My name is John Stark. I'm a pastor of a church called Apostles in New York. We have a church there. I'm married to Jenna. We're gonna celebrate 15 years coming up in a few months. We have four children, and yes we live in Manhattan with four children. And we get a lot of weird looks, but that's okay. People get over it pretty quickly.
Any other helpful biography information there? We've been there for six years, almost seven years, and I'm the preaching pastor there. I know that it says maybe on whatever pamphlet, I know it says something different on the sheet. But maybe on the material that you received online or in your email, it was about writing and teaching, or writing and speaking. I'm sorry if that's really what you came for. I'm just gonna talk on preaching.
I'm sure it will apply in many ways for writing and teaching and speaking. It's applicable, I'm really sure it is, but I generally preach every week instead of teach or speak or write. That may be helpful in all those areas.
I'm not gonna do a bunch of footnote talking or references. I'm just gonna teach through it, but let me just give you all the footnote material up front. On preaching, I think Augustine is actually just an untapped resource on preaching.
So a lot of my stuff is from Augustine. He has a short little book at the end of ... So if you have the Ante-Nicene stuff the 15-16 volumes. On Augustine's City of God volume at the very end, is a book on preaching and theology. It's his systematic theology book, and at the end of it is a little section on preaching. It's really helpful.
Peter Sanlon, I think it's his dissertation, so it's a little dense and not very fun. You can go to sleep to it really easily. It's called Augustine's Theology of Preaching, and it's really, really helpful.
And I think Calvin in his section on the Holy Spirit, and there's a section in his introduction to a Greek New Testament, he writes an introduction to on preaching. Those sections, he develops on Augustine pretty ... I think he steals. He doesn't talk about Augustine. He doesn't quote him, but he flagrantly steals from Augustine. But he also develops from it.
That's gonna be a lot of where I'm coming from. I'm gonna steal pretty flagrantly from those sources. And at the end, I'm going to make some application from Charles Taylor's book, A Secular Age, so that'll be the end. There's a book out that the Gospel Coalition just published called Our Secular Age, so Charles Taylor's Secular Age is 10 years old now. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I think it's a helpful book when talking and speaking and writing and preaching to seculars.
Charles Taylor's a Catholic, so it comes with all kinds of Catholic implications, but I think it's a helpful book. The Gospel Coalition wrote a collaboration of a bunch of pastors and scholars and teachers on Charles Taylor applying it. I wrote one on preaching, so I'm just using some of that here as well. This is a fuller, deeper part of that chapter there. I think it's a helpful book.
Preaching to seculars, I can begin with a story. About four years ago, a bunch of pastors in the city, we experienced our church and other churches being expelled from using public schools as gathering spaces, and we experienced some other pressures in other parts of the city.
So many of us were gathering. We were doing some praying. We were doing some planning. How do we respond? How do we think? And we had felt some pressures, some hostility, or maybe that's how we were interpreting. We were interpreting it as hostility.
There was this man who is a pastor in Paris, he was in the corner, and he finally spoke up. And he began to tell a little bit of his story. And he said, "What we experience in Paris," I think as far as secularism, Paris in comparison to New York is maybe a few steps down the road. But what he said, what they're experiencing is not hostility, it's apathy.
Apathy is not as sexy as hostility because hostility means you matter. Apathy means you don't matter. I think it was a humbling moment for us to recognize that at least in New York City, it isn't so much that Mayor de Blasio thinks about the church, and how he's gonna crush the church. We just don't matter to Mayor de Blasio.
We don't matter to our neighbors. People don't wake up on Sunday morning and think, "Well I just gotta go listen to a sermon." They don't show up at church. They don't think about that. Most of my neighbors ... All of our kids are in school now, and when we invite people to church, when we invite them in the community, all of the sports are on Sunday morning, which is why we have a Sunday evening service as well. We have a Sunday morning and a Sunday evening, and that's pretty strategic for families, surprisingly, is the Sunday evening service.
