Learning New Languages

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. – Acts 2:1,4

Every year on Pentecost Sunday I get the feeling that the church misses the point.

In Acts, the people around the disciples do not suddenly learn to speak the disciples’ language. It’s the other way around. The Holy Spirit gives them the ability to speak the languages of the people gathered around them. They were in the middle of an international crowd, with many different languages, and they could suddenly communicate with everyone.

I’m all for learning other languages, but this story isn’t about taking Mandarin lessons or immersing ourselves in Finnish. Instead, I think this is about learning to speak in ways that are relevant to the people around us.

A friend once told me that she opened her Facebook account before worship and “checked in” at the church. The woman sitting next to her shot her a judgmental glance and said “church is not a place for cell phones.” But that check in on Facebook sent a message out beyond the church’s walls, telling friends and neighbors “Hey, this is my church…and you would be welcome here, too.”

Our ways of communicating are changing everyday. Facebook and Twitter and all the other online platforms are calling us into a Pentecost moment. Are we going to wait for the people around us to walk into our doors to learn the language of church? Or are we going to learn to speak a new language and share our story with others?


God, thank you for new opportunities to tell the story. Send your Holy Spirit to help me learn new ways of sharing it. Amen. 

dd-emilyheath.jpgAbout the Author
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.