When Jesus was on the earth he spoke in an ordinary language and he told stories that people could relate to. Some churches today do the opposite, speaking mainly in religious language (Christianese) that only Christians understand and not using stories or explanations. Christianese is like a foreign language and there is even a Dictionary of Christianese which this image is taken from with their permission.
I once remember someone complaining about a preacher saying, ‘he just told lots of stories’.
If I had of had more courage at the time I might have said ‘was his name Jesus?’
Don’t get me wrong, if we tell stories just to entertain rather than to link them to spiritual truth then that is no good but surely to tell stories that communicate clearly about God is to be like Jesus?
Jesus said to his followers: 14 “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5)
As Christians, we have the light of God in us and we shouldn’t try to hide that light. Jesus was encouraging us to not be afraid and to let people see the light of God in the way we live and act. We should be who God wants us to be rather than trying to fit in with a crowd.
We need to realize that speaking in Christianese is another way of hiding the light away so that people can’t see it. Following God is amazing but some people don’t know that it is because they switch off from our explanations about our faith or they tune out in church services because they don’t understand what we are saying. Explaining our faith clearly and creatively is a way of putting the light on a stand for all to see. Jesus used the language of the people, but sometimes Christians speak primarily in Christianese.
Those of us who lead services need to make it a priority to explain things clearly. I remember speaking at one Church and someone said to me at the end of the service that mine was the first sermon they had ever understood. Although they hadn’t grown up going to church, they had been a Christian attending church for several years. When they told me this I was really encouraged that I had explained things well but I was also really discouraged because this was a good, popular and well attended church.
Those of us who lead services need to make it a priority to explain things creatively. Jesus’ parables involved him taking familiar things from life and using them to help people to understand who God is and what following him means. The best illustration we have is our own lives as we can be honest about how God is real in us but there are also plenty of illustrations from ordinary life or examples in film, music or culture. You can read more about creative communication in church here and also some thoughts about different learning styles and church here.
I hate Christianese because it stops people from knowing God and it makes people who are new to the faith feel stupid and it stops them growing in their faith.
The main objection that I have had to my explaining faith in simple language and avoiding Christianese is that I am dumbing down the faith. Nothing could be further than the truth, Jesus used simple everyday language but he said deep and sometimes confusing things. We need to learn to communicate the profound truths of the Bible is simple and creative ways.
I love Einstein’s quote;
‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’
The ability to explain simply requires us to understand the Bible more deeply. So, let’s work harder at reading and understanding the Bible and then pray for God’s inspiration and creativity in being honest about our faith with people in the real world.