So it's just apathetic. You don't plan your week around going to church around Sundays. We don't plan brunches around going to church on Sundays. So how do you engage a society that is not hostile to the Gospel, but apathetic to the Gospel and just doesn't care about you?
So preaching, that's one of the things that we're doing, is trying to preach to a secular society. The aim of preaching then to an apathetic culture, I don't think you'll draw secular people to a sermon series of Jesus in the movies. They just don't want to hear about Jesus in the movies. They want to hear what is the vision of the good life.
So the aim of preaching, how we've sort of come up to it is to persuade and transform. And many preachers, especially in our circle, so I'm just gonna probably aim at more reformed preaching, is that many of our circles stop at explain and command. We explain the text, and then we command from the text.
I don't think that's actually what the Bible does, actually. The Bible persuades and transforms. We need to explain. There are commands. We need to command our people as much as we're able, but the aim, the stopping point is persuading and transforming.
So if the big assumption about the nature of scripture is that it's inspired by God. It's the authority of God, and I think many of us would agree, preaching should be expositional, so we're trying to pull the meaning from the text. And the meaning of my sermons should be the meaning of the text that I'm preaching. So the nature of our sermons should match the nature of scripture.
The nature of our sermons, not just match, but serve the nature of scripture, which is really hard. And I don't think our seminaries train us really well. I'm not gonna talk about expository preaching. I think you probably do get training there. I'm not gonna talk about exegesis, you probably get training there.
I wanted to talk about how does our sermons, in some sense, we're gonna think about apathetic secular people, how do our sermons get into the hearts and minds and imagination of our folks.
I know many of you probably are not in Manhattan. I don't recognize you as my neighbors, but I know probably, many of you are in university towns or places where universities have influence. Places like that, maybe more in cities, and you may not think about Manhattan and the pressures of Manhattan as what you experience. But I probably think you're experiencing more than you think.
And if you are experiencing less conversions than what you're hoping for, it may be because your neighbors are more secular than you think, or they're more apathetic to the Gospel than you think.
So I want to talk about our preaching as it serves what the Bible does and what the Bible aims for. So our preaching should serve what the Bible does. Our preaching should serve what the Bible aims for. I'm gonna use two words that Augustine uses. I'm just gonna use them here and define them. This is two things that the Bible does, and it should be in your packet there.
The two words is interiority and temporality. Interiority and temporality. We're talking about what does the Bible do, what does the Bible aim for. These are two words that I think are helpful. A definition of interiority has to do with the interior parts, so has to do with the desires and longings of the soul, that which is most ... This is what Augustine says, "that which is most congenial to the communion with God."
So the Bible aims at that. In other words, the nature of scripture is not just aiming at modifying behavior, modifying our life. It's aiming at the desires, the motivations. It's aiming at what's going on under the hood. Right? It's the engine that's driving the behavior. It's the inner life, the parts of the individual, the hearts and the soul.
Therefore, listen, if you're preaching is not fundamentally aiming at desires and longings, then it is mishandling scripture. So we may be able to interpret it right, but when we apply it as a tool, as a sword, which I think the Bible calls us to do, to aim at the heart. If it's not aiming at the heart, if it's not aiming at longings, desires, you're mishandling it.
So the power of transformation is preaching, and preaching to the heart is found in ... This is what Calvin talks about. This is I think, where he's really helpful, is the inner teacher, the Spirit. So when you aim at the heart and the desires of the person, you're cooperating with the Spirit. The Spirit is the inner teacher that exposes where the truth of scripture conflicts with your heart.
So when you aim at the heart, you're cooperating with the Spirit that uses a mirror to the listener, and says, "Here's the truth of scripture, and here's where it conflicts with your heart." Here's the encouraging thing, is that when I think you do cooperate with your Spirit, the Spirit comes with a better sermon than you have prepared for.
Prepare a good sermon, but we should be encouraged that the Spirit has a better sermon than you do. He exposes the desires and compares them to God's desires. The very act of using scripture to expose the root of behavior, the root of longing, the root of desires, the very act of using scripture for that is transformative.
