Monday, 19 February 2007

De-churching

I am feeling really challenged, and need to share right now, with a plea to you who are reading, to give me your thoughts on this huge issue. I'm sure the issue has a 'name' but seeing as I am blissfully unaware and not all that clever or switched on, I will just give it a name of my own: "de-churching".
And the issue is simply this: how do we get rid of our 'churchy jargon', and start talking about our beliefs in ways which 'Joe Bloggs' will U.N.D.E.R.S.T.A.N.D and be able to relate to?!?!?!

As a church intern (very part-time at the moment I hasten to add...), I meet with other interns and our "Intern Programme Leader" - Lynn - on a Monday, to pray, study the Bible and discuss various aspects of church life and of ministries that we're each involved in. We are currently studying the book of Romans, and are grappling, and struggling with terms such as 'righteousness', 'justification', 'atonement', 'circumcision', 'salvation', 'law', 'sin' and so on! Now my problem is that I kind of understand what these words mean, with a huge emphasis on 'kind of'!! But I find myself increasingly passionate about scrapping any big, complicated religious words which would put off most people from ever going anywhere near the church or the Bible.

With that in mind, how do I start to understand these words well enough to be able to explain their meaning in simple, short words, which will make sense to anyone, and especially the mums I hang out with at the school gate, my non-christian friends, the people on the streets that we go out to feed and serve, as a housegroup, every other thursday...etc etc.

(To be continued...)

12 comments:

  1. I think we need to CONNECT to UNPACK this issue of jargon.
    Sorry, couldn't resist.
    I do understand what you mean though. There are some very big words that aren't very easy to understand.
    Unfortunately I'm not gonna be of any practical help cos I have no idea either. Sorry.

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  2. Hi Rach, a noble aim indeed. As well as the concepts you highlight you might also want to consider the more fundamental Q of how people form faith in the first place - the propositional system of believing right things, doing them and then experiencing christianity seems to being stood on its head, now people want to experience/try out, then feel and then lastly believe propositional truths.

    That's not very easy for us as christians to get our heads around, especially if we've grown up in a christian environment because we've pretty much had all of those compressed into one experience.

    In your example then its how do you invite people to experience something of the kingdom of God, how can they belong before they believe or how can you involve them? It will be an experiential/feelin thang before it is a propositional thang. The good news is that you don't have to be an expert in christian terminology and instruct people in right belief or the case for right belief [at least not to begin with] the hard thing is now you offer tastes/flavours/experiences that they can participate in - opportunities in kindness, generousity, care for others and creation, creativity etc.

    In many ways that is a harder thing to do because the dynamic in most modern churches is not set up that way - where there is a clear need to set out what we believe, a clear need for conformity, a clear expression that sunday church is the chief experience/taste/meal which is largely set up to teach more propositions of what you should believe, do, feel...

    If you're interested it is something i reflected on a bit in this post here:
    http://paulmayers.blogs.com/my_weblog/2006/11/why_dont_i_see_.html

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  3. what on earth does propositional mean?!

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  4. a propositional truth is an abstract one that you are asked to believe is true without any experience of it yourself - for instance evangelicals usually summerise it into a prayer where if you pray these propositional truths - you're a sinner, Jesus died for you, you need to ask his forgiveness and you need to invite him into your life - would all be examples...

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  5. ok, cool.
    Thanks for you comment Rach.
    I will pray it over and probably speak to my nanna next weekend.
    How are things with you?
    h xxxxxx

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  6. Rachel,

    I've been thinking on this post since I first read it - thanks for the good food for thought. I don't think I've come up with much profundity, but here's my 2 cents...

    I've heard and read others sharing along these lines, and I admit I'm not always sure what I think. I have mixed feelings. Yes, there is the reality that Christians can be out of touch, and downright weird when they (we - I know I've been guilty) ramble on about things of faith in front of non-believers. For instance, I'm not much for corney "witnessing" t-shirts and the like. And, what's the use if what we're saying makes no sense to those listening...it is important to learn to speak and express our faith in ways that anyone can understand.

    But, I feel a bit squeamish when I hear folks talking about totally doing away with terms such as the ones you mentioned. To me they are such beautiful words, a "language of faith", so to speak, that is well worth hanging on to and learning. We need words of some sort to express the incredible truths of God's workings, why ditch the ones we already have?

    I think that presentation is so key. We need wisdom and sensitivity from God on how to speak with each person we come across. I believe there is a way that we can speak of these things, even with non-believers that invites them into the beautiful mystery, rather than puts them off (Now, I must confess I don't fully understand what that looks like). I think the trouble comes when people feel excluded.

    And often, with the ones who don't yet know the Lord, we are presented with opportunities to live a life of love before them, and *for* them - as you are doing with going out in the streets to feed and serve (that's awesome!). Sometimes I think the world would be more drawn to God's presence in us if we don't cloud it with striving to witness with lots of words.

    My boys are bouncing off the walls right now, so I can't think any more clear thoughts! :) I'd love to hear any more thoughts you've had on the subject.

    Oh, and, I have to tell you that we're all total Club Penguin adicts over here now! Your son's blog is so cute - I keep meaning to show my daughter who is seven and have her give him a comment. :)

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  7. Paul, thanks for that, I'm encouraged and challenged to take this further with myself, and actually come up with some concrete ideas, simplified definitions, etc...
    I agree, if those 'out there' first experience the kingdom of God, then begin to feel/touch/taste/see/sense the kingdom, there is more of a likelihood that they will believe and let kingdom truths sink into their hearts. I think revelation is the ultimate thing that has to happen though, which means that, while my responsibility is to love, invite, welcome, explain simply and gently, etc etc, ultimately, it is God's responsibility to reveal by the Holy Spirit, in Jesus, what goes beyond human understanding.
    Miriam: hello, stranger!! (*wink*)
    Thank you too for your helpful words, I think you are so right in that those words are beautiful, and here precisely because there probably aren't any better words! But I think that, while for us as believers they are beautiful and meaningful as well as full of mystery, for the non-believer, they might be a barrier, a stumbling-block, which might put them off wanting to get any closer...This is why I'm wanting to think of new ways (for me) to present (as you said) the truths these words express, to make them more accessible for those who are outside the church. I'm not for one moment suggesting we do away with these terms completely, but rather that we rethink on their meaning so that we can explain that much more clearly and simply.
    Mmmmmm. Sorry if this is confusing, it kind of makes sense in my head, but I need to spend a lot more time praying and asking for revelation!
    Nice to hear from you again :)
    And yes, Sam's blog is cute but we need to work on it a bit more, it would be lovely if your daughter were to leave a comment!!

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  8. PS: Yes, Club Penguin Rocks!! I am almost more addicted than Sam, and that's saying quite a lot.

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  9. Well done, I think you've hit The Really Big Question here: after all, what does Incarnation mean if not that God addresses us in ways we can understand? He's terribly good at avoiding his own jargon. We churchpeople might as well follow his example! But it's a lifelong battle, in fact: words always define and limit, whereas God's love and grace are always beyond definition and off limits. So each generation needs to keep re-appropriating the little gleams of truth which the church's time-honoured vocabulary undoubtedly possesses, and re-expressing them in new ways. Otherwise we're in permanent danger of thinking that, because we've got the vocabulary right, that's all there is to understand, and we think we've arrived. Whereas truths as great as these are always a question of movement-towards, never a matter of staying-put.

    One of the greatest of all 20th century Christian thinkers, Karl Rahner, wrote: 'Because every truth of the God who reveals himself is given as an incitement and a way to the closest immediacy of communion with him, it is all the more an opening into the immeasurable, a beginning of the illimitable. The clearest formulations, the most sanctified formulas, the classic condensations of the centuries-long work of the Church in prayer, reflexion and struggle concerning God's mysteries: all these derive their life from the fact that they are not end but beginning, not goal but means, truths which open the way to the - ever greater - Truth.'

    I think that's a real encouragement to us to pray, without ceasing: Holy Spirit of truth, renew your Church daily in the way it expresses your love. May we who have seen your glory, and keep seeing more of it, never give up the wrestle with words and meanings. Grant us to find, but never to stop seeking! And let your glory shine! Even in us, maybe! A little!

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  10. Good point Rach - i am wondering how far you see an overlap or not between your revelation and God's revelation - or to put it another way how much of the message is the medium?

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  11. Paul: don't understand your question, sorry... Blame 'brain-mush'!
    Can you put it yet an OTHER way for me??

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  12. Thanks Rach for the "gentle" reminder of my long overdue post. I have indeed finally posted. Now maybe its time to do one yourself lady!

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