J.R. Briggs Says Christians Need to ‘Throw Out the Church’s Insider Language’
by J.R. Briggs
A few years ago, a friend, who was a successful insurance agent, invited me to attend a high-end luncheon. The hotel ballroom was filled with a few hundred insurance agents from around the region.
After lunch was served, a prominent leader in the insurance industry spoke, joking about “claimants,” “negligence,” and “aggregate limits of indemnity.” While the other agents laughed, nodding in agreement with the speaker’s comments, I fidgeted in my seat. I appreciated my friend’s invitation and ticket to the lunch, but I left feeling unintelligent and confused.
Every group, if it’s together long enough, develops insider language. The luncheon I attended used insider language targeted to their specific industry. They didn’t use it to be exclusionary; they employed it for the sake of identity, clarity, and efficiency. But I realized—in maybe the clearest manner in my life—what happens in the hearts and minds of visitors and spiritual sojourners when we use insider language in a local church.
My experience at the lunch brought to mind the biblical story of Zaccheaus the tax collector. What prompted Zacchaeus to climb a tree and become immortalized in that Sunday-school song you’re probably humming in your head right now? “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd” (Luke 19:3). In their pursuit of Jesus, the crowd blocked Zacchaeus (and maybe others) from seeing and experiencing Jesus.
We do this too when we use church-specific language. Call it the “Zacchaeus Effect.” Is it at play in your church?
“I just want to love on people.”
“Pray the prayer and walk the aisle.”
“God laid it on my heart to tell you something.”
Ask someone with no church experience what it means to “feel called” and they might think you’re referring to the phone vibrating in their pocket. Ask those outside the church what a love offering is, and they might honestly think it’s a sexual euphemism. I’ve been a pastor for over 15 years, and I still don’t know exactly what people mean when they sign off from an email with “Be blessed.”
We also use phrases from Scripture with the assumption that everyone has the same level of biblical literacy. Being healed “by the blood of the Lamb” or giving your “tithes and offerings” are alien expressions to outsiders. At a party several years ago, someone shared “God told me …” A friend pulled me aside to ask, with sincerity, “When God spoke to her, was his voice deep? Did it sound anything like Morgan Freeman’s?” If my friend’s question sounds funny or strange, it might mean we’ve become too accustomed to insider church language. Could it be that, in our pursuit of Jesus, we may be blocking others from seeing him?
SOURCE: Christianity Today: “Pastors”
J. R. Briggs is the founder of Kairos Partnerships and pastor of The Renew Community, in the greater Philadelphia area. Find him on Twitter at @jr_briggs.