Within every profession, service industry, and organization, there are secret languages understood only by its members. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Starbucks and listen to the patrons order their favorite drink. You are likely to hear a combination of words and phrases that would lead you to believe aliens have landed from the far side of the moon. For example, my usual order at Starbucks sounds like this, “I’ll have a Venti bold with no room”. What I am saying to the barista is this, “I will have your largest and strongest coffee, and by the way, I do not need room for cream.” Businesses such as these have created an environment that requires the consumer to learn a language that is specific to the product they wish to consume. This may or may not be intentional. What they are saying is this “If you want to be part of our ‘group’ then you need to learn our language.” Sound unfair? Hold on. What about the church?
Before we blame the businesses for requiring us to learn a foreign language, let’s take a look at how the Christian church may be guilty. I believe many would agree that Christians have a specific lingo that we are comfortable with. We use phrases and words that we are comfortable with that may leave the first-time guest in our services scratching their head and asking “what are they talking about?” We use words such as advent, apostle, disciple, rapture, righteous, sanctification, elect, trinity, covenant, redemption, and salvation much like we would car, home, cheeseburger, chair, or grass. Phrases such as washed in the blood, give your heart to Jesus, profession of faith, and walk down the aisle roll off our church-influenced tongues the same way turn off the light, answer the phone, and wash the car do. Think of the questions that must run through the mind of the person who has never been in church before. Inside they may be asking, “Is that going to hurt?” “You’re asking me to do what?” “Is that legal?” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point.
As a pastor, I believe the church has a responsibility to remove barriers that may keep individuals who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ from coming to know Him. Barriers such as personal preferences, fear, and past hurts are hard enough to overcome without imposing a new language for which Rosetta Stone hasn’t even written software. I am becoming increasingly aware, and fearful, that the guests in our worship services have no idea what we are talking about. What should we do? First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are guilty of speaking “church”. Second, I believe that every ministry leader, when writing announcements, newsletters, and ministry promotions, should filter everything through this question; “Will the words that I have written and spoken be clearly understood by someone who has never been in church before?” We owe it to the first-time guest, the seeker, and the Christian desperately desiring to serve the Lord our commitment to remove the barriers that would hinder them, including our “church” talk.