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#MeaninglessChurchJargon

Over the weekend, Twitter caught “on fire” with a “missional movement” from a bunch of “Kingdom-minded” folks “doing life together” with a “heart for transparency.”

I’m talking about #meaninglesschurchjargon.

Writer Nadia Bolz-Weber of Sarcastic Lutheran asked her Twitter followers Saturday for their favorite church jargon, and the response was huge.

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Hundreds of people jumped in with tweets of church jargon they’ve heard or used before, such things like asking God for a “hedge of protection” to saying “I just don’t feel peace about it” or “God has laid it on my heart” to justify things we want or don’t want to do.

Bolz-Weber summed up the responses of #meaninglesschurchjargon aptly on her blog into four main types and offered ideas to help leave them behind. (You can also still search the hashtag on Twitter to see the bulk of replies, many of them are insightful.) Here’s a few:

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Some of them were phrases I haven’t heard in years, and they brought back memories of when I spoke that language. At first I was laughing and groaning and pointing fingers at the ridiculous ways church people talk. But as I thought about it, I realized that I’m not above church jargon myself (I might even be guilty of labeling an event as a “God Thing” depending on the crowd). The only reason I don’t use the jargon all the time is because I’m not in a church circle right now. As soon as I start talking about God, I revert right back to the cliche-spewing girl I used to be. Meaningless church jargon is my native tongue.

It’s the only language I learned to speak of my faith, and stripping myself of it and starting all over has proven to me that I’m spiritually illiterate without relying on the images, analogies and paraphrased out-of-context scriptures that were passed down to me by others.

It’s like I’m a baby again, learning to talk.

Most meaningless church jargon isn’t inherently bad, and at one point, it probably held a lot of meaning. But as Nadia put it, “the farther the language is from the actual feelings and events and people it was created to describe, the less actual meaning it has.”

So how can we talk about God and our faiths without using trite hand-me-down cliches?

Simplify our talk.

There’s no need to impress people with fancy religious words or poetic language to describe how I see God at work in my life. If I’m a baby, relearning to talk, then maybe it’s OK to use simple, straightforward language, much like a baby would.

Instead of saying “I have a heart for children,” just say, “I love children.”

Instead of asking God for a hedge of protection, just ask that he would protect you.

Don’t say you’ll “be praying” for someone if what you really mean is you want to be done talking about their problems.

Don’t tell someone that God laid it on your heart to tell them this or that, just say “I want to tell you something.”

Instead of hiding behind churchy phrases, can we just say what we mean in simple, understated language? Can we let God move between our words and in the unspoken? Instead of packaging him up in pat bumper sticker phrases, can we let him exist in all his mystery and grandness and unspeakable goodness? Can we let the gospel shine in both its simplicity and complexity? Can we think about who God is to us, and be open to the possibility that it may not fit the same exact language as all the other people at church?

Or, we can call this whole chat a God Thing and then go grab a donut.

What meaningless church jargon bothers you the most?

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11 Comments

  1. Kathryn on February 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Amen…. When preceeded by general statements and not payers.

    • creatingmom on February 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      Yes! As if “Amen” is somehow a more profound word than “Yes, I agree,” or “Sure thing.” Haha. Saying “Amen” makes absolutely no sense to someone outside church circles.

  2. Rachael Gelsinger on February 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Great job on eloquently expressing a huge pet peeve of mine. Most of the time I’m on the criticizing end of this conversation…especially when I hear “It’s a God thing!” being assigned to meaningless events. For example, choosing a wrapping paper that happened to match the theme of the birthday party being attended (true story). No, I did not hold my tongue. And yes, I was THAT obnoxious person asking, “Really? A God thing? Can you prove that?” It was not well received… But sometimes, I’m the one spewing the jargon and that’s the worst of all. When cliche phrases start spilling out my mouth, it’s normally because I don’t know how to express or don’t understand the theological concept that I’m trying to talk about. One memory that I find particular humorous…I was talking to a high school student about what it means to “obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting in your life.” I was using all sorts of Christian analogies. I mean it was truly impressive how effectively I was digging up cliches from decades past. At the end I was feeling pretty good about myself and I asked, “Does that make sense?” My endearingly honest high schooler responded, “What the HELL are you talking about?!” Honestly, kid, I’m not really sure…

    Working with students, “churched” and “non-churched”, has forced me to dig deep when it comes to the words I use. What am I REALLY trying to say here? I think a lot of our jargon comes from a real lack of understanding. The more simply you can express something, the more you really understand it.

    Bottom line, I do my best to think about what I say before saying it. I (try to) forget about impressing people. And when sweet 70-year-old Suzy in the row in front of me starts in with her impressive “blah-blah-blahing”, well, I try to extend some grace. God knows we all desperately need it.

    • creatingmom on February 3, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Hahaha… “What the HELL are you talking about?” I love the honesty, and I think I am going to internally start asking myself that very every time I find myself spiraling into meaningless church jargon. Yes, I think giving grace is very important. It’s so easy to point and laugh, but way harder to look at ourselves.

  3. Rachael Gelsinger on February 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Great job on eloquently expressing a huge pet peeve of mine. Most of the time I’m on the criticizing end of this conversation…especially when I hear “It’s a God thing!” being assigned to meaningless events. For example, choosing a wrapping paper that happened to match the theme of the birthday party being attended (true story). No, I did not hold my tongue. And yes, I was THAT obnoxious person asking, “Really? A God thing? Can you prove that?” It was not well received… But sometimes, I’m the one spewing the jargon and that’s the worst of all. When cliche phrases start spilling out my mouth, it’s normally because I don’t know how to express or don’t understand the theological concept that I’m trying to talk about. One memory that I find particular humorous…I was talking to a high school student about what it means to “obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting in your life.” I was using all sorts of Christian analogies. I mean it was truly impressive how effectively I was digging up cliches from decades past. At the end I was feeling pretty good about myself and I asked, “Does that make sense?” My endearingly honest high schooler responded, “What the HELL are you talking about?!” Honestly, kid, I’m not really sure…

    Working with students, “churched” and “non-churched”, has forced me to dig deep when it comes to the words I use. What am I REALLY trying to say here? I think a lot of our jargon comes from a real lack of understanding. The more simply you can express something, the more you really understand it.

    Bottom line, I do my best to think about what I say before saying it. I (try to) forget about impressing people. And when sweet 70-year-old Suzy in the row in front of me starts in with her impressive “blah-blah-blahing”, well, I try to extend some grace. God knows we all desperately need it.

    • creatingmom on February 3, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Hahaha… “What the HELL are you talking about?” I love the honesty, and I think I am going to internally start asking myself that very every time I find myself spiraling into meaningless church jargon. Yes, I think giving grace is very important. It’s so easy to point and laugh, but way harder to look at ourselves.

  4. Susie Klein on February 12, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Carly, just connected with you on twitter because you like my blog name, Recovering Church Lady. I love this post so much. It literally fills my heart. Hahaha! When I write a post about my faith, I struggle with the same thing. I have all kinds of readers, a few of my closest online writing-group friends are atheists and we get along fine. But I am always aware of the “language barrier” that must be crossed. I love your blog is it really beautiful in many ways…must be a God-thing. 🙂 Susie

    http://www.recoveringchurchlady.com/

    • Carly Gelsinger on February 12, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Susie. When I stepped outside the church bubble I realized that I spoke a language only other church people understood. Recovering church ladies unite.

  5. Susie Klein on February 12, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Carly, just connected with you on twitter because you like my blog name, Recovering Church Lady. I love this post so much. It literally fills my heart. Hahaha! When I write a post about my faith, I struggle with the same thing. I have all kinds of readers, a few of my closest online writing-group friends are atheists and we get along fine. But I am always aware of the “language barrier” that must be crossed. I love your blog is it really beautiful in many ways…must be a God-thing. 🙂 Susie

    http://www.recoveringchurchlady.com/

    • Carly Gelsinger on February 12, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Susie. When I stepped outside the church bubble I realized that I spoke a language only other church people understood. Recovering church ladies unite.

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