Tag Archives: metaphor

Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 3

This is a series about the metaphors we used to describe the church- and if they are really helpful or if there are better metaphors that we could be using. So far we have examined if the church is like a gas station or a family and if the church is like a hospital or a Tough Mudder.

Is the church like a battleship?

Is the church like a battleship?

Perhaps you have heard this: The church is not like a cruise ship, it’s like a battleship. I’ve heard this metaphor several different times in sermons or in discussions on the role of the church. This metaphor tries to correct the spiritual consumerism that plagues Western Christianity- as that we talked about in Part 1. The cruise ship is equated with pleasure, consumption, entertainment, extravagance and a midnight buffet (wait, that really is only on a cruise ship). While the battleship is equated with mission, purpose, dedication and the whole being greater than it’s individual parts.

I know it sounds repetitive at this point, but I get where this metaphor comes from. It gives purpose and meaning to the Christian life and (again) combats the consumerism that plagues our churches and vision of Christianity. In part one of this series, I talked about how there are good metaphors and better metaphors. I believe the battleship metaphor is a good metaphor but there is a better metaphor. The reason we need a better metaphor is because, within the world in which we live, we must be careful using militaristic language to describe Christianity. What other metaphor could we use that expresses similar meaning as a battleship but without the militaristic undertones?

The US embassy in Brussels

The US embassy in Brussels

What if the church was like an embassy? An embassy expresses mission, purpose and a representative of something bigger. What makes an embassy unique is that an embassy is a piece of one nation inside of another nation. If I am in France and go to the United States embassy, as soon as I walked through the gates it is like walking in the US. The same is true for the French, Spanish or Dutch embassies in the United States.

The mission of the US embassy in France (or any country) is to look after the interests of the Unites States, to advocate for it’s interests within the government, to undertake diplomacy as the official representative of the US government. The embassy also exists to provide a resource to US citizens visiting, working or who have a problem in the country where the embassy is located. Additionally, the ambassador stands as the official representative of the US government- with all the responsibilities and privileges that come with it.

What if the church was like the embassy for the Kingdom of God within the world? What if Christians were ambassadors? That is what Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians. What if the church acted like the official representative of the Kingdom of God on the earth? What if we advocated for the interests of King Jesus? What if the church was a resource and advocate, not just for our “citizens,” but for all people? What if we lived like ambassadors, believing that each one of us is an official representative of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

Wouldn’t we be braver? An ambassador has the full weight and power of the government behind them, we have the full weight and power of God behind us and that’s even more powerful than a battleship.

Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 2

In this series of posts, we are talking about the metaphors that are used for the church and examining them to see if they are the best metaphors to use- because our metaphors matter.

One metaphor I’ve heard repeated is that the church is like a hospital- a hospital for sinners. Once again, I understand what this metaphor is trying to express. This metaphor probably arises from Jesus’ words in Mark 2:17. There Jesus tells the religious leaders: “It is not those who are healthy that need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This metaphor shows that the church (and the Jesus that the church preaches) isn’t for people who are good and who have their life put together but for those who have problems, issues and who’s life is a mess. Hospitals are the place to go if you are very sick and need to get better. The church should be likewise.

But.

The problem with this metaphor is that no-one wants to go to a hospital. Hospitals are quiet. Hospitals are sterile and clean. Hospitals are uncomfortable- both physically and emotionally. Hospitals are where all the problems are hidden behind closed doors. Hospitals are the place where people die and where you just want to get out as quickly as possible. The hospital metaphor also perpetuates the idea that the “doctors” (pastors, ministers, church leaders, other Christians) are different from the “patients” (the sinners, unchurched, those with messed up lives). It makes us think that pastors, ministers, church leaders and other Christians are the “cured,” and that they are there to prescribe the medicine- while never being sick themselves. In a hospital, the doctor and the patient are not equal and that idea can bleed over into the church.

The truth is that we were all sinners, we still suffer from sin, we are all in the life-long process of sanctification and we are traveling this life together trying to do our best to follow Jesus.

Maybe church is more like this:

Did you catch some of the phrases that were used in this video?

  • “Everyone here is your teammate.”
  • “That’s the name of the game: people helping people.”
  • All you have to do is decide, deep down, that you’re going to finish.”
  • “Challenges that foster teamwork and camaraderie- things that are fun.”
  • “After this, you’re going to be a different person.”

I think those phrases could and should apply to the church and to our Christian lives as well. The church shouldn’t be a hospital where all the problems are shut behind closed doors and the professionals prescribe solutions. The church should be like a Tough Mudder. Church should be a place and Christianity a lifestyle where we help each other, push each other and get down in the mud with each other. Where we see challenges as obstacles to conquer- with the help of one another and through the power of Jesus Christ. And then, when we have conquered, we celebrate with each other, share our war stories, share about when we got knocked down but got back up again and how God remained faithful. That seems like more fun than a hospital.

So what is the church? Is it like a hospital or like a Tough Mudder?


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Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 1

I’ve written more than a few posts on the church (local) and Church (universal) but there’s always something that draws me back into this topic. This time it’s metaphors, specifically the metaphors we use to describe the church. Metaphors are helpful in the way that they help us understand one thing but relating it to another thing. However for metaphors to be helpful the relationship has to make sense and one has to use the best metaphor available. For example, it makes more sense and it is a better metaphor to say that someone’s kindness is like the smell of a rose in early morning rather than saying that someone’s kindness is like a tsunami that sweeps away anything in it’s path.

In the next three posts, I’m going to share three metaphors for the church that I’ve heard and share why they are misguided, though well intentioned, and share three better metaphors that will help Jesus followers as we interact with our culture.

A few weeks ago I was flipping through the Christian radio stations pre-programed in my car (I normally don’t listen to Christian radio but I was probably channel surfing during the commercial break of ESPN radio) and I heard a sound bite from a pastor/evangelists who was using the metaphor that the church is like a gas station.

To be fair, this was only a 15-30 second piece of a talk that was edited for an “encouraging word” but the church is a gas station, really? His point was that just like when your car is out of gas, you have to stop in at the gas station, fill up, then leave. Then he said that church was the same way; you run out of spiritual gas during the week, go to church to refuel, then go out again until the next time you need a fill-up.

I get what he was trying to say. But this metaphor breaks down quickly and reveals much of what is wrong with modern Western Christianity. This metaphor perpetuates the idea that church stands as a place for consumption. When I’m empty, I come and consume. When I need to refuel, I come to consume. If I’m not empty, then I don’t consume. I take what’s given to me and I use it until I’m in need of a refuel. The church gives, I take. The church produces, I consume. Church become all about me and fulfilling my needs. If this church (gas station) doesn’t have what I want, I just go to the one on the next corner.

If a gas station is not the best metaphor, what is a better metaphor?

The church is a family. Not only is this a metaphor found in the Bible, it turns a metaphor based on consumerism into a metaphor grounded in identity. I am no longer a consumer, I am a participant, I am a member, I am a needed to help fulfill the needs of others, I have a role to play that influences the whole. I’m part of the family, I’m always part of the family.

What I appreciate about the gas station metaphor is that it shows how there is a going, a sending aspect to following Jesus. However the gas station metaphor supports the other major fault of Western Christianity: individualism. Can you see how egocentric this metaphor is? There’s no community, no relationship, no interaction. I go to church to fill up my spiritual tank. Then I go into my world and do my thing until run low again and stop in for another fill up. I don’t have to care about you and your spiritual life, just my own.

In a family, every member is supposed to work for the good of the other members of the family. Family is community, relationship, interaction and caring about the needs of the other members- even above your own.

Is the church like a gas station or is the church like a family?