Shannon Kiser

Language Matters

Because we are working across multiple denominations and with trainers across the theological spectrum, it is important that we all get on the same page regarding some of our Fresh Expressions language so that:
  1. We can be precise in our communication
  2. We can deliver consistency in our training
  3. So we can carefully avoid landmines in working across the North American denominational/theological landscape
  Missional:  participating with God in what God is doing in the world; mission is the essential nature and vocation of the church as God’s called and sent people. This language comes from the Greek: Missio Dei—mission of God, sending of God. It is the call to know and be known and to allow God’s joy to fill us, so that all we do …our participation with God in the world…is an expression of God’s life in us. When we abide in the Vine, mission becomes a spontaneous expression of life with God. Be careful…
  1. This is not just about getting people to heaven. This is about participating in the inbreaking kingdom of God both now and in the life to come.
  1. This is more about what God is doing than our drive towards “productivity” or “success.” We want to see Christ’s Church grow, but this is about joining God’s kingdom agenda, not pushing our own agenda.
  Evangelism: the sharing of the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed; introducing Jesus Christ to others and inviting them to become partakers and participants in the kingdom of God Be careful…
  1. Evangelism is more than just doing good things in the world and it is more than just reciting a script and checking a box. It is bearing witness to the good news of the in-breaking kingdom of God through Jesus Christ through both words and action.
  2. Evangelism as conversion manipulation is HUGE baggage for the mainline traditions in our midst for whom “avoid hell” or “get you to heaven” language triggers a great deal of suspicion.
  3. Evangelism as a rote script is something to be avoided in fresh expressions. Communicating the heart of the good news will require careful attention to the context.
  4. The unique invitation of life with Jesus is not something people will just absorb by watching our actions. But our actions have the opportunity to build relationship and trust and open doors for people to invite us into deeper spiritual conversation.
            Re-evangelization: re-engaging a formerly Christian culture with the good news of Jesus Christ and the invitation to participate in the kingdom of God; recommunicating the liberating message of the Gospel in a divided, cynical world. Be careful…   This is not “taking America back”, nor fostering a conquest or trying to force Christianity as the dominant cultural worldview.  This is how some people hear it, even if we don’t mean it that way, so we have to be precise in how we unpack it.   Discipleship: Walking with people toward where God wants them to be (J.R. Brigg’s definition) Be careful…   We are constantly working to help people see discipleship not as a church program but a way of life and a way of being with people.   Inherited/Existing/Established Church: We use these words interchangeably to articulate the gift of the church that has gone before us and discipled us, that has deep and rich traditions of communal faith and practice…this great inheritance that can be passed along to future generations. Be careful…
  1. We don’t want to communicate that these are necessarily stale, nor necessarily “traditional.”
  2. Sometimes we are tempted to talk about the established church as the “they don’t get it” church. We need to be careful about that.
  Blended Ecology: While we used to use “Mixed Economy,” we are shifting to this language as a description of inherited church and new forms of church co-existing in a blended ecology of church. Reasoning….
  1. It moves the language from the sphere of economics to the sphere of ecosystem, as we seek to foster growth and diversity and fruitfulness.
  2. Our most recent resource from Michael Beck uses this language, so it helps if our spoken presentations match our resourcing
  New forms of church: we try to use this language instead of “church plants.” While fresh expressions and church plants are both potentially “new churches,” church plants are often synonymous with “worship launch.” While there are certainly missionally-minded church planting initiatives that reflect many of the principles of fresh expressions, we try to be careful and not describe fresh expressions as “church plants.” We are fostering forms of church that emerge out of the mission and the context, not planning a timeline for a worship launch that will attract people looking for a good worship service. Be careful… Many denominations have a history of failed, high dollar church planting initiatives. We are casting fresh expressions as a less resource heavy alternative to expensive church plants. “Church plant” language often stimulates fear or anxiety  because of perceived past failures.   Nones and Dones: We do not want to foster an “us and them” mentality, nor do we want to cast judgment on those who are not connecting with the inherited church. While “unchurched” and “dec-hurched” is language that is often used in describing people’s relationship, or lack thereof, to church, we often use the Pew research language of Nones and Dones. Other language our trainers have used: People with a secular worldview, people with a Judeo-Christian worldview; Biblical language (Jesus frequently connected with those who were not in the Temple Courts, the Father went running to embrace the Prodigal Son, etc.) Be careful… Anything that feels like an US vs. THEM posture needs to be avoided.  We are not trying to pronounce judgment on people in our training (i.e. those sinful non-churchgoers) but rather to communicate trends in our culture that inform how we might engage more fully with our communities.   Any Insider Language: Your denominational lingo doesn’t always translate across denominations. Be careful that you are attentive to include the breadth of participants by avoiding insider language if you can, and explaining insider language if you feel you must use it. For example, D.S. may be commonplace language in Methodist Circles, but nondenominational participants may not know that it stands for District Superintendent, nor what a District Superintendent is all about.         
Shannon Kiser

Shannon Kiser

Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.


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