A postmodern geographic culture shift has occurred. Many philosophers, theologians, and churches try to communicate with people, especially young people, in modern terms located in outdated cultural understandings and geography. Speaking broadly, Church wants to tell people what to believe and the way to believe because that is the way it is according to the Bible or name your authority.
Words, even from scripture, are greeted with suspicion by post-moderns and often proved false because they are often times culturally and geographically framed. Therefore our language makes no sense and is irrelevant.
Take my friend *Jane for instance. Jane was at every church event, leading Vacation Bible School, her family was plugged into church stuff and she gave generously from her resources. Her Dad was an Episcopal priest and she was baptized Episcopalian as an infant. She was not a member of the church I attended. She was not allowed to be a member because by our church’s belief in what the Bible said she had to be baptized by immersion. She was not allowed to vote on church issues.
In the same church, a person who was baptized as a 10-year-old that never came to worship, never helped with anything, and never gave of their resources for our common mission was considered a member who could make official decisions about the church. That person could vote. Something about this belief made no sense to me and still doesn’t when I encounter it in various Baptist churches. Jane was a great church “member!” I’ll take her any day over the lukewarm bench warmer that was baptized when they were 10 years old.
The days when the people in the neighborhood walked to the nearest local church left the Washington, D.C. region long ago. People moved into the neighborhood and they believed all sorts ology’s and isms. They had all sorts of different life experiences. They could not belong to the local church though and therefore it became irrelevant to their life. They spoke a different language.
To share the love of Christ with people surrounding us we must learn a new language from which to lead. We must learn a language that helps restore and reconcile and give hope. We must provide postmodern geographic mutts an opportunity to belong before they believe. To do so we must adopt a particular language posture.
Example – How does the word “justice” posture us? Let’s look at Isa. 1:17: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.What does adopting a specific “language posture” mean? It means we work to adopt the values of biblical narratives through the language of words, images, and actions.
What does “justice” mean to you having read this verse? Why does it mean that? This verse invites us into a certain way of living. Based on how we understand the language we can learn what our trajectory is and invite people to belong to that posture with us. It becomes a way of being. Who will you be because of how you understand this Bible story and how will you lead others?
Why the language of leadership? I do believe that unless our churches adopt a corporate narrative we will struggle to locate ourselves in each other’s stories and in God’s story. Put simply, unless we identify a common language we will find it hard to collaborate with a group of people towards a unifying principle.
Think about it. Language is the starting point for significant participation in any particular field like law, engineering, or theology. For a church immersed in a postmodern context that is often times geographically diverse that language needs to be a particular “way” in order for people to belong. It cannot be particular words. Words are relative until we agree on the common story. The truth in the language we use is found in the way we live those words out not in the definitions give them. In our case, I suggest the way of Jesus to get at the truth of the matter so that we can join with God in co-creating his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Tom Lynch lives in Arlington, VA with his wife Lore, son Joe, and daughter Evelyn. He serves as associate pastor for youth and children at McLean Baptist Church and as the Director of Ministry Rotations for the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. He holds a master of divinity from the Leland Center and a bachelor’s in communication from Michigan State University. He volunteers as a justice advocate for International Justice Mission and serves on the board of trustees for The Network for Theological Education.