Acts 29

Lessons in Church Planting: Create a Dictionary Yancey Arrington By Yancey Arrington January 21, 2015
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In every society among the many things shared in common is language. Go to Spain and hear Spanish, in Russia you’ll find Russian, in China Chinese…you get the idea. Along with a particular language a people group shares are phrases or sayings which carry meanings other people groups wouldn’t catch. We have them in America. For example, terms and phrases like “home run”, “crying alligator tears”, “sawing logs last night” and, from my West Texan roots, “being in high cotton” are readily understood by native audiences without any need for translation. The reason is because these words and phrases were birthed in the communities (or groups of communities – i.e., nations) where they are used. Culture became the womb where these terms received their life.

Language is Creative

They are also valuable in that they are able to communicate ideas or paint a vision without having to explain it over and over again – a community shorthand if you will. The power behind this shorthand is that, depending on how it’s framed, it can embed powerful ideas or truths for the listener in a way that commands or directives can’t. For example, “being in high cotton” springs forth the image of a field brilliant white with cotton, so much cotton in fact, that a person is awash in it. For the West Texan who is surrounded by cotton fields, this phrase is pregnant with power and memorability. Furthermore, they give a silent nod of affirmation to the community by using terms forged in that community. It’s like the smile that creases my lips when I hear someone use the term “being in high cotton” in Houston. I know that’s not from the Houstonian dictionary, it’s from an agrarian one – likely one from where I grew up. Knowing that warms my heart because of my love for my community of origin.

That idea of having language which can become shorthand for a community is very valuable to the church leader who is seeking to inculcate a vision and mission to his newly planted church (a new community). That’s why a good lesson for the planter/pastor is to create a dictionary. That’s right, get alongside Noah Webster and put together a dictionary. But this dictionary is not composed of all the words you know but of all the terms and phrases you want to coin for the community you lead (It may be better to call this a glossary, but we’ll stick with dictionary for the present).

What are the key ideas or strategic truths you want your people to live out that best dovetails your vision and mission as a redemptive community?

What are the key ideas or strategic truths you want your people to live out that best dovetails your vision and mission as a redemptive community? Whatever they are your task is to wordsmith phrases and terms which will paint a vibrant picture in the minds of your congregation of what they are to be and do. Let me give you some examples from our dictionary…

  • “Be on foreign soil in the name of Jesus” – This phrase is constantly mentioned when we speak about missions. We want all of our people to at least once (but preferably many times) in their lives to go out of the United States for church planting endeavors. When people share their stories of being overseas in Ukraine more times than not we hear things like, “I never knew exactly what God’s will was for my life until I got on foreign soil in the name of Jesus.” “When I got on foreign soil in the name of Jesus at Ukraine, my faith deepened in a way I couldn’t imagine.” “Let me encourage you if you can’t make it to Ukraine this spring, find a way soon to get on foreign soil in the name of Jesus.” We don’t make our people speak this way, they just do – it’s our culture’s shorthand – and the image of someone’s New Balance shoes resting on the cobblestone pavement of L’viv, Ukraine is powerful for our people.
  • “2AM Friends” – Our Lead Pastor brilliantly put together a message on the power of small group/community by asking the congregation how deep their relationships really were. He said, “If an emergency came up, who would you call at 2AM?” Wow! It was an incredibly powerful moment because many had experienced that type of situation. Shortly after that message we began to hear our people using that term to describe their inner circle of friends. “Hey, that guy over there is one of my 2AM friends.” Bingo!

Nota Bene

Sometimes you get to pick what goes into your dictionary and sometimes your church picks it for you. This was a case of the latter. “2AM Friends” was such a strong term that people used it without any promotion from the leadership. Do you have terms or phrases your church uses like that? If so, you already have something to go into your dictionary.

The point of having a dictionary is now you have something you can go to time and time again whenever you want to cast vision. Don’t hesitate to use those terms repeatedly throughout the years – consider it part of your cultural vocabulary. And that really is what you want to build – a culture. The truth is your church will have a culture with or without your help. The point is to intentionally create a culture that is given to the mission, vision and values of the leadership to make disciples of Jesus.

The truth is your church will have a culture with or without your help. The point is to intentionally create a culture that is given to the mission, vision and values of the leadership to make disciples of Jesus.

Start working on your dictionary. Get with your leadership team and ask, “What do you think would go in there now?” If you discover there are some phrases and terms you use with regularity that carry strong images for your people of what you believe God wants them to do, go or become then you’ve got the makings of a dictionary already.

Once you get your dictionary going, the next thing to create is a storybook, but that’s for another time…


This post was written by Yancey Arrington, the Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in League City, TX. You can find his blog here and is the author of TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You

Lessons in Church Planting: Preface can be found here.

Lessons in Church Planting: Part I can be found here.

Lessons in Church Planting: Part II can be found here.

Lessons in Church Planting: Part III can be found here.

Lessons in Church Planting: Part IV can be found here.


Acts 29 is a diverse, global network of church-planting churches characterized by theological clarity, cultural engagement, and missional innovation.