Tim Keller in his wonderful book ‘Centre Church’ encourages ministers and church leaders to think about who might be in the ‘audience’ when they preach. In particular for any church which is serious about reaching out into the unbelieving community we must always be preparing to have people who are yet to make a primary commitment to Christ present. In this case how shall we shape what we say to engage them and to draw them closer to Christ?
Tim offers the following:
- We must preach in the vernacular. We need to use language they can understand; we need to interpret any theological terms we use and we need to remember what it is like not to believe and, at the very least, to doubt. Furthermore, we need to be answering questions they are asking.
- We need to explain the rituals used in our services so that even a child may work out what we’re up to and we should not imagine that everything we do and the reason for it are obvious. So, for example, a small explanation of why we pray prayers of confession would be entirely appropriate.
- We should directly address and welcome nonbelievers. Let them know that we know they are there and that we are really privileged to have them there. Articulate there objections. Help them know that we know the difficulties of belief. Things like, ‘I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.’ or ‘I don’t see how my life could be the result of the plan of a loving God.’ or ‘Christianity is a straight-jacket.’ or ‘It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.’
- Use highly skilled arts in worship. Good art draws people in and touches their heart and it’s the heart we need to convince first. Art makes ideas plausible and appealing. Look at the visual aesthetics of our worship space. What is this saying to people? In particular look at the quality and type of music we use. Is it as good and as culturally appropriate as we can make it?
- Celebrate deeds of justice and mercy. Public esteem of the Church has plunged to an all time low and a part of the reason for this is that we don’t seem to be on the side of justice and mercy. We are but we’re not known for this. We are known more for being interested in words rather than deeds. When we begin to celebrate and participate in works of justice and mercy again then the world will know something is happening in the Church that they need. And this doesn’t have to be only our work. There’s plenty of opportunity to partner with other organisations to support things and to act. At the very least we can celebrate what these organisations have achieved.
- Present and explain the sacraments so as to make grace clear. Sacraments are known in the Reform Church as ‘converting ordinances.’ In other words they are one act plays which explain grace in a dramatic way. This can be extremely helpful to people new to the church if they are explained well. Baptism dramatically explains the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in a way that provides an enduring picture of how Christ works in our life. Likewise the Lord’s Supper also provides a wonderful picture of God’s resourcing of us day by day as we give our lives to Christ.
- Preach Grace. This is the key to the Gospel and the key to dealing with sin. This is the one thing that liberates us from a ‘try harder’ ethic which virtually every other faith can be reduced to. This is the key point of difference in the Christian faith but it must be reinforces by our attitude and our action.
In short we should do everything we can to speak grace into the culture with the culture’s language. In this we will we help people open their heart to God.