So our culture tends to show in how we preach. We may accept that premise, but so what? In part 1 we introduced the subject, and in part 2 we listed five ways our culture will be showing.
What should we do about it? Here is a six-step action plan…
1. Write an initial list of your assumptions. What comes to mind when you think of a typical preacher from your culture? It is good to have a starting point so that as you think and research further you will see what you have learned. Maybe start without any real categories, just what seems obvious to you.
2. Start to analyze your culture using categories. In the last post I listed five: self, authority, confidence, humour and emotion/passion. You might also consider organizational style and clarity (in respect to sermon content), use of visuals and expectation of the audience to read during a presentation, body language, smile and facial expression, and more.
3. Triangulate a new vantage point. This is especially hard if you have only lived and attended church in one culture. But it is still possible. Select a culture that is not your own, but you have some awareness of … for example, most British Christians have some exposure to podcasts and speakers from the USA. Listen to some good examples (not the extreme stereotypes that people like to use to dismiss “everything American” but preachers that you can enjoy and appreciate), listen not only to benefit from their preaching, but also to try to identify what makes their preaching distinctly American (or whatever culture you select). Obviously there are always caveats, three white conservative evangelical preachers will help you to spot some common traits, but you will have missed the massive tradition of African-American preaching, etc. You are not doing this to generalize or to label, but rather to gain a vantage point for your own culture.
Do the same with a culture you are not familiar with. For instance you might find a handful of examples of preachers from a third continent. Be careful not to just watch a handful of preachers with a different ethnic background who also live, study and preach in the USA or the UK – the distinct differences will be reduced by their assimilated context. A totally new culture can give you the culture shock of unfamiliarity that will help this process.
Once you’ve started to recognize some commonalities in these two other cultures, making notes for your own use, then try step 4:
4. Watch your own culture from the vantage point of step 3. Maybe find a handful of preachers from your own culture and watch them. How do they differ from what you observed in the two cultures of step 3? Be careful not to just feel at home and simply affirm them as generically good preachers. Recognize that they have strengths and weaknesses from their culture. Maybe having had a dose of a different culture or two you can start to spot some idiosyncrasies that may not be so helpful after all? If you only see positives in your own culture, then go back and repeat step 3!
5. Ask questions. Sometimes you can gain a lot of ground quickly by just asking someone who is from outside your culture but will be honest enough to answer your question. This will be more helpful after doing some good thinking yourself. If you just jump to this then the benefit will be reduced, but it is still worth doing, especially if that person is in your church and you are preaching to them regularly.
6. Evaluate and adjust. The more thoroughly you do steps 1-5, the more likely you are to take stock and start to make some adjustments. This will involve not only understanding more of what is stereotypical in your culture, but also evaluating what traits you personally reflect from that culture, and thinking through who your listeners are too. If they are from different cultural backgrounds, then that creates some obvious opportunities for adjustment. But even if everyone in your church is saturated in your own culture, there may still be cultural idiosyncrasies that you could choose not to reflect in order to strengthen your communication.
Maybe you have travelled and become more aware of your own culture? Maybe you are ministering outside of your home culture? What other categories might you add to what has been mention in this short series