Jargon is annoying at the best of times. It is in-house phrasing that no outsider is going to grasp. Nothing tells people they don’t belong faster than dropping some jargon into discussion. Watching the insiders sagely nod in agreement while others sit there guessing what on earth you’re chunnering on about.
Christians are particularly prone to dropping jargon into their meetings. There are the obviously technical terms such as justification, regeneration, Calvinism, and eschatology among others. Whilst many of us might make particular effort to avoid such unnecessary technical language (we probably talk about ‘being made like Jesus’ rather than sanctification), we still litter our services with other forms of Christianese. We talk about ‘missional community’, ‘fruit’ and ‘fellowship’ with almost no explanation whatsoever despite the fact that, outside of Christian circles, these terms are either never used at all or mean quite different things to the way we use them.
I have spoken before about, so far as it is possible, avoiding unnecessary jargon. However, I don’t think it is always wrong to use it. The truth is that we are often using words as shorthand. Using the phrase Reformed Baptist is inevitably quicker than offering a full exposition of the 1689 Westminster Confession. Of course, often these buzzwords are aimed only at those who would understand their meaning. When we talk about being Calvinistic, this is not the term you are likely to use to describe your church to unbelievers. It is clearly a phrase intended (for good or ill) for the Christians who are likely to understand what it means. The point is that while, as a general rule, it is better to avoid this sort of jargon altogether, it is not always essential or problematic.
There is, however, one phrase I really do wish we would consign to the scrap heap. It almost certainly means nothing to unbelievers and I’m yet to find any believers who are able to explain it either. I have moved in circles that use certain bits of jargon and, whilst most unbelievers won’t have a Scoobie Doo what is being said, I do understand the terms as a believer. I am, theoretically, one of the initiated who should understand. But what on earth does the phrase ‘life on life’ mean?
I came across Life on Life Ministries. It seems clear enough from their website that they are concerned with discipleship (another buzzword that means nothing to unbelievers. Though I’m sure the initiated understand what it means). What I cannot find anywhere on their website is an explanation of ‘life on life’, the very phrase after which they choose to name their entire operation.
In an article explaining another bit of Christianese, Jeff Vanderstelt offers up ‘life on life’ in his three point summary of what it means to be a missional community. Unfortunately, he at no point uses the phrase in the rest of his article and so we are none the wiser as to what it means. As a summary of what it means to be a ‘missional community’, it probably doesn’t help to explain one bit of potentially difficult jargon with another less clear one. The article is a helpful summary of what it is to be a ‘missional community’ but it doesn’t help us much with the utterly incomprehensible ‘life on life’.
From the contexts in which the phrase is ever used, it seems to mean something along the lines of ‘experiencing life together’ or ‘living side-by-side’. But I’m not sure if this is what it means and, to be honest, ‘life on life’ in no way conveys that concept. More to the point, most people might understand the idea of ‘living in community’ or ‘sharing our lives together’. It would appear ‘life on life’ is an example of swapping a comprehensible concept to unbelievers for one that is something of a mystery even to many believers.
It also seems worth asking, if ‘life on life’ means what I think it means (and let’s not discount the possibility that I am well off the mark here, rather underlining the point), how exactly are we defining ‘sharing our lives’ or ‘doing life’? Is there a specific approach to living ‘life on life’ that is uniquely different to just living life? Apart from becoming some sort of trappist monk, aren’t we all doing ‘life on life’ simply by being in contact with other people and speaking to them? If so, what are we achieving by inserting it into our mission statements and encouraging our members to be pensive about whether they are living ‘life on life’?
I’ll be honest, I just don’t get it. I struggle to see what it adds other than confusion. I’ve never understood it and the more it is bandied around, the less I like it. You can keep your ‘missional communities’ and I’m perfectly content with being ‘gospel-centred’. I don’t even mind our old-fashioned technical theological terms in the right context. But please, please can we stop using ‘life on life’. It is the epitome of meaningless jargon that we have made up for no discernible reason or benefit. If I could rid us of one bit of Christian jargon, without a shadow of a doubt, I would make it this.