Speaking into echo chambers is not the purview of one group as opposed to another. Recognition of this malady is a good first step. But, until we enter another’s echo chamber ready to listen, we simply continue to draw unhelpful conclusions.
I have long believed this to be true. Then I read a few who were expressing the same sentiment from enclaves with which I am more familiar. For instance, J.D. Greear announced an event at Summit Church where he pastors with a post on his website titled, “Choosing between Christian podcast popularity and effectively reaching your community?” He opens the post with the following,
I recently heard an insightful statement about preaching, “Your sermons will end up sounding like whoever you talked to that week.” Who you hang out with, who you read, the questions you have–they end up subconsciously crafting the questions you deal with in a sermon. If you spend all your week with other pastors and other Christians then your sermons end up being geared toward both of those groups. Many of the speakers I enjoy listening to sound like they have spent all week talking with people like me, which is probably why I like them, because they address my questions.
Preaching that way makes you popular in the Christian subculture, but does little to engage a lost world, who ask different questions. Being popular on the Christian podcast circuit and effective at reaching your city are not always the same goal.
He then goes on to introduce Steven Furtick of the 24 hour “preachathon” not promoting his new book. The irony was palpable. Listening to people like us, who think like us, yeah, believe like us does seem to take in quite a bit of our time. And, it also promotes the very ghettoizing of Christianity Greear references.
Then, Ernest at Missions Misunderstood captures one way this madness is self-perpetuating. Rather than engage people in our context, or any context, we look for others to tell us what those in our community think about “us.” He points to a number of books that purport to tell “us” what “they” think about “us.” He summarizes quite well,
But rather than see ourselves as Calebs and Joshuas, we’re content to pay strangers to be our spies. Rather than exposing ourselves to what shapes peoples’ thinking, we build our apologetics around what others tell us that non-Christians think. Like a grade-school cheating ring, we’re content to let Mark Driscoll read The Shack for us, and for some other guy to Break the DaVinci Code on our behalf. And don’t even get me started on those of us who depend on daily indoctrination by talk radio propaganda to tell us what “they” think about “us.” Allow someone else to do your homework for you for long enough, and you lose the skills you were meant to learn in the first place.
Without access to real connection to faithful Christians, outsiders are left to outsource their “research” of Christianity. In our absence, they learn what they think they know about us from the haters, celebrities, clowns, and extremists who speak on our behalf.
The only way to truly know the people in our communities is to spend time with them. To move beyond the stereotypes and caricatures and into real interaction that allows dialog and love. If you really want to know what “they” think of “us,” you have to ask (and listen).
In this last paragraph Ernest unwittingly helps us find another areas where we tend to silo ourselves away. That is for Part 2.