The Church has never been good about staying on message. In fact, the Church seems to thrive when it is off message.
On Resurrection Sunday, my Sunday School class talked at length about the failure of the Church to articulate the central message of resurrection. The teacher for the day had clipped an article, based on a survey, suggesting two-thirds of people in the U. S. didn’t connect Easter with the resurrection. As you might imagine, when Easter was mentioned people thought of chocolate, egg hunts, a day off from school, a long weekend, and going to church.
My first thought was, “What kind of survey was that? How were the questions asked?” I have become a skeptic of surveys.
My second thought was, “The Church sure could benefit by staying on message.”
The Church has a historic problem staying on message. Roman Catholic churches emphasize the suffering Christ; thus, the prominence of the crucifix. This has been a message embraced by a multitude of people who themselves suffer. Revivalism placed the emphasis on one coming to faith in Christ: saved from our sins by Jesus’ death. And if this were not enough, we have a Social Gospel, a Prosperity Gospel, a Liberation Gospel…
The truth of the Gospel touches people in a variety of ways. Frankly, the diversity of perspective is amazing and encouraging. And yet, it is also part of the reason we can’t seem to stay on message. Take for instance the resurrection. What do we say after we have said, “Jesus rose from the dead!” What does the resurrection mean for a modern believer? For a church? For society? How do we apply this wonderful truth to our daily living? How are we different by virtue of the resurrection? Does resurrection have anything to do with “Walking in newness of life?”
Our temptation is to answer, “Yes, to all the above and more!” The complexity of our response leaves the average Joe, or Jane, with too much information; thus, people make a strong connection between chocolate and Easter.
I am suggesting in our teaching and preaching we help people “boil things down to essentials.” If we don’t, Easter will continue to equal chocolate in the minds of many.
Most ministers are NFs; I am talking Myers Briggs. Most ministers are big-picture feelers. We struggle with being concrete (S). My most successful series of sermons preached over the years was entitled, “Seven things God wants you do to.” As a big-picture person it about killed me: but there are more than seven things God wants us to do, can I be sure?, etc.,etc. As a large N, I love abstraction. I love to “paint the sky blue.” But, 70% of the people in the pew are concrete thinkers (S) and they need something they can sink their teeth into! They need something concrete.
In the case of the resurrection? Jesus rose from the dead. Death has been defeated. The power of God is in you – to accomplish far more than you ever imagined…. End of sermon.
Yea, repetition has its place. For 15 years, I preached the same sermon in November every year: I Corinthians 11:23-26, “Eucharist.” The point of the sermon was simply, Eucharist means thanksgiving. I wanted people to make the connection in their heads between Eucharist and Thanksgiving (the holiday). I changed a few illustrations but it was the same sermon. To a less degree, I did the same thing for Easter and Pentecost: I preached the message of the day – what the ‘day’ meant.
No, I have no illusions I am going to get the Church on message. But a minister has great potential to help a local congregation, or non-profit, to get on message. There are two steps. The minister has to decide what it means to be ‘on message.” Then, the minister has to develop a strategy to communicate effectively.
The hardest part is overcoming one’s personal resistance to abandon the abstract for the concrete. Come on, you can do it. After all it is not about you. It is about the folks in the pew who need to hear in a language they understand.
Grace and Peace,