Mark Love: Stupid Ministry Tricks, Part 2

MarkLoveWe’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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Mark Love: Stupid Ministry Tricks, Part 2

  1. Price says:

    I’ve found this particular formula to be very accurate…. What one believes to be true has the most impact on one’s Attitude…The Attitude one has impacts the level of Action or Activity. The effectiveness of the Activity produces a certain Result and a combination of Results determines one’s Satisfaction.. Most people, when not satisfied go up the ladder and stop at Action believing that a change of Activity will result in better Results but that rarely is the case. One has to to evaluate what one believes to be True and then work their way down from there. I believe that is why experience plays such a dramatic role in one’s belief system.. I also believe it why Paul encourages us by saying that he hoped that our “minds would be enlightened”, that we would come to more “fully know.”

    When one believes that adultery is the ONLY scriptural basis for divorce and that one must live a lonely and celibate lifestyle from that day forward their attitude towards others is remarkably different than after a daughter is abused and beaten by a drug addict and sloth. You are absolutely correct in that personal testimonies have great impact, and I would suggest that is what the Bible really is… real people having a personal experience with God. But, reading an ancient account isn’t the same for some (or most) as speaking with the neighbor or friend next door. Those in our lives daily seem to carry more weight that one of the King’s of Judah.

    It’s a crying shame that some faith heritages have removed the Power of the Spirit from our daily and congregational experiences believing them (Him) to no longer be engaged with us. I’ve found that when the discussion comes up in private, most have “experiences” that they hold dear and cherish but about which they normally don’t speak about publicly so as to avoid criticism.

  2. mark says:

    The saddest part of legalistic worship is that it is quite commonplace. E.g. the prayer has to be between songs 2 and 3, never between 1 and 2. Communion was always hurried because this was in the day when the sermon came first and did not wrap up till a few minutes before the service was supposed to end. Yes, there is an overwhelming fear that someone will not like a change and tell us we are wrong for making that change or that we are becoming an “unscriptural” church. Thus, a non-member is indirectly controlling a congregation, which is improper at best and terrible at worst.

    The worst thing is when any change is deemed “entertainment”. No circus rings were installed, no elephants procured, and no trapeze was hung from the ceiling. That is entertainment.

    If changes need to occur, form a committee to study it and give them a 30-day deadline. Fill the committee with some people who would be most affected and then formulate a plan of action. While elders might review it, as long it is not forbidden, then it should be approved. However, the proposal can not be changed by the eldership, just an up-or-down vote. Perhaps, a trial of 3-6 months would be useful or just during the school-year, academic term, summer, etc.

    Also, where is the rule that if a congregation has multiple services that they all have to be the same? Why can’t one be traditional and one be modern? Perhaps once a month a family service or youth service? College service at 4 or 5 pm on Sundays during the academic term? Besides, two services can even run simultaneously. Also, the regular minister can preach (different sermons) at both of them if the proposed “Order of Worship” from both are compared beforehand. Additionally, an age-appropriate sermon would be useful and likely well-received. I don’t see how this can be declared entertainment or a bad thing. Also, bring some seminary students (of both genders) in to preach. They are young and probably would relate better to the youth and young professionals than a 65-year old would. If nothing else, they need experience in front of a real congregation. Some of these, especially the females, are now putting their sermons online or on iTunes/iTunesU. (Some of the sermons are quite good.) For too long, I only ever heard sermons directed towards old people. That does not get one who is younger than 50 to pay attention for more than the first 5 minutes.

    Obviously, I am not a minister, but if I were, I would find out what different groups of people are struggling with (personally, professionally, spiritually) on a daily basis and what their struggles with the faith look like. You might be surprised at what you hear. It might be that some sermons need to be on defending the faith in light of the recent hostility toward Christianity in the US, a topic that is rarely mentioned any more. Another topic that is rarely mentioned is martyrdom. Lately, there have been quite a few new Christian martyrs in Egypt and other countries. What can Christians do to help those who are still persecuted for the faith when their houses and churches are burned and the law (in Egypt) forbids rebuilding of churches? If you can’t learn about the faith in church and how to defend it, then where are you supposed to learn about it?

  3. Knocked this one out of the park, Jay. The secret to cultural change is to have doors in the culture that allow “non-conforming” people into our lives. As long as all we see is what we already have, and the only people we really love are the ones exactly like us, our culture will not change, even if the preacher manages to convince us intellectually that we are all going to hell.

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