The trouble with hip preachers

24 08 2009

This isn’t a rant or a rave against preachers who are hipper than me. I like hip preachers. I think they’re great at shattering stereotypes and people’s preconceived ideas about what a Christian is. I like it that they help Christians to see that you don’t need to be a dag or a Ned Flanders. I like it that it’s easy to invite friends to hear someone who won’t make them cringe. There’s lots to like about hip preachers. As long they faithfully teach the Bible and glorify Jesus rather than themselves, cool.

But I do have one niggling concern about hip preachers. Let me start a bit further back. One of the things that really drew me to Christianity was that real Christians loved everyone, even the complete dorks and dags that everyone else treated as outcasts. I was never a complete dork, but I didn’t always feel like I fitted in while growing up. The witness of faithful Christians who loved and accepted me in spite of my weirdo music tastes, obsessive perfectionism, and introverted shyness got me in the door. And once I was in the door, I was continually impressed by the way the dorks and the dags were treated as real human beings.

Now, I don’t think that hip preachers jeopardize that at all. In fact, it’s all the more powerful when the hippest dude you’ve ever met has a genuine love and care for the nerd/geek/social outcast. Cool. But—and here’s my concern—I think the phenomenon of hip preachers does affect the acceptance of less cool preachers. Let’s face it, there are plenty of uncool preachers. Many of them faithful and genuinely loving servants of Jesus. But because they ain’t so hip, they don’t get the kudos, platform invitations, and facebook friends that the hip preachers do. I don’t really care if preachers don’t get those things (and neither should other preachers), but I do care if preachers are made to feel inadequate because they’re not hip. Let’s face it, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests that average Christians think that such preachers are inadequate because they’re not hip. They don’t talk the hip talk, they don’t wear the hip jeans, and they use sermon notes. Yes, sermon notes.

So I think that my concern is that, while we’re pretty good at loving unhip Christians, we’re not currently good at accepting, valuing, honoring, and thanking God for the unhip preachers. I don’t remember hipness being a requirement in 1 Timothy 3. I don’t remember hearing that Simeon was particularly hip. Nor Spurgeon. Especially not Edwards. And yet God used these great preachers to proclaim the gospel to thousands of people, hip and unhip alike.

Anyway, there’s my thing. Keen to hear your thoughts.

Posted by Con Campbell


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20 responses

24 08 2009
bruce pass

hi con,
this is a timely word – 2 memorable sermons at college have been very, very plain, unimpressive sermons from students. they were striking in that the voice of Christ was so clearly heard ! as well as the faithful content of what they said, i felt that the Lord had gently rebuked me on many levels with regard to my own preaching.

24 08 2009
Stan

Thanks for your post Con. A timely reminder for me personally.

Just looking at the list of people you have mentioned, those guys weren’t hip, but they were very smart people that God used for his kingdom. Just an observation…

24 08 2009
Con Campbell

Thanks guys.

24 08 2009
/Karen/

“I was never a complete dork, but I didn’t always feel like I fitted in while growing up. The witness of faithful Christians who loved and accepted me in spite of my weirdo music tastes, obsessive perfectionism, and introverted shyness got me in the door. And once I was in the door, I was continually impressed by the way the dorks and the dags were treated as real human beings.”

Thought 1: That’s so funny that you saw yourself more on the margins when you were younger, because you seem to “fit” in so well now. (Obviously people change, blah blah blah … I’m just trying to envisage the younger, dorkier Con.)

Thought 2: It’s strange how we have double standards–that we should love and care for the marginalised in our churches, but make exceptions for the preacher.

Thought 3: That we care about cool and uncool shows just how much worldliness has corrupted our hearts.

Thought 4: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 is such a helpful tonic to situations like these!

24 08 2009
Leo

trouble with hip-preacher groupies.

24 08 2009
Scott

Just went to ENGAGE… Great Weekend! Great Preaching! The organisers mixed up the preachers well – one ‘hip’ and one not so ‘hip’ (he even used sermon notes!) In the conversation I had with people afterwards there was a real appreciation for both of the preachers that flowed out of their differences. A good preacher is still a good preacher and a not so good preacher is still not so good… hip or not.

24 08 2009
Steve Walton

Hmmm…the question in my mind is what constitutes hip-ness or unhip-ness. Is your comment about style or liveliness of communication? What exactly is the characteristic of those you are concerned about?

