Barney’s Sunday School Lesson

Many of you wanted to follow up on Barney’s fine Sunday School class. The paper, by Tim Keller, that he referenced can be found here. The Summary Points he makes are:

1. Evangelism needs to change. We don’t live in a Christian World any longer. We need to be “Missional”.

2. Missional churches discourse in the vernacular; they translate “church” language in to language people understand.

3. Forsake moralism and interpret the culture (literature, plays, music, etc.) through the gospel. Explain freedom as being in Christ.

4. Focus church training on equipping people for “public” life. Give them a worldview to share.

5. Create Christian community which is counter-cultural. Be compassionate and provide a different view of sex, money and power.

6. Promote Christian unity on the local level. Don’t try to define yourself as different from other churches. People don’t understand that.

What comments do you have?

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3 Comments on “Barney’s Sunday School Lesson”

  1. Cindy Says:

    Great class, Barney.

    After reading the Keller paper and having taught high schoolers for many years, I have to agree with the need for an overhaul. It’s a different world. Even though the 20 and 30-something looks the same as always, his brain is not his father’s. I had some thoughts in response.

    1. The call for removing Christianese from the Church’s vocabulary makes sense, but I need examples. Does this call for omitting Greek/Hebrew translation references? Traditional doctrinal terms such as “justification?” Someone won’t know what we mean. If we imagine that the unconverted (may I use that term?) are always present, won’t this stultify deeper discussions of the scriptures for the long-time believers? If the veteran believer is not to be the focus in a church, are we saying that a church’s purpose is primarily evangelism? That would include Sunday morning worship. Or maybe, as Barney said, we always offer an explanation of what is going on as in the reciting of creeds. Still, how does the concept that the gospel is “foolishness” to the heart of darkness square with making it palatable? Postmoderns don’t like lectures either. Is this the demise of the sermon as we know it? They might prefer a panel discussion or drama.

    2. Being literate in cultural media such as art, literature, and film, (and we should probably add technologies,) is counter to what we heard growing up in Sunday school. Avoid, Shun, Eschew. RUN. The message wasn’t anti-education exactly, but it was anti-entertainment awareness. Some caution is advisable though in sending the uninitiated into a hostile culture. Training in understanding worldviews contradictory to the Christian one is a must. Just watching a film or reading a book is useless unless we can correctly evaluate it and be prepared to defend (too strong?) our assessment as the opportunity arises. Good sources such as review and blog sites not to mention church classes are available for help with this.

    3. While we’re on the topic of church make-overs (current cultural term,) if we aren’t going to predefine our congregation (corp? team? population? cell?) what will the formerly unchurched (don’t call them pagans) think of the para-church functions? We all have more than enough but what about the lower rmiddle-class or under-class person who wants to attend? There’s the wardrobe, the contributions, the baby and wedding shower gifts, and the dinners. While we can say he doesn’t have to participate, it might be embarrassing to be the only one or two who didn’t. Or didn’t want to. I don’t have an answer for this, but I’ve heard the unchurched talk.

    4. Warren’s Purpse-Driven Life is the best-selling hardback book of all time according to Publisher’s Weekly. ALL TIME. Somebody’s interested in spiritual or at least life and worldview issues. What a challenge for church leaders in a post-Christian America. You have our prayers. And hands. Again, thanks for the discussion and a chance to blog it out.

  2. Bob Says:

    Good questions and comments, Cindy. Because you raise so many points, let me make this comment towards those you raise in paragraph 1.

    Evaluating how we speak is not the same as dumbing down. If we realize that how we speak can put people off, we just need to watch how we speak. For example, in private we may make assumptions about what a person knows. In a public, teaching setting, we shouldn’t. Explanation is what is called for. If we use a particular theological term we should define it. In other words, do good teaching. My own opinion is that we often make assumptions about what our “audience” knows that are unfounded.

    Sermons shouldn’t be lectures. Socratic methnod, where we ask questions to make people think are called for. That makes a sermon “interactive.” Communication can be two way without the second party having to speak out loud.

    What all this means is that the service is a true time of worship, only understandable. We should be able to teach to a group on different levels at the same time. One reason why people who are ‘saved” often call church boring is because there is not a connect between those speaking and those listening. Today, people don’t pretent that they hear like they used to. They expect understandable conversation.

    Really, that was called for/needed during the Christian era as well, it just wasn’t always practiced. I think what I am saying is that while this is most evident in the 20/30 somethings, it is true of the 30+s also.

  3. Barney Heyward Says:

    Great questions Cindy, unfortuantely I don’t have the time nor the space to do justice to all your questions, but will make a few brief comments. Post moderns don’t like lectures…well perhaps the sermons most post moderns listen to are boring, not engaging contructs, laking in pathos, ethos and logos. Furthermore, preaching is GOD’s ordained method of communication. It is not simply a “presentation” of truth or facts but indeed a “declaration” (kergyma) which challenges the intellect, emotions and will, and moves the listner toward a repsonse that is thoughful, intelligent and life changing. Consider that Tim Keller always has a class after his Sunday service to discuss what he preached on, but he does PREACH in his services, AND New York is a very Post-modern city! It’s the message that is powerful (Rom 1:16) not the method. However, the preacher must be a good communicator. Communication technigues and organized sermons are effective and useful. Today, people want “authenticity”! Not slick , mistake free, talking heads, similar to news anchors but genuine, sincere, passionate communicators. Believable. Communicators who understand our own stories and narratives!

    Secondly, assuming in our communication that “yet to be believers” are present doesn’t mean we dumb the Gospel down. On the contary, if the Gospel is understood deeply and fully by the preacher and it has gripped his own heart then both believer and unbeliever will be fed spiritually in the service. The problem is in most evangelical churches there is a truncated understaning of the gopsel. Most evangelicals incorrectly think it can’t be preached in the service where both are present and both are fed. That is bifurcated thinking and patenly wrong, wrong, wrong! Maybe the preacher’s has a shallow understnding of the Gopspel himself and thus his application is weak or non existent leaving people empty and unmoved spiritually. Great preachers are great spiritual heart surgeons They expose areas that need the gospel and apply it practically and with precision. Legalism and moralism are often touted under the guise of the Gospel and misunderstood as the Gospel when in fact they are “another gospel”

    Luther said “I need to preach the Gopsel to myself everyday” Think about that!! The Gospel is both for the believer and the unbeliever. How many in the church today believe that? Most people think the Gospel is for those outside the church. I contend we realy don’t understand the beauty of this Gospel. We drink from broken cisterns rather than from the true source. Personally,I need to hear the gospel everday!! And I am NOT referring to a salvation message.

    Finally, do we avoid theological language? Emphatically NO! We use it perhaps sparingly and when we do, we define it, illustrate it, and apply it to the heart.

    Jerry Bridges has written 3 books worth reading back to back. I highly recommend that you read all three to see his understanding of the Gopel evolve and blosson. They are; The Pursuit of Holiness, Transfroming Grace and The Disciplines of Grace. Also, I recommendJack Miller’s little book “Come Back Home Barbara” a moving story of his daughter’s rebellion and how it drove him to a deeper understanding of the Gospel in his own life and his wife’s as well. Very practical and encouraging! A must read!

    Hope this helps.

    Coram Deo


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