Speaking So You’re Heard

Speaking So You’re Heard

The church in the US is in a post-Christian society, which is the equivalent in many ways to a pre-Christian society only more difficult because Christianity/Church mean something in a post-Christian society, but almost always something negative that has to be overcome.

In a post-Christian society, the Church and its representatives must earn the right to speak to the culture and its representatives.  It must begin that conversation in the language of the culture and then lead into a Christian conversation.  The Christian missionary in the United States (that's what you are if you are a Christian living in the USA) must not adopt a Christian sub-culture mindset (different language, different hangouts, etc.–think Christian radio stations and Christian bookstores) but rather discern how to speak the local language and dress in the local clothing without selling out the ancient Christian faith (think Acts 17 and the Areopagus).

This is the ultimate challenge of doing effective mission work in any culture and is more true than ever in our US setting.

For that reason, I believe that Sunday mornings must be "evangelistic outreach experiences that are worship services" as opposed to "worship services that are evangelistic."  They should lead with prophetic voices speaking truth but in a way that leaves the listener not belittled but rather cut to the heart.  They employ the local communication methods and craft the message in the language and colloquialisms of the community.  By adopting this mindset we are able to draw the unchurched person into a worship experience with no hurdles.  It speaks to them in words and images they grasp, drawing them deeper rather than making them change or adopt before entering into the presence of the cross.  The cross does not demand change before receiving; it creates change in the receiving.

Nota Bene: Do NOT discard all of the ancient forms/traditions/etc.  But rework and contextualize them so that today's radical heathen, totally-biblically-illiterate American does not have to leap through a mental hoop so that God's Spirit can work in His heart.  Embrace the ancient but decorate it with music, visuals and words from today's cultural language so digestion happens.  Wrap a high, holy view of baptism and the Lord's Supper in a very 2013 package.


  1. Comment:  I use the same principles in teaching post-moderns how to communicate with each other, especially when they are stressed or upset with each other.  We live in an age when people are interested in 'connecting' with each other – but people have few skills in doing that very well, human to human.  We can be so eager to "tell" people what we feel they need to hear, that we forget to value them (and thus earn their respect) by listening first.  Listening, with a less-anxious presence, invites conversation because it serves the interests of the relationship between the speaker and the listener.  I'm more likely to be receptive to what you have to say, if you have respected/cherished me by listening thoughtfully and considerately.  It takes longer, but we stay more present, more connected, and more receptive.

    • So very, very true, Jim.  I’m convinced our biggest problem in the US church is we’ve lost the love for relationship and thus the desire to protect or promote it.

  2. Bill, I agree.  I have a bad habit that I am working hard to break of using "church words" and making Bible references that I now understand have no meaning to the hearer (and some of those hearers are churched).  

    The negative perception of the Church Church is strong in this culture and we are often dismissed without a listen.  So if we get a listen, it has to count.    

    The biggest thing I am finding is the old adage, 'they don't care how much (or what) you know until they know how much you care" is exteremly true today.  If you want to get someone to listen to you, they need to see you care.  The caring doesn't necessarily have to be about them though. Caring about homelessness, poverty, illness, injustice, and pretty much anything else will increase the likelihood they will listen to why you care.  

  3. Bill – thnx for this. So true in places where the unchurched, the searching are still coming to the church to seek out answers related to a host of issues – including spiritual things. And connecting the spiritual things to daily life in ways which make sense is only logical and very necessary for anyone who worships – searching or not. We need to connect faith to life in ways that make sense for life, not just for the head. Out here in the great NW, we don’t have too many people coming to church to search for answers, however. Those who do attend are those who still hold to the faith of their mothers and fathers (or more probably ARE the mothers and fathers)! So, as the ecclesia gathers for worship, we need to intentionally teach the gathered that the words they hear, the message they receive, the grace in which they are bathed prepares them to enter the place where the searchers and seekers are gathered all the time – in the market place: stores, coffee shops, sports events, their own homes, b-b-ques, Target, work places. So, much of worship in our part of the world needs to be channeled into preparing through the word and sacraments the faithful to enter where the faithless live and play and work. As they are graced with God’s gifts of forgiveness and love, they also need to hear it make sense in their own life so they can help it make sense in the lives of those they live with outside the Sunday morning experience. Christians need to be taught that those gifts propel them to be the missionaries you noted outside the Sunday morning gathered community we call church. And through the Spirit’s work, that will help some join the Sunday morning gathering of the ecclesia.

  4. Eric & Paul, thanks for the comments.  Def true.  I still continue to believe that regardless of how hard the soil, the Philip/Nathaniel "Come and see" of John 1 is timeless.  When Christians intuitively know that the worship they take part in speaks the language of their lost friends, when those lost friends are struggling and seeking solutions for life, those Christians will speak and invite.  It's a first-article sociological principle: I tell others about the proud parts of my life.  Please hear, I'm not negating how difficult doing church is in the NW.  Stupid crazy.  But I hear a number of folks not in the NW who "because attractional doesn't work anymore" are unwilling to adapt their worship experience to the community's culture.

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