So there’s this classic movie called ‘The Magnificent 7’ you’ve probably heard of it and I’m not talking about the new one, but the one with Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen. In answering the question of why would the ‘7’ stay and defend a helpless town from a warlord Steve McQueen’s character says:
I once asked a man that same question. He was in the middle of the desert and decided to take of all his clothes and jump naked into a cactus and I asked him why? He said “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The joke is of course that some of the dumbest things we do, seem like a good idea at the time.
As a general rule I try to steer pretty clear of controversy. It is not the task of ministry to go looking for issues and hornets’ nests but it is the task to gently challenge.
So, here’s the challenge: have we come up with so many clever names for ministries and para-church organisations that the sum total of all our cleverness is that the average punter on the street has no idea that the people busting their guts to help and serve them are representatives of Jesus?
Have we become so terrified of what people might think of us, and so scared of (yes, let’s go there) being associated with child sexual abuse that we have become allergic to using the term ‘Church’ in the public square? Have we tried so hard to express our desired ministry outcomes in the choosing of a name that people could easily miss the fact that ultimately, our desire is that they encounter the living Christ?
Perhaps you’ve spotted it; I think we have.
I think this is one area where things looked like a good idea a the time, and now it looks…..cactus.
Let’s get real, let’s use an example.
One of the ways that I minister is that I go into a local school as a youth worker on behalf of Waratah Church one day every week. I love the positive relationships that I have built up not only with kids but staff as well. I also have the pleasure of working on the pastoral care team with a ‘youthcare‘ chaplain. She’s fantastic. Really does an amazing job. As I am sure many youthcare chaplains do. My issue is not with the people or the organisation per-se. God’s every blessing to them. Really.
But the name……’youthcare’
Sorry, I can’t stand it.
Because of what it goes out of its way to avoid proclaiming; that at the end of the day all its pastoral care is coming from a CHRISTian organisation. Most parents I have talked to in the real world, have no idea that Youthcare represents Jesus, that is that it is a church based organisation. On the other hand you have my role. Putting to one side the fact that it happens to be me doing it, the point is when a child talks to me, when a parent or teacher refers a child to me, when staff wants to talk to me, they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are talking to someone from and representing the local………church.
Of course it is not really youthcare’s fault, they are an organisation, a para church organisation. This is basically another way of saying they do ministry on our (church’s behalf). One more organisation that, unless you are in the know, you could have no idea is actually Christian.
We have created so many things that we can give to and support…. whilst conveniently allowing us to never come into contact with the coal faces of ministry.
Hopefully you can see where I am going with this. how long will we reclaim the simple label of Church in all our external ministries? Heck, why isn’t ‘World Vision’ simply called ‘Church international’ or something?
I wonder sometimes if we come up with clever names for things because we worry that if we’re simply straight-up with people and tell them that we represent the church down the road, we won’t get an audience in certain contexts.
That folks, is rubbish. Write all the procedures and policies you want, but in the real world the only currency that matters is relationships. Healthy relationships gets you a hearing anywhere. Just ask Daniel. If we really knew the presence of God to our core we would trust him that he is with us and ready to bless our ministry in any context, even if it is in the ‘courts of Nebuchadnezzar’.
I once drove past a sign outside a funky named church in Canning Vale who must have had people confused about what they were, because flashing on their massive LED sign were the words ‘WE’RE A CHURCH!‘ I thought to myself “Then maybe you should call yourself one then.”
So here’s my plea, let’s stop trying to be clever, let’s stop trying to say everything in a name because we end up saying nothing. Let’s just be who we are: a Church God’s people, where people can come and be loved and meet God and maybe, just maybe if we ‘get it done’ consistently enough under this banner, this name…then people may start to shift their understanding of what a church is and what it does.