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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

insider language addendum

Inspired by travels abroad, I wrote previously about insider language and behavior, often unintentional, that stands as a barrier in so many of our church settings. In case that needs a little more fleshing out and specificity, let me offer just a few examples off the top of my head (I really could probably come up with 50 in short order):

We don't need new cribs in our nursery - they were good enough for my kids 25 yrs. ago... they survived; plus, we don't have any babies in there right now.  

==> Do I really need to deconstruct that?! In fact, yes, I have had to deconstruct that in a very real conversation some years ago.  De we really want the bar for nursery care to be "they survived it?" I mean, in the 70s, my mom let me stand on the front seat of our VW Bug and hold on to the dashboard as she drove around town, and I survived (and liked it).  If you tried that with my small child today, not only would I never let you take my child anywhere again, I probably wouldn't leave her alone with you.  And as far as not having babies in there now... does that not suggest something to you?

Let's all stand and proclaim what we believe using the Apostles' Creed.

Post-apocalyptic worship in
"Return to the Planet of the Apes"
==>  I mean, I LOVE the Creed. I love theology. I think it's important to state key beliefs together. But do you have any idea what that sounds like and feels like to someone for whom church is new? I remember a scene from "Return to the Planet of the Apes" that brought that point home to me some 25 years ago. The music was choral, the people were lined up... at one point singing "All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small... the BOMB made them all." And the centerpiece of worship would be was a nuclear warhead.  At the time it was nonsensical; what was this group chanting, this group singing? I caught a glimpse of how weird, awkward, and non-sensical worship could be to an outsider.

Will the ushers please come forward to collect the morning's tithes and offerings?

==> I'm not sure even churched Christians really grasp "tithes and offerings"; it's just something we do... the old passing of the plate. What if you are from outside? What's the point? What's the expectation? Is it like tipping at a restaurant? And is that tipping based on how good the preacher's sermon was? A good chuckle and I'll toss in a fiver? 

[Evil shush your children look]

==> This is so common it's disheartening. Do we really NOT want children in worship and then complain about not having children and young adults in our church (the ones that just might be starting to have children?)  Combine the evil-eye shushing with the 1963 metal crib in the nursery (see #1 above) and you have a sure recipe to the exit door. 

We should only use the church building for church events...

==> When I came to my church in 2002, this was the default policy. Outsiders would mess things up. There would be security issues. Someone from the church would need to be present. In 2003-2004, when we first started thinking in terms of being a church-for-the-neighborhood ("parish church"?) we decided to open the facilities to ANY group from the neighborhood at no charge. (Charging was the second conversation after opening it up, but we decided it was to be a ministry, not a fund-raising effort.) I'll write some more on that in the next couple of posts, but it has made a HUGE difference in connecting with our neighbors.  

Minimal Hospitality Threshold

At the VERY least, we have to discover a "minimal hospitality threshold" that doesn't offer visitors the perception of dangerous childcare, arcane weirdness, awkward pandering for money, and unwelcome stares. Yet many congregations... sincerely well-meaning... have lost touch with what today's minimal hospitality threshold entails. Compare your church to a moderately successful restaurant - heck, compare it to McDonald's in terms of hospitality.

Compare your childcare to the YMCA or what you might look for in a babysitter. Put yourself in the shoes of an outsider - it's hard, but you can do it! (Or if you are really having trouble, go visit the place of worship for something really different from you - a Jewish temple or a Catholic or Orthodox or Pentecostal church... see where you are uncomfortable or lost or wishing for help.) 

And then...

Then, take a deep breath and ask this question:
Is the MINIMAL hospitality threshold really what you want as your standard of hospitality... to represent Jesus Christ to your neighbors and to the world?
Or is there far more in terms of welcome, hospitality, openness, inclusion, invitation, participation, and community?  [Hint: yes, there is far more. For just one example of that, check out this article on racial insider/outsider dynamics in church.]

And then!

And that is just the inviting, welcoming, including part of being the church that I like to call LIGHTHOUSE church. There is another whole realm of reaching out, going forth, venturing beyond the walls, loving neighbor, brushing shoulders, and being the church-for-the-world that I like to call SEARCHLIGHT church.  More on that to come...

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