Christianese terms to avoid

Doesn’t it make sense that if we are gonna cultivate authentic relationships with people outside of our church, we should drop as much of our religious lingo as possible? Many of us are engrained with “Christianese” and don’t realize how foreign (and uninviting) a mere phrase may sound to an outsider of the church. If this isn’t making sense, just pretend you’re a 23 year-old girl who has never been to church before in your life, and you are invited by friends into a worship service where the first thing to greet you is a resounding chorus of a thousand people singing “What can make us whole….nothing but your blood!”—without explanation.

Yeah.

So let’s play a game.

I will jot down a few of these terms or phrases that most people do NOT understand,  and you add some more in the comment section. If this works correctly, we will get a comical, yet honest glimpse of how silly we sound outside of our Sunday morning enclave ;-) Remember, these are not necessarily bad words or phrases—though some might be—they are just a learned-lingo of a subculture that we must be aware of when talking to people who are unchurched…that is, if we want to persuade them to move past us to see Christ.

Ok, here are a few….

  1. sanctified
  2. the blood of Jesus
  3. filled with the spirit
  4. going deep
Your turn. Ready go!
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About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the value of our union with Christ in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on June 17, 2011, in mission and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Hey Chris, I think you’re certainly right that we need to be conscious of how alienating our language can be to those outside the church, but I do get a bit worry that this concern leads to many Christians to try to avoid using language particular to Christianity even within the church. I’ve got Christian friends who cringe at the phrases you’ve listed, plus others like repent, justified, sanctified, sacrifice, resurrection, or even Jesus Christ (I) even when used in discourse between Christians. Its important to realize that much of this language (minus possibly lame non-biblical phrases like “going deep”) is actually integral to Christian life; that God intentionally built certain concepts, words and phrases into the life of the church through his covenant with Israel so that we could think and speak about Christ as our vicarious righteousness and Lord appropriately. Too much over-translation and avoidance of peculiar biblical language can be problematic. Of course, none of this undercuts your point about being mindful of how our language can alienate those unaccustomed to it as we seek to draw them in – we certainly should be mindful of that, but in such a way that we seek to introduce them to the strange reality of Christianity slowly rather than not at all.

    Thanks for the post – good stuff!

    • Thanks Adam, I completely agree with you. Some difficult phrases and terms are also theologically rich, and unique because they describe something otherworldly—for example, “justification.” It would be difficult for Christians to appreciate the depth of the things of God without also attempting to speak rightly of them. This post was referring mostly to our conversations with outsiders—such important terminology deserves an explanation rather than a casual mention to someone who has no idea what we’re talking about. Thanks for the balanced insight!

  2. These are Christianese phrases, but here goes:

    justification
    Is Jesus in your heart?
    Among the redeemed
    The Lord works in mysterious ways
    Lord, if it be your will
    I’ll pray about it
    I’ll pray for you
    Bless his/her heart
    Waiting for God to open some doors
    God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life

    But there’s some language it may be wise to retain. After all, Lord’s Day worship is to be set apart from the daily mundane in some way, no?

    Worth retaining (?):

    God’s peace
    flesh and blood (when referring to the Supper)
    raised from the dead
    murdered
    crucified
    family of God
    King Jesus
    rescued

    I’m sure there’s many more. Part of this requires taking some of the good Christianese and using more understandable language to convey the meaning:

    sanctification=set apart for the glory of God
    justification=God has judged you a friend and thus a part of his family
    filled with the Spirit=living life following God’s agenda, not our own

    etc. . . .

    • Chris, good stuff. I agree that there is a line drawn between the strange language of a subculture, and words that convey rich meaning. I think for the latter, it would make sense that we take the proper time to explain their meaning, rather than assume the non-believer understands what we mean, as you pointed out. I hope it did not sound like I wanted to do away with such important phrases—only communicate better with those who are not “well-versed.”

      Thanks man!

  3. Alex Williams

    circumcision of the heart…

    ya, that’s and awkward one.

  4. That was really juicy.

    I’m pretty sure we can find a better word to use for describing times when the presence of the Lord was felt in a place.

  5. The Body, or The Body of Christ.

  6. Here’s a few ive accidentally used with non believers and got a very perplexed look:

    I felt so used by God (I meant that in a good way but to a non believer, being used is a bad thing!)
    Grace covers a multitude of sins (probably the only thing he understood in that sentence was “covers a…of” opps’)

    • Haha! Those are good examples, especially the 1st one.
      The second one is a great example too, because it is a biblical truth of God’s love. But as you pointed out, the average person our age will not understand most of it because each word is laced with deep meaning that we must take some time to unpack. Thanks Britney.

