What’s Not In A Name

The other day I wrote down a few names, six or so I guess, that I thought would be good names for our church. A couple of the regulars, with a couple of city names and college-student-ish labels tossed into the mix. It’s really quite a bit tougher than I thought it would be. The problem is the sound. It all sounds the same to me. But to them, just like to us in English, some names ring interesting, and some ring wrong.  

I have a dictionary of Chinese idioms. I learn a couple every day, forget almost as many. Not learned from the dictionary – but from people saying one and me asking what in the world it means. Kind of strange, but a huge percentage of these idioms are four words long. Just kind of the rhythm of the language I guess. It’s that part of the language that I can’t even imagine ever being able to understand. There’s really so much about learning this language, as I’m sure is true of many other languages, that much work its way deep into your brain’s thinking pattern before you’re fully functional. It’s not just our mouth that’s the problem – it’s our American English brain. 

So I wasn’t sure where to start. I told St. some of my ideas for names, and he – though far too nice of a guy to tell me my names sounded like claws on a chalkboard – seemed to cringe a little bit. Nice. So I had him tell me the titles and names to songs, books, movies, brands, and restaurants. Just to give me an idea of what they think sounds nice and Chinesey.  

Then we waded around in the Bible for a while. We looked up some of the verses that really paint a picture of ministry here, as well as some of the descriptions of the God that longs to be famous among the Chinese people. And I think we dug up some pretty exciting names. Ultimately, I want our leaders to decide so that they take another step of ownership, but I think we’ve got some great names to lay in front of them that will help us explain to students the kind of church we want to be.  

It’s important, because, as in most any culture, “church” has a very distinct flavor and image. It means here, among other things, “religion,” “Catholic,” “American,” “English,” “elderliness,” “femininity,” and “unscientific.” Which is only a little bit different that what we want people to think of Christ’s church, right? So we want to make sure that everything screams to people, “This is not that! We believe something different! We trust something different! We read the Bible different! We are something different!”  

Of course, a name, just like a logo, theme color, slogan, purpose statement, or fight song, is useless unless backed by something that really makes us different. Ever seen a sports game that was a complete blowout –  where the cheerleaders representing the losing team, apparently ignorant of the rules or the score, cheer on as if their team was on the brink of eternal glory? They smile cluelessly and persist in their formations and hoorah-ing as if the game’s winner is to be determined by the most hollow-headed supporters. Unless the power of God really fills our church, and its members truly grow up into the Head, even Christ, we’ll look just as ridiculous. No one wants to be a dead guy, no matter how cool his name is.

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