Karl Marx once said, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Postmodern Christians did not decide one day that they would or would not connect with the modern Churchʼs practices of worship. Societyʼs pressures and movements have created the postmodern generation. Postmoderns are questioning what had gone unquestioned, and are digging up what had long been buried and forgotten.
This emerging group of postmodern people are most of all misunderstood. They have been accused of systematically dismantling the statuettes of Christianity, which is untrue. A good analogy of this occurrence is what the 8-track manufacturers faced when cassette tapes were first pressed in production. Those manufacturers understood that the music was the same, but their methods for delivering that music was antiquated, and headed for total obscurity. The Church could learn something from these 8-track tape manufacturers. They re-tooled their presses, spent more money on research and development, and many made a seamless transition into the new technology. Stubborn Church leaders (who I will refer to as “8-Track Leaders”) have seen their methods of delivery becoming antiquated, but instead have launched a smear campaign against the new generations arising in the church. 8-Track leaders accuse postmoderns of tearing the roots out of the Christian faith, and smashing the Truths the church has known for millennia. Postmoderns did not have a vendetta against the Church originally, they were questioning why the Church was performing worship in the way it was, and asked for a faith that connected with their hearts. Instead, they were shunned by 8-Track pastors, and have either planted new churches, or turned their face from the church entirely. Often pastors forget that young people are not the future of the church. They are the church.
I’m writing this not to dive into the details of theological changes postmodernity has called for. I want to find a balance between keeping a high view of Scripture and the ancient Truths the church has known, while working to change the medium of delivery during worship services vis-à-vis with the needs and desires of the new and emerging generations. Churches that are willing to embrace the emotional and spiritual needs of their postmodern populace donʼt have to sacrifice the ancient Truths theyʼve known for millennia, but they need to change to method of delivery.
Part 1: What does a postmodern in the Church look like?
Not all young people are postmoderns, and not all postmoderns are young. Some young people have grown up in a home with strictly modernist views, and have taken them on as their own. Others have spent many years in the modernist church, and have grown disillusioned with it. Whether young or old, three identifiers are usually a standard among postmoderns. In this section, I will define a postmodern pre-Christian or Christian, and in the next section, I will attempt to lay out a worship service that would connect with that type of postmodern.
The first mark of a postmodern is that they draw more value from the mystical and experiential sides of faith, rather than the rational. Hillary Wicai wrote in her article for Congregations magazine, “We really want people to engage in the person of Jesus Christ rather than rules, regulations, concepts, and interpretations. Weʼre tired of easy-answer Christianity.”1 Postmoderns are excited by mystery, and paradoxes intrigue them. 8-Track/Modernist pastors have spent long hours on sermons to “defend the faith,” which among postmoderns, have given the Church a “negative, ʻfinger-pointingʼ reputation.”2 Postmoderns are seeking more than any generation before them. Because they are more excepting of the mystical side of faith, they are moving away from Christianity, if that brand of Christianity is tightly linked with modernism. A phrase used among postmoderns is “spiritual, but not religious.”3 Another way to say this would be “seeking, but not committed.”
A second mark of postmoderns is an increased value in tradition and ancient practices. Postmoderns want the original way something was practiced, long before it was adulterated with consumerism and other “western” maladies. Tony Jones, a self- proclaimed postmodernist wrote in his book The Sacred Way,
“For years Iʼd been told that to be a Christian meant I had to do three things: (1) read the Bible, (2) pray, and (3) go to church. But I had come to the realization that there must be something more. And indeed there is. There is a long tradition of searching among the followers of Jesus… for me, there is incredible richness in the spiritual practices of ancient and modern Christian communities from around the world.”4
Postmodern Christians find value in practicing the ancient forms of worship, even if those practices are a stricter form of faith. My friend Dan recently converted from Christianity, and wrote a book about it.5 In the preface, he described his journey:
As a former Christian who has since converted to Karaite Judaism, religion that most people have no idea even exists, it isnʼt much of a surprise that I am often asked, “Why?” The simple answer is that I came to a realization that in order to be truly open-minded I would have to be willing to accept that everything I have believed my entire life might not be correct. With that in mind, I then began to do extensive research starting with the foundations of the religion I believed in: Christianity.”
For Dan, the more ancient his beliefs, the more true. This is common with postmoderns, who within Christianity are renewing the practices of centering prayer, the daily office, pilgrimages, service, and stations of the cross. What evangelical modernism did away with, the postmoderns are resurrecting.
Do Postmoderns Truly Reject Metanarrative?
A third common attribute of postmoderns is the rejection of a metanarrative. Metanarrative is the idea that there is a grand story that overarches all of humanity. That story gives meaning to life. Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998), the postmodern philosopher, wrote: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives.” Postmodern Christians struggle to believe that there is an overarching story to the Church, and to human history at large. Modernist, 8-Track pastors have accused seeking postmoderns of disrupting unity in the church, even though the postmoderns are not disrupting for disruptionʼs sake; they are merely questioning whether the story the pastor wants to write for the congregation at large, is the story they want to be a part of. Postmoderns want to write their own story, or at least contribute heavily toward its creation.
Part 2: What does a worship service that impacts postmoderns look like?
To summarize, this article has so far focused on three main attributes of postmodern seekers. The first is the decision to move toward the mystical and experiential sides of faith, rather than the rational. The second is the rediscovery of ancient practices for modern usage, and the third is the rejection of metanarratives. Many pastors are overwhelmed with the job of reaching postmoderns, and do the mental gymnastics necessary to plan what that might look like this Sunday.
The most important attitude that any pastor or leader can exude when reaching postmoderns is simply to so with love and humility. Many 8-Track pastors have great pride in their clever arguments and scientific proof that their interpretation of the Bible or set of beliefs is true. They believe they have a corner on Truth and feel attacked when postmoderns question that type of pride.
There is nothing that will turn off a postmodern more this. It does not matter if a pastor has the most cutting edge methods of church leadership or preaching. If postmoderns do not feel loved, or if they smell pride on their pastor, they will fade like morning mist at sunrise. When Jesus chastises Peter in Matthew 16:23, on the surface it may sound like Jesus was just being mean. Jesus had spent years before that proving that He deeply loved His disciples. He had earned the right to speak into their lives in any way He wanted. If pastors donʼt deeply and authentically love their postmodern seekers, they have no right to lead them.
If “doing church” is done in a disingenuous way, postmoderns can smell it on the wind like a basset hound smells a fox. Whether the church is postmodern, modern, or somewhere in between, if they want to reach postmoderns, those individuals need to feel that they are loved, cared for, and prayed for. The Church exists to worship and serve Jesus Christ, and if it continues to do so with love and humility, it will continue to do so for generations. It is not new methods, flawless preaching, or clever advertising that will bring postmoderns toward Jesus. It will always be “…God’s kindness [that] leads [them] toward repentance…” (Romans 2:4 NIV).
When an evangelical church makes changes to reach postmoderns, it can be a truly daunting task. But it need not be. The importance of being humble and deeply loving to the postmodern seekers in the Church was mentioned in the preceding section. That alone is half the battle.
On a Sunday morning or evening, what should a church service look like? Before I answer that question, I am going to define what I believe are essential parts of a Christian church gathering. Those elements are worship, prayer, preaching or proclamation of the Word, and the taking of the Lordʼs Supper (Eucharist/communion). Most evangelical churches incorporate all or most of these elements, so I will highlight how they can be changed and shifted to connect with a postmodern audience.
The first element I want to write about is worship. There is not even close to enough time to cover all that could be said about how to mold a worship service that best engages postmoderns, but I do believe one of the most important words in worship should be chorus. Postmodern seekers and worshipers want to be part of a chorus of voices in worship. I am not referring to a choir. What I mean is that everyone is actively participating in worship.
This can be done with art, testimony, or any other type of activity that involves the entire church. Often there is one person assigned to lead worship for a church, often hired on the quality of their guitar playing skills. This is unfortunate, as it keeps that church locked into a pattern that includes the “professional worshiper” leading the group in the same way every week. Postmoderns want to connect with God in other ways. They appreciate art, music, poetry, dance, and more. Postmoderns want to connect with God within the safety and love of family, and if one person does all the talking, thatʼs not family. In a family, everyoneʼs art has a chance to be hung on the fridge.
