Stained-glass windows aren’t as prominent of a feature in churches as they were in centuries past. But using the term “stained glass” to refer to the church is still fashionable.
I blogged the definition of stained-glass ceiling earlier this year, but I’m rolling it out again along with two other “stained glass” terms: stained-glass barrier and stained-glass vocabulary. All three of these terms utilize the phrase “stained glass” to refer to the church.
The stained-glass barrier refers to the various cultural practices and traditions that are found among churchgoing Christians that aren’t found in mainstream society. Even if the Christians and the non-Christians in a given city or neighborhood share the same language, the same kinds of jobs, the same taste in food, the same TV-watching preferences, you name it, there are still going to be some things that Christians habitually do that non-Christians don’t. And for non-Christians who are interested in visiting church or getting to know some Christians, those differences can be confusing and even intimidating.
I mean, just think about some of the concerns that non-Christians might have when they are considering a visit to a church: Do I have to dress up? Will I be expected to talk in a certain way? Do I walk straight in the front door, or is there a special entrance I need to use? Will I have to sing? Will they talk about money? Where do I park? What is this “narthex” I keep reading about on the church website?
All these concerns and questions represent the “stained-glass barrier.” It’s the stuff that potentially can be an obstacle when someone is visiting church for the first time.
The term stained-glass vocabulary can be part of the stained-glass barrier. Stained-glass vocabulary refers to the distinctive words and phrases that Christians use that are unfamiliar to people outside the church. Basically, stained-glass vocabulary is Christianese in any of its various forms. Stained-glass vocabulary is often associated with fancy theological terms (e.g., justification, sanctification, Trinity, perichoresis, penal substitutionary atonement), but it can also be just the informal language that is commonly used in Christian circles (e.g., fire insurance and God is my copilot and really pretty much all the entries in the Dictionary of Christianese).
You can read about the stained-glass ceiling here. See below for the definitions of all three of these Christianese terms.
stained-glass barrier n. [stained glass is a metonymic metaphor for the Christian church, since stained-glass windows have been a prominent architectural feature in churches for centuries] The variety of differences between church culture and mainstream culture (such as differences in lingo, music, dress code, and etiquette), which can be confusing and even intimidating to non-Christians who want to visit a church service or meet Christians.
The stained-glass barrier is sometimes mentioned in connection with *E-1 evangelism and *near-neighbor evangelism, both of which refer to evangelism whose target audience is people of one’s own culture or community.
See also *unchurched.
• 1973 Womack Breaking the Stained-Glass Barrier [title] : 1975 Winter “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism” Let the Earth Hear His Voice: Selected Addresses 231 : [There is a] “stained-glass barrier” between the church and the world. 1976 Nelson, ed. Readings in Third World Missions: A Collection of Essential Documents 167 : The so-called “stained-glass barrier” … where one is not dealing with people in the Church but outside the Church and who are yet within the same cultural sphere. 1977 Chaney, Lewis Design for Church Growth 22,139 : E-1 evangelism is the type engaged in when people are won to Christ from the world and are essentially in the same cultural and social group as the witnessing church. No cultural barrier has to be crossed, only the barrier between Christian and non-Christian. This is sometimes called the stained-glass barrier. This is winning people to Christ who are basically “like us.” E-1 evangelism is that most often employed in expansion growth and extension growth…. Any church that would make a serious attempt to grow by expansion must break the “stained-glass barrier” and use expansion growth strategies as the guidelines. 1978 Winter Penetrating the Last Frontiers 11 : Some of these hidden people are somewhat similar in culture, but are yet too far to fit in readily. E-2 evangelism must take into account a second barrier beyond the stained glass barrier. 1981 Winter “The Task Remaining: All Humanity in Mission Perspective” in Wagner, Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader 1/e 315 : There is only one barrier to be crossed in near-neighbor evangelism, the “stained glass barrier.” 1983 Miles Introduction to Evangelism 166 : The E-1 category crosses the “stained-glass barrier” and moves out into its own culture. The E-2 category crosses a barrier of culture. The E-3 category is at the end of the spectrum crossing the most difficult culture barrier. 