avoiding Christianese: how to connect to non-believers online

Christianese, evangelism online, communicating Christ online, quotes on communication, sharing your faith online, Christians online, evangelism

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

by Toni Birdsong
Christianese. It’s easy to fall into and entirely logical for a Christian—after all, it’s our cultural code; the mother tongue of heaven. Still, it can become a colossal stumbling block if you are interested in sharing your faith online.

Simply defined, Christianese is the jargon, terminology, and exclusive language used by Christians that usually only Christians can understand. Christianese isn’t a bad thing (despite the jokes around it)—in fact it’s a positive that we share this powerful fellowship.

But when communicating with non-believers (and anyone else), speaking Christianese can sink a conversation quickly. Use it enough and you’ll find yourself on the outside of the influence circle looking in, which can put a real damper on The Great Commission.

Some common Christianese: “Washed in the blood of the Lamb,” “saved by grace,” “old man/new man,” “unblemished lamb,” “fruits of the spirit,” “grieve the holy spirit,” “testimony,” “sanctified,” “fellowship,” “spirit of the Lord,” “witness,” “born again,” “get saved,” “it caused me to stumble,” “I feel convicted,” “sovereignty of God,”. . . and the list goes on . . . and on.

6 ways to avoid Christianese:

  1. Keep it simple. Choose words that a 5 year-old can understand. Instead of “washed in the blood of the lamb” just say, “Because I believe in Jesus Christ, I’m forgiven.” Instead of “I’ve grieved the holy spirit,” just say, “I really messed up this time. It hurts that I hurt God.”
  2. Know the root/truth. To dial Christianese back, make sure you know the root of the term you are trying to explain. Look in the back of your bible in the glossary. Also, Love of God has a great list of Christian terms and definitions, as does Wikipedia.
  3. Keep it real. In sharing your faith, you will always be a sinner talking to a sinner—or one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Overcomplicating that reality (or using seemingly condescending phrases) will get you in trouble quick. If sharing your faith within social networks is important to you, re-read everything before you post it and delete the fluff, clichés, and phrases only a Christian would understand.
  4. Share your life—the real one. Give honest commentary on the wins as well as the losses of your daily life. If you want access to others, you must give access (within reason). This will require pulling back the curtain to some degree. The Christian life is defined by heaven but that doesn’t mean there won’t be real trouble on earth. Revealing imperfection is not only acceptable but expected in social networks.
  5. Tell your story. (Notice, it’s “story” not “testimony”). Everyone has a “new life” story. Just tell it simply and honestly in bits and pieces. What did your life look like before you got serious about Christ and then after you committed to follow Him?
  6. Use humor. Humor is the shortest bridge between two hearts, when used in context. Humor is used powerfully (and creatively) by some of our favorite evangelists/tweeters such as @sueduffield, @JesusNeedsPR@robbiespeaks, @trippcrosby@jonacuff and @PatsyClairmont. For instance, flip your thinking conversationally and explain “fruit of the spirit” with something funny like: “I see big changes in my life since I met Christ .  .  . I’m more loving, patient, kind, and have for the most part, stopped kicking the cat. Basically, I think people can stand me now.”

As we dive into deeper in the book @stickyJesus: how to live out your faith online, one of the most powerful ways to make an impact in your online circles of influence is to daily ask the Holy Spirit to guide your mind, heart, and words. Listen to the people around you and use language that reaches into their lives. It really is that simple.

What Christianese do you notice online? How can those concepts/words be communicated better?

Post/tweet this today:
Don’t say in 10 words what can be said in 3: Jesus loves you. #LiveSticky #KeepinItReal

Tags: , , , ,

  • http://www.tonyjalicea.com Tony Alicea

    You nailed my favorite Christianese phrase “washed in the blood”. Such a crazy phrase to use without a frame of reference!

    I’m a big proponent of using humor. I try to relate as much as possible to where people are. I don’t get offended when people use language that I don’t use. I don’t run from it, try to find common ground. 

    I have an atheist friend that I talk to almost every day on Twitter. She likes me because I’m not “judgemental like all the other Christians”. In the process of getting to know her, she’s read some of my blogs and even commented on a couple of them. I love it!

  • Anonymous

    @tonyjalicea:disqus don’t you just LOVE gettting to know atheists online? I’ve made some great friends and have had amazing dialogue. When I was younger in my faith I was defensive and serious about theology and faith stuff. Now, firmly planted and under the Spirit’s power, I can honestly move in freedom and incredible liberty about the truth I confess. And wow—humor—what an awesome God to design that into our makeup. I’d rather laugh than eat. Thanks for weighing in. I always love your comments! 

  • Stephen Clark

    Excellent! Growing up “in church” really ingrains the Christian lingo. As I wrote in a blog post (http://www.stephenrclarkblog.com/2011/04/its-all-glossolalia-to-me-speaking-in.html):

    “In college (yes, I went to a Christian liberal arts college), one of our professors challenged us to try to talk about our faith without using any Christianese. We couldn’t go more than half a sentence before hitting the wall and drawing a blank, if you get my meaning (I also speak fluent cliché).”

    Keeping your story simple and real with a dash of humor is perfect for sharing Jesus with others.

  • Anonymous

    @6d08c123aecfabcc19ab8949232b84e4:disqus love that: fluent cliche! You had a wise professor. That’s a great exercise to try at a small group sometime too — no Christianese. Can’t wait to cruise over to your blog too. Thanks for weighing in, it’s great to have cyber accountability and share new/different ideas among believers. 

