What Does Christian Really Mean? By Mark L Vincent
When an organization says it is “Christian,” it is quickly unclear whether it means:
It gets further muddied by whether it is a B2B for other “Christian” entities, whether it is a ministry, service, or business, whether it primarily focuses on the Great Commission (evangelism) or the Great Commandment (loving one’s neighbor in tangible ways that keep suffering people from dying today), whether the owners/operators are Christian themselves, whether it serves a specific Christian tradition, or explicitly tries not to, and so on. This leads to hundreds of possibilities when you consider that some of these are combined, and many have not been thought through.
And….it remains completely unclear what, if anything, “Christian” has to do with Jesus Christ, the Incarnate One who invites us to receive God’s forgiveness and then live as one forgiven.
Describing an organization as Christian seldom conveys the mission. In today’s increasingly skeptical moment, it often means a negative meta-message has to be overcome, wasting precious time to get any value proposition across in an inviting way.
For a while now, we’ve seen a number of organizations, especially congregations, begin to describe themselves as “Christ-centered,” perhaps as a means to get past this problem. For many, this is simply changing clothes on the mannequins in the storefront of the decrepit shopping mall of yesteryear. Changing the window dressing does not change a meaningless message. What must change is the mode of the mission, so that the message can match it.
“Christ-centered” has potential. It’s meaningless if we are simply swapping it for the word Christian. If we actually mean a community or organizations that are centered around Jesus Christ, however, then we have something to work with. We can then begin to ask ourselves When Jesus was the center of a community, what did that community look like? When, where and how did they gather? What happened? What did his leadership look like? And so on.
What we find will upend us.
I’d like to suggest that it is the process of reflecting on these questions that matters. If I use this blog to itemize what I’ve learned, it short-circuits the learning of leaders who really want to be Christ-centered. I’d rather facilitate the discovery and reflection of those who are eager, than to preach a sermon to people who are going to take a picture of the list with their phone.
To that end, start with Mark’s gospel, and then the first 8 Chapters of Acts. Ask yourself with each passage, each incident, each concentrated section of Christ’s teaching:
When Jesus was the center of a community, what did that community look like?
Ok, I give in. Here is one hint of what I learned and what has upended me: When Jesus was in the center of a community it was in public, and rarely, if ever, exclusive.
Mark L. Vincent Ph.D, CCNL is the former CEO of Design Group International, an organizational development company he co-founded in 2001 to help organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future.
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