Pop the Red Pill
Pop the Red Pill By Mark Batterson A few months ago I was invited to speak at a twenty-something conference. I was driving north on interstate 95 listening to a CD when I heard something totally deﬂating if you’re a preacher by trade: “Studies indicate that we forget 95% of what we hear within three days.” I felt like doing an illegal U-turn and driving home! I remember praying this 70 mph prayer (with my eyes open): “God, I don’t want to invest my time and energy saying things that people are just going to forget anyway. Help me say things in unforgettable ways!” Unforgettable. Isn’t that the holy grail of preaching? To say things in such an anointed way that hearers don’t just remember. They can’t forget!I have a simple conviction: the most important truths ought to be communicated in the most unforgettable ways. There is a riveting scene in the blockbuster movie The Matrix where Neo meets Morpheus for the ﬁrst time. And Morpheus gives Neo a choice between two pills: You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.Unfortunately, that's what happens with most messages in most churches on most Sundays. People pop the blue pill. They may be inspired or convicted or challenged by a message, but they go to bed Sunday night and get up Monday morning and they can’t remember a single word you said. But Morpheus gives Neo another option:You take the red pill and you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. That’s the goal. Get people to pop the red pill and go down the rabbit-hole of faith. Brand TruthHere’s my philosophy of preaching in six words: say old things in new ways. Truth is kaleidoscopic. It is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. And sometimes a new angle on an ancient truth can result in metanoia—a paradigm shift. I recently did a series titled The Physics of Faith. Each message revolved around a law of physics familiar to anyone who has taken Physics 101. I used Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Bell’s Theorem, and The Second Law of Thermodynamics to frame spiritual truth. I believe every ology is a branch of theology. The way we add depth perception to our preaching is by cross-pollinating with different disciplines. If all truth is God’s truth, then we need to redeem scientiﬁc research and leadership theory and cultural trends and use them to serve God’s purposes. There is an old real estate adage: location, location, location. In the realm of communication, it’s metaphor, metaphor, metaphor. In De Poetica, Aristotle said, “The greatest thing by far is to be the master of metaphor.” Jesus set the standard. He used agrarian metaphors to frame truth because he knew that most of his listeners spent most of their day in the ﬁelds. He used familiar metaphors to brand truth. We call them parables.A Picture is Worth…We try to brand every message series with an organizing metaphor. The organizing metaphor for our last series, On Mission, was a customized Passport that was so authentic it could probably have gotten you through customs! And for our next series, Wired, we’ll use wireless technology to talk about increasing spiritual bandwidth. We’ll kick off 2006 with a series called Fuel. We’re in the process now of buying gas station relics for staging at our coffeehouse on Capitol http://www.sermoncentral.com/article.asp?article=a-PopRedPill
Pop the Red Pill
Hill. The key to branding message series is redeeming metaphors that are on the frontal lobe of cultural consciousness. A few years ago, OnStar launched its marketing campaign in the DC market. It seemed like I couldn’t turn on my radio without hearing the tag line: “Always There. Always Ready.” We decided to call our series on the Holy Spirit OnStar Onboard. I even borrowed a Ford Explorer with OnStar onboard and we shot the series trailer driving around Washington, DC talking to an Onstar operator. Who said you have to preach from behind a pulpit? Jesus did most of his preaching at the beach or on the mountain! We are currently experimenting with “offsite preaching” that is shot “on location” and pre-produced as a short ﬁlm. Why not? Especially if your church meets in a movie theater! Our theater screens double as postmodern stained glass. They enable us to communicate truth in moving pictures. For what it’s worth, the brain is able to process print on a page at a rate of about a hundred bits per second. A picture is processed at about a billion bits per second. That means that a picture isn’t worth a thousand words. A picture is literally worth ten million words! Irrelevance is IrreverenceThe key to unforgettable preaching is packaging truth in ways that are biblically sound and culturally relevant. Let me borrow from the parable of the wineskins. Think of biblical exegesis as the wine. Think of cultural relevance as the wineskin. If you have one without the other, you’re not going to quench anybody’s thirst. You need the substance (biblical exegesis) and the container (cultural relevance). If we divorce Biblical exegesis and cultural exegesis we end up with dysfunctional truth. It doesn’t do anybody any good. Either we answer questions no one is asking. Or we give the wrong answers. National Community Church has a core value: irrelevance is irreverence. God isn’t just omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He’s omni-relevant. He knows the number of hairs on our head. He knows every need before we verbalize it. And He speaks more than six billion dialects. No one is more relevant than God. So anything less than relevance is irreverence! Relevance = Reverence. Cultural relevance doesn’t mean dumbing-down or watering-down the truth. It’s about incarnating timeless truth in timely ways. < /SPAN >Two of our hardest hitting series each year are two of the most relevant: God @ the Billboards and God @ the Box Ofﬁce. The 60% of Americans who don’t attend church get their theology from movies and music. So we redeem popular songs and popular movies by juxtaposing them with Scripture. For what it’s worth, we literally roll out the red carpet during God @ the Box Ofﬁce and treat every NCCer like an Oscar Nominee. Red carpet treatment doesn’t hurt when your goal is getting people to pop the red pill. Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church ( www.theaterchurch.com) in Washington, DC. Comprised largely of Capitol Hill staffers, NCC is 80% single and 80% twentysomething. Recognized as one of the most innovative churches in America, the vision of NCC is to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the DC area. Mark is also the co-founder and Chief Spiritual Ofﬁcer of GodiPod.com, author of ID: The True You, and a blogger ( www.evotional.com). This upcoming May (2006), Mark hosting the Buzz Conference in Washington DC ( www.buzzconference.com). Mark lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora, and their three children.