The church attendees at Lake View Community Church did one of three things during the Sunday preaching. Once the singing was over, they would either sleep, become engrossed in their mobile devices, or barely appear to be listening. The last group of people, the maybe listeners, was by far the smallest group. Pastor Davis, a seminary-trained, M.Div-toting, young pastor was frustrated. He was knowledgeable, trained, and working hard to produce textually accurate sermons each week. Yet his churchgoers appeared to be apathetic, uncaring, and totally out of touch with God. What a rotten church.
Pastor Davis is not alone in his frustration. There is a legitimate concern among most pastors over their seemingly apathetic attendees. Of course, some of the concerns are justifiable. People may not care much about being at church, other than to salve a stinging conscience. On the other hand, pastors themselves may share some of the blame for the tuned-out and turned-off congregations. What’s the problem? Part of it may be a failure to speak the language of their generation. The church audience is a changing entity, living and moving among a cultural milieu that drastically shapes their thinking. Pastors, as shepherds and counselors must be able to communicate effectively in spite of the cultural challenges. But how?
Quit Speaking Latin
Years ago—I mean a really long time ago—the Roman Catholic church conducted all their services in Latin. There was just one problem with this. Nobody except the priests understood Latin. Want to talk about not understanding the service? The peasant farmers were totally lost. Most pastors today don’t know Latin, but they may still have some communication barriers to overcome. Seminary training, immersion in biblical studies, and the familiarity of terms like “sanctification,” “justification,” and “hypostatic union” may be familiar to them. However seminary-speak, intense Biblical training, and a lesson on anthropomorphism is like Latin to the average churchgoer. It’s time to quit speaking Latin.
What Characterizes Our Generation?
Something has to replace the Latin-laced sermons of pastors. But what do you do? Well, an in-depth look at this issue is pretty complex. It involves things like contextualization and cultural studies, but there are three simple steps that you can follow as you seek to speak the language of this ever-changing generation.
Three Simple Steps
- Understand your people, then teach the Bible. Ministering to people begins with understanding people. Just as a cross-cultural missionary must speak the heart language of the target people, so any pastor must understand what “language” his people are speaking. He must understand where they are spiritually, educationally, economically and socially. This understanding doesn’t change the pastor’s message, but it may affect his presentation of that message. One thing remains constant across generations, cultures, and countries. It’s the Bible. That is what every pastor should tenaciously cling to, regardless of the type of culture in which he finds himself.
- Engage in conversation about the Bible. Think of your sermon less as a “sermon,” and more as a “conversation” about the Bible. Realize that a sermon is essentially an enlarged conversation. Using conversational techniques, styles, and mannerisms will enhance the relevance of your communication. Day-to-day conversation involves some humor, explanation, story-telling, normal language, and natural gestures. Preaching is an enlarged conversation. You should maintain the elements of a conversation, and employ them on a larger scale—the context of the church audience. Keep in mind, of course that your conversation is about one thing—the Bible.
- Ask questions, and answer them, from the Bible. Let me introduce you to a simple concept that sounds really intelligent. It’s called the Socratic Method. Basically, it’s a way of teaching that brings up natural questions, then systematically and methodically answers them in a way that leads to an ultimate conclusion. Employing the Socratic Method in your preaching is a powerful way to present biblical truth. Think of the questions that your listeners may have, and answer them. Every generation has questions. The Bible answers them. You can speak the language of your generation by proving Bible answers to their perplexing questions.
Some Things Never Change
We’ve talked about the need to speak the language of your generation, but it should be obvious from the foregoing discussion that some things never change. The Bible is the cultural constant. Christianity is its own culture. It is a Christ-centered culture. The Bible transcends generational boundaries and drives past cultural obstacles. If you preach the Bible alone—simply, clearly, and naturally—you won’t go wrong. You’ll be speaking directly to your generation in a way that will compel them to listen.
This is a plea to tone down the Latin and turn up the Bible. Speaking the language of your generation is simply telling them what the Bible says in a way that they understand. Do this, and your ministry will be effective. See Isaiah 55:11.