Tuesday, March 3, 2020

An Acquired Taste

I’ve been thinking about the Bible a lot over the past several weeks.

A few weeks ago I was in a monthly meeting with our deacons. I initiated a discussion about our approach to ministry at Northshore Church, specifically our approach to Sunday mornings. I used some of what was in a message from the end of Luke 5, where Jesus spoke of new wineskins. I wanted their perspective and wisdom, asking questions like: 
  • Are we time locked? 
  • Are we stuck in an irrelevant culture? 
  • What approaches or routines need to be reexamined, refashioned, or even jettisoned? 
It was a productive discussion. During a lull, I opened the door and asked for feedback… specifically about my preaching. There were comments about style and length and such. There were calls for more stories and personal illustrations with the hope of connecting with folk not accustomed to church culture. Since I am very much in favor with connecting with folk not accustomed to church culture, I appreciated the input… a lot.

When that discussion was slowing, I said, with an intentionally provocative and satirical tone, “Well, yeah, but what does that have to do with meticulously exegeting a passage of Scripture?” I got the desired laugh. They laughed because they know I’m a bit nerdy about all this, and we moved ahead with the next item on the agenda.

But that question has continued to provoke me. What does any of that have to do with meticulously exegeting a passage of Scripture? I remain convinced that the most important thing I can do on a Sunday morning is preach God’s Word. Whatever I might have to say, nothing is as good as what God has to say to us through the Bible. But rightly dividing the word of truth may not always connect with the culture. Perhaps that’s what a select few people are looking for when they visit a church like ours… but I suspect that most are looking for something else (especially those not accustomed to church culture).

As I have been mulling it over, I remembered a favorite quote. It was not from a great theologian… but it was a spiritual experience when I first ran across this man’s product (30 years ago, my Midwestern palate had never encountered espresso).

In his first autobiography, Schultz wrote:

“First, every company must stand for something… Second, you don’t just give customers what they ask for. If you offer them something they’re not accustomed to, something so far superior that it takes a while to develop their palates, you can create a sense of discovery and excitement and loyalty that will bond them to you. It may take longer, but if you have a great product, you can educate your customers to like it rather than kowtowing to mass-market appeal.”

We’re not selling coffee here; we’re not selling anything here. But the principle applies. When you have the best, don’t just give people what they ask for.

The Bible is the best; it is far superior than anything else we might study and apply to our lives. But we should not expect anyone to have an appetite for it (including ourselves). It takes a while to develop a palate for the Bible… but once developed there is a lifechanging sense of discovery and excitement. This is our task when we present God’s Word.

We don’t do it alone, of course. The Holy Spirit carries responsibility and power in the endeavor; we merely do our part… our vitally important part in God’s mission.

During that discussion with my deacons, nobody was advocating for kowtowing to mass-market appeal… but it seems that some do, and by so doing they routinely fail to give people the best, that which is far superior.

I’m committed to working harder than ever before to give people the best. It might be harder than ever before to compete with so many expertly crafted messages in our culture (the mere Bible thumping of the ol’ time religion isn’t going to cut it). We’ll continue to work and innovate and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to give people the best… to develop palates and build discovery and excitement.

I know it is powerful. It has changed my life and is changing my life. I’ve seen it work in lives of those around me… those who have developed a palate and appetite for the best found in the Bible. Let’s continue to work together to develop that palate and appetite together, and be a place where others, even those who might be asking first for something else, can find the best too.