Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Same Words, Different Dictionaries

A lot of people show up at PCC and believe they are ready to step into a ministry role after simply hearing about what we do. They love our philosophy and claim it is what they have always been looking for. Sometimes they even convince me, especially if they come from a strong ministry background and credentials. But they are never ready for us.

It’s not that they are being disingenuous or dishonest. They honestly think they’ve got it; that they understand us completely. Sometimes I do too. But what neither of us understands at the time is that we are using the same words with different dictionaries. Until someone actually experiences our church and what goes on here (over a certain period of time), they can’t help but read their past experiences and definitions into the words I use. It’s the only reference they have.
  • For instance, when I say our church has small groups I mean one thing. But their past experience causes them to define it another way. This is why a newcomer needs to be IN one of our groups before being allowed to lead a group.

  • When someone asks me, “Are you a Spirit filled church?” and I reply yes, they will read their definition into my response and are often disappointed when they discover we don’t meet their expectation.

  • When I use the word elder it means one thing in our context. But to a Presbyterian it means something altogether different. It also means something different in a Charismatic church too. I have learned that when I am asked, “Do you have elders?” and I reply yes, they are asking me do we have elders like the ones in their last church.

  • When I say to a newcomer that we are serious about the Great Commission, they usually respond, “That’s great. This is the kind of church I’ve been looking for.” But after they get here and find out how serious we really are about reaching sinners and discover how messy it is to work with such people, they will often bolt.

On and on it goes. If I use terms like staff led church…. baptism in the Holy Spiritborn againspirit-led worship…. election…. pastoral leadership…. predestination…. seeker…. or God head, it means different things to different people depending on their background. Same words, different dictionaries.

Before we turn people lose in our church there has to be a clarification of terms, and agreement on those terms. That’s why they have to experience us first. It’s important for key people to be on the same page.

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