When I was in my 20s, I nearly died and was healed only by the Lord. During that rough time, a thought hit me: Is what I'm doing making a difference? Does it matter?
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.
Who does your church attract? To whom does you ministry matter to the glory of God?
Two studies released in 2011 really got my attention. As a leader in the Orality Movement, I couldn't help but notice. One study was by the University of Nebraska and the other was by the American Sociological Association. They 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 increasingly developed a literate culture. After all, we're "people of the Bible." Look at your own church. Does it have a literate worldview preference? is it attracting literates? Almost everything that most church leaders 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. Unfortunately, these things 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.
Roughly half of everyone in America struggles with literacy at the level used in the Bible. That statistic is from the U.S. Dept. of Education who conducted adult literacy studies in 1993 and again 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. If making disciples is important, shouldn't we be reproducible among all people, even oral learners? If we just keep doing the same thing, then rank and file church members will just continue to 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 what some are calling 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? Are people staying with you or tuning you out? If you go deep, do they go with you?
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.
Our association of churches is immersed in a community with one million unchurched and hundreds of thousands who are not born again. May we matter to them as we seek to be increasingly relevant. You may not be near death, but it never hurts to ask, "Is what I'm doing making a difference? Does it matter?"