June 11, 2014

Talking Transformation – Chris Whitler

Ross is a long-term, local pastor here in Modesto, a good friend and a friend to AVC. He rarely misses a trick. If you’ve ever tried to shake his hand, you know that it’s always an adventure. Here’s a tip. If you’re going in for a normal shake, he likes to fake left and then circle your hand and get you all confused. Don’t fall for it!

Besides how to confuse potential hand shakers, I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from him. Ross is not the kind of pastor who stays in a church office all week. He is committed to being a pastor to his congregation and to the city. Before I knew his name, I called him “Gandalf” (nerdy Lord of the Rings reference) because he was always at city/community meetings and seemed to be somehow involved but never in an upfront way.

One of those things that I’ve learned from him is that part of city transformation happens in the way we speak about something. We need to develop a transformational vocabulary. Change the way you talk about something will change the way you think about it and can effect actions that make a difference.

Here are a few examples… My church/my congregation

You do not go to your church. Not really. There is only one Church and it is not “yours”. There is one Church and it belongs to Jesus. In reality, you belong to a local congregation that is a part of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Why is this important? It gets our minds trained to think of the particular gathering of Christians that we meet with is a small part of something much bigger. Denominations and congregations can tend to only be concerned over their activities, projects and schedule. This is a natural way to slide as busy-ness will pull us this way. But we must fight the urge to think that we have the only thing going on.

The local congregation is not “The Body of Christ.” It is all of us together. It seems like a small shift but it is a helpful one.


There is a neighborhood in our city near our airport. It has always had it’s challenges. It has been a place that is talked about fearfully. It gets it’s fair share of bad press. But if you spend time there you’ll find so many good things. For one, it’s chock full of families that are industrious, creative and gracious.

Classically, this place has been called “The Airport District.” Does anybody want to live in a “district”? It’s seems like no big deal but it absolutely changes the way you think about a place.

I’ve spent some time here and the way neighbors know each other, help each other and come together in spite of challenges definitely warrants the name “Airport Neighborhood.


This is one that’s come from another friend in the city. He works with the homeless population  but I noticed he stopped saying the word “homeless” when referring to friends that live on the street. He calls them the “Street Community.”

Again, it’s a small change but really does make a difference in your mind. No one wants to be defined by what they do not have. The “homeless” may not have a house but that doesn’t mean that they do not have a home. For so many folks in the street community, Modesto is their home. They have grown up here. It’s the only home they have ever known.

And, if you’ve ever spent time with the street community you will quickly discover that is truly what they are, a community.

Ok, how about a little application?

Can we use all of these suggested changes in one sentence to see if it makes any difference in the way we think? We are up for the challenge!

“My church does a feed for the homeless in the Airport District.”

“Our congregation shares food with the street community in the Airport Neighborhood”

Just 6 more syllables! It’s definitely worth it.

Language has power to shape the way we think about something. It can reinforce a stereotype or it can point us to a worthier way of thinking. Of course, there is much more to city transformation than the way we talk but changing our speech can change our thoughts which definitely will affect our prayers and our actions. And that can make all the difference.

“Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.” Colossians 4:5-6 (The Message)

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