Check out this paragraph from our neighborhood association’s monthly newsletter:
More directly, keep our common areas clean by properly disposing of your trash. If others have been litterbugs, take a moment to pick up after the careless freeloaders. There has been a spike in candy wrapper litter since the start of the summer break. Parents, if you insist on allowing your children to become irresponsible scofflaws, please move to a different neighborhood.
Welcome new neighbors!
My wife and I laughed for a long time about that. Their attempt to convey a welcoming atmosphere to new neighbors is sabotaged by their obvious contempt for the neighbors who are already here. They attempt to use the language of welcome, but they have not really adopted a philosophy of welcome.
Maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch, but I also see it as a parable for the church, in the sense that oftentimes we think that if we just change the language, we have changed the culture. We change our literature but the underlying attitudes and assumptions about ministry remain unchanged. One of my mentors calls this the tendency to “talk new, act old.” The editor of our neighborhood newsletter attempted to convey a warm welcome to new neighbors, but his/her underlying attitude toward current neighbors revealed the shallowness and conditional nature of the warm welcome (“You’re welcome as long as you don’t become an irresponsible scofflaw freeloader!”).
For example, many churches put the word “missional” into their literature, because it seems like a good word to use. It seems hip and modern and who wouldn’t want to be missional, after all? Who’s going to say they are anti-missional? “Of course we’re missional. We have a missions department!” But the underlying attitudes about ministry have not changed. They have not wrestled with missional ecclesiology. I’m sure they mean well, but when they adopt missional language without wrestling with missional theology the result is the same kind of disconnect between words and attitudes as the neighborhood association newsletter reveals. It’s unfortunately easy to talk new, act old.
As my friend JR Rozko says a lot, if we see the missional church thing as simply a new strategy to respond to a changing culture, we’re missing the boat. The missional church conversation is not a new strategy, it’s a recovery of some vital theology that we’ve ignored for too long. It’s about realizing the subtle ways in which the church has capitulated to modern culture, and returning to a more faithful way of being the church in the world.
UPDATE: Alan Roxburgh recently said a very similar thing (more eloquently than I), that is is difficult to get local churches to think beyond “the latest ‘seeker’ techniques or church growth gift-wrapped in glossy missional paper.”