In preparation for my doctoral dissertation I’ve been asked to read William Strunk and E.B. White’s classic little book The Elements of Style. Needless to say, it only confirmed what I knew to be true: I’m not a writer. Correction. I am a writer, but a poor one. Elements also gave insightful tips about writing with greater proficiency. One point in particular stood out: Put statements in positive form. The authors believe:
[There is a] weakness inherent in the word not. Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; he wishes to be told what is. (19-20)
What holds for good writing also holds for good churches. Unfortunately, too many a congregation defines itself only by what it’s against instead of proclaiming what that congregation is actually for. Consequently, churches can easily be mislabeled by outsiders as narrow-minded fundamentalists saddled with whatever-phobic leanings that only reinforce the public’s illusion of them. Primarily defining oneself by what one is against is especially tempting for young church planters; many of who entered planting because they were dissatisfied with the status quo of their prior church experience.
That’s why in listening to them describe their church plant, ministry philosophy, or even weekly sermons, a person tends to hear information framed more in the negative than positive. From “We’re not a seeker church,” to “We’re not a pipe organ-playing, choir-singing, suit-wearing type fellowship,” pastors limit the impact they so desperately desire by reducing what they think or do to only the negative. Why? Like readers, listeners are “dissatisfied with being told only what is not, [they] want to be told what is.” Pastors may needless turn off countless numbers of people who walk through their doors each Sunday not because those people didn’t want want something different but because they never heard what that difference was.
Maturing churches (and the maturing pastors who lead them) spend more time clearly explaining what they are for (e.g., gospel, forgiveness, holiness) than what they are against.
Do you define yourself more by what you’re against or what you’re for?