7 Lost Words of The Church

Words give us the ability to think. So it stands to reason, the more words we add to our vocabulary, the better we are able to think. My friend, Dr. Louis Markos calls poetry the “highest art form” for this very reason. The myriad layers of emotion and meaning expressed by poetry come from words. Words are parlous. Words are impervious. Words are exact.

When tribes of people (i.e. churches) neglect to incorporate essential words, they lose a vital part of who they were created to be.  It could be termed as a “censorship of essence.”

Here are seven words that I feel the church has somehow lost.

1. Imagination – “Routine dulls our perceptions. Anxiety makes us listless. Life becomes mundane and time hastens by. But imagination gives us breathtaking wonder.

Renowned physicist Albert Einstein once said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’ Our imaginations should not be bound by time and space.

In today’s world of quick-fixes, ‘seven steps to this and five steps to that’ thinking, imagination has gone hungry, gone wanting; been stepped out, educated out, spanked out, and churched out—of our vocabulary.

But look deep inside your mind. Emerson comments, ‘If we can touch the imagination, we serve others…’, not if we touch ‘their’ imagination, but if we touch ‘the’ imagination. God didn’t make the imagination some small, human thing. It is larger than any single person, indeed, larger than any church. Without imagination, there is no understanding. But with it, there is every possibility we can imagine and more.

It is power. It is potential. It is transcendent. It is wonder. It is replete with unexpected gifts. Unless we use our imagination, we are not fully alive. Wendell Berrysays it this way: ‘The imagination is our way into the divine Imagination, permitting us to see wholly—as whole and holy—what we perceive to be scattered, as order what we perceive as random.’ Imagine the possibilities if we expanded the power of our imagination as a bridge to a deeper and exciting relationship with God.”

-paraphrased from p. 59 & 60 of  Sex, Lies & Religion

2. Pleasure – We are hot-wired for pleasure. In essence, we all crave sensual activities that cause enjoyment. The following description of pleasure comes from C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters which contains musings of a fictional elder demon teaching a younger, less experienced demon:

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An everincreasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula….To get the man’s soul and give nothing in return—that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart.’

I love Eric Liddel’s quote in the film Chariots of Fire, “I must run, because when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” When do you feel God’s pleasure?

3. Creativity – One of the greatest descriptions of creativity comes from author Madeline L’Engle, “your intuition and your intellect working together . . . making love.”

Creatives are fleeing the church (and the United States) by the millions. Read Richard Florida’s eye-opening book, The Flight of the Creative Class. Creatives feel caught in a nether world, lost somewhere between the church and the world. A church leader once told me, “Don’t use the words experience or intuition, Randy, those words don’t belong in the church. Give me something solid. Something black and white, something scientific.”

Our seminary trained leaders have been taught systematic theology which methodically strips away the layers of art until the black and white, scientific truth is revealed. And, voilà!, the church has rendered scripture into a set of orderly, step-by-step principles and propositions organized by topic.

The creativity of the Bible is lost.

We have lost the knowledge that the Bible is a book of art. Eugene Peterson says, “More than half our scripture was written by poets”. Tim Downs writes, “Is it an accident that Psalm 23 is a poem and not a set of propositions? Is it an accident that almost 80 percent of the words on the Sermon on the Mount have only one syllable? Is it an accident that the average adult knows almost nothing about Jesus but can remember at least one of his parables?”

Whenever we have something to say, creativity asks how do we say it. The church has the greatest story ever told, but she has lost the creativity to tell it.

4. Sensuality – God placed one of the most sensual books ever written and made it the centerfold of the Bible. It is called The Song of Songs. If you think sensuality does not have a place in the church, you should take time to honestly read this book.

I will never forget a very obese pastor bragging about strongly confronting a trembling tiny female volunteer who led the dance ministry at his church. She had made the unthinkable mistake of designing ivory costumes that were opaque – but looked transparent. He proudly recounted forbidding them to perform the dance they had created and rehearsed for the service until they awkwardly donned baptismal robes to wear over their sensual costumes.

Who created us as sensual beings? A sensual God sent his Son to earth to redeem not only our soul, but also our bodies – our senses. Why? As St. Athanasius wrote in the 4th century, ““God chose to humbly ‘meet us where we look for Him most, and that is in our sensuality.’”


Since this essay has grown so large, I have decided to write about the remaining three words in my next post.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree?

When was the last time you heard a sermon title with any of these words?

What other words have we lost as a church?

Join the conversation.

By the way, here are the other three words.

5. Freedom
6. Beauty
7. Relationship

25 Responses to “7 Lost Words of The Church”

  1. wow… fascinating how you describe these words. i’m looking forward to the next post!
    .-= Spence Smith´s last blog ..Dana Key Remembered December 30, 1953 – June 6, 2010 =-.

  2. Great post Randy, unfortunately those words are lost in churches all over the world! People like you are making the difference!

  3. On the sensuality bit . . . Yes, God has given us sensuality, and made it an important part of our lives. But has God given it to us to use in overt public displays? The Song of Solomon is certainly sensual in nature, but it seems to me a very private sensuality – – if a publicly published writing can be private. We would agree that not everything in an individual’s life is appropriate for display on the public platform, no matter how God-given it may be. Modesty and “public appropriateness” are certainly also Godly virtues.

    In the case of the opaque-but-seemingly-transparent dance outfits, I wouldn’t have bragged about eliminating them, and I would have wanted to work thru the issue with the director before Sunday morning . . . but I would probably have found some way to lessen the impact of apparent transparency. I don’t think I need to be a part of causing the perception of the congregation to be, “Dang! Are those outfits see-through?”

    Perhaps you might expound a bit on your view of the balance to be maintained between public sensuality and public modesty. Surely the two should be considered together.

    • @Horgan, Thanks, Horgan for joining the conversation. I go to great lengths to “expound” in my latest book.

      There really is no defending the pastor in the story. But I appreciate your sensitivity in seeking a previous discussion. But unfortunately, public modesty applies across the board. Who should have really been wearing the robe?

      It is a difficult conversation – and I feel you lessen the impact of your conversation by choosing the usage “sensuality bit.”

      It is far more layered that “bit” – don’t you think?

      • When I grow up I want to be Randy Elrod!

        I was a pastor for 25 years. I’ve been out for a year. I started out as a bold, creative, trail blazer. Ended up scared to say what was on my mind. If it wasn’t religiously correct the ramifications on the church could be negative. So I learned to edit carefully. In the process I became a guy I didn’t respect. Just looking over my shoulder to make sure I was still “leading”.

        Thank God for people like you! Bold, honest, and tender without surrender. I like it! Walk on dude, walk on!

      • @Randy Elrod, by “bit”, I simply mean to use a shorter and quicker term than to say, “the part about sensuality”, or, “on the subject or issue of sensuality”. I didn’t mean to diminish the issue.

        “To say, “Who should really have been wearing the robe?”, seems to me almost disingenuous. You seem to be saying that it would be just fine to present people on the platform in a state of dress which makes it difficult to tell just what the state of dress is. I’d think that we could address the issue of the minister’s obesity and the witness given by that, without inviting congregation members to completely miss the message of the dance while they try to decide how much of the dancers they’re seeing.

  4. I love your own creativity in this blog post.

    I did once hear a sermon about pleasure but not the way you mention here. He said we are allowed to enjoy life and have pleasure in everything we do which is not difficult for me.

    I SO miss all of this in our church. I’m a creative person who always imagines. It always creates a conversation with my friends. Not everyone can join in because not everyone has learned to imagine or be creative and they don’t understand or don’t know what to say so I leave it there sometimes. I’ve encouraged my friends to be creative but the church and family has never encouraged them and they don’t bellieve they can be like that. I hate that. I believe creativity is a way of expressing your love to God and imagination leaves you in awe of the beauty of the Lord. It’s a way of worshipping the Lord.

    Pleasure, I can’t believe life can be without pleasure. But than there are different kind of pleasures and everyone thinks about a different kind of pleasure.

    On the sensuality bit, I agree you have to be aware what you wear but I don’t like the way the pastor did that. Maybe the lady was not right on the clothing, he was not right on the way he addressed the comment to her. For me it’s the same, it’s both wrong. Actually I almost would believe that what he did was far more wrong than what she did. There might be a posibility she didn’t even know it was transparent. It also depends what it showed by the way. Many times it’s more in the head of the man than the woman was intended to show her body. I also think you have to explain what you really mean by sensuality. If you mean the sensuality in the Song of Songs I think that’s sensuality between man and woman. That’s between them. It’s not for others. Could there be different ways of sensuality? I’m just wondering. You are brave to put this on your blog. By the way I’m at chapter 9. This book is the answer to everything I’ve been through and what I was wondering. I always thought I was strange because I’m an openminded person. Only on the Yada-thing I have my questions just because I’ve never heard of it and I want to know more. I just let it go. I want to finish the book first and one day (within today and 1000 years if I’m lucky!)I will buy the Dutch version and tell people about it.

    I’m curious about the other words, especially “beauty”.

    I always wonder why I have to reply with such a long comment. Just imagine me talking to you. It would be like this. I have a lot to tell or a lot to ask.

  5. Ironically, it seems that a lot of churches claim the mantle of transparency but are in fact opaque metaphorically speaking. I think that the very “censorship of essence” you’re writing about was summed up in that example. I’m not sure if that’s what you were going for, but that’s how it came across to me. There’s a certain amount if hypocrisy in that a pastor would relish in banning a pseudo-nude outfit when Adam and Eve knew no shame in being naked before each other and God before exposed to sin. How many “transparent” Christians are in fact opaque in their faith?

    From a practical standpoint all these examples of “essence” are no more, no less a part of the spiritual gifts we are given. In the example above, a whole teaching could have been done using those outfits as an allegory. A wasted opportunity. Taken to any extreme be it pragmatism or rationality or logic, they can all be used in a sinful way, not even anger is necessarily sinful put in the proper use and context any more than sensuality or pleasure. In my church, they have spent a whole series on The Song of Songs, exploring it and putting it into the right context of understanding. They did however tell the adults that it was sensual in nature and not appropriate for children and encouraged them to put their kids into their respective classes rather than have them in the adult service. The less balance churches can find, the more the “sinful” nature of those essences can be exploited.
    .-= Christopher Wiseman´s last blog ..Zappos.com, The Right Now! Vision and Delivering Happiness – C.V. 2 – Embrace & Drive Change =-.

  6. I’ve found that, in my world of mainline denominations, the institutionalized church has not so much lost those words as they have banished them and replaced them with structures and social rules. Relationship was replaced by Membership, Pleasure by Acceptability, Sensuality with Mechanical Being, Imagination with Consensus, and so on. It has been very sad to me. I’ve thought a lot about why this is. I keep coming back to the idea that these words represent precisely where God most is. Institutions often do all they can to insulate themselves from the revolutionary power of God. I think we are more comfortable with these wonderfully dangerous words far away from us. We may not like to think of it, but quite often the presence and power of God makes us very uncomfortable…especially in the mainline churches…because God always asks us to be different…to be more. Isn’t this precisely what Jesus was up against with the religious institutions of His day?

    Thanks for the post.

  7. Wow Randy great post – can’t wait to read the next one!

    Sadly these things are lost in the Church in Australia too. We seem to be stuck in a state of mistaken identity we seem to follow the US in its church trends away from these things yet we also want to be indepenant so we ignore those that are being creative and mixing it up in order to reach people.

    I left my last position in ministry becasue creativity was frowned upon – it was ok in ‘outside’ ministries but dont try and bring it into the Sunday service. As a result I no longer attend church regularly although I’m searching for one that isnt afraid to embrace all that God has given to us in order to express our love for Him and His love to the world…

    Thank you for encouraging me!
    .-= Ed´s last blog ..Cake and the World Cup =-.

    • @Ed, Ah, Ed. Thanks for joining in from Down Under. It is so sad to hear what you are saying, but unfortunately I find myself in a similar place. Hang in there! Together, a little at a time, we can change things.

  8. Ahhhh. Yes. Thank you for “voicing” permission to imagine, sense, perceive, ask, think, feel, and enjoy God (in His entirety) AND all His creativity–and not only in the local church, but in The Church.

  9. I grew up in churches where these words were never used, however, I now attend a church that does use those words, and encourages imagination and creativity, and I love that aspect of my church.

    Pleasure, for me at least, is now an “acceptable” word due to John Piper’s book, Desiring God. I think God loves us to delight in His creation

    And finally…. sensuality. Here is a struggle for me. At some parts your book was challenging for me to read, and for that reason, I’m thankful. Anyways, I’m still figuring all this out.

    I do happen to know that my pastor’s message is out of 1 Corinthians 7 this Sunday, I’m assuming he’s addressing sex since his title is: giving it up: owning each other and the bulletin even says “mature subject matter)

    I’ll be squirming because I find that uncomfortable but I’m so thankful I belong to the church I do!
    .-= Tory´s last blog ..Collect The World =-.

    • @Tory, Awesome, Tory. The struggle is good. To me, sexulaity and sensuality are two different things. Many churches do the obligatory annual sex sermon–but what about a celebration of the essence of sensuality. I suppose that’s the point I’m trying to make.

      That he or she is speaking about sex is definitely a step in the right direction.


      • @Randy Elrod, Upon some thought, I think my choice to address sexuality rather than sensuality was somewhat deliberate!

        I am much more comfortable with the idea of sexuality addressed in church than sensuality, and my first thought was of challenge you on that Biblically but the more I thought about it, realized I can’t.

        Perhaps I still don’t quite understand what sensual is, and when I do think about it, it seems more negative to me, so maybe some think that sensuality is enticement. I’ve been to several blog sites where others believe that any type of dress, activity, etc. that is enticing, or provocative, is wrong.

        I don’t see how sensuality really can exist with egalitarianism. Of course, sensuality is not limited to the female sex, but even in your example you used the women’s opaque dresses as the example. I just finished an Esther study and I struggled with how many of the women viewed how Esther used her sensuality,making herself as enticing, beautiful, alluring as she could to get what she wanted, as the way to approach their husbands to get what they wanted.

        I don’t like that, and struggle because I find that inferior. (can you believe I claim to be complementarian as I type this!?)

        I think that sensuality is one of those issues that isn’t inherently bad, but many think can lead to lust, and I do think that “sensuality” is defined differently by many.

        (BTW: I’m the least sensual person ever)
        .-= Tory´s last blog ..Collect The World =-.

  10. Angela Bisignano June 19, 2010 at 09:46

    Another good post Randy!

    I really appreciate your thoughts here. We need to hear more teaching on them in the church.
    God is the author of creativity, beauty, freedom, relationship… It’s because of His great pleasure that we exist.

    I love “outside of the box” creative thinking/ministry…

    Looking forward to your next post!

  11. Brilliant! I agree whole-heartedly on all accounts. For fear of getting carried away and writing too long a comment, I will just say that my favorite word was “creative.” Creativity fuels worship in my opinion. Why? Because we are products of an infinitely creative God– it’s one of the attributes of His nature. He is creative because He is good, and all that is good was created by Him, for Him, through Him. So when we, in our individual ways, create, we are not only displaying His glory, but worshipping Him through our creation. Being creative and in fact creating things, whether they be written, played, drawn or eaten, is an act of obedience! If we have been empowered and equipped to make things, the act of making them brings fulfillment, joy statisfaction, and praise to God. We were created in His image– so we must in turn create!

    Dang… I still got carried away.
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..A Heart for Achile UPDATE =-.

Created by Randy Elrod

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox:

Back to top
%d bloggers like this: