I’m a huge Andy Stanley fan. He’s a Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA. I love the guy because he talks like a real person. No “church-babble.” He cuts to the chase and speaks clearly, somehow avoiding the trap of the crazy Christian-eze so many “churchy people” resort to.
And I do mean “resort to.” Because I think it is easier to repeat familiar (“churchy”) words, phrases, etc. than to consistently (and without cliche) string coherent thoughts together to express your faith.
So Andy has written a great book for church leaders called “Seven Practices of Effecive Ministry.” And one of his main points was this: “Listen to OUTSIDERS.”
Andy explains that there is a gravitational pull in any organization toward becoming “insider-focused,” and churches are no exception. In other words, over time, the concerns and criticisms and needs of the insiders gradually begin to overshadow the concerns criticisms and needs of the outsiders – even when the PURPOSE of the organization was driven by outsiders from the beginning. And has there ever been a more “outsider-focused” purpose than the calling of the CHURCH?
Remember these nuggets from Jesus: “Go, and make disciples…” “Consider others better than yourselves.” “Whatever you do for the least of these…” “Love your neighbor as yourself…”
Over time, a local church can shift. From reaching out to love and serve people outside the church – to serving each other (inside the church) in a kind of self-sustaining commune. What was once a training ground and sending station for the congregation to receive a unified call to action and resources to accomplish the mission has now become… a family camp. For your own family. And other people are welcome join, if they can figure out how to find you and they can fit into the family camp routine.
Andy pleads with us as church leaders: LISTEN to OUTSIDERS! Don’t allow your decisions, your directions, your teaching, your language to be dictated solely (or even primarily) by the inner circle in your church! In other words, always be aware that outsiders are among us – and if you read this and have to wonder if that’s true, then it may be time to reassess your ministry strategy! Speak the language of the outsiders. No reason to throw up roadblocks with your choice of words. Jesus is a big enough stumbling block (oops – I did it already…) I mean, Jesus is a big enough HURDLE for the unconnected already. Guard against “church babble…”
So with that weighty introduction, I offer up some suggestions for the ash heap. Here are a few choice words and phrases that scream to the unchurched crowd, “I’m an insider, and I have been for so long that I don’t even talk like a normal dude anymore!”
(1) “Fellowship.” Yeah… not very manly. Except in a dwarf-meets-elf-meets-wizard-meets-hobbit, “let’s go slaughter some orcs” kind of way. Be honest, now… If you were not a church person, and you were invited to an event that was advertised as an opportunity for “fellowship,” would you be the first one on the bus? I should say not. Sounds like back rubs. Creepy.
(2) “Lost…” or “Unbeliever.” I can almost hear your inner dialogue… “Well we have to call these pagans that we’re trying to save something.” Yeah, we do. I try to call them Chuck. Or Linda. Because Chuck and Linda most likely don’t think they’re “lost.” They very likely do, in their own way, sort of “believe in God.” And they just LOVE being labeled incorrectly by us churchy people. Good times. So at Living Hope church, we tried to find a way to categorize people that aren’t living in a personal relationship with Jesus – to categorize them using language that even they would agree with. We’ll keep working on it until we close the doors, if we need to, but for now, we use “People not connected to God.” It states the facts without the negative baggage of “lost” or “unbeliever” (or “pagan,” for that matter…)
(3) “Sanctification” / “Dispensationalism” / “Hermeneutic” / “Propitiation”/ etc., etc… Big, weighty, substantial, loaded church words. Am I saying we can’t use these words in church? No. But I AM saying, pay attention to your “target market.” Pay attention to the crowd you are speaking to. If you are digging deep with a room full of saved, mature, growing saints – let “pneumatology” fly, unapologetically. But if you have people attending your Sunday morning services who are not regular church attenders, can it really hurt to at least briefly explain what some of those terms mean as you hurl them out into the crowd? That’s all I’m saying.
(4) “Open your Bible to…” Yeah. That just happened. Let’s call a spade a spade. We want everyoneto bring their Bible weekly and to know at the drop of a hat (what does that even mean?) that 2 Thesolupians comes right after 1 Thesolupians and before Paul’s letter to the saints in Phylodonica. Unfortunately (fortunately?) there are pagans among us. At Living Hope, Pastor Bob might say something like, “If you have your Bibles, open up to Romans in the New Testament. It’s about 3/4 of the way through. If you hit Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, take a right. If you don’t have your Bible with you today, we’ve got it up on the screen for you…” The point? Outsiders don’t have to be made to FEEL like outsiders.
(5) My personal problem of choice… “In Jesus’ name.” As a worship leader who’s been a Christian for… (how many years old am I?) about 37 years now, I believe in the power of the name of Jesus. When we do things “in His name,” we are acknowledging that they are for Him and His glory. So one day my Pastor looks at me across the table and says, “You know, you’ve gotta stop with the whole ‘in Jesus’ name’ thing.” I blinked twice. “I mean, do you think people know what you are saying when you ask them to sing this next song ‘in Jesus name?'” Or when you say, ‘let’s stand up together in Jesus’ name…’ What? How? What does it MEAN?” Yeah. Busted. If I wasn’t such an insider, I’d have been more aware of my speech patterns. I contracted a case of Christian-eze. Repenting.
I could go on an on. Sadly. I don’t even WANT to know the difference between a vestibule and a narthex (even though I do). I bet you have a few personal favorites of your own. Share them with the masses, and let’s at least try to speak the language of the culture we are trying to reach.
“words that prove you’re in deep :: aka ‘pagan repellent'” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.