Look, that's true for teaching your kids. Don't explain and command the Bible. Show the inner parts of their hearts, and how it interferes or conflicts with God's desires.
That's the interiority. Does that make sense? The nature of the Bible aims at the hearts and desires. The temporality, so here, I think maybe our circles, if we're good at anything, we can maybe do that. We can maybe do that pretty well. We aim at the idols of the heart. I'm a little tired of that phrase. But we do that. I think we do that pretty well. We aim at the idols of the heart.
The second thing that Augustine does, and I think this is where we're maybe not great at. Maybe some of you are really great at, but I don't think generally, we're good at this. The temporality nature of scripture, is where the purposes of God is brought to bear upon our personal experiences within time. That's Augustine's complex definition.
Where the purpose of God is brought to bear upon our personal experiences within time. What I mean by that, the nature of scripture is a narrative. It tells us where the world is going. It has a telos to it. Right? It's a teleological piece of work. It's not just explaining and commanding. It's not just words of wisdom, but it's going somewhere from creation to consummation. Our hopes and our desires in our life, that's the interiority right, is in time, is in a narrative.
Augustine says, "Life is a journey traveled by affections." "Life is a journey traveled by affections." In other words, if you are pastoring or leading a church that is full of materialistic people, your people did not learn materialistic habits by reading a tract on a materialistic life. They didn't go, "Oh, well that's persuasive. I should live that way."
No, they learned it by spending their money over time. They were formed into materialistic people. Their life was a journey traveled by their affections that were nurtured by how I spend my money, and what I get from my money.
In other words, your hopes, your desires, your dreams are shaped by a life, shaped by experiences, shaped by habits. So we have a hope for where we want our life to go. Everyone in your church has a hope for where they would like to go.
I probably need to move a little bit faster. Expository preaching then, that's faithful to this sort of temporality nature of scripture, will place our narrative within God's narrative. Place our narrative within God's narrative. Places our hopes and where we would like to see our life go within how God sees and desires for our life to go. Our present reality must be interpreted within God's plans for our reality.
Expository preaching will bring to bear our hopes and our dreams for our life and the plans and purpose of God for our life. Everyone who comes and sits in your Bible study class, your Sunday School class, your Sunday morning service, they all have a dream for their life. They all have a vision of what a good life is. Your job as a teacher of the Bible is to expose how that conflicts with the Bible's vision of a good life.
And that's contextualization, so the big scary word of contextualization really is understanding what's the vision of the good life in your community. What's the vision of the good life of your neighbors? What do they think the good life is? And to expose it or show how it conflicts with God's vision of a good life.
So just to summarize then, the Bible does two things. It has interiority. It aims at desires of your heart, the roots of behavior, and it places your experiences within God's purposes for your life, there's the temporality. The interiority and the temporality. It aims at the desires and cravings, and it aims at the vision of bliss, the vision of the good life. Okay?
Then how do you apply it to preaching? How do you think about teaching? How do you think about speaking to seculars in this? I think this is true for not just good competent preaching, but I think this is true for interesting preaching. Our preaching should create in people, as they're listening, anticipation.
Have you ever experienced a just good preacher, for some reason, they put you on the edge of your seat. Not because they've been able to just explain the Greek really well, and they've given you interesting facts about the text. But some preachers can create such a tension in the room that if I don't see how he's gonna resolve this, my heart's just gonna burst in two. Have you experienced that before?
So how do you do that? How do you create anticipation and a longing in the people for, "I need this to resolve. You need to show me how this resolves." How do you get this to come up and out of your sermon or teaching?
I have a little chart here. This is not how the Bible says you should preach. The Bible doesn't tell you how you should preach. I think this is just helpful to think about this this way. Nancy Duarte or Dwar-tay, I don't know how you pronounce her name. What's that?
Speaker 2: Duarte.
John Stark: There you go. Duarte. Nancy Duarte. She actually has a really good book I've just actually read recently, but there's a really good article or two, and there's a really good Ted Talk that she gives.
