Talking Sense


I remember having a chat to a guy who was leading a church in Birmingham a while back about the language Christian’s use. So often, it’s so esoteric it’s gibberish. Recognising this, what this guy did was he paid his unchurched neighbour to turn up to their Sunday services for two weeks running and to write down on a notepad everything he did not understand and that was not adequately explained. Apparently, more than one notepad was required!

I often think of this when I’m preaching or leading the service in our gathered meetings. In my experience, in the language we use we often exclude those not in the ‘inner circle’. This ‘inner circle’ doesn’t have to be just excluding ‘not-yet Christians’ or the ‘unchurched’. This inner circle might be excluding those with no theological training / those who don’t actually like debating / or are not in the ‘in crowd’ familiar with all the latest jargon and speak colloquial ‘Christian-ese’ (like a few of the phrases quoted above!)

I think that there’s a place for, and spaces should be created for, there to be opportunities for those who want to ‘vent’ their thinking (for me, this blog can be that place very often – so that my preaching can be focussed on serving and not venting). But ‘gathered’ church is not that place (by gathered, in this context, I’m referring to our main [often Sunday] gatherings). Jesus said ‘feed my sheep’; he did not say feed my giraffes – those with their head so high in the clouds that they’re of no earthly use…

Notwithstanding the last three paragraphs, my question is this:

Is there a place for language in church that is not ‘normal’ everyday language?

Is there a place for language – properly explained – that expresses the ‘otherness’ of God? Words we wouldn’t use in everyday parlance with our colleagues at work: words like ‘holy’, ‘justified’, ‘worship’ etc… Finding ways of responding to God which we’ve reserved for Him only?

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Talking Sense

  1. This is a difficult one: On the one hand I think it’s good that my own church seems to be really aware of this issue, and often explains things and uses non-technical language… but on the other hand, I sometimes feel like we are so worried about the perceptions of outsiders that we don’t act like a genuine family/household: We effectively act with the assumption that everyone is a visitor who may not have ever heard the gospel before – and so outsiders never get the opportunity to simply “eavesdrop” on a church family in action, complete with its distinctive vocabulary.
    This is not really an answer though – more just an agreement that there must be some kind of appropriate mix of accessibility and distinctiveness.


  2. I know exactly what you mean – it’s certainly worth asking whether it really is important that people understand every word spoken or not. A guy in our church stood up recently and said how loved he felt by the people at church and how it felt ‘like heaven will be.’ I’m sure this had far more to do with feeling part of a ‘family’, than whether he understood what the preacher was harping on about…
    We’ve been experimenting recently with services where we make an *especial* effort to make every aspect of our gathering orientated towards guests who may not be used to coming to coming along. This isn’t to say we ignore these things the rest of the time, but on the third Sunday of each month we put our best foot forward to crank up the band etc. This is, if you like, us at our most ‘accessible’…


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