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The Dangers of Church Lingo

The Dangers of Church Lingo

There’s nothing like experiencing a God-thing while fellowshipping intentionally and unpacking a passage of Scripture with a missional mindset.

If you understood that, then congratulations! You’re at least conversational in Christian lingo. (Also, that’s impressive, because that was a very confusing sentence.)

We use all kinds of words in church circles that we don’t elsewhere. Some come from the Bible, some don’t. And on the surface, they’re pretty harmless—they all refer to good things, right?

But the words we choose matter. And if we’re not careful with how we use it, church lingo can be dangerous. Here are a few reasons why:

It Creates an Insider-Outsider Culture

Imagine that you’re going to church for the first time. The parking lot attendant directs you to a front-row space. A friendly greeter opens the door for you. Someone behind a counter offers you free coffee. There are even donuts! This place could not be more welcoming.

Then you sit down in the sanctuary, and everyone suddenly starts speaking Dutch.

There’s no quicker way to alienate someone than to speak in a way they don’t understand. And we might not be speaking Dutch (unless you attend church in the Netherlands, in which case, hallo!). But we have a whole arsenal of words at our disposal that would be unfamiliar to a person who’s unfamiliar with church.

So what’s the solution? We can find a great model in Acts 8:26-40. Philip encounters a man from Ethiopia who was reading the Book of Isaiah. When Philip asks the man if he understands what he’s reading, the man replies, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” (v. 31). And so Philip does, and he uses it as a way to not just help the man understand what he had read, but to tell him about Jesus, as well (v. 35).

The man wanted to learn—he was reading Scripture on his way home from worshipping in Jerusalem—but he needed to hear about Jesus in language that made sense to him. And we have the opportunity to do the same thing for people who are new to our churches as Philip did for the Ethiopian man.

When someone walks through the doors of a church for the first time, they’re taking a risk. And if they’re met with language they’ve never heard before, it probably won’t take long for them to decide that this “church” thing is more like an exclusive club with a secret handshake only members are allowed to learn. But if they’re met with the message of Jesus presented in a clear, relevant way, maybe they’ll understand just what a life-changing message it is.

The bottom line is, if we want to welcome everyone to church, we need to speak in a way that everyone can understand. No one should have to learn a new language to attend church. There should be no prerequisites for being a part of the body of Christ.

It Keeps Us from Being Real

Lingo also has its pitfalls when everyone is familiar with the words being used. Consider this exchange:

Dude: Hey man, how are things going in your walk with God?

Man: Dude, I really just need to stop striving and start thriving, you know?

Dude: Man, that’s awesome.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with what Man said. It might even be true. Maybe. But when you drill down, what did Man actually say?

Pretty much nothing. And you can’t blame Dude for accepting it at face value—Man used a pretty spiritual-sounding phrase. And it even rhymed!

But here’s the thing—what if things aren’t awesome? What if Man is dealing with some tough stuff, but it’s easier to just say something that sounds spiritual to make his friends think he’s OK? What if what Man really needed was for someone to hear about the ugliness in his life and love him anyway?

We need each other. If we’re going to grow, we need to have honest relationships with other believers. And sharing the ugly parts of our lives with someone else is hard enough. But having a storehouse full of Christianese to fall back on makes it even harder.

God sees all of us, and He loves us completely. If we’re going to love each other that way, we have to be real. And if we’re going to do that, we need to make sure the words we say actually mean something.

A Simple Solution

Lingo is not evil. It’s not sinful. It’s not bad on its own. But if it’s used in the wrong way, it can be. So, when we’re thinking about how we communicate, here are two questions we can ask ourselves:

1. Will the words I’m saying make sense to the person/people I’m talking to?

2. Do the words I’m saying communicate what I really mean?

Language is important to God. When people disobeyed God at the Tower of Babel, how did He punish them? He confused their language and didn’t allow them to understand each other (Genesis 11:1-9). When the Holy Spirit came upon the believers at Pentecost, what was the immediate result? They spoke, and people from all over the world each understood in their own language (Acts 2:1-13).

Our words have power that we can use for good or bad. We have the ability to invite people in or make them feel left out. We can be honest and deepen our relationships, or we can keep things surface-level and shallow.

When we choose our words well, we have the opportunity to do incredible good and to be something that Jesus always was: real.

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