I've heard it said over and over again that the Church is heading toward irrelevance in our society.
I've heard it said over and over again that we must change the way we do things to connect with our communities and with our culture.
I agree with these two assertions, but I have increasingly wondered why it is that the Church in North America, particularly the U.S. continues to decline. It seems that most agree on the issue, but few have figured out what changes need to be made in order to bring about the connection to society.
Now, based upon the title of this blog, you might think that I've got it figured out when it comes to making that connection. Honestly, no, I don't. That's not what this posting is about. Rather, it's about something a little more concerning, at least to yours truly.
For, as I've been in the parish, I've come to see there is quite the gap between what I was taught needed to take place in preaching and teaching and the reality of what preaching and teaching actually works.
That gap was exposed once again yesterday as I visited a member who had been through three rough weeks medically. As we talked, she spoke about what she believed God was teaching her through this ordeal, and of course, her thoughts turned toward attending worship and being involved in church.
Here's where things got interesting. She made the comment about attending worship at a congregation in a nearby town. She spoke of how she appreciated how the preacher "preached the Bible." Now, for some I know, this statement raises hackles. I've even heard one or two say, "As if I don't preach the Bible."
Unfortunately, sometimes I think we as clergy do a poor job of putting ourselves into the pews. I mean, many of us don't remember what it was like to sit there before taking Hebrew and Greek. Many of us don't return to the place where we were ignorant of historical-critical methodologies. Many of us forget that people in the pews don't speak theological jargon. They look at the Bible plainly. They read the words on the page, and oftentimes take those words at face value.
Preachers who also take those words at face value and elaborate on them at that face value, "Preach the Bible." Those who delve into the historical settings and other such things and come at the text through this lens generally don't receive this description. Sometimes, folks are downright hostile to this approach, and I completely understand why.
More than a few times, I've come across someone who wants to impress me with the amount of knowledge he or she has acquired. More than a few times such a person has used "high falutin'" language to try and get a point across. And more than a few times, I've tuned such people out because if you can't explain something to me plainly in a language I can understand, then I just don't give a darn about it. If you can't explain a concept to me in everyday terms and resort to "you just don't have enough knowledge to understand what I'm talking about," I'll consider you an unreliable source.
I believe my job (and perhaps the job of mathematicians, scientists, doctors, and others who deal with the public) is to explain Scripture, explain theology, explain Christianity in terms that people can understand. For me, this means using the plain explanation of Scripture as my primary default and using higher criticism as rarely as possible. I personally believe this makes it easier for me to connect to people and connect faith to everyday life.
I do know most mainline denominations have bought into the concepts of higher methodologies of interpreting the Scriptures, but maybe this isn't exactly to our benefit in the long run.