A few months ago, I wrote a song called “In the land of broken toys”, reminiscent of the rejects portrayed in the claymation film “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
A land of broken toys is a very plausible fiction for anyone who knows more than a few children personally. Children break toys. It’s a fact. Maybe it’s because they get so excited whenever they have a new one that they can’t control their energy. Maybe it’s because they lack the necessary motor skills and sense of caution and consequence. Maybe it’s just because they’re, well… immature.
I believe that same immaturity lurks in the halls of the Big House of Evangelism, creating a Land of Broken Words. Because I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed the velocity with which words are coined and discarded in an evangelical sub-culture obsessed with progress and results.
Perhaps some of these broken words are, in fact, better off broken. But others are perfectly suited to their purposes, and get broken because of carelessness… too much use, too loudly, with too little love.
I myself have been criticized for replacing “Christian” with “Christ-follower” among other things. Sometimes I make the swap with a hint of sadness… in the above case knowing that the former word implies the state of being “in Christ”, unlike the latter. But I received the word already badly beaten, nearly beyond repair. Hopefully it will make a strong comeback one day, but I’ve always been more of an inventor than a mechanic.
And there is literally no end to the types of words that have fallen victim to this fate. But I’m going to focus here on the words that refer to people who have not surrendered their lives to Jesus, for the purpose of entering into an ongoing relationship to him. I’ll be diggin up a pretty wide array, so here we go:
Scripture Context: I Thessalonians 4:5 – a dirty sinner with animal instincts
Modern Connotation: pure insult – “Us vs. Them”
Status: Dead or Antiquated
Scripture Context: Luke 15:6 – Jesus seeking out his lost sheep (who are apparently clueless)
Modern Connotation: Parental concern that borders on pity – belittling & patronizing
Status: Musty but still Common
Scripture Context: All throughout NT – Those not (yet) rescued from danger/damnation
Modern Connotation: Negative, “Haves vs. Have-Nots”
Scripture Context: Possibly 2 Peter 3:9, though we have no reason to believe that every Non-Christian is a “Pre-Christian”.
Modern Connotation: Snarky, Presumptuous
Status: Contemporary, but Limited
Scripture Context: Not sure if there is any (further explanation below)
Modern Connotation: Unrefined, Unpropagandized (further explanation below)
Status: Common and Gaining
There are a lot more I could hit, but this last one, “unchurched” is what I want to focus on. And as I do, keep in mind that I am mostly speaking on behalf of a post-modern generation, and not attempting serious journalism, so my perspective will be limited, yet I think crucial as well.
Post-modern culture tends to view the Church, and Christianity much the way it views any other large institution. Chock-full of self-serving agendas and schemes to brainwash entire generations into unquestioning submission. In post-modern eyes, a large corporation has achieved its goal when every last individual is walking around as if in a trance reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s character from Rain Man: “Gotta go to K-Mart. Gotta go to K-Mart.”
It has also not escaped their notice they way Missions has been conducted over the last several centuries… where it is just as important to westernize a populace as to evangelize it. They (we?) are convinced, and perhaps with good reason, that the Church is out to destroy all cultures but its own… that a modern Missions Director takes more queues from Alexander the Great than from Paul the Apostle.
Thus, to become “churched” is to become forcibly assimilated, to lose touch with one’s own willpower and surrender to the Borg, since resistance is, indeed, futile. It is to fall victim to pervasive propaganda and slick marketing… to sell out.
Many Christians already hold this view toward mega-churches. The larger the church, the more resources available for marketing, and the more people will be accused of selling out when they finally break down and join “Six Flags over Jesus”. This is not to be critical… but we close our eyes to the prevailing attitudes. And those belonging to small or medium churches should understand that the way they feel about the Great Conglomeration Congregation out on the highway is the way many people feel about the Church as a whole.
And we have to be aware of that when we use words like “Unchurched”. We can’t be surprised when people see it as adversarial… like the trash talk on the court that soundly predicts the fate of one’s opponent.
But it’s not just the talk. I believe that in many cases the mentality is consistent with the connotation. Evangelism-minded Christians often believe that they are in possession of a culture that should be spread like hellenism to the entire known world. So if this what the world hears us saying, perhaps it is not disingenuous at all. Perhaps we truly are communicating accurately with such a word.
And that’s even worse. It’s no real trouble to deport another sorry ex-patriot to the Land of Broken Words. To turn an attitude around is another thing entirely.
So ask yourself: “Am I more concerned about a population that is unchurched, or one that is unloved?” Did Jesus call me to go about “churching” people, or loving them? Because when you love a person like Jesus does, you’re going to tell them the truth, even if it’s hard. You’re just far less likely to communicate it with a fake million-dollar bill.
One more thing: in addition to being concerned about those who are unloved, we need to take note of the undiscipled. For if there are two Jesus mandates that cannot be disputed, they are: to love people, and to disciple them. And often, the quest for the undiscipled can be conducted within the walls of the church, because sadly, it’s like shooting fish in a bucket to find those still subsisting on the milk of the Word, having never cut their teeth on its meat.
I will wrap this up by recognizing that I am still hung up on these negative words that many people have tried to get away from. The fact is that the terms “unloved” and “undiscipled”, however big an improvement they may be, are still not fit for public consumption. Believe me… I have tried and tried to find words that are.
But there are so many great words from the past that have been discarded due merely to becoming misused or worn out. Is it time to take a trip to the junkyard for some salvage work? Maybe it is.
who’s got a crowbar?