The mission comes first.
Ahead of my ideas, my preferences and my well-worn, dearly-loved terminology.
Because of that, whenever an extra-biblical idea or turn of phrase is anything but clear in the way it advances the message, we need to find and use a better manner of communication.
The Right Words At The Right Time
Every area of human interest has its own language. And rightly so. If a doctor had to use non-medical words during a delicate surgery, the loss of time and accuracy would cost lives.
It’s the same in the church. We have theological terms for good reasons. Among those who have a theological education, words like “eschatology”, “cessationism” and “ecumenism” act like shorthand to make theological conversations possible.
But there are places and times where insider lingo is appropriate and places where it is not. For a surgeon, medical terms are helpful during surgery, but they’re confusing and scary when talking to a worried family after the procedure is over.
In the church, we’ve been using some terms in ways that not only aren’t helpful to newcomers and nonbelievers, they are actually causing confusion among long-time Christians.
Here are 5 terms with common usages that we need to reconsider. Now.
1. “Pulpit” as a synonym for “preaching”
No, there’s nothing wrong with using a pulpit to hold your sermon notes. And calling it a pulpit is fine in some contexts, too. But we need to stop using the word as a synonym for the act of preaching.
When church folks say things like “that church has always had a great pulpit” they don’t mean the physical wooden lectern (usually), they mean the preaching that comes from the person standing behind it. So that’s the term we need to use.
If “that church has always had great preaching” is what we mean, that’s what we need to say.
When we use the word pulpit as a substitute for preaching we unintentionally give too much significance to the piece of furniture sitting on the platform.
As Thom S. Rainer points out in his book Who Moved My Pulpit?, some church members “see the pulpit as something sacred in itself” (pg 22). I’m convinced that using “pulpit” as a synonym for great preaching is one of the reasons for such misplaced values.
No piece of furniture is sacred. Neither is the preacher. Only the message is.