The next elements that are both important, and needing renewal for postmodern participants, are prayer and preaching. In order to renew these elements of worship it is not necessary to look ahead to the changing trends. Itʼs more important that Church leaders look behind. As I stated earlier, postmoderns are resurrecting ancient practices, and breathing new life into them. The attraction model of church that gained popularity in the 80ʼs is being replaced by the seemingly not user-friendly use silence, solitude, meditation, icons, the labyrinth, and more. The “upper room” worship of the early church “…was less focused on Scripture and more on sacred actions and fellowship.”6 Prayer was not something that the pastor simply did to open a service, it was an activity practiced multiple times a day.7
The modern church can renew this activity by being far more saturated in prayer than it is currently. Postmodern author Dan Kimball writes, “Any new worship gathering needs to be bathed in prayer. May we never think we can do this on our own!”8 As I wrote before, a chorus of voices need to be heard. Men need to pray for the women, women pray for the men, fathers bless their children, grandparents bless families, and more. A multi-generational, multi-voiced, and multi- activity approach to prayer is important for postmoderns, as they rediscover what Tony Jones calls “The Ancient-Modern.”
As I wrote earlier, postmoderns have rejected the idea of metanarrative. Pastors who spend time preaching need to understand this. It is important to realize that Postmoderns connect powerfully with story, but want the freedom and flexibility to explore story on their own. Pastor Doug Pagitt from Solomonʼs Porch has lead the way in changing preaching from simply teaching Scriptural knowledge, to embracing the narrative that that Scripture is couched within.9 If postmoderns have rejected metanarrative, why is it important to connect the teachings of Scripture with the overarching narrative they were written within? The answer is simple. Postmoderns want the freedom to write their own narratives, or be given the freedom to join the narratives around them. They reject the idea that everyone is going in the same direction. Teaching Scripture within the narratives of the Bible, while giving postmoderns the outlets to discuss and form how this impacts their narrative, will bring postmoderns into the collective journey of the Church.
The last aspect of worship that needs to be re-connected with postmoderns, and therefore, with the ancient, is the Eucharist, or practice of the Lordʼs Supper. I have known many postmoderns that enjoy the Catholic Eucharistic practices, simply because they are very much steeped in history. In an effort to speed up the process of serving communion, many evangelical churches have passed out pre-packaged communion sets, with a wafer vaccum-sealed onto the top of a tiny cup of juice.10 Taking communion takes about as much mental effort as opening a coffee creamer. Obviously, the postmoderns who find enjoyment in ancient practices find the evangelical praxis of communion to be cheap or downright trite.
To connect postmoderns with the practice of communion, churches need to do three things. First, they need to reconnect communion with the ancient practices. The first church either included communion with the agape meal they shared together, or it was the agape meal in itself. Either way, the first church took communion as a community together. Postmoderns love being part of a community, and when communion is separated from the connection the Christians have with each other, it loses itʼs significance for postmoderns. Second, the Church needs to give postmoderns the opportunity to interact with the elements. “Human beings are symbolic creatures. We see significance in symbols and signs,” -writes Keith Drury his book The Wonder Of Worship. Postmoderns need to interact with the elements in both thought and physical forms. Thoroughly explaining the theological and soteriological importance of communion is vital to keep postmoderns from disconnecting with the spiritual importance of the practice. When a priest places the wafer on the tongue of a postmodern, or they dip or drink from a shared cup, postmoderns both intellectually and physically interact with the elements. Lastly, the Church needs to give postmoderns the chance to write their own micro-narratives of what this practice means to them. This can be achieved by silence before and after the serving of the elements, and by giving them a chance to talk about their experiences, and what it means to them. That way, postmoderns are writing their own micro-narratives of what this communion meal means to them, and how it impacts their lives both individually and as a community.
Connecting postmoderns into the body of Christ will mean many changes in the practice of worship, but should not require the dismantling of the theology. The church needs future generations in order to have a healthy longevity into the future, but if postmoderns are lost, they church will struggle in obscurity. Postmoderns will be encouraged to participate in worship because their voices, minds, and creativity are used and appreciated. When postmoderns are given the freedom to explore their own narratives, Godʼs Kingdom, and the Churchʼs story, can flourish.
- Wicai, Hillary. “Postmodern worship: three views.” Congregations 27, no. 4 (July 1, 2001): 28-30 [↩]
- Kimball, Dan. The Emerging Church Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 68 [↩]
- Ibid., 88 [↩]
- Jones, Tony. The Sacred Way – Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 16 [↩]
- Lefebvre, Dan. Christianity – A Karaiteʼs Perspective. Self-Published, Available on Amazon.com [↩]
- Drury, Keith. The Wonder Of Worship – Why We Worship the Way We Do Marion, IN: Triangle, 2005. 34 [↩]
- Ibid., 20 [↩]
- Kimball, Dan. The Emerging Church Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. 65 [↩]
- For more, see Dougʼs book Preaching Re-Imagined Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005 [↩]
- Purchase your own at http://www.booksofthebible.com/p70.html [↩]