I love a bit of comedy Christian jargon. The really crazy stuff, I mean – the 'hedge of protection' and the 'Godincidence' – words and phrases which some Christians use as a bit of language shorthand that only makes sense within the subculture. Even those of us who might use these words seriously in a sentence would never dream of doing so in the world beyond the church; you'd never ask your bank manager to 'prayerfully consider' your mortgage application.
However, beyond the obvious register of believer jargon, there's another set of words which are a bit more problematic. They have become so subtly ingrained into the Christian vocabulary that they trick us into thinking they're normal words that everyone else uses and understands. But they're not, at least not in the sense that we're using them. They sound like regular pieces of the average person's vocabulary, but they're actually jargon words in disguise. You'll hopefully see what I mean, and then why that's important...
A popular concept within Christianity is the idea that we're all fallen and 'broken'; in need of the restoring power of God to rebuild and redeem us. Now, while this is true in many cases, we shouldn't be fooled into thinking that this concept makes any sense outside of our congregations. I have never in my life heard a non-Christian refer to brokenness in any context: not for their faulty television, or the arm they busted in a football match, or even a relationship that's gone south. You don't ask a doctor to heal your brokenness; you don't mourn the brokenness of the Lego set you dropped after hours of careful building. Weird word, sounds good in a breathy prayer with lots of 'justs' in it, but crucially not used by anyone vaguely normal.
This is a trickier one. Not only is the word 'lost' ripe with other meanings, but the way in which we use it within Christian circles is actually pretty offensive to the people we're talking about. What we mean, rather heavy handedly, is those who don't share our belief system, but by calling them 'the lost' we apply some fairly hefty conservative theology which isn't necessarily going to warm them to our point of view. Using this even within church isn't a great move, but it's again something that we can accidentally use in the outside world. No-one else gets classified as 'lost' – even people with the most profound difficulties – so why on earth would we think it was a smart idea to refer to our friends and neighbours in this way?
I confess, this is the word on this list which gets me into trouble at dinner parties*. I've often got caught asking people what they have 'a heart' for, when really I'm just enquiring after their interests. Every time I get a blank stare in return, because of course when you stop to think about it for a nanosecond, this phrase is completely nonsensical. The average person doesn't refer to their 'heart for Manchester United', or their 'heart for Indian food'. Heartburn, maybe. Try to use it in a sentence that doesn't involve 'justice', 'the poor' or heaven forbid 'the lost', and you'll see what I mean.
*Alright, lunch at Starbucks with one friend.
Yes, this is obviously terrible jargon (which I wrote about separately a few months back) but it's also one of those words we can forget isn't actually in the dictionary. I've heard a Christian friend refer to being a backsliding reader, having once been a book addict, but it only made sense to me because I'm acquainted with the concept of judging other people's sin. Important note to self: backslide is not a word, and should not be used either in or outside of the church.
The official word of the Christian leadership industry, 'intentional' is a word which literally adds nothing to any sentence. It means doing something with intent, which is true of almost every deliberate act, but it sounds fantastic when added to a conference or book title. Mention this word in 'real world' leadership circles however and you'll get blank looks, which ironically I suppose, will probably be unintentional.
Churched / Unchurched
A little like 'lost', this is one of the words we use to describe who's in and out of the fold; a little like 'brokenness', 'churched' is what happens when Christians take hold of a normal word and randomly add a suffix without consulting the dictionary. If you want to go one better though, its sister word adds a prefix AND a suffix to create a completely bizarre new piece of linguistic magic. Arising out of people's discomfort with the phrase 'non-Christian', 'unchurched' has become a way of describing people who aren't only uninterested in church, but have never really darkened the door of one. To anyone who's actually in that position however, the word sounds like the phonetic spelling of an obscure Croatian town. Oh, and don't even get me started on 'de-churched'...
So why does this matter anyway? As with the more obvious jargon, the use of weird language creates a needless divide between the, well, churched and unchurched. Helping our friends and neighbours to understand why the story of Jesus is compelling is a difficult enough task, without the additional stumbling block of appearing like a total weirdo. One of the key tasks before any evangelist is just to be clear and straightforward as they share their faith, so let's mind our language, and try to be intentional about not alienating the lost and the broken as we share our hearts with them.