Preaching for sixteen years in established churches afforded me priceless experience. Years of grinding out three sermons per week taught me how to prepare efficiently and how to comfortably communicate. In preaching, like most other disciplines, there really is no substitute for experience. For that, I am and always will be thankful.
However, I also developed a bad habit of using insider language. I assumed knowledge of Bible stories and church “rules.” As an insider, I rarely considered the thoughts and perceptions of new guests or “outsiders.” Furthermore, no one ever brought my use of insider language to my attention. Thankfully, while preparing to plant Valley Life Church in Peoria, AZ, my friend and coach, Brian Bowman, pointed out my habit and reasons I should take pains in breaking it. Here is what I learned and am still learning.
Insider language is self-absorbed.
Rather than taking the time to think through the needs of the listener, insider language glosses past those needs, focusing instead on the needs of the communicator. Brian describes insider language as “theological dog whistle statements that are supposed to clue the listener in to the fact that I know what I am talking about.” But, preaching is not about me. It’s about the listener. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Our preaching should do likewise.
Insider language isolates.
O.S. Hawkins said once, “We exist for those who are not here yet.” This should never be more true than of a church plant. But, insider language like “You know” and “Remember when” isolate people, keeping them outside of the club like a smug doorman. No one likes being on the outside. No one likes not knowing. Insider language makes about as much sense as secret handshakes. People want to be included, want to belong, and want to be in the know. My job is to help them belong, not point out they don’t.
Insider language is presumptuous.
To preface a popular story like David and Bathsheba or Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 with, “You remember the story…” seems innocent, but it is not. Many, if not most, of the listeners in a church plant are new to the Sunday morning church thing. They have not heard most of the Bible stories you heard as a child. “‘Noah?’ Never heard of him.” “Who is David?” “Paul? What did he do?” Do not presume biblical literacy. Preach like they have never heard it before. They probably haven’t.
Let your staff critique you.
Get some feedback. Jesus asked his disciples once, “Who do men say that I am?” It would probably serve us well to ask regularly, “What to people hear me saying?” You likely use more insider language than you are aware of. If you have staff, ask for their help. Have a preaching review added to your weekly staff meeting agenda. If you don’t have a weekly meeting or agenda, start asap, make the review part of it, and get to work ridding yourself of insider language.