Ten Things Christians Should Say More Often

I had a series a while back about the Christian Cliches that we should drop from our lexicon, and since then I’ve had people ask what they should be saying instead. So here’s a list of handy phrases to help bring followers of Jesus into a post-Christendom, 21st-century world.

  1. “I’m Sorry.” – There’s plenty of hurt in the world related to Christianity, and even though we may not personally be responsible for that damage, it’s amazing how far an apology will go. Even if we’re only acknowledging the hurt and disenfranchisement, we should show some regret that something of which we are a part has contributed to someone’s suffering.
  2. “How can I help?” – Sometimes we have a bad habit of diagnosing problems and coming up with the solution without actually sitting down and talking with the folks we’re supposedly helping. Though well intended, this can come off as arrogant, and can also end up being a waste of time and resources. Yes, it’s more vulnerable to ask an open-ended question like “How can I help?’ since the answer might require much more of us than we planned on. But that’s the risk of doing real servant work.
  3. “I don’t know.” – I’ve listed this one before, but it bears repeating. Some of us have been raised with the misapprehension that we always have to have an answer to every question having to do with our faith. But better than pat, rehearsed (or worse, pulled-out-of-our-asses-on-the-fly) answers is the humility of admitting we have no idea sometimes.
  4. “I could be wrong.” – This goes along with #3, as one of the most damaging things in any faith tradition – or in any cultural system, for that matter – is the idolatry of certainty. When we hold so fast to an idea that the people involved take second chair to our certainty, we’ve created a space where  pain and alienation are sown, rather than compassion and reconciliation.
  5. What do you think?” – A third in this theme of what Tony Jones calls “epistemic humility,” when it comes to scripture at least, though asking people their thoughts on the Christian faith, the Bible or anything else is a healthy practice for all involved. In fact, I learn more about my faith sometimes from non-Christians than I do from those who are so close to it (like me) that they become blind to the problems, right in front of us. Any good Christian should keep some non-Christian friends on retainer to help keep them in check and lend them some necessary perspective from time to time.
  6. “I love you.” – We have the best of intentions when telling others about God or Jesus, but unless this is already a central theme in your life, talking about how God loves you can come off as strangely abstract and a little bit crazy. Rather than speaking for God, it’s best if we take the risk and simply speak for ourselves. It sounds nice to say “God loves you,” but it’s a real and important risk to say “I love you.”
  7. “Tell me more…” – Showing genuine interest in the lives and stories of others is the foundation of Christ-like family. So often we sit right next to people – be it at church, work, school or elsewhere – whose stories we know little or nothing about. Whereas in the past, Christendom’s aim was mainly assimilation, a post-Christendom world requires us to be willing to be changed as much as we seek to affect change in our relationships with one another. It’s no longer about eradicating differences, but rather, it’s about cultivating a love that is stronger than those differences.
  8. “That just sucks.” – This goes along with the Christian compulsion to try and fix everything. But if I’ve learned anything from thirteen years of marriage, it’s that solutions don’t always go as far as empathy.
  9. “Let’s give it a try.” – Along with presiding over decades of prolific growth (both numerically and institutionally) many Christians began to believe that they were primarily stewards and guardians of the institution rather than preparers of the way for a divinely-inspired kingdom on earth. It’s in the nature of institutions to resist change, however, whereas preparation is all about making room and clearing space in anticipation of something new. As Paul says, our faith requires a childlike “What’s next?” kind of openness, rather than leaning so heavily on the spirit-killing mantra of “But we’ve always done it this way.”
  10. Say nothing at all – Filling awkward silences with chatter is endemic in our entire western culture, but Christians are particularly guilty of whipping out the cliches when there’s dead air. Sometimes the best prescription is simply to be present, or maybe to listen. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we have been commissioned with fixing everything. We could start by adding intentional silence more often into our own spiritual practices, just to get used to how it feels.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://godspotting.net Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Amen. Amen!

  • Charles

    Very nice! Humility, listening and empathy.

  • Al Cruise

    Thanks, very relevant, advice that will help us move closer to God.

  • Kevin

    All good, except I would replace #8 with “That just stinks.”

    It might seem nitpicky, but “sucks,” “shafted,” “screwed,” and the “F” word all operate on the premise that the most humiliating image we can muster is the female sexual role. Someday I’ll get around to writing the article “Why using the ‘F’ word makes you hate women (even if you didn’t before, and even if you’re a woman)”.

    • Tambo

      I agree 100% & understand exactly where you’re going with that thought.

  • Kristina Skepton

    I really appreciated your term “the idolatry of certainty.” Breaking free from certainty has been a recent experience for me and you articulated that concept perfectly. Thank you!
    Kristina Skepton
    Founder, SeeingGod Ministries
    http://www.Facebook.com/SeeingGod

  • Pat68

    ” Any good Christian should keep some non-Christian friends on retainer…”

    LOL!

  • Barbara Punch

    This is so true. Even if the language is a bit raw. Thanks. I stole your blog to post on my own pastor’s page at our website (giving you full credit, of course) because not many of my members are even on Facebook, where I find Patheos. I hope they are all reading you, and taking this to heart, it is so important.

  • jimfromcanada

    How about “What is Jesus doing in this situation?”

    • Jackie O’Sullivan

      One point of this article is to use neutral, inviting language. Frankly, evoking God/Jesus in every situation is pretty offensive. If anyone tossed the line you suggest at me, they would not receive a warm response.

    • CN

      Yea ok, when even 20% of your people decide to remotely act like the Jesus you people portray, then MAYBE you could say that. If you said that to me, i’d laugh in your hypocritical face.

    • Mary

      I think it depends on who you are talking to as to whether they are receptive, but throwing that out there can come across as a platitude and dismissive of the person’s feelings. If you are familiar with the stages of grief (Kubler-Ross) then you know that it isn’t possible to just jump into acceptance and that applies to more than just the death of someone you love.

      Also it depends on whether that person is a Christian. Otherwise it is a sales-pitch and usually that is not welcome. It makes a person feel like he is nothing more than the tally of the day of how many people that Christian has witnessed to. A hug (if welcome) and an offer of help and support works much better. Oftentimes just being with that person without preaching is the best medicine. I know because I have struggled with serious depression and the best thing that anyone did for me was to listen and not judge.

  • cowboy

    The vulgarity in # 3 is all I need to see this as an aquiesence to common irreverence.

    • AxisMonday

      Really? A single expression you regard as “vulgar” is enough to indict the whole enterprise? I think that might be, perhaps, a bit intellectually vulgar.

    • dandonche

      How unreasonable of you.

    • Christian Piatt

      I don’t have to acquiesce to vulgarity. I’m innately vulgar.

      • Frank

        Jesus was never vulgar.

        • Christian Piatt

          He called Satan The Lord of Shit.

          • Frank

            Are you talking to Satan in this post?

            Stop trying to justify what you are doing. You cannot. At least admit that in this area you are not being Christlike. We all are guilty of that in different areas.

          • Christian Piatt

            Actually he never returns my calls (sigh)

          • Frank

            Haha! That’s funny Christian.

            Thanks for responding I do appreciate it and I do appreciate you.

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      What if you focused on the main point and simply paraphrased the one offending sentence?

    • Peter Attwood

      I remember Ron Sider preaching once and it went something like this:
      “I have three points to make today:
      1. 30,000 children died of starvation today.
      2. Most of you don’t give a shit.
      3. Most of you are more upset that I said ‘shit’ than that 30,000 children died of starvation today.”

      While the world stands – but not when God’s will is done in earth as it is in heaven – the world will never lack for people needing Sider’s sermon.

      • Christian Piatt

        I’m pretty sure that was originally tony Campolo but yes, great sermon

    • islandbrewer

      “Asses”? You’re upset by the word “asses”? Does that really make you cringe, or do you just like acting superior because of your refusal to use such a word?

      This is what Stephen Frye had to say about such horrible vulgarity:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_osQvkeNRM

  • SoundMan Jonesy

    This is a great article!

    BTW, regarding the statement “sucks,” “shafted,” “screwed,” and the “F” word all
    operate on the premise that the most humiliating image we can muster is the
    female sexual role….”

    Really??
    Read any historical linguistics reference.
    These idioms have nothing at all to do with humiliating women.
    Geeze!!

    • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

      Well, some do.

      suck: Slang sense of “be contemptible” first attested 1971 (the underlying notion is of fellatio)

      shaft: 1. (noun) Vulgar slang meaning “penis” first recorded 1719. 2. (verb) “treat cruelly and unfairly,” by 1958, perhaps from shaft (n.1), with overtones of sodomy.

      screwed: Slang meaning “to copulate” dates from at least 1725, originally usually of the action of the male, on the notion of driving a screw into something. Meaning “defraud, cheat” is from 1900. First recorded 1949 in exclamations as a euphemism. Related: Screwed; screwing. To screw up “blunder” is recorded from 1942. Screwed up originally was figurative for “tuned to a high or precise pitch” (1907), an image from the pegs of stringed instruments. Meaning “confused, muddled” attested from 1943. Expression to have (one’s) head screwed on the right (or wrong) way is from 1821.

      That one’s interesting. It does have a sexual meaning, but the screwed up meaning is unrelated.

      And, finally, “Egyptian legal agreements from the 23rd Dynasty (749-21 B.C.E.) frequently include the phrase, ‘If you do not obey this decree, may a donkey copulate with you!’”

      TRiG.

      • SoundMan Jonesy

        Etymologies are not definitions, they are what words have COME to mean…and are not related to historical linguistics. For instance, the word Screw historically defines helical things such as a ship’s propeller, or the fastener of the same name (screw). It is WE who subsequently assigned the unsavory usages, and we who can choose to ignore such semantics. Dwelling on whether to say Sucks or Stinks is not relevant to being a good Christian, in my view.

      • PdK

        Thank you for that post. I find those words very offensive because of their origin. Add to that list “tricked out.” I wouldn’t be caught dead using that language regardless of what they have COME to mean. And since Christianity is about “building up” and not “making worse” or “destroying” or “setting a bad example”, me thinks a Christian would be prudent to leave these words our of his vocabulary.

  • dandonche

    What the fuck is up with everybody thinking this guy’s language is raw and vulgar? Are you shitting me? Do you live in a bubble? This is all shit that would be acceptable for a kindergartener to say without a second glance.

  • jimfromcanada

    I believe that even when unpleasant things are happening God is present. The question is: how is God present. I would say God is present with victims and those being oppressed, giving them strength to survive. In a way the expression “What is Jesus doing” challenges the expression “What would Jesus do” and remind people that God is always present and active in every situation in a dynamic way not as an absentee 2000 years ago, but as underlying the very fabric of the universe. So those who want to justify their own behaviour need to expose it to the presence of God to see how it plays out; how it meets the standard of loving our neighbour

  • countryrose

    I don’t believe your title is correct! All humans should be saying these more often. Christians don’t necessarily have this all sown up. Many Athiests, muslim, evangelicals etc have this problem too. if you check tweets, you would see that.

  • Michael Mock

    In all fairness, a lot of these – #8 and #10 in particular – strike me not so much as Christian problems, and much as just… *people* problems.

  • DBB

    I so appreciate the intent and message. Now the remarks are filled with a lot of blah blah blah of people wanting to shock and use words that may make the writers feel in their own minds they are superior. Thanks for the message (sorry, help, love, humility, unknowing, empathy).

  • Zane Whorton

    Does it help that the profanity used in 3 is Biblical?

    • Zane Whorton

      If not we have to throw the whole Bible out because of Genesis 16:12.

  • htre

    i wish more Christians would say ‘fuck’ every now and then.
    If only to talk about the political intricacies of their own parish community or diocese.
    we know how it is.

  • R Vogel

    I take issue only with number 6. People in general and Christians in particular throw around ‘I love you’ like it’s nothing. I went to a church for over a year and everyone was always telling each other how they loved each other. One day a woman came up to me who was a Sunday staple and told me she loved me and I looked at her and said “Then what’s my name?” She stared at me dumbfounded. Can the ‘I love you. Reach out to people, minister to them, take an interest in them, feed them, clothe them then you have no need to say you love them, they will know.

  • Richard

    1) its ok to practice safe sex, lets try and prevent the spread of AIDS
    2) we will do everything in our power to prevent paedophilia by our priests
    3) Any church the does not allow gay marriage is not a true church
    4) We have decided to use profits made by the vatican and are donating them to charity
    5) We shall not refer to those who do not believe as being in darkness
    6) If someone is a good person and does not believe in god or our religion they can still go to heaven
    7) Hell is not real and was made up to scare people into believing
    8) We shall not try and force others into our beliefs, if they want to they can come to us
    9) Children should not be taught religious practices from an early age and should be left to decide when they are old enough
    10) We fully intned to stay out of politics and not interfere in any country

    • Dan The Intolerant Man

      1. Safe sex is the cause of so many not-planned pregnancies due to the selfish men who can’t keep it in their pants. Just don’t have sex at all until you are married and you will prevent this altogether. 2. What’s the difference than some guy placing his penis in another man’s butt? It’s not natural and it’s not acceptable to God. Neither are.3. Any church that allows gay marriage is a doomed church. Is a church lost and in need of salvation. The Bible is the guide for the church. in Romans 1:18-32, this tells the facts about what God has allowed with homosexuality. And the homosexuals deserve what they get….a reprobate mind and cast aside from salvation without Jesus Christ. Period. End of Story. 4. Any profits made by any church or Vatican or religious institution is a charity. Just because the Vatican uses the money for a building or the Papal Seat or the development of successful church history does not mean they are not using the profits to glorify God. It’s all part of being a church and having those privileges. It’s when they don’t use any of their funds to support the poor and the needy. The Vatican truly does help quite a lot of people. I am not Catholic. But I know they do much good in spite of their bad. The one being judgmental to the Vatican says a true church must allow gay marriage. How interesting. 5. Those who do not believe are not in the light. They are hidden from the light. They are blind to the True God of the Bible and His Son Jesus Christ. 6. Going to heaven is not up to you. It’s up to God. Where did you get this rule anyway? You made it up. You heard someone else say it. You came up with it from some TV show. The Bible is clear who goes to heaven and who does not. Those who believe Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and Messiah and God manifested in the flesh are those who will go to heaven….it’s not about how good you are, as if God is sitting up in heaven saying, “Well, your good outweighs your bad. I guess I better let you in then.” Whatever! That’s so pious and arrogant of you. God will judge the lost and save the believer. Salvation belongs to those who are saved. Period. End of Story. 7. Hell is most definitely real. It’s the place God sends those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They will be cast into outer darkness prepared for the devil and his angels, or demons in this case. All unbelievers who do not trust Jesus Christ as Savior are doomed for separation from God for eternity. That’s forever ya know. End of Story. It’s a Biblical fact. 8. It’s interesting while making this statement the person who wrote this is trying to force their belief upon others. How ironic. I am not forcing my beliefs on anyone. You can reject and be denied a place in heaven all you want. Your choice. 9. Children should most definitely be taught early. That way they will grow up with more respect for their self, more dignity, higher grades in school, the ability to care more about those in need, the capacity to share the truth about what true love is: God is love! Children raised in a religious atmosphere are much more capable than those not raised in that environment. 10. What, no politics? Awww shucks! You mean I can’t model after the founders of this country that had a foundation in their Jewish or Christian faith? Oh c’mon. The Constitution was mostly signed by those who claimed to believe in the God of the Bible. Sure, not all were completely “souled” out to Jesus. But most were. That’s why America is the great country it has been for quite some time. However, there are so many right now trying to destroy America by being intolerant toward Christians and Jews. By saying “Don’t judge me” while placing blame on the Christian or the Jew for certain things that have happened. Or saying “You can’t do this or that” while saying to the Christian and Jew “Don’t be intolerant to me.” Isn’t that an oxymoron or just a moron? In any case, until you have read the Bible, do not make a judgment upon its writings. It’s like saying, “I know that President Obama is a Muslim” but yet you have not even spoke to him or asked him his opinion or advice. People are just so funny. Especially the unbeliever. Turn to Christ and then you will see what I am talking about. He will prove Himself and you can’t stop Him. He loves you no matter. But if you reject him, He will have your eternal soul sent to a burning hell where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth forever and ever. There will be separation from God for eternity. There will be tears, pain, sorrow, anguish, burning, suffering and so much more all day, every day, without end. Repent and turn to Jesus Christ.

      • Sven2547

        Just don’t have sex at all until you are married and you will prevent this altogether.

        Just like Bristol Palin! Oh wait.

    • Frank

      Thanks for the list of stupid thngs not to say. Well done!

  • Evelyn
  • disqus_RyJXanm9Ux

    When my father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, my enlightened Christian friends preached at me and came off sounding straight out of the book of Job. My never-been-to-church friend said this, “I’m sorry; what can I do?”. It made me a bit sad that she responded like and has acted like a true Christian while the church goers continue to preach at me non-stop about how I just need to do this or that church thing more and it will all be okay.


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