The week I graduated from college, two of my guy friends from Canada came to visit me. Neither one of them had grown up in the church. At the time, I was volunteering with a local youth group and participating in their worship services. I invited my guy friends to come along to a typical Wednesday night gathering. They obliged and got to watch the youth band lead the group as they sang worship music. As we were singing, I began to feel self-conscious. I watched my friends’ faces react to the catchphrases that these young teenagers were singing – phrases like “Blood of the Lamb” and “To see my shame upon that cross.” I spent the dinner following the service explaining to my friends that we weren’t shaming the youth or asking them to be cannibals. Needless to say, I spent a good amount of time trying to explain that I wasn’t in a cult.
I was reminded of that worship service this week as I watched a video my friend posted on Facebook. The video shows ‘non-church’ types trying to interpret churchy sayings. Phrases such as “love offering,” “10/40,” “washed in the blood” and “seeing the fruit.” The video is worth the watch, and it got me thinking: what are phrases we say that have awkward or no meaning in the secular world? So here is my list of the top 5 things we ‘churchy types’ should probably stop saying, or at least recognize their potential misunderstanding.
1) Love on – As in “He really needs someone to love on him” or “we went to Mexico to love on the people there.” Ummm I will just leave it up to you as to why this saying can be problematic. People are trying to express that a person or people group need someone to share love with them in tangible ways. I have found myself saying this phrase, and perhaps I should think about wording it differently.
2) Lean in – As in “We should lean into this” or “He is going through a tough time; he should lean in to this time.” This saying is almost saying nothing at all, or suggesting that the pain should be experienced with thanks for the lesson it may bring. It is a well-meaning phrase, but one that can be confusing to those who hear it.
3) Pour into – As in “I have been pouring into him.” What we mean is that we have been experiencing discipleship together, but this is another confusing statement and seems to suggest a one-sided relationship or friendship. I also wonder: if we pour into people, what do we have left?
4) Intentional – As in “Our group is really intentional about how we do things” or “We are an intentional community.” This is a great word that has just been overused – everything has become intentional. But if everything is intentional, then nothing is intentional
5) We do Life Together – as in “I love the way my small group does life together” or “I am happy my spouse and I do life together.” I actually like this saying a lot, but it has been used again and again to express that you enjoy spending a significant amount of time with other people. The problem with this saying is simply that, outside of the church world, it doesn’t hold much meaning. Of course we do life together – what are the other options?
So those are the top five sayings that I need to rethink the frequency with which I use, but truthfully they serve as a reminder that we need to notice when we are using insider language. We should always be aware of the importance of our words and their meaning. The question becomes: are we using insider language at the exclusion of those who hear what we are saying? Or are we using these phrases so much that they begin to lack meaning? Remember, words matter and people are listening. How are we representing the faith that we are claiming?