Language is revealing.
The choice of words we use can disclose our innermost thoughts, subtly undermining our attempts to portray a different message. After all, it is our internal opinions, feelings and beliefs that govern our external behaviour, or as Jesus put it, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) Some may think the answer is to be more careful about what we say, but the root of the issue lies with our character, and even with beliefs we never knew we had.
I have worked with a number of leaders and a number of churches over the years. Time and time again I hear a theme used from within these communities that is unknowingly destructive, that often come from an undiscovered, but genuine source. It is a language of fragmentation and division, a language which can cause resentment and animosity within the community of believers and it can be summed up in three words…
“Us and them.”
I believe this short phrase is a very subtle but very effective way that the enemy is at work in our churches right now.
“It’s now time for the children to go the their groups whilst the adults continue to worship here.”
“Why can’t the office staff just chill out a bit?”
“It’s not my job, I’m not the vicar!”
Whilst it’s possible to use these sorts of phrases completely innocently, the truth is proclaiming them still creates a subtle culture of division. We could be implying that the young people’s groups aren’t as valid an expression of church as the main service. We are branding all the office staff as up-tight dictators and we may be suggesting that the vicar should be the only one doing the “holy” jobs.
The fruit of unity.
I believe Christian unity brings glory to God. I believe that we are starting to see the fruit of the denomination-blind generation, with city-wide social action projects and inter-denominational Youthwork events now the norm. I believe this only strengthens the work of the church, and grows God’s kingdom. However, I believe our subtle “us and them” language can undermine all that. It is at it’s worst in larger churches with many ministry areas. The coffee shop team distrust the Youthwork team, who annoy the admin team, who don’t understand the clergy, who worry about the charity shop staff, who disobey the finance team. A subconsciously tribal mentality can lead to our brothers and sisters in Christ feeling isolated, unsupported and even bitter. It can lead to a sinful selfishness of resources, a prideful attitude and can quietly derail a churches vision.
Maybe you are a part of this? Maybe you secretly – or even openly – view your church as separate factions and behave as such? Maybe your subconscious has been aware of the various groups, and although you are surprised by it, it has lead you to use unwittingly divisive language? Worse still, maybe you don’t have this view, but still the language you use sets the culture of tribes as the norm?
What can be done?
So how do we change it? How can we move from a disparate culture into one of Christ-focussed unity?
To get to the root of the issue, we need to examine our character. There is no-one better at this – not even ourselves – than the Holy Spirit. He is the one who searches and changes us. Repent, meet with him and ask for His help in becoming more like Jesus.
Apologise to those who have experienced your divisive language. Ask for the forgiveness of those you have excluded or judged. Never underestimate the power of an apology. It can bring healing, forgiveness and wholeness. It can restore relationships, integrity and God’s kingdom.
Carefully choose your words
Although this is futile in comparison with setting our Character right with The Holy Spirit, it is still an important part of ridding our culture of divisive tendencies. Even if you are for a united Church, the language we use can still give permission for others to adopt a fragmented attitude. This is particularly important when speaking in front of a congregation or team. Surprisingly, the most effective time to communicate the degree of unity in a church is during the notices in a Sunday service. Don’t improvise without being clear on the sort of language that can aid or hinder your unity.
Spend time with people.
Simply hang out with those you wouldn’t normally. Invite them for dinner. Grab a coffee. Do your work in the admin office. Spend time with people across the groups and set an example that others can do the same.
Offer to help the needs of the different groups. Sacrifice something for others to flourish. Do outstanding work, particularly in any “inter-group” task. Get that report to the clergy on time, tidy up after your youth club, photocopy those papers for the youth team. On the night before he died, Jesus reminded us that leadership comes from service and humility by washing the feet of the disciples. What are you willing to do to serve others?
Whilst evangelism, church activities and services are all great, Jesus highlighted the primary way to distinguish us His disciples.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV)
By fighting against and eradicating the “us and them” culture in our churches, we are bringing glory to God, protecting ourselves against the enemy’s tactics and proclaiming ourselves as disciples of Jesus. All this paves the way for seeing the growth of God’s kingdom where we are, which is ultimately what we are all striving to see.
He specialises in delivering leadership and people management training in a ministry context and has taught for various organisations across the country, including SoulNet, Innovista, SWYM and Youthwork the Conference.