Convocation: Leonard Sweet opens new language lines between culture divides

Convocation: Leonard Sweet opens new language lines between culture divides

Leonard Sweet: "Our focus on the words has caused us to lose the story."

If you hear your pastor say “TGiF” over the next few weeks, it has nothing to do with her weekend plans.

“TGiF” is Leonard Sweet’s acronym explaining how some preachers need to change the way they communicate the Gospel.

About 270 pastors participated in Holston’s annual Convocation Feb. 18-21, organized by the Wesley Leadership Institute at Lake Junaluska, N.C. This year’s speaker and worship leader was the Rev. Sweet, author and E. Stanley Jones Chair of Evangelism at the Theological School of Drew University in Madison, N.J.

In addition to hearing Sweet speak at morning plenary sessions and evening worship services, Holston pastors attended workshops and joined in a free-time hike.

Pastors also aimed to “set an example” for their congregations with a challenge to give a total $5,000 and save 500 lives through Imagine No Malaria. On Thursday morning before concluding worship with Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, 11 clergy took a celebratory and chilly “plunge” into Lake Junaluska. (See video.)


Sweet said that generational distinctions have been replaced by cultural divides. The main divide is between those raised on print technology and book mentality (“Gutenbergers”) and those raised on digital technology (“Googlers”).

Drawing from one of his numerous books, "Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival," Sweet said Christians need to learn about connecting with others from the experts -- those who can’t seem to stop texting, IM-ing, tweeting, and updating their Facebook statuses.

“We need to learn the language of this TGiF culture : Twitter, Google, iPhone, and Facebook,” he said. “And this TGiF culture speaks in ‘narraphors,’ a combination of narrative and metaphor, not in words. We need to learn to speak missionally, which means narraphorically.”

“Our focus on the words has caused us to lose the story,” Sweet said.

Sweet also assigned new responsibilities to Christians of all ages. He questioned the “big jug/little jug” (older teacher/younger student) model of education in which “the little jug’s job is to catch all the droppings of the big jug.”

Young students no longer need older people to access information, he said. “But they do need authority figures to help them process the information.”

Consequently, relationships and age emphases need to change for Christians to improve their witness and delivery of the Gospel. 

Gutenberg people need to sit at the feet of their children and learn to hit the fast-forward button, he said. Google people need to sit at the feet of their elders, and learn to hit the rewind button of history.

Sweet shared the story of being an 13-year-old and being asked to play an organ. “Your church needs you,” the pastor said.

“We’re losing our kids because they’re not getting that call: ‘Your church needs you.’”

The bulk of the work may previously have fallen on the 30-to-60 age group, now squeezed by career demands, child-rearing, and parental care. Today, we should “not be too hard on them,” Sweet said. “The most important thing they can do is build a family … We’re not supporting them nearly enough to do that.”

It’s the 60-to-90-year-olds, he said, that face the most creative, best years, which should not be spent in a rocking chair.

“Maybe 60 is the new 30,” Sweet said. Instead of asking 60-to-90-year-olds, “Where are you going to retire?” a more fitting question of the era might be, “What are you going to do to join Jesus in saving the world?”

This year's Convocation dean was the Rev. Joey Manis, pastor at Shady Grove UMC in Dandridge, Tenn. 

See also:

  • "Holston pastors sing 'Joy' at Convocation" (Video 2-23-13)
  • "Convocation: Wise words from Indianapolis pastor; warm words for departing bishop" (The Call, 2-15-12


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.