (
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