about writing and life and God


on December 2, 2012


I have a question that’s nagging at me. This morning at church some of the familiar words and phrases, well-known and understood in Christian circles, jarred surprisingly on my ear and got me thinking: do I use jargon in my preaching? Do I assume my listeners know what I mean, for example,  by ‘Light of the world’ or ‘redemption’ or even ‘Saviour’?

It’s extra important at this time of year when Christians may be bringing non-believing or openly anti-Christian friends and family to church services, as well as those once-a-year attendees, the slipped-away who got tangled in the thorns and thistles, and those who lost what faith they had when life hit them too hard.

We preachers – and Christian writers – have an awesome responsibility. We are charged with communicating the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Communicating. Not just talking or writing about it. Communicating means getting our message across – and that demands that we create a meeting place where they will have the best chance of meeting Our Lord.

What’s worrying me is that the Christian jargon which we in the church are so comfortable with – and possibly not very aware of – will not communicate anything but exclusion to those without that language. Putting them outside our message.

St Paul might be a good role model with his explanation of how he got alongside non-believing folk from other cultures. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 he sets out his stall – how he does it – by meeting his hearers where they are, culturally, linguistically, theologically, and intellectually.

“Ah”, but you might reply, “but my congregation/readership is a mixed one. How then should I pitch my sermon/writing?”

Again, St Paul offers good advice. In Romans 15:1 and elsewhere,  he recommends that we should make sure we care for our weakest brothers and sisters, those with less faith or less confidence in the faith. That means making sure nothing in our words will baffle someone new to the Christian message. So long as you’re not being patronising or talking down to anyone in your congregation/readership, the more mature won’t be insulted either.

This reminds me of one of the early press barons’ guidelines for his journalists: everything they wrote should be understandable by the lowliest lad in the post-room. Common sense and good commercial sense. But for the Christian preacher, teacher, or writer, it demands love as well as care.

And sent me home to scrutinise my sermon for this afternoon, and do extra praying that I might indeed communicate God’s love to His people.

As Christian preachers/teachers/writers, we have an awesome responsibility that we need to take seriously. Jesus said if anyone leads any of his little ones astray it would be better for them to have a millstone tied round their neck and be thrown into the deepest sea!

Not a lot of jargon there!


4 responses to “Communicate

  1. Joy Lenton says:

    A very salient point, Dorothy. I agree with you on the need for us to stay tuned to the levels of understanding of our hearers and in tune with how God may be asking us to express our faith in terms which others can understand. When we’ve been Christians for some years it is easy to fall into the jargon of ‘Christianese’ and wonder why our message falls on deaf ears. The need to be straightforward and culturally relevant doesn’t mean baby talk either. Jesus spoke to his audience with a deep understanding of their position and always met with them at their point of need. It would help us to seek ways to do likewise. Thank you for a thought-provoking and interesting post.

  2. Pat Williamson says:

    A lot of it is down to vocabulary I think. You obviously got it right yesterday afternoon the grapevine has told me

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