In my last post, I shared how Christians have their own tribal language which can become a barrier when speaking to people outside the church.
A simple way to avert this might be by getting out of the church building.
Christians are called beyond the “gate” of their church subculture, and into the lives of outsiders on a regular basis, anyway. In fact, our mission involves interacting with people outside the church (John 17:15-16), and we see this reflected in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, as well as Jesus himself.
- Paul “went outside the gate to a riverside” before happening by a group of spiritually hungry people (Acts 16:12).
- Jesus had an urge to “pass through Samaria” where he met a spiritually broken woman (John 4:4).
Now, God’s mission can’t always be systematized. But sometimes it helps to break it down in our minds so that we aren’t overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all. If you read the context given in the two examples above, you’ll find a bit of a pattern that I think works really well in practice…
- Be intentional (Don’t go anywhere, aimlessly. Seek the Spirit for where He would have you be)
- Take initiative (Don’t expect opportunities to come to your doorstep. Engage! Seek others!)
- Expend yourself (Commit to that place/area/community/scene once you discover it)
(adapted from “Operation Lydia: Mission” by Chris Lazo)
Christians have their own way of speaking to each other.
I was recently communicating the gospel worldview in a Christian church service, and used an illustration to describe the implications of following Jesus. I thought it was a great illustration–I tend to use metaphors and stories that are dramatic–and several Christians pointed out that the illustration was very convicting and effective for them. Christians respond well to certain phrases and one-liners. We use slogans that reflect where we are at in our faith, and they make sense to us.
I don’t think we realize how foreign we sound to people outside the church. I certainly did not.
Shortly after the gathering, a millennial, who was not a Christian or a church-member, approached me with a different response than what I was expecting. She shared with me that my illustration, and the things I said, were confusing and traumatic for her. It made her feel shamed, not convicted. Some of my phrases were foreign to her, kind of the way inside-jokes feel to an outsider who hasn’t been around long enough, and my passion only added to this, coming across condescendingly. She felt that I was looking down on her. Now, this girl was very humble, and gracious in her approach. She never accused me, and spoke in a way that was disarming and conversational. I never felt like she was complaining or attacking me in any way. But it was still a great surprise to me! I had no idea that I was coming across as judgmental. I apologized to her very quickly.
I have posted several blogs on the problem of Christianese (see reader comments!), why we should care what other’s think, that we must make our beliefs comprehensible, and how to speak in everyone’s language, because those outside of our church culture don’t understand the way Christians speak. This experience brought it even closer to home, and humbled me. What made it even more alarming was that the part of my teaching most Christians commented positively on, and that I was most proud of, produced the opposite experience for someone who does not regularly hang out with Christians. I failed to explain a simple truth in a way that she could understand, in fact, I communicated in a way that gave her the wrong impression of the gospel.
Our lingo can get lost in translation with other “tribes”
I was unaware of this happening because I am so deeply immersed in a church culture that I don’t know how foreign my words are to many people outside of the church. And apparently, lots of my friends talk the same way too, because afterwards, we give each other high-fives over something profound that was said, while others may have no clue what I meant. We can be great at explaining the gospel to each other, but not to those who have never heard it before. I’m really glad that girl spoke up, and was so nice about it. Not only did I get the opportunity to clarify myself, but I also got to understand her worldview, and dialog with her about Jesus and the church.
But now I wonder…how often do I speak in Christianese without even realizing it?
I want to share with you five recent interactions that cause me to suspect that “Jesus” is turning into a byword.
Jesus’ name in prayer
Evangelicals are often reared to pray in “the name of Jesus,” or “in Jesus’ name.” What this sometimes equates to is a literal attaching of the phrase “Jesus’ Name” to the end of every prayer.
Jesus’ name in song
A few months ago, a well-meaning man approached me after I had led music worship at our church to tell me that none of the songs in the first set ever “mentioned the name of ‘Jesus.'” He suspected that a lack of verbally stating Jesus’ name would detract from the glory given to Him. Ordinarily, I would agree with such beautiful Christology for music—except that in this case, the songs he was referring to that morning were Come Though Fount and We Exalt Thee.
They didn’t mention Jesus’ name anywhere, but…how much more Christ-exalting can a song can be than these?
