I must admit when I see Washington Post headlines like 5 Church Phrases That Are Scaring Off Millennials, my first instinct is “Tell me what they are, so I make sure to use them all in my next sermon!”

I know, I know, that’s a perverse and twisted reaction; but it eventually passes, sanity and reason return, and I try to listen for the truth in the midst of all the over-sensitivity.

So let’s examine these terrorizing and terrifying words to see if we should drop them, modify them, or indeed say them more than ever!

1. “The Bible clearly says…”
Apparently the age of IT and social media has turned millions into Bible scholars who don’t need to hear about the Bible’s clarity and who don’t believe the Bible is clear on much at all. Millennials want a lot more hesitation, qualification, humility, and admissions of fallibility in pastors’ sermons. It’s claimed that this will build greater trust in the Bible!

I agree that where the Bible is not dogmatic, the preacher should not be dogmatic. I also agree that way too many pastors claim the Bible’s clear support for what are often just personal preferences and prejudices. However, there is plenty that the Bible is crystal clear on, no matter how much people try to muddy the waters or blunt the blade. In these areas we must insist on the clarity and authority of Scripture.

Verdict: Say it, and say it loudly and authoritatively, but reserve it only for areas that are indeed clear.

2. “God will never give you more than you can handle”
Millennials object to this because they say it implies that if you can’t handle life, if you need outside help (e.g. friendship, therapy, etc), then your faith is not strong enough.

If millennials understand the phrase in this way, then I can understand why they hate it.

I actually dislike this phrase too, but for different reasons. God often gives us more than we can handle, in order to make us feel our need of Him, His Church, His people, etc.

Verdict: Retire the phrase, but for Murray rather than millennial reasons.

3. Love on (e.g. “As youth group leaders, we’re just here to love on those kids.”
They find this creepy and and troubling. “We may understand that we need help, but we certainly don’t want to be anyone’s project or ministry…It may just be semantics, but being loved on feels very different than being simply loved. The former connotes a sudden flash of contrived kindness; the latter is simpler…but deeper.”

I’m with them on this, although I’m not sure I can reason it out as well as they do. It just gives me the creeps.

Verdict: Take it to the trash.

4. Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as “Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding”
“Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who’s in and who’s out. We know our own doubtful hearts enough to know that belief and unbelief so often coexist….We want to be accepted, not analyzed.”

There’s a lot of misunderstanding here. Of course, unbelief exists even in the strongest believer’s life. However, the Bible is very clear (Did I just write that? I think I hear millions of millennials stampeding to the hills)…Yes, the Bible and Jesus are very clear that there are only two gates, two roads, two destinations, and that we are to analyze or examine our selves to see if we are in the faith. Sermons help us to do that.

Verdict: We need more of this black and white clarity, not less. But preachers need to be skillful spiritual surgeons to ensure that they do not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax.

5. “God is in control . . . has a plan . . . works in mysterious ways”
Millennials believe this but don’t want to hear it, especially when things go wrong in their lives. “We are drawn to the Jesus who sits down with the down-and-out woman at the well. Who touches the leper, the sick, the hurting. Who cries when Lazarus is found dead…even though he is in control and has a plan to bring Lazarus back to life.”

They have a point here. The sovereignty of God is a glorious truth, but Christians often do toss it out way too quickly and tritely when they should be weeping with weepers. Cue the best line in the whole article: “The Jesus we read about enters into the pain of humanity where so often the church people seem to want to float above it.”

Ouch! Painful truth.

Verdict: Keep it, but delay the use of it.

So, thank you millennials for your honesty and your challenges. We want to learn from you and love you.

But we also hope you will learn how to learn from us; and even learn how to love us too. Cliches and all.

Read The Washington Post article here: 5 Churchy Phrases that are Scaring off Millennials.

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  • http://addiezierman.com Addie Zierman

    Some great thoughts here. Thanks for sharing and continuing the conversation!

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Thanks Addie. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

      • Pastor Todd

        You are far more diplomatic than I am, but thank you for your astute and well balanced refinement of these issues.

  • Jeremy

    When I hear people talk about Millennials, I tend to think shallow, not into truth, and self centered (being myself on the older end of this generation), but really people just need the Gospel.

