If the first task of leadership is to “define reality,” then preachers in the 21st century must continue to recognize that we serve in a rapidly shifting environment.
In his new book Preaching, Tim Keller points out that “For over one thousand years in Western societies, Christian beliefs have been the ‘deep background’ of almost all listeners to any Christian speaker. Preaching and gospel presentations could build on those concepts and count on getting a hearing with some respect."
Since the mid-twentieth century that has finally begun to change. Large segments of the population – even in the United States – for the first time began to embrace a secular view of life that for decades had been mainly the province of the European intelligentsia.
When Paul preached the gospel to the imperial elites, he called his message ‘truthful and rational,’ yet to the listeners he seemed out of his mind. Today again, what Christians think is true and reasonable now appears to be sheer madness to increasing numbers of the population.
Through centuries of habit most Christian speaking and preaching still assumes that listeners have the fundamental understandings of reality that they had in the past. Even the most outwardly focused, evangelistic churches continue to reach mainly people with traditional mindsets because their communication expects hearers to carry that historical imprint of Christendom. Yet fewer and fewer find the messages comprehensible, much less persuasive.”
As preachers, we will have to recognize that changing reality and rediscover what it is to be a missionary communicating the gospel in a pagan culture. And it’s going to be exciting!
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