Jesus’ name in evangelism
Let’s get this straight: I believe that the Gospel must be proclaimed and lived out in unison, without compromise between either. Most Millennials resonate with this (especially the “living out” part). But on occasion, people will insinuate how important it is to bring up the name of Jesus is in every conversation that takes place between believer and outsider. It sometimes feels as though the verbalization is of more importance to the said believer—like a check mark on a to-do list—rather than a carefully established relationship and opportunity to witness, to the outsider. Once again, evangelism (sharing of Good News) is watered down into a formula in this case, called “Jesus’ name.” Read the rest of this entry
Christian #1 enters a room filled with several outsiders. Making a b-line for the unholy huddle, he immediately engages them in conversation while aggresively diverting all available subjects to matters of faith. Upon religious dialog, #1 begins to make short work of everyone who disagrees with his airtight logic. What a stud. After this, he drops the conversation and makes his way to the grocery store where he badmouths his landlord while griping about the holiday checkout lines. Before scanning his Martinelli’s, the cashier greets him with a friendly “Happy Holidays!” to which our stone-faced Christian rejoins with “You mean, Merry CHRISTmas, right??” As he exits the building euphoric over another missional encounter with bad people, everyone else around aisle nine goes back home more disillusioned with Jesus and less loving of his Church.
There is one side of most of us that will recall the verses warning us that we will be hated by the world (Matt.10:22), that we should not be ashamed of it (Rom. 1:16), and that committed Christians care only about what God thinks. Then there are those on the fringe who care only about his nomination of us as the greatest thing that happened to the planet, while everyone else can either get out of the way or bow down before our brilliance.
We use Jesus’ promise of being hated for the gospel as a sweeping cop-out for ALL of our silly behavior.
Perhaps we should have a more honest view of ourselves?
And by honest, I mean sobering rather than inflated, and considerate rather than selfish. We should care about what others think about us…at least to some extent.
Don’t forget THAT part of the Bible…
- “For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” (2 Cor 8:21)
- “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
- “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12)
- “Behave properly toward outsiders” (1 Thess. 4:12)
K…I’ve belabored the point.
Unfortunately, whether it’s our Socratic conversations, satirical Christian t-shirts, the change in facial demeanor when speaking about evolution, our Christianese “code” language, the spiritual gossip, double-standards, lack of empathy, or the silly things we say in the name of evangelism, the ways we stunt our image in public is endless. Nay, it is humorous, but on a depressing level…yeah, it’s “depressing” humor. Irony is another good word for that, and John the Evangelist employs it often in his rhetoric against Pharisees. Oops. (#belabored)
The Scriptures strike a tension between persecution and acceptance that Christians can expect. There should be a mixture of reactions by the world to our faith and practice. So if everybody outside the church likes us, maybe it’s because we’re soft on the Gospel. But if everybody hates us, maybe it’s because we’re a jerk. And if that’s the case…we shouldn’t blame our bad behavior on Jesus. We should blame it on an inability to survive in a worldly setting.
Maybe a higher view of non-believers would help?
- The Gospel should be comprehensible (christopherlazo.com)
A crew of missiologists recently formed an official statement to describe what the term “missional” means.
Jeff Vanderstelt asks, “What is a missional community?”
Here’s the definition of missional community by Wikipedia (cause you know they’re right).
Mike Breen, one of the prominent leaders in the MC movement says in an interview, “It really isn’t a fad…it’s something we see quite clearly in Scripture”
Missional community is a buzzword in the church, but not one that is either good or bad, per se—I guess it depends on what we mean by it. For example, if we wanted to love on orphans while being unstained by the world, I guess we could call it “Incarnatheologicalization in moderation” to clarify to our collegues what is our particular niche—because that’s what’s really important, you know…being particular. Then again, I suppose it helpfully narrows down our focus which is a good thing to do, because I do want to have a clearly defined goal besides just “Telling everyone about Jesus.” Of course, we could just call what we do “pure religion” like Jesus’ followers did (James 1:27), instead of incarnational-whatever-it-was, but according to my last point, “religion” has since grown archaic, and could mean anything these days—it is not a term that most of us would associate with. So it doesn’t just matter what we mean by a given term, but what others think it means. And if a term has too much baggage (like “religion”), then we need a more focused phrase or term to specify our distinct pigeonhole…hence, incarnatheologicalization. Or missional communities. Or________x. :-)
As you can see, I’m not a sucker for too many labels (yes, of course I blogged about it). Yet though I hate to admit it, I can still see some need to clarify what we do to keep the good from being lost in all the crap. My lingering question remains, is any of the crap getting lost in translation?
Do you think terminology is important?
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.
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….
- the blood of Jesus
- filled with the spirit
- going deep
1 (theology) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
2 (christianese explained) when God in His reckless and bizarre compassion effectively turns you back from the destructive course you keep choosing, and opens your eyes to the pleasure of His infinite worth, without which you would be enticed by something else.