Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches

This is the final in a four-part series on the overused (and often insensitively employed) phrases that plague the Christian lexicon. Though I felt like I was offering some insight into what to do instead of offering these cliches, some asked for more specificity or clarity. So in that spirit, I thought I’d offer a final list of things to do rather than pop off with these phrases that may mean little or nothing to the recipient, or worse, may cause unintended – but lasting – harm.

Read article one in the series here: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

Read article two in the series here: Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid

Read article three in the series here: Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid

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Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches:

  1. Listen more; talk less. Yes, there were times in the Gospels when Jesus sermonized, but most of the time, he said much less than people expected. He listened first, and when responding to problems or questions, he often left room in his answer for the listener to wrestle with what was said and to arrive at their own understanding. We Christians don’t like to give up such control, though. We want to know that the person gets what we want them to get. But if we’re ever to get past the widely held perception that we’re a bunch of tone-deaf talking heads, we have to be quiet and pay attention more.
  2. Stop trying to fix everything. Christians hate loose ends. We want to end every conversation with everyone smiling and assured that everything will be just fine. But that’s not always reality, and sometimes, what people need is to grieve, wrestle or reflect rather than feel better and move on. Being a Christian is not about having all the answers at the ready, despite what some evangelism training will tell you. People may even ask for answers, but what we’re all looking for, at a deeper level than our search for those answers, is peace. Sometimes that takes time.
  3. See yourself in the “Other.” Somewhere along the way, Christian outreach became more about personal conversion than about empathy and compassion. One of the biggest turn-offs I hear about Christians is that folks see us as trying to make everyone like us. But Jesus himself was moved, affected and – yes -changed by the people he encountered.  And lest we forget: the Greatest Commandment was not to convert people to Christianity. It was love others with all you have an all you are. Part of loving others is actually understanding what they want or need, not just giving them what you think they want or need.
  4. Pray. This one sounds self-evident, but I think it needs to be mentioned. Notice I didn’t say to tell people “I’m praying for you.” I hear from too many people that such a phrase is used passive-aggressively toward them to suggest they’re screwed up and need help. If you really believe prayer works, then just do it. And this doesn’t need to be some pietistic ritual, with knees bent, eyes closed, head bowed and hands clasped. If that helps you feel closer to God, fine, but it’s not a performance. There’s not a right or wrong way to “do” prayer. I think it’s more about noticing, about recognizing the Divine in all of creation and in one another, in noticing the brokenness in the world and responding to that need. This is what it means to make our whole lives a prayer. The Buddhists call it mindfulness. We Christians could use more of that.
  5. Read the first article: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

  6. Quality over quantity. We have a bad habit of practicing what I call “Air Drop” Christianity. Whether it’s a quick in-and-out mission trip, a door-to-door evangelism or a quick handshake on Sunday morning and then we move on, we have a bad habit of sprinkling ourselves here and there as if our faith is a garnish, rather than at the heart of who we are. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I’m sure: INVEST IN PEOPLE. It’s hard work, but it’s the stuff of life when we have the proper perspective.
  7. Share generously of yourself. This doesn’t mean simply sharing a pre-packaged testimonial story you’ve told over and over again, or dropping a few dollars in the offering plate or in a homeless person’s cup. It means taking emotional risk, making ourselves vulnerable to others in ways that we hope they will feel comfortable being open and vulnerable to us. The way we approach people often times in the context of Christian evangelism assumes an inherent imbalance of power, with us on the side of that power. We know the truth, and you dont; we are saved, and you’re not; we are here to rescue you from yourself. But discipleship should be a lifelong and mutual investment. and why should we expect anyone to invest in us or what we believe if we’re not willing first to take a chance with them?
  8. Be open to the possibility that you’re wrong. Anyone who tells me that their faith has not evolved over time into something different than how it started makes me really nervous. for some this may only involve a deepening (or hardening) of existing beliefs, but for others, it is a never-ending process of growth, pruning and adding on. Consider the disciples; were they ever wrong? Did they ever change their understanding of what they believed? Of course. So why do we think we should be any different? Also, being open to the possibility that the person you’re with could actually teach you something honors their wisdom and experience, wherever they are coming from. Christian or not, every person has a unique story, because no one in the history of the world has ever lived that life except for them. Allow yourself to be moved and even changed by those experiences.
  9. Apologize. I have found that sometimes all people really want is a simple apology for the hurt inflicted by other Christians. Sure, you may not have done anything personally to that individual, but if you’re a Christian, you represent the whole of Christianity to that person. It won’t kill you to say “I’m sorry you were pushed away, made to feel like less of a person, judged, condescended to, denied rights in the name of the faith I claim.” Name the wrongdoing, validate the hurt, and then sit back and see what happens. More often than not, in my experience, such apologies are met with tears of relief, embraces, generous forgiveness and, perhaps the best of all, fascinating stories.
  10. Own your love. We Christians love to say things like “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you,” but for someone who isn’t sure what they believe, or who has been deeply hurt by the faith, this may ring very hollow. Instead, why not say “I love you”? Yes, it’s risky, and if you don’t actually mean it, don’t say it. But if you follow the steps above, it’s not hard to find a spark of Christ-like love for the person you’re with. Can’t muster such a personal offering of love? At least try something like “You are loved,” rather than leaving it all to God or Jesus. If we are Jesus’ body in the world today, this includes the heart. If only we were as good as being Christ’s heart to the world as we are at being his mouth!
  11. Make sure your life reflects your faith. One of the words I hear most often in describing Christians is “hypocrite.” There’s a reason for this. One solution to this is to stop making verbal promises your life doesn’t live up to. Another is stepping up our game in daily life. St. Francis famously said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” The fact is, if we’re really living the live we find revealed in the Gospels, there will be little need for words to explain what it is that we believe.

