language matters

Discipleship. Mission. Church.

Key words in my life as a pastor as I seek to partner and lead with a group of people in faithfully responding to the way of Jesus in our community and in the world.

This week I had the privilege of attending a Forge Canada event to hear from Stuart Murray-Williams (I’ve blogged about his book The Naked Anabaptist). Murray hails from the UK and is involved in leadership with important missional groups there, such as The Anabaptist Network and Fresh Expressions.

In three engaging sessions, Murray-Williams helped us reflect on discipleship, mission, and church, not as three separate categories of Christian living or ministry, but all as part of the integrated path towards us individually and together being more fully human. Several times Murray-Williams paused to lead us in reflection on the importance of language. This zinger has lingered: does our language "enhance humanity or dehumanize?"

These mini-communications lessons were not merely offering a pedagogical change of pace. In a post-Christian culture, where caricatures of religion tend to trump religious truth, key words such as discipleship, mission, and church - words many Christians take for granted as commonly understood - need careful reflection, definition, and use. As Murray-Williams distilled the importance of “cultural discernment” for 21st Century Christian living, it became clear that such discernment is as much about self-understanding - intentional language! - as it is about cultural understanding.

It’s along these lines that I offer a few highlight ideas and quotes from Murray-Williams that provoke thought around our language of discipleship, mission and church:

  • "We don't need a dependency culture but an interdependency culture"
  • "Becoming human is not something we are created to do by ourselves"
  • Imago Dei - "Glory of God is seen in a human life fully lived" -Irenaeus
  • Cultural discernment is essential: “unmask the idols co-opted by values in our dominant culture.”
  • “Do our practices develop Christian reflexes?”
  • The goal of discipleship is “being human, not loyal church membership.”
  • "WDJD? - what did Jesus do?"
  • "How do we adapt to a changing culture?"
  • “What is God already doing in your neighborhood?”
  • To avoid extremes of cultural rejection or accommodation we need to realize the interconnectedness of mission and discipleship.
  • Metric for church success: "breaking new ground in our culture.”
  • Creative idea for church life: "idol of the week: everyone bring an idol to church." (as a friend pointed out, kind of sounds like show-and-tell!)
  • On old churches: "Euthanasia with churches is entirely appropriate...we need to help churches die well."
  • On pioneering leaders: “The difference between a pioneer and a pain-in-the-neck is often very thin.”
  • “We need each other to resist dehumanization.”


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