Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Preaching to Postmoderns

America is rapidly becoming a postmodern culture. Postmodern people think differently and act differently than past generations. Many churches are struggling to reach people who come from a postmodern world view.

How does a postmodern person think?

A synopsis of postmodern thinking can be found in George Barna’s book, The Seven Faith Tribes, on page 209. Barna writes, “This is the most commonly held worldview in the United States today. It maintains that there is no “metanarrative” or grand story that explains life and reality or gives it purpose. Each person makes decisions about how to live based on feelings and experience. Nobody has the right to dismiss any of those decisions as wrong or inappropriate. Morality is a private matter, and if a choice is deemed right by someone, it is therefore right for that person and others must be tolerant of that choice. Life is a random series of subjective experiences, and a person’s ultimate purposes are comfortable survival and personal expression. The things that matter most in life are having experiences and relationships. One may believe in the existence of God but cannot compel anyone else to do so.”

In light of this viewpoint, when preaching to postmoderns:

1. Don’t be afraid to use scripture. Most postmoderns are biblically illiterate and are not sure about inerrancy, but they are curious and they do generally think God knows more than mankind does. Postmoderns expect something in a sermon other than the pastor’s opinion or some flimsy pop psychology disguised as a sermon.

2. Go deep. During the “baby boomer” years of church growth, many sermons were watered down to meet baby boomers’ felt needs. Postmoderns are not interested in a light devotional. If they have made the effort to come to church, it means they want to wrestle with the tough questions about life and discover deep answers to life’s perplexing problems.

3. Use some interaction and experiential methods. Postmoderns do not just want to sit and listen to someone else talk. They want to experience something, so interact with them in a sermon. Interview one of them or ask questions for them to answer. In the music, make sure it is them talking to God not just listening to a choir talk about God. Let them clap, hold hands or dance.

4. Use technology well - videos, power point, etc. Most postmoderns grew up surrounded by technology. It is the only way many of them know how to learn. Use this to your advantage and become good at utilizing these tools.

5. Use some “liturgy” without being ritualistic. Most postmoderns have enough connection with “church” to grasp that the Lord’s Prayer, candles and communion are all part of worship, even if they don’t know the meaning of it all. Using some of those elements from a liturgical experience that post moderns may have had as a child, connected with modern technology and music, helps postmoderns relate to the worship experience.

6. Use stories of your own life, especially about your failures and weaknesses. Most postmoderns grew up in a culture of brokenness, so they relate well to your own journey toward wholeness.

7. Use “we” and “us” statements instead of “I” and “you” statements. Most postmoderns want to “belong.” Use statements that help them feel part of the group.

8. Don’t ask them to make a commitment to something on the spot. Instead challenge them to think deeply for a period of time and then act on their reflective conclusion.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reason and Logic or Emotion and Opinion

I have a number of young adults whom I have been sharing my faith with over the past year. It seems a popular trend among this age group is to declare that having faith in God is illogical and goes against human reason. People who hold to a sincere faith in God are considered by these young people to be naive or uneducated at best, and at worst, using faith to deliberately manipulate people’s emotions for selfish gain.

While I greatly respect these young people’s efforts to think through issues of faith, I find very little logic or reasoning in their line of thinking. They use words like “logic” and “reason,” but what they actually describe is mere opinion and emotion. For example, they might say they “feel” like if there really was a God He would eliminate suffering in the world. While I sympathize that with that statement, and have asked it myself, at its essence it is an emotional statement, not a logical one. There will be always pain and hurt in the world. And removing God from the picture will not remove pain from the world. If anything, removing God from the equation just makes it situation worse.

People who hold to this no-god world view may say that in their experience they have not seen evidence for God and therefore they “reason” that He must not be real. Yet those very people refuse to accept the evidence put forth by those who do believe in God, such as the amazing level of order in the universe, the mathematical improbability of evolution or the statistical reality that most mutations are negative, not positive, which creates extreme difficulties for the concept that life arose on its own without an outside force directing it. These are all logical arguments that people of faith make and that many highly educated people have agreed lead to a logical conclusion that there is a higher power at work in the universe. But those who refuse to see God in any of these logical arguments ignore such rational thinking in their efforts to remove God from their thinking.

When people discuss matters of faith, it often comes down to accepting one opinion or another by faith. Each side is sure their opinion is true and one can argue which opinion is correct until the end of time, and I suspect that some people will, but in the end, both sides still rest on faith. Non-believers like to call their faith opinions “reason.” But that is not intellectually accurate. Their opinions are still just opinions. Why should the opinions of the non-believers be any more “reasonable” than the opinions of believers?

Recently one young adult said if he had to chose “his opinions” or “God’s opinions,” he would go with his own ideas. He trusted himself more than he trusted God. I just smiled and thought to myself, “Wow, he has a lot to learn!” And so I roll up my sleeves and do what I can to share the logic and reason for the faith that is in me. May God bless those efforts!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stealing is Okay???

