It feels awkward disagreeing with your heroes. Even when that disagreement only comes 8.5% of the time, it still feels awkward.
On Monday afternoon, my hero Tim Keller did a Q&A on Twitter:
I get what he means. If you’re hoping to have lots of people in your worship service who are outsiders to Christianity, then you’ve got to think hard about what they’re thinking—in fact, you’ve got to think harder about what they’re thinking about than they themselves think about those things. And as Keller says, you can do this best by having as many lunches and coffees with non-Christians as possible.
However, Keller’s assertion that preparation takes more time in a post-Christian society, not less, is predicated on the assumption that we are operating with a Redeemer NYC-like ministry model. That model emphasizes Sunday worship and especially the sermon as the location where most of the church’s conversions are expected to occur.
Other assumptions are also at work: that the audience of the sermon is large, and the outsider can experience the sermon as a passive observer, apart from a rich, interpersonal, communal experience of the church body. “Corporate” worship in such settings is not usually very communal. The outsider can come with the person that invited them, file in, observe, and file out.
A growing church does not have to create file in / observe / file out environments for worship. If you’ve got a big auditorium and a big stage, and you hope to consistently fill the auditorium with skeptical people, then of course you’d better prepare killer sermons with tons of careful application to outsiders. But a growing church may actually elect to entirely eschew the auditorium / sanctuary / stage / pulpit environment if it wishes. It can intentionally avoid the possibility of a file in / observe / file out experience for the cautious skeptic.
If the corporate worship environment is thick with community, feasting (lattes and scones do not constitute a feast), spontaneous prayer, a literal, physical gathering around the Lord’s Table, and even the assumption that “visitors” would help stack the chairs and take the trash out afterward, then suddenly the sermon is not the make-or-break moment when it comes to the outsider’s experience.
Now, do I think that preaching is important? Absolutely. Do I think and hope and pray and expect that people’s lives would be changed and that others will be converted on the spot during the preaching of the word? Absolutely. Do I believe that it takes much more work to exegete the culture in a post-Christian society than before? Indeed.
But we also need to imagine a corporate Christianity for the post-Christendom age in which the gathering of God’s people, with skeptics mixed in, feels less like a lecture or a concert or a TED Talk and more like a family feast. Without the pressure of a weekly TED Talk looming over his head, the preacher can take 10-15 hours of what used to be his preaching prep time and spend it over coffee with skeptical friends and over fettucini and merlot with non-Christian neighbors.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
Encouraging? Get these daily posts in your email inbox.