The Hip Factor in Preaching
by Doug Oss
You need to know something about me. I have given up all hope of ever being hip. There it is, out in the open. It is actually liberating, sort of like when psychiatrist Leo Marvin’s death therapy cured Bob — a development Marvin later regretted when Bob married his sister. In fact, sometimes I wonder if there are too many hip people.
Do you ever find yourself trying to keep up with the hip Joneses, only with your church and preaching instead of houses and cars? Does being hip ever seem like just another rat race? If you preach as part of your calling, do you ever feel the pressure to up the ante of cool in your preaching?
I do not oppose creativity that is outside the box, the cool factor in preaching — high-end marketing, creating interest in your community with highly effective branding of your series, or any other technique that connects with today’s generation. It is essential that preaching be true and clear concerning the text, and interesting and relevant to one’s listeners. But here is the truth about today’s (emerging) culture: Today’s generation values substance and authenticity more than any other qualities you might bring to the table.
Some of my friends who are members of today’s generation have schooled me over the last several years. They wait for me at the tops of climbs when we go mountain biking. They sacrifice their own love for speed on the trails for the sake of a relationship with someone whose sole mountain biking goal is not to drop dead of a myocardial infarction. One of my twentysomething friends developed a Facebook site for me. I am still not a fluent Facebookie. But this same friend got on my site and pretended to be me, creating quite a stir on my behalf. Our mutual friends now know him as pseudo-Oss. This is an interesting way to express affection. But it worked.
My friends have taught me an important lesson through these experiences: Substance matters more than style to today’s generation. People, even those who are hopelessly unhip, matter more to them than self-gratification. This generation is on a journey to find transcendent truth that still connects with real life. They hate the facade, but love the reality. They are suspicious when a sermon or a worship service strikes them as contrived, slick, or touched up. Even those who do not know Christ have deep appreciation for Christians when we become even more Christlike, more biblical, more spiritual, and more authentically like Jesus. They have shown me these values in the trenches, where it really counts.
Ministry Advice From Paul
When the apostle Paul was facing his own imminent death, he decided to write one last letter to his protégé, Timothy. In 2 Timothy we have the last known words of Paul to his son in the faith. Paul knew that this letter was his last opportunity to communicate with Timothy (compare 2 Timothy 4:6–18). The concluding section of the letter (4:9–22) is a miscellaneous collection of personal thoughts and needs. The final section of the main body of the epistle is found in 3:1 through 4:8. Here we read the last words of Paul to Timothy as the curtain fell. If you could give one final word of advice to your child, what would you say?
Paul’s Advice to Timothy About His Personal Life.
Paul first explained the condition of the emerging culture Timothy would face in ministry and everyday life (3:1–9). Say what you want about postmodernism and the emerging culture today (keeping up with today’s culture is a good and necessary thing), Paul nailed it 2,000 years ago. There is nothing modern or postmodern about the human condition. Today’s emerging culture probably began emerging when Adam ate the fruit.
Paul’s first piece of pivotal advice to Timothy is his antidote for postmodernism in relationship to Timothy’s personal life (3:10–17). His antidote is for Timothy to live by what he believes (3:14–17). That is always the test, isn’t it? A person’s life reflects his beliefs.
The way to respond to postmodernism is to base your life even more squarely on the truth of Scripture, because only Scripture can impart the wisdom necessary for salvation and right living (3:15–17). Paul told Timothy to let Scripture, not the emerging culture, form his character and lifestyle. This is the way to redeem culture. Enjoy life with a biblical passion. Treat everything as God’s gift rather than self-destructing by twisting life to the point of depravity (3:1–9).
Paul’s Advice to Timothy About His Preaching.
The second piece of pivotal advice is Paul’s antidote for postmodernism in relationship to Timothy’s ministry life, especially his preaching. He warned Timothy that he would eventually face a church so influenced by emerging culture that it would turn away from the truth of Scripture and accept a compromised message that gratifies the cravings of the listeners (4:3,4). Those who lead these churches will preach messages aimed at achieving popularity with people rather than with God (verse 3). Paul would probably be supportive of a church that wants to be relevant to culture and connect well with people, as long as its top priority is to be a Jesus-friendly church. But Paul did not speak subtly of a church that turns away from sound teaching.
The antidote for postmodernism in relationship to ministry is to preach the Word (4:1,2,5). Paul listed several characteristics of preaching that he admonished Timothy to heed. First, someday Timothy will face God and give an account for his life (including his preaching, compare verse 1). Second, Paul instructed Timothy to preach the Word whether it is popular or not (whether it is “in season” or “out of season,” verse 2 leading up to verses 3,4). Third, Paul encouraged Timothy to preach messages that challenged people to more authentic living for Christ (verse 2). Finally he told Timothy to preach the Word “with great patience and careful instruction” (verse 2), while being consistent and levelheaded in all he did (verse 5).
Paul’s Advice for Today’s Pentecostal Preacher
What would this advice sound like today? Perhaps something like this? Timothy, you work for God, not man. Love people, but remember that you work for God. With the increasing opposition to the gospel in culture, and even in the church, live an even more transparent and deeply biblical faith than ever before. Preach from the Scriptures, carefully explaining what the Bible says about Jesus and life. Many people who do not follow Christ will respect you for your good life and your honesty about the truth claims of Jesus. Even if they never agree with the claims of Scripture, many people will respect you for explaining to them carefully and accurately what the Bible says. Do this with enormous patience. Keep your wits about you, understanding that your message may sometimes be unpopular. But no matter what difficulties you face, keep preaching, Timothy.
Today’s generation would value Timothy deeply if he followed Paul’s advice — whether he were cool, hip, young, old, or mid. As long as he is for real in his love, and a speaker of Truth, his preaching would connect.
Today’s generation is on a journey. Your careful, patient preaching of biblical life principles has God’s power to lead people on the journey to follow Jesus Christ.
Doug Oss, Ph.D., director of the Center for Expository Preaching, professor of Bible exposition, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri