For the church to thrive in the 21st century, she must rethink her method of teaching. Sermon is one form of instruction, but it has severe limitations. Sermons are passive, too formal, and top-heavy. Congregants walk out of Sunday morning service with weary eyes and overstuffed minds. (This, of course, assumes an exegetical message, not the religious fluff of Joel's pulpit and Joyce' podcast. Those people float out of the service from all the hot air blown up their butts.)
For better or worse, we are living in a day and age where sermon is losing its cultural footing. All monologue is losing its audience. College lectures have moved to online forums. Secondary education has resorted to group projects and presentations, where the blind lead the blind, and passing grades abound. Journalist begin an article; readers finish it. Talk radio, political speech, and podcasts depend on instant feedback (i.e. Twitter), savvy engineering, and controversial callers. If the medium is the message, the message is loud and clear:
Sustained listening is unsustainable in a digital culture. Speak up. Everyone has a voice.
One caveat: Only the comedian can engage an audience for thirty-to-sixty minute slots. It is no coincidence that many "good preachers" study comedians and mimic their trade. Unfortunately, jokes about Jews and Ham sandwiches only go so far in holding one's attention. Moreover, the sermon should be more than a stream of observations and punchlines; it is an exposition of a culture and a Text.
Now, back to the program: We were discussing how the church must change the way it teaches to maintain its audience the 21st century. We cannot pretend to be an oral culture like the Early Church (WWECD? is a bad question), but we can take on her ethos of contextualization. Below are five ideas to teach today's distracted-but-desperate-to-participate audience.
- Word Feasts: Get engrossed in study and discussion. Take six hours on a Saturday to journey through God's word: reading, reflecting, and asking questions. I've heard of college student meeting in coffee shops for hours with Paul's epistles and fresh baked muffins. David's Platt's church has made a program of this, called Secret Church, a tribute to persecuted believers who pour into God's word. Deep study is counter-cultural.
- Forums: Invite passionate people from within your church to discuss topics and concerns that make their heart race. From abortion to racism to global poverty to hermeneutics, these topics provide a springboard to a multitude of people. Invite a gifted leader to moderate the discussion and ask probing questions. This could take place in a restaurant, sanctuary, or neighbor's backyard. Diversity of opinion deepens understanding.
- Video: While media depersonalizes the message, it packages truth in a manner that connects with a culture enamored with entertainment. These can be simple and informative clips on YouTube. When using digital media, always invite responses. Conversation moves content.
- Practicum: Move the sermon to the seats and streets. Instead of pontificating about prayer for thirty minutes, provide five minutes of explanation and twenty-five minutes of practice. Instead of talking about "reaching the lost" from the pulpit, send people from the building to start conversations in the neighborhood. We must reconnect learning with practice.
- Catechism: As antiquated as this method of learning sounds, its strength lies in the discipline required to make doctrine second nature. Moreover, at its best, catechism is a communal practice, inviting parents and their kids or diverse congregants to recite basic truths from the Bible aloud. (Parent: Who created the heavens and the earth? Children: God created the heavens and the earth.) Ancient is the new future.