Ministry in a Post Modern Context – Continued
We discussed a few posts back about the value that post moderns place on communicating using narrative and meta-narrative. This value parallels closely with the value of dialog and discourse. They are both ongoing concepts that lend depth and value to the existence of the post modern life. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. To the postmodern, being able to paint the picture in their heads adds an interactive facet that they find enriching.
People have told stories for thousands of years, so the idea of narrative is not new. What is new is the need for narrative in order to comprehend and communicate. Part of this need originates in the advancements of technology and the dependence we’ve developed on television and Internet for our information. These forms of media deliver an incredible amount of data in just a few seconds. Previous forms of communication suffered from the lack of the ability to steam visual and audio content simultaneously and therefore had to either take longer to communicate the same amount of information or communicate it in less detail in the same amount of space.
Post moderns have developed a liking for this type of information delivery and therefore depend on narrative deliver to captivate them when they have to absorb data aurally. Without it, they get bored and tend to drift. Part of this is discipline, while part of it is that they’ve trained their brains to absorb great amounts of data at once. Sometimes slowing it down is too great a task. Younger folk are absolute incredible to watch as they watch television, listen to the radio, talk on the phone, surf the web, and instant messenger at the same time. Their ability to process data is amazing, but their ability to slow down and pay attention leaves much to be desired.
In addition to the idea of narrative is the concept of how those narratives weave together to form the greater picture of things. This is called Meta-Narrative. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. One way that post moderns have learned to do this is by plugging into the meta-narrative around them. They aren’t content on knowing the facts, but they want to know what led to the current situation and where that situation will be going in the future.
So, how do we minister to this aspect of the post modern paradigm? Here’s a few tips I think are wise to try:
– Narrative Sermons – This is for all my preacher friends out there. If you haven’t done so yet, go ahead and try the narrative sermon format. It’s incredible. When done well, your listeners are sucked in from beginning to end. They lose track of time and sometimes feel like you ended right after your introduction. If you need help understanding, I recommend "Just Say The Word: Writing For The Ear" by G. Robert Jacks.
– Figure out how to use the Old Testament – Some of you may have noticed that the Old Testament is making a come back in the C of C world. For a long, long time we were afraid to use the OT because it contained instrumental music references and we had to keep our hermeneutic straight. I still remember being told that the only purpose the OT served was to let us know what God was like. The Meta-narrative between the OT/NT/Modern times is powerful when we learn how to extract it. Communicating with post moderns about Christianity in terms of the meta-narrative is powerful, powerful stuff.
– Provide more background – I had a professor once say to me, "Never underestimate the ignorance of your audience." We’ve all joked about using "Real Christians of Genius" language to talk about things like expiation, propitiation, etc. While we try to avoid that type of language, how many of us still talk about every day things as though everyone knows what is going on? Even to say, "We’re all familiar with the story of Noah’s Ark" is dangerous because there is a good chance that someone doesn’t know, especially if you’re doing your job and bringing in unchurched people. Give people a chance to plug into the meta-narrative by giving a little more background when you mention people, ideas, and concepts, no matter how familiar they are to you.
– Intentionally Intertwine relationships – Helping the post modern weave healthy relationships is an important step to take. You should offer several "medium group" activities each year just for the purpose of mingling (medium group meaning bigger than small group and smaller than corporate worship). In your day to day interaction, look for people who could benefit from relationships with each other, either because they are similar or complementary. Like a gardener who trains the vines, we can impact the lives of the post-moderns by giving them healthy options for meta-narrative.
Tomorrow’s post will be the last in this series. Following that I’ll post a page on post modern resources that will address much of what I’ve been talking about the last couple weeks.