Peculiar people. The apostle Peter used that term to address his people.
After a couple thousand years, I guess we’re still peculiar. But I’m just not convinced that everything we do to differentiate ourselves from the rest of society really helps the cause.
Some of our peculiarity comes from the jargon we love to use in the church. Those of us “on the inside” have become so comfortable using the insider language that we’ve lost touch with how odd we sound to the majority of the culture.
Most of these words aren’t bad. They’re just odd, misleading or puzzling to John Public. For example:
“Your walk.” As in, “How’s your walk with the Lord?” Our friend John imagines we’re burning a few calories doing laps around the church parking lot.
“Student.” John knows this term describes a person of any age who attends a school or university. But we twisted “student” to refer exclusively to a teenager–who may or may not even attend school.
“Campus.” John uses this word to refer to the vast grassy acreage that encompasses the various buildings of a university. We, however, use the term to describe any location, large or tiny, at which a church service is held. It even works to denote that old cinema we use for our satellite location.
“Love on.” While the rest of the world talks about loving people, we prefer to love ON our people. As in, “We’re just gonna love on the ladies at the women’s retreat.” I don’t want to think about how John pictures that.
Peculiar. We’re so separate we don’t know how peculiar we are.
Of all the ways in which mainline congregations are weak, using the aforementioned ‘insider’ language is not one of them. We do, however, prefer sanctuary to worship center and narthex for lobby. We really old mainline folks still remember and are guilty of occasionally using the Latin terms for portions of the liturgy…..oh yes, we still do liturgy. Sigh. At the same time, we seek to be in the presence of the holy. Perhaps our language indicates that we are busy doing something completely different from the rest of society. ??
I laughed out loud when I read the “love on” part. So true!
Peculiar. We’re so separate we don’t know how peculiar we are.
This just makes me chuckle! 🙂
It is so true! For everything we “say”, we sure don’t say much!
Say what you mean and mean what you say…it’s that easy.
We don’t need to have “slang” all our own. If we do then guests who come in are left out.
We use code words and it seems we are a secret society.
(S.D.M.I. = Sunday School, NYI = Teenagers, NMS = Missions)
If the S.D.M.I Board is open to suggestions for topics for a small group then just say,
“We are open to suggestions for small groups.”
If the NYI are having an aftergolw following the evening service, and that’s what you say, then don’t get upset when the new lonely old guy shows up looking for some warmth…
We also need to be aware that even though we know our church like the back of our hand, that does not mean that first time visitors know how to find the fellowship hall or the bathroom! (They shouldn’t have to ask…) Make sure your church building is well marked. Just a couple of thoughts…
I agree that we need to be sensitive to those around us and do what we can to reach out to them instead of turning them off,unnecessarily, with what we say and do. There are many things that we hold to and do without even thinking that we can very easily do without and still remain true to our Lord and further our relationship with Him. But help me with something Thom. The way i see it someone who is not a follower of Jesus is not going to feel entirely comfortable in our services or gatherings simply because of the fact that they are not part of the family and the Spirit is not residing in them.( Another line they would have no idea what we are referring to) The same goes for those of us that are not in a right relationship with God. There is going to be a certain amount of discomfort and restlessness or there would be no need for a change. How does this fit in with your Life Tree groups?
Thanks, Rob. Every organization develops insider language. And I think it’s fine to use jargon when exclusively with the club members. However, if an organization desires to grow it needs to make its language understandable and clear when new people are present. For example, waitstaff may talk in the restaurant’s kitchen about a “4- top.” But when a family arrives, the host asks, “Table for four?”
And yes, we’re very conscious of this thinking at Lifetree Cafes. We train all our people to use language that clearly connects with everyone, especially those who have not been marinated in church lingo.
I’ve never used or heard student in church circles except for how it’s used in general and I don’t use “love on” although I have heard it. I also have never used campus for church, but then again, I’ve not been part of a huge complex. While I have attended large churches, they really weren’t large enough for us to use the word campus. I don’t think that word would confuse John Public though. They just may be surprised that we have buildings or property that large and that it doesn’t resemble the traditional church that most people have in their minds.
Hey Thom! I’ve been a huge fan of your work and ideas for years, and I still am. This blog is funny, and I also recommend Tim Hawkins’ and Michael Jr’s takes on this topic. Your blogs just keep getting more negative, though, and I’d love to see you use your talents, insight, and platform to get proactive instead. As goofy or potentially off-putting as it can be, EVERY group has its own lingo, abbreviations, and inside jokes. Should we laugh at ourselves? Sure! Should we be willing to do/sacrifice anything to reach John Public? You bet. But why not focus on ways to meet John Public on his own territory, explain things to him clearly, and ask HIM what’s confusing or strange to HIM. I know this is where you’re heading on this, but why not use your blog to offer new solutions and alternatives instead of just criticizing or poking fun? One last thing: we did not invent the “students” term–that’s a PC term we adopted. Not that using politically correct terms is a good thing, either…
Leave it to you to notice and point out our peculiar usage of vernacular. We pastors are quite adet at using Theological Vernacular around others. I am still not sure if I do it to impress myself or others. Good point, my old friend, just don’t forget it wasn’t ALL that long ago that you and I sort of defined “peculiar,” and look at us now.
Pastor Rob Nedbalek
If you don’t believe God has a sense of humor, look at me.I went to the seminary! 🙂
Hey, Rob. I think we were the very definition of peculiar in our neighborhood. And look, we never outgrew it!
I agree, and this got me thinking about Jesus’ teaching. I’m no expert on 1st century Palestinian culture, so I don’t know how his language fit in with the masses. They were certainly uncomfortable with what he was saying at times, and confused by it at other times, but I think that had more to do with his radical ideas than his language. As that applies to some earlier comments, I agree that people who don’t know Jesus might feel uncomfortable with church teachings, but it should be because of the content, not the fact that we have our own language.
It seems to me (again, a non-expert on such matters) that most of what Jesus said related perfectly to the culture – farming parables, etc. I’ve also heard (from a Rob Bell teaching) that some of the stories he used (those mentioned when he talks about counting the cost) were political references, and that when he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I long to gather you up under my wings,” that it was a paraphrased quote from a 1st century pagan play.
All this to say, from where I sit it seems Jesus spoke and engaged with the culture on their level. But I’d be interested to know if he also used language or prhases that would’ve made no sense to people.