Inside jargon, outside voice

During a recent sermon, American televangelist and presidential adviser Paula White prayed: “We command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now.”

Wait, what?

Social media went crazy. Isn’t she pro-life? Who is satanic and pregnant? Those Christians really are nuts.

Later, White tweeted:

“I don’t normally respond but clearly this has been taken out of context. I was praying Eph 6:12 that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. Anything that has been conceived by demonic plans, for it to be cancelled and not prevail in your life, that is- any plans to hurt people.”

“Satanic pregnancies” is not a term I had ever heard, and I have no interest in Paula White and her brand of prosperity theology. But, this was yet another example of a Christian invoking outrage and ridicule through a careless choice of words.

The problem was, she used extreme insider jargon with her outside voice. When we communicate online, the whole world can hear us.

Another term for this type of insider jargon is Christianese — terms, puns and catchphrases only comprehensible within particular Christian denominations or sects. Outside of that context, they may sound weird, creepy or even dangerous.

Here’s a short, alphabetical list of common Christianese. If you’re writing or speaking within reach of any audience outside of your church walls, it’s a good idea to avoid these.

Be intentional

It means to have a plan, as opposed to wandering into the street each morning with no idea where you’re going, I guess. Sure, a Christian may be intentional, but so is a bank robber.

Believer

Synonymous with “Christian,” but only the right kind of Christian. The term has become so familiar we don’t even think about it, but to an outsider, it can sound a little cultish. Or like a Monkees song.

The Bible clearly says …

Used most often in political discussions where the Bible really doesn’t clearly say. This leaves no room for further discussion.

Blessed

When life is good and we want people to know it. Popular hashtag when posting pictures of vacations, grandkids or food. Also popular in hashtags, Hobby Lobby decor or as the closing email sentiment: “Have a blessed day.”

Brother, Sister

Used to indicate that someone is a fellow Christian. Causes confusion because some may believe it means a blood relative. Also sounds a little cultish in some contexts.

Even more unfortunate: Bro, Sis

Clap offering

Applause for God.

Doing life together

This sounds much hipper than “meeting for a Bible study.” It’s been overused by churches trying to be trendy. What does it really mean when we all go back to our own homes afterward? We’re not sure.

Fellowship

A once widely used term now confined to church potlucks and Lord of the Rings movies. And please, don’t ever use it as a verb: After church we fellowshipped at Chick-Fil-A.

Fruit, not seeing much

Someone may be attending church, but their life does not show any evidence. To a visitor, it sounds like bad nutritional planning before fellowshipping.

God showed up

This theologically thin phrase was made popular by the movie Forest Gump. More accurately, you showed up and God was already working there.

Great Commission

Nothing wrong with this term, but research shows that half of churchgoing Americans do not recognize it today. The number is likely even lower in other countries. If we use the term, it’s a good idea to explain it, lest people think we all work in sales

Heart

The Swiss Army knife of Christianese. Uses include:

  • “God laid you on my heart” (I thought about you)
  • “That worship stirred my heart” (good song)
  • “Bless his heart” (he’s an idiot)
  • “Her heart is on fire for God” (run and get help!)
  • “He has a heart for India” (should someone come and get it?)

The hedge of protection?

Hedge of protection

A churchy way of praying for someone’s safety. The specific term does not appear in the Bible, though in Job 1:10, Satan accuses God of placing a hedge around Job and his household. Given what happened next to Job, we might want to think twice before praying for this.

It’s a God thing

When something good happens to you unexpectedly. So when something bad happens, it isn’t a God thing?

Just

Popular filler word while praying. It doesn’t mean anything. Example:

Dear God, we just come to you humbly and we just pray that you will just hear us and just protect us, and we just ask that you just bless us today just with your love, dear God.

Just stop it.

Lift you up in prayer

This stands a good chance of being misunderstood to be an acrobatic effort. How about: Pray for you.

Lord Jesus, Lord God, Father God

Nothing wrong with these terms, unless the prayer goes something like this:

Lord God, we come to you Lord God humbly Lord God, and we pray Lord God that you will hear us, Lord God, and protect us, Lord God, and Lord God we ask that you bless us today, Lord God, with your love, Lord God.

Love offering

It means people give money, usually for a special cause. “Special offering” works, and it’s less likely to creep out a visitor.

Love on

Often used in reports from a short-term mission trip. As in, “We just wanted to love on those kids.” Love works just fine as a verb without on, and it sounds a lot less … awkward. People wanted to feel loved, not loved on.

Prayer warrior

This is a well-known (and overused) term in some cultures, but foreign to others. It is not found in the Bible, although the term is derived from the spiritual warfare imagery in Ephesians 6.

It’s a good idea to avoid militaristic terms in communication about God.

Press into God

This phrase has become trendy, but I’ve never found anyone who could explain it. What exactly am I supposed to do? Is this going to hurt?

Quiet time

Time of prayer and reading Scripture, but to an outsider it sounds like we are getting out the kindergarten nap rugs.

Share

Christians don’t gossip, they share. We don’t speak publicly, we share: Ted shared that the budget is being cut by 40 percent.

Do not say “shared” when you mean “said.”

Testimony

As in, He gave his testimony to the group. This sounds like it happened in a courtroom. Better: He told his story to the group.

The real deal

Cliché used to describe a person of integrity and deep faith. Or the dinner special at Golden Corral.

The Spirit is moving

Likely to be misunderstood depending on the culture and context. Does he need boxes?

Transitioning

This corporate buzzword is not native to Christians, but we sure have claimed it. It usually means someone just quit or got fired.

Travel mercies

The term dates to another century, when travel could be exceedingly dangerous. Today it is a blanket prayer phrase when we want clear traffic, a good parking space and a safe trip (usually a vacation). Interestingly, the Apostle Paul asked people to pray for a lot of things during his missionary journeys. His own safety was never one of them.

Unspoken prayer request

A way to gossip about someone without really gossiping.

Walk

As in, How is your walk? And I can only think of John Cleese. Better: relationship with God; faith.

Washed in the blood

Also: Covered by the blood. In a post-Christian world, this phrase evokes horror movies more than substitutionary atonement. “Forgiven” works just fine.

Worship

Nothing wrong with this term, but don’t use it interchangeably with singing. There are many ways to worship God. Singing is one.

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1 Response to Inside jargon, outside voice

  1. Devotions is another word that comes to mind.

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