On Metaphors and Mindset

Taylor Pearsonraises an interesting point in his essay titled “How to ImproveYour Mindset.” Taking inspiration from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By, Pearson points out that our mindset is how we approach a topic – and our mindsets (or mini-worldviews as I call them) can be changed. Our view of something is often determined by the metaphors we use to describe them. Many of our metaphors are so common we take them for granted. For example, we usually think of argument with the metaphor of war. As Pearson noted:
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked the weak point in my argument.
His criticisms were right on target.
I always win an argument.
The importance of metaphors and how we think about things is understated – especially when it comes to scripture. The Bible is replete with metaphors: the church as the bride of Christ, the pastor as a shepherd, Christ as the Passover Lamb, etc.
Symbolism and metaphor are important parts of the Bible because they are given to teach us how to think about God and his truth – they establish a mindset. And those who tamper with those metaphors tamper with the way divine revelation is designed to teach.
For example: way back in 2006, when Andy Stanley vocalized his desire to dispense with the “pastor as shepherd” metaphor and swap it out with “pastor as CEO” metaphor, he wasn’t just updating the language to a more modern age so modern man could understand the Bible, he was completely changing the metaphor – he was changing how we are to think about truth. This is exceedingly dangerous.
Stanley likes to point out that people of this modern age are not capable of understanding what a shepherd is, but allegedly we do understand what a CEO is. I find this absurd. I come from a non-agrarian background, and I’m pretty sure I understand more about shepherding than I do about the complexities of being a CEO.
What’s interesting is that when commercial business metaphors are employed in the Bible, often it is God who is the business owner, not us. He invests, he deals out talents and expects a return, he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is the landowner, we are the servants. The most poignant metaphor for Christian leadership was Christ donning an apron and washing dirty feet, not Christ carrying a laser pointer and conducting a board meeting.
But Stanley’s efforts at re-imagining the role of pastor are not unique to him. Actually, I think Stanley is just symptomatic of fundagelicalism at large. I think a lot of pastors for a very long time now have held this subtle change in mindset. Most church growth gurus approach pastoring as they would running a commercial business. Churches are started in much the same way that businesses are started. Congregants are treated as customers, and the “unchurched” as prospective customers. Pastors are CEO’s, and donors are shareholders. There is an overemphasis placed on branding, location, demographics, and marketing. This is not a biblical mindset. There church doesn’t operate like Starbucks. We are not called to make a profit in hipster-heavy neighborhoods where disposable income flows like milk and honey; we are called to the lost neighborhoods where there is no gospel, no matter the particular marketing stats.
Obviously, churches and businesses do have some overlapping characteristics in those mundane realities of operating in the work-a-day world (like income/expense reports, business addresses, checking accounts, etc.). But we must be careful that we don’t let a few tangibles shape the metaphor and subtly change how we are to think from the way that Bible teaches. The metaphors and symbols God inspired in the Bible are not just clever usages of language; they establish a mindset. And mindsets are important. Shepherding is just one; there are many.
%d bloggers like this: