Metaphors and Models Matter

You probably don’t come to this space looking for an English lesson, which is good because I don’t want to give one. I have something a little higher in mind with this talk about metaphors and models, but we do need to understand what they are. They’re using something we know and understand to help us know how to live and work in something we don’t understand. It’s that simple. And they’re very powerful.  We use them all the time without realizing we are. We cannot live without metaphors and models. Without them we would never be able to do anything new. Period. No progress would be made. Nothing would change. We need metaphors and models and we need to get them right. Using wrong ones creates problems. 

Here’s a common one that I think is a metaphor wrongly used. We say, “You have to work at your marriage.” Common wisdom and a common metaphor. But here’s the problem.  We’re using the metaphor of work and a job to guide us on how to live in a relationship.  They’re not in the same category. Further, we are using something most people see as unpleasant (work) to be our guide on something that should be pleasant. Work at your marriage if you want, but just know if you don’t work hard enough you might get fired and your spouse will probably hire someone else to take your place. Here’s a better metaphor. Play at your marriage. Marriage is, after all, a friendship. So decide you’re going to play, not work.  The result is better. I will say that when you’re in a marriage, you have to work on yourself and that’s a job. But play at your marriage. You’ll stay married and have more fun.

We use the wrong metaphor and model for church, too. If you’ve been listening on Sunday morning in February, you’ve heard this but here it is again. Catholics used Rome as a model.  Reformation churches used the university as theirs. American evangelicals (us) used the American business system. And it works, kind of, but it’s turned us into businesses. We work hard and use leadership and sales principles we learned from marketing to get our message out by means of presentations to prospects. All business ideas. And congregants see themselves as customers who “pay” tithes to get services they want, and if they don’t they take their business elsewhere. The upside is we can have a pretty good church, even if God doesn’t show up. But what’s a church where God doesn’t show up? Nothing, nothing at all.

The Bible’s metaphor for church isn’t “business”. It’s “body”. We are the body of Christ, his actual body. Also, a body is a live, living thing. It’s a physical thing that has a spirit in it that directs it. The body listens to the spirit and then does what it’s directed to. Church is like that, too. We are a physical body. We have a Spirit in us. Church is about learning to be together, stay together, and listen to the Spirit together through Scripture and prayer till we know what our body is to do and then we go do it.

It’s kind of like playing at your marriage. It’s a whole lot more fun.