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Insider Language

December 14, 2010

Insider language involves speaking in such a way that only people within your group can understand. While this language may make sense to those in the group, those on the outside can feel left out. One example of insider language would be Christians using “Christianese“-what is said might be true, it just may not be understandable to folks outside of the church. Communicating this way can become a real hindrance to our ability to connect with our communities.

Soon after joining the Mennonite Church I learned of a term that is very well known in this community, “606”. The number refers to hymn 606 in an older version (1969) of the Mennonite Hymnal titled “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”. It includes many of the same words as the “Doxology” though the tune is different and this version includes parts/harmonies. The first time I heard the number mentioned in conversation (I think it was a worship planning meeting) it went something like this:

Friend: “We should sing 606”.

Me: (blank stare)

Friend: “You know…’Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow'”.

Me: “Oh! The Doxology!”

Friend: (blank stare)

In the Reformed churches that I came from we used a name for this song that my Mennonite friend was not aware of (and vice-versa). In a way we both were using insider language. After all, how many people on the street know what “doxology” is? This instance became an opportunity to break through some insider language and learn from one another, although initially there was a little confusion. When I hear the term “606” I am reminded that we must be careful in how we tell our story, making sure that we are speaking inclusively rather than exclusively.

On the topic of “606”, this piece by Anna Groff from The Mennonite does a very nice job of summarizing the powerful impact of this hymn for some Mennonites in North America. And here’s a clip of Mennonite youth and sponsors singing a beautiful rendition of “606” at the 2009 Mennonite Convention in Columbus OH:

One practice that has helped me become more aware of my tendencies to use insider language has been preaching. Having to teach and communicate the scriptures weekly has brought me face to face with the temptation to revert to insider words and expressions. This practice is helping me to be creative in how I communicate, and reminding me that if we are going to be missional then we must be aware of our propensity to use insider terms and instead look to use a more common language.

What are some common Christian words/expressions that might be too insider-ish for a post-Christian society?

In your opinion what are the most common places where “insider language” shows up in churches?

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