What’s for lunch today? How hungry are you? How busy are you?
If your day looks anything like mine (and just about every other Westerner out there) these questions might all make sense mashed together like that. I can’t tell you how often I’m eating lunch in the car or in front of the computer screen as I rush to get to a meeting or to meet a deadline for a project. The way I eat my meals in many ways mimics the way I get my world news.
While I’d like to sit down to eat and digest my food without interruption the reality is that I often have to scrounge up smaller snacks and sneak them into my routine. Likewise, I’m getting my news and updates about world events and information in bite size snippets I sneak in the crevices of life.
For us followers of Christ, that brings up an important question:
If I don’t have enough time to keep up with the news, how could I find time to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ?
Even more, how do we know our audience has time to evaluate it once presented to them?
Whetting the Appetite
Because of the busyness of the modern world and the sheer amount of information that is out there it has changed the way we scan, absorb and interact with information. The vast amount of news that is available at a moment’s notice can be overwhelming, so people have had to learn ways to filter what they expose themselves to. One way people do this is by scanning the news and articles they read. Most people read the first sentence or two and if they aren’t “hooked” they don’t finish it. In journalism they call this the “lead” (sometimes spelled “lede”). If you aren’t interesting and compelling in the first few words, no one will read the rest of what you’ve written. Keeping with the food analogy, if your appetizers are bland, no one’s going to stick around for the main course. Feeling the pressure to cook up good leads?
The Art of Preparing Little Snacks with Lots of Nutrition
Due to the rise of social media, people who normally wouldn’t read a newspaper will check their news feed; and information spreads faster than ever. Not everyone is going to read a lengthy article, but they will read a short update on Twitter or Facebook. Just like the way our busy culture has adjusted how we eat food, many people digest their news in small snack-like chunks throughout their day.
Some of the most influential Christian leaders and pastors of today are using social media to their advantage to tell others about Jesus. It’s a challenge to say a lot in a few words, but it is possible. Our brains are becoming used to filtering out information that can’t be quickly consumed.
The best communicators have learned to say meaningful things in short and memorable ways. They can deliver big truths in little packages.
Think about some of your favorite quotes, how long are they? Likely not very long. The most memorable and impactful things we hear contain a potent mix of truth, controversy and brevity. Don’t believe me? How about these true and controversial “tweets” from days of old (all less than 140 characters):
“Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me” – John Donne 17th Century
“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” – Mark Twain, 19th Century
“A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” – Charles Spurgeon, 19th Century
“The entire life of believers should be repentance.” – Martin Luther, 16th Century
“You die in Christ you live again.” – Thomas Hastings, 19th Century
Junk Food vs. Power Food
Some people are skeptical about efforts to communicate biblical truths in new ways. “The Bible is already relevant,” they object, “you don’t need to contextualize it.” While I appreciate the sentiment behind these statements a sentiment afraid of adding to or subtracting from the message of the Bible, true contextualization shouldn’t do that. Tim Keller defines it this way:
“Translating and adapting the communication and ministry of the gospel to a particular culture without compromising the essence and particulars of the gospel itself.” (from his book Center Church)
Notice that he stresses the importance of not changing the essence or particulars of the Gospel?
The truth is that everyone contextualizes the Gospel. If your church contains any sort of preaching (as opposed to simply reading Scriptures with no elaboration or illustrations) then it contextualizes in some way or another.
It’s important that as we seek ways to communicate compelling and digestible biblical truths that we make sure not to change the essence of the biblical message while doing so. In other words, we want to make sure our messages aren’t watered down or “junk food”, but actually possess the Bread of Life as He is portrayed in the Bible. There are times when I go through the drive-thru out of desperation and I’m always left feeling empty, but other times I’ve picked up a granola bar or protein bar and gotten the calories and nutrition that I need. The good missionary will find a way to ensure both when he engages people utilizing current technology. And before you object by saying, “well I’m not a missionary,” let me give one more quote from Charles Spurgeon:
“Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor.”