“I’ll have a grande Pike Place with a splash of cream in a venti so there’s room.”

This is how I begin most days. That’s Starbuckese for, “I’ll have a regular coffee with a bit of cream in a cup that’s big enough to keep it from spilling over the lid while I drive like a maniac to work.” 

It took me a while to learn Starbuckese. When I first started buying my coffee there I would order a large with cream.

“Do you mean a tall, a grande or a venti?”
“Light or dark?”
“Do you want room?”

“Uh….” I often thought to myself, “How can a ‘tall’ be ‘small’? Light or dark?! I just want coffee. Room where? For what?”

Over time I learned their language and figured out how to order my coffee in exactly the right way. Today I am happy to report that my former anxiety, nerves and naiveté have been replaced with fluent Starbuckese. 

Last week I spent a few days at the Upstate New York Synod Ministerium and it dawned on me halfway through the event that we were all speaking Christianese. “What’s your ecclesiology?” “What role does ecumenism play in your ministry?” “How do your people feel about Luther’s third use of the law?” “What’s the interplay between justification and sanctification in your pews?” “What’s your plan for missional ministry in response to the nones?” (Today’s church gurus like to make up words. Hence, “missional” and “nones.”)

These are real questions frequently asked by pastors leading Lutheran congregations across our country. I can’t help but wonder, however, why we speak in a language our parishioners, guests, visitors, and folks in the mission field don’t understand? Even in church on Sunday AM I fear that at times we start to speak Christianese in ways that confuse and complicate disciples simply trying to worship their God.

Take a simple word like “grace” – a word rightfully repeated in Lutheran congregations. What do we mean? Are we referring to the 10 year-old in the pews? The thing we (ought to) say before dinner? The way our grandma carries herself? Or God’s undeserved love and favor? When we add more complicated words (confession, kyrie, intinction, etc.) I fear we end up putting verbal barriers between those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out.’

If you’re a barista at Starbucks you just look pitifully upon the naïve customer on the other side of the counter. But what if you’re a person in the church? What do we do about our Christianese?

I do not propose that we make dramatic changes to our worship or the language we use. However, I do suggest that we seek to be sensitive to the fact that many people (actually, an increasing number of people in this post-Christian world) don’t fully understand some of the language we take for granted. On occasion I hope you’ll join me in offering definition and assistance to those who are new. Ask a visitor if they have any questions. Explain how communion works. Reiterate that when the pastor says, “Jesus loves you,” he means, “Jesus loves YOU.”

Martin Luther advocated for translating scripture into the language of the people. Jesus, a Jewish man in an Arabic world, spoke Koine Greek (Koine = Common). In the same way, it will be important for us in this 21st century world to be clear and concise about what we mean and what we’re doing.

It is time for our church to get back to “coffee with cream” in a “I’ll have a grande Pike Place with a splash of cream in a venti so there’s room,” sort of world.

In the Way,


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