We’re continuing to consider some posts from Mark Love’s blog Dei-liberations.
After Mark posted the article that we considered yesterday, he received some criticism of his statement that a sermon series is not an effective way to bring about change in church practices, with worship being particularly in mind.
In his next post, Mark explains (I’m not copying his entire article this time; please follow the link to read it in its entirety),
Most of us have been conditioned educationally to think in terms of information to application, or to move from theory to practice. We live in what James Smith calls a Cartesian anthropology–that we understand what it means to be human primarily in relation to reason. We are reasoning creatures, so what changes things is the information we receive. We’ve been socialized in that anthropology, according to Smith, through the shape of our educational experience.
But change, particularly change in shared practices, involves more than changing our minds about things. This requires deeper, cultural change.
Ahh … changing culture is no easy thing, and it requires much more than new information or great motivational speaking.
How does that happen? Well, there are things that cause people to have to make new sense of the details of their lives. But according to people who understand these things, ideas are rarely strong enough to overcome the frame. But surprises or significant anomalies are.
Most anomalies, things that lie outside of our frame of reference, we ignore. We can function without having to make sense of them. But a few cause us to reconsider the whole deal. People might have strong views of marriage and divorce that are not subject to critique, until their daughter divorces the guy who beat her. People can have strident views on homosexuality until their child tells them that they are gay. You get the idea. These experiences that surprise us or shock us throw us into new sense-making loops.
True. I’ve seen many a legalist become converted to grace-centered Christianity when his child was caught in sin — or when his world collapsed because of his own very public failings.
So, deep, cultural change tends to happen around a rhythm of action, reflection, and articulation, as opposed to a rhythm of information to application. Something happens outside of our frame, we reflect on its meaning, and we eventually venture to say what this might mean. Preaching has a different role in that kind of economy. It is not principally about communicating information, though that may occur or even be the focus of some sermons. Instead, preaching seeks to rename our experiences in light of the strange and surprising world imagined by the text. Oftentimes, the sermon is not the first word to us, but it can be a clarifying word that gives us a vivid sense that God is at work among us.
And so … preaching matters a lot, but when it comes to change that involves deeply felt cultural convictions, it’s not so much logic and information as experience and reflection.
A member invites a friend to church. The preacher lambastes the Baptists in his sermon, and the friend, not a Baptist, is deeply offended and refuses to ever set foot in the building again. Perhaps the member is astonished at his reaction and so is caused to reflect on why such preaching — which he grew up with and which comforts him in his choice of denomination — offends a good man such as his friend.
Or a member visits an instrumental worship service and sees teenagers in intense worship and praise of Jesus. He realizes that this not merely “entertainment” but something different — something he knows his grandchildren desperately need in their lives.
(But is it the instruments or something else? What?)
Preaching that brings the surprising work of the Holy Spirit in our present experience into view, that helps us reflect on that experience, and name it in light of the strange world of Scripture can be a significant catalyst for change.
Sometimes testimony changes a member’s heart. It’s one thing to quote scriptures on the merits of giving generously. But there’s something much more persuasive about a member explaining how her life and relationship with God has been transformed by her decision to tithe.
In fact, in an age of social media, people are much more influenced by their friends on Facebook and Twitter than by the Wikipedia (despite the fact there is more information on page of the Wikipedia than on a hundred Facebook posts). And testimonies can sometimes be more persuasive than a thousand syllogisms and proof texts.
After all, there’s a difference between talking about God’s promises and sharing how God has kept his promises. There’s a difference between discussing “instrumental music” and hearing and experiencing instrumental music.
In fact, if you visit around, you quickly learn that instrumental music, by itself, is nothing. There’s a lot of bad instrumental music in churches — and many instrumental churches are dying.
And so perhaps the issue isn’t even instrumental music at all — but worship. And how can we preach about the presence of God if we’ve never felt the presence of God? I mean, we in the Churches of Christ are very leery of subjective feelings — that is, until we’ve experienced those feelings for ourselves.
But is there such a thing as legalistic worship? Can we truly worship God in fear? Can we truly worship God looking over our shoulders at what someone else might say? I mean, sometimes we learn not to fear God but we still fear what our family or another Church of Christ might say about us. And how can we worship with such intensity that we feel the very presence of God when God isn’t our highest priority?
And being in the presence of God changes people in ways that sermons — and even blogs — cannot approach.