Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Preaching to the Younger Unchurched

Ed Stetzer wrote a great piece about preaching to the younger generation. I think his four points are valid and in need of attention by those proclaiming the gospel.


Examine Your Approach

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Interestingly enough, our research shows that young adults agree. The survey data confirms that the younger unchurched maintain a high level of interest in theology, apologetics, worldview, and other religions.

Many churches have chosen to lessen their emphasis on depth in order to complement their inaccurate stereotypes of this generation. This isn’t working now, and it certainly won’t in the future. In fact, most young adults are turned off by shallowness and are beginning to walk away from environments (including churches) that foster it.

The days of spiritual clich├ęs and cuteness were never wise, but we can afford to engage in superficiality even less today. No matter your worship or preaching style, study the Word deeply and seek to communicate it thoughtfully. We know you’ve heard the common wisdom to “make it simple,” “make the application your points,” and “make it simple to apply” —and these are not necessarily bad approaches—but many young adults are finding simplistic communication less helpful than their Baby Boomer counterparts.

What young adults are interested in, however, is preaching that engages on several levels, provokes deeper thoughts, and reveals complexity. This doesn’t mean watering down the truth; it means teaching the truth in all its challenging fullness. Preaching that engages the younger unchurched is deliberate preaching crafted with depth of thought and delivered with conviction. Think and rethink. Evaluate and reconsider.

Encourage Struggle

Directly connected to the younger unchurched’s aversion to simplistic preaching is their aversion to “tidy” preaching. The Church has somehow forgotten that life is not always about having a neat, pat answer. Almost nobody is living “The Brady Bunch” any more, least of all the unchurched, and as much affection as young adults may have for retro entertainment, they instantly recognize when someone is trying to pass off a sitcom as real life. God gave us Jesus, and He gave us His Word. However, He did not give us all of the answers. Too many sermons imply that God and His plan can be wrapped up with a pretty bow in 30 minutes, just like “Diff’rent Strokes.”

Young adults are looking for something real – something that issues real challenges, reflects real struggles, and prompts real examination. This level of depth, as described by young adults, is characterized by a continual pursuit of knowledge, experience, wisdom, intellect, understanding, and exploratory learning.

This means that the moralizing of our preaching past is out like the 80s. Our preaching should encompass more than do’s and don’ts. It should reach to the why and the how behind our proclamation. Great preaching requires mining truth down to its deepest core and assigning it to resonate within the hearts of our listeners. As a result, our preaching must go beyond appeals to behavior modification, beyond pithy platitudes on being happy and living well. Our preaching must wrestle with the meat and marrow of human existence, because this is what young adults are already doing. Otherwise it becomes like tossing a fortune cookie to a man starving in the desert.

Be Authentic and Transparent

We must remember that preaching is not just about what you say; it’s very much about who you are. One of the reasons so many young adults think negatively about churches is because they see very little authentic struggle from their leadership. Indeed, a large majority of the younger unchurched believe the church is full of hypocrites.

Consider the “foolishness of preaching” from the perspective of an unchurched young adult. They see a pastor standing up and presenting the message in a way that implies the pastor already has everything figured out. When pastors relate no doubt, no struggle, and no experiential element, they just begging to be tuned out. But preaching is not just about the level of intellectual content; it’s also about the teacher’s relationship with that content.

Leaders who know the value of speaking to people, not over people, are leading churches that are reaching young adults. There is no substitute for authenticity. Preaching with transparency has to do with being open and honest with a purpose that is redemptive and developmental. A preacher who is being transparent opens a window for the divine and pure purpose of helping others change in positive ways, without hidden motives or pretense. This is the kind of transparency that will connect with younger adults.

Prepare Effectively

We realize very few Bible teachers set out to provide shallow teaching. No sincere pastor desires to develop biblically ignorant Christ-followers, and none deliberately set out to disseminate false teaching. But it’s happening. Our hunch is that these things aren’t happening because of bad motives but, instead, are the result of weak and inadequate preparation. If this is the case, we each must look long and hard at our approach to studying God’s Word and evaluate our need to improve in this area.

As with most things, great preaching takes commitment, and connecting to the younger generation takes even more. Are you willing to evaluate your methodology and approach in preaching? Are you committed to being authentic and transparent as an example for others? Are you willing to go beyond the surface and challenge your people to do the same? If your answers to these questions are no, then it’s time to start making changes. If you can answer yes, then your preaching is ready to engage this generation.

1 comment:

Mark Hollingsworth said...

Good preaching to preachers. We must always evaluate, musn't we? That is if we want to get our message accross to all people.
Thanks for the post.