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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Social Animal and Preaching

Written by: on January 12, 2017

During the last two centuries, the world has become more and more rational.  Emotions have given way to the scientific method.  Reason is the king on the mountain of social development at least that has been the thinking since the enlightenment.  David Brooks in his highly fascinating book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love Character and Achievement, explains that the way in which humans are formed and relate to one another goes beyond reason.  Human beings, the way they love, develop and grow are formed not by mere rational thinking, but the subconscious often plays a larger role than previously thought.  Brooks in many ways echoes the great commandment to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Brooks unfolds his work through the lives of a fictitious couple, Harold and Erica.  Their lives serves as a backdrop for Brooks’ research.  The unconscious mind is the key to human understanding.   He states: “If the study of the conscious mind highlights the importance of reason and analysis, study of the        unconscious mind highlights the importance of passions and perception.  If our outer mind          highlights the power of the individual, the inner mind highlights the power of relationships and              the invisible bonds between people.  If the outer mind hungers for status, money, and applause,       the inner mind hungers for harmony and connection – those moments when self-consciousness            fades away and a person is lost in a challenge, a cause, love of another or the love of God             (Brooks, Introduction xi).”

If Brooks is right, then we should pause as leaders and ministers to rethink much of what we do.  Recently, I have been diving into the world of Leonard Sweet.  I have been researching his work to understand how I can be a better communicator through what he calls semiotics.  Sweet’s approach is rather simple, we preachers must connect the message on many different levels so that people can experience God.  In other words, we must preach in incarnational message.  Sweet alludes the fact that the mind and soul are great mystery, and so there must be greater effort at connectivity.

Between Sweet and Brooks, I have begun to explore how I can connect to people on a greater level.  Most of our modern preaching comes from the enlightened world.  The methods that we have used are often times formulaic much like methods used in science.  Our preaching is a carbon copy of a world based off of reason.  We lay out point by point arguments with lofty words in attempt to reason with our fellow man. We often times appeal to the intellect.  However with Brooks’ research, should there be more than just mere words and rational communication?  If most of the mind is unconscious, then how do we penetrate that thinking?

Human beings are quite complex.  As Brooks tells us, “The inner realm is illuminated by science, but it is not a dry, mechanistic place.  It is an emotional and enchanted place (Brooks, Introduction, xi).”   There is a vast ocean in the human mind that we often never touch with our words from the pulpit.  Perhaps we must fall to our knees and ask God for his wisdom to appeal to both the head and the heart.

 

About the Author

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Jason Kennedy

I am a pastor of a thriving church in Grapevine, Texas. With two little girls (5,8), and a wife that is a medical doctor (family practice), life is non-stop.

12 responses to “The Social Animal and Preaching”

  1. Happy New Year Jason! I too have been challenged by Sweet’s writing and have been trying to craft sermons that will engage people on more than the brain level. Reflecting on 2016, my most “popular” sermon was when I wrote an updated version of the Prodigal Son. People really connected. I want to encourage you to keep going for it and Brooks helps and is a good reminder.
    I had a discussion recently with a friend and we discussed some of the topics in your blog. He stated that churches haved moved toward the Enlightenment thinking of reason because pastors have been running the show. He suggests we make room for prophets. This gets me thinking. May I suggest Brueggemann’s, “Prophetic Imagination” as a companion with your Sweet reading. Brueggemann has become a solid resource for me in this area.

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Thanks Aaron. I will check out Brueggaman’s book. For me it is a culmination of many things….my research topic (millennials), pastoring, and the reading over the past 5 semesters is getting me to dig down deep to see what really works or what I do just because that is what I have always done. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Jason, your blog was inspiring, and I was captive by your words “better communicator”,in connecting with people on a greater level.

    That is an amazing assignment you have given yourself,because we preach as fellow humans in the present situation. Maybe you have thought about this already, but let me reinforce it, because we speak as representatives of a God who seeks to woo the wounded. Our speaking and preaching tone should be winsome and Christlike, but that won’t work if it is mere catchphrases that aren’t supported by a deeply stirred reality. The tone of our preaching is so important. Yet this is a balancing act.