1988 Larsson How Your Corps Can Grow: The Salvation Army and Church Growth 54 : E-1 refers to near-neighbour evangelism, the reaching out to non-Christians of a similar culture. The barriers that exist are the differences in outlook and understanding between committed Christians and unbelievers. This is sometimes referred to as the “stained glass” barrier. 1988 Towns 154 Steps to Revitalize your Sunday School 25 : The E-1 Barrier has been called “the stained-glass barrier.” Church growth writers speak of E-1 Evangelism which is evangelism that overcomes the barrier that relates to the church building. “Stained glass” reflects more than windows or church sanctuaries. It is a symbolic word for those things that stand between those on the outside of the church and getting them inside to hear the Gospel. These barriers make it difficult for a person to attend a Sunday School or church service or continue to attend. The stained-glass barrier includes such things as poor location, inadequate parking, and unkept or poorly maintained facilities. 1992 Hunter How to Reach Secular People 86 : Once a person becomes a seeker, the second barrier the secular seeker typically experiences is a cultural barrier—or the “stained-glass barrier.” When secular people do visit a church, it can be a culturally alienating experience. If they do not understand the jargon, relate to the music, identify with the people, or feel comfortable in the facility, they infer that Christianity (and the christian God) is not for people like them. 1994 Lewis, ed. World Mission: An Analysis of the World Christian Movement 2/e 7-5 : There is only one barrier to be crossed in near-neighbor evangelism, the “stained glass barrier.” 2005 Winter The Twenty-Five Unbelievable Years, 1945–1969 2/e 85 : E-1 goes out of the church into the culture within which the church is at home, the only barrier here being the “stained glass barrier” between the church and the world. People in this E-1 area, if converted, will feel at home in existing churches. 2005 McNamara, Davis The Y-B-H Handbook of Church Planting (Yes, But How?) 410 : E-1 evangelism crosses the stained-glass barrier and is carried on outside the local church setting, but does not cross any linguistic, ethnic or cultural barriers. 2008 Wagner The Book of Acts: A Commentary 34 : E-2 and E-3 evangelism. Both of these are cross-cultural, and the difference between the two is one of degree. E-2 implies crossing the same “stained-glass barrier” as E-1, but also one degree of cultural barrier. 2012 McDonald Crafting the Customer Experience for People Not Like You: How to Delight and Engage the Customers Your Competitors Don’t Understand 49 : As the Baptist church’s name implies, he holds services in a gymnasium. He stated that when he would invite people to attend his services previously, they would often say no and say, “I don’t have any clothes to wear.” He called this a “stained-glass barrier” for people who might not be comfortable in a traditional church. To make people more comfortable, he even wears jeans himself.
stained-glass vocabulary n. [see *stained-glass barrier] Theological terms and Christian idioms; *Christianese; the habit of speaking in such language.
See also *seminary mouth.
• 1925 Harrington Chats on Feature Writing by Members of the Blue Pencil Club of Professional Writers 30 : The Rev. John Alden Gregory is one of the best sermonizers I know. He has none of the stained-glass vocabulary of the professionalized preacher. 1968 Living Church CLVI. 130 : There is some stained-glass vocabulary in “bounty,” “burdensome,” “bondage.” I don’t know what “herewith” (replacing “here”) means in the Canon. “From henceforth” became “hereafter.’ “walking hereafter in his holy ways.” whether less 1978 Mullen Seriously, Life Is a Laughing Matter 34 : Public prayers provide never-ending examples of piety gone sour. Many are really little sermonettes given with eyes closed and head bowed. given with eyes clsoed and head bowed. A few have been used to make announcements left out of the bulletin: “O Lord, Thou knowest the next time we meet will be at 7:00 in the church parlor.” Or some of them are delivered in stained-glass vocabulary for the benefit of posterity: “Protect us, O Beneficent Father, from vicissitudes and deprivations!” (Editorial note: whatever they are!) 1999 Crawford The Prayer-Shaped Disciple 145 : Avoid “stained-glass vocabulary.” Lead the people to God in language that the people understand. In leading public prayer, you should not try to impress the group with a spiritual vocabulary different from normal speech. In other words, “thee” and “thou” should be discarded in favor of more current language. 2004 Gariepy Daily Meditations on Golden Texts of the Bible 140 : We are commissioned to address a world that is running fast and wild, at a dizzying pace. It will not be easy to capture its attention and response. We will fail if we are obscure, complex, or writing with a stained-glass vocabulary.
