Semantic Shaming

Those of us who lead churches are generally on the lookout for ways to reach more people.  This might mean a change of strategy as culture shifts around us.  The gospel itself is unchanging, but the ways we present it, may become ineffective and need to be adjusted to fit the times.

For example, 30 years ago every evangelism method started with some variation of ‘all have sinned’.  But today they often start with ‘God made the world’.  This change is not a change to the gospel, but it includes a detail that thirty years ago everyone assumed and therefore didn’t need to be mentioned.

Along the route of perfecting our methods, there are going to be some missteps.  One particular pattern has begun to bother me.

A few years ago, I started hearing people use the term missional.  I don’t actually mind the new word, but I am more prone to use the term mission-minded.  As of yet I have not been convinced the two are not synonymous.  However, I have been accosted by enforcers who believe that by using the older term I am proving that I am antiquated, and ineffective in kingdom work. My church gives generously to missions, prays for missionaries, sends missionaries supplies and encouraging notes, and has often gone on mission trips. Don’t tell me these things will become more empowered by describing them with a new word, or that they become ineffective simply by the use of an older term.

Not long back there was a trend to stop referring to ourselves as Christians, but rather we should describe ourselves as Christ-followers.  I have no problem with this term either. But when I introduce a person who has made a recent decision as a new Christian, please don’t act as if I am somehow perpetuating the corruption of true Christianity.

The only argument in favor of the new term that makes sense to me is that it better defines the responsibility of the Christian life.  Many people use the term Christian without any intention of obeying Christ.

Still I don’t mind the older term because I know full well that the title Christian, meaning little Christs also started off as a term noting our allegiance to the Lord.  Being totally honest, it won’t be long till people call themselves Christ-followers without any intention of obeying Christ.

Like everyone else in church leadership I want the church to be more effective.  I want the kingdom to grow and God to be glorified.  I want us to continue to search for better ways to do these things. But real ministry is going to take more than a change of vocabulary.  And the energy expended in correcting people who have not adopted the change of vocabulary would be better used in witnessing, and instruction in Biblical lifestyle and Biblical growth.

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