There are four words that I’d like to strike from our Christian conversations. There’s probably more, but these four keep coming to my mind. They’re kind of buzz words these days. They are the following businessy terms: connect, tribe, sexy and brand. Here’s how they get used.
Connect: “Hey bro, it was so nice to connect with you today.”
Tribe: “Yeah man, I’m part of that reformed tribe, if you know what I mean.”
Sexy: “Well, having Sunday school isn’t really a sexy way to do church.”
Brand: “I really am having a hard time developing my brand.”
It’s true these terms are most frequently used by pastors, and they love using them at conferences. In fact, I practically drown in this trendy lingo any time I interact at a conference. Sadly, I am now seeing these terms trickle down into everyday Christian conversation about everyday Christianity with everyday Christian folk. Pastors have popularized this terminology to the populace through their Christian books, blogs, social media, and word of mouth usage.
And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve found myself, at times, caught up in the game. Mostly I’ve done so through lack of discernment and over-exposure to this language. I didn’t first hear it in a church context anyway. And it’s so easy to borrow from other contexts and import them into our own. This is the nature of multiculturalism.
These are terms I first heard all the time in business contexts from professors, textbooks and popularized books by guys like Drucker, Porter, Lencioni, et al. as I studied marketing in the business college at UTA. I understand that there is nothing wrong with retrieving business principles for ministry purposes. I get that. I apply principles I learned from my undergraduate work all the time in my ministry context. But I don’t apply every principle or every term. I’m selective and for good reason.
I’m distancing myself from these terms. Here’s why. It’s not because I’m some codger and curmudgeon, though I imagine many perceive me so. Rather, I prefer precision, propriety, and purity. This means I want to stick to language that follows a biblical trajectory, is socially considerate, and demonstrates the kind of holiness that shows the business world that the church is still distinct from it.
I think my reaction against each of these words is stemmed from different reasons. Connect seems so superficial, demeaning, and self-serving than what we’re actually doing as we get to know one another. I’m excited about experiencing sweet fellowship with my Christian brothers. I’m not so excited about networking and connecting. Tribalism and branding likewise betray a self-focus, or, minimally, an us versus them mindset, which is just not the approach Christ wanted us to have. Christ didn’t create a tribe. He created a people of every tribe. And our over-sexed culture just does not need to look at the Church, the functions of the Church, or the characteristics of the Church in an erotic manner. Nothing about Church should be sexy.
Now, I’m not saying that people who use these terms are not holy in the sense that they are sinners for using these terms. And I don’t think this is a Romans 14-15 issue either. I wouldn’t call myself weak in faith for electing not to use these terms. Rather, I consider myself an exile and a stranger, echoing Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11. In this way I am set apart. I am salty (Matt. 5:13). I want to leave a distinctly flavorful taste in others’ mouths with what proceeds from my mouth (Col. 4:6).
Besides that, too much overlap sends the wrong message to the world about the church. John Piper said it very well. And brothers, we are still not professionals. The Church is a fundamentally different organism than any business. And it is pertinent to recognize that in spite of all the other business and economic language used throughout Jesus’s teaching or even Paul’s, the Church is never compared to a business. It’s compared to a household, the body, Israel, and other parallel concepts, but never a business.
I’m starting to convert these terms in my conversations with people. I do it gently. I switch connect to fellowship, tribe to theology, sexy to just about whatever else I can, and brand to identity. I know these are subtleties. But I think these subtleties reveal much about philosophy and approach to church.
I’m not going to despise or judge people who use those terms. Though this is not really a Romans 14-15 matter, I need to apply principles from this passage in how I look upon those who use these terms. I love my brothers that adopt this language just as I love anyone else. This post probably says more about my obsessive particularity than it does about my quest for precision, propriety, and purity.
Feel free to share with me your disagreement or some of the words you’d like to see scratched from our Christian conversations. Let’s pithily bemoan together!