There are lots of things we tend to say when we preach or speak in church-world that could do with clarifying. I don’t just mean complex terms or obscure references. In fact, in many cases, we would do well to eliminate many of these rather than simply clarifying them. What is our real motivation for using technical language anyway? No, in this post I am focusing on the common Christian words that season our sermons, words that seem to say something to insiders, but probably say very little to those looking in.
Why do I say we should add some clarification? Because Christians respond to words and it is easy to feel encouraged by a false response. You could call it “preaching to the choir.” When you make a reference to salvation, sin, forgiveness, lordship, relationship, prayer or heaven, you will likely get an affirming nod or even a vocal response from some in the church. If it were appropriate to then question those responders and ask what you specifically meant by what you said, a high ratio of them would struggle to give any meaningful explanation of what you meant.
As well as clarifying what you mean as you preach, also clarify what you mean by applicational statements. People may nod at vague references to “being more faithful” or “witnessing more boldly,” but they might still struggle to meaningfully and tangibly explain what you are referring to by vague Christian applications. Much better to be specific and give them concrete and tangible ways they might implement the truth learned in your message.
This clarification is for both believers and non-believers who are present. Believers can sit very comfortably nodding at everything but actually being touched by very little. Non-believers can sit perplexed at why the believers present seem so encouraged by things too vague or superficial to meaningfully engage with real life.
Those who are regularly involved in apologetic and evangelistic conversation with non-believers know that unclear communication is not helpful. The danger may be greater for those of us who preach in church more often than we debate on the street-corner.
Instead of simply provoking a celebratory nod from “the choir” in your church, why not clarify what you mean in your explanation, and also clarify what you mean by way of application? Do this for the sake of believers and non-believers present – everyone would be better off understanding what you are actually saying.
(Of course, this supposes that you know what you are actually saying too … how easy it is for us to use words without a clear understanding of what we mean, or without any specificity in application! Maybe we are all guilty of using words without making sure we really know what we mean. Perhaps the place to start is by asking God to help us see if we are doing what I have described in this post.)