Ministry in a Post Modern Context, Continued.
The third theme of postmodernism that I introduced in Part 4 of this series was the postmodern’s search for deeper meaning. They are no longer content with "Because I say so" or "Because it has always been that way" type of answers. Postmoderns are often quite happy with the rule or tradition, they just want to know the reasons behind the certain rule or procedure.
For the modernist, the rule or tradition provides a sense of security and order. Much of what the modernist does comes from the desire to combat against the monarchy or bullies from the pre-modern era. When they see a postmodern asking questions or challenging an established rule or tradition, their response is often one meant for a would be conqueror since that is what they are most afraid of. The postmodern, however, interprets the response by the modernist as one designed to stay in control of the situation. The misunderstandings about the motives of the moderns and postmoderns is one of the greatest sources of conflict between the two groups and why they really don’t co-exist well without some intentional effort.
So, here’s the bullet list of the day for things our congregations need to have to minister in the postmodern context:
- Encourage exploration – We all benefit when the postmoderns start doing their investigation. Our presumptions are challenged and we are either reaffirmed in our practice or we get to have a barbecue of sacred cow.
- Establish discussion, dialog, and exploration as part of the education program – Some people like a good lecture class and others enjoy doing a verse by verse study of the book of Romans over a three year period. For the postmodern, however, these formats are a bit to structured and modern-like. We need to build into our classes, small groups, and even our sermons a method of interacting with the members that allow them to determine the direction that the discussion flows. This requires incredible patience and quite a bit of skill on the part of the discussion leader. I have found that identifying the end goal in mind and guiding the discussion around that goal helps to engage the postmoderns among us. Don’t think, however, that you should start to accept anything that anyone says. Postmoderns need people to push back against them a little bit to challenge some of the ideas they’ve come up with on their journeys.
- Explain tradition and ritual – We often assume that everyone understands why we do things the way we do. Even if we don’t assume it, we usually act like everyone knows what we’re doing and why. This is a dangerous assumption when it comes to working with postmoderns, especially postmodern visitors to your services. When it is time for the Lord’s Supper, for example, many of our churches simply start it. Some add a devotional message or a scripture reading, but even that doesn’t explain what is going on to the observer. The postmodern is often left asking the question, "What is this about?" Adding a brief explanation to the order of worship is a great way to bridge the gap between tradition and meaning.
- Teach the church to be flexible – Generally speaking, we’ve gotten pretty good at understanding that children sometimes do things we think strange because the are exploring and don’t understand. We need to learn to offer that same bit of flexibility to people that are new to our congregations. Just because they ask a funny question or don’t seem to fit quite right, we need to be lovingly patient with them.
- Beware the societal norm – Societal norms are general rules that a group of people abide by that they don’t always know they are following. The group has developed these rule over time, usually as a result of some previous encounter. These rules are unwritten, but they are enforced by rewarding or punishing certain types of behavior. For example, I once attended a church that had suffered a major split about ten years earlier. The split affected them in ways they couldn’t observe, and it determined a lot of their behavior. Part of the effect of the split was the desire to maintain peace and unity at all costs. This wasn’t spoken, but the behavior reflected it. When someone made an absolute statement of any kind, meaning that they state a fact that would mean someone could be in error by not following the fact, the community responded by withdrawing attention from that person. No one would address the statement that was made, they would just move on with the discussion. If the person persisted in their claims, the group would distance themselves more obviously. Typically, it only took a couple times before the person quit making absolute statements. We need to evaluate the societal behavior in our churches to make sure we aren’t accidentally punishing postmoderns for attempting to search out the deeper meaning in an issue.
That’s all for this one. Tomorrow we’ll move on to the final four themes of postmodernism that were mentioned in Part 5 of this series. Those are my favorites!