Meaningless Church Jargon

After my quiet time with the Lord, where I was bathing in prayer, God laid it on my heart to be a transformational leader by just loving up on my blog readers and offering them some ideas from my missional imagination.

Earlier this morning, I saw a tweet from @JesusofNazareth316: Blessed are they who stop using the word “‪#missional“, which caused me to post something on Twitter and Facebook asking people what their favorite church jargon is – mine being “Missional Imagination”. The response was unbelievable and also quite interesting.

I realized upon reading the #meaninglesschurchjargon tweets that the responses tended to fall into several categories

1. Mainline Protestant church consultant/bad seminary class lingo. (“Missional imagination”; congregations as “centers for evangelical mission”; pastors as “transformational leaders”; referring to members as “giving units”; and churches “doing life together”) this language has a commonality with corporate jargon and like corporate jargon, refers to the culture and practices related to an organization.

IDEA: Let’s make sure that in seminary classrooms and at church conferences and in congregational life when we use a term or a phrase, that it points to an actual thing, or person or event and is not just a string of words that sound like something meaningful but in fact, lack real meaning. There is a reason that my computer does not recognize the word Missional. Try it at home.  Go ahead.  Type that shit and see.

2. Evangelical piety lingo.  This was overwhelmingly the most common type of answer: using “just” repeatedly as a placeholder for “um”; wanting to “love up on” someone, “God laid it on my heart to tell you ___”; I just have “a heart for” children in Africa; asking God for a “hedge of protection” – (this one was new to me)

IDEA: Stop it. This is crazy.

3. When we say ___, but we really mean is ___. “We have discerned” when used to make a simple decision sound special, holy, and beyond reproach; “I’ve got a word from The Lord for you” which is usually followed by some kind of manipulation; “I just don’t feel a peace about it” = “I’ve decided not to do it”; “I’ll pray for you” is code for “Let’s stop talking about your stuff now”; “laid on my heart” usually means “I want my idea to have extra authority”

IDEA: Let’s just tell the truth.  Doing otherwise hurts other people and makes us look like assholes. Related IDEA: Let’s have churches where it’s ok to say you don’t want to do something and where it is ok to just have an idea be your idea and not something co-signed on by the Almighty.

4. Stuff that just sounds creepy. “We just want to love up on these kids”; a speaker saying Jesus had just “nailed her to the floor”; a post-evening service thingie called…”Afterglow”; keep “pressing into God”, you should “bathe that in prayer”

IDEA: Maybe we could take a minute and actually hear what we sound like to normal, non-churchgoing folks. Seriously.

Honorable mention: The Grammatically problematic.  “Christian” as an adjective, “Disciple” as a verb, “fellowship” as a verb, “Gospel” as an adjective.

Sure, jargon has it’s place.  We sometimes experience real things – things that have to do with actual people and events and physical reality, and in an effort to describe that, or in an effort to look toward something more, something bigger, we create language to sprinkle on top.  We make new phrases.  This is natural.  The problem becomes when these phrases and jargon replace speaking about things that are real.

Maybe there was a moment in prayer when someone felt really vulnerable and exposed and in his or her mind they saw an image of protection from God, and it seemed like it was almost like a hedge. There is nothing wrong with that.  The Psalmist did this kind of thing all the time.  And maybe there was a moment in time when, in reaction to a real situation, someone realized that the church was too focused on itself and focused enough on God and they realized that God is not just in the church but outside it as well, and in an effort to think broadly about this they thought “maybe what we need is to imagine what God wants to accomplish – we should have a, I don’t know…like, a missional imagination”.  Fine. Nothing wrong with this. But what happens is that the farther that “hedge of protection” and “missional imagination” is from the actual feelings and events and people it was created to describe, the less actual meaning it has.

So, as someone who is constantly being told to “watch her language” I offer the same. Let’s watch our language out there.  The church has some beautiful things to offer.  Let’s all speak of God and faith and community in clear and simple language. I’ll try and do the same. (right after I ask God to form a hedge of protection against my web-enemies)

 

 

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • http://www.innerwoven.me/ Robert Rife

    Praise God. I just really sensed the Spirit all over this. (God laid it on my heart to share this ; ^ ) )

  • Sharon Ziegler

    I once read a headline in the Baptist Standard that said “Baptist Blankets Delivered to Russia.” I got in so much hot water for asking what made a blanket Baptist!

  • http://carlygelsinger.com/ Carly Gelsinger

    I’ll be posting about #meaninglesschurchjargon on Monday and linking to you. Thanks for initiating the conversation, I thought it was healing and insightful for us to go there.

  • Eric

    I felt the peace of God when I read this; this must be a Holy word from the Lord! :)

  • Becky

    Thank you. Many of us have been saying for years that *missional* is a made up word. Maybe your visibility and status will help eliminate this particularly annoying bit of jargon. From your mouth to God’s ears. Or something.

    • Roy Rhodes

      All words are made up. But seriously, I do feel like “missional” can refer to something real and of real theological value. “Missional theology” is a valid and useful hermeneutic framework (I’m thinking especially of Christopher Wright’s work). And as an adjective, it points to a particular set of theological ideas without the post-colonial baggage tied up in the adjective “missionary.”

      But you’re right, for many years the word’s been used so loosely that’s it’s lost any real value in churches. I’d say that if a church wants its practices to be informed by missional theology (a good thing, in my opinion), it should never let the word be said from the pulpit. And no ministry should be called “missional” anything. It’s an empty term, and we might as well just call the coffee we like “missional” coffee, since by “missional” we really just mean “good.”

  • Roy Rhodes

    “Missional” has value among people interested in the theological framework that bears that name: missional theology a la Newbigen. But any church whose leaders have read a little Alan Roxburgh, they start tagging everything missional as if were a synonym for good. “How can we have a missional marriage?” “Our new missional worship hour.” “Five tips for brewing missional coffee.”

  • Benjamin J. English

    Nadia, I… I-I love you!

  • MT

    How about the useless need for using swear words. What does it by you? Is that the only way you need to talk, in your every day language. They aren’t needed and like you say above, they don’t really express what you are actually feeling in the moment. Like looking like “assholes” above. What is it that you are really trying to say. It goes both ways. Let’s communicate as clearly as possible as transparently as possible. I agree with you on that point.

    • AK Marston

      But you knew EXACTLY who she meant… Everyone should be as clear and straightforward.

      • MT

        Well not exactly. Is she talking about herself and the useless words she uses, or others? She is not really clear here.

        • Teri

          It seems perfectly clear that she’s saying (rightfully, in my opinion) that when any of us use those phrases she mentioned there in point 3, we sound like assholes.

          It is clear that you would not be expressing yourself in a real and clear way if you used Nadia’s language. To suggest that she is not expressing herself truly is patronizing at best. Sometimes those really are the best words for some of us. And sometimes not. The whole point of the sentence containing the word “assholes” is to say what we mean…and to accept that other people are also striving to say what they mean.

          Personally I find that sometimes swearing is the only way to express what I’m feeling or thinking. And sometimes I articulate my thoughts and feelings in other ways. What matters is that I’m real, not pretending to be someone I’m not and not jingo-ing up my language to be who someone expects me to be rather than who I’m called to be.

    • bajacalla

      “What does it by you?” what? what does that even mean? “assholes” I understand completely. how do you know what she’s actually feeling and what words she “should” use to express it? frankly, I think we use far too few Anglo-Saxon words and expressions and far too many of the latinate euphemisms they replace.

  • Brian

    I want to affirm you for writing this. Changing our language will represent a paradigm shift within the context of our community. For many of us this will represent a growing edge and we will have to prayerfully discern God’s leading on how to move the conversation forward in transformative way.

    • bajacalla

      *lol*!! perfect!!

    • Anne Lewis

      I have a little made up award called Blahbys for exactly this kind of language. I call them Blahbys because they are blah in every sense of the word and when you say Blahby it also evokes the sense of shapelessness and quivering inaction. (Blobby) Winning a Blahby is not a good thing in my world. It’s actually losing. It’s not even anti-cool like the Ig Nobel prize. A Blahby just means it’s bad.

      My nominations for Blahbys.

      Move forward. What’s wrong with the word “continue”?

      Capture is another Blahby worthy term when used to mean to record or archive something. It makes you sound like you are doing way more than you actually are.

  • John Larson

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! The similarities between albeit well-meaning churchspeak and corporatespeak is becoming disturbing. Perhaps we might all get a better idea if we didn’t think we were talking to a marketing dept. when we hear fellow Christians. “Attraction, not promotion.” Seems I heard that somewhere… :)

  • rebecca

    A-freakin-men!

  • John Larson

    P.S. Overuse of jargon usually = ego difficulties, just my opinion…

  • GordonKS

    This looks like a good “devotional” to be read at an Administrative Council meeting.

  • DandelionViolet

    I cannot STAND it when someone ends a statement or anecdote with “I’m not saying this to make it sound like I’m more spiritual than you.” Maybe that doesn’t fall under jargon, but it is something I have heard multiple times, and it makes my hackles go up more than almost any other phrase I hear at church.

  • Betsy Clark

    Tim Hawkins explains about the Hedge of Protection. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Le33lZaMOI

  • Quakeress

    I’m a Quaker and we’re famous for our jargon. Instead of doctrine or a creed, we have a “secret” Quaker language that we use to distinguish each other from the rest of the world’s shabbily-dressed peaceniks (sort of like a Masonic handshake). “I’m holding him in the Light”, when applied to someone we disagree with politically, means, “He has the the brain of a Neanderthal and the sensitivity of a ham sandwich.” “That does not speak to my condition” – That’s the most half-witted thing I’ve ever heard. “Way opens” – You’re screwed. I could go on but I sense a leading….

  • Angela Dawn Miller

    Definitely an organic piece that surmised how J-people sound when trying to reinvent the missional wheel of familial fellowship and organic community. Thank you for this piece – for a decade I’ve thought I was body snatched.


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