This evening on my way to church I stopped at Boston Market to pick up something for dinner. I don’t eat at Boston Market very often, which is a shame because every time I do I’m thoroughly satisfied. When I went to pay the cashier, she started going through the spiel. “You have a coupon for next time….on the bottom of the receipt is a survey….” She said it fast and precise, no doubt she had recited it countless times. When she asked me if I needed plastic ware with my meal I let out a dazed and confused ‘no.’ I actually did need it, but didn’t realize what she was asking until after I answered.
To be honest, I couldn’t quite tell what she was asking me, so thinking she was selling me something I didn’t need or offering me some kind of rewards card, I let out a instinctive ‘no.’ She was asking me a simple question but somehow it was lost in her rattling off Boston Market speak. It was a normal everyday routine for her, but for someone who doesn’t go to Boston Market very often, I didn’t know the questions that were coming.
The same thing happens in the church doesn’t it? Christianity has its own language- “The Lord works in mysterious ways” and “We pray for a hedge of protection” are just a couple of examples (leave your favorite ‘Christianeese’ words in the comments!) There’s nothing inherently wrong with the lingo, but my experience at Boston Market made me wonder how strange it must sound to outsiders.
There is an episode of Home Improvement (I was a 90s kid) where Tim is trying to teach Jill some basic plumbing skills. Like most things Tim does it turns into a mess. Jill complains that Tim is using complicated language and that the funny technical names for tools and parts makes doing the work difficult. This technical jargon is easily understood by those in the plumbing trade but to an outsider they just make things complicated.
When a visitor joins us for Sunday morning service or a teenager at youth group, are we remembering to slow down what we’re saying and to eliminate some of the meta-messages in our Christian-speak? I think it is important to keep this in mind; Not everyone grew up in the church, not everyone knows the Bible stories, what questions are going to come next etc. We need to slow down, explain things clearly and make sure we don’t leave people dazed and confused.
Language is a filter through which we connect unbelievers to God’s love. We take our lead from Jesus who used parables to bridge the culture around Him to the gospel. Notice He didn’t use riddles. Instead He used plain stories Jews at the time could relate to. Sometimes in our modern age we may have to do a little research to understand exactly what Jesus was saying, but His message was very culturally relevant and would have made sense to His Jewish audience. What is the culture we are reaching out to today? What stories can people relate to today? Important questions because the last thing we want is someone saying ‘no’ because they think we are offering them something they don’t need.