Friday, December 02, 2005

How Do We Fix It?

In response to a recent post on Oprah and the kinds of spiritual role models our Christian culture has, Bob and Steve have posed some questions that are at the same time of terrific importance and terrifically difficult to deal with.

Bob said:

If our culture is in a negative level of spiritual interest and understanding, then what is the best tactic for moving it up into the positive? It can't be "talking above their heads," but it can't be capitulating to the ignorance either!

Steve said:

So my question after reading your post and Dr. Groothius': How do we change it? Whenever I criticize different teachers on TV or radio (Oprah, Joel Osteen, James Dobson) I am playing precious chips with my congregation. It seems they buy so much of this stuff hook, line, and sinker! How do we change that?

So the question stands: How do churches reach their people with a Christian worldview? The answer is clearly enormous, and all I want to do here is begin an engagement with a few thoughts that are hopefully just as practical as they are theoretical.

Worldview Teaching From The Pulpit
In my own sermonizing, I have found the worldview concept to be a helpful and fruitful tool. As I pour over a text and my notes, reflecting on how some specific biblical stories or concepts relate to a broader Christian worldview has enriched my own teaching (at least in my mind it has…). A pastor can never be in control of what people hear or absorb, but maybe we can be a little more deliberate about relating Christian worldview concepts to people. And of course, these concepts land most effectively when laypeople have a chance to engage them in their own lives.

For example, we recently went over Jeremiah 17:19-27 in which the prophet creates an image of crowded streets on the Sabbath and the rightful king’s inability to enter Jerusalem. As a result, the Sabbath concept we talked about was clearing our hearts and minds of the clutter of our pagan culture and freeing up our mental and spiritual attention for the rightful King.

A small step, admittedly, but most of them are.

Pastor as Thought Leader
This is a big-picture point, but an important one nonetheless. David Wells makes a devastating critique of the modern pastorate in his books No Place For Truth and God In The Wasteland in which he juxtaposes the community role of the pastor in early American and English Puritanism with that of the modern evangelical pastor. Suffice it to say the later does not stack up well. For good reasons and for not so good ones, the typical evangelical pastor is not seen as any kind of serious thought leader in their communities. As a result, people do not tend to think of the pastor or their pastor’s sermons and writings first when they do any kind of serious thinking about the world. They are much more likely to think of the talking heads on cable news or their favorite periodical.

The solution? Maybe we should expect pastors to be better educated, more well rounded, and more conversant with the important matters in life than many of them probably are. I suspect some pastors deserve the parochial image they have in the eyes of their congregation.

Just an initial set of thoughts to maybe get some juices flowing…


Rich Tatum said...

Good thoughts, Phil.

I think many in our pews do not think of the pastor as a thought leader relevant to them because so many pastors lead isolated, insulated lives that do not intersect with the professionals and blue-collar workers that listen to them. The pastor can preach on integrity, but when the business leader in the pew is compelled by his CEO to wage a competitive pricing war with another company led by a fellow church member--and that price war could put the fellow believer out of business, what is he to do? The pastor, in his ivory-tower wisdom has not given illustrations or application to his principles of integrity based on the real-world issues faced by the congregation. This isn't because the pastor is thoughtless or unintelligent: he just has not lived in their world. Our preachers are all-too-often simply unaware of the pressures faced by the men and women in their pews on a daily basis.

Ministry and preaching needs to be "immanent." I suggest that it's a good practice to get out of the church now and then and go out to meet your parishioners where they live and work. Find out what's going on in their lives and in their heads.

When the words from the pulpit pierce the world of the pew, people will listen. If it happens often enough, I suspect people will begin to see the pastor as a thought leader.

But as long as the preacher is simply moralizing without connecting, that'll never happen. It'll just be ear-candy.



Steve said...

Hey Phil-

Thanks for taking the difficult question on! As I have read your posts and Dr. Groothius' (knowing full well you don't see completely eye to eye), I wrestle with your thoughts on being relevant. Isn't part of the issue of a pastor as a thought leader the issue of being relevant? To be a thought leader in the community does not the pastor need to preach and teach on the everyeday issues the folks in the pew face? How is this different from being relevant?

One of my struggles in this area is that so many in our congregations (at least mine anyway) and the masses in society generally listen to Oprah and all the rest. She has become a thought leader not only in her community but in our nation! How has she accomplished this especially in the highly competitive field of TV? Somehow she has connected with the masses. She is perceived as relevant to their lives. She advices, she entertains, she gives stuff away, she is perceived as making a difference.

I like were you are going with this but I need better clarification on your ideas concerning relevancy and these other issues.

Grace and peace,