Three “Buzzwords” We Mishandle

(Guest Post by Ethan Ezikian)

When writing and speaking about Christian themes, it can be easy to adopt the popular language associated with an idea without realizing the implications of the words we use to describe, teach, or communicate these concepts.  Its important for us to think through the way we talk and grasp the influence that our language has on how we understand certain concepts.

There are probably a host of biblical themes that we get sloppy with, but here are three that consistently get my knickers in a twist:

1.    Worship.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Welcome to worship here at _________ church.” or “Joe Shmoe is going to lead us in worship before we get into the word.” or “This new worship album is so great!” or “That song was so worshipful!”?  In much of the western church, worship has become associated with services, singing, music industries, or emotional experiences.

Language like this puts worship into such a small box.  As we see it in scripture, worship is so much bigger than the categories we put it in.  God worships himself within the community of the Trinity,[i] worship is the only fitting response to God’s self-revelation,[ii] worship is sacrifice and obedience, worship involves all of life.[iii]  Worship can encompass services, singing, songwriting, and strong feeling, but the language we use has confined it to shortsighted categories and that is a shame.

When using the word “worship” try qualifying it.  “Welcome to our worship gathering” or “we’re going to worship God with music right now” or “listen to this song for worship” or “I had chills when I heard that song because it really helped me to see more of who God is.”  Talking about worship in this way can become a bit more of a mouthful, but it’s worth it.

 2.    Brokenness.

“Brokenness” is a popular term I consistently hear used in church culture.  I’ve used it a lot when talking about sin, but have lately decided to think more carefully about how I use it.

 Recently I was reviewing a newly published hymnal with my pastor and we noticed the line from the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” that says “though the eye of sinful man, thy glory may not see” had been revised to say “though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see.”  My pastor pointed out that the language in the older version rightly communicates that sin, perpetrated by humanity, keeps us from seeing God, while the revised version makes man out to be a victim of sin.  Unfortunately, language that portrayed sin in the context of man’s deliberate rebellion toward God had been swapped for the softer language of man as a victim of something outside of himself.  It’s a roundabout way of suggesting that sin isn’t really our fault, which is not what the bible teaches.

The same attitude is communicated when we speak of sin in terms of our “brokenness.” It is true, we are broken because of sin, but talking only in terms of brokenness makes us the victim again.  We need to talk about brokenness in the larger context of our treason against God.

 3.    The Kingdom.

It’s very popular when talking about evangelism, church planting, or social justice to say that we are “building the kingdom.”  The Bible has a lot to say about the kingdom.  It’s a major theme of Jesus’ preaching ministry,[iv] and a vital part of the apostle’s teaching.[v]  But talking about the kingdom as if we have a part in building it is a little presumptuous and biblically inaccurate.  Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand.  Not part of it – all of it!  There’s nothing left to build.

We are in the already-not-yet. The kingdom of God has already broken into this world but has not yet been fully realized.  Nobody needs to build it for God.  He’s done it himself!

Instead of talking in terms of “building the Kingdom” try saying “serving in the kingdom” or “ambassadors for the kingdom.”[vi]

It’s easy to throw out popular buzzwords and phrases without meaning to communicate their deeper implications, but we are teachers even when we don’t mean to be.  Our thoughts, words, and phrases have the ability to influence the way people think about these key concepts.  “Worship music,” “brokenness,” and “building the kingdom” may seem like inconsequential things to say, but when we use them without thinking or without deliberate specificity it is likely that our audience will infer an inaccurate definition, which will lead to misguided action.  It’s our responsibility as communicators to be thoughtful about how we use these spiritual “buzzwords” so we do not add to the cheapening of their intended meaning.



[i] Jn. 16:14; 17:1

[ii] Ex. 34:1-8; Jo. 5:14; 2 Chr. 7:3; Neh. 8; Mt. 2:11; Rev. 4,5, 7,11…

[iii] Rom. 12:1-2

[iv] e.g. Mt. 13

[v] Acts 1:3; 8:12; 19:8; 28:23; 31

[vi] If you’re interested in thinking more about the mission of the church within the kingdom, check out “What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission” by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert.

 

Ethan is a seminary student and worship leader who lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his wife, Dana.  He loves a good story, a well- written song, good food, deep friendships, his awesome wife, and the glorious God who has redeemed him and blessed him with these good gifts.  He’s proud to call Nick McDonald his friend and brother in Christ and has followed Scribblepreach since the beginning.  He’s honored to be guest posting on scribblepreach.com this week.  Sometimes Ethan writes his own blog atwww.reunderstandingworship.wordpress.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter @ethanezikian.

9 Comments

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  • Tim Brown

    Thanks for your comments Ethan. I recognized the point about “building the kingdom” from a recent read of DeYoung and Gilbert’s book. I think that they make an insightful point that our job is to proclaim the kingdom (as heralds).

    So, do you think that the phrase “advancing the kingdom” is equally problematic or does that role belong to us as servant of the kingdom in the already-not yet?

    • Ethan Ezikian

      Thanks for reading Pastor Brown! DeYoung and Gilbert’s book was so helpful for me. I ate it up and found the insights challenging and exciting!

      As for “advancing the kingdom,” after thinking about it a bit, I think it has some of the same problems as the “building” language. Who is doing the advancing? Us? I suppose we could say “the kingdom is being advanced” because it doesn’t necessarily imply that we are doing the advancing, but I would be uncomfortable saying “we were advancing the kingdom on that mission trip.” God does the advancing, not us. We’re just tools.

      What are your thoughts?

      • Ben Thorp

        Certainly from my experience, the use of Kingdom is to move away from the use of “church” – to try and help people understand that we serve God and His Kingdom, rather than “my” church. I’ve usually heard it used in the context of mission, to help people understand that the purpose of mission is not to get people into “my” church, but rather to get them into His Kingdom.

        • Ethan Ezikian

          Interesting point Ben. I wonder if the language that replaces “church” with “kingdom” is a little bit destructive of people’s doctrine of the Church. While thinking in terms of growing/building “my church” is definitely misguided, it is important to have a robust way of thinking and investing in a local body. Do you think kingdom language could be destructive in that way?

          • Ben Thorp

            I think there is definitely that possibility – I have certainly seen churches where the 80/20 rule (80% of the work done by 20% of the people) seems to be exacerbated not by people being lazy, but by people being over-invested in “kingdom work” for other ministries.

  • Jeannie

    Very helpful; I know I’ll think more about these words when I hear or say them from now on.

    The revision to “Holy Holy Holy” was probably done to get rid of the gendered word “man.” But I think you’re right that something more important was sacrificed in the revision. (For another take — which I just googled a moment ago — here’s an article which expresses discomfort with the words “made blind by sin” simply because of the implication that physical blindness is related to sin — something I had never considered! (This writer favours “the eye of sinfulness”) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/04580630903476152?journalCode=ultg20

    • Ethan Ezikian

      That is about the best compliment that you could give Jeannie, that you will think more about the way we use those words. That makes me happy!

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    Each of those buzzwords has bugged me too, Ethan.

    For worship, I remember talking to a guy who had led music at a conference I attended, and he said he has had people ask if they can get a set of the worship slides he used. He said he tells them he doesn’t have worship slides. They walk away confused.

    Brokenness really gets me. For one thing, those of us who are now in Christ aren’t broken for crying out loud! We’re new creations, and will be for all eternity.

    And on building God’s kingdom, I am right there with you as well. I may talk about being involved in kingdom work, but it’s the work of the Holy Spirit through me.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • Ethan Ezikian

      I’ve wanted to do stuff like the worship leader you mentioned, Tim. I’m never quick enough when it actually happens… so I write blogs about it instead!

      I had not thought of that aspect of the “brokenness” language. Good point!

      Thanks for reading Tim!