  • Martina

    Good post, Toni. You are of course right, Toni. It is a bad habit we all fall into when speaking to non-beleivers. It is very off-putting.
    I have recently done a blog about this as well, http://tinyurl.com/3ch6qzv . One of my least favorite, usually coming from the pulpit is, “let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” I found that not only did the non-belivers not know what it meant, many of the “insiders” didn’t have a clue either. Good reminder to all of us.
    We should not hide behind phrases when we can make our faith plain and understandable…

  • Pingback: rants: christianese « The Christian Noob (n00b)()

  • http://www.facebook.com/radiosue Sue Duffield

    Well, you already “know” what I think about all this chatter! :) An atheist friend recently asked, (about the cross), “How is it you Christians have a sacrificial death symbol as a “life giving/freeing” icon?” >>Love. Love. Love that question! You better be prayed up, to answer that one effectively! :)

  • Anonymous

    @01b39cef755a76961dff4fcaad895313:disqus can’t wait to dive into your post as well! That is so true — I never thought about the fact that we all might just be speaking Greek to one another at times. I have a very annoying habit, when someone uses a word I don’t know I ask them “Previenient? What does that mean?” Sometimes they stutter . . . I love that we all have our sacred words and phrasing that is rooted in scripture but yes, we can go overboard its a subtle thing. Thanks for posting Martina, it’s great to meet you.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a softball, huh @facebook-1267233703:disqus ? Bam — home run! 

  • Sandra Briggs

    The Bible itself says That which is of Spirit can not be understood intellectually. The very words that you refer to “Christianese” are the very words annointed with the Holy Spirit and hold the Power to change the carnal spirit.  I KNOW! They transformed me. You reduce those or exchange them for those that a five year old can comprehend,  you are resorting to another way and another foundation and God will not honor it. The enemy, Satan himself would love a 5 year old mentality witness! Are you kidding me? This is a war of the Spirits that take place at conversion and only those Words anointed hold the Power to change! Only the Holy Spirit can reveal God because He is God, and the one of the Triune Godhead that deals specifically with man. 

    This quote: “In sharing your faith, you will always be a sinner talking to a sinner” … This is not true according to the Word of God. The Word of God tells me I am a NEW Creation in Christ Jesus. Everything given to us by Christ is “NEW.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.  The Word of God also tells me As Christ is so are we in this world. 1 John 4:17! And may I just say that Jesus Christ is NOT a sinner in this world!

    And to tell the people “bits and pieces” of my story? The Holy Spirit in me will share the story he wants told! This article encourages them to get into “self” and omit the very words that hold the Power to transform!

    Is sticky Jesus connected With pastor Steve Berger? 

  • Anonymous

    @00e3cc4ddcc00af21efacfdb73f309d4:disqus . I’m grateful your love and passion for our Lord and His word has lead to this beautiful post. You are right, as I stated in the blog — Christian language that we use is our mother tongue, our language. There’s nothing wrong with it. This blog and this post is always about the wisdom in communicating (briefly) in the online world. It’s about uncomplicating and making the gospel beautiful and simple so that many, many, more will hear and come to Christ. 

    We (the redeemed) are all sinners saved by grace. That was the spirit of the sentence. I don’t walk around “better than” but fully connected to the grace of the cross. 

    If you get to know this blog more fully, I think you will get a vision for what we are trying to accomplish. In the online world, we don’t always have the luxury of lengthy conversations. The world’s attention span has shrunk so we are trying to coach people on how to communicate Christ and bring others to salvation . . .  in spite of the obstacles of living in a digital world. 

    I am related to Steve Berger in that he is my pastor and I attend Grace Chapel. I’ll be speaking more on the sticky Jesus message this Wednesday at Grace Chapel at 6:3o PM if you happen to attend there. I’d love to meet you! :)

  • Sandra Briggs

    I did miss the point altogether regarding the “intent” of your blog in that it was meant to be like a short cut for lack of characters we have to use online. Forgive me!
    Thank you too, for responding. Much appreciated.

    I so wish I did attend Grace Chapel. I will one day make a visit, and when i do I will look you up, you can count on it!

  • Anonymous

    And your awesome post challenges me—as a writer—to ask God to help me daily write with clarity and to anoint my words so I never lead anyone astray or distract from HIS intent and HIS glory. (Less of me, more of Him). My heart’s desire—my purpose on earth—is to communicate His truth so that others can get to know Him & enjoy Him forever. The Body of Christ must keep one another accountable and you, @00e3cc4ddcc00af21efacfdb73f309d4:disqus  weighing in today, sweet sister, does just that! PLEASE keep doing that, all over the web. Please! Together, we must! :)

  • Martina

    Good to meet you as well, Toni.
    It wasn’t until I got much older that I realized that the adults didn’t know what they were talking about either. You are correct, people don’t like being called on it.
    Sadly, the same thing occurs with misquoting scripture. The act of holiness is not the same as being holy. And, you don’t come across as someone to be followed if everything that comes out of your mouth points to you instead of Christ.
    As a group, I think we should spend much more time educating themselves about the faith we profess.

  • Nono77701

    God judges based by not what u did right but what u did wrong. That is why God sent his son Jesus to pay the ultimate sacrifice of death on a cross. He loves us that much that he sent his OWN son. Could u send ur son to die for the world?

  • Petzl

    Haven’t many, many mothers and fathers sent their sons to die in every war humanity has ever suffered through?