At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I couldn’t help but take notice of a handful of terms that current church leaders tend to throw around in efforts to describe themselves or their ministries. To be fair, most of these terms are good terms. They are, in fact, good descriptors of what many churches should be. At the same time, they are overused to the point of losing their meaning, and in the case of a few, they have become code words for something else altogether. I am not saying that every leader who uses these terms is using them in the way I define in this brief article. I am saying that we need to be more creative in defining our ministries and vision. So, in the name of creativity and clarity I propose dropping the following “buzzwords” from our ecclesiological vocabulary.
Can you tell me one church that is purposefully pursuing irrelevancy? Some may be irrelevant in practice, but I have yet to meet a single church leader that has said, “We want to be as irrelevant to our culture as possible!” Claiming your church is “relevant” is basically saying, “Hey, my church is cooler than your church. Our preacher even wears skinny jeans and has a tattoo!” While I have nothing against some well done body art (we’ll save my opinions on men and skinny jeans for another post), that’s not what makes the Gospel relevant. The Gospel is relevant because Jesus came to save sinners, and every person is a sinner. This makes the Gospel just as “relevant” as oxygen. Churches would be far better off if we would preach the Gospel as essential rather than the Gospel as relevant.
This is a term that began as a good thing. It has helped many a church determine direction and purpose. However, it has outlived its usefulness. I have been asked dozens of times in recent months if my church is missional. With rare exception when I ask what someone means by that, I get a blank stare or something along the lines of, “Well, you know, do you have a mission?” A better question would be, “What are you doing to fulfill the mission of the Church where you live?” In addition, this term is beginning to pick up some baggage. Too often I have seen this term used by leaders to guilt their people into putting faith into action in ways that they are not gifted or equipped to handle. No two people are gifted the same way. While it is good to step out of our comfort zones, let’s not confuse action for mission. Tell me, who is more missional: the teen guilted into doing a service project three or four times a year, or the elderly saint who prays daily for her church family?
Another term that began as a good thing. I’m all for ministers who want to be relatable, down-to-earth, and honest. I think it’s a good thing to own up to your shortcomings. We need to be aware of our weaknesses in order to grow and mature. However, for several groups “authentic” has come to mean a place where we celebrate our brokenness without acknowledging the Savior who makes us whole. We need to guard against losing credibility in the name of “authenticity.” Go ahead, confess your weakness, but only in the shadow of the cross. We are weak so God’s power may shine through our weaknesses. We are not weak so people can find us relatable.
Time for a full confession: I’m guilty of using this one. I am wholly on board that if we are going to do something in the name of Christ, we need to do it to the best of our ability. I do not accept excuses in this. I don’t care that we are a small, rural church, we can still do things with excellence. But I’ve noticed a subtle nuance in how some leaders use this term. It has become code for making something into a big production.
We need laser lights, smoke machines and glitter! Why? Excellence.
Really? I don’t think so. Excellence means doing the small things well. Excellence means doing your best. It does not mean putting on a rock concert and calling it worship (because if the worship band is the only one singing, it’s a concert). Excellence does not require showmanship. It only requires 100% effort towards doing the job right.
This one is usually used in contrast with “religious,” as in “We’re about relationships, not religion.” First, as I’ve stated before on this blog, religion is not a bad thing, so we need to stop treating it like it is. Second, relationships with people must be secondary to our relationship with God. In fact, our relationship with God should inform and transform our relationships with people. We should not sacrifice religion in the name of being “relational” (at the same time, if our religion fails to establish relationships, it’s not true religion!).
All right, now it’s your turn: what are some words that I missed?