Ours is not a particularly reflective age. When a pastor begins speaking of the meaning of the media, devices and technologies that surround us, he may receive something of a puzzled, if not combative, reaction. Many today are oblivious to the meanings of the things they read, the music they listen to, the films they watch, the technologies they use, or the very words they use. The ambient culture tends to scoff at reflectiveness as impractical philosophizing. The pace of urbanized culture discourages serious consideration of the meaning of things. Further, our lives are populated with media which serve the end of perpetual distraction, with its background noise drowning out the clarity and curiosity that come with silence. A pastor can attempt to cultivate a spirit of reflectiveness in his people through several measures.
First, if he is doing the kind of reading suggested in the last post, it is inevitable that his sermons will end up applying Scripture with a broader range of examples. At the same time, those examples will become more incisive and particular, often surprising and awakening parishioners with the meaning of things they had ignored, passed over or simply failed to consider. With these applications, he will be explicitly or implicitly calling for discernment and a careful use of technology, media, and other cultural phenomena. Discernment, or judgment, is only possible when people understand the meaning of the thing or activity under consideration. True discernment comes about by encouraging the examined life. Eventually, parishioners may begin to realize that applying Scripture takes some work on their part: the work of understanding the world, so as to apply the Word.
A bolster to this kind of thinking would be a Sunday School-type class on biblical ethics. A study of gender issues, bio-ethics, war, justice, economics and other such matters encourages people to consider the meaning of these things in our world, so as to rightly apply the Scriptures.
Second, he can teach the doctrine of vocation. Gene Veith has done helpful work on this doctrine. This important teaching, recovered largely by Luther, insists on the truths of 1 Corinthians 7:18-24, which is that every person has a calling. I spent many years in a church where the pulpit teaching seemed to suggest that the only two God-pleasing career options for a Christian are pastor and missionary (or the wives thereof). By contrast, Scripture makes it clear that God calls people to various stations in life for His glory. While pastor and missionary are honorable callings, the world needs Christians who are plumbers, lawyers, composers, horticulturalists, soldiers, farmers, nurses, and mechanics. This is not merely so that we can witness to others in the professions we are in. It is because God is glorified by the industrious and creative work of men. Christians ought to excel at learning the meaning of a section of God’s world, and bring Him glory through their useful and valuable work. Here the pastor also has the opportunity to learn from his members, as they explain meanings discovered from their particular callings. Against this biblical view, people are encouraged by their culture to simply ‘get a job’ so as to have enough money to spend on their pleasures. While one’s income may not always coincide with one’s calling, this approach generally pushes out any real pursuit of meaning. Pastors can resist this mindlessness in the Christians they teach by encouraging them to value their callings, learn within them, and excel at them.
Third, he can teach the doctrine of true leisure. Partner to an unbiblical view of vocation is an unbiblical view of leisure. Leisure is seen by the world as respite from ‘the job’, and essentially an opportunity to ‘goof off’ or ‘veg out’. This kind of idleness has the paradoxical effect of filling the soul with an empty boredom, which requires more distraction to satiate it. Josef Pieper argues that the real point of leisure is freedom from the constraints of servile work, so as to be able to reflect on ultimate ends. Leisure involves a passivity which considers the meaning and value of things as they are in themselves, and not merely for their function. This requires stepping outside our routine to look upon the world as a gift from God. This ultimately depends on worship, and the act of corporate worship.
This happens to be close to the biblical idea of sabbatical rest. For God’s Old and New Testament people, there exists the principle of coming apart from the world of servile work to worship, meditate and ponder. This has implications for how we use the Lord’s Day (and how we teach people to use it). If the Lord’s Day services are a brief pause in an otherwise secular use of leisure, we have missed the point entirely. If Sundays contain nothing of reflection, contemplation and meditation, but are filled with the usual distractions ( albeit punctuated by a service or two) then God’s people are not resting in the way He intended. If Sunday is a chance for Christians to do what unbelievers mean when they speak of ‘unwinding’, then we ought not to be surprised when Christians do not grow in their ability to perceive meanings. Nothing wrong with hobbies, games, or distractions in their place. But the aim of leisure is not mere distraction; it exists for the reflection that makes sense of life.
I have occasionally pointed people to Tozer’s thoughts on simplicity and solitude:
The need for solitude and quietness was never greater than it is today. What the world will do about it is their problem. Apparently the masses want it the way it is and the majority of Christians are so completely conformed to this present age that they, too, want things the way they are. They may be annoyed a bit by the clamor and by the goldfish bowl existence they live, but apparently they are not annoyed enough to do anything about it. However, there are a few of God’s children who have had enough. They want to relearn the ways of solitude and simplicity and gain the infinite riches of the interior life. They want to discover the blessedness of what Dr. Max Reich called “spiritual aloneness.” To such I offer a brief paragraph of counsel.
Retire from the world each day to some private spot, even if it be only the bedroom (for a while I retreated to the furnace room for want of a better place). Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God’s presence envelops you. Deliberately tune out the unpleasant sounds and come out of your closet determined not to hear them. Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognize it. Stop trying to compete with others. Give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think. Reduce your interests to a few. Don’t try to know what will be of no service to you. Avoid the digest type of mind—short bits of unrelated facts, cute stories and bright sayings. Learn to pray inwardly every moment. After a while you can do this even while you work. Practice candor, childlike honesty, humility. Pray for a single eye. Read less, but read more of what is important to your inner life. Never let your mind remain scattered for very long. Call home your roving thoughts. Gaze on Christ with the eyes of your soul. Practice spiritual concentration.
All the above is contingent upon a right relation to God through Christ and daily meditation on the Scriptures. Lacking these, nothing will help us; granted these, the discipline recommended will go far to neutralize the evil effects of externalism and to make us acquainted with God and our own souls.
(A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men)
The fourth way of encouraging reflectiveness is for a pastor to become aware of how form shapes meaning. We will consider this in our last exploration of the seventh mark of a conservative Christian church.
About David de Bruyn
David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.