10 antidotes to Christian clichésBy Christian Piatt
This is the final in a four-part series on the overused (and often insensitively employed) phrases that plague the Christian lexicon. Though I felt like I was offering some insight into what to do instead of offering these cliches, some asked for more specificity or clarity. So in that spirit, I thought I’d offer a final list of things to do rather than pop off with these phrases that may mean little or nothing to the recipient, or worse, may cause unintended — but lasting — harm.
Read article one in the series here: 10 Clichés Christians Should Never Use
Read article two in the series here: 10 More Clichés Christians Should Avoid
Read article three in the series here: 9 FINAL Christian Clichés To Avoid
Ten antidotes to Christian clichés:
1) Listen more; talk less. Yes, there were times in the Gospels when Jesus sermonized, but most of the time, he said much less than people expected. He listened first, and when responding to problems or questions, he often left room in his answer for the listener to wrestle with what was said and to arrive at their own understanding. We Christians don’t like to give up such control, though. We want to know that the person gets what we want them to get. But if we’re ever to get past the widely held perception that we’re a bunch of tone-deaf talking heads, we have to be quiet and pay attention more.
2) Stop trying to fix everything. Christians hate loose ends. We want to end every conversation with everyone smiling and assured that everything will be just fine. But that’s not always reality, and sometimes, what people need is to grieve, wrestle or reflect rather than feel better and move on. Being a Christian is not about having all the answers at the ready, despite what some evangelism training will tell you. People may even ask for answers, but what we’re all looking for, at a deeper level than our search for those answers, is peace. Sometimes that takes time.
3) See yourself in the “other.” Somewhere along the way, Christian outreach became more about personal conversion than about empathy and compassion. One of the biggest turnoffs I hear about Christians is that folks see us as trying to make everyone like us. But Jesus himself was moved, affected and — yes — changed by the people he encountered. And lest we forget, the “greatest commandment” was not to convert people to Christianity; it was love others with all you have and all you are. Part of loving others is actually understanding what they want or need, not just giving them what you think they want or need.
4) Pray. This one sounds self-evident, but I think it needs to be mentioned. Notice I didn’t say to tell people “I’m praying for you.” I hear from too many people that such a phrase is used passive-aggressively toward them to suggest they’re screwed up and need help. If you really believe prayer works, then just do it. And this doesn’t need to be some pietistic ritual, with knees bent, eyes closed, head bowed and hands clasped. If that helps you feel closer to God, fine, but it’s not a performance. There’s not a right or wrong way to “do” prayer. I think it’s more about noticing, about recognizing the Divine in all of creation and in one another, in noticing the brokenness in the world and responding to that need. This is what it means to make our whole lives a prayer. The Buddhists call it mindfulness. We Christians could use more of that.
5) Quality over quantity. We have a bad habit of practicing what I call “air drop” Christianity. Whether it’s a quick in-and-out mission trip, a door-to-door evangelism or a quick handshake on Sunday morning and then we move on, we have a bad habit of sprinkling ourselves here and there as if our faith is a garnish, rather than at the heart of who we are. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: INVEST IN PEOPLE. It’s hard work, but it’s the stuff of life when we have the proper perspective.
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