MULTILINGUAL CHURCH by Jonathan Downie

MULTILINGUAL CHURCH: JONATHAN DOWNIE

BOOK REVIEW

FOREWORD

In his fairly lengthy foreword, Harvey Kwiyani, PhD, observes that “languages often determine who is in and who is out of a society,” and, therefore, he says that “this call for multilingual churches is necessary.”

INTRODUCTION

Jonathan’s book is subtitled ‘Strategies For Making Disciples In All Languages’ and, in the commendation by Rev. Teresa Parish, “Jonathan acknowledges that every church has different challenges to becoming multilingual.” Indeed, Adam Hart says that “In Multilingual Church, Jonathan Downie doesn’t sugar-coat the challenges,” but that he also “warns of the potential pitfalls.”

As Jonathan considers whether and when “church can reach everyone,” he acknowledges that “the wider issue of multiethnic church has occupied theologians and sociologists for some time now.” He then declares that “becoming multiethnic required the church to become multilingual.”

Jonathan recounts some of his own personal experiences of church and observes that “the world around us is multicultural, multilingual, and diverse. Our churches often aren’t.” Indeed, Kwiyani reminds us that “Spanish continues to be the language spoken by most Christians in the world today,” and that may well surprise Christians in the UK.

In his book, Jonathan moves on to ask what multilingual church is, and what it is not. He gives us a number of shades of definition and guides in an effort to aid our understanding, and soon acknowledges that “There are no one-size-fits-all solutions.” Indeed, Jonathan makes “no apologies for these sections having more questions than answers.”

PART I: THE BASICS

CHAPTER 1: WHY MULTINGUAL CHURCH MATTERS

Jonathan observes that “Every modern city is multilingual,” and he goes on to give a personal example of that from his undergraduate academic year in Dunkirk, where his then girlfriend, now his wife, joined him for a visit. Jonathan then moves on to give us some facts and figures from the Office of National Statistics and other sources where a growing population do not speak what Jonathan calls the “locally dominant language.”

Jonathan declares that “If our churches only speak one language, we make the gospel foreign and incomprehensible to anyone in our city who does not speak our language.” Thus, Jonathan goes on to speak of “our diverse communities,” and then addresses the whole situation during the COVID-19 outbreak in relation to “the Always Open Church.” Jonathan considers how people can be reached from our front door, and what that might mean when “there are several models of multilingual church.”

CHAPTER 2: MULTILINGUAL CHURCH IS BIBLICAL

Jonathan discusses the destiny of multilingual church, and he begins with a long quote from Revelation 7:9-17. Jonathan then declares that “In heaven, there are different languages, and he thus speaks of “a heavenly reality … for our earthly churches”, but also says that “we don’t have to wait until heaven to experience a foretaste of this.” Jonathan then traces Biblical multilingualism as he takes us on a journey through the Scriptures and highlights that people were historically interpreting what was said. He writes of “Teaching in the Language People Speak at Home,” and looks at something of Jewish history before quoting from Nehemiah 8:5-8.

As Jonathan continues by moving “From Multilingual Israel to Jesus, the King of All Nations”, he moves on to Acts and highlights the changing meaning of the temple from ancient days to Jesus’ day. He goes on to discuss “Preaching to the Mulilingual Crowd” and looks at Acts 2 where “Jews from around the empire and even the world had come to Jerusalem for the festival of Shavuot or Weeks.” Jonathan notes that, in Acts 2:6-12, “God ensured that the gospel was heard in local languages and dialects at a time when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.” Jonathan speaks of “breaking barriers … twice,” and here he expands upon his reading of Pentecost and of what followed, and moves on to discuss the account of the Ethiopian eunuch, which he links directly to Philip and what he did after the encounter. Jonathan sees God’s “open invitation” to all people and pointedly asks “Did becoming a Christian mean leaving behind prior cultural identities and practices to take on Jewish ones?”

PART II: COMMON WAYS TO DO MULTILINGUAL CHURCH

CHAPTER 3: THEY’LL ALL LEARN OUR LANGUAGE ANYWAY

In the seven chapters from now on, Jonathan examines “different approaches churches have to multilingualism and where they lead.” As he seeks to be intensely practical, Jonathan opens this chapter by asking, “Does It Make Biblical sense to Do Nothing?” He also explores how church leaders should respond to multilingual church, and some common responses that belong under this heading. Jonathan uses the example of Ezra the Scribe, and speaks of “what the Bible asks leaders to do when faced with differences in language, education, or culture.”

