Meta4 Picture: Fridge & hot food

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I heard an on-line sermon the other day that grabbed my attention. It was from a UCB (United Christian Broadcasters) Leaders Day Conference 2012. The speaker was Philip Jinadu (PJ) – the pastor of several churches in Bristol, UK.

He used 2 metaphors when talking about modern church 1) a fridge & 2) an escalator.
I want to share what Philip Jinadu said about the fridge metaphor…

The fridge metaphor.

I have typed the metaphor below so you can read it. Note: I have put any explanations or extra words of my own in square brackets [ ], or used bold text to draw your attention to certain parts of the quoted PJ video. Unfortunately the video is no longer available on the web.

[10:35 minutes into the video]
1) Culture for Christians. The Fridge.
“You cook a casserole. You take it hot from the oven. You then put it in the fridge. Imagine what happens as you close the door of the fridge. What will happen to the fridge the moment you put that hot casserole in? In physics terms, for a small amount of time that fridge will get hotter, because you’ve place within that system something which has intrinsic heat. And that casserole will affect everything around it, it will make the fridge a warmer environment, the cold will start to recede, the milk will start to get warmer, the whole fridge will be effected by that casserole, but [only] for a small amount of time. And then what happens is, the fridge kicks in to doing what fridges do. And fridges are there, their built, their only purpose is to make things cold. You can put a casserole in there, & the casserole will make the fridge warmer, but after time the fridge will kick into action & it will make itself cold. Not only that, but the casserole will get cold as well. You put something within a culture that is cold & even if it [the casserole] is piping hot, it will not prevail against that culture that you put it within. The fridge is a system for making things cold.”

[ 12:37 minutes into the video: application of the fridge metaphor to Church life.]
“When we look at evangelism a lot of the time it is like putting a casserole in a fridge. We come up with programmes, we come up with ideas, we have guest speakers, we have celebrities, we have the latest thing, and we introduce it into a [our church] culture. But, you can not fight the culture just by putting something hot into it. And a lot of church leaders approach the whole issue of evangelism, mission & outreach just like putting casseroles in the fridge. And they think, “Well, we introduced this thing; we’ve got this nice evangelistic package; we did this course; everyone is now motivated.” And they put it within the culture of the church. “
[Initially it works, but then it cools down to the prevailing temperature of the church. – MY]

How many of you have experienced this? You have someone come in, you do a course, you got involved in some national initiative, & for a while things seemed to get more exciting; people were feeling it; they were buzzing with it; you saw some stuff happen, but then you feel disillusioned & disenchanted because 6 months later things are as they have always been.
Because you’ve introduced something into a culture which is not intrinsically in tune with it. And a lot of the response of Christian leaders in churches is to put bigger & bigger casseroles into the fridge. They think, “Well, now I’ve got this huge mega-meal that I can put into the fridge. This is a much hotter, much better meal… it doesn’t work. Why? Because the fridge does what the fridge is designed to do.” [*1]

[14:15 minutes into the video]
“Our job as leaders is to understand the culture that we have. Do we have a prevailing culture within our churches, of mission, outreach & evangelism? Or are we trying to introduce that piecemeal, through programmes & initiatives, without looking at the underlying nature of what we have? My conviction is this: the job of the church leader is to turn the fridge into an oven. To re-engineer it [the fridge] so that the opposite thing works. So that actually, when someone comes into the church who is [spiritually] ‘cold’, they get [spiritually] ‘warmed up’. And that thing isn’t dependent on how ‘hot’ the individual is, they are [instead] brought along & carried along by a [hotter] culture.”

[14:57 minutes into the video]
“Culture is a container for behaviour. If you understand what culture is, it’s very, very simple. Culture is that which we cultivate. The Latin word for culture is Cultura [*1], which means the system, the context within which values & behaviours are nurtured & grown. So we get the English word Agriculture from the same root [word] it’s that which produces behaviour in a particular group of individuals.”

[Philip Jinadu then goes on, in the rest of the Vimeo video, to explain the second metaphor, the escalator]

Sermon/teaching theme suggestions: This picture could be used to talk about the nature of church culture. If you agree that church can be a “cold” place, then it could be used to explain why members of the congregation who go to a seminar & come back all excited & ready for positive changes (ie “hot” like the casserole), then “cool down” once they are back in the “cool” (refrigerator) church culture.

MY Notes
PJ’s statement “Because the ‘fridge does what the fridge is DESIGNED to do” could sound like he is suggesting that it is God who is responsible for cooling things down within our churches! I don’t think for a minute that is the case at all, nor do I think PJ is suggesting that. I think PJ is saying that it is us (humans) who have designed the church to operate in the way it does: cooling things down spiritually, rather than heating things up. Let’s face it, when Jesus was here on earth there were plenty of instances when he “heated things up”, with his observations & comments about the religious leaders for instance! So I don’t think that God wants our church culture to be cooling things down at all.

PJ goes on to talk about changing the culture of church into an oven, rather than a fridge, & that possibility would exist only if we had a say in what culture prevails in our churches. PJ explains his view that church culture is a product of the leader(s) of the church, & that it is really them who set the “spiritual temperature”: cooling things down or heating things up.

I don’t think it is right to say that we WANT church culture to be cold, like a fridge, but there does seem to be something true about that metaphor. There could be many reasons why a “cooling down church culture” exists: perhaps it is not that we (Christians) want a “cooling down” church culture, but simply that we have INHERITED one from generations past. Perhaps it is more a reflection of our FEAR of the unknown, or reluctance to try something new. Perhaps it is more prevalent in the UK, & a product of our British reserve?!

I must say, I liked the fridge metaphor in relation to church culture, because it seems to fit with my own experiences. PJ asked the audience if they had ever experienced the fridge metaphor & pretty much everyone had!

I don’t really know the CAUSE of the “cooling down” church culture, I can simply identify that it exists, & that I’ve experienced it. For instance, I got really excited about the Freedom in Christ (FIC) programme of discipleship & tried to introduce it into my own church (Brixworth Christian Fellowship) when I was an elder. Although we ran it in my house group, & it was well received there, it didn’t really “take off” throughout the whole church. This seems to be an example of one persons excitement & enthusiasm for a programme (the “hot casserole” in PJ’s metaphor) encountering the fridge of church culture. The outcome was a cooling down of the excitement & conviction that the FIC programme could have brought & wrought. I hoped that it might bring real, life-long positive improvement in the lives of people within the church. But the cooling culture prevailed, just as PJ predicted. I’m not bitter about this example; I simply use it here to illustrate why I believe the fridge metaphor is pretty accurate about church culture. It isn’t anyone’s fault: there is not the need to blame anyone for the fridge effect. I think it is simply a fact of our human-ness.

The solution to HAVING a fridge church culture seems to be a change in leadership style, or desire, in the first instance. At least that’s what I took from PJ’s Leadership Conference video. If he is correct, in that leaders especially set the expectation level within a church, then that would suggest that our church leaders do have a strong influence on the “spiritual temperature” our churches exhibit. But I think we are probably ALL RESPONSIBLE for the prevailing “spiritual temperature” within our church. If we can accept change, & want improvement; if we are willing to try new things; if we are capable of saying “no” to our fears & anxieties, then maybe we can effectively usher in a new “heating up” or “oven culture”, to replace the current “cooling down” or fridge one.

What do you think?