Analogies, metaphors, and similes for church

There’s a bunch of analogies, metaphors, and similes for church. Some work better than others. Some are over used. Some have been abused. Some are just weird.

There are common ones. And I wonder if their use needs to be re-examined. Words have meaning after all.

One of the most common ones for church I have heard is that church is like family. I don’t like this one. It’s overused and it’s abused. Sure, there are aspects of church that is like family. Families are close. Families stick together. But there are many down sides to this too. Families fight – and when they do, it’s usually nasty and vicious. Families often have unhealthy dynamics. How does one get into a family – usually by birth or marriage. Tell me how that works out well for a church? Families have secrets.

Churches are communities. Ok. Again, there are aspects of this that work. A church is a community of believers. It’s much easier to become part of a community. A community has something that unites it together. But a community might not be the best analogy either – especially in our modern context. Communities aren’t what they used to be. Many people don’t even know who their neighbor is. Community is a broad term. What is meant by the term? How do we define it? What is its purpose and meaning?

In the post-COVID world, I wonder what new comparisons we need to describe church. We’re in a world in which churches are changing. Our comparisons need to change too. What would an appropriate comparison be for a hybrid church body? How about a church that is diverse? How about a church that is intergenerational? How about a church that is outward focused?

Here’s a few new comparisons to consider:

Church is like a college campus. Every year it is new. There are new people who come and there are folks who are gone – sent out. There is a yearning to learn and grow. There is connection and values are openly talked about.

Church is like a homeless encampment. There is no separation between the haves and the have-nots. There is a true sense of community in which everything is shared. There is direct encounter with service for and from others. Orthopraxy is a heavier focus rather than orthodoxy.

Church is like a sporting event. People are glad to be gathered together and celebrate. There are no long faces. People freely express themselves and the meal of worship becomes a true celebration where the presence of God isn’t just talked about but actually felt and encountered and drives all who are gathered out into the world to proclaim this Good News. We look forward to gathering again.

Church is like a start up. There is innovation and disruption. We look at the world around us, see the injustice for what it is and declare that the faith that we have been given makes us uncomfortable with the status quo and we are empowered by God to do something about it – to disrupt it. The Spirit has given us everything we need to get to work. God has given us a vision of a better future for the world, and especially this community where the church is planted. And we proclaim this Good News and invite our neighbors into this better life, learning about them, their hopes and dreams and seeing how they match up with the vision of the Good News.

Church is like…So many things. If we just open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. If we move past the comparisons of the past and see the possibilities that Jesus has right in front of us. When we open up the Gospels we see that Jesus did this all the time – “The Kingdom of God (or heaven) is like…”

The church doesn’t have be like it always has been. It can be what it is called to be for this time and place, in whatever context and culture it finds itself in. The possibilities are endless. In some cases that will look like it has in the past. And in other places, it will look like something new. If we are open to possibilities and the potentials. Comparisons are supposed to be helpful. And comparisons are not set in stone. Let the comparisons of what the church is and what it can be flow freely.

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