She says, "After studying hundreds of speeches, I found the most effective presenters use the same technique as great storytellers by reminding people of the status quo and then revealing the path to a better way. They set up a conflict that needs to be resolved. That tension helps them persuade the audience to adopt a new mindset or behave differently. To move from what is to what could be."
So this is just a helpful tool for preaching. All right? And I'm still a complimentarian even though this is a woman teaching me how to preach. Okay? She shows that at the beginnings of your sermon, show what is, what's the status quo, and what could be. Then move throughout your speech or your sermon or your study, what is, what could be, what is, what could be, and then end, she says, with a vision of bliss.
What would happen if the Kingdom came? Right? How do you call to action? She uses this method to persuade and modify behavior. Preachers, we're not looking just to modify behavior. Right? This is where it stops being helpful.
We can use it, using the power of the Spirit, the power of scripture to keep attention. Yes. To create anticipation, how is this gonna resolve. Then also persuade and transform because you're using the power of the Spirit, and you're using the nature of scripture upon the hearts of people.
So preaching is not storytelling, but she's saying, here's the structure of storytelling that creates tension and anticipation in listeners, and in some ways, that gets people to begin listening with more than just their ears, that they begin to look and listen with the eyes and ears of their heart. Right?
So, what is, what could be, what is, what could be. So if you're using the interiority, if you're aiming at the desires of the heart, you're framing your sermon around identifying with how the desires of your heart, this is what is, this is what you want, this is what you long for, this is what you crave.
And how it's intention with the truth of scripture, which creates this tension and anticipation. How does it resolve? This is a vision of what is. This is status quo. This is why your desires never satisfy you. Here's the desires of scripture. Here's what satisfies. Here's a vision of bliss. Here's what is, and here's what could be. And that way you get there, what is to what could be is the purpose of preaching.
How do I get there? You're creating anticipation, and you're resolving it with scripture. The reason why I think this is helpful, I think it serves the nature of scripture. Scripture sort of creates this tension. Here's what your heart is. Here's what God calls us to do, and how do you resolve it?
Just maybe some practical things here. You need to let scripture, so if we're gonna be good expository preachers, I think scripture allows us to do this. You need to let scripture show us how to resolve attention. Let scripture do it. Don't be too quick to resolve it. I think we're really bad at this, especially if you are a more practical person, who always seems to have good advice. We are so quick to resolve tension.
And it's usually superficial or sometimes it's pragmatic, and it doesn't sit well with the passage. So don't be too quick to offer resolve in ways that the text does not offer. You have a lot of tools within every text. Every text has allusions to other parts of scripture that resolves it maybe.
Types, fulfillments, use every thing that the Bible gives you, but don't try to do more than what the text is doing. Let the text do what the text is doing. Serve the text, but show what is, how our heart is in conflict with the truth of scripture, and show how scripture resolves the tension in order to show what could be.
Do that in a way that sets you up to give you a vision of bliss where all the desires and satisfactions are fulfilled through repentance, through grace, through Christ, through the hope of Heaven.
That's really with interiority. To apply that what is, what could be to temporality, so what is a good life, a narrative? You're communicating what your life is without this truth, and what it could be if this truth was realized. Here's what your life is. It's exposing ... I need to know your life maybe a little bit better than you do. Here's what it is. And here's what it could be if this truth was explosively true in your life.
It not only identifies the conflict between your heart and the truth of scripture, that's the interiority, and it's providing the remedy for that tension. But it's also showing the purposes of God for your desires or God's end for them. It's showing this is the good life.
I don't know if we're very good at showing the good life, which is why we maybe don't preach Ecclesiastes very well. Ecclesiastes is all about answering, "What is the good life?" And maybe we're just kind of boring, thinking about what is the good life.
Everyone desires and hopes. You have a church full of people who have a vision of bliss. If I had this kind of money, if I had this kind of income, if I had this kind of job, if I had this kind of marriage, if I had this kind of kids, if I had this kind of family. This is religious culture. This is secular culture. Everyone has a vision of bliss that's in conflict with God's vision of bliss.
Biblical preaching that serves the nature of scripture aims at both the taste buds of the heart, "Taste and see that the Lord is good," and the dreams for the future. Preaching should serve both of those. Right?
I think in some sense, probably what a lot of preachers experience is that there is ... What time are we done with this? 11:45? Okay. There's some intuition, I think, to this kind of preaching, and there are preachers who this is more intuitive than learned.
Some preachers have the ability to sort of just cast a spell on you and just make you just, "You can talk for an-hour-and-a-half. I don't care how long you talk." And they're just casting a spell because they're doing something more than just explaining and commanding from the passage.
They're provoking worship and enjoyment. They're able to aim at something, not less than this, but they aim at something more than the intellect. They not only give knowledge about salvation by grace alone, but they arouse gladness and pleasure in it.
So aiming at the heart is a kind of awakening from slumber, then, you know when we have less than fulfilling pleasures, it sort of puts us to sleep. If you have a bunch of people who for seven days a week, find satisfaction in less than fulfilling pleasures, and they're very sleepy because they've just not been awakened to joy, to pleasure, to life. And preaching, you have all the tools, the ability to awaken them to pleasure, to awaken them to fullness.
They've been looking at it in money and their job and sex and their relationships, and they look at themselves in the mirror all day at the gym while they're doing squats. They're looking for pleasure there, and they're not finding it. I sure don't, when I look in the mirror when I'm doing squats.
But you have a heavenly bliss every week to give them. You have pleasures every week to give them. You have things in your ability and in your tool belt to arouse pleasure in worship. So aim at it. Preaching to the heart is the act of inflaming real pleasure, and I mean that with capital R, capital P. Real pleasure in the hearts of hearers.
C.S. Lewis, famous quote, Weight of Glory. Right? He says, "The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located in," or maybe that mirror when we do squats that we thought the beauty was located in, "was located in will betray us, if we trust in them."
So he's talking about experiencing beauty and pleasure in the things of this world. If we think that's where it's actually located in, it'll betray us. It is not in them, it's through them. And what came through them was longing.
"These things, the beauty, the memory of our past, are good images of what we really desire. But if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols breaking the hearts of their worshipers, for they are not the thing itself. They are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a turn we have not heard." Maybe that's ... I mistyped that.
"News from a country, which we have not visited. Do you think I'm trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am, but remember your fairly tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest of spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment."
Expository preaching then ... This is not C.S. Lewis. This is me. Expository preaching that serves the nature of scripture functions like a spell being cast to break the enchantment of sin in our hearts. So you're preaching should break enchantments. Right?
And the best way to begin that way, of course, is to find pleasure in that truth yourself. So just two helps here. I think reading good literature, good poetry, good books are just helpful. It's like seasoning on meat. The meat's there. The scripture's there. Literature has a way of exposing unfulfilled longing better than we do oftentimes.
So a good book that I've found that helps me sort of read better was a book called Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga. He just shows how good novels, good poetry, good journalism gives us aids in talking about sin, talking about pleasure, talking about Heaven, talking about human longings.
The second thing is there's no quick way to do this, is just godliness. If a preacher preaches from a life of delighting in the presence of God and the truth of grace, he will always have something to say. He will have something for the taste buds of the hearts of his people.
I don't remember who said this. I didn't say it, but it's always stuck with me. "A pastor who is godly will always be interesting." "A pastor who is godly will always be interesting." It doesn't mean an interesting pastor is always godly, don't do that. But I do think godly people are always interesting.
So produce a good structured sermon, produce interesting sermons, read good books, have something to say, but be godly. Have a good prayer life. If you have been able to warm the coals of your heart, you can start fires in the hearts of other people. If you have nothing to give them, you won't have anything really interesting to say.
Okay, any questions on any of the interiority/temporality before I move one from there? Clear as well.
Okay, so applying that. Here's maybe ... How do you then take that and preach then to a secular age, a secular people? Here's where I'm just applying and taking implications from Charles Taylor.
