Meaningless Chatter

blabla2Apologies for a quiet couple of weeks on here . . . have been enjoying our new little girl and the sleepy first weeks with a little one in the house.

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Our culture seems to be an effective generator of meaningless chatter. I am not referring to relaxed conversation.  I am think more specifically of the excessive use of clichés and standard phrases that mean very little.

Listen in to folks chatting with each other and you will often hear a back and forth of relative nothingness.  One person will express an opinion. The other will counter with “we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” which stirs a swift, “you’re entitled to your opinion,” countered with a, “fair enough, free country,” or a reference to “freedom of speech,” a reference to “a bit of give and take,” and so on.  Before you know it, such free speech has moved a conversation nowhere over the course of many minutes.

Turn on the TV and listen to a footballer being interviewed and typically you can play cliché bingo with a line completed every 30 seconds.  A game of two halves, play until the whistle, a striker’s finish, he’s got a great engine, a game of cat and mouse, a bit cagey, etc.  (This list would be different in the USA, for instance, but probably similar in effect.) Every phrase is actually saying something, but it can all feel very predictable and slightly like rote behavior.  To someone not used to listening to British footballers it can seem like another language.

What about your preaching?  Do you have any stock phrases that come out too easily?  Do you preach in Christianese so that visitors don’t actually know what you are talking about?

Here are some categories of phrases that could very well be true, and yet still be classified by some as potentially meaningless chatter.  Since I am slightly sleep deprived, I won’t list the dozens of examples, but by all means feel free to list ones that come to mind in a comment!

1. Churchy language – gathering under the sound of the gospel, where two or three are gathered, the church is not the building, Sunday morning is like a mountaintop, let’s approach the throne of mercy, bring our prayers to a close, etc.

2. Preacher language – turn with me to . . . , by way of application, finally (this one is often confusing when 15 more minutes of sermon follows it!), as we all know (dangerous and pointless phrase, unless we like to alienate people), etc.

Remember, some of these phrases are profoundly true, but still might require some explanation so that they don’t sound like a pastor being interviewed on TV about the service and his message.

3. Theology language – its all about Jesus, Jesus is the answer, let go and let God, our problem is that we just don’t believe enough, its not about us, etc.

I am sure you could add to these lists.  By all means do.  And let’s prayerfully consider whether our language each Sunday actually communicates.  Maybe some of us will dare to ask some newer people in our churches to write a list from their perspective!

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10 thoughts on “Meaningless Chatter

  1. Some interesting insights there, but I’d like to pick on just one of the phrases you mentioned: “as we all know (dangerous and pointless phrase, unless we like to alienate people)”.

    Well, I agree. But I also feel a need, what expounding something that most of the congregation does know, to signpost that fact, so I don’t come across as trying to teach patronisingly elementary facts. For example, suppose you’re preaching on Solomon. You need to set the scene by explaining that he was David’s son. But if you just say “Solomon was David’s son”, you risk leaving half your congregation thinking “Well, I’ve know that since 1983”. Hence the pull towards qualify phrases like “As many of you will know”.

    Any advice?

    • Really good point, Mike – I suppose I err towards sensitivity to the few who don’t know. I’d rather risk sounding basic to long-time church folks than out of reach for guests or new attenders. I suppose there is a scale. At one end is the absolute and alienating “as we all know.” At the other end there is the patronising “Solomon had a Daddy whose name was David!” And in between? Perhaps “if you’ve been around the Bible for a while you’ll know that Solomon was King David’s son, …” I suspect this will avoid the problem of the extremes. The key is probably not our terminology primarily, but our awareness and love for the audience.

  2. I feel the same way about Twitter!?! I’m seriously thinking about un-following my church on Twitter. Isn’t that sad!?! My sec-friends already don’t read the bible, let’s give them snippets of words that are out of context, and are about some dude (Jesus) who loves you etc.

    I laughed so hard at the above: “Peacher language… finally (this one is often confusing when 15 more minutes of sermon follows it!)….”
    Wahahaha!

    Yup cliches irritate me. How about “It is what it is.” or “That’s just my opinion” – of course it’s your opinion, YOU’RE saying it! Silly how careful we are, with our own friends, to not hurt feelings. When did everyone suddenly become so introspective and hypersensitive? I’m not sure when that became the norm….

    How do we stop it? I try to keep integrity in my speech, txt, and written communication but mostly I think I come off as a bitch when I don’t follow the social norms.

    Frustrating. Sometimes I wish I lived in Europe hahaha! RC

    *me thinking Europeans are much more blunt and true talkers*

  3. Another preacher favourite: ‘Isn’t it true that…’

    But what if I don’t agree with the statement that follows! It’s hard to say, ‘no it’s not!’

  4. One that makes me shudder: “You must know, and know that you know….” Another is, “[Statement], I kid you not.”

    Ughhh.

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