Recently I was discussing the expectations of the younger generation with a Christian businessman. This particular gentleman hires a number of young adults to cut grass and do landscaping for his real estate business. In the discussion he mentioned that he had recently had to fire one of his best workers. I inquired as to why he would fire a worker if he was so good at the job. “He stole from me,” the business man said. He then went on to explain that he had caught the young man putting gas that was for the lawnmower into the young man’s personal automobile. When the business man confronted the thief, first the thief denied it. When the business man informed the worker that he had witnessed the theft with his own eyes, the young man attempted to justify his actions and say that it was NOT really wrong for him to take the gas. His line of logic (or perhaps we should call it a line of illogic) was that the business man had a lot more money than he did and could afford to give away some gas. The business man became agitated with the young man’s inability to understand that it was wrong to steal. The business man explained to the young man that if he had just said that he was broke a needed to borrow some gas, he would have been glad to help him out, but when he saw the young man steal the gas, he knew he would never be able to fully trust him again. The young man still did not understand that his actions were wrong and went away from the conversation blaming the businessman for the whole affair.

The young man’s inability to understand that it was wrong to steal is a significant problem that the younger generation is facing. The younger generation has not been taught that there is a clear difference between right and wrong. The younger generation most commonly thinks that they can decide what is right or wrong for themselves instead of following some arbitrary rule, such a law passed by the government, or one of the Ten Commandments in the Bible. The younger generation attempts to justify their actions by appealing to their own reason or logic. But in reality they are simply acting out of an immature emotional development. Though their bodies have grown up, emotionally and spiritually young people are often still preschoolers.

What can be done about this situation? Some older adults want to preach hell fire and brimstone sermons at the younger generation. That has not worked very well yet. Others want to “educate” them with philosophy and man-made stories that use situational ethics to decide what is right and wrong. That has not worked very well either. Perhaps those of us who are Christians should consider LIVING our faith in front of the younger generation. Perhaps by setting an example of right and wrong in front of them, they would see the benefits of a new way of living. After all, who failed at teaching the younger generation about right and wrong to begin with? If you think about it, it was the older generation who failed to live righteousness in front of their children, causing their children to abandon the rules completely. But if we start living our faith in front of young people, we might be surprised just how powerful an impact that will make.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Father God or Mother Nature?

A few days ago I flew with my wife and daughter to visit family in another state. The plane ride was a bit bumpy and took about 15 minutes longer than scheduled. When we finally arrived at our destination and were preparing to exit the aircraft, the pilot made an announcement. He apologized for the bumpy ride and casually said “Mother Nature did not cooperate with us today.”

I am sure that the pilot was just trying to be jovial about the ride, but it did make me wonder about the religious implications of his statement. Mother Nature is a modern adaptation of an ancient pagan god. Reference to the true God, Yahweh, whose story is found in both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, has slowly been removed from American life. This slow removal of references to God has been calculated and planned by those who do not follow the Judeo-Christian God. Yet somehow it is still okay to invoke the name of a pagan god and give that god credit for controlling something as powerful as the weather.

To be fair to the pilot, I’m sure he did not intend to “convert” anyone to a pagan religion. He may even have been a Christian himself. Seventy-six percent of Americans claim allegiance to the Christian faith, so the odds are good that he is indeed a Christian. But my point is that it has become so easy for people to cast aside public references to a faith that has inspired us, comforted us, motivated us and united us for generations and instead embrace concepts and ideas that most people in our society would consider empty and meaningless. And yet that is exactly what most Americans have done. We have let our religious convictions be taken away from us and replaced conviction with empty euphemisms. No wonder we have so many problems in our society!

If we hope to pass our faith on to the next generation, parents need to reinsert Christian concepts, phrases and deep felt religious conviction into discussions with their children. Christians should feel free to use similar terms and phrases in casual conversations with others. I am not suggesting that we swing a big King James Bible in the air and attack those who disagree with us. But a simple, “God bless you,” or “Merry Christmas,” or “I’m praying for you,” should clearly be acceptable in a nation that is as religious as ours. After all, no one threatened to sue the pilot when he gave Mother Nature credit. No one threatened to fire him. To my knowledge, no one on the plane was offended enough to write a mean spirited letter to the home office about his reference to a pagan deity. So why would anyone suggest any of those actions would be needed if he had invoked the name of Jesus Christ instead? Our children deserve to hear about the God of the Bible in common references in everyday life. The freedom to do so is vital in passing our faith on to the next generation and is an essential part of what it means to be an American.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Serpent in the Church

The other night I got a message from one of the older couples in our church. They had called to say that when they had stopped by the church to drop off some stuff for an upcoming youth rally they saw a snake in the church vestibule. Yes, a real live green slimy snake! The husband attempted to kill the snake with an umbrella, the only “weapon” he had on hand at the time, but it slithered away into a fountain that we have set up among plants in the entryway.

