Does what you do matter to others? Are you relevant?
While I was attending a Purpose Driven Church workshop in 2005, I heard Rick Warren tell attendees to place greeters at their church doors that represented the kind of person that they wanted their church to attract. If that’s 90 year-old men, then that’s okay.
Now, who do you think that literacy-oriented pastors or Bible study teachers or witnesses using tracts attract?
Two studies released in 2011, one by the University of Nebraska and the other by the American Sociological Association, showed that whites in America with high school educations declined in their frequency of church attendance, while those with college degrees were the most frequent attenders today.
Churches have long attracted those who are like them with their literate worldview preference. Almost everything that most believers typically are taught to do supports a literate worldview. Projected scripture, reading verses from all over the Bible, using fill-in-the-blank handouts, summarizing biblical narratives, conducting word studies, and exegeting texts for others create a non-reproducible environment by church members. There is a disconnect from the general population by literate worldview believers who rarely attract people other than those who are like themselves.
And roughly half of everyone in America struggles with literacy used in the Bible. That statistic is from the U.S. Dept. of Education adult literacy study in 2003.
Training that relies on the literate approach produces believers that cannot easily pass along what they have learned. They often become irrelevant; they don’t matter. Meanwhile, I have heard complaints from the most highly educated pastors as I have traveled the globe that church members are just not witnessing as they should. The truth is that our church leaders have not been equipped with a model that is reproducible outside their stained glass windows. Instead, all that the rank and file church members can do is put in a good word for Jesus or invite people to church to hear the pastor, experience the music, or have a Bible study explained to them. No wonder so many churches have turned worship services into a show!
So the ways of learning, thinking, and communicating that are second nature to most homiletics professors are dependent on high levels of literacy. We have had literacy skills so long that we forget what it was like before we acquired them. So we seldom recognize the literateness of our homiletical methods. We expect our students to use these skills in preparing and presenting sermons, perhaps unwittingly to the detriment of their listeners.
– Grant Lovejoy, “‘But I Did Such Good Exposition’: Literate Preachers Confront Orality.” Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 1 (December 2001): 22-32.
A pastor’s ability to explain the Bible to others is highly valued in training schools. However, is telling every detail of a passage the equivalent of a lawn sprinkler hoping some drops wet the random blade of grass?
Small groups that don’t lecture, but ask powerful open-ended questions do a great job at getting people to think. They interact with the text and can reproduce it orally in the workplace. Exegesis is not wrong, but it depends on who says it. If believers do the exegesis as the Holy Spirit leads them, then the church leader can do a better job of making disciples like Jesus did. And that matters.
Mark Snowden is the Director of Missional Leadership (DOM) for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association.