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About the Author

Christian Piatt

Christian PiattChristian Piatt is an author, founder of the Homebrewed CultureCast Podcast and owner of Crowdscribed, a publishing house, social networking platform and crowdfunding tool.View all posts by Christian Piatt →

  • tarl_hutch

    Perfect Ending…be genuine, love others, and be open. Show them Jesus, by actually being like Jesus, instead of intellectually lazy cliches. Thanks for ending on a positive note.

  • Positive and excellent challenge for us all!

  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    Bravo! Imagine how much hassle we would have saved if this piece had been written 30 years ago!

  • ben


  • Gary Sechler

    let’s see if your capable of living up to your recommendations: Today is a better day than yesterday, tomorrow will be a better day than today, because every day, god removes some evil from the world and replaces it with good, love, forgiveness, and compassion. That is a summation of Romans 8:29 God foreknows all of us.
    There are 4 reasons that people suffer:
    1. Justice: As you have done, you are being done unto, usually twice as bad, because God doesn’t want you to do it again. For those who disagree, I give you Is 45:7. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
    There are those who would change “Evil” to a less “dark” word, sorry, the word is “Evil,” and yes God does do that. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, He is unchanging. The souls He is working with change, but not God, other wise my opening statement would not be true, and it is.
    2. Laws: God said “don’t” and we did, or God said “Do” and we didn’t.
    3. compassion: If we fail to have compassion for those who are suffering, God will allow us to experience a similar problem in order to learn compassion. This is the reason Job suffered, to learn compassion. Job’s three friends were personifications of Job in his earlier years, their comments, would have been Job’s comments, if he were to encounter someone going through his problems during those ages. Eliphaz was Job in his late teens before he married, Bildad was a personification of Job in his 20’s as a young married man. Zophar was a personification of Job as a mature married man in his 30’s and 40’s, and represents his position prior to being Justified for compassion.
    4. Innocence: There are those among us who are already brothers and sisters of Jesus, and are perfect, Sanctified, and they have given their lives to God to use in anyway He needs, in order to help bring others into His Kingdom. They suffer for us, just as Jesus did on the cross. They are giving their lives Just as Jesus did, they’re not being crucified, but they are suffering from cancer, or other deadly diseases, so that God can measure the hearts of those around them, who share their lives.
    All suffering in the world falls under one of these four reasons. Only God knows which reason applies to which suffering. Our job is to pray for those we meet or encounter, and/or help in any way we are able. That will give you some alternatives to your cliches, and to your solutions.
    All things DO happen for a reason, and that reason is Romans 8:29. The purpose of God is to find all the evil in the world, destroy it, and replace it with good, love, forgiveness, and compassion. Everybody’s life is lived to fulfill the purpose of God. Predestination and free-will are not two separate theologies, but separate parts of one theology. God predisposes us to be confronted with choices that will require us to make a free-will choice. Once we make that choice, everything that happens, happens because of that choice, until we reach another cross road where we are required to make another free-will choice. Connect the dots from crossroad to crossroad from birth to death, and you have a life that is growing closer to God every day, even if it dies as a non-believer.
    Gary Sechler

  • Mary

    Thanks, I needed these lessons, words, and reminders.

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