Friday, January 24, 2014

Being missional without the gospel?

Church words
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As some readers know, I make my living as a communications consultant, working primarily within the church. I frequently write and edit copy intended for church audiences. As a result I come across words, phrases and rhetorical strategies that are distinctive to the church. For instance, people in the church “live into” things more often that people in the wider culture, and our prayer is “deep” as unfailingly as the children in Lake Wobegon are above average.

I think most church folks have gotten the idea that you can’t ask newcomers to meet you in the narthex after the doxology for catechesis and expect anybody to show up, but there are still words that crop up in church publications and conversations that suggest that we think we are up to something that sets us apart from other people, which in some cases we are, and in some cases we are not.

Yesterday on my firm’s Facebook page I wrote facetiously that to avoid the sort of reflexive solemnity that sometimes mars church writing none of our clients would be “breaking bread” this year; they were all just going to eat. Later on my own page I said that I personally was going to try not to be missional (a word that Word does not recognize), but that I couldn’t make any promises because I had to make a living and the word, if it is a word, is hard to avoid using at the moment.

All this is by way of asking two things, one in good fun and the other a bit more serious. The first, what church words and phrases get on your nerves? The second is what words that either land awkwardly upon the ear, or have some negative connotations, does the church have to fight for nonetheless?

To the first question, as for me and my household, we will use the words disciple and fellowship exclusively as nouns. Concerning the second, I think that we have to fight for the word evangelism because in our desire not to be the kinds of Christians who try to harangue people into believing in God we have in many instances abandoned efforts to make our churches attractive to our friends and neighbors. Let’s call evangelism what it is, and then let’s do it.

On the other hand, while I am at ease with the word mission, I feel silly using the word missional, but find that sometimes I can’t get around it. Who has a graceful adjectival alternative? I am more uncomfortable with the word missionary. I understand we need a word for people who are on a mission, and that each of us should participate in God’s work in the world. But it doesn’t seem to me that white Christians get to determine when it is appropriate to begin using the word “missionary.” We can’t pretend that the wounds inflicted by white Christian missionaries around the globe have healed, we can’t pretend that we don’t continue to benefit from the systems of domination that many of those missionaries helped to build, and we shouldn’t act as though the statute of limitations on taking offense to this word has run out.

Your turn. 

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