The power of story is undeniable. As Christians we tell the story of Jesus by our sayings, our tone, and so on. Our sayings construct a metanarrative that we don’t wish to have misinterpreted or misapplied. Understanding what we say and how it is said in a cultural context, and how others interpret it, is critical to ensure our every word is seasoned with salt, so that we know how to answer people. We have an affinity for breaking down Greek and Hebrew words to examine their fullness of meaning; we ought to do the same with our “Christianese.”
In this 3-part blog series, I will try to pick apart three common Christianese sayings. I chose these three because, frankly, they rub me the wrong way, and I think we can say them better. On to the first:
#1 “We’ve got to invite more people to church”
What We Say: “I’m working on so-and-so. Trying to get them to church.” We pride ourselves on how many people we invited weekly. “Oh look,” we say, “So-and-so is in church. They must be doing better, growing closer to God.”
The Problem: We focus too strongly on getting people to church and not nearly enough on getting people to Jesus. Church invitations are not equivalent to introducing people to Jesus; one may not, necessarily, lead to the other.
This saying could also communicate that in order to know Jesus, you have to go to church (read, ‘my church’ or ‘this kind of church’), that you have to know when to sit, stand or say hallelujah. But knowing Jesus is not equivalent to knowing church culture and practices down pat. The truth is we don’t have to go to church to come to a saving faith in Jesus – but I do go to church because I know Jesus and I want to learn how to become more like him.
How We Could Say It Better: In Ephesians 4:1-16 Paul lays out a vision and mission statement for the church. He says Jesus gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (v. 11) to “prepare God’s people for works of service”. What are those works of service? Preaching the gospel to the world.
Inviting people to church has great merit and we should continue to do so, but it should step 2, 3, or 4 in a series of interactions about Jesus. Too often our approach is to share the gospel only at church – hoarding the gift God and laying again the same foundation in the same place, over and over again. We become like the servant who buried his bit of God’s money instead of putting it to work so it could collect interest.
How can we say this better? Maybe, “Invite people to Jesus. At church, we’ve taught you about him and his ways. Now go teach it to others, and when they are ready to believe in him, introduce them to Jesus. Then, bring them here and we’ll teach them to do the same.”