Jesus doesn’t meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs I would’ve never had if I hadn’t met Jesus. He reorders them.
I used to ask seminarians, “Why are you in seminary?” They’d say, “I like meeting people’s needs.” And I’d say, “Whoa. Really? If you try that with the people I know, they’ll eat you alive.”
Now, if you’re a pastor in Honduras, it might be okay to define your ministry as meeting needs, because more people in Honduras have interesting biblical needs – food, clothing, housing. But most people in the churches I know get those needs met without prayer. So they’ve moved on to “needs” like orgasm, a satisfying career, an enjoyable love life, a positive outlook on life, and stuff the Bible has absolutely no interest in. –WIll Willimon, interview with Leadership, 2006
Willimon can bite hard. This is a stinging critique, but sometimes the sting makes us actually look at our own skin.
What role does prayer have in our churches? Before we give some answers on this, take an honest, solid look at how often we pray for our churches in our personal time, how often we pray with our people, how often we encourage our people to pray, etc.
Maybe prayer is our need.
I don’t believe that the Bible wants to “speak to the modern world.” Rather, I think the Bible wants to change, convert the modern world. —Bishop Will Willimon
The Rev. Frank Logue responds to Willimon in his post, On the Vocabulary of Church and Baseball:
I wholeheartedly agree about scripture seeking to transform our culture. However, I also think there should be a balance in preaching that Willimon seems to miss in moving from one pole to another. Just as I think sermons should balance speaking to the head (intellect) and the heart (emotions), I think we can not transform culture until we have spoken to it. What do you think? Should preaching speak to the culture or seek to transform it? (emphasis mine, jm)
And to this comes the opportunity for me to finally engage these ideas that Willimon puts forth:
There seems to be a few ideologies to follow in “transforming the world.”
1. You could mold it from the outside without interaction with it.
2. You could be inside of it and invite it into community with the Gospel.
The first option may be possible without ever speaking to the culture. It will also result in a conformed world that fits into the change agents view of what the result should be like. However, the second option requires the wolrd to be spoken to. The world must enter into the scripture with us and dialogue with it and the Holy Spirit. Then together we all change. As much as we are in the world and not of the world, we are in the world enought that we must remember to be transformed along with it.
So, my impression of where Willimon is going here is a hyperbole illustrating us being transformed by the culture. It would seem like the polar opposite would for the scripture to completely transform the world. The real middle is probably a place where we are all invited into the scriptures and we are transformed together by the grace and power of God.
You must listen to Willimon’s lectures from the J. Hubert Henderson Conference: “The Miracle of Preaching. ” You can find them as podcasts on iTunes. I wish I had some time to comment, but seminary, work, and baby are making it difficult to collect any more thoughts than I already have.
Also, read On NOT Reaching Our Culture Through Preaching