Looking forward to speaking at the Salt and Light churches national leaderhsip conference. I leading a teaching stream on Engaging with culture. I thought I’d ask for a bit of social media wisdom as I suggest 10 ways in which church pastors can up their cultural game. In the rest of the seminar I will be exploring how we bring scripture and spiritual discernment into dialogue with culture we engage with.
With your suggestions we can make this list better I am sure:
1. Broaden your inputs
Its very easy to get stuck in a tribal rut. Whether that is to be confinded to the ghetto of the Christian subculture or just living in the the orbit of your favourite preachers / bloggers / authors. Strangely reading broadly is discouraged in some circles. ( I have had a long conversation with Mark Dever’s controversial argument that church leaders should discourage their congreations from reading books that disagree with what he thinks about social justice for example.) I believe that as a preacher we should be encouraging both engagement and discernment so we help ourselves and our churches to develop in maturity. To become more clued up on the cultural worlds that we and our congregations inhabit – allow yourself to come across different streams of ideas. Then look for ways to critically engage with them. Preachers that only have one cultural engagement point – say Sports – will end up using illustrations and application points that only connect into that world. By mixing up your cultural inputs you will become more broadly informed and therefore able to apply and illustrate more broadly. Some areas you might want to include in your diet of cultural enagement:
News, Politics, Arts, Sport, Music, Cinema – ofcourse no one can know everything and there is a good argument here for developing a team of preachers as the different preachers will bring different spheres of interest and knowledge. Being a regular reader of newspapers – or news websites may help you to stay informed on thus broad range of subjects. Mixing up which newspapers you draw on will help you to retain a critical distance between the particular bias a newspaper brings.
2. Deepen your understanding
Only God alone is omniscient, but becoming better informed helps us both to wonder at his magnificence and better equip God’s people for works of service. So breadth is important in our cultural engagement, but becoming an expert in a particular field can be helpful. Having a surface understanding of lots of subjects can inflate our egoes and make us believe that we are all knowing. The mark of a true expert is the humility they develop as they realise the more they research into a subject area how much there is that they don’t know. You also develop good research skills that are transferable into other spheres. So my advice is pick one area that you could become an expert in.
3. Read / watch reviews
There are too many films and books and plays and events to possibly consume yourself. So why not let other people do it for you. I find reading reviews from trusted sources helps me both know what is out there – but also helps me select what is worth take a look at myself.
4. Buddy up and Embed
Being an arm chair critic is only one way of engaging with culture. Look for ways you can experience culture from the inside. This is particularly important for full time staff and clergy. It is very easy for us to live in the hermetically sealed world of the Christian subculture. So make sure you get out. Working with a buddy from the church why not find a way to join some other cultures – it could be a sports team, an activist group, a language class.
5. Use social media
Thanks to twitter and facebook we can subscribe to streams of information that will impact our understanding. I follow lots of newspapers, magazines, columnists, atheists, musicians in order to better understand the world we live in.
6. Join a book group
I’m a big fan of book groups – they are a great place to discuss big ideas and see the world through another persons pair of eyes. I have made some good friends and learned a huge amount through my blokes book group.
7. Visit your congregation at work
Understanding the world that your congregation inhabit day by day is vital if we are going to serve and pastor them well.
8. Use Zite / Flipboard / Currents
I love these apps – they allow me to subscribe to lots of sources very quickly.
9. Spend time with ordinary people
For a lot of preachers “cultural engagement” means very high brow academic study. An awareness of philosophical and sociological trends. But Jesus the wisest and most intelligent person who has ever lived – enjoyed spending time with very ordinary people, in fact those on the margins of our society. Spending time understanding the dreams and fears of ordinary people, sharing our lives with neighbours and colleagues is vitally important for genuine cultural understanding.
Sometimes we only become aware of our own cultural bias when we travel. When we travel with humility looking to learn and understand rather than judge and criticise we have the opportunity to genuinely grow and learn.