Reclaiming Metaphors was a central theme at the Iowa Annual Conference’s School for Ministry a few weeks back. For those of you not familiar with the IAUMC School for Ministry, it is a yearly convocation for pastors and lay people alike in Iowa that is centered around a particular topic (or topics) of interest to the church. When I learned that using technology creatively in worship was one of this year’s topics, I was excited to attend.
The speakers for this topic were Len Wilson and Jason Moore, the cofounders of Midnight Oil Productions. Both Jason and Len cut their teeth at Ginghamsburg UMC, one of the largest United Methodist Congregations in the country, located about an hour from where I started my career in ministry, so I was familiar with their work and excited to hear what they had to say.
They started out by reminding us that Jesus was a master of metaphor. He knew how to illustrate a topic by using examples that were relevant to the people he was talking to. For instance, most of Jesus’ audience would have understood what a “winnowing fork” was and how it was used to separate “wheat from chaff” in Matthew 3:12. The problem is that in our modern day, low agrarian society, this metaphor would take a lot of explaining. This is where Len and Jason suggested that we “reclaim the metaphor.” That we, like Jesus, use an example that is relevant to the people we are ministering to. At Ginghamsburg, they decided to use “brewing coffee” as a replacement for separating the wheat and chaff. Drawling the goodness out of the beans through the brewing process was compared to our growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.
The wonderful advantage of this approach is that very few of us will ever literally separate wheat from chaff, but many of us have a tasty brewed beverage (or four or five) every day. Thus, coffee would inexplicably be linked to our following of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, a master of metaphor, took advantage of these cultural relevancies; we would be wise to learn from his approach, which leads me to the point of technology in worship. As we shift from a “literate” to a “visual” society, the way we present worship is itself a metaphor that needs to be reclaimed. When Jesus took his message on the road to the gentiles, and away from the synagogue, he demonstrated a new way to present an old message about the glory of God. The metaphor is this case revealed that Jesus cared enough about the gentiles that he was willing to shake things up. Similarly, our use of technology in worship, when done well and appropriately, could send that same message.
Reclaiming metaphors is all about using a new example, a new way of doing things, to drive home an old truth. Jesus’ life of radical teaching and culturally relevant examples should not be discounted. We too have the potential to reclaim those old truths in a new way.