24 08 2009
Con Campbell

Rapid fire responses:
Thanks for your thoughts, Karen. Right on.
You could be right there, Leo.
That’s encouraging, Scott.
Steve, I’m referring more to style–being cool in particular. Don’t want to specify too much lest it becomes incriminating, but I’m not just referring to style of preaching either, but the preacher’s level of coolness as a person, if that makes sense…

24 08 2009
Phil Nicholson

Good thoughts. I think we are currently in real danger in falling into the error 1 Cor. 1 “I follow…”. Not the preachers’ fault (unless they are being deliberately hip for kudos), but those who are hip do need to take special care to not gather groupies and to rebuke those who are.

I think the trend to hipness is also distorting the picture of what faithful ministry looks like in a number of ways (popularity, success, acclaim) and is attracting people to ministry for the wrong reasons. How about “scum of the earth”?

25 08 2009
The Gazman

I lost my hip(s) 30kg ago…

25 08 2009
Rhett Dodson

This un-hip, un-cool preacher says “thanks!”

25 08 2009
E. C. Hock

Thanks for the kind of nuance needed on such a host of preachers today. O agree with many others here. The affect this is having on otherwise good expositors, despite the tie and silvery hair, lack of earing, soul patch (chin) and faded jeans, is somewhat troubling. Presbyteries are quietly divided over this area when it comes to the church and its mission.

Some think it’s just another indication of how California is destroying all of the US and Western culture. But that, too, is an over-reaction. The hipsters in costume and the authentic hipsters in word and deed, must be discerned. God does have a pattern in history of raising up unlikely candidates, even upstarts, to do his gospel bidding when once vibrant preachers have grown stuffy or brittle or just stuck in their own time-bound bubbles for one reason or another.

But surely the hipster preacher image, more or less, is one part of, a derivative of, the already rampant celebrity-driven, youth-worshiping, health-enhancing, bohemian-mixed culture running its course in West. Even the dead are not allowed to leave the “bigger-than-life” stage as “tell-all” memoirs keep emerging ad nauseum. But praise the Lord also that there are men venturing like missionaries into that cultural forum with gifts and guts to do battle and translate the gospel into messages that in turn shock the shockers with grace, expose the lies, make the case, heal the rifts and by it declare Christ pre-imminent.

25 08 2009
Chris Little

Hi Con

I wonder if you can say more about your comment: “Let’s face it, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests that average Christians think that such preachers are inadequate because they’re not hip.” I’ve missed that – but am interested in the evidence.

And from your perspective in a theological college, does the trend go ‘up the line’? That is, employ hip theologians/Bible scholars instead of (boring) folk who simply will aid ministry preparation.

Cheers,
Little Chris

26 08 2009
Like, un-cool, man « Rhett Dodson

[…] Campbell, one of those exceptionally bright chaps from Australia, is also uneasy with this trend. Here are his musings. And hey, what’s cooler than an Australian […]

26 08 2009
E. C. Hock

Con,

One tangential question that your hipster piece provokes is the idea of being “missional”. This is a hipster term these days that has to do with new ways to engage, if not conform to, the cultural milieu. It’s gaining a wide usage in the States, yet with various shades of meaning. Tim Keller may use it, and Mark Driscoll may use it, and more left-wingers may use it, but each not have the same understanding. Is that a term and concept you have observed catching on downunder?

26 08 2009
Con Campbell

Hi Chris, just anecdotal evidence…

E. C., ‘missional’ is definitely catching on here, and I think it’s a good thing, at least as I understand it. It’s being used here to refer to a lifestyle characterized by mission, and provides a distinction to ‘evangelism’, which tends to be used to refer to specific acts rather than a lifestyle.

27 08 2009
E. C. Hock

Thanks…I appreciate the idea of lifestyle as opposed to acts alone.

1 09 2009
Andrew Southerton

As a student minister, I feel that the current obsession with hip preachers is quite damaging for us newbie preachers.

Churches are less willing to tollerate a bumbling student minister (with or without notes) because the church expects someone each week who can preach like the guys off the latest podcast.

I don’t hear any guys a college complaining that they have too much preaching at church but I hear a lot of guys who never get a chance because the church is unwilling to patiently encourage a newbie preacher.

5 09 2009
robahas

It’s an interesting phenomenon in a culture that doesn’t thing Christians are hip at all. I agree in principle, but also think that there is no excuse for not doing our best to communicate well. Often “hip” (young and popular) preachers are just guys with a natural gift for communication and also a passion for it. Not always, but sometimes, I feel like preachers don’t have a passion for communication and then they blame others for lower attention spans or chasing after the cool or whatever.

5 09 2009
Con Campbell

I mostly agree. Hip preachers are usually excellent communicators. And, as I said in the post, I like them. But there are also other great communicators who would not be described as ‘hip’.




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