Reflecting on Preaching – Balancing the Ego-inflating & the Soul-Crushing Feedback – Post 2

Hope all my East Coast friends are hanging in there – grace and strength to you who are in difficult circumstances.

Intended Primary Audience – Fellow preachers who don’t preach weekly.

My previous post on preaching dealt with the praises and pitfalls associated with preaching, especially for those of us who don’t preach weekly. This post I want to tackle the other side.

First, the effort that it takes to be a “weekly preacher” is incredible and I tip my hat to those that preach those 40-50 times a year. The preparation involves so much more than simply digging through commentaries and outlining and scripting and delivering. And when you start factoring in that you do this year after year and do not want to sound like last year – there is more energy spent. Then there are the countless other duties that preaching pastors have, it’s an incredible responsibility – I don’t know you do it – may the Lord continue to bless and strengthen you and your congregation.

Preaching is a tricky thing – and it is actually difficult. Aside from perhaps a lecture at school (that you not only chose to attend, but pay to attend) or a work presentation (which you get actually get to attend), the weekly sermon is incomparable. We just don’t choose to sit in a room full of people listening to someone for 30-40 minutes uninterrupted week after week for free.

Then there’s you as the preacher who stands up in front of a large group of people and talk for 30-40 minutes without any commercials, without any laugh-track, without any explosions, without any celebrities endorsing you, without any of the gratuity our media has conditioned us to – you simply get up there and talk.

Everyone is fixated on you and the clothes you chose to wear, the hair or lack of hair you showed up with and your general [Read more…]

Reflecting on Preaching – Balancing the Ego-inflating & the Soul-Crushing Feedback – Post 1

Intended Primary Audience – Fellow preachers who don’t preach weekly

Obviously this being my blog, I don’t speak for anyone else (including my friends or anyone I’ve served with in the past, currently serve with, etc.) but It’s been good for me to write about preaching as it’s forced me to think and put words to some of this.

If you are like me, I’ve come across so much stuff regarding dealing with the feedback to sermons. Our homiletics courses, preaching seminars, magazines, sites, books on preaching/teaching have offered many good words but for whatever reason it never feels like enough. How do we handle the feedback, the praises, the criticisms, the in-between comments, the awkwardness, etc.?

I’ve been in ministry for almost 13 years now. I’d say in my early years, I was really relying on the feedback. Then I went through a season that more or less thought, “I gave the message God laid on my heart” and walked away and let the encouragements and rebukes wash over me. The latter started off healthy but later I was discovering that not only was I becoming numb but (for me) it was a self-defensive mechanism that was distancing myself from community.

[Read more…]

Awkward Titles, Long Stories & Pop-Culture Saturated Sermons – Part 3

I am a firm believer that the messages, stories and themes of pop-culture serve as modern day scripture. Really.
I know, I know sounds a bit of a reach but here’s what I mean.

You could look at the success of stories like Twilight and see that to millions of young women, is a very informing if not [Read more…]

Awkward Titles, Long Stories & Pop-Culture Saturated Sermons – Part 2

I tell long stories. Part of me can’t help it really. I think part of it is I’ve always been drawn in by story-tellers and so I’ve always told them. I’ve even told some true stories over the years – like the time, I won the Heisman Trophy but gave it to Tim Tebow. And like all story-tellers, after you’ve told them a few times, they may contain a few embellishments and [Read more…]

Awkward Titles, Long Stories & Pop-Culture Saturated Sermons – Part 1

I think the title of the post describes my preaching style quite accurately. Of course, I would hope terms like Christ-centered, Biblically-rooted, Spirit-led, and a few others would work in there as well too.

I’ve been wanting to post on the topic of preaching/teaching for a while now but have held back for a number of reasons and they included:
– I’m not sure I preach often enough to warrant the posts.
– Some blog posts I read on preaching bug me and I don’t want to bug you, well maybe some of you.
– Lastly, these posts have the potential to come across as defensive or as an apologetic.

But lately I’ve been thinking that I may have something to offer others and it’s in this respect that I am creating this/these posts. I think what I can offer is some of my experience and thought process of how I am intentionally trying to craft messages for the underchurched and overchurched. It’s been my experience that they tend to be drawn to similar things (and bothered by similar things).

