Exegetichism: What a great word! My friend just coined it in a recent conversation. We were talking about four p’s that exist within every insider church culture: parlance, people, places, and press.
As we talked about how he felt a little out of place not knowing all the parlance of the Church culture he has been navigating for a few years, he dropped that word, “exegetichism.” He lamented not knowing and understanding more words like that. How humorous!
He blended two technical words: exegete and catechism. Exegete is when you pull out the true meaning of something. Catechism is when you put into people understanding through the process of asking and answering questions; it’s a form of indoctrination.
Culture is goofy. And it is difficult for people to navigate culture. If leaders aren’t present to help a person navigate a new culture that person will slowly drift away from it. Though my friend was just saying that he doesn’t know or get words like “exegetichism”, he actually cleverly developed a word to describe our problem. There is often a great disconnect between what we pull out and communicate to others and what they actually absorb and understand. Part of this is because we either create noise or ignore the noise that exists and assume that people get or relate to our cultural parlance, people, places, and press.
We have to be careful educators who make no assumptions about our people’s experiences and familiarity with our church culture. Let’s look at each of these facets of our church culture briefly and seek help for using them in our culture well.
Every culture has its language. This is part of what separates it from other cultures and make it distinct. Christian culture has an extremely technical, historical, and well-developed parlance. Unfortunately, as biblical illiteracy increases and emphasis on general education continues to shift towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies, people will fall out of touch with the parlance. They won’t know what “exegesis” or “catechism” is. They won’t be familiar with “prelapsarian”, “particular atonement”, and “regeneration”.
Furthermore, there is no end to developing new language or nuancing language in a church culture. For instance, the terms “mission” and “incarnation” are used much different from how they would have been 50 years ago. And as theological constructs develop, people are becoming familiar with new problems like “open theism”.
So how do we navigate our parlance? First, I suggest that every time you use a technical term, you should imagine that someone in the room will not know the term. Get used to explaining the term. Second, if the setting is appropriate, you might ask if anyone needs you to explain the term. If no one admits that they need to, give a second chance, and reassure people that you don’t expect them to really know all these terms. Third, create a place or direct people to helpful resources for further study. If your church does not have a blog or an online resource that has some of your parlance defined, then get cracking on making that resource available.
There are people that everyone looks to in your church culture. It could be a scholar or a pastor. Have you ever entered a new culture and everyone kept name dropping people you don’t know at all? Or what about when you navigate from one church environment to another and you discover that a name that was praised in your former environment is defamed in your new one? Let me tell you. That’s awkward. And quite honestly, it’s shameful. Church leaders should be intentionally magnanimous to avert these troubles.
If you wanna help your people understand THE people, be sure to explain a little bit about who you are referencing. Give your people context. Make resources available or create connections between the people you name drop and what they are about. Did they write a book? Make the book available. Are they known for a particular event, doctrine, viewpoint or ministry focus? Connect that person to those things for your people to grip the connection. And demonstrate greater charity towards the well-known people that you may not run to for counsel or leadership.
Places are a big deal for people because memories and the past are often wrapped up in places. There is a sentimental and nostalgic relationship made with places. When I arrived in my first pastorate, I discovered that there were sacred cow places. Thus, I should not import my sacred cow places and supplant those other places at my new pastorate. Because of this, some of the camp and mission experiences that I cherished in past contexts would never be contenders in this new ministry context.
For adults it becomes conferences, colleges, and seminaries.
“Did you go to such-and-such? Oh you didn’t.” Awkward pause. And the two of you don’t know where to go from there.
Have you been there? I have.
Or how about this. The person responds with, “I would never be caught dead at such-and-such. Why would you go there?”
“Well, I went here instead.”
“Oh did you. Hmm.” And now you’ve been shoved into their neat little box.
Places are important. Educating people on the places of value and why they are valuable is critical. Then being super inclusive is also important. You want people to share the same experiences you had in that place. You want them to long to be there and go there. Magnanimity is also essential here.
We need to be charitable because people are not their places. People are in process and they develop. What they were connected to in the past is not always what they wish to be connected to in the future. That’s just the way it is some times. So we shouldn’t make too great of an assumption about a person just because of their past places.
A lot of people do not keep up with the press and social media like you do. Leaders are always more in tune; they keep their ear to the ground about the buzz. For some people the press is super important. Others, don’t really care that much. There is this tension between not creating a culture too attached to the press and then being able to address what current event is taking your culture by storm when it is necessary. Many a church has been broken by events that came out in the press about a place or a person that they cherished.
We need to listen carefully to the buzz in our church. That will help us know how to navigate the press. Not only should a leader have his ears open, sometimes he needs to have his mouth shut about the press. Your people don’t have to get the news from you first every time. Let the press do its work. Be there to offer counsel and make statements in response as it becomes necessary. Sometimes leaders blow the press out of proportion and stir up trouble where none need be.
You want to help people learn your culture and navigate it successfully. This will help you retain more people than you realize.
Likewise, you also want to keep an eye towards a healthy gap between your church and these facets of culture. Parlance changes and evolves. Language you were attached to at one point you may distance from at another. People change. If your church becomes too attached to a figure, you might find yourself managing a disparaging and depressed culture because of some trauma or tragedy that befalls that person. Or it could be worse, and you know what I mean. The same goes for places and the power of the press.
Don’t fail at exegetichizing your people well by reducing noise and bringing clarity about your parlance, people, places, and press that influence your culture.
Here’s one last word: The more we keep the main thing the main thing, the better chance we have of not letting the above cultural facets influence our culture too much. Let the God of the gospel, the Word, and the work of ministry be the primary shapers of your community.
This post first appeared at Joey’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
Joey Cochran (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) follows Christ, is the husband of Kendall, and the father of Chloe, Asher, and Adalie. He is the pastor of middle school discipleship and communication at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois and a PhD student in Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.