Say What You Mean

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

The other day, I had the common experience of having no idea what someone was saying to me, but enthusiastically nodding my head in full agreement. The entire conversation was over my head. This person was using words and phrases they assumed I understood, but I didn't. Since I cared more about looking smart than actually being honest, I nodded along like a bobble-head.

The whole thing got me thinking. How often do we use words or phrases in our groups that not everyone understands? It's especially important to watch out for this kind of thing when new believers or non-believers are in your circle.

Insider language can make people feel like outsiders. Plus, let's face it, if you've been in or around the church for a long time, there are certain words and phrases — let's call them "Christianese" — that you may take for granted, but are actually weird to anyone not in the know.

Here are some example, along with what they usually mean in common English:

God is in control: I have no idea what's happening right now.
Bless you: (1) You poor thing. (2) Thank you. (3) I want to acknowledge that you just sneezed.
What’s God doing in your life?: What's up?
Lord willing . . .: This silence is awkward. Let's change the subject.
Quiet time: When I read the Bible and pray.
That is/isn't biblical: I don't think that opinion is correct, but I can't articulate why.
God is telling me to: (1) I want to. (2) [less common variant] I don't want to.
I have an unspoken prayer request: There's drama in my life, but I don't want to talk about it.
What's God teaching you?: Are you working on your junk?

Anyone who's been around the church for a while is bound to drift into using insider language. In fact, if everyone is an insider, insider language can speed up communication and make it more efficient. But it can also make us lazy. Using the same phrases over and over can stop us from thinking about what we're actually saying.

Where do you let "Christianese" slip into your conversations? Are there times when it may confuse members of your group? In what ways do you use it as a kind of shorthand that allows you to avoid thinking through what you're saying?

Make an effort to use common English. Be intentional about communicating clearly and with as much simplicity as possible. That actually requires more thought, but it has the power to make you a better, more effective leader.