Douglas Groothius decided not to make New Years' resolutions, but to list fifteen things that he refuses to do in the next year. They're generally good, but I disagree with a few:
1. I refuse to waste time on trivia: that means 95% of popular culture. Instead, I will center on study, teaching, preaching, writing, and mentoring.
7. I refuse to ever play a video game. Instead, I will look for Kingdom opportunities in the land of the living.
8. I refuse to waste time on small talk. Instead, I will endeavor to make all my words count for eternity.
These may work well for an academic, but are counter-productive for anyone in a pastoral role. Evangelism must take place in the language of the host culture. One does not go to China and proclaim the Gospel in English; one does so in Chinese. In a similar manner, a Christian in America cannot effectively communicate Christian truths without speaking the cultural language of America. Which is more effective in a congregation of laypeople: a sermon referencing Brueggemann and Tillich or one referencing The Simpsons and Star Trek? Which gets the attention of people, keeps it, and conveys the Gospel in metaphors that people will best respond to?
Are such things 'small talk'? Of course. But is it bad for a pastor to visit a homebound parishioner and chat about her garden instead of rhetorical criticism of the Pauline epistles? Is it wasteful for a Christian to talk with a non-Christian co-worker about the football game last night? Henry Neufeld:
I once visited a number of people with a gentleman who was involved in extraordinary work for the Lord. We were to try to make contacts and raise money for his work. We were never able to get a conversation going with anyone because the only thing he wanted to talk about was his ministry and the money he needed for it. One of our contacts even stopped me as we left the audience and said quietly, “Come again yourself and I’ll talk to you, but don’t bring him.”
Now I'm not proposing that we engage the services of prostitutes so that we can eventually understand that underworld, or that we snort cocaine so that we can more effectively speak the gospel message to drug dealers. But we can and should understand morally neutral metaphors (e.g. RPGs or motorcycles) so that we can establish relationships with people who communicate in those metaphors. That is the starting point of evangelism.
If we refuse to engage in small talk or to encounter other cultures (pop or otherwise), we are communicating to people around us that they and their cultures are worthless. And that can only be a stumbling block to building relationships inside and outside of the Christian community.
Hat tip: David Wayne