  7. how bout “killing my flesh” or “a hedge of protection” or “traveling mercies” or “i felt impressed in my spirit”…

  8. Kaleb A. Riley

    Straight up, using words like sin and grace are
    an unfamiliarity amongst church outsiders. I mean to try to explain grace as Christians is hard enough.

    • Exactly. If we, being theologically trained, must dig so deep into theological things, why would we so casually toss them about with the unchurched?

  9. Lets all take this to it’s logical conclusion:

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/06/17/school-censors-religious-words-in-graduation-speech/

    I mean where do you draw the line? Are we not meant to be salt, light and different?
    We are distinct as Christians, why try so hard to be just like the world

    • I don’t think clear communication with the unchurched is the same as trying to be like them. If we have a message worth hearing, why cover it in language that they do not understand?

  10. Hi Chris-
    Great topic for discussion: you probably have read this article from a couple weeks back on the Resurgence site http://theresurgence.com/2011/05/26/im-not-a-christian-but-im-coming-to-your-church-this-sunday which deals with the same topic.

    Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ great book “Preaching and Preachers” talks about theological language and the push in his day to scale back certain words like “propitiation” and “justification” and he argues that they should be kept, but carefully explained. (I wanted to type out the quote, but I loaned the book out to someone and I can’t remember who!) I certainly agree with him, and I bet you do too.

    The issue is being weird and cult-ish sounding to visitors to our churches. This is something that we deal with a lot in Ireland. As “born again Christians” so many people don’t have a clue what we believe, what we do, and why we don’t go to a “normal” church service. It wasn’t too long ago that Catholic priests were warning their parishioners against the cult of born again christianity (http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=302442)

    Evangelical Christians in Ireland need to be careful to explain what we mean when we say things, because even familiar words like “grace” and “confession” have different meanings in a post-catholic context.

    I’m wondering what your proposed solution is to song lyrics? You mentioned the lyrics to “nothing but Your blood” – as a worship leader who is trying to avoid Christianese, how would you introduce that song? And how do you balance your speech and actions realizing that perhaps 5% or 10% of the congregation are not Christians but the overwhelming majority are?

    Looking forward to your thoughts-
    -Mike-

  11. Mike, really great questions, man. I did read the Resurgence article, and have read Preaching and Preachers, by Lloyd-Jones, so I’ve probably been influenced by both in this area. Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, was another one that spoke volumes to me on this issue. I definitely agree with Lloyd-Jones—words have meanings, and unless you know the meaning of the word, it is not very helpful. For example, many Christians do not know what justification means, though they have heard it often. I think important words must be explained, so that the theology behind them can impact us as they should.

    What you said about Ireland is interesting. Our church plant in London went through similar circumstances, when they had to change their name Reality London, which only has deep, significant meaning in California, but, as you mentioned, sounds like a cult in London. http://realitylondon.co.uk/

    But in regards to song lyrics, I would take a different approach. In this, I resonate with some of the previous comments that have pointed out that we are different from the world in some sense. Since there are majestic truths that can only be described with unique words, we choose to keep those words in our corporate worship, because that time is for believers to gather together (though we do seek to make visitors feel welcome as much as we can). I don’t want “Christianese” in the songs we sing, if by that we mean tired cliches and boring rhyme schemes. But I think it is vital to sing about justification, sanctification, propitiation, etc., as long as we are making a habit of teaching our congregations what these terms mean. At our college ministry, I estimate that roughly 1/4 of the group are unbelieving, and even more of them are unchurched. So we try to use creative methods of explaining certain songs without having the rephrase some of the timeless truths they describe. Since the second set of worship reflects what was taught in the sermon, I’ll often have already explained certain words that we sing about. Sometimes, we’ll put a Scripture verse on the overhead screen right before a song to explain a songs significance.

    At the end of the day, I am thankful for fresh vision and insight into songwriting. With musicians like John Mark McMillan who are starting to write about glorious truths in creative, poetic, yet understandable ways…. I get stoked to worship with both crowds.

    When I am preaching, I try to be careful to remain understandable to as many people as I can. When crafting a sermon, I try to think of the broadest group possible.

    Thanks for the great questions.

    What are your thoughts on worship songs in Ireland?

  12. Thanks for the reply! I’d love to give you a really great answer- but I’ve got to go to bed, then I’m busy all day tomorrow, then Monday is family day, so I’ll aim to write you back on Tuesday!

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