Jonathan continues by looking at the “Do Unto Others” model under the heading of “they’ll all learn our language anyway.” He states that the “they’ll all learn our language anyway” attitude places the burden on other people and on God. It absolves us of responsibility.” Thus, church shows “little love and little interest in others’ needs.” Jonathan looks at “The Truth about ‘They’ll Learn Our Language Anyway’” and speaks of the possibility of sending a message that “we care more about what is comfortable for us than about reaching people who need Jesus.” Nevertheless, Jonathan recognises that some churches and their leaders “are already stretched to breaking point. Adding something else would simply be too much.”

CHAPTER 4: ADD SERVICES IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES?

Jonathan acknowledges that the idea of church services in different languages “seems quite good,” and he goes on to examine “What It Looks Like to Have Different Services in Different Languages.” He explores different models of what that looks like, and begins with “The Rental Model” before moving on to “The Space-Sharing Model,” then on to the “Joint Leadership model” before examining “The Visitor Experience.” He then concludes this chapter by looking at “The Pros and Cons of Different Services in Different Languages.”

CHAPTER 5: DIFFERENT LANGUAGES, ONE SERVICE

Here Jonathan examines the very real “Problem with English.” He begins by discussing the “various approaches of how, when, and where to introduce different languages” into church services. There is one approach that he clearly does not rate very highly as “British people are notoriously bad tourists.” Jonathan observes that “multilingual church of any sort runs against wider church trends,” and he again acknowledges that the English language “wields considerable power … because it is so common online.” In acknowledging this, Jonathan considers that he is not “challenging the place of English in the church.” Indeed, Jonathan is keen for church to be “voluntarily offering space to other languages.”

Jonathan moves on to discuss “The Identity of a Multilingual Church.” This clearly must involve church leaders because, as Jonathan points out, any significant change involves “The Leadership Perspective.” Change will be seen to be necessary if leaders (and congregations) should ask themselves Jonathan’s important question: “Which ministries or opportunities are inaccessible if you don’t speak the locally dominant language?”

Jonathan goes on to consider “The Point of View of Those In the Church,” and this “leads to three important realizations” that Jonathan considers. In exploring this topic, he poses two different sets of questions; first, the practicalities of process, and second, leadership questions. In examining these issues, Jonathan recounts his experience as a father of six children, and he soon discovered that he couldn’t “even parent any two of my children the same way.” Thus, he says that “The same likely holds true for churches.”

CHAPTER 6: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO THE RESCUE?

The reader may be surprised to see Jonathan confessing that “learning another language is hard.” Thus, for churches, is the use of machine translation and interpreting the real and easy answer to the difficulties of becoming a multilingual church? Jonathan looks at how “Speech Translation Apps Work,” and he clearly shows that the process, while having benefits, is far from simple and straight-forward.

Having examined how speech translation apps work, Jonathan considers if they are “Suitable for Use In Church.” Having described a complicated process such as how “Speech Translation Apps Work,” it is no surprise that “The answer to this question is more complex than you might think.”

Jonathan discusses the pros and cons of machine interpreting and then leads on to “Making Smart Use of Machine Interpreting Apps.” Perhaps there may be uses for such technology in church, although Jonathan advises that “A coherent machine interpreting strategy must therefore be part of a wider language provision strategy and its implementation.” These factors he discusses in detail in later chapters.

CHAPTER 7: INTERPRETING IN THE CORNER

Jonathan explores the pitfalls of “Interpreting in the Corner,” and how that experience was quite literally true in his experience. Unfortunately, “Interpreting in the Corner,” didn’t end well for himon one occasion. Jonathan discusses “incidental interpreting,” “Stakeholder Expectations,” and “Accidental interpreting,” and he asks if being a multilingual church is just one desirable goal in the midst of many others. Is interpreting incidental? Is interpreting only one channel?

Jonathan sets out the likely results of accidental interpreting, although he also points out that “accidental interpreting can work.” He discusses what “Accidental Interpreting Feels Like” and he references the experiences of the “Finnish interpreter and interpreting trainer, Sari Hokkanen” to point out “the limitations and risks of accidental interpreting.” Jonathan spends quite some time discussing “accidental interpreting,” and he acknowledges that it can be “an important stepping stone” that, nevertheless, “comes with serious flaws.” He discusses how to make good use of “accidental interpreting” as a stepping stone to a greater place. Jonathan concludes this chapter with “An Example from Outside of Church Life” in Scotland.

