Tuesday, May 05, 2009

mould or mold?

I talked about the "Grace mold", my associated grief and my commitment to shatter it in last Sunday's message.

My friend, Tim Blair, suggests that the church's language contributes to the mold. I definitely think that's the case. Specialized and outdated "churchy" language can and does erect unnecessary barriers for outsiders and those exploring the Gospel and a Christian worldview.

Where and when possible we ought to speak in language that outsiders can understand and connect with. The Gospel must be communicated in every cultural language, yet without compromise to the message itself.

But I don't think the answer is to abandon all Biblical language, but to continually define it. I actually think unfamiliar and little-used language, if well-defined, can provide a window to spiritual understanding. Our staff talks often about "assuming less and explaining more" and tries to examine the assumptions we're unconsciously making. I try to preach in such way that I am constantly "defining" words by swapping in synonyms and saying things in multiple ways. It's an ongoing, but exciting challenge. I believe if I speak like unbelievers are present with us, they eventually will be present with us. If you hear me speaking to unbelievers at points in the message, you're going to feel more comfortable bringing your unbelieving friends and neighbors. I believe we see this happening at Grace. I am interacting with with unbelievers and newcomers more and more as time goes by. Fires me up.

Tim's example of the word "Lord" falls into this category for me. While we don't use the word in today's culture, I can't think of a contemporary word that adequately captures the meaning and authority of that word. This is culturally telling as we have cast off most "authority" in our time. "King", "Master", "Sovereign" are all helpful fitting "swap" words that convey the authority of "Lord." When there are no contemporary words to adequately convey Scriptural ideas, we have no choice but to "recover" older words.

But having said all that, I like Tim's thinking and process. I can think of several other barriers which repel and keep out outsiders and unbelievers.

But before I share my thoughts, I'd like to hear some of yours. What sorts of things beyond language contribute to a church's mold?

D.A. Carson got our staff thinking and talking much about these issues in this message we heard together at the Gospel Coalition Conference a couple weeks back.


Jim Baxter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Clyde said...

perhaps the major or signature events of a Church calendar, and how those events function and feel

Clyde said...

Fleshing it out... there is a natural tendency to be comfortable with the familiar. This, in and of itself, isn't an inherently negative tendency, but it can be a hindrance for positive risk. How does this relate to church events, moving past the mold and the Gospel? A couple thoughts... Sticking with the familiar rigidly for outreach events doesn't allow for creative changes that would communicate the Gospel most effectively to unbelievers. Essentially, the phrase "we have always done ______ and ______ " doesn't somehow make those aspects of an event, or the entire event itself, untouchable. In short, we need to plan selflessly and Gospel-centeredly. That is, being willing to see that how satisfied/good we feel after planning/participating/serving at an event, or how many people attended isn't the ultimate goal, it isn't "the win." Rather, "the win" in events is to celebrate, proclaim and live the Gospel in creative, risky and Holy Spirit empowered ways. I fall short of this all the time as I too find comfort in tradition and in #s. Know that this is a challenge to myself as well :)