Can we speak of our faith to our friends who are not Christians?

One of the guidelines to sharing the gospel is to not use Christian jargon or Christianese, and to explain the message in simple terms that everyone can understand. However, if you have been a part of the Christian community for a long period of time, certain words and phrases become commonplace in our vocabulary, and we don’t even think twice about using them in everyday speech. When I was young, we would say things like “I am a Jesus Freak” or refer to memorising scripture as a Sword Drill. 

Today, Christian circles use different words and phrases that attempt to express the Christian experience. It’s only natural that Christians would have their own words and phrases. After all, we have a whole history and faith that we can reference. Using these terms has advantages of efficiency and the ability to have deeper, more specific conversations with one another.

But, there are several dangers to this. Jargon is criticised for being vague and for excluding others. It works in a specific context for some; but can cause confusion for others.

This is why we have to be aware of the hazards of using Christian insider language. Here are some arguments against the use of jargon. 

  1. Christian jargon is isolating.
    For our unchurched friends and family,  our weekend services can be like watching a foreign film without subtitles. Our insider language confuses those who aren’t the regulars, and when people are confused they tune out. (NB: the word “unchurched” itself is jargon and not found in the bible. But it’s a word that we at FGA are familiar with and use it to refer to anyone who is unsaved or does not belong to church.) 
  1. Christian jargon often communicates sloppy theology.
    We invite people to “accept Jesus into their hearts” (a phrase not found in Scripture) or we say we are “undone” by worship that morning, as if worship is only an emotional response to good songs. Perhaps we begin our Sunday service with “God, we invite your presence here this morning, ” as if the Holy Spirit is not already among us, inside every believer. If we are not careful, our language can communicate things to others we don’t actually want to communicate.
  1. Christian jargon is lazy.
    It takes a great deal of  intentionality to think about our language in a way that invites people in rather than make them feel like the other. 

How to kill Christian jargon in your groups and teams 

If we want to eliminate language that blocks others from seeing Jesus, what can be done?

  1. Scrutinise your language as a team.
    Just like how Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to get above the heads and shoulders of the crowd in order to see Jesus, our friends can also feel like they have to climb over the language we use before the gospel becomes clear to them. Start by noticing when you use Christian insider language—and who is around when you use it. We must name things to change things, which requires awareness. By doing this, you can learn to speak differently to make sure we aren’t using code language around people who aren’t insiders.
  1. Ask invited friends to give you feedback
    Ask new attendees to our service or Life Group to  answer this question with complete honesty: “What do we say in our church that doesn’t make sense to you?” Things we said in our services without a second thought could be confusing, frustrating, and even humorous to them. 
  1. Make a game out of it.
    Discovering and laying to rest our Christian jargon doesn’t have to be a dreary funeral procession. Yes, it’s humbling and convicting to confront the barriers we’ve placed between us and others, but we all do it, and God’s grace covers our shortcomings.

    Come up with a list of “churchy” words you’d like to use less often. Then ask your group, “How could we say _____ in a more compelling and accessible way?” Make it fun by creating a round of “Lingo Bingo.” Hand your group a blank Bingo card and ask them to write down the most common words and phrases they hear from the front of the church in a typical service. After they’ve filled in their Bingo cards, discuss the results as a team.

  1. Take time to explain.
    The solution to church jargon isn’t always to replace significant words with common phrases. Sometimes a short explanation will do. By assuming everything we say during a service will be heard by people who are not church insiders, we must occasionally press pause to explain what we mean when we use certain words.

Here are a few that you may have (or not) heard before. This is by no means an exhaustive glossary and if you know others, do let us know in the forum. 

  • Can I get an amen?
  • Fire burning in my heart
  • The Lord is working in my heart
  • Quiet time
  • A time of communion and fellowship
  • Hedge of protection
  • Share my testimony
  • Share the burden on my heart
  • Lord willing
  • Love on people
  • Sitting under the Word
  • Accountability partners 
  • Life groups
  • Doing life together
  • Laying on of hands
  • Fellowshipping together
  • Wrecked 

When we speak or write, we don’t say things in the hope that we understand them. We want our audience or readers to get something out of them.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-20, Paul says 

Though I am free of obligation to anyone, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the Law I became like one under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law), to win those under the Law. …

I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some of them.

Paul recognised the importance of meeting people where they are, crossing all boundaries. He no doubt would have spoken in different ways to Jews, Gentiles, and those under the Law – not because he was sharing different truths, but because he wanted the hearers to understand well. He learned how to be fluent in customs and communication with his audience.

It’s the same with us. Can we speak of our faith to our friends who are not Christians? If we want our words to cross barriers, and if we want to be an inclusive community, we need to think about how we communicate.