I saw this on the BBC website today and I have to admit, it did make me smile. The Local Government Association has put forward a list of words and phrases that should be banned from Local Authority publications.
“Wellderly, webinar, disbenefits and under-capacitated are among new forms of jargon being used by the public sector, a survey has revealed.
Such “impenetrable phrases” are on a list of “banned words” published by the Local Government Association (LGA).
It said government departments, local authorities and quangos were all guilty of crimes against the English language.
Also on the 250-word list is tonality, trialogue, clienting and “goldfish bowl facilitated conversation”.
Phrases previously outlawed by the LGA – which represents local authorities in England and Wales – include synergies, contestability and mainstreaming.”
This has to be good news since big organisations can often focus on sharing information internally rather than with the people they exist to serve. As so often with these issues it’s easy to see the speck in someone else’s eye when looking past the plank in our own. We Christians have our own in-words and phrases that can exclude people who are seeking to know more about Christianity.
Let me first state that there can be no dumbing down of important technical terms that help to define the Christian experience. As someone who loves and has been using the New International Version of the bible for over thirty years, I still regret that the word ‘propitiation’ has been left out although I can understand why that decision came about. Words like justification, sanctification, atonement and others are vital for our understanding and should be a reason for thanksgiving.
However, in recent weeks two incidents have reminded me of the need to speak in a way that people can understand. Firstly, a person commented that the new bibles we are using are really good because they have the contents listed in alphabetical order. This is something that had never occurred to me but seems so obvious, after all, how can we expect a person to walk in and suddenly know the order of the sixty six books of scripture.
Secondly, I was recently asked to define the words ‘grace’ and ‘faith’. This reminded me again of the danger of talking in a way that is excluding people by just assuming everyone will know what we mean by these words of our faith.
All this is in sharp contrast to the teaching of Jesus. His own teaching was unusual because it was said of him, “The large crowd listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:37). Jesus could have spent his time debating with the experts but it seems he connected with the ordinary people of his day. He expects us to be like children;
“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4).
A look at the early church shows that the Apostles too sought to connect with their listeners. Compare Paul in Acts 13:16-41, with 14:15-17, and 17:22-31, it’s clear that he is seeking to engage with those who are listening by tailoring his message and pointing to Christ.
We have to speak to people in ways that are accessible (even using daft things like Facebook) to convey the message. Perhaps consider which words and phrases are the most appropriate. It is after all the Good News.