Read an Excerpt
chapter one The Dawning of the Age of Experience
I was eating lunch recently with a friend of mine who is in youth ministry. After the typical small talk and a couple of appetizers, he got unusually quiet. Setting his fork down on his plate, he wiped his mouth and confessed to me, 'Nothing works anymore. Everything I was taught about effectively communicating God's Word doesn't work like it used to. Today's teens just don't learn in the same ways. I need help.'
Where did you go, Joe DiMaggio?
My sympathies are with my friend. He has stumbled upon a reality that is all too painful for the average minister. We are undergoing one of those important transition times that changes all of the rules.
I began working in full-time ministry more than a decade ago, so I can still recall the days when it was generally accepted that the person behind the podium had something very important to say. So important, in fact, that most people would sit patiently through point after point until those heavily anticipated words 'in closing' or 'let's bow our heads to pray' were uttered.
Those days have passed. The first day this realization hit me was one of my more unpleasant moments in ministry. I was preaching my Truth from the perch of the platform where the view is normally pleasing. Not this night.
I was on my second of four points on dating when I had a sort of out-of-body experience. Although I was still speaking, I felt like everything coming out of my mouth had that Charlie Brown's teacher sound (wa wa wa wa wa). And peering over the audience, there was a thick glaze beginning to coat the crowd's eyes. They were being hypnotized: getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy...
I was dying up there--a very slow and painful death. It wasn't for lack of good material. It wasn't for lack of poignant illustrations. And it wasn't for lack of effort. The problem was a disconnect on a grand scale. The disconnect wasn't necessarily the fault of the messenger. Instead, the disconnect revealed a massive systemic dysfunction that has plenty of history, tradition, and baggage. Welcome to the postmodern world.
'Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue'. Henry James
In many circles the term 'postmodernity' has already run its course. Whether or not the term itself has much of a half-life, its cultural effects will be felt for a long time to come.
Postmodernity is one of the most significant cultural changes in the past several centuries. It describes a transitionary time period in which our way of knowing and understanding our world has shifted, leading to significant changes in education and communication.
During the age of modernity, our understanding of the world came from evidence collected through facts. These days of Enlightenment exalted human reason to the throne of understanding. Those in authority became 'scientists.' Everything was studied under a microscope, including God. Truth was 'discovered' and distributed to the masses. New discoveries in technology advanced the modern agenda. One of these, the printing press, created a love affair with the printed word. Combined with a love of reason, the importance of the mystery, stories, and personal life experiences diminished. Each had been valued components in premodern times.
In the highly individualistic climate of modernity, reactions started to occur. People felt force-fed a plate of cold, hard facts. Questions surfaced about how reliable those facts actually were. Meanwhile, technological advances eventually allowed for the possibility of choice, blurring the lines of reality in the process. Radio, television, computers, and finally the Internet created an entirely new world. Old techniques were increasingly met with a 'been there, done that' attitude.
People want interaction, something that will jar them out of their monotony. They want to be touched, not by the numbing effect of a top-down monologue aimed at the mind, but by the power of a full-bodied personal experience.
ex*pe*ri*ence : the apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind; an event or a series of events participated in personally.
This is the world in which we now live. Experience is the new king of the mountain. There are no passive participants. Missing the effects of this experiential renaissance from the home to the classroom to business is impossible. Take your local restaurant. Have you noticed that the kitchens are more open, allowing you to see the chefs prepare your food while you sip your drink and converse with your friend?
Several years ago the national restaurant chain Mongolian Barbecue put a new spin on the old-fashioned buffet idea, even letting you come up with the recipe for your original creation. They provide the ingredients; you choose which ones you want in your bowl. Spice it up the way you like it and they cook it in front of your eyes. If you're bored watching the cooks prepare your meal, you can play one of the vintage games at the counter. You may or may not leave with a great taste in your mouth, but you will definitely leave with a fun experience that has engaged more than your taste buds.
'Not the fruit of experience but experience itself, is the end'. Walter Pater
A few years ago would you have paid more than a dollar for a cup of coffee? Now you walk into a coffeehouse where you hear cool music, watch the coffee-bar attendants make your drink, perhaps relax on one of the hip pieces of furniture, and think that a $3 cup of coffee is a bargain. Why? Because you bought more than coffee---you paid for an experience. It's caffeine for the senses.
Even local department stores and grocery stores are becoming experiential. My wife and I recently registered for our second baby shower. A few years ago, registering for our first baby shower was a painful experience (at least for me). I sat motionless in the 'men's chair' while Stacey