Charles Taylor wrote a book called A Secular Age. It's 800-900 pages. Most of it is not needing to be read, but it's good. Maybe if you don't want to read that, I would read Jamie Smith's, How Not to be Secular. So it's just a good distillation of that, but he's engaging with Taylor, and that's significantly easier to read. I think it's 160 pages, and it's good. He works with Taylor, I think, in a helpful way.
Here's what Taylor tries to do. He describes secularism with the term "self-sufficient humanism" "self-sufficient humanism". Here's what he means by that. A humanism accepting no final goals beyond human flourishing. So do I have the job that I want? Do I have the partner that I want? Do I have the body that I want? Do I have the kind of money that I want? Yes. I'm not working anything past. There's nothing past that.
"A humanism accepting no final goals beyond human flourishing nor any allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing of no previous society," he says, "was this true." In other words, our neighbors don't find significance in anything beyond the imminent sphere, beyond success, sex, power, and relationships. Right?
"Yet at the same time," he says, and we're gonna talk about this, "there's a malaise, a sense of emptiness in this self-sufficient humanism. The sense can easily arise that we are missing out on something. We're cut off from something. That we are living behind a screen," he says.
He says, "I'm thinking much more of a wide sense of malaise in the disenchanted world, a sense of it as it's empty, a multi-form search for something within or beyond the world, which could compensate for this meaning lost with transcendence."
In other words, I have found all of my meaning and significance in the imminent frame. My work, my body, my sex, my money, everything, this is where I find my meaning. This is why for secular people, they're apathetic towards transcendence, towards Christianity.
They're not atheists. They just don't care to answer the question. Sure God's there, he just doesn't have anything to do with my life. And the hostility comes, is when we begin to force it down their throat. That's where the hostility comes. God doesn't make them angry. It's people who force God on us that makes them angry.
There is a fear and anxiety then, that our actions and our goals and achievements and life have a lack of weight though, a gravity, a thickness, a substance. In other words, there's this feeling that something bigger should be there, and there's not. There is then, here listen, "there's a temptation among secular people towards transcendence."
This is what almost all modern literature does. It's dealing with that temptation towards transcendence, when they don't believe in it. How do we deal with that longing? We can't seem to live without transcendence, but we try to.
If you want to know how to preach towards and teach towards and reach and write and talk towards secularists, that temptation towards transcendence, that's where you're aiming. Preaching is tempting people towards belief. Everyone's tempted towards transcendence. Work with that temptation. Use everything that the Bible gives you, which is a lot, to push people toward transcendence.
I don't think this will take very long. What are some avenues to do that? All right? So let me just apply Charles Taylor. Aim at the buffered self. I'll define that. Aim at the buffered self, the experience of malaise, and the desire for authenticity. The buffered self, the experience of malaise, and the desire for authenticity.
Taylor says, "In this world, we've gone from a porous self," so think of like a sponge, "a porous self to a buffered self." A porous self, he says in previous societies, think about like Martin Luther.
Martin Luther, he ministered to an age where he not only threw inkwells at the devil, he ministered to people who believed in ghosts and goblins. When they were walking through the forest, the forest was enchanted. There were things out there, and you were vulnerable to them. Things got into you and changed you and possessed you and transformed you and turned you into something that you did not want to be.
But also, when you thought about significance and meaning, you found all of that in something transcendent to you. God was real. The Spirit was real. He was active. He's active in the Lord's Supper. He's active in preaching. He's active in the body. He's there, and you find your meaning and significance and value in that. You find fullness there.
That's the porous self. The buffered self is someone who transcendence no longer has anything to do with them. Taylor says, "Not only are we saved from the gods and the devils and the ghosts and the goblins, but we're also cut off from meaning and healing."
In other words, the buffered self becomes the master of the meaning of things. I find everything that I am needing in life to be in what I can accomplish, what I can do, what I can gather, what I can become. So a buffered self blocks out certain ways in which transcendence has historically impinged on humans and been present in their lives. Right?
So a modern person, a buffered self, who sees human flourishing as his or her highest commitment, then sees every relation and obligation as just personal enhancements.
As pastors, we want people to become members of our church. We want people to tite. We want people to be involved in the sacrifice. The reason why probably, many of your people resist that is because they've embodied this view of life, of this buffered self.
When we're talking about secularists, we're talking about people who don't go to church, and then people who are in your church. The buffered self, you have a church full of buffered selves. People who see a gym membership and church membership as personal enhancements. Is this gonna enhance my life?
Community is an enhancement. This yoga class is an enhancement. This is enhancing my flourishing, and if it begins to impinge on my flourishing, it's gonna call for sacrifice, if it's gonna call for something that I don't want to do, or I don't want to give, then I just cut it off. Which is why some people, this person hasn't been to church in four months.
Which also here ... There's a few steps out from here, but let me just go there. There are people who are serving in your church who show up every week early, who teach children's, they hold babies for you. They put out chairs, who see that as a personal enhancement in their life. It's making them feel really good. It's giving them meaning, giving them significance.
But the moment you don't notice it, you don't glorify them, it's not longer enhancing them, it's just calling for sacrifice, they'll stop doing it, or it'll burn them out real quickly.
So pastors and church leaders must recognize that their neighbors have internalized this way of thinking and often view religious commitments as intruding on their self sufficiency, which is why many people don't get up and think about church, is because it doesn't add to their personal flourishing.
So you must see that our churches are potentially filled with people also, with their current church commitments and investments in the community as enhancements to their flourishing. When these enhancements begin to impede on our flourishing by asking for sacrifice and demanding discomfort, the temptation will be to put out faith as an intolerable intruder to their buffered self.
This may not be a conscious or explicitly stated condition, but it is the way of the hearts that have been formed in the West today, whether we are religious or not. Look, if you're preaching to your people who are filling your pews or longing for people who are not in your pews to listen to your sermons, you have to recognize your preaching has to intersect with the buffered self.
You have to expose how a vision of bliss or pleasures of fullness in Christ really is a more satisfying view of reality than the buffered self where personal fulfillment and personal flourishing is as far as they go. Does that make sense?
So aim at the buffered self. The second thing, and maybe you're doing this simultaneously with the buffered self. You're aiming your preaching at the malaise of modernity, at the malaise.
All right, so with that freedom that comes from the buffered self, comes also the sense that I'm missing something. I'm cut off from something. Just read any good novel, and they're playing with that sense that I'm longing for something bigger than what I'm experiencing day-to-day.
That we're living behind a screen is the way Charles Taylor puts it. I'm not able to really engage with what I really long for. It's a sense of malaise, which senses that the world, to be an empty place, where what we've gained with our buffered selves doesn't compensate with what we've lost with transcendence.
The freedom that we've gained in our buffered selves doesn't compensate for the emptiness that we've lost without transcendence. The malaise deepens even though we've given up on transcendence. So your neighbor has given up on transcendence or at least the project of transcendence. But they haven't given up on the feelings and the experiences of transcendence.
And your preaching should aim at the feelings and the longings and the experiences of transcendence. Preaching is aiming at the feelings and the experiences of transcendence. In other words, your neighbor doesn't want everything that comes with transcendence, but you're aiming at what they're missing when they give up on it because they still long for it. They still have a feeling for it.
And here's three ways that Taylor sort of shows this to be. That we struggle to find real significance, real meaning, without any higher goal or telos beyond personal flourishing. Without a telos, some transcendent plays outside of ourselves, our lives have a fragility of meaning.
So your preaching should aim at how weak their sense of meaning really is, to expose them ... Ask them the question, "Isn't that sort of a lack?" Just exposing the questions of, "That's not a whole lot of meaning to you. There's an emptiness there. There's a fragility there to your sense of meaning." It exposes the fragility.
Second, if you ever notice, I don't know maybe you don't depending on your experiences as a pastor. There will be tons of people because I'm a minister in the city, who have no desire to be in any part of church, any part of religious world, but they'll ask me a religious minister, to do their service.
They can go down to the courts and just get it done. Or they can have a secular service. There are all kinds of secular ways in which you can make sure your marriage is true with the government, and you have all your friends there.
You don't need me to preach a sermon at your service, or at births. For a family who were spreading ashes in Central Park, which was illegal, but I did it. It was the first ash spreading service. I'm sure that's not what it's called, but no one there believed that that body was gonna rise again. But they wanted a minister there. They wanted something there.
So at moments in life like a birth or a marriage or a death, there's a sense to where they want this to mean something. But because we don't believe in transcendence, if we don't have a something here ... I at that moment, represented transcendence to them.
Traditionally, we have solemnized these moments by connecting them with something transcendent, but with this enclosure towards this buffered self, it leaves a hole. And many people have no other connection other than these meaningful moments, and they're fading as well.
So the question is, you can ask them, "Why are these meaningful to you?" And there's something more than just nostalgia going on. There's something more than just sentimentality going on.
The third area is we perceive a lack in everyday moments in the mundane. In Martin Luther's day, everything was enhanced. Everything was full of presence. Everything was spiritual. Now there's sort of this terrible flatness in everyday experiences.
There's a terrible flatness in the commercial, in the industrial, in the consumer. There's an emptiness that's repeated in this accelerating cycle of desire and fulfillment, desire and fulfillment, desire and fulfillment in our consumer culture. And preaching is meant to aim at that emptiness and fill it with something.
We are buffered selves, we have a sense of malaise, and because we seek solutions from within, not without but within, those solutions don't work. So our preaching is to expose the emptiness of all of our solutions. Why that hasn't worked for 15 years. Why that hasn't worked for the last several months.
I'll end this way. Pastors and spiritual leaders must recognize and show their congregations the unsatisfying end of the buffered self, which sees human flourishing as it's ultimate commitment over all other commitments, sees religious community, friends, relationships as enhancements that can be discarded when they're no longer enhancing. The buffered self ultimately alienates themselves from meaning, satisfaction, intimacy, and love.
This buffered, secular self, which is ... You know, in New York, loneliness is the biggest pastoral problem. That's true for Christians and non-Christians. They're just isolated. They don't experience meaning. They don't experience satisfaction. They don't experience intimacy. They don't experience love. The TV show FRIENDS is a fraud. No one lives that way. There's not that kind of intimacy.
FRIENDS is a projection of what we long for, but it doesn't happen with buffered selves. It doesn't happen because people who are in your life, who just come into your apartment not knocking, we don't want that person in our life. We don't want that person to come in while I'm in my pajamas eating yogurt from the container.
We want them to see me. We want our person to make sure I'm beautiful. I'm well-kept. I'm not eating yogurt from a container. I'm eating my kale from Whole Foods. That's the buffered self. So preaching shows where we get meaning, satisfaction, intimacy, and love.
Just one more thing with authenticity. I mentioned it, so let me just say this. This may be true. You can talk about the need for authenticity in a real secular culture, but when you're even talking to your people, they desire authenticity. Especially maybe if you have a younger crowd. They want weakness. They want failures in their leaders. Show me your messy life. Right?
They love the confessions of a something something. Those are huge now because we want authenticity. And they want to be authentic. You go to any community group or small group or Bible study, and everyone wants to talk about, man here's the lows of the week. This is why this was hard.
Here's the difference though. The authentic self, which is we're in the authentic age, Charles Taylor, we're an authentic age. The authentic self says, "This is me. You must accept me as I am. If you're gonna be my friend, you gotta accept me. This is me." That is the authentic buffered self. "You're not gonna intrude on me. You just have to accept me." And it's seen as humble and messy.
The porous self, which the vulnerable self maybe. A biblical vision ... because there's something there that's good. There is something there that they're desiring that's true. But the vulnerable self, which I think is a more New Testament. Not just authentic, but vulnerable, says this is me, take me, and change me. Transform me.
One is confession. Confessions of a whatever, something, something. Confessions of a messy pastor, to repentance. You need confession, but confession can merely say just accept me as I am. Repentance says, "Take me, transform me, change me. I need to turn from this. Help me." Aim at those desires. There's something that they want in authenticity, but show them more. Right?