Church fog

Every business has its jargon. Insiders use it to save time, demonstrate competence, and feel superior to outsiders and newbies. Medical professionals sling around terms like subdural hematoma, reflux nephropathy, and myocardial infarction. How can you not feel more powerful as you note the blank and uncomprehending looks on the faces of the patient and family? Financial service professionals talk knowingly about endowment contracts, embedded value, fiduciary rules, ERISA, LIMRA, FINRA, BCAR, ETFs, and REITs. Have you ever felt really ignorant and confused when the professionals around you are slinging jargon? Do you feel put in your place?

You know, we Christians have our own jargon too. The longer you are one, the less you notice when your church talk starts to go over the heads of your unchurched friends. Some of our jargon comes from hard and abstract words in the Bible: justification, sanctification, atonement, propitiation, redemption. If yours is a liturgical church, some comes with the historic words for the worship service: Te Deum, Psalmody, Lesson, Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Canticle. Some comes from our insider talk: shepherding, discipleship, indwelling, born again, washed in the blood. And then there are the Hebrew exclamations: Hallelujah! Hosanna! Amen!

I am grateful no longer to be tethered to the King James Version of the Bible. Its antique vocabulary and verb forms put up linguistic barriers to gospel communication. But there are still plenty of hymns that were written in the KJV era and have the thees and thous.

What is the talk that visitors hear when they come to check out your church? What kind of unintentional and obscure jargon may lurk on your website? This is my plea to all who talk and write in the church world: please listen to yourself and try to imagine how you sound to the seekers and searchers and drifters who come into contact with your ministry. When you use big Bible words, do you explain them? Do you cringe when others seem to switch into a new dialect when they pray? Do others hear you doing it?

Simplicity. Clarity. Real talk of God’s real deeds on behalf of real people.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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