The other day, I heard my wife chuckling in our dinning area. As I inquired regarding her laughter, she told me of a passage in a book she had just read. In this story, a man was describing his first visit to a charismatic type church: let’s say, he was quite a shocked. The point that made my wife chuckle was his statement regarding his visit: “I got gypped,” he complained, “In twelve years of being a Christian I have never heard one person or pastor mention anything about this Holy Spirit guy or his pet bird!” Now in context, most of us understand he was referring to the manifestation of the Spirit in a dove form. But what piqued my attention was the verbiage.
Words are powerful tools: they can build up, communicate ideas, motivate or even hurt. The right words can paint vivid pictures in the mind of the hearer. Yet the wrong words for the context can also cause alienation. Let me explain.
Have you ever been part of a group conversation and you heard the words they spoke; yet you did not have a clue about what was being said? My daughter works for a financial planner: on a regular basis he has a coffee time where speakers discuss various aspects of investing. I must admit, most of the time I am lost when I listen. I have yet to get a good grasp on annuities, bonds, and the various other vehicles that are offered. Probably why my portfolio is more like a manila folder.
There are various professions it seems that they pride themselves on an exclusive language: attorneys, physicians (not picking, I am one) engineers and most college professors. While inter-professional communication is expedited by unique terminology, it is actually a hindrance in clearly transferring ideas to non-group member. Remember the last time you asked your doctor to explain it in english?
Now, what I’m getting at is this: The church and christians have this unique cultural language that can be problematic. There is a plethora of terms like: brother, sister, infilling, holy Ghost, soaking, holiness, bought by the blood, plead the blood, pray through, seeker sensitive and so on. I could probably come up with more, but unfortunately, I am so indoctrinated in church terminology it all makes sense to me. Yikes!
The sad thing is that the results of this churchese or christianese can be just like the investment meetings and doctor’s visits. When we use such language in our meetings or interactions, we continually reinforce a context that is unfamiliar to many non-church individuals, isolating us and alienating them.
On the contrary, Jesus spoke in stories that everyone could understand (yes to the disciples he unpacked in a little more), choosing words that included his audience. In an agrarian society, they all understood words like fields, seed, tares, sheep and so on. The right choice of words allowed the people to see themselves in the context of the message. In short, Jesus choice of words made the Good News relevant to the hearer.
Today, as the church, the body of believers who are called out to be his representatives, we must wisely choose our words. We should do whatever is necessary to communicate in a manner that is inclusive of those we are trying to affect with the Good News.