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Lingo (Part I)

When I read the phrase "felt needs," I knew I might be in trouble.

I have a peeve about jargon, particularly Christian jargon. I'm all for language, and if something has a unique, distinct meaning, then it's worth considering. Sometimes, though, phrases just have a way of buzzing around. Some people mean something very passionate by them, others are dealing themselves into the game as a player in the know by throwing it into a conversation.

"Felt needs" set off my jargon alarm. The phrase has become especially popular in a subset of Christianity known loosely as "the emergent church." More jargon. And honestly, these are some of the folks with whom I identify most closely. I just think we get more than a little silly with our language invention, and sometimes that's connected to deeper issues that might be problematic.

It's not a bad idea per se—that one of the first and best ways to express love to another person is to be willing to roll up one's sleeves and address needs of which the other is aware in his/her life—it just seems a little...much. Programmed. Systematic. Bobo. Because really, isn't that just loving someone? Why would we need new terminology for it? And when did we get so fucked in the head that we needed to have what that means spelled out in jargonese? Probably whenever we decided that it was possible to love others inactively from afar, as a matter of principle rather than faith in action.

(Personally, I like to think of "felt needs" as anything that requires a flannel-gram to satisfy.)

I don't think the jargon is helping us love, though. It's helping us know what to do, sure. But if we really loved others, if we saw them as God does (and we need to ask Him to give us the vision we need to do so), "felt needs" would come out in the wash. The jargon just distances us, both from raw love and from facing the fact that that's not what we've been doing.

It's all up for discussion, but I have trouble imagining Jesus facilitating a workshop on "felt needs" before He sent out the disciples. We don't have any suggestion He did, or had to. Why not? Perhaps because these were His followers. They'd made sacrifices and faced persecution. They'd left behind other lives because what He had promised more value, more hope, than anything they'd built up for themselves. They were learning the ways of the Kingdom and spreading the news of its coming. The gospel included "felt needs" as a matter of course—they were learning to love what He loves. When you love someone in need, you don't need much coaching on how to approach them. You love them.

Many of us who call ourselves Christians haven't made those kinds of choices. Some of us haven't felt the need to (pardon the pun); some of us never knew there was a choice at all, never knew that loving people wasn't something we could just do in our heads because we're good people and Jesus told us to. We're camels facing the eye of the needle. Only raw love for God and what He loves will unburden us enough, transform us enough to make the journey.

We need new hearts, hearts that don't need to have "felt needs" explained. That's something He can give us. It's something He wants to give us. And I'd rather not confuse the issue with more jargon.


jargon and the emerging church

I sometimes feel like such a square peg.....my friend calls it strange birds...I just don't "get" the "over-effort" to make the church and the Christian life something with a new vocabulary and means of expressing the life in Christ....I feel like everybody got a memo that I didn't.....I sure wish I could fly to Seattle and sit across a table from you for a few hours over coffee....I need some brains to pick!!

Re: jargon and the emerging church

There's always a cup waiting for you. And thankfully, I don't think Jesus will be quizzing us on the jargon, and He has enough grace to forgive our silliness.
Well said. Which reminds me...I have to go to the fabric store today cause I really need felt.

See what I did there? ...... I got nothin'
You still got it, baby. You're aces.
Hey you!

I saw this and thought of you.:D
You're reaching out to my felt needs!
"Felt needs" is a specific term in psychology that comes from one of the many theories out there, most of which I spent the last year studying. To be honest, they make more sense in context, and I think there may even be something to them. Yet the overall very self-focused nature of psychology is something I never grew quite comfortable with, and another reason I'm relieved to now be majoring in English!
The jargon must be more popular in Christian circles—I used to be a counselor, and never heard it then as much as I've seen it thrown about by Christians now. We have a way of doing that (see "Choleric/Melancholy/Phlegmatic/Sanguine Temperaments," a construct long abandoned by the social science community at-large, but enjoying a bizzare level of popularity among some Christians)
hmm... see, I learned about felt needs in missions class as part of an evangelistic strategy - not all that different from the way you're objecting to it being used, but perhaps different enough.

There are three categories of needs - perceived needs, felt needs, and true needs. Felt needs is kind of the middle ground between the other two. A homeless heroin addicts perceived need is another hit. If you give him that, you're not really loving him. His true need is Jesus. If you offer him that, he's likely to reject you - and Jesus, and end the conversation. If you meet him in the middle, offering a felt need like a place to spend the night (something he will acknowledge he needs but that doesn't enable his destructive behavior) you may be able to open the door to further conversation, relationship, and awareness of true needs.

When Jesus helps Peter fish, he's addressing a felt need. The large catch isn't the point - it's a road to the point.

Maybe you've heard all this before. My pet peeve is when useful terms that actually mean something become jargon. I'm always complaining about terms being used wrong - because that's the road to meaninglessness. And there's enough of that already.
I've heard some of it (from the Perspectives curriculum?), and I think it's an effective how-to, as well as a good breakdown of the act of loving people.

Part of my beef, I guess, is that I wonder how much of our needing how-tos and breakdowns is because we aren't really loving people (in the active sense) at all. We know we should, and we think we do, but aren't facing the grit of what this calls for from us, and what we need (perceived? felt? actual?) from God to give it. Does it shock us at all that we need a breakdown on how to love? Are we repenting or rejargoning? Are we learning new techniques based on principles or asking for new hearts?

Mileage varies, of course. From what I've heard of Perspectives, it's well-founded stuff, regardless of whether it's jargony or not.
Does it shock us at all that we need a breakdown on how to love?

it should... and humble us, and cause us to pray to God. Does it shock us that we don't know how to pray? It should...the same.

But then what? When we get up off our knees, do we wait until our hearts spontaneously spring forth with perfect love? Or do we consider the new breakdown on how to love an answer to prayer?

through a glass darkly...


PS - I love the questions you wrestle with, friend. Cheers to good matches.

You are the kind of friend I could use more of.
I never thought of it this way. To be honest I never gave the term "felt needs" much time. I think I just block those sort of Christanese phrases out of habit.