CHAPTER 8: WE HAVE A VISION FOR LANGUAGES – ONE DAY WE’LL NEED THEM

Jonathan’s experience after being trained as an interpreter showed him that “A vision is not a guarantee of success.” He says that “Multilingual church must start somewhere,” and he quickly realised that “Interpreting Means More Than Words.” He tells of Cecile Vigoruroux’s experience in Glory Gospel Church in Cape Town, South Africa, where the church stood out for two reasons. This leads to Jonathan writing of “The Importance of Performance.”

Having set the title “The Importance of Performance,” Jonathan immediately observes that “Christians, especially church leaders, are often uncomfortable with the idea of ‘performance.’” This leads on to a discussion about resources, and how to use them. Jonathan’s next subtitle catches the eye and also raises curiosity as he speaks of “Performing Being a Multilingual Church Without Actually Being One.” However, Jonathan also warns about having a “symbol of where the church wants to go, not a sign of where it is now.”

CHAPTER 9: LANGUAGES ARE WHO WE ARE

Under the subheading of “Facing the Impossible,” Jonathan recognises that, thus far in his book, “multilingual church might seem like an important but impossible dream.” He recognises that “having services in different languages is fraught with complications…”

Under the subheading “The Gospel Is About Reconciliation,” Jonathan highlights that “The early church faced a similar and seemingly impossible need for unity over the issue of Jew/Gentile relations in the church…” Indeed, he declares that “Multilingual church is God’s idea, and it is impossible without him.”

Jonathan describes three stages to the process of every church to becoming “truly, biblically multilingual.” In considering “The Progression of Truly Multilingual Church,” Jonathan considers the steps that must be taken if multilingual church is to progress from being just a dream into a living reality.

PART III: VISION, STRATEGY, AND IMPLEMENTATION

CHAPTER 10: A VISION FOR LANGUAGES

This is where Jonathan turns “insights into practice, as he focuses on application and practical aspects of multilingual church. Following the subheading of “The Bible, the Church, and Your Church,” Jonathan reminds us that “God’s plan is to build a worldwide Church, where there are no barriers between us and God and between us and each other.”

Jonathan’s argument for multilingual church partly rests upon his declaration that “We cannot demonstrate the wisdom of God to a world fractured by segregation, division, and separation if our churches show exactly the same segregation, division, and separation.”

In asking his readers, “what does it mean to have vision for language in the church you lead?” Jonathan points out again that “…vision on its own is rarely enough,” since we must also “partner with God in the work he is already doing.” So, Jonathan sets the direction by asking more questions and explaining “why their answers matter.”

His opening question here is “Where Are You Now?” from which Jonathan points out the importance of “a good idea of your current location.” As part of the getting to know each church’s current position, Jonathan sets out a series of questions that are designed to help church leaders and their congregation gain a true understanding through what he calls “honest conversations.”

After the “honest conversations” have run their course, Jonathan asks a number of questions in relation to “key resources,” so that churches can use and be faithful to the little resources that they already have. Jonathan emphasised that, “Honesty is essential here.”

Jonathan’s “vision for languages” continues with ten “Development questions” on “Identity and Priorities,” that ask leaders and congregations to carefully consider different aspects of their church and its beliefs and practices.

Jonathan then moves on to ask nine “priority questions” that require church leaders and congregations to make a thorough and honest evaluation of themselves. He says that “there are no wrong answers,” and stresses that “uncomfortable answers are better than answers that “dance around the question.”

CHAPTER 11: STRATEGY – THE WHEN AND WHERE

“Strategy before mechanics. That’s always the right order” is how Jonathan opens this chapter and he quickly points out that strategy should not be “some weak attempt to out-plan God.” Jonathan thinks through the “When” and this leads quickly on to “How Do We View Those Who Speak Different Languages?”

Jonathan wants us to have a “helpful, biblical view of people who speak different languages,” and wants his readers to view languages not as barriers, but rather as a way to bring people together. His main theological point here is that “For churches, integrating people together should be about everyone becoming more like Christ (Eph 4:1-6), not making them become like us.”

Jonathan summarizes the “When” question that was asked earlier, and then moves on to think about the “Where” question. Jonathan’s main question here is, “How does the location of a church meeting or event affect the language provision offered?” and this leads on to Jonathan exploring “Strategy in Action.” He once again helpfully highlights that “There are no one-size-fits-all solutions” here.

CHAPTER 12: IMPLEMENTATION – THE HOW AND WHO

In this chapter, Jonathan explores various options that are open to churches, and the first option is to “Do Nothing.” The second option is to “Hold Different Services in Different Languages,” and the third option is to “Integrate Different Languages into the Same Service.” Option four that comes a little later is “Interpreting.” After Jonathan has explored the first three options, he moves on to explore “Translation Options” and this is an intensely practical look at the different possibilities that are available – or not available, as the case may be. Jonathan explores “Solutions Beyond Translation” and then moves on to option four, which is “Interpreting.”

In introducing option four, Jonathan asks the pertinent question, “What Is Interpreting Anyway?” This technical chapter moves on to “Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI)” and to the disadvantages of RSI. Jonathan then explores the “Technical Requirements of RSI” before leading on to “In-Person Simultaneous Interpreting (Sim).” He spends some time exploring “Whispered Interpreting” and then further explores “Sim with Technology,” “Sign language Interpreting,” and then closes this section with “A Summary of Sim.”

Jonathan next engages with “In-Person Consecutive Interpreting,” and looks into how it works. The chapter continues by examining “Using Automated Interpreting Apps,” and its advantages and issues. In exploring “Using Interpreters from within the Church,” Jonathan looks at this commonly used solution and considers “The Disadvantages of Volunteer Interpreters.” He then moves on to “the most expensive” possibility, which is “Using Professional Interpreters.” This lengthy and technical chapter closes by asking the important question, “Is There a Perfect Option?”

CHAPTER 13: MAINTENANCE – THE FUTURE

This chapter begins with the intriguing heading, “The Baby Needs to Be Fed and Changed.” In the midst of exploring it all, Jonathan tells us that, “there is very little research on maintaining language provision.” That is partly why multilingual church “looks like hard work,” because “it is hard work.”

PART IV: SUNDAY IS JUST THE START

CHAPTER 14: EXCLUDING THE LOCALS

Jonathan explores the reasons why churches may not want to think too much about multilingual church, and he acknowledges that “They are all plausible positions.” He contends that, while there are “justifiable arguments,” they can be put forward out of fear.

ALL ABOARD

Jonathan uses a railway analogy to ask if we are “All Aboard.” He does not pretend that moving towards multilingual church is easy, because it is such a “fundamental” change. “Vision casting is essential here, along with knowing the history and values of the church, and taking time to really listen to peoples’ concerns.” Thus, “Leaders need to prayerfully work through conversations with people in the church, seek God, and then spend time carefully explaining where the church is heading, the reasons for the journey, and what the route might look like.” “When people hear about racism being challenged, communities being united, and people worshipping God from every nation, tribe, and tongue in their church, something might just catch fire.”

EXCLUDED OR EMPOWERED?

Jonathan repeatedly emphasises the hard work that is involved in any church becoming multilingual, and that “Vision casting is only the beginning. It takes much more work and skill to help people see how the vision includes and needs their talents and skills.” The journey, then, is towards a church in which “God’s love is not limited by race, culture, or language.” This means expanding “our view of what ministry means and what multilingual church means.”

MULTILINGUAL CHURCH: MULTI-GIFTED BODY

“In multilingual church there is a place for everyone.” Jonathan shares honestly that to arrive at such a place is hard “because there are no fixed rules.” He goes on to speak of the “clear biblical guidelines” that help us to journey towards us being truly multilingual churches. “Yes, there will be times of discomfort. Yes, some practices will likely need to change. Yes, there is a price to pay.”

CHAPTER 15: SUNDAY IS JUST THE START

Jonathan asks what multilingual church actually looks like. “Reading through this book may give the impression that the core of multilingual church can be found in Sunday services… Yet the story doesn’t end with Sunday.”

MAKE IT PART OF EVERYDAY CHURCH LIFE

Jonathan reveals that, in his experience and understanding, “What successful multilingual churches do seem to have in common … is that being multilingual is not just a gimmick for Sundays.” Jonathan recounts the experience of Mario Wahnschaffe, which is that “the vision of being an international church permeated every activity, especially the core work of fellowship, worship, teaching, ministry, and evangelism.”

Jonathan again emphasises that the journey to being multilingual is a difficult one that involves accepting that “the habits and practices we are used to are simply not suitable as a church changes. What works for a church full of white Westerners who have gone to church all their lives and know instinctively when to sit, stand, kneel, and respond will feel awkward to people who are from a different background.”

“Embedding multilingualism throughout a church means a lot more than ensuring that people can participate in a meeting in their language.” In emphasising the hard work that is needed, Jonathan also shares that “no church can do everything people might want it to. Resources are always going to be stretched, even if the main resource any church draws on is the people in it.”

WHAT IF THIS WERE ME?

Jonathan sets out practical examples that help us to imagine different scenarios, and that the response to these scenarios should be “based on open, honest dialogue” that “is always the place to start.” He states that “It takes gentleness and patience to have the tough conversations and to keep listening well past the moment we think we already have the answer.”

“Without getting into the debates over whether churches should be seeker friendly (that phrase alone seems like an unhelpful buzzword by now), I do think that it pays to ask how a visitor might experience your church.” Jonathan restates that challenge again and again, and it is something that churches should do often, if they are to embrace lasting and meaningful change.

GOOD PAIN AND BAD PAIN

Jonathan says that “One reason why such changes can be difficult is that they can hurt.” He observes that “listening to the experience of others is the tricky, beautiful, and loving journey of taking the time to slow down, listen, and reflect on someone else’s experiences.”

CHAPTER 16: GETTING HELP

“I said previously that truly multilingual church is impossible without the power of God. Additionally, I believe that multilingual church is very difficult without expert help.” In recognising this, Jonathan gives the reader a list of useful resources while, at the same time, recognising that “the greatest resources for multilingual churches, after the Bible, are simply other multilingual churches.”

Furthermore, Jonathan tells us that “There is no better way to learn than to be around others who are on the same path. Every other resource I will suggest will be useful, but none apart from the Bible will surpass the fellowship and encouragement of other like-minded churches and church leaders.” There is strength and encouragement in seeing and knowing how others are journeying towards multilingual church or, indeed, already are multilingual churches.

AFTERWORD

Mike Lemay, a pastor and interpreter from Canada, says that “Reflecting on my extensive experience as both a pastor and interpreter, I must confess that I’ve never come across a literary work quite like this one. It dives deeply into the profound impact of language on the church and ministry, and it does so in a remarkably unique and comprehensive manner.”

MY THOUGHTS, REFLECTIONS, AND GRUMBLES

INTRODUCTION

Here and now, let me confess to being a pernickety stickler for detail. I say that now because, if I didn’t say it, you would quickly realise that anyway when you read my thoughts, my reflections, and my grumbles. As I began to read Jonathan’s book, I immediately came across one of my hated practices of theological writers, when they appear to use whatever translation of the Scriptures says what they want to say at any given time. Jonathan quotes from the NRSV, the NLT, the NASB, the NIV, and the MSG. I may be being unfair to Jonathan but, in my theological writing, I was told in no uncertain terms to use only the NRSV, or risk having my writing torn into pieces. However, I am not in any way suggesting that Jonathan is using whatever translation of the Scriptures says what he himself wants to say at any given time, but I will simply say that the practice of using different translations is my problem, not Jonathan’s.

When Jonathan moved on to ask what multilingual church is, and what it is not, his following text makes it clear that defining multilingual church is no easy task, as he demonstrates when he declares that “A church that can reach teach, and disciple everyone in a community isn’t just a church where people speak different languages…” In trying to define multilingual church, what seems like a simple and straightforward task proves to be much more difficult as any concise definition has inherent weaknesses.

As I said earlier, in his introduction Jonathan made “no apologies for these sections having more questions than answers.” As one who fondly remembers the Johnny Nash song “There Are More Questions Than Answers,” I can both sympathise with Jonathan but also applaud him for not pretending that his book is packed full of answers to questions that no-one is asking. I will say this again later, but Jonathan’s book is a good foundation upon which churches can ask those difficult questions and work together to find the way forward for each church in these issues.

PART I: THE BASICS

CHAPTER I: WHY MULTINGUAL CHURCH MATTERS

Jonathan observed that “Every modern city is multilingual” and he gave a personal example of that from his undergraduate academic year in Dunkirk where his then girlfriend, now his wife, joined him for a visit. This account, then, was about him visiting a particular church, it was not about him dwelling in a particular church. I hoped that he would go on to explore both scenarios.

Jonathan quotes Romans from the NLT and, since it differs in significant ways from the NRSV, I grumbled to myself at that practice, but then I reminded myself that it is my problem, not Jonathan’s. However, I quickly clenched my teeth when I discovered that he also quotes 1 Corinthians 14:10,11 from the NLT, and it differs hugely from the NRSV. If I were face-to-face with Jonathan at this point, I would argue that using different translations in this way is bad practice, but then I have to remind myself (again) that this is my problem, not Jonathan’s.

Jonathan had said that “If our churches only speak one language, we make the gospel foreign and incomprehensible to anyone in our city who does not speak our language.” Thus, Jonathan went on to respond “to our diverse communities,” and to address the whole situation during the COVID-19 outbreak in relation to “the Always Open Church.”

In observing that “During the global pandemic, most churches around the world shifted from meeting in-person to meeting online,” Jonathan seemed not to acknowledge that English is the dominant language of the Internet and so to consider that in thinking about online multilingual church. That is one aspect of church that his book can help us to discuss and work through. There are indeed more questions than answers!

CHAPTER 2: MULTILINGUAL CHURCH IS BIBLICAL

Jonathan discussed the destiny of multilingual church, and he began with a long quote from Revelation 7:9-17. Jonathan declared that “In heaven, there are different languages, and he thus speaks of “a heavenly reality … for our earthly churches”, but says that “we don’t have to wait until heaven to experience a foretaste of this.”

Here Jonathan and I part company theologically. I would say that languages were introduced on earth specifically to confuse peoples (see Genesis 11:1-7), and that the new heaven and the new earth will have no such confusion. However, Jonathan’s picture of “people from every nation, tribe, people, and language praising God together” is a lovely picture that can be experienced right here and now on earth, just as it was at Pentecost itself.

Jonathan quoted from Nehemiah 8:5-8 which speaks of “translating” in the NASB that he used, but the NRSV speaks of “interpreting” – not translation. Is this just an example of different words being used? He says that he used the NASB there because it and the NRSV use “translated” in verse 8, but my NRSV says “with interpretation … they gave the sense…” A point of understanding to explore at some point, perhaps.

Jonathan noted that, in Acts 2:6-12, “God ensured that the gospel was heard in local languages and dialects at a time when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.” However, he also says that God did not “somehow reverse Babel by making people speak a single language or a lingua franca.” I have already discussed my reaction to this, and I can only state again my own position that different languages are for this earth only; there will no need of different languages on the new earth.

Jonathan sees God’s “open invitation” to all people and pointedly asks, “Did becoming a Christian mean leaving behind prior cultural identities and practices to take on Jewish ones?” Perhaps I am being pernickety again, but people back then did not become Christians in our modern-day idea of conversion. Rather, they became learners (the literal meaning of the word translated as ‘disciples’) and followed the way that was Christ himself. We must be careful not to back project our modern meanings and ideas back onto the early church. I must, however, nod in agreement when Jonathan says that “Multilingual church is not about making people more like us but about allowing people to hear what God is saying so they can become more like Christ.”

PART II: COMMON WAYS TO DO MULTILINGUAL CHURCH

CHAPTER 3: THEY’LL ALL LEARN OUR LANGUAGE ANYWAY

Jonathan used the example of Ezra the Scribe, and spoke of “what the Bible asks leaders to do when faced with differences in language, education, or culture.” Come now, Jonathan, the Bible cannot ask anything. To prove this, put your Bible on the table in front of you and sit there until it asks you a question. I am now being so pernickety that Jonathan may never speak to me again.

Jonathan continues by looking at the “Do Unto Others” model under the heading of “they’ll all learn our language anyway.” He states that the “they’ll all learn our language anyway” attitude places the burden on other people and on God. It absolves us of responsibility.” In response, I am wholly uncertain that any human being can truly place a burden on God, but I do get where you are going, Jonathan.

Jonathan looks at “The Truth about ‘They’ll Learn Our Language Anyway’” and speaks of the possibility of sending a message that “we care more about what is comfortable for us than about reaching people who need Jesus.” Strong words, and perhaps needed words. Churches that are in a position to care “about reaching people who need Jesus” will have many issues and problems to deal with, and at least some of those churches and their leaders could engage with Jonathan and his book in order to take the first steps to becoming multilingual. That is my hope. I do, however, wonder if some church leaders will see multilingual as a desirable, but unachievable, goal.

In fairness, Jonathan recognises that possibility himself, when he says that “There are other churches where leaders and volunteers are already stretched to breaking point. Adding something else would simply be too much.” I am therefore very glad that Jonathan makes himself available to churches to help them by working with them, and this book gives a foundation on which to begin a new journey together.

CHAPTER 5: DIFFERENT LANGUAGES, ONE SERVICE

Jonathan went on to consider “The Point of View of Those In the Church,” and this “leads to three important realizations” that Jonathan considers. In exploring this topic, he posed two different sets of questions; first, the practicalities of process, and second, leadership questions.

What is very clear is that Jonathan is not lecturing from a ‘been-there-and-done-it-all’ attitude that gives all the answers so that the rest of us can try to catch up. Indeed, Jonathan states quite clearly that he “would dearly love to have all the answers laid out.” I will say yet again that Jonathan’s book is a good foundation upon which churches can ask difficult questions and work together to find the way forward for each church in these issues.

CHAPTER 6: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO THE RESCUE?

Jonathan discusses the pros and cons of machine interpreting and leads on to “Making Smart Use of Machine Interpreting Apps.” Perhaps there are uses for such technology in church. Certainly, I feel that Jonathan deserves respect because he does not dismiss such technologies out of hand, but rather he goes on to discuss them at length, and to highlight where they can be used to good effect.

CHAPTER 7: INTERPRETING IN THE CORNER

Jonathan spends quite some time discussing “accidental interpreting,” and he acknowledges that it can be “an important stepping stone” that, nevertheless, “comes with serious flaws.” He discusses how to make good use of “accidental interpreting” as a stepping stone to a greater place, and that is helpful. He is not simply dismissing that which may been seen as opponents or even as the enemy, but rather he seeks to establish proven stepping stones to making good use of what churches have already.

CHAPTER 10: A VISION FOR LANGUAGES

His opening question here is “Where Are You Now?” from which Jonathan points out the importance of “a good idea of your current location.” As part of the getting to know each church’s current position, Jonathan sets out a series of questions that are designed to help church leaders and their congregation gain an understanding through “honest conversations.”

I feel that the word ‘honest’ is important here, because a false understanding of where a church is at can only lead to errors and misunderstandings. It is also important that people take all of the time that is needed to have those honest conversations, and not to simply move on too quickly.

After the “honest conversations” have run their course, Jonathan asks a number of questions in relation to “key resources,” so that churches can use and be faithful to the little resources that they already have. Once again, an honest evaluation is needed here, and it needs to take full account of where the individuals are at, and how tired, exhausted, or burned out, they may be. After all, the bottom line is that people are the church’s resources.

Jonathan emphasised at this point that, “Honesty is essential here,” and that is actually profoundly true in all of the questions and issues that Jonathan raises here. Time and energy will be needed to do justice to those questions and issues, but patience is not always in abundance in church life.

Jonathan then moves on to ask nine “priority questions” that require church leaders and congregations to make a thorough and honest evaluation of themselves. Jonathan comforts those who will work through these questions by assuring them that “there are no wrong answers.”

He is also wise in stressing that “uncomfortable answers are better than answers that “dance around the question.” I know from my own experience that uncomfortable questions can cause me to dance around the questions and to want them out of the way as quickly as possible. Good on Jonathan that he doesn’t want to let us off the hook easily!

CHAPTER 12: IMPLEMENTATION – THE HOW AND WHO

In this chapter, Jonathan explores various options that are open to churches, and this is a technical chapter that needs to be read slowly and carefully. I can imagine that many people in church congregations may not be familiar with the terms and abbreviations that Jonathan uses, and it is therefore all the more important that time is taken to understanding his explanations and definitions.

Jonathan next engages with “In-Person Consecutive Interpreting,” and looks into how it works. He helps us to understand just how difficult a job an interpreter has, and how fast they have to think in order to faithfully represent what the speaker is actually saying – and how they are saying it. I have a little personal experience of being interpreted in this way, and I soon realised back then how difficult it could be to truly understand what I was saying and how I was saying it – and especially so when I used humour. At least, I thought it was funny!

This chapter may be heavy going for those of us who are not familiar with the terms and world of translating or interpreting, but it gives a solid understanding of the different terms and what they mean in practice. Therefore, I feel that the time spent in slowly digesting this chapter would be time well spent. The whole subject of multilingual church is too important just to skim over this chapter.

CHAPTER 13: MAINTENANCE – THE FUTURE

This chapter begins with the intriguing heading, “The Baby Needs to Be Fed and Changed.” In the midst of it all, Jonathan tells us that, “there is very little research on maintaining language provision.” That statement highlights for me that it is all the more important to properly engage with what Jonathan is exploring in this book, and I, for one, soon realised two important things:

1.How much I don’t know.