stained-glass ceiling n. [stained glass (see *stained-glass barrier) + glass ceiling ‘the impediments to career advancement sometimes experienced by women and minorities in the corporate world’] The impediments to ordination and leadership roles that are experienced by women in some denominations and religious organizations.
The term glass ceiling was coined in 1984; the term stained-glass ceiling was coined in 1992.
• 1992 New York Times
(9 Apr.) 18 : “They continue to sin the sin of sexism by claiming that women cannot be ordained…. I say, we’ve got to … break the stained glass ceiling.” 1992 New York Times
(29 Nov.) : In the business world, women often complain about “the glass ceiling,” that invisible barrier that impedes their progress up the corporate ladder. In the religious world, women call it “the stained glass ceiling.” \zthreedots The stained glass ceiling, they say, has kept them from the top jobs in the church and often from the pulpit itself. Some add that it has also kept churches from recognizing their special needs as women. 1993
Stanley in Daughters of Sarah
7/2 (Spring) 73 : How is the stained-glass ceiling similar to the glass ceiling women experience in the secular work place? … Some are fabricating a stained-glass ceiling that would limit women to staff positions while preventing them from serving as senior pastors. 1995
Purvis The Stained-Glass Ceiling: Churches and Their Women Pastors
Skaine Power and Gender
18 : Another ceiling for women is the “stained-glass ceiling.” Women are often excluded from the highest ranks of some religious denominations. 1997 New York Times
(25 May) : Women in the church refer to it as “the stained-glass ceiling.” They are gaining acceptance as pastors, priests and spiritual leaders in many denominations, but women in religion cope with career barriers remarkably similar to those of their sisters in corporate America. 1999
Sanders Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture
33 : Church historian Susie Stanley uses the term “stained-glass ceiling” to describe increasing barriers to women’s leadership and advancement in denominations with a long history of ordaining them. 2002
Bendroth, Brereton, eds. Women and Twentieth-Century Protestantism
20 : Given the present SBC [=Southern Baptist Convention] male leadership’s hostility to women in the ministry, the stained-glass ceiling will grow even more impenetrable. 2005
Hoge, Wenger Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry
45 : Women are less likely to be chosen as senior pastors in flourishing and desirable churches; in many Protestant denominations congregations still prefer men as senior pastors, creating what is sometimes sardonically called a “stained glass ceiling” for women ministers. 2007 Clinton Herald
(IA) (19 Jan.) : Henry agrees with a recent New York Times
article that reports pastors today do still face a “stained-glass ceiling” that keeps them from becoming senior pastors of larger congregations; case in point, only 27 senior pastors of major ELCA [=Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] congregations are women out of the thousands of senior pastors within the ELCA. 2008
Moore Clergy Moms: A Survival Guide to Balancing Family and Congregation
19 : Women still face a stained glass ceiling that blocks their movement into senior positions in churches with large attendance and large budgets. 2012
Evans A Year of Biblical Womanhood
256 : I wanted to talk to a woman who, in spite of centuries of opposition, has managed to shatter the stained-glass ceiling. I wanted to talk to a female pastor. 2013
Smith Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors