pastoral leadership

Combatting Soundbite Christianity


textmessageOne of the greatest concerns I have for the emerging generation is the growing pervasiveness of “mircro-communication” in their lives.  I recently saw a 15 year old girl featured on “Nightline” who sends 30,000 text messages on her phone each month.  Do the math: that’s 1,000 per day, 62 per waking hour, or one message each minute with no breaks.  This issue raises many other concerns about healthy communication, relational boundaries, tendinitus in the thumbs(!), and so on, but I see a larger cultural pattern at work that really seems to threaten the spiritual health of Christians.  Our understanding of the world, of God, one another, culture, truth, spirituality and faith are all being formed shaped by a society of short soundbites.  “Just give me the headline, the facts, the bottom line, the application, the gist of it.  Don’t bother me with all the details, the full explanation, the whole story.  I don’t have time for all that.  I’m busy.  I’ll just secure the info I want or need when I want it or need it.”


Here’s a quick history of interpersonal communication in the past century: Meet John and Jane.  John loves Jane.  John travels by horse and buggy two days to spend the weekend with Jane.  The two spend hours exchanging life stories and getting to know each other deeply.  John returns home.  Jane takes an hour to write a love letter to John expressing her gratitude for a great weekend together.  John calls Jane on the telephone and the two exchange laughs and loving words for 30 minutes.  It is good to hear each other’s voice; but they miss each other’s face and touch.  Jane text messages John on her new cell phone: “I luv U.”  John texts back: “Diddo.”  Jane is fascinated with John so she decides to read his personal blog weekly.  John is equally as fascinated with Jane, but would rather get a shorter summary of her thoughts and so she follows his Twitter.  Now he can eaves drop on what Jane is thinking, doing or feeling (in 200 words or less) whenever he wants – without even communicating directly with her.  She does the same.

How does this communication trend relate to the church in America?  For starters:

– The early church met in homes and share their lives, possession, worries and a meal; today if we’re lucky we might share a 25 minute sermon (but not a minute more!).

– The life of Christian discipleship and spiritual formation used to be embraced as a lifelong process; now it’s viewed as a weekend long seminar.

– We want spiritual insight and a deep understanding of God’s Word; but we want it distilled into powerpoint bullet points.  

– We want to be like Jesus but we don’t follow his example of regularly withdrawing to lonely places for solitude, prayer and fellowship with God.  

tree_ladyI am concerned for a generation of young Christians who never sit still, can’t bear a moment’s silence, constantly avoid face-to-face conversations, pick-and-choose what to listen to when, constantly send messages but have largely forgotten how to listen.  At the root of the problem is the foundational fact that God has chosen to reveal himself most powerfully through a very long story (Bible) and in the face-to-face encounter with a human being (Jesus).  And we have lost the patience and appreciation for a good story; and have no time for a good conversation with a friend over coffee.

The future health of the evangelical church depends on the health of the individuals who make up the church.  We must recapture the ability to sit still under the instruction of the Lord, to plant ourselves like a tree by His streams of living water so we can, over the long haul, sink down deep roots and thereby grow healthy, fruit-bearing branches for God.  If we refuse to be immerse ourselves in the whole story of God and insist on living off our momentary sips — or soundbites — of Christian inspiration, we will become like the chaff that the winds of our fast-paced, spiritually-deprived culture blows away.












“Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.  Not so the wicked!  They are like chaff that the wind blows away” (Psalm 1).

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jer 17:7-8).

Discussion Questions: Do we view our life as swept up in the larger story of God?  Or, do we merely apply nuggets of Christian truth (i.e., soundbites) to our life?  As we minister, do we dispense Christian soundbites or invite others into God’s Story?  How do we avoid the messy, face-to-face relationships the church should be about?  How well do we embrace God’s invitation to “Be still and know I am God?”  How often do we “withdraw to lonely places” like Jesus to pray and fellowship with God?  How can we model a Christian spirituality that is planted by the stream for our teenagers bombarded by a society of soundbites?


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