  1. How little I do know.

No wonder, then, that Jonathan declared that, “If language provision is to go from a few one-off moments to being part of the church, it cannot be a afterthought.” There also appears to little consideration for the health and wellbeing of interpreters, as Jonathan told of the experiences of a number of interpreters. Care and wellbeing needs to cover everyone, and that especially applies to the unseen people who help to make things happen.

CHAPTER 14: EXCLUDING THE LOCALS

ALL ABOARD

Jonathan uses a railway analogy to ask if we are “All Aboard.” He does not pretend that moving towards multilingual church is easy, because it is indeed a “fundamental” change. “Vision casting is essential here, along with knowing the history and values of the church, and taking time to really listen to peoples’ concerns.” Jonathan is again stressing how important it is that a whole church embarks together on the journey towards becoming multilingual, and that leaders should not just try to impose that journey upon their congregations. Thus, “Leaders need to prayerfully work through conversations with people in the church, seek God, and then spend time carefully explaining where the church is heading, the reasons for the journey, and what the route might look like.”

Once again, Jonathan acknowledges that “multilingual church is challenging.” In again emphasising that each church’s journey will be different, Jonathan encourages us that “multilingual church is breathtaking in its grandeur, scope, and relevance in our increasingly divided world.” This seems to me to be a very important point because, if churches are to embark on a journey towards becoming multilingual, then the congregations need to know that the destination makes the journey worthwhile.

EXCLUDED OR EMPOWERED?

Jonathan has repeatedly emphasised the hard work that is involved in any church becoming multilingual, and that “Vision casting is only the beginning. It takes much more work and skill to help people see how the vision includes and needs their talents and skills.” Moving on from vision casting, Jonathan says that “It is about building churches where everyone is welcome and where everyone is reached, taught, and discipled, no matter which language they use.” While many churches would certainly aspire to that goal, it is so important that they are given the tools for the journey that makes arriving at the goal possible.

PART IV: SUNDAY IS JUST THE START

“Reading through this book may give the impression that the core of multilingual church can be found in Sunday services. That is certainly where church interpreting research has been concentrated. Discussions of multiethnic church also tend to concentrate on integrating different cultures into worship.” I wondered if Jonathan had intended to say “multiethnic” in the above quote. If the use of the word “multiethnic” was deliberate, I wondered if it would confuse people by apparently suddenly raising a new subject.

MY SUMMARY

  1. Jonathan’s book is like a blueprint. It contains everything that you need to know in order to start a journey, but it needs to be deeply understood and, in being understood, it can then guide you through the journey. Examining the blueprint can be hard work if undertaken alone, so it would be a great help to get like minded people on board too.
  2. The same thought occurs to me in relation to knowing and interpreting the Scriptures, for that would be an important part of discussing multilingual church and, indeed, journeying towards being multilingual.
  3. Jonathan’s book is concise and densely packed, and I suspect that it could easily have been double its length if every thought in Jonathan’s head were included. He asks so many questions and raises so many issues that I am amazed that he was able to keep it down to the size that it is. A follow-up volume later?
  4. Jonathan raises so many questions and issues that I wonder if there could be a way for groups of leaders or members of congregations to be able to ask Jonathan (or existing multilingual church people) their own questions and concerns.
  5. While I recognise that Jonathan cannot personally engage with everyone who reads his book, I wonder if there may be great merit in WhatsApp groups, Zoom groups, Teams groups, or suchlike, that can discuss and evaluate the actions that are needed for a church to journey towards being multilingual.
  6. Jonathan’s book is a very valuable resource that Mike Lemay, and a pastor and interpreter from Canada, said of it that, “Reflecting on my extensive experience as both a pastor and interpreter, I must confess that I’ve never come across a literary work quite like this one. It dives deeply into the profound impact of language on the church and ministry, and it does so in a remarkably unique and comprehensive manner.” Like diamond mining, the process may be difficult, but the rewards are great.
  7. In her commendation, the Rev. Teresa Parish described Jonathan’s book as “an honest easy-to-read guide…” but I think many congregations will need to work hard to really work through his book. I know I did. But the careful reader will find that it is well worth the effort!
  8. I hope that this book gets a wider readership than just academic circles, and it certainly would be good for church leaders to begin to have conversations with their congregations about the value of journeying towards being multilingual.
  9. Finally, my impression of Jonathan’s book is of a book that breaks new ground for most churches that has no instant answers, and nor does it have a ten-steps-to-being-multilingual attitude that is so easily off-putting. Good food needs time to be digested.