John McCain found himself painted into somewhat of a strategic corner during his failed run for the Whitehouse. Due to the record unpopularity of the Bush administration he could not ally himself too closely with his own party. Therefore he portrayed himself as a Maverick who had bucked up against his own party on numerous occasions. However this created a dilemma, that is a line of logic that goes like this,
A) I hear you and understand that you have a negative opinion of the Republican party
B) I am a Maverick not at all like your typical Republican, often I have opposed my own party
C) Therefore this election make sure you vote Republican
Yes it is overly simplistic and no metaphor bears too close an examination, and this post is not at all a political comment, but I am sure you get my point. By positioning himself against his own party, he was almost convincing people not to vote for himself.
Let’s look at another similar example. In their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR Al and Laura Ries, point out that a companies need to be extremely careful in trying to communicate to the public that they are rectifying past wrong doings. For example would you book a flight on with an airline who’s slogan was,
“Sayers’ Airlines: We no longer crash!”
Even though Sayers Airlines may now have a perfect flying record, just their admission that they once crashed places a seed of doubt in your minds. Even this slogan would probably put you off.
“Sayers’ Airlines: Unlike the others we don’t crash!”
Why? Because when you are advertising air travel, even if you have a perfect record of never crashing, you should never utter the ‘c’ word.
The church finds itself in a very similar position to John McCain, we know that the wider culture does not view the church in a favourable light. Therefore all kinds of churches from new pentecostal, to emerging, to missional, to mega all position themselves as ‘maverick’ compared to what has gone before, we say to unchurched people “come to our church because we are not like typical church”. But when we adopt this point, we find ourselves in a tricky place, we position ourselves against other forms of church, and promote an alternative form of church. This position is tricky because it assumes that the unchurched person will have enough of a sophisticated understanding as to be able to differentiate between differing church styles. We are faced with a dilemma of understanding that we need renewal but also of encouraging others who look on what we are doing with skepticism to join us.
So how do we get out of this conundrum? Well I am not going to even begin to pretend that I have all the answers. But I do believe there is a clue in the story of Pentecost. Up till that point in the story, Israel had been called to operate as something of a lighthouse, that their holiness would shine out to the surrounding nations and that people would be drawn in. Often we see the New Testament as a reversal of this trend, that the people of God are called to ‘Go outward” (To be really technical we are talking about Centrifugal and Centripetal forces).
However the force that is created by Pentecost is more akin to an explosion that goes indiscriminately in every direction. Not only does the Holy Spirit push the church outward, it also renewed and refreshed a depleted band of believers. The Church is moved from being a small collection of followers to a vital and global movement. Thus it is not a new management theory, a new theology, or a new communication tool that manages to both renew and ‘send out’ the people of God, but rather it is a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.