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When Jack Allen was a student Pastor of a rural church attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he became concerned about the young adult children of his church members that were no longer attending church. The concern remained with him when he graduated, and moved into the pulpit of a larger, suburban church. 
     Driven by his desire to reach the "missing generation," he enrolled in a PhD program at Southwestern and "read everything he could get his hands on about postmodernism." Allen believes postmodernism has more similarities with the New Testament times than modernity ever did.
     Today he is in the middle of a new church plant in Northwest Albuquerque. He and the members of Cottonwood Church are reaching postmodern people out of the "pagan pool." 

On March 16, 2000, Jim Wilson, FreshMinistry's Online Editor called Jack Allen on the phone to talk to him about preaching to postmoderns. This is an edited transcript of that phone conversation:

FreshMinistry: Describe your worship services for me. What's the same, and what's different from when you pastored an established, traditional church?

Jack Allen: They are a lot more casual. On the typical Sunday, we will have 30 - 35 minutes of music, then we have a five minute intermission. People get up out of their chairs and grab a cup of coffee and a snack. Sometimes the intermission goes for 10 minutes. When the music starts up again, they come back in and I'll preach for 40 - 45 minutes. Occasionally, like last Sunday, we flip-flop the whole thing. I'll teach for 20 minutes, then we'll have music afterwards. This week we'll have a guest and I teach a class in another part of the building at the same time. Sometimes we will do a drama or show movies. 

One way to build a sense of anticipation is to do different things. We keep it from getting boring by variety. I do a lot of different kinds of messages. Sometimes I use a prop. Sometimes I use a video clip. Sometimes I interview somebody. There's been two or three times where I've interviewed a Rabbi from a Messianic congregation. The folks went nuts on that-they really ate it up.

Once I felt strongly that God wanted us to spend the entire time in prayer, so I gave a five minute message then we prayed the rest of the service. I rarely give alter calls, but when I do, I ask people to come up and have someone else pray for them.

I also try to do goofy stuff that people will remember. One day I took a role of duct tape, and I was preaching out of Luke 4, "Bind up the broken heart. . ." I said, "If you have a broken heart, I want to give you a piece of duct tape." About 35 people got up to get their tape and we prayed with them. 

A typical church day, I don't know . . .

FM: It sounds like there isn't a typical church day.

JA: I don't want a typical church day.


FM: What are the differences between a postmodern church and a boomer church?

JA: <laughter> Well, from what I've seen, the boomer model wants closure . . .the music may be similar. <pause> I don't know . . .One of the things that is exciting to me music wise is, I've never been a fan of Maranatha Music and I think the GenX music is much more theologically correct than some of the praise choruses. It deals with some real hard issues and some real "heart" issues too. So I think a postmodern church wants the music to be a vehicle for the message. Which sounds a lot like the great hymns of the faith.

Everything counts is another part of it. We don't use one part to set up the next part. It seems like in the traditional church, the music sets up the preaching. In a postmodern church, it all counts-even the intermission we do-that's ministry time. I tell our members, "I don't want to see you talking to each other-talk to the visitors."

The other thing is, I don't feel as much a need today-where in a boomer church, the messages are typically "how-tos" they are benefits based, which sometimes feels like I'm trying to sell a car.

FM: <laughter>

JA: I don't say that to be ugly, its just how I felt when I did it. You know, the use of acrostics and different little tools like that. When I talk to postmodern thinkers and Gen folks, they don't really appreciate that. It's kinda trite.

FM: It feels contrived and phony, doesn't it?

JA: Yes, that's what they tell me. Sometimes I'm impressed with somebody's cleverness, but they're not.

The boomer church seems to want to sew everything up and give it closure. The postmodern church isn't looking for that-there is no need to do that. It is perfectly fine to admit the reality of life that I struggle too when little girls get shot by some drive-by junkie.

FM: So it's OK to leave it open-ended?

JA: Yeah, just leave it alone. Or tell them, "Yeah, and I think it bothers God too." The other side that I find fascinating, because I didn't think it would be this way, is that people are fine with me doing expositional preaching, as long as I don't hammer them with, "This is the final answer." Most of my series are expositional series, but I give them the feel, which is the reality of course, that I'm walking down the road too.

I'm weaning myself off notes now and am letting the text be my outline. I spend 20-22 hours a week studying and by Sunday, I'm prepared to talk for an hour and a half on the subject. People are starting to feel they can have a highly developed, Biblical relationship with God.

FM: What I hear you say is that you are guiding them through a Bible Study and they are discovering the truths for themselves.

JA: That may be it. That may be a good way to say it.

FM: Because they are interacting with the text, while you are teaching, so you are modeling what good Bible Study is.

JA: Right. The image I want to give them is a common prayer I pray, "God, we don't need a program, we need you." 

FM: You're guiding them in a journey and not just telling them about yours. You're not telling them what it means, you're saying, "Let's discover what this means."

JA: That's it. And I think that's what the postmodern . . .the postmodern mind gathers information from sources with equal authority. Preachers have got to get a hold of that. It is hard for me to realize because I believe the Bible is true, period! We are sanctified by the Word. But I've got folks that, even though they are believers, their culture demands that they hold other publications at equal authority with the Bible.

FM: Well, that really gets into my next question. Who are postmoderns? What are their characteristics?

JA: They're just . . .They are products of their culture. They are products of the doctrine of blind tolerance which is tolerant of everything except God.

FM: That's a good definition.

JA: Blind tolerance is really an oxymoron. To tolerate something I have to disagree with it.

FM Right.

JA: Otherwise, I'm not tolerating it, I'm embarrassing it. They get hammered with it so much at work. They feel threatened that they'll lose their job if they aren't tolerant of immorality or dysfunction. As a survival response to that threat is they will say that the Bible is God's word, but the practical application of it is that everything is pretty much equal.

FM: You are talking about Christian postmoderns?

JA: I'm talking about Christian postmoderns, yes. The unchurched postmodern actually puts the Bible two or three steps below whatever is popular at the time.

FM: OK. Let me ask you a couple of more questions. What kind of sermon topics do they respond to? Are there any topics that you avoid?

JA: I've yet to find one they don't respond to. I think people are so hungry for truth that they respond well . . .this is one reason I'm getting back to expositional preaching where we get to the scriptures quick. Typically, we don't put the points up on the screen, we put the Bible verses on the screen.

I'll tell you, the one we had the greatest response to was the one on finances. We dealt with work, getting out of debt, we dealt with tithing, flat out. I said, "Here's the news man, here's what God's up to. He wants to work it out with you, but you've got to put Him in charge of the bank account." Great response to that. 

Anything having to do with relationships.

FM: So really, any topic, there is nothing that's taboo

JA: No, I'm thinking about doing one. . .I saw Ed Young at the Fellowship Church in Dallas . . .I'm crazy about what he is doing. He did a series call the untouchables where he dealt with homosexuality, racism and one other one, I can't remember what it was.

FM: And his people just ate it up.

JA: Yeah. They said it was the tape series that they sold the most of than any other.

FM: Really, postmodern preaching is Bible thumping without the attitude.

JA: Yeah, it really is.

FM: Because you're covering the same , but you just don't have the smirk on your face when you do it.

JA: That's a good way of putting it. The one thing that I know--postmoderns see through is anything that is plastic. Authenticity is important. They will openly mock and ridicule a preacher who gets up and has got all the answers and tells them what to do. But a guy that says, "Man, I'm blowing it on this issue, I've got to get my act together," and is humble and honest with them." 

I read a couple of your articles, I know you've got one on pulpit plagiarism, I thought it was great, because I study other guy's stuff, but I note in my bulletin where I got the stuff. They will see right through it if you don't. It's like they have a sixth sense where they know if you are full of prunes. They respond well to honesty. At the same time, there has to be a line in the sand where we say the scripture says this is right and this is wrong.

Back to FreshMinistry's PostModern Page