    Thanks for sharing with us and it is a lesson that I Can use. I pray that you have a great semester. Rose Maria

  3. Jason Kennedy says:

    Thanks Rose. Yes, it must be winsome but also soulful. It must connect to the head from an intellectual standpoint but must effect the heart and soul as well. It is a daunting task that takes practice. It is an ongoing process for me. Thank you for your kind words.

    Jason

  4. Kevin Norwood says:

    Jason,

    The end of your blog is the real struggle. How in the world do we communicate to all that is going on to each person’s inner self as they walk in to hear us speak? It has to be that the Holy Spirit empowers the words that we research and try and craft together. It is exactly what you are looking at. There is this huge gap left by Brooks concerning things that are spiritual. There is an emptiness inside that is described but not filled by all the research of this author. What can really fill it? Something that is real. Loved your thoughts. Have a great Sunday!

    Kevin

    • Jason KENNEDY says:

      I agree Kevin. I think it is two pronged. First, we have to be full of the Spirit. Secondly, we have to allow the spirit to speak through us.
      It is complex. The modern preacher must step back and ponder how to reach the inner self.
      Jason

  5. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Jason:

    Sounds like Brooks got to you too! The challenge is bring this transcendent God (that Brooks seem to acknowledge) into the lives of the Harold’s and Erica’s that surround us and even occasionally attend our churches in the midst of their search and pain?

    How are you adapting your preaching style to reach the unconscious that you talked about? Is it intentional in delivery or preparation? Or both?

    Phil

    • Jason KENNEDY says:

      Phil,
      It is both. In Sweet’s book, Giving Blood, he helps with both. His thoughts are that people connect to stories more than points. He suggest looking at the metaphors in the Bible and make narraphors (I am probably oversimplifying it). It is worth the read. I am just starting in my process of thinking, but I like the concepts.

  6. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Jason,

    I love your statement, “Brooks in many ways echoes the great commandment to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.” I will be thinking about that one for a while.

    Brooks talked about how our emotions assign value to things. I’m thinking that our preaching will be more powerful and effective if we can touch those areas.

    How do we reach emotionally valued areas of life without being emotionally manipulative?

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Mark,
      Great question. I think I go back to Len Sweet on this issue. He talks about the power of story and metaphor. I gave it a try yesterday. I was preaching on James 1:22 (Doers and Hearers). I started my sermon with the story of Eutychus hearing Paul but falling asleep and falling out the window. I then went on to preach on doing and hearing. My conclusion was Paul stopping his message (image of us stop talking) and going out side and breathing life into Eutychus (image of the church going out into the world and breathing life into a dead generation).
      The story connected emotionally to people. Sweet talks about story a lot in his book Giving Blood…but he puts a high priority on the word. My thoughts on this are on the infancy stage, but I think we have to move into being better story tellers (like Jesus) to connect people to the Word. Jason

  7. Pablo Morales says:

    Jason,
    I appreciate your reflection. I also was left thinking about the implications in church ministry. In my Christian circles we tend to emphasize reason while at the same time we tend to minimize the importance of emotions. According to my MTBI test, I am an ISTJ, which means that I am very analytical. Consequently, emotional experiences do not interest me so much. I wonder how much of our own makeup affects (and limits) the way in which we tend to minister to people.

    The analysis you are doing right now about preaching sounds relevant and healthy. I’ve noticed that people tend to connect emotionally with the preaching when we share real life experiences wrapped in passionate conviction. At the same time, beyond the rational and emotional dimension that Brooks brings up, we acknowledge the spiritual dimension. In this third dimension we depend on the Holy Spirit to empower us. In this area, no illustration or three-point outline will suffice, but a life that walks in integrity and submits itself as an instrument in the hands of God. May the Lord help us become impactful three-dimension preachers!
    Pablo

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      I totally agree. Now, I am a manuscript guy, but if you were to read my manuscript verses listening to my audio, you will hear extemporaneous thoughts. I think many times it is the Holy Spirit guiding. After all, he is the only one that can penetrate the heart. I am not sure if there is a scientific method to my thoughts on preaching….I do think though it is good to try to rethink from time to time. Both Brooks and Sweet have helped me with this.
      Jason

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