What to Look for in a Church Interpreter

One of the most difficult things for me in training new interpreters is actually figuring out who should and should not be an interpreter. Not every hearing person in our Deaf ministry ought to interpret. Having the wrong person in that position can lead to strife, disunity, drama, gossiping, and all of those things which are toxic to a church. Even if we put the toxic repercussions aside, having a person do something that God has not wired them to do will eventually cause them to burn out and quit, and that does not honor God.

Photo courtesy of benis979 at www.FreeImages.com

Photo courtesy of benis979 at www.FreeImages.com

So what do we do? What kind of qualities should an interpreter have? Should we just settle and give them the old “breathe on a mirror” test? I do not think so. This is not a new concept. Paul taught that not just anyone should be a pastor or a deacon and encouraged Timothy to commit things to not just any men, but to FAITHFUL men (2 Timothy 2:2). Someone becoming a pastor or a deacon is a much more serious matter than someone becoming an interpreter, but the principle still applies. No position is right for everyone and we need to follow God’s example and have expectations for our interpreters.

Not every hearing person in our Deaf ministry ought to interpret. Having the wrong person in that position can lead to strife, disunity, drama, gossiping, and all of those things which are toxic to a church.

What should we look for in a church interpreter? Here is my list:

  1. Saved. Your interpreters need to be in a right relationship with God before they get on stage and proclaim His message. For me, this one is non-negotiable.
  2. Teachable. If they are not willing to learn, you will not teach them. Even if they can already interpret, they will not become better until they are teachable.
  3. Faithful. You need to be able to count on whoever you have in your interpreting roster. There is a certain level of grace you need in this area. We all can be flakey at times, but you want people who tend to be faithful.
  4. Spiritually Mature. I am not referring to a spiritual age (we all know Christians who have been saved a long time and are not spiritually mature), but to whether or not they exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their life. There can be severe repercussions if you have spiritually immature interpreters.
  5. Emotionally Mature. You want self-aware, mature interpreters. If they are not, you will start to get the comments like “I am better than him, why is he interpreting the music?” or “How dare you criticize me!” Make sure your interpreters know their own limits and can be humble about their service.
  6. Willing. If someone is not willing to interpret, forcing them is not beneficial. Not every hearing person needs to be an interpreter.
  7. Skilled. This one is high on my list for when an interpreter starts interpreting, but low when I am picking who would be a good interpreter. You can always learn the skills needed (even Koko the Gorilla learned some signs), but some things you either have it or you don’t.
  8. Mental Ability. Interpreting requires mental endurance, a good memory, the ability to think on your feet, and to be able to think about two languages at the same time while people are watching you. It is no easy task. Make sure the person has the right mindset and can do things like “drop the English” and “think concept of concept”.

My list is by no means complete. Nor will any interpreter fulfil all these requirements perfectly all the time. However, this is a starting point for who you should, and should not, look at to interpret.

What would you add or take away from my list?

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