[Read more…]

Where Have All the Great Churches Gone?

In the previous post I echoed a question that some have asked regarding where have all the great Presidents gone? If you missed it, you can read my thoughts on the possibilities and the question itself but at the end of the post I mention that I am more concerned with a different question and that is, “What happened to all the great churches?” I meant it rhetorically but it got me thinking so I thought I’d unpack that a little.

The question usually comes in several variations:

“Why isn’t our church great anymore? We used to do this and this and this …and now … it’s not the same …”
“Which churches are really making a difference in our culture today?”

The first question is usually asked in conversation informally longing for the days of old. And the latter is usually asked from a pulpit or from some type of a stage or found in a book that is going to attempt to alter your perspective on the church, discipleship and what it really means to …. (insert book’s thesis here). Btw, a number of these books (and the people asking the question) are great, some not so much.

Now, let’s get some of the obvious things out of the way – certainly there are a number of great churches today. Secondly, the standard of measuring the greatness of churches deserves many more words than I intend on giving. So for the sake of simplicity, I’m merely suggesting that great churches are those that are deeply committed to following Jesus, rooted in Scripture and boldly and effectively proclaiming the good news of Jesus in their community and throughout their world.

The point of this post is that we don’t get too hung up on the question but move forward being intentional about being communities that truly love others and faithfully follow Jesus. But before we get there, we should allow ourselves to be humbled by the question, then motivated to live its answer in a way that is great in Christian Kingdom sense, not great in the world sense. Here’s a bit of what I mean.

There’s a question that’s often asked in pastor circles that goes likes this, “If you church suddenly closed down, would anyone in your community miss it?” It’s often met with a groan of fear, while the internal monologue worries over “Would we be missed??” It’s a question that gives small and mid-size churches a great deal of anxiety and it calls for all sorts of questions in larger ones.

I’m a big fan of the missional church conversation and I remember talking with a pastor whose church he described as “very missional.” They were very intentional about reaching out beyond their four walls and serve the community. He actually used this question as part of their mission statement, “We want to be a church that would be missed if we left the community.” I was dialed in as he told me that their building (that they inherited from a congregation that ceased to gather so they gave them the property for a $1) is used by various organizations in the community like AA, ESL, various Moms Groups, Girl Scouts even, and various other support groups.

I asked a couple questions regarding the interaction between the church community and these groups that met. He admitted there was very little but they were very comfortable with that. I was too, in the Christian sense but as I left for home, I couldn’t help but think that if this church closed down, these groups wouldn’t really miss them, they would only miss the free meeting space that the church approved.

I’m certainly not saying that those who participate in such groups should also be required to worship and tithe on Sundays in order to continue meeting there. I don’t believe in attaching such strings. Also, I still think this pastor has a great church and I still think they are on the right track of being missional and so forth but what I am saying is that these are not great examples of fulfilling their mission.

To go back to the earlier question that laments why isn’t our church “great” anymore. Greatness isn’t exclusively found in high attendance, building projects and an energetic atmosphere. In that sense, the church may have been large, but may not have actually been great. Certainly, those are all good things but I think we’ve seen how such “results” do not always give answers to the questions being asked.

Greatness is not to be equated with indispensable. There is nothing in the created in the world that is actually indispensable. As theists, we would say that only the existence of a Triune God is actually indispensable. Some might say this is circular, I’ll suggest that it is merely logical but in the Christian perspective, only God is indispensable.

Consider if we apply the question to outside the Church. Which company could we as a nation really go without? Which college/university if it were to suddenly close down would truly impact our society? Which institution is so great that if it were dissolved would truly bring ruin to us?

If Harvard closes down, students will apply to other Ivy League schools, if Apple loses it all, we’ll buy Samsung. If Facebook becomes the new MySpace, something else will become the new gathering point(s) of social networking.

Nothing in this world is so great that it is truly indispensable.

