I was in a meeting the other day, discussing how to rebuild community post-COVID. We were talking about how to encourage people – whether new visitors, or old-faithfuls returning to in-person services – to be an active part of the church, get involved in midweek groups, find a team to serve on, and so on. It was a really helpful conversation. But about halfway through, I realised that the phrase that kept coming out of my mouth was how to help people ‘get plugged in.’
Since when did it become ok to talk about people as if they were a piece of technology? Disciples as if they were devices?
Don’t get me wrong, the heart of the conversation was good, because I truly believe that involvement in the church that goes beyond just superficial ‘attendance’ is the best way for a disciple of Jesus to flourish. But it dawned on me just how technologically-shaped a lot of our language is, and how impersonal and individualistic it has become. We talk about connecting with people, engaging them, with the goal of getting them plugged in, which suggests that people are devices in need of charging, and the church is the power source.
If I wanted, I’m sure I could spin a nice metaphor out of it. We’ve all heard that illustration that a believer who doesn’t attend church is like a coal taken out of the fire. It may stay red hot for a short while, but will quickly cool off without the residual heat of other coals around it. So too, a believer unplugged from church may stick at 100% battery level for a short while, but will quickly drain and switch off, depleted by the apps of life running in the background. (And if you’re the Christian equivalent of an Apple product that will happen in double the time of most other devices). But still…
It struck me just how different this is to the language of the New Testament. Sure, you could argue that some of the language used there reflected the technology of the day, but by-and-large it’s more organic, and certainly less individualistic. When describing what it means to join the church, the New Testament uses:
- Bodily language: We are members of a body, joined together one to another, and all under the head who is Christ. Each has different functions, but we cannot do without one another, and we are meant to grow together into maturity. (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:17; 12:12, 27; Eph 4:12; 5:23, 30; Col 1:24)
- Familial language: We are welcomed into the family, born again as sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of one another, and members of His household, with responsibilities to care for one another as if we were blood-relations (Matt 12:49-50; Eph 2:19; Gal 6:10; 2 Cor 6:18)
- Architectural language: We are built into a temple, on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and with Jesus as the cornerstone. We’re living stones, together forming a structure in which the Spirit of God dwells, and we operate as a holy priesthood. (1 Cor 3:11, 16-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5-7)
- Agricultural language: We are grafted into the vine; pruned and cared for so that we can bear fruit. We are a field that is prepared, looked after and watered. (John 15:1-8; Rom 11:17-24; 1 Cor 3:5-9)
These are way more pleasant and healthy metaphors. The church isn’t a 500-pin extension cable, where individual pieces of technology sit side-by-side, drawing power to keep themselves energised. The church is something far more beautiful, compelling and powerful than that.