I am convinced that we (leaders in the church) must learn to prepare messages – teachings and sermons – with the de-churched and unchurched in mind with nearly the same level of awareness and importance given to this audience as which we give our churched and biblically literate audience.
Even if our audience approaches the topic from a Christian-friendly point of view, they are often no longer coming from any background in the scriptures or understanding of scripture’s realities, reasons, laws or graces.
The difficulty of this is that though they aren’t biblically educated, they are highly intelligent.
Often, they are both highly intelligent and wrongly educated.
This makes it even more important to question: “What seemingly unimportant detail in my message might they get hung up on?”
“How will they respond to even the smallest statements, and how can I better proactively move to counter these objections before they even arise?”
There are countless examples, but here is one I recently experienced:
I recently listened to a man giving a tremendous concerning depression, hope and Godly focus. Discussing the story of Hannah and her desire for a son, early in his message this speaker repeatedly mentioned of Hannah’s husband, “This man had two wives” or variations of this point.
Though minimally important in the grand scheme of the message, this information was used to set up the story and make a point. However, I found myself realizing that to those who might approach Christianity either skeptically or with little understanding, this could be a hangup.
“In those times it was common for a man of greater wealth to take on a second wife”, he said. “Yet, Hannah was his more beloved of the two.”
He even, at one point, paused to address this societal difference, as we often do: “Now you should know, this was common in these days to take a second wife when one couldn’t bear children…”
However, while simply giving the background might be interesting, it doesn’t speak to the most important question that will reign in the intelligent, uneducated, skeptical listener’s heart:
“But how does that fit into who God was and is to me? What did God think of that?”
The answer to this question is vital.
If God has changed his mind on a matter, couldn’t there be a problem with this so-called “perfect” God? If we’ve changed our mind, couldn’t there be a critical problem with this so called “perfect” faith system?
This is even more important when it’s a matter such as this mentioned example that we would otherwise say is not a condoned practice. If we don’t think to address the hidden questions or objections here, they may not even realize the confusion and objection their heart experiences, but they will certainly have a hard time moving forward with us.
It creates a tiny hole in our logic.
It is not enough to offer merely some historical or factual back story. That was once interesting to a biblically astute and pleasurably receiving audience. That’s interesting to a youth perhaps who is not yet too concerned with the finer points (though most are). It is not however, of any consequence to the highly intelligent and wrongly educated.
They will notice the inconsistencies in our messages, and they will matter.
And, they should matter.
How can one build a strong house on a foundation with cracks or flaws?
The rest of the world is giving them expertly presented and smoothed out surfaces.
Sure we may know that they are full cracks and emptiness, but they will have spent hours, weeks, months and years figuring out how to hide those.
Yet too often we take for granted the solidity of our foundation and present it with sloppiness to the unchurched. Without polish. Without appeal. Without the bumps and cracks smoothed or shown to actually be mere scratches.
We’ll never win the game of “well look how many people are already building on this foundation”, because the world always has more on their crumbling foundations.
We must think ahead so that we can offer the rebuttals needed to fill in the gaps, such as,
“…and it’s worth noting, that just because this was allowed then doesn’t mean God thought it beneficial or that it was God’s intent. We see over and over this was a destructive and ultimately non-beneficial practice. In the end it was a lack of trust in God’s provision and his promises, and like many things, just because it was common then, didn’t make it right and good.”
Nothing to object to. Nothing left to be hung up on so that the listener doesn’t proceed forward and miss the greater point to be made. With a little foresight and mindfulness of this prevalent audience, we are able to bring them right along to the point of it all – the unchanging, faithful dependable God they need to know.
It’s just good persuasion. It’s just good communication.
So to be a man of my word I might add this rebuttal to what I proactively “hear” already being said,
“But isn’t our message greater than these trivial matters? Won’t it overshadow any failures on our part? Isn’t this being nit-picky over minutia?”
Sure, it is – and isn’t it worth it?
If all it takes is the difference between the intentionality to look over, think over, pray over, and maybe even research over our words, phrases, stories, cultural and societal norms and all we plan to say so that we might find what may cause confusion versus just saying, “Oh God is great than all that?” to bring someone to a clear requirement for a decision, is it not worth it?
If I’d spend months and months perfecting a sales pitch for a few more thousand of dollars, should I not spend months and months perfecting a pitch for a person’s eternal invaluable soul?
Sure this takes practice – probably years of practice. Sure it’s a million times easier to nit-pick as a listener. Sure we’ll probably never get it perfect.
But, it’s worth every bit of our continual best efforts.