    Can we adapt ourselves to culture to reach current needs, and people with modern though processes? Yes, but we must not water-down the Gospel, for that would be denying (their) and our only Hope of salvation!

    God Bless.

    • Bruce Lindeman

      Hello David, I completely agree with your thoughts here. Here’s a churchy word I would like to see abandoned: “decision” as though the miracle of the new birth were similar to the question of whether or not to biggie size your fries.


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  • http://www.willowfeller.com Willow Feller

    This is a great post—just a couple days ago my grown daughter complained to me about hearing these outdated catchphrases in church. But, in my own defense, I must say the newer, hipper clichés aren’t really floating my boat either. That bi-vocational pastor who is intentional in the workplace, missional at Starbucks, and relational in religion is getting on my nerves…

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  • http://owlhaven.net Mary(Owlhaven)

    Agree esp about #2 and #3– #3 made my skin crawl the first time I heard it.

  • Meredith B.

    I think the phrase “love on” is a Southern term and we love using it! Nothing creepy about it to me. :)

    • Sam

      You’re correct, Meredith.

      Dr. Murray, “loved on” may well be kind of a creepy phrase (I don’t care for it much myself), but it means more than “loved”. If I’m “loving” you, that’s something that I’m thinking or feeling towards you, or an attitude I have about you. When I’m “loving on” you, then I’m putting actions to what I say my feeling or attitude toward you is. I’m actually doing something about it, for you, rather than just talking about it.

      But, yes, it’s a bad phrase. There are much better ways to say it.

      • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

        Thanks for the translation, Sam :). I continue to progress in my daily Americanese studies.

  • Emily

    Some great thoughts here, thank you.

    I genuinely wish you would skip some of the sarcasm and snark, though (“I just heard millennials running for the hills”).

    We’re all just trying the best we can here. It’s not gentle of you, and it’s not helpful.


  • http://www.facebook.com/Salvation.CD Richard Allan Stauch

    I’m going to soften my speech here, and say:
    1) Christians are not sales people. They are witnesses. To direct how they testify is to destroy their testimony. Don’t turn them into plastic dolls with pull-strings. Let them speak. God has prepared some ears to hear each of us.
    2) All these quotes from Millennials (as if they are some special group, unlike any the Earth has ever seen before) are what sales people would call “objections.” It means, they really aren’t interested. But what do we do? Raise up teachers for their itching ears? Tell them what they want to hear? Do we allow 7th-graders to run the classroom?
    3) And finally, this is where it leads us, this worry about what phrase to use, what to leave out, lest we offend. We end up with Preachers of Prosperity. Preachers of Liberation. Preachers of a Soft, Love-God, who accepts everything, and judges nothing. That is not the God that Peter preached. It’s not the God that Paul preached. It is not the God and Father that Jesus preached, and it will not be the God that I preach!

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  • http://www.housewifetheologian.com Aimee Byrd

    I love this article, thanks for writing it.
    My 14-yr-old daughter (which has been categorized as millennial as well as Gen Z), recently voiced her annoyance when I wished my pastor good providence on the phone. When I hung up, she said that sounded so stupid, why not just say good luck? I explained why, and she responded, “Well it still sounds stupid.”
    But I think I’ll keep it.

    • Susan Nye Ferrell

      Sounds like you and your daughter have a wonderful relationship. Such a joy to have daughters that age.

      Glad you don’t wish him good luck. And on the corny level I insist on calling “pot lucks” “pot providence” or “hot dish supper” like the Dutch.

      That said, isn’t all providence good providence? Even the things that are terrible painful, such as Job encountered, are good because they come from the hand of a sovereign and loving God.

      The Lord Giveth and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.

      And as Christians don’t we have more we can do that “wish” folk anything? Of course we all know what you mean, so I’m not suggesting otherwise. I’m just oddly sensitive to what can become cliche’s and throw away lines for greeting and parting.
      I know some folk have issues with the phrase “Take care” which I myself use, and that it’s because they think I’m suggesting they take up “cares” vs leaving them with God, but I look at the verses that says Be careful how you walk…etc…So we all have things that somebody out there, daughters and all, can pick on.

      By all means don’t get rid of a phrase cause one’s 14 y/o thinks it’s dorky. Just thinking aloud here.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      “Good providence!” I like it and plan to use it.

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