Having a Purpose Driven, Seeker Sensitive, Family Based, Postmodern Ministry

October 5th, 2009

Ever since running across an article a few years back on the emergence of postmodernism in our culture, I've found it a subject that entrances, excites, frustrates, and always intrigues me. Yet, with all the time I've spent reading Newbigin, McClaren, and Grenz, I still feel like the subject remains very slippery.

Did you ever play that game with your students where you have a relay race with watermelons covered in Crisco? Slippery. It seems I just can't hold onto it; I can't get my arms around it. This whole postmodern thing is just so obtuse and heady at times, and as with all of our modern paradigms for the most part, postmodernism can be like a greasy melon—slippery.

Embracing the Academic Side of Postmodernism

As we look at the shift from a purely academic or cultural viewpoint, we see the emergence in many ways. The almost prophetic words of guys like Derrida and Foucault taunt us with a coming reality. Things aren't what they seemed. So we embrace the coming change and begin a dance with new ideologies and ways of viewing the world around us. I'm all about the dance, but here's where we better have our dancing shoes on, because otherwise we might find ourselves slipping.

If we jump on board with ideas that abandon a center point to all of reality (Jesus), which is a foundational postmodern way of thinking, or if we embrace thoughts that say hope (the Gospel) is an archaic and outdated idea, another underlying current of the post-modern epistemology, then what have we left to stand on in the work of the ministry? Slip!

As youth workers, it's important that we see what the secular culture and the academy are saying and forecasting, but it doesn't mean the gospel has to fit perfectly within the new philosophy. If there's anything true of the gospel through the ages, it's that it certainly transcends philosophy.

Embracing Models

In youth ministry we're all about adopting models. Is there a field where you see more of a think-tank approach to work? The 90s were all about adopting the models of larger, more successful ministries. Becoming seeker sensitive, adopting purpose statements, implementing programs, and borrowing curriculums, illustrations, and strategies were the rules just a few years ago.

The problem with the whole postmodern shift is that youth ministers have been told the shift is coming, but are left with no models to copy. And they've been copying so long that they don't know what to do. We have a group of youth ministers out there waiting for the Postmodern Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry to come out, so they can read how to do ministry in this new context. But in the meantime, they've submitted a new candle budget to the finance committee in an effort to become more postmodern. Slip!

We youth workers must realize that ministry in a postmodern context has nothing to do with programming, and that's a tough pill to swallow (no matrix pun intended); because our youth ministry world often revolves around our clever little programs.

Being Insincere

The fact is that few of us are fully postmodern in our thinking. Many of us are aware of the shift, and even identify with it very strongly, but on a holistic level we still embrace modern ways of thought in conjunction with postmodern ways of thought. Youth pastors don't need to try and become postmodern. Trying to be postmodern is like trying to become Mongolian if you're not already. The only way to become truly Mongolian is to infuse yourself with Mongolian blood. Even the most mission-minded among us probably wouldn't try to do that; instead, we'd immerse ourselves in Mongolian culture and adopt portions of the Mongolian way of life—but even on our best Mongolian days, sometimes the old bloodline will shine through.

We're called to be ourselves, and we don't need to try and become postmodern for the sake of ministry or anything else. In fact, the most postmodern thing we can do is be authentic. We should be who we are, postmodern or not. Honest, sincere, authentic people have a way of transcending cultural and religious boundaries.

I believe one of the major ingredients in the postmodern epistemology, globalism, will be the very thing that carries us out of postmodernism as swiftly as we enter. The rise and fall of the enlightenment and modernity has been to this point a 500-year process. And within that process/progress, we saw the advent of the printing press, the telephone, air travel, the PC/Internet age, and a thousand other inventions that people at the beginning of the enlightenment would've never dreamed of.

Now that we're a global people, that factor alone may make this nebulous framework of postmodernism only last 100 years or less, and then a new wave of post-postmodernism will come. A testament to this global reality is that as I write this article, the SARS virus has spread over both hemispheres in a one-month time frame, and that deadly virus is something we've tried everything in our power to contain.

It's obvious that uncontained worldviews will spread at an amazing rate as well. The birth and death of ideologies in this coming age will be more akin to the life span of a human being than the life span of empires or kingdoms. So, in the context of globalism, an even bigger question to the church than postmodernism is: What will the global expression of the Christian faith be?

In Greece, it was a philosophy. In Rome, it became institutionalized. In Europe, it became cultural. In America, it became business. What is it in a global worldview? Is it TBN? Slip!

I write all of this to say, be excited! I know these things seem like warnings or negatives, but the incredible thing about all of this is the opportunity for dialogue and ministry. I know it seems there's a fine line between those who are supposedly informing us and those who are marketing to us, but it's a line we're very used to walking. Let's face it, even without the variables of postmodernism, there are plenty of areas in our ministries and lives where we already slip.

We must remember that we have a non-variable in Jesus. Whether purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, family-based, or postmodern, we've been called to the greatest vocation on the planet—to do the work of the ministry. So commit to prayer, and study all of this postmodern stuff; but above all be effective—love students, build relationships, and point people to Jesus.

No slipping there.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.