The Key to Preaching in a "Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous" World

Photo by Jorge Reyna on Unsplash

Photo by Jorge Reyna on Unsplash

I met a fortune-teller at our annual clergy conference.

I don't mean a fortune-teller like looking at tea leaves, crystal balls, or forehead heights.

I mean one who forecasts the fate of humanity by making sense of the present days' statistics, signs and times.

Introducing Bob Johansen, Ph.D.

It's Dr. Johansen's job to look down the road about a decade at a time. With his background in the sociology of religion, and now as Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley, he looks at what is, what was, and makes sense of that data to look ahead.

The Future: "Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous."

I just had the chance to hear Dr. Johansen at our annual clergy conference and have started his most recent book, The New Leadership Literacies: Twisting Toward Distributed Everything.

Astonishing as it was  to hear Dr. Johansen describe the sea-changes we're about to see in the internet (enough to render its current iteration unrecognizable), and be reassured that my teenage sons' mind-boggling ability to succeed at multi-tasking between homework, conversations, songs, and videos is a necessary skill set—actually, achieve "Constant Partial Attention"—what most caught my attention was this: the world is only going to become more "volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous."

In other words, using this descriptive expression he learned: 

We're moving into "an increasingly VUCA world" (p. 2).

Not too surprised?

Perhaps many of us don't even need Dr. Johansen to tell us what already looks to be a frightening and chaotic world is only going to get worse. Oh, joy.

The Essential Counter-Narrative: Hope

What may be more surprising is to hear Dr. Johansen's outline for a counter-narrative: hope. 

The upside, he says, is that this time of chaos is fertile ground for creativity, innovation, and a world that can become better than it is now.

He writes: 

"I've come to understand that [our VUCA world] does have a hopeful side: volatility leads to vision; uncertainty to understanding; complexity to clarity; and ambiguity to agility" (p. 5).

Not only does Dr. Johansen say a VUCA world has this hopeful side, but crucially, he argues: 

"Hope will be the key variable. Hope has always been important, but it is likely to be much more difficult to achieve over the next decade....Leaders in the future will be in the seeding hope business" (137-138, emphasis mine).

Fortunately, we preachers are in the right job! We love hope!

You remember the wonderful verse from I Cor. 13, "Love never ends"?

Time for a twist: "Hope never ends!"

In other words, as preachers, we need to preach hope that leads people to a new Promised Land, because otherwise, our collective chaos, fear, and despair could make Sheol look like a beach vacation.

Hope will be the key message.

Hope will cast the vision and lead to a currently unimaginable Promised Land characterized by a "new normal":

  • actual dignity created—one compassionate human being to another—in the workplace, in school, in healthcare, in opportunities, and in the environment
  • and heartfelt respect shown—one compassionate human being to another—to all races, peoples, nationalities, traditions, and religions.

Hope offers a new shalom for all without exception.

This is the Gospel message, after all. 

What is lost will be found, what is sick will be healed, what is broken will be redeemed.

Every human story, no matter how "volatile, uncertain, complex, or ambiguous," finds its resolution in Christ.

For that reason, we can nurture and offer hope in every sermon, every Sunday, in every circumstance.

If we focus only on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the world, our listeners may forget the Truth of grace, hope, and love accomplished by the cross. They may be tempted to lose heart and cease to usher in God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Therefore, when you preach, preach the whole story: Good Friday always leads to Easter Sunday.

In this way, you'll bring light to darkness. You'll offer salt to a one-flavor world. You'll proclaim life and life abundant.

And your listeners will be equipped to go and do likewise.

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