Orwell and the Modern Church.

As part of my learning journey, I’ve been studying the mechanics of preaching, seeking to understand what makes preaching effective. I’ve come to the conclusion that an effective preacher does the hard work of shrinking the perceived gap between him/herself and the listener. 

“Perceived” may be the most important word in that last sentence. After all, last time I had a DNA check, I came up 100% human.”Preacher” is a subset of “human” not a distinct species. More on that here.

But there is a perceived gap. By standing on a stage, opening a Bible, using a microphone, providing spiritual insights etc, a preacher naturally creates a perceived gap. Because of this gap some people will think you are more spiritual than you are and conversely they will think they are less spiritual. If you do not work to reduce this perceived gap, some of your people will write themselves off in the journey of following Jesus.

Some sermon tools that assist in bridging the gap: vulnerability, unpretentiousness, approachability off the stage, self effacing humor, sharing of struggle etc. These are all helpful.

But how about this:  what if you openly address the gap once in a while?  What if you explained to your people that you have been trained in handling the Bible. You spent years of your life studying not only the content, but the context and that is why you know so much Bible, not because you are more spiritual, but because you have been trained.

What if you told your folks that, in all likelihood, if they had the training you’ve had, they would provide great spiritual insights to the congregation as well?  Another way to consider it, if the church were about medicine rather than Jesus, we’d all revere the Doctor who studied anatomy; the preacher would be just another person in the pew.

Modern churches can be tempted to forget Paul’s incredible declaration, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” Modern churches live out a George Orwell novel more than Paul’s beautiful vision for the church.  In the modern church, “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.” Preachers and worship leaders can become “more equal” than everyone else. Lord help us if we start believing this ourselves. We live in a dangerous cultural context of deep spiritual hunger combined with celebrity craze. This generates a need for our preachers and worship leaders to be rock stars and this creates a perceived gap. But we aren’t rock stars, we’re fellow sojourners.

I am not naive.  I understand as Lead Pastor that I carry an unusual amount of power and that I should steward it responsibly.  I also understand as the primary interpreter of scripture on behalf of our congregation, I carry a vital role.  I take seriously James’ admonition that “those who teach will be judged more harshly.”  Youzers.

But in the economy of God’s Kingdom, who is to say who is most important and who isn’t?  Nancy has been faithfully serving in our children’s ministry longer than I’ve been the preacher.  In God’s economy, she is VITAL to the Body here at Discovery, but in our modern lens, we can think I am more spiritual because I teach the Bible for us.

I like the late Dallas Willard’s constant reminder.  He says that the life Jesus called us to live really can be lived by anyone.  That it is within reach of everybody.  The call to follow Jesus is difficult, challenging, stretching, but accessible to all and open to all.  An effective preacher will not shirk the weighty responsibility of preaching, or being an example of a follower of Christ, but all the same, she or he will work hard to reduce the perceived gap between preacher and people to show that we are all fellow sojourners, following King Jesus together, each vitally important to the Body.

4 Replies to “Orwell and the Modern Church.”

  1. Excellent address of the tension. On one hand someone like you or I may have a clear calling to preach and really hone the “craft” of homiletics. It’s a big deal and in one perspective a real spiritual deal . . . but so is plumbing. Everything we do is to be done for the glory of Christ and in reality a brain surgeon and first grade teacher live out their spiritual calling just as much as a preacher opening up the Word. Also seems to be a tension in what is expected out of preachers and what is considered “holy” and “secular.” Preachers are to “equip” the saints for the work of ministry, not do it all. The idea of a preaching ministry being “holy” and the rest not, is more of a Catholic idea than a Kingdom reality. In Christ, all we do is Holy; or at least should be.

    Thanks Steve. Appreciate you and DCC.

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  2. Marshall Mcluhan is noted for saying “the medium is the message”. This is a true and important observation in our media saturated society as we are trained from youth via media, schools, etc. to be passive listeners. The staging, music, lights, audio systems, use of multimedia are in themselves the message that unduly elevate oratory above dialog… and perhaps the orator to celebrity in the mind of the listener. Both oratory and dialog have their place but for the Body be healthy it needs easy access to dialog and expression.

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  3. brilliant- in addition to the intention to be close to your friends (audience and congregation are maybe words that lead us astray?) you model such a deep humility.

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