Say This, Not That

Old LettersAfter two extraordinary days with Kellie Anderson-Picallo, my head is full of things – among them: words.  What words do we say that make eyes glaze over? What phrases sound tired? I’m not talking about “snap!” or “you go, girl.”  I’m talking about words and phrases that no longer reflect who we are and where we are going as God’s people.  (Unless they do which means we are toast.)

A couple of stories:

Twice in job interviews, I’ve asked committee members to tell me about their church/institution.  It went like this . . .

Me:  Tell me about your church.

PNC:  We are the richest, smartest, most successful people in (the city).

Me:  Wow.  So why do you need Jesus?

PNC:  (crickets)

Me:  Tell me about your institution.

INC:  We are the first in the nation with a rich history that parallels our nation’s history.  Many of our historical leaders were also founding fathers of our country.

Me:  Wow.  What’s your vision for the future?

INC:  (crickets)

So, here’s the thing:  I love that you love your organization and it’s cultural place in the community.

But I don’t really care where you’ve been as much as I care where you are going. I don’t need to know how smart/successful you’ve been in the past as much as I want to know why you exist now.  It’s not that I don’t care about the past.  But I care more about the future.

In my own denomination, there are certain words and phrases that we use and those in the room chuckle as if to say, “Yes, we certainly are that thing.”  In stead of building solidarity, those terms make me feel dated and tired.  Among the perennial favorites:

  • Connectional Church – First of all, we are not all that connectional. Our congregations are often lone rangers most concerned with their own projects/budgets/people.  Congregations are suspicious of Presbyteries and denominational structures in general.  And for that matter, the whole world is connected digitally, so what’s so new/different about being “connectional”?  (Note:  thank you KA-P)
  • God’s Frozen Chosen – This is embarrassing.  Yes, it’s cold in Scotland, but authentic warmth is priceless in a cold world.  God always chooses stirring/moving/changing – rather than freezing –  if you ask me.
  • Decently and in Order – You know this verse is about speaking in tongues and women being silent, right?  We Presbyterians are all about being decent and orderly until we aren’t.  Sometimes tables need to be turned over in the temple because God is not pleased. Jesus was a bit of an agitator.  Be like Jesus.

For all the times we Presbyterians will hear the words I listed above, my hope is that we will hear more often these questions:

  • How are we are creating a new ecosystem of spiritual vitality and why?
  • How are we investing in the future and why?
  • What innovative ministries are we trying and why?
  • Where is Jesus in all this and why?

Image is from Architectural Artifacts in Chicago where a space has been repurposed as a warehouse/museum/event venue.  There is old stuff there that can be transformed into something new.

2 responses to “Say This, Not That

  1. Leslianne Braunstein

    Love this, Jan. It is so, so true.

    Me: Tell me about this Church.
    CTTE: We were established in 1502
    Me: That’s nice. What have you accomplished lately?
    CTTE: (Crickets. Many.)
    Me: Sigh


  2. One of my friends went to seminary at Princeton, where she acquired (besides an M.Div. and a husband) a T-shirt that reads “Presbyterians do it decently and in order.” I don’t think she has yet gotten the nerve to wear it to a church picnic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.