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Monday, July 14, 2008

Church Censorship and Banned Staff Words 1-5

Today I had a fun little interaction with @billychia on Twitter and it sparked a reminder to post about a conversation our staff has been having at Westwinds.

The Following is a list of words and phrases our staff is no longer permitted to say. I’m only halfway joking. They seem harmless enough on the surface but they have become the proverbial nails on my lexicon chalkboard. If you have any other words we should consider banning, please feel free to comment.

Here are 1-5. More to come.

1. “the next level”—I first noticed this phrase as a regular part of the church vernacular back in the early 90’s.

Context : : :
“Our church has been doing hymns but we are ready to take it to the next level.”
“We just hired a new young pastor who is ready to take us to the next level.”

Banned : : : I would rather talk in terms of being effective as opposed to being “better.” It may sound like semantics at first but “better” sounds a lot like “cooler” and cooler sounds a lot like “more work” and though work is not bad, it certainly will kill us over time if we are always caught in the comparison game and are always striving to be something other than what we are. “The Next Level” carries with it connotations unhealthy motivation.

2. Organic—something that grows without a lot of prodding and pushing—happens naturally out of the normal life economy. Often the opposite of highly programmatic ministry.

Context : : :
“Instead of force-feeding our people with this program we have designed, let’s create an environment where community grows organically.”
“Rather than put people into small groups they don’t like, let’s let the groups grow organically and naturally out of the community.”

Banned : : : Alright, it all sounds good on the surface and there is great merit in sensing where God is already moving and capitalizing on that. However, what often happens when we adopt the organic model is . . . nothing. Nothing at all. We forget that all organisms have some kind of structure, some kind of source of nourishment, a system. If you use the word “organic” too often, you may find your ministry suffering from stagnation and lack of direction.

3. Seeker—spiritually curious person, not a follower of Jesus, unchurched, etc.

Context : : :
“They are a seeker church.”
“My friend just started coming to our church—he’s a seeker.”

Banned : : : I don’t know where to begin here. The biggest issue here is defining someone or labeling someone with a one-size-fits-all brand. What kind of seeker are we talking about? God forbid someone actually hear us call him or her a seeker. I saw it happen once. Not pretty. The man told me he felt like a lab project.

There is a bigger reason for the ban however and that is that no one really knows what they are saying when they use it. Often times churches are criticized for being “seeker sensitive” or “seeker targeted” and a whole bunch of other seekerisms for unjust reasons. Usually the criticism comes in the form of some know-it-all judging the intentions of a church’s programming style while using words like “flash,” “show,” “entertainment,” or “performance” in derogatory ways.

Give it up already people. Get on the right battlefield. The term’s origins are pure and very God-honoring and the seeker designation did a lot to shape many-a-church’s philosophy of mission and got us all to pull our heads out of our self-absorbed butts. There. I said it.

With all that said, we have retired the word. All apologies to Bill Hybels—one of my heroes and pioneer of the term. The word served a purpose for a season. Keep rockin' the Casbah, Bill.

4. Boomer—a person born in the post-WWII baby boom. This period of time varies in length depending who you read but goes somewhere between 1946 and the early 60’s. Some divide this group of people into two distinct groups thus creating a group of “late boomers.”

Context : : :
“That guy wants nothing to do with religion—he’s a boomer you know.”
“Of course he likes Elvis, he’s a boomer.”

Banned : : : Not too many people like labels. Though studies on boomers have been invaluable from a sociological standpoint and they are interesting reading, the “boomer” classification is tired. People are people. We don’t have a problem with the word per se—rather we have a problem with programs and initiatives being shaped because of an armchair psychologist thinking they know how to reach people with a recipe for sure success.

5. Buster—in short, they follow the boomers. They were born after mom started taking the pill and birthrates declined. Think about ’64 to ’81 or thereabouts. This is my generation. Often used in the same breath as “Gen X.” We rule the world. There are varying opinions on us. Some break us up into 3 groups and talk about us in the same sentence as MTV, the Cold War, and the Internet. Confusing and fascinating at the same time.

Context : : :
“Of course pastor JVo likes loud music. He used to listen to The Cure in his room really loud in the 80’s while he lived in fear of Russia invading.”

Banned : : : See Boomer above.

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