Speaking in tongues may seem like an odd place to begin. We’re Presbyterian, and we don’t do that. However, Paul devotes better part of this chapter in First Corinthians to three things: speaking in tongues, interpretation, and prophetic imagination. All of them have a role in the church. All of them play a part in our discernment.

Speaking in tongues is another way of talking about in-group conversation. It’s the language and nuance we use to talk to familiar people. It can be as simple as a raised eyebrow or sideways glance. Or it can be a more complicated series of acronyms and inside jokes.  The point is you communicate something that only certain people can interpret. It happens when you are a part of a group. Over time, you develop your own language together. We all know what this is like, both from the outside and the inside. The church is no different. Within each congregation there are smaller groups with their own ways of communicating.

Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.

I Corinthians 14:4

Speaking in tongues is another way of talking about in-group conversation. It’s the language and nuance we use to talk to familiar people.


Our shorthand comes from our comfort together. It can bring about creativity and comfort. However, for speaking in tongues to matter, according to Paul it must be interpreted. Otherwise, it’s little more than gibberish. This is especially true for outsiders. When an established groups starts talking together, someone must act to interpret. They have to explain the inside jokes, explore the nuances and meanings, and interpret what is being said.

Prophetic Imagination

Paul’s third idea is about prophetic imagination. This, he thinks, is for everyone. It’s about the ways God continues to speak to us through our communities, groups, and relationships. Paul holds this in the highest regard because it is the most accessible gift. Our story begins with all three. 

Our Story

Rev. Sharon Core, our pastor at the time, described us as a typical Presbyterian Church that did typical Presbyterian things. We worshiped. We taught. We served, gathered, and fellowshipped. We grounded ourselves by standing up to injustice. 

About six years into her call, Rev. Core noticed something. It began with her sabbatical and spiritual awakening. When she returned, she wanted something different. She felt a deep call to reshape her ministry around co-creating a community of disciples. At first, this led to some changes in worship and preaching. However, the biggest change was to the leadership of the church.

Multiple translations of I Love You

She challenged us to be more involved in the spiritual life of the community rather than just conducting the business of the church. Slowly, we adapted. We began to see what it meant to live a life of faith that permeated the fabric of our being together. Our awareness of the community, of what hemmed us in and what expanded our imaginations, increased. We developed a language and rhythm of life together as leaders.

Spiritual Leadership

With this undercurrent of deep spirituality and discipleship guiding our leadership, it attracted certain people and repelled others. It brought attention to the things that distracted us from this mission. We asked more questions about our future, about what we wanted the church to become as a vital part of the South Arlington community.

Over time, we began speaking in tongues. We developed a shorthand, an in-group spiritual language. It felt foreign to some people in our congregation. It felt just downright un-Presbyterian to others. To those of us leading though, it was an awakening. There was excitement, but also frustration.

As much as we tried to re-imagine and re-tool our building for the future, there was no way to keep up. Our financials were fine, they covered costs. However, deferred maintenance began to add up. It lived like static in the background of our ministry. Some of us found ourselves troubleshooting building problems rather than worshiping on Sundays.

We did all the right things to keep the business going. We rented to community partners. A thriving preschool operated in our basement. We ran a clothing closet. We did capital campaigns and monitored our spending. It never really felt like enough to get ahead. No matter our enthusiasm our numbers dwindled or stayed flat. We had a problem, yet we weren’t quite ready to name it.

While we met and spoke in tongues of discipleship and spiritual growth, we hadn’t yet heard a prophetic voice calling to us. Then, it did, and it stopped us in our tracks.