Month: December 2013

5 Evangelical Trends for 2014


In keeping with end of the year predictions, here are mine. Of course, several years ago I predicted $5 per gallon gas. Thankfully, we never got to that point. But in light of my obvious fallibility I’m framing my prognostications in the familiar “what’s in and what’s out” categories. Here’s what I think (and hope) are in and out for 2014:

1. Out: Celebrity Christians. In: Communities that model love for God and others.

More articles and blog posts appeared in 2013 lamenting the culture of “celebrity” that has infected the evangelical world. Celebrity Christians include people who are already celebrities, like Paula Deen and the Duck Commander, but celebrity Christians also include regular guys and gals who are clawing their way to the top of the bestseller list and the next big conference. Christian book publishers love the celebrity culture, but the rest of us are beginning to feel a little used.

In for 2014 are faith communities that model love for God and others. These communities are multiplying in American Christian culture, and have great appeal to everyone’s target group, Millennials. Beyond their attractiveness, communities like Grace and Main in Danville, Virginia are replacing celebrity with service and fame with friendship. Watch for more like them in 2014.

2. Out: Big evangelical conferences. In: Small local peer groups.

Apparently there are about 75 major evangelical conferences each year. Most of these target pastors, and obviously no pastor can attend all or even most of these conferences. The big conference model is coming to an end, just like the big electronic conventions of years past. Time and cost will be major factors in their decline. Also, if celebrity Christians are out, conferences which feature celebrity Christians will also fade away.

In for 2014 are small local peer group conversations. Book discussions over lunch, peer-to-peer support, and contextual problem-solving will grow in importance in 2014.

3. Out: Coaching.  In: Spiritual direction.

Coaching has reached critical mass in the church world. Anyone can be a coach, and unlike in the sports world, church and pastoral coaches aren’t graded on the success of their coaching. Coaching is a metaphor borrowed from the sports world that is losing currency in the church world.

Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is a traditional and appropriate helping ministry in the Christian community. Spiritual direction focuses on spiritual disciplines and insights such as discernment, guidance, insight, wisdom, vocation, and mission. The growth of spiritual practices such as lectio divina, the daily office, and the use of prayer books portend the rise of the ministry spiritual direction in 2014.

4. Out: Major Christian publishers. In: self-publishing for local ministry.

With a few notable exceptions, major Christian publishers continue to churn out pop books from celebrity authors. The costs, distribution, marketing and mass audience targeting of Christian publishing results in fewer authors with higher profiles (“celebrities,” see Item 1).

However, self-publishing platforms like Amazon provide free access to the author who has something to say, but has a limited audience. More self-published books will be available in 2014, and more of these will be written for a specific congregation or community. Mass marketing, in other words, is out, and contextual publishing is in.

5. Out: Preaching for “life change.”  In: Pastoral care.

Rick Warren popularized “preaching for life change,” which most pastors interpreted as preaching topical sermons on practical subjects like parenting, finances, and marriage. But not everyone is as good as Rick Warren at this type of preaching, and it easily degenerates into telling people how to live.

Pastoral care in sermon and practice, however, walks with individuals and families through all of the significant passages of life, and life’s unexpected difficulties, too. This “alongside” preaching and practice ministers to people in their life experiences, and encourages them to find God’s presence in moments of joy and sadness.

Those are the trends I see for the coming year.  Of course, there are negative trends that we in churches will have to deal with, too. I’ll leave those to others, and wish you a Happy New Year!

Duck Dynasty and The Beverly Hillbillies

imgresThe Christian outrage over A&E’s dust-up with Phil Robertson missed an opportunity to protest the media’s portrayal of Christians as freaks.

I am not saying that Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty cast are freaks, despite their ZZ Top beards and relentless camo attire. What I am saying is that Duck Dynasty is just another media portrayal of Christians as bizarre, redneck, and unsophisticated. Duck Dynasty is the reality TV version of The Beverly Hillbillies, but with Bible verses and a prayer.

Remember Jed, the “poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed?” The Beverly Hillbillies was a hit show in the 1960s. The storyline about poor, unsophisticated Kentuckians who discovered oil, became fabulously rich, and moved to Beverly Hills was popular because it tapped into everybody’s dream of getting rich overnight. The innocent haplessness of Jed, Elly Mae, Jethro, and Granny entertained a generation of Americans who chuckled at their ignorance and homespun worldview.

Enter the Robertson family, poor Louisianans who made millions designing and selling duck calls to hunters. The Robertsons are the 21st century’s Clampetts, but with a “heapin’ helpin'” of Christian faith thrown in for good measure.

Unlike the 1960s when The Beverly Hillbillies aired, it is perfectly fine today for the entertainment media to portray Christians as ignorant, unsophisticated, and odd. Even the GQ article that spawned the recent controversy features a self-identified elitist New York reporter interviewing the Southern redneck Robertsons.

Of course, the Robertsons themselves are in on the gag. Their motivation for appearing on a reality TV show, other than possibly fame and money, may be a sincere attempt to share their faith with their viewing audience. A&E’s motives, on the other hand, might tend to run toward ratings and advertising dollars. That’s what networks do. However, Christians don’t have to be witting pawns in the media’s game, and the rest of us don’t have to watch it with a wink and a nod.

What we as Christians should be protesting is not Phil Robertson’s free speech rights, but the portrayal of Christians as modern-day freaks, put on display for entertainment and amusement. For that, both A&E and the Robertsons deserve our ire.

Of course, since Duck Dynasty is the most popular show on TV, I may be in the minority on this. If so, Phil and I share one quality in common — we’re both convinced we’re right.