They didn’t write books like this in my day, did they?

One of the most exciting things about returning to a local church pastorate, has been the renewed opportunity I’ve had to engage with more recent Christian literature. And I’m really enjoying that.

One of the things I especially notice is the change in the style of book titles.  They used to be called “Knowing God” and “I believe in the church”.  Now they are called Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture, or More Ready Than You Realise: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix, or The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups.

So from the rather more simply entitled The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World, I came across these chapter headings which could make great set of challenging sermon titles:

Communication: From Print to Cultural Transmission
History: From Ahistorical to Tradition
Theology: From Propositional to Narrative
Apologetics: From Rationalism to Embodiment
Ecclesiology: From Invisible to Visible
Being Church: From Market to Mission
Pastors: From Power to Servanthood
Youth Ministers: From Parties to Prayer
Educators: From Information to Formation
Spiritual Formation: From Legalism to Freedom
Worship Leaders: From Program to Narrative
Artists: From Constraint to Expression
Evangelists: From Rallies to Relationships
Activists: From Theory to Action

But I’m also trying to think through the impact of what Leonard Sweet says in his book Post-Modem Pilgrims. Sweet argues that church in the twenty-first century has more in common with the first century than with the modern world that is collapsing all around us. For him, twenty-first century church should be Experiential, Participatory, Image-driven, and Connected —  EPIC.

Experiential. ‘If churches are to effectively disciple postmodern teens they have to help them experience God.’…

Participatory. ‘Postmoderns are not going to simply transmit the tradition or culture they’ve been taught. They want to transform and customize it.’

Image-driven. ‘The best tool religious leaders can give postmoderns is a metaphor on an image.’

Connected. ‘…The pursuit of individualism has led us to this place of hunger for connectedness to communities, not of blood or nation, but of choice.”

But, it seems to me, Sweet also helpfully addresses the same issues from the perspective of those who have naturally embraced modern information technologies rather than those who are older and have not realised the transformational impact on younger people that computing (rather than TV) has had.  As a result of the Internet, we now have generations who do not need authority figures [teachers] to provide access to information.  However,  he says, these generations, more than ever, need those who can process and assess that information.

First, he says, older adults must move beyond rational thinking about faith to focus on a relationship with Christ. This culture is not looking for something else to believe in. Their hunger is to experience a relationship with God.

The second step, Sweet says, requires older adults to move from a performance-based mode of thinking and doing, to a participatory, interactive model.

Third, Sweet argues, younger people respond best to the gospel when it is presented in images rather than words. “How exciting to present Jesus, who is the image of God, to an image-based culture,” he says. “[but] we must give them the right image through which to prepare for eternity.”

Finally, Sweet says older adults must move from an individual to a connective approach to faith in order reach younger generations. “The essence of connectivity is, ‘I can’t be me without we‘”.  Sweet, drawing on his experiences as a former college president, says he experienced a major turnaround in 1987 when he moved from being a learned academic talking to other academics to become a co-learner. “Stop being learned people and become learners together,” he urges.

For Sweet, therefore, the church should be:

missional (God sent) rather than attractional (come to us);

relational (connective) rather than propositional (true/false);

incarnational (ministry where we are beyond the walls of church)
rather than colonial (ministry to and at the local population).

I tend to think, as with most people arguing a case these statements are too polarising.  Church needs to both/and and not either/or.

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