Something that cracks me up about believer lingo is the way some of us inadvertently slip into Christianese—you know, that unique way of speaking that identifies us as “Christian” to the outside world. The problem with Christianese is that it’s only understood by people within the same subculture. Much like consulting the Urban Dictionary to understand what on earth your teenager is talking about, Christianese can be downright confusing to new believers or those outside the group.
When a friend of mine moved down south to hang with us ‘sweet tea’ chicks, she was charmed by our local colloquiums and phrases. She particularly gravitated to “bless your heart”. After months of living here, she began saying “bless your heart” every chance she got: at the grocery store, gas station, and on the job. After some time had passed, she noticed amused expressions when she used the phrase in church. I finally had to pull her aside and say, “Um, you know the whole bless your heart thing? That’s actually code for ‘what a moron’.”
We’ve laughed about it ever since.
Most believers don’t realize they are using words and phrases that are downright confusing to others. Comedian Tim Hawkins says that a friend of his who had recently joined his church was confused by the term “church plant”. The friend wondered where this blooming plant was and why it was so important in the monthly business meetings.
We fling around words like “fellowship”, which the lay world considers to be a gathering of like-minded people, but we know it’s code for “organized gluttony”. “A word of prayer” means somebody is about to pray so long that legs and limbs fall asleep. One of my favorites is “That’s not a gift God has blessed me with.” Code: Find someone else to do it.
The problem is that our manner of speaking can lead to a type of communication that is inauthentic. It masks motives, covering up our true thoughts and intentions with spiritual superiority. “Prayer concerns” can easily turn into gossip. “I didn’t feel God leading” morphs into “I don’t want to do that, but if I pull the God card, folks will get off my back.”
At the risk of becoming a Ned Flanders, we should probably focus a little less on talking the talk and more on loving people in a down-to-earth relatable way. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19) After all, folks aren’t going to know us by our spiritual words, bumper stickers or debates. They’ll know us by our love.
Bless our hearts.