Tuesday 25 October is Drop the Jargon day. Drop the Jargon Day is an annual campaign hosted by the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity & Health. The aim of this campaign is to reduce health inequalities and improve health outcomes for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds.
While this day is for professionals in Australian health, community services and local government to practice and promote the use of plain, jargon-free language, it’s also a time to pause to reflect on the inordinate amount of ‘jargon’ that happens in ‘church-world’. It’s difficult for the ‘uninitiated’ to navigate insider church-speak, and often involves people developing skills as ‘translators’.
A blogpost by G.W.Smallwood raises some issues. He writes:
Do you really need to be justified in order to work out your sanctification by loving on the kids in Sunday School? Are you feeling led to covet the prayers of others to strengthen your hedge of protection? Does your testimony attest to your stewardship? Are you fully leaning into the words of your Jesus? Are you intentional about doing life with others?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then that makes two of us. I just gave you a crash course in one of my pet peeves when it comes to church: jargon. The Oxford Dictionary defines jargon as “words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group of people, and are difficult for others to understand.”
The key to that definition is “difficult to understand”. I think it’s time to retire all of these weird phrases. They do nothing to help people understand what we’re talking about or why Jesus is so awesome. In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a demon instructs his protege nephew that:
Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him (referring to his human target) from the Church.C.S.Lewis
I think this is true. A common set of phrases, slang, and dialect can help strengthen bonds within a community. But when it comes to the church, I think the problems with jargon far outweigh the benefits. People need to be able to understand what we’re talking about in order to feel like they belong. By using language and phrasing that is confusing (even to those of us within the church most of the time) we’re alienating a big portion of those we’re trying to serve.
Get rid of the jargon. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
He goes on to say that the leadership group at his church devotes an entire session to creating an outsider-focused culture. One of the ways that happens is eliminating insider language. Remember, the gospel is good news, of great joy, for ALL people (Luke 2:10). Let’s make sure all people can understand what we’re talking about.
Rev. Becky Zartman, who blogs as the Vicar of H Street, writes:
“if I ever use a church word I define it or explain what it means. Better yet, I don’t use it. I might write an entire reflection on the Incarnation and never use the word. People either don’t know what it means or think they do and they don’t.”
Nadia Bolz-Weber in an online post (language alert) about jargon language in churches and seminaries concludes: “Let’s watch our language out there. The church has some beautiful things to offer. Let’s all speak of God and faith and community in clear and simple language”.
May it be so!!