Have you ever noticed that almost every locale has its own special terminology? Some call it jargon, others call it vernacular and still others call it slang.
Anyone who has moved far enough from their hometown or visited someplace far enough away usually picks up on at least one local phrase. Where I grew up we called carbonated drinks “pop,” sandwiches made on long buns “hoagies” and a particular type of processed lunchmeat has always been known as “jumbo” as long as anyone can remember.
There’s no denying it, local people use words and phrases unique to them and the area where they live. To a local, such terms can be a source of pride and identity. To a newcomer, however, they may be a source of frustration and a reminder that they don’t yet belong.
Certain local phrases are especially difficult and confusing for people who are new to town. For example, when my family and I first moved to Wilmington, we asked for directions on how to get from one place to another. I can’t tell you how many times a well-meaning, friendly local person tried to give me directions using navigational points that no longer exist. “Turn left by where K-Mart used to be; “Across from Odd Lots”; or (the local favorite, by far) —“Over by where the old, old Bob and Carl’s used to be.”
I soon learned that efficient navigation in Wilmington is greatly aided by an acute knowledge of the former retail establishments in Clinton County. Go ahead and laugh, but the same thing happens at your church.
Just as every town has its own language, so does every church. Jesus said, “… make disciples, of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey the commands I have given you … (Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis mine).” These words of Jesus, recorded by Matthew, are familiar to most Christians. So familiar in fact, some gave it the code name: “Great Commission.”
Now, I expect, most seasoned Christians perceive why there may be a need to explain the words “disciple” or “baptize” to someone new. Being that these words are found in the Bible, there are many resources available, outside the local church to help define them, but what about the phrase “Great Commission?” Where can someone go to find out the myriad of common church terms not found in scripture?
This is a perfect opportunity for “local” Christians to show good hospitality. Providing basic definitions for terms like “theology” or “trinity” is very helpful. New Christians and new members will appreciate the time taken to help them navigate the “streets” of your church. It saves them the frustration, confusion and sometimes embarrassment of trying to find their way around alone.
Providing directions to new Christians is a job any seasoned church member can take on. Just as someone local to Wilmington wouldn’t need to ask permission from the police or mayor’s office to give out navigational tips to out-of-towner’s, any member of a local congregation needn’t feel unauthorized to answer questions or provide explanations about your church’s local “slang” terms.
Let me encourage you to introduce yourself to someone new this week — invite them out for a coffee or meet them for a meal. While you are getting to know them, be sure to explain the local jargon of your congregation. Tell them what “cell-groups” are or about that ministry that uses an acronym for a name (e.g. M.O.B, Men of Bacon, men’s fellowship gathering).
Showing good hospitality at church is important for helping folks feel at home. Paul the Apostle encouraged the church in Rome, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality (Romans 12:13 NLT).” Who’s ready?
Benjamin Abbott is Minister of Discipleship at Wilmington Church of Christ.