In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is instructing the belivers in Corinth in the practice of orderly worship and, in particular, the use of the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and of prophecy. While the gift of tongues is one to be desired, it is acknowledged as a spiritual language to communicate with God and therefore really only benefits the person that is speaking in tongues. Prophecy on the other hand is for the edification of the hearers and is useful for encouraging and building up the church.
Regarding tongues Paul says, “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meanting of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” (1 Cor 14:10-11)
Also, “if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.” (1 Cor 14:16-17)
Paul’s context in writing this letter was to a spefic group of belivers in Corinth, dealing with very specific issues and concerns within their specific church. However, as I read through this section today, my application is out of context but equally applicable. I think that sometimes in today’s church, we have a tendency to speak “Christianese”. We talk our own language that only we, who are already within the church, underdstand. Consequently, we can tend to (at worst) alienate those outside the church and (at best) not impact those around us with an effective presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ because no one really knows what we are saying. We’re speaking the lingo and the dialect of the church to the unchurched and there is no one around to interpret for us. So, when we share the Good News, outsiders are unable to say “Amen” because they don’t know what we are saying.
That’s why I think the most effective way to minister to those outside the church is to simply share our personal testimony of how the gospel has impacted our own life. And to do it in a way that uses language that all men and women can understand (especially those outside the faith). Leave out all of the Christian “buzz words” and just share in laymen’s terms what our life was like before Christ and how it has changed since Christ. And most importantly, don’t just tell them but demonstrate it.