No need for ‘necessity’

It is a necessity of Christian churches to address post-colonial issues in their ministerial aspects.

This was a special request from subscriber and special friend Elia who is unsure about his use of the word ‘necessity’. Like many Indonesians he is not confident when it comes to expressing subtle degrees of obligation, the Indonesian equivalents for which are often less subtle than their English counterparts.

First of all I’m not sure that ‘necessity’ is the right choice. Secondly I’m not sure what Elia means by ‘aspects’, partly because I grew up in a secular society and am not at all familiar with ‘ministerial’ activities. There – I used ‘activities’ after ‘ministerial’! OK, we’ll come back to ‘aspects’ a little later. First let’s look again at ‘necessity’.

While it’s true that It is + a noun is common in academic writing, my instincts tell me that ‘necessity’ usually comes at the end of a sentence, but I checked online to make sure. Indeed, my instincts are correct, although it is often post-modified by a preposition phrase that gives us more information about the ‘necessity’ in question:

  • Addressing post-colonial issues is a necessity.
  • Addressing post-colonial issues is a necessity for Christian churches.

But a more elegant solution – and one that I think a native speaker would use – might be to use an active verb substituting for the noun ‘necessity’:

  • Christian churches need to address post-colonial issues.

In this case ‘need to’ is a weaker form of obligation than ‘must’, which is the favourite translation from the Indonesian ‘harus’. I’m not sure how strong the writer wants to be – ‘must’ may indeed be more appropriate depending on the strength of claim that the writer wants.

  • Christian churches must address post-colonial issues. [strong]
  • Christian churches have to address post-colonial issues. [strong]
  • Christian churches should address post-colonial issues. [weaker]
  • Christian churches need to address post-colonial issues. [weaker]

I admit that these don’t look as sophisticated as ‘it is a necessity’, but they are easier to read and are generally more appropriate.

As for ‘aspects’, I think we need a more specific word than this – and indeed than my earlier attempt – ‘activities’. I checked online and found that ‘ministerial functions’ go together, but again, a simpler and – I think – more elegant solution would be to use the noun which is the name for these activities:

  • Christian churches need to address post-colonial issues in their ministry.

Even better, you could modify the theme and shift the focus to ministry:

  • Christian ministry needs to address post-colonial issues.
    Christian ‘ministry’ = The ministry of Christian churches!

Note that this kind of nominalisation – as a means to ‘front’ the theme – is itself a key feature of academic writing, and in this case pre-modifying the noun is more sophisticated than post-modifying it.

Anyway many thanks Elia for this interesting sentence. I hope it cleared things up for you and for other readers. Questions in the comments below if you have any!

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