Friday, April 3, 2015

Postmodernism and Sports Ministry

Since around 2000, I have been working to retool my brain from a well-entrenched modern mindset to be flexible enough to communicate more clearly with postmodern thinkers. I am convinced that most everyone I know, forty years of age and younger, thinks with a 100% postmodern mindset. They do so without even a thought of how differently their elders perceive the world and make decisions. The great and widening divide between these two ways of thinking is played out in the media as cultural issues are loudly discussed and argued from two widely different perspectives. Neither is really listening to the other and neither is being persuasive with the other. Our world needs interpreters. I aim to be one.

I will soon be fifty-nine years of age and began rewiring my brain about fifteen years ago. Leonard Sweet’s book, SoulTsunami, was of tremendous help in this process as were two of his other works, AquaChurch and A Cup of Coffee at the Soul CafĂ©. (SoulTsunami: 10 Life Rings for You and Your Church, AquaChurch: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture, A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe: Finding the Energy of a Deeper Spiritual Life)

Many of our friends in the Evangelical world rail against postmodernism as though it was the mark of the beast. They find it to be an enemy of the Church, an impediment to the Gospel, and a perversion of everything holy. They fail to think this through and to grasp that the world Jesus lived in was anything but modern in any way, certainly not in thought. I chose to seek ways to make peace with postmodern thought and to find ways to adapt my thinking and communication skill to be effective in light of it. This has been neither easy nor quick. My friend and mentor, Lowrie McCown, dragged me kicking and screaming into new ways of thinking. I am forever indebted to him.

Following are some of the distinctions between modern and postmodern ways of thinking and their implications upon ministry with sportspeople. I hope they are of benefit to your work with the same.

Modern                                        Postmodern
·        Individually focused            Communally focused
·        Hierarchical structures        Flat, organic structures
·        Authority from position        Authority from experience
·        Rational knowledge            Experiential knowledge
·        Is skeptical                          Is spiritual
·        Interested in the destination     Interested in the journey
·        Universal truth                     Contextual truth

Just with this simple table of differences, you have probably thought of several instances where different approaches to issues like team / club structure, the basis for authority, the source of knowledge, the nature of spirituality, and the basis for truth are points of conflict. My aim is not to find a way to make better arguments for modernism, instead it is to find a way to communicate timeless truths of scripture to a postmodern thinking audience.

My postmodern friends are much more comfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey, than my modern, order loving, black and white thinking friends. Thus I must relinquish some of my desire to nail cultural things down as absolutely right or wrong, truth or error, when they may simply be preferences.

My friends during my earlier days in the church loved didactic teaching and verse by verse preaching. I find that if I really want to connect with student-athletes between 14 and 22 years of age, I had better find a narrative passage of scripture. These postmodern thinkers connect much more quickly with discussion of a story from I Kings than they do with a Bible study from I Timothy. Even when speaking from a New Testament epistle, the extra five minutes given to a description of the background, the story of the author and the history of the audience produces a personal connection that moves their hearts.

Almost without exception, if I offer postmoderns an either / or choice for something, they will choose both, or at least some of each. My modern friends are happy to make a choice of one or the other. My modern friends tend to categorize themselves in a cultural niche and are quite happy to stay there. The postmoderns are thrilled to blend cultures, even some that seem to be clashing with each other. For example, country kids listening to hip hop music, wearing cowboy boots and a ball cap on sideways.

Modern thinking people tend to ride new waves of culture as they arrive and toss the old things into the backseat like a crushed soda can. Postmoderns like things that are both ancient and future. They will embrace Gregorian chants and listen them on their latest version of the iPhone. They will shoot selfies with their friends in their throwback jerseys, Beats headphones, and wearing “Classic Jordan” basketball shoes.

If you are reading this and you are forty or older, please think about how you think. Consider your mindset and that of those twenty years your junior. How well do you connect? How easy do you find it to communicate, to understand, and to be understood? If you find that you and those you are serving seem to be on separate planes of thought, you have some options:
1) You can withdraw and simply quit.
2) You can go the way of the dinosaur and become a fossil. You can rail against the changes and become increasingly irrelevant to your postmodern audience.

3) You can study, adapt, think, contemplate, experiment, and find ways to communicate clearly, wisely, effectively, and truthfully. Please choose option 3. We need the wisdom, experience, and commitment of those in my generation, but we need to find new ways to speak into a vastly different and rapidly changing culture.

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