If you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you might not be aware of how differently you speak from your non-Christian friends and neighbors. But it’s no secret that we speak in our own unique dialect: Christianese, as it is often called.
Some of that is necessary. In order to understand important theological and biblical truths, we often need to turn to words that have technical definitions—words such as sin, salvation, redemption, sanctification, and the like.
But then there are other words and phrases that have evolved within the American evangelical subculture that carry no theological weight. They’re just things we say.
Maybe we should stop saying some of them, though.
Here are at least 11 Christianese words and phrases that I really think we should retire.
(Disclaimer: This article consists mostly of content that I would refer to as “just for funsies.” So try not to get too offended if I poke fun of a phrase you regularly use. At the same time, it is important to note how our word choices can alienate those outside our faith tradition or church community. We should take care to ensure that our peculiar words and phrases never obscure the lifesaving message of Jesus.)
1. ‘Bless This Food to Our Bodies’
Expressing gratitude to God for every meal is a good thing. In a culture where wealth is so abundant that most American evangelicals need not worry about when their next meal is coming, we would do well to find ways to regularly remind ourselves that it is God who provides our daily bread.
Be that as it may, asking God to “bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies” rings a little hollow when you’re towering over a cheeseburger and fries. Maybe it would be better to ask God to bless our efforts to intake a little less “nourishment,” or at least a type of nourishment that is, well, actually nourishing.
In any event, simply saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for this food,” works just as well, gets rid of the esoteric language, and doesn’t request that God “bless” something that is shortening your lifespan.
2. ‘I Covet Your Prayers’
Asking for prayer is a good thing. Coveting, at least by any modern usage of the word, is a bad thing. In fact, the last of the Ten Commandments explicitly prohibits it.
Instead of “coveting” the prayers of everyone in our small group, we can simply ask, “Would you pray for me?”
3. ‘Love On…’
The Christian life is marked by love. We are called to love our neighbors as well as our enemies (Mark 12:31 and Matthew 5:44, respectively). There is no denying that loving others is a fundamental aspect of following Jesus.
But loving on others? Something about that sounds weird. If I didn’t know that the intent behind the phrase was innocent and harmless, I might begin to wonder if it were an innuendo for something—and something that I certainly don’t want done to me. The unnecessary preposition creeps me out.
Relatedly, as Brady Shearer has pointed out, we should also retire “press in.” There isn’t anything technically wrong with the phrase, but the vibe is off.
4. ‘The Culture’
Oftentimes, we use “culture” as a boogeyman catch-all word to refer to anything about the prevailing beliefs of our day that we don’t agree with or that we believe contradict Christian convictions. Whether it’s LGBTQ+ issues, CRT, or any other culture war issue, “the culture” is a phrase often used to stoke fear about people who are different from us.
But using “culture” as a stand-in for “the enemy” betrays the fact that Christians have a culture too, as this list illustrates. Furthermore, we are not called to be enemies of the culture but to be a renewing presence in the midst of it.
5. ‘Lift up a Shout of Praise’
Worship leaders, I’m looking at you. We get it. The song is over. You want us to clap and cheer. This is just a weird way to say it.
Similarly, “Let’s give God a hand,” as a request for applause needs to go too.
6. ‘I’m Not Feeling Called To…’
Listen, I just asked you if you would be willing to volunteer for the facilities setup team, not sell your house and commit the rest of your life to international missions.
I’m not going to guilt-trip you if you’re busy or simply don’t want to be on the team. Just don’t play like you had to run it by God first and he said no.
7. ‘Traveling Mercies’
Speaking of international missions, unless someone is about to embark on one, I’m not sure we need to incessantly pray for traveling mercies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting or gathering at church where the request for traveling mercies was a feature—despite the fact that everybody in the room lived within four miles of the building.
I suppose that insofar as everything in life is uncertain and we can rightly come to God with even the most minor of requests, it’s okay that we would ask God for traveling mercies.
But do we have to say it that way? (Same rhetorical question for “hedge of protection.”)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re done praying and don’t have anything else to say, you don’t need to garnish your prayer with a traveling mercies request. You can just say “amen.”
“Fellowship” is an interesting word because of its deeply meaningful roots in the New Testament. Translated from the Greek word koinonia, it is used to describe the things that Christians share in common with one another and with Jesus himself: the presence of the Holy Spirit, our shared faith, our shared spiritual inheritance, our shared mission and purpose.
It’s just that we almost never use it that way. When we’re talking about “fellowship,” what we’re really talking about is going to lunch or hanging out in the church lobby after service.
The church is meant to be a spiritual family. That spiritual reality is enough. We don’t need to add a spiritual-sounding word to give ourselves permission to just enjoy one another’s company.
Similarly, I think we should also retire “doing life together,” which has no such rich biblical history or usage. The phrase had its time to shine in evangelical culture, but that time has now passed.
9. ‘Trials and Tribulations’
Christians, like everybody else, experience moments and even extended periods of life marked by difficulty. It’s just that when we speak about those difficulties, we often feel the need to spiritualize our language, lest we come off as ungrateful or lacking in faith. Whereas a non-Christian might say, “life sucks right now,” a Christian will say, “I’m enduring a circumstance” or “I’m experiencing trials and tribulations.”
These phrases aren’t necessarily bad. But you should know that you’re allowed to be honest with God and others about what you’re feeling or going through. Everybody’s poop smells, and at some point, everybody’s life sucks. We’re allowed to admit that without hiding behind flowery euphemisms. If you don’t believe me, just take even a cursory look at the Psalms.
10. ‘Daddy God’
Yes, God is our Heavenly Father. And Paul tells us that he is our abba, which is an Aramaic term of endearment that was used by children to address their fathers.
Be that as it may, translating abba as “daddy” isn’t exactly the most precise rendering. The phrase “Daddy God” is even less so, and it’s frankly a bizarre way to address God during the prayer meeting.
11. And, This Goes Without Saying, ‘My Smoking Hot Wife’
The fact that this phrase is still in circulation among youth pastors and even youth-oriented senior leaders is nothing short of baffling to me. If you are still using it, I just want you to know that I love you enough to tell you to stop.
What Did I Miss?
What other Christianese terms or phrases need to be retired? Drop a comment and let me know!
A version of this article originally appeared here.