Posted by: smstrouse | March 15, 2012

Talkin’ Churchy Language Blues

How embarrassing!  I, of all people, should know better.  I, the preacher against the ‘language of Zion,’ as Tom Ridenour, my former preaching professor called it when we students would get too ‘preachy.’  I fell into the trap of using churchy language when plain and simple was called for.

Here’s what happened.  We’re redesigning our church’s website.  Our web designer has been diligent in reminding us that it will be primarily used for outreach.  It’s not meant for the ‘insiders.’  It’s meant for people who are searching for a congregation like ours.  It’s meant for people who perhaps have very little or no church background but are seeking a spiritual home and community.

So we’ve jazzed up the design, chosen a bright new logo, and edited the copy that describes who we are.  One of the headings we added was ‘Creative Worship’ because that is a big part of who we are.  Trouble was they gave it to the preacher to write.  When I was going over everything with the web guy, he told me that everything else looked good, except for that one page.  “What’s this word?” he asked about one word.  “What does that even mean?” he continued on another  paragraph.

Here’s the thing: our web guy is not a church person.  He’s never been a member of a church, so he’s perfect for reading our copy without any of our ‘language of Zion’ lenses on.  And he got me.  The page he was critiquing was the one I had written.

Thankfully, for once my ego didn’t get in the way. I didn’t get defensive (well, maybe a little, but I kept it inside) and try to defend my perfectly chosen, theologically astute words.  The thing is, I knew he was right.  I could see it immediately.  And so I contritely agreed to do a  rewrite.

What I learned from this is how easy it is to fall back into the easy language, the familiar ways we’ve talked about the church, about God, about everything involved in the religious sphere.  I’ve been humbled.  But before I start to launch into words like repentance and metanoia and salvific grace, I’m simply going to reedit this piece and then rework my sermon.

And learn – again – what Tom Ridenour taught me twenty-five years ago.


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