Categories
Church Leadership

The Economics of Preaching

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Have you ever thought about the economics of preaching?

Probably not. 

If you were to take a moment to think about the value we ascribe to the action of preaching in the American church, you may start to wonder if we’ve overvalued it.

Think about it from an organizational economics perspective.

  • The Sunday morning sermon is seen as the single most important activity in the action of the American Protestant week.
  • Take away the sermon and you wouldn’t call it a worship service.
  • If you don’t have anyone to preach you may think about canceling church. You couldn’t say that about any other element of the standard worship service. (Music, public reading of the Bible, receiving offerings, testimonials, etc.)
  • Ask anyone in the pews what the most important qualification for a senior leader is? Preaching.
  • In many contexts the title “preacher” is a suitable substitute for the more proper title of pastor, elder, or overseer. But the connotation is clear, the main value in the senior leader is his/her ability to preach. I’ve never heard a pastor’s title swapped out to “host” or “Mr. Gentle.”
  • If a person isn’t a good preacher, even if they are good at a lot of other things, they don’t have a reasonably good chance of a career as a senior leader.
  • When a church grows, most often it’s because people say the church has a great preacher.
  • When a church dies most people blame the preaching.
  • People will put up with a lot from a pastor if that same person delivers good sermons.
  • Organizationally, you could argue that the Sunday morning message is the fulcrum for the whole organization.
  • Want to launch a new initiative? You better preach about it.
  • Want to address an issue in the congregation? You guessed it, the sermon is the best way.

Think about it from a monetary economics perspective.

  • The senior pastor makes the most money in most churches.
  • The one activity the senior pastor works the most consistently on? Preaching.
  • The highest employed staff person’s most important task, the one task costing the most amount of money per hour to the church? Preaching.
  • 30 minutes of speaking costs the church at about 25% of their highest paid employees time.
  • You’ll pay the drummer $75. But the pastor? We don’t disclose that. 

A hermeneutics problem.

You cannot argue, hermeneutically, that the New Testament values preaching to the level the American church places on it. When Paul gave Timothy qualifications for overseers he didn’t give special attention to preaching. “Able to teach” is one of 14 the qualifications listed. Preaching, specifically, is not mentioned. (Able to teach could mean a lot of things.)

If anything is emphasized by Paul it is matters of personal character. You cannot argue by Paul’s emphasis or in his order that we should value an overseer purely by his/her ability to preach. “Able to teach” is buried in the middle. If it were first on the list you could say Paul was emphasizing it. If it were mentioned twice, likewise. But stuck in the middle of a phrase like that? It’s just one of the regular qualifications.

Yet, in America we value preaching above all else. Think about it from an governance perspective. Your church could have 6 elders and 1 of them is the senior pastor. The primary difference in that person’s organizational responsibilities compared to the rest? Preaching. In most cases, the other 5 elders wouldn’t even consider payment for their service. But the preaching elder? You have to pay that person.

Here’s what we know. (We could each point to specific examples) If a person is a good preacher we will choose to overlook obvious character flaws. Even flaws that clearly disqualify a person from the role of overseer. 

The over-valuation of preaching in the American Protestant church is a classic example of syncretism.

And this one syncretism is a primary feeder for our denial of the priesthood of all believers. When you over-value preaching… you’ve created a new priesthood.

Question 1: What does it reveal about our view of God to over-emphasize the role of preaching in the local church?

Question 2: If we didn’t have regular weekly preaching what would our gatherings look like? 

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Categories
youth ministry

Teenagers are Desperate for Good News

One reason youth ministry is flatlining is crappy theology.

Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute, was recently interviewed by Relevant Magazine about the present reality that youth ministry presents a faith students easily walk away from in college. She was asked, “Do you think there are any misunderstandings or misconceptions that contribute to young adults leaving the church?”

Her response:

The students involved in our research definitely tended to view the Gospel as a list of dos and do-nots, a list of behaviors. We asked our students when they were college juniors, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?” and one out of three—and these were all youth group students—didn’t mention Jesus Christ in their answer; they mentioned behaviors.

Source

Allow me to translate that. Students are learning really crappy theology from their culture, their parents, and their churches.

Is your Gospel even Good News?

Here’s what I encounter when I talk to students in our ministry and even random students I talk to out on the street. They are desperate for Good News. They are looking for Good News. In their honest moments they are desperately searching for Good News. (From Jesus, Buddha, or Katy Perry)

Their lives need Good News. Somewhere. Somehow. In some fashion… they are hard-wired for and looking for Good News. Why? Because their lives are surrounded by bad news. They need a Jesus who is real, who can help them, or their life isn’t going to get any better.

If God doesn’t show up they are in trouble.

And what do they get at a church? Not much. A 30 minute pep talk, some laughs, and some songs. Or, at best– a Christian version of Dr. Phil with an invitation to talk to someone after church.

But a God who meets them where they are at? Or people who are willing to intervene? Nope. And forget about delivering anything that is actual Good News in their lives.

I meet students who are struggling with stuff like this:

  • Have hurts I can’t talk to my mom about.
  • Hurts caused by a mom and dad who love themselves more than they love me.
  • Does anyone love me? Am I even worth loving?
  • Why isn’t my dad around?
  • Who the heck am I? What am I going to do with my life?
  • Sex is like a big rock rolling me over. I am so confused and hurt about sex.
  • I’m stuck in the same problems my parents are, can I break the cycle?
  • My family is late on the rent again. We can’t pay our bills and I feel like a big burdon on my parents.
  • I have big dreams but no one can help me get there.
  • I’m stuck in drug and alcohol abuse and I can’t talk  to an adult about it.
  • I’ve been molested by someone in my family and I can’t talk to anyone about it.

These aren’t rarities. These are just below the surface for a majority of students I interact with. And the churches answer? Come to church. Listen to a message. Attend a Bible study.

Is there any doubt why 95% of teenagers opt-out of that? They are saying, “I need Good News. I need Jesus to be real because I have no other options.” And the churches solution for everything is prayer, Bible study, and attending worship services?

Really?

That’s not Good News. That’s Good Behavior. 

It’s inadequate. It’s a failure. And it’s certainly not the Jesus they encounter when they read the Bible. You know–  the Jesus who was so desperate to help them that He gave His life for them. They want that Jesus and when He doesn’t show up at their church…

They are leaving and I can’t blame them. 

Teenagers desperately need a roaring lion Jesus who will come into their lives, protect them, and help them figure stuff out. They will give anything to a God big enough to do that. Instead they are presented with a smiling, carefree, half-empty suburban-friendly Jesus like substance which cares more about their surfacey behavior than the condition of their heart.

It’s crappy theology. No pastor would admit to teaching it. But that’s what students are learning.

And we arrogantly say we don’t need radical change? Hmph.

Flatliners logic.

Students are trying everything they can to find Good News! They need Jesus to help them with their real, physical problems. 

Will your ministry be the one who steps up, gets messy, and points them to the messy, grimmy, grace-covered Good News of Jesus Christ that touches not just their soul but the sole of their feet?

You want to flip the world upside down? Become Good News to a teenager.

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Categories
Church Leadership

To go deep, you have to go wide

Photo by ??’ via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our students so quickly dispatch their faith in early adulthood.

As I’ve read Sticky Faith, Almost Christian, Christians Smith’s research, and played host to the Extended Adolescence Symposium last week I’ve been taking it all in and trying to figure out “why.”

Why is it that so many students walk away from their faith in early adulthood?

And I can’t get away from this: The Jesus we present is often times shallow, weak, and boring. He’s easy to walk away from.

It’s not that following Jesus is any of those things. It’s just that we present him that way.

I think a lot of young adults walk away because we are shallow, weak, and boring.

They are thinking deep thoughts about important things, they are reading Joyce and Emerson and wrestling with the Pythagorean theorem while we spend countless hours debating the merits of pop-culture Christianity. We care more about Rob Bell’s glasses than we do why Jesus is allowing hundreds of thousands of children to starve in the horn of Africa. We care more about next week’s worship set than we care about what’s happening on their campus.

Our students are learning from their own experience that if you want to go deep on things you have to go wide– and they look at us and see us trying to go deep on things we aren’t very wide about.

  • They observe we only read from people we already agree with.
  • They observe we only listen to vantage points we are likely to already hold.
  • They observe we are only stretched intellectually unintentionally.
  • They observe we are avoid big theological questions.
  • They observe we seek training and education for our limited scope and see little value in getting outside of our discipline.

I’m struck by the reality that most high school sophomore’s have a more mature reading pallete through their literature classes than the average pastor.

A sophomore is reading Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Arthur Miller, Twain, F. Scott Fitzerald, Maya Angelo… to name a few. The average pastor is reading Francis Chan, a couple of commentaries from the same theological spectrum, and a book about leading small groups.

You might have an MDiv but you’re looking pretty intellectually thin next to a 15 year old getting a C- in British Lit. 

We make a mistake when we try to simplify the Gospel. We make a mistake when we try to dumb down what Jesus is saying to what we think our students can understand. We make a mistake of trying to neatly wrap up a Bible lesson into 3 easy-to-remember points.

Because our students know life isn’t that easy. They expect an infinite God to be infinitely deep and infinitely wide. And what they see presented from their leaders lacks both.

I think the thing I’m wrestling with is  the reality that students aren’t walking away from Jesus necessarily. They are walking away from the cheap, easy,uninteresting, anti-intellectual, shallow, weak Jesus we have presented them in high school.