There are two skills that you can learn as a preacher if you want to be unhelpful but popular in the evangelical world:
1. Always refer to "back then."
By example: "If the church today could just get back to what it was doing. Fifty years ago everyone knew their Bible. Plus, have you read the Puritans. No one writes like them anymore. The church needs to get back to where it was."
Or another more personal example: "I used to have such a strong relationship with Christ. I just need to get back to where I was."
Most of us have a romantic view of the past, even a past where we were not present. I for one don't want to go back to the time of the Puritans - with it's 2% literacy rate and seemingly high rates of sexual immorality (just check how many marriages happened 6 months before a baby was born). I don't want to go back to the latent legalism of 18th century American Protestantism either! Was there not serious doctrinal debates during that time which looks like 20th century liberalism?
On the personal note, I am sure there are people that need to get back to where they were with Christ, but most of us need to press forward. When we were young(er) and single we had more time on our hands to pray, meet with people, study scripture and serve others. With kids, a spouse and a job, how we walk with the Lord looks different. Let's press ahead and be thankful for the past. Let's not romanticize the past.
2. Ask good questions, don't give answers.
I know I am guilty of this one.
Talk about being radical in your faith, about giving things up for Jesus, about living single in the city, about possibly leaving your job for "ministry," about giving lots of money to missions, about living in a diverse neighborhood, and most importantly - hammer the American Dream (but don't get specific about defining it). Ask lots of questions that are meant to make us feel materialistic - and then leave us there.
Don't talk about paying bills, supporting a local economy and being careful in charitable giving. Don't talk about being parents in the suburbs or faithful in the small things (like changing diapers). Don't talk about being a mom with 3 kids under 4 (that's us!). Don't talk about seeking good medical care, schooling or safety for your kids. Certainly don't talk about staying at your job as a witness for the gospel.
These are wonderful issues to think through. Evangelicals are often accused of being lukewarm about taking strong opinions. Those who do are popular in some circles and reviled by many. It's great to ask the questions, but only asking questions does not serve your church well. It is ok to tell people that Christians disagree on these issues, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't point them to Scripture for how to answer these questions!
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.