Christians are called beyond the “gate” of their church subculture, and into the lives of outsiders on a regular basis, anyway. In fact, our mission involves interacting with people outside the church (John 17:15-16), and we see this reflected in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, as well as Jesus himself.
Now, God’s mission can’t always be systematized. But sometimes it helps to break it down in our minds so that we aren’t overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all. If you read the context given in the two examples above, you’ll find a bit of a pattern that I think works really well in practice…
(adapted from “Operation Lydia: Mission” by Chris Lazo)
I was recently communicating the gospel worldview in a Christian church service, and used an illustration to describe the implications of following Jesus. I thought it was a great illustration–I tend to use metaphors and stories that are dramatic–and several Christians pointed out that the illustration was very convicting and effective for them. Christians respond well to certain phrases and one-liners. We use slogans that reflect where we are at in our faith, and they make sense to us.
Shortly after the gathering, a millennial, who was not a Christian or a church-member, approached me with a different response than what I was expecting. She shared with me that my illustration, and the things I said, were confusing and traumatic for her. It made her feel shamed, not convicted. Some of my phrases were foreign to her, kind of the way inside-jokes feel to an outsider who hasn’t been around long enough, and my passion only added to this, coming across condescendingly. She felt that I was looking down on her. Now, this girl was very humble, and gracious in her approach. She never accused me, and spoke in a way that was disarming and conversational. I never felt like she was complaining or attacking me in any way. But it was still a great surprise to me! I had no idea that I was coming across as judgmental. I apologized to her very quickly.
I have posted several blogs on the problem of Christianese (see reader comments!), why we should care what other’s think, that we must make our beliefs comprehensible, and how to speak in everyone’s language, because those outside of our church culture don’t understand the way Christians speak. This experience brought it even closer to home, and humbled me. What made it even more alarming was that the part of my teaching most Christians commented positively on, and that I was most proud of, produced the opposite experience for someone who does not regularly hang out with Christians. I failed to explain a simple truth in a way that she could understand, in fact, I communicated in a way that gave her the wrong impression of the gospel.
I was unaware of this happening because I am so deeply immersed in a church culture that I don’t know how foreign my words are to many people outside of the church. And apparently, lots of my friends talk the same way too, because afterwards, we give each other high-fives over something profound that was said, while others may have no clue what I meant. We can be great at explaining the gospel to each other, but not to those who have never heard it before. I’m really glad that girl spoke up, and was so nice about it. Not only did I get the opportunity to clarify myself, but I also got to understand her worldview, and dialog with her about Jesus and the church.
Evangelicals are often reared to pray in “the name of Jesus,” or “in Jesus’ name.” What this sometimes equates to is a literal attaching of the phrase “Jesus’ Name” to the end of every prayer.
A few months ago, a well-meaning man approached me after I had led music worship at our church to tell me that none of the songs in the first set ever “mentioned the name of ‘Jesus.'” He suspected that a lack of verbally stating Jesus’ name would detract from the glory given to Him. Ordinarily, I would agree with such beautiful Christology for music—except that in this case, the songs he was referring to that morning were Come Though Fount and We Exalt Thee.
They didn’t mention Jesus’ name anywhere, but…how much more Christ-exalting can a song can be than these?
Let’s get this straight: I believe that the Gospel must be proclaimed and lived out in unison, without compromise between either. Most Millennials resonate with this (especially the “living out” part). But on occasion, people will insinuate how important it is to bring up the name of Jesus is in every conversation that takes place between believer and outsider. It sometimes feels as though the verbalization is of more importance to the said believer—like a check mark on a to-do list—rather than a carefully established relationship and opportunity to witness, to the outsider. Once again, evangelism (sharing of Good News) is watered down into a formula in this case, called “Jesus’ name.”
Several students sat down to talk with me about our churches use of Christmas trees on stage. His biggest concern was over the consumerist appeal of a Christmas tree that detracts from Christ. The young man was well-mannered, calm, and seemed to have only good intentions. But I must confess, I was baffled. The sermon was intertwined with Jesus’ redemptive plan and journey to the cross, while the worship was infested with songs of his glorious presence. If a tree is distracting someone from Jesus in that environment, perhaps a more looming problem than decor is causing the itch.
I have heard more people bombard non-believers (and fellow Christians) over the phrase “Happy Holidays” than perhaps any other term. Why are we so offended by the phrase “Happy Holidays?” Do we think its usage will nullify the truth of Christmas? Are we offended that surrounding culture does not believe in proclaiming Christ? I think it has to do with the same concept as listed above—we’re infatuated with cute Christian phrases.
Living in a way that honors Christ should go beyond the mere mentioning of his name in conversations, or the chanting of his name in prayer and song. For crying out loud, if a two-word phrase carried such magic, we should start stamping it on our foreheads.
All of this begs the question, “What does make something ‘all about Jesus?'” How can we tell if something is Christ-centered? What makes something “in the name of Jesus?”
We can agree on this: it’s more than just verbally pronouncing his name.
His name must bring to mind every attribute that makes him God, every sorrow that makes him human, and everything he’s accomplished in life, death, and resurrection, for bringing broken people back into the impossibly holy presence of God. So with that in mind…
Hopefully more than a slogan.
Christian #1 enters a room filled with several outsiders. Making a b-line for the unholy huddle, he immediately engages them in conversation while aggresively diverting all available subjects to matters of faith. Upon religious dialog, #1 begins to make short work of everyone who disagrees with his airtight logic. What a stud. After this, he drops the conversation and makes his way to the grocery store where he badmouths his landlord while griping about the holiday checkout lines. Before scanning his Martinelli’s, the cashier greets him with a friendly “Happy Holidays!” to which our stone-faced Christian rejoins with “You mean, Merry CHRISTmas, right??” As he exits the building euphoric over another missional encounter with bad people, everyone else around aisle nine goes back home more disillusioned with Jesus and less loving of his Church.
There is one side of most of us that will recall the verses warning us that we will be hated by the world (Matt.10:22), that we should not be ashamed of it (Rom. 1:16), and that committed Christians care only about what God thinks. Then there are those on the fringe who care only about his nomination of us as the greatest thing that happened to the planet, while everyone else can either get out of the way or bow down before our brilliance.
We use Jesus’ promise of being hated for the gospel as a sweeping cop-out for ALL of our silly behavior.
And by honest, I mean sobering rather than inflated, and considerate rather than selfish. We should care about what others think about us…at least to some extent.
Don’t forget THAT part of the Bible…
K…I’ve belabored the point.
Unfortunately, whether it’s our Socratic conversations, satirical Christian t-shirts, the change in facial demeanor when speaking about evolution, our Christianese “code” language, the spiritual gossip, double-standards, lack of empathy, or the silly things we say in the name of evangelism, the ways we stunt our image in public is endless. Nay, it is humorous, but on a depressing level…yeah, it’s “depressing” humor. Irony is another good word for that, and John the Evangelist employs it often in his rhetoric against Pharisees. Oops. (#belabored)
The Scriptures strike a tension between persecution and acceptance that Christians can expect. There should be a mixture of reactions by the world to our faith and practice. So if everybody outside the church likes us, maybe it’s because we’re soft on the Gospel. But if everybody hates us, maybe it’s because we’re a jerk. And if that’s the case…we shouldn’t blame our bad behavior on Jesus. We should blame it on an inability to survive in a worldly setting.
Jeff Vanderstelt asks, “What is a missional community?”
Here’s the definition of missional community by Wikipedia (cause you know they’re right).
Mike Breen, one of the prominent leaders in the MC movement says in an interview, “It really isn’t a fad…it’s something we see quite clearly in Scripture”
Doug Paul lists the top 10 mistakes missional communities make here and here.
Missional community is a buzzword in the church, but not one that is either good or bad, per se—I guess it depends on what we mean by it. For example, if we wanted to love on orphans while being unstained by the world, I guess we could call it “Incarnatheologicalization in moderation” to clarify to our collegues what is our particular niche—because that’s what’s really important, you know…being particular. Then again, I suppose it helpfully narrows down our focus which is a good thing to do, because I do want to have a clearly defined goal besides just “Telling everyone about Jesus.” Of course, we could just call what we do “pure religion” like Jesus’ followers did (James 1:27), instead of incarnational-whatever-it-was, but according to my last point, “religion” has since grown archaic, and could mean anything these days—it is not a term that most of us would associate with. So it doesn’t just matter what we mean by a given term, but what others think it means. And if a term has too much baggage (like “religion”), then we need a more focused phrase or term to specify our distinct pigeonhole…hence, incarnatheologicalization. Or missional communities. Or________x. :-)
As you can see, I’m not a sucker for too many labels (yes, of course I blogged about it). Yet though I hate to admit it, I can still see some need to clarify what we do to keep the good from being lost in all the crap. My lingering question remains, is any of the crap getting lost in translation?
Do you think terminology is important?
So let’s play a game.
I will jot down a few of these terms or phrases that most people do NOT understand, and you add some more in the comment section. If this works correctly, we will get a comical, yet honest glimpse of how silly we sound outside of our Sunday morning enclave ;-) Remember, these are not necessarily bad words or phrases—though some might be—they are just a learned-lingo of a subculture that we must be aware of when talking to people who are unchurched…that is, if we want to persuade them to move past us to see Christ.
Ok, here are a few….
1 (theology) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
2 (christianese explained) when God in His reckless and bizarre compassion effectively turns you back from the destructive course you keep choosing, and opens your eyes to the pleasure of His infinite worth, without which you would be enticed by something else.