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Advice on Preaching to (Young) ‘unChristians’ from an unPreacher

3 October, 2008

No, I’m not the unpreacher, it’s David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group. He’s written a book called unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters (2007). You can read an excerpt here. I haven’t read it, but I’m thinking about it…if anyone who’s read it would like to offer an opinion, feel free.

Now, although I think Barna’s surveys and research findings can be really interesting and helpful, I’m certainly no fan of Barna’s own views — esp. when it comes to such things as his assertion that the ‘local church’ isn’t necessarily biblical, so church attendance isn’t necessary for Christians, and so on. But this post insn’t about Barna, it’s about Kinnaman. And I frankly have no idea how close the two are theologically — but I did think there were several good things that Kinnaman brought up in a recent article at the Barna website, “Avoiding unChristian Preaching“.

By ‘unChristian preaching’, Kinnaman just means ‘communication that sounds good but fails to produce much spiritual depth in people’. We might wrangle with Kinnaman’s implied definition of Christian preaching as primarily designed to produce spiritual depth in people, but I think we can all agree that this is certainly one of the fruits of solid Christian preaching. But again, this post isn’t even about Kinnaman’s understanding of preaching — what I think is interesting here is Kinnaman’s advice to preachers in light of his attempt to put his finger on the religious pulse of young Americans, specifically those from 16 to 39. I think a good bit of his research would apply in the UK as well.

Kinnaman’s basic conclusion is that the reputation of committed Christianity among under-30s is way worse now in America than it was even 15 years ago, and he thinks not a little of this is the church’s own fault. (I tend to agree with that even without reading his book!) Kinnaman describes a few common types of professing Christians likely to be found in any given evangelical church today, and offers four nuggets of advice on preaching to the kind of people he’s talked to in his research. I’ll summarize this second part in my own words, and you should read the article. Pastors need to:

1. Recognize and combat self-righteousness among your congregation.

2. Recognize and combat self-absorption and lack of concern for the lost.

3. Confront congregants about the real effect their attitudes and actions have on their relationships and the reputation of Christ and his Church.

4. Train congregants not to treat the world like the Church, or vice versa; there is a genuine difference between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, and our approach to and expectations for each should be different in various ways.

On a basic level, I think these things are really sound as far as they go — there are lots of ways these things can be taken further (for better or worse), but I think it would be hard to argue that any of these points would be detrimental if ministers (and congregants) took them to heart.

OK, I can’t end without talking a little about Kinnaman’s understanding of preaching. Although a full-orbed account of all the various aspects of ‘avoiding unChristian preaching’ may not have been Kinnaman’s intention here, I still think there’s a glaring ommission: you avoid unChristian preaching by preaching the gospel of Christ. I’m not saying Kinnaman doesn’t agree. I’m saying he doesn’t talk about this, yet this is the best answer to each of the concerns he raises. So take it for what it’s worth, here’s some advice from another unpreacher (me):

1. Preaching the righteousness of Christ, and his righteousness alone, as all our righteousness, is the best antidote for self-righteousness.

2. Preaching Christ as all our salvation and life is the best antidote for self-absorption and apathy.

3. Preaching Christ and his mission to the world and his love for his church is the best antidote for hypocricy and lack of grace.

4. Preaching Christ as the King of the heavenly kingdom is the best antidote for Christians confusing this age with the age to come, while at the same time motivating our work in and among this present age.


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