So the next morning a brave deacon and I decided to do battle with the beast and cleanse the church of the evil serpent that had invaded our peaceful domain. It took us several minutes of moving plants around before we finally were able to open up the back of the fountain. Sure enough, there he was, living a happy life in the water tank of the church’s lovely fountain. Being two brave men, we plunged into battle mode and drew the monster out. Then the deacon, in a display of raw courage, picked up a large rock that was used for decoration beside the fountain and smashed the serpent’s head. We then threw the lifeless body out of the church and a great sense of peace and calm prevailed in the building (especially for my kind hearted secretary who is terrified of snakes!). The two of us, brave men working as a team, pastor and deacon, were able to cleanse the building of such a terrifying intruder.

I could not help but see some biblical applications to our experience. Satan is the great serpent who is happily living in far too many churches. He makes his home in the lovely church building and seeks to influence all the innocent people who pass by. Often older people see him first and try to warn others to the danger Satan poses, but seldom does anyone listen, so the Devil’s work continues unabated. But when the leaders of the church decide to work together as a team, they can expose the Great Deceiver and draw him out. Then as the Bible promises, Satan’s head will be crushed and he will be thrown into outer darkness.

Perhaps the reason so many of our churches in America are in decline and have no young people left is because too few church leaders were willing to do battle with Satan. Instead we battle each other. We live in an evil world. The only way to combat evil is with the spiritual forces of Light. That Light comes from Jesus. All our programs and organizational structure and professionally trained clergymen can accomplish nothing apart from Jesus. And seldom does Jesus work alone. We see Him most often using a team to accomplish His work. If you want to get your church growing again, and if you want to start reaching young people again, gather a team together and battle the Serpent. Crush his head and toss him out! Then watch what God does!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Importance of Ethnic Diversity

In May I graduated with my Doctor of Ministry degree in mission administration. In theory, this means I should know something about leading a mission organization. Since that has been my job for the past eight years, it is probably good that I am now “qualified” to do it!

I chose to partake in this phase of my education through Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, which is near San Francisco, California. There are a variety of reasons why I chose that particular school, but one of them was that it is the most ethnically diverse seminary that serves the particular denomination I am a part of. As a matter of fact, Anglos actually make up less than 50% of the student body. This was important to me because America is increasingly becoming more ethnically diverse and churches and ministries that fail to adjust to this growing reality will be in trouble in the coming years.

Just how much Golden Gate Seminary has embraced ethnic diversity was apparent in the graduation ceremony itself. It just so happened that my graduation coincided with the 50th anniversary of the seminary’s existence on its current campus. Therefore they had invited all the graduates from 50 years ago to attend the ceremony. These alumni wore golden robes and sat immediately behind the current graduates and we referred to them as the “golden graduates.” As we filled into the auditorium, it was impossible to miss the fact that every single one of the “golden graduates” were white, and the vast majority were male. But the new graduates sitting in front of them were a wide variety of races and were much more balanced in gender as well. Clearly Golden Gate has tapped into a growing segment of the population. Because of this they will have a bright and healthy future.

As I try to relate this same concept to the local church level, I wonder how much effort our churches are really making to reach out to other ethnic groups. Unless we want to make Jesus out to be the “white man’s god” then we need to make an intentional effort to reach out to those who are from other cultures and races. Imagine a church that reflects the community it is in, with all its racial groups represented. That sounds like a preview to heaven to me! If we hope to reach the younger generation, our churches are going to have to start thinking more and more about these types of things.

Salvation: A Moment or A Process, or Both?

I grew up in a church where it was very important for people to remember the “moment” of their personal salvation experience. Some people call this “being born again,” others call it “getting saved,” still others call it “finding Jesus” or “getting the Spirit.” It really does not matter what one calls it, so long as a person knows that at some point in their life they have made peace with God and made a commitment to follow Him with their lives. Growing up, I often heard people share about this moment in their lives with great detail. Those who could not recall the experience with vivid details were sometimes suspect in their faith.

When I moved to the northeast I began to meet a lot of people who were less clear about the “moment” of their salvation. When I talk to them about what salvation means, they clearly understand it and claim to have it, but they have a harder time actually being able to pin point the exact moment it occurred. These people often did not grow up in an evangelical church. It is not uncommon to hear them talk about their personal salvation as a process that occurred over several months instead of at a single moment.

Recently I did a poll on my blog and asked people to respond to a series of questions about their own personal salvation experience. Only 22% indicated that they could remember the exact date and details of the experience. Whereas 77% indicated that they were confident they had such an experience but could not remember the exact date or details. Though my poll may not be as scientific as one done by a professional national polling organization, it does seem to agree with what I hear from those who are willing to talk to me about their personal salvation experience.

As we move into a more post-modern era, perhaps we need to worry less about remembering the exact moment of salvation and focus more on helping young people think through whether they have ever even had such an experience or not. After all, remembering the date is not what gets us into heaven; it’s the repentance of sin and commitment to Christ that makes the grade. So let’s focus on that and help young people be sure of their faith.