Communicating within Worldviews

I first read Seth Godin’s work years ago in Fast Company. I continue to find his work stimulating and helpful in my role as a church leader. Though his recent post is titled Shark Attack, he only uses the recent tragedy to discuss other matters.

First he talks about his recent book (which I’ve commented on several times in the past).

All Marketers are Liars was probably a dumb title for my latest book (if my goal was to sell a lot, fast). It doesn’t do a good job of matching the worldview of the people most likely to buy it or talk about it. Perhaps I should have called it, “The Orange Kangaroo: How Smart Marketers Tell Stories People Want to Believe.” Same book, different worldview. To be fair, my goal wasn’t to write a sequel, though, it was to change minds–which is a very time-consuming and difficult thing to do.

Actually in his terms, he failed to “market” the book. Instead of telling a story within the worldview of the hearers, he sought to tell the “truth” from a meta perspective – from above the fray. We philosophical types found this interesting, but I guess those interested in marketing found it less appealing.

He then raises the questions we communicators of the Gospel need to consider:

If you don’t have the energy or the time to change minds, though, what should you do? You need to realize that changing a worldview requires you to get your prospects to admit that they were wrong. This is awfully hard to do.

I think that tapping into a worldview almost always requires more than a new title or a new wrapper or a new ad. I think it requires rethinking the product itself, starting from scratch with the worldview in mind.

Udner Bishop Huie’s leadership this year’s session of the Texas Annual Conference was quite different from any I had previously experienced. The most obvious agenda difference came on Tuesday with the addition of two workshop sessions. The first workshop I went to was on a new conference plan for evangelism. The workshop leader recognized that most of our United Methodist churches aren’t currently configured for evangelism. Maintenance of facilities, yes. Paying the bills, yes. Taking care of members, yes. But evangelism? Reaching people outside the church and bringing them to faith in Jesus? Nope. Change is required. The plan calls for spending 4 weeks changing the minds of the congregation toward evangelism so the work can proceed, since “it takes 30 days to change a person’s mind.” I almost fell down laughing. Is he serious? Have his churches been easier than mine? Changing minds – except on trivial subjects – is much too complicated to be accomplished in a mere 30 days. Seth Godin understands this.

So how do you change minds – whether to sell a book or to lead a church to care for evangelism? When worldview is involved – and in evangelism it most assuredly is – two acts must be performed simultaneously. First, the old worldview must be shown to be deficient. Second, the new worldview must be shown to be desirable. Both must be done continuously. Understanding the second step is fairly straightforward (though actually doing it is a huge job), so I’ll speak to the first step.

Undermining a worldview is extremely difficult. Not only are worldviews highly resilient, but attacks often provoke violent responses (if you think I’m exaggerating, consider the current relations between America and the Islamic world). Personally I’m not sure I’m cut out for the frontal assault. I tried that in one church and got run off pretty quickly. More in line with my personality is attempting the reductio ad absurdum of the current worldview. The weakness of this approach is that it is built on the notion that worldviews are primarily things of reason – and they’re not. Though they form the framework for one’s reason, we become very emotionally attached to our worldviews.

So what does it take to do this kind of undermining? At the very least, a strong sense of humor. You need to demonstrate over and over again that while you take God and his mission with utter seriousness, you don’t take yourself too seriously. Additionally, you need to find ways to exaggerate your love for people. This will require actions and words. By “words” I mean not only the saying of loving words, but also active interpretation of actions as loving. Why? Because love looks different in each worldview. As Christians love is defined by Jesus. In American culture love is often defined as a hormonal response (in one kind of context) or as complete affirmation of one’s desires and actions (in another kind of context). Perhaps you are sufficiently aware of worldviews to see a difference between these two understandings of love.

So how long does it take to change someone’s – or a congregation’s – mind? In my experience average situations would call for a minimum of at least 3 years. Obviously this calls for a third virtue – beyond a sense of humor and love: patience – or perhaps plain old stubborness. In the short term it’s almost always easier to go with the status quo. But in the long term is will almost always kill you (or your organization). There are no quick fixes.

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