I love the local church. I’ve given a big part of my life to serving it. And one area in which I love serving the church is helping us understand how to relate to the culture. And by “relate” I mean form relationships with those outside the church and with those just coming in, and listen to what they have to say about how we can better serve them.
There is too much assumption on the part of ministers about why most churches never achieve the coveted “visitor retention” that leads to growth. I’ve seen it all my life: someone new walks into church and never comes back. The pastor assumes “they’re not ready” or “they don’t want God” or “you can’t make everyone happy” without ever following up to see if there is something we are doing that is defeating our whole purpose in preaching the gospel.
As I’ve talked to people through the years, I’ve found over and over again it’s not always that people don’t want God; they just don’t “get” His people. They don’t understand the “company lingo.” And when we church-goers aren’t interested in explaining ourselves, visitors don’t come back any more than a person entering a room in which no one speaks his language or cares to learn it would keep coming back.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing someone on the topic of church jargon–in particular the “strange and bizarre” phraseology common to many evangelical and charismatic circles. The person I interviewed is a college graduate of higher than average intelligence who grew up in a denominational (but not evangelical) church and is well acquainted with Sunday School Bible stories and hymns. (Keep in mind the gospel message, in its general proclamation, should be relevant to all kinds of people, including those of average or below average intelligence, and without any kind of church background.)
I am posting this in hopes that we lifelong pew-warmers can begin to at least listen to how we sound in the pulpit, and in everyday conversation in the ears of our non-evangelical and/or non-charismatic friends. I am not saying we need to change our language; I am saying we need to interpret and explain ourselves when necessary.
I simply started the interview by asking, “What would you think each of the following phrases mean?” His answers are in italics, and they echo the same sentiments I’ve heard from many others through the years. So much so that I finally had to put that perspective in writing:
God convicted me about it. Convicted? So… God is the great “cop in the sky?”
That is not a good confession. Confession? You sound like you’re in court.
I got a “word” today! I feel like you’re on a game show.
I came under a heavy burden of prayer…. That doesn’t make prayer sound like anything I’d want to do.
His message was so anointed. I have no idea what that means.
I was having my devotions. I’m familiar with that term because I happen to know someone who uses it.
She spoke under the unction…. Unction? Is that like junction? Like the show, “Petticoat Junction?”
I got on my knees and did battle. I mean, I went to war! Wut.
I’ve been under attack lately. By whom? Have you called the police?
He was slain in the spirit. Okay now you’re scaring me.
Let’s sing in the spirit. Oh, I think I’ve seen that before. Is that where they just sing off the top of their heads?
The Lord quickened it to me. Well, I happen to know that word means “life” from my studies in classical literature.
My flesh. I think church people use that to refer to their base nature.
Consume me, Lord! You sound like you’re involved in a pagan ritual.
Lord, we need a baptism of fresh fire! I would say that’s something negative. It refers to punishment, like you’re asking to go through hell. Actually, it sounds apocalyptic.
Let’s go into the community and just “love on” our youth. That’s pretty creepy and disturbing.
Fresh oil from the throne. Wait–does that have to do with the five virgins I learned about in Sunday School?
Lord, we’re asking for the new wine! Cool! I thought only Catholics drink in church.
Lord, we need a revival! Is that where they set up tents for a while and camp out in a remote location somewhere?
He’s a real prophet! (rolls eyes)
Send the rain, Lord! Is there a drought or something? Or is this asking for punishment, as in the days of Noah? Or I suppose it could speak of a spiritual awakening to refresh a spiritual drought.
I got wrecked at Fresh Fire last night! Praise God! (long pause) Huh??
I was witnessing to him. You sound like those people who keep knocking at my door and handing me literature.
Let’s stay a while and fellowship. I have never heard this word used as a verb before. I know from being around friends who use that jargon that it means to get together and worship.
What do you think? What would you add to this list?
And for those of you who have never heard these phrases before and are now thinking church people are weird! I promise you, we are. 😉 But we love you and hope you can be patient with us as we learn and grow.