Which Jesus seemed intent on explaining when he to offer a paraphrase he said “Those who want to be great must become last.”
Those churches that really want to be great, must learn what it means to be “last” in this sense. Such communities need to be committed to “be great” in being sacrificial, great in loving, great in intentionally reaching out in a way that is truly Christian.

There are many churches that desire to be that – but I doubt any of us would say we are satisfied with how sacrificial, how loving, how far-reaching we are.
May we do more, give more, be more for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Feel free to offer your thoughts, push-backs and high praises allowed ;)


Where Have All the Great Presidents Gone?

In America, most of us grew up receiving great stories about our American Presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln (and depending on what type of home you were raised in) … Reagan.

Shortly after the Presidential debate last week, I saw a tweet inquiring “Why aren’t there any great Presidents anymore?” I assume its an offshoot of the often-heard statement, “I don’t like either candidate” mixed with the classic lament, “A good man/woman is hard to find these days.” Whatever is meant by those saying it, I’ve been thinking about it.

Understandably, it is easy to feel a measure of disillusionment towards our nation’s political leadership. There is a lot of posturing, a lot of game playing, some scandals and a good bit of deflection and deception. The only thing the public really wants is someone they can trust, someone who keeps their promises, someone who really is trying to serve the country but as we all know, this is a rather complicated thing.

And when it’s complicated, it’s easy to mistrust people. This is even further complicated by all the access we have to all people – not only in terms of our video cameras, teams of reporters, but so many aspects of our technology allow for the discovery and the delivery of so much news, data and gossip to circulate almost instantly. We simply have unprecedented access to the public figure (we also have unprecedented access to each other but that’s another story).

Not only do we have access, but we have an incredible market for the gossip – there’s a huge reward system around it. Certainly people have always been interested in gossip but I think it’s fair to say that as time has gone on, we’ve figured out how to make even more money from it, which has increased not only the efficiency of delivery but the volume as well. To put bluntly, people can get rich by discovering and revealing your worst secrets.

People also get rich and more powerful by not only protecting your secrets but also by growing one’s legend. This is best done to figures in the past (among the reasons I suppose is that they can do little to screw it up). Again, we see this with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy, etc. On Sunday, I attended a class in our Adult Discipleship building on the faith of US Presidents. Normally, I am not into these discussions in a church setting but I had heard such great things of the teacher, Jim Wallace, that I decided to check it out.

This week was on the faith of  Abraham Lincoln which was interesting because I am excited about the new Spielberg movie on him coming out next month. Anyway, the class was great but it wasn’t great because of the presidents – it was great because Jim was giving all sides of the story. Whether it is difficult to figure out where Lincoln stood in regards to his Christian faith (we learned that he was a Unitarian, was very superstitious, participated in cyanoses and though he called the nation to prayer, he rarely ever spoke about Jesus. Then things seem to change spiritually after the death of his son in 1850. Fascinating content but clearly not the modern American evangelical that have some have created him to be. Love that our church is talking about such subjects like this. It’s honest, it’s fresh, it’s needed).

It’s also interesting to see what happens with the legacies of the more recent Presidents has time goes on. This election season shows us a Bill Clinton with a halo on his head. But I tell you, I remember in the late 90’s amidst his scandals and I remember how he was loathed by Republicans … and many Democrats. Loathed. It’s not that we forgot the events that happened 15 years ago. It’s not that the internet has forgotten, it’s that his story is being told differently. It will be interesting to see how this new narrative is received.

We have access to so much gossip, we have a market for it, we have revisionist history for the good/bad/truth/etc. and we have also have so many other figures who are “leaders” in some way as well. Consider today that depending on who you are, you can regard Billy Graham, Tom Brady or Lady Gaga as your inspiration.

What’s the point to all of this? It seems unwise to compare the moral character of Presidents from one era to another or to compare the influence of public figures either.  Though it will be an interesting discussion and insights can be gained, there is no winner to the question because all people have shortcomings, even the most just can be be unjust, all are corrupt.  Thankfully, many have risen and demonstrated profound moments of greatness and God has used countless other moments as well.

But it puts things in perspective. This election season, let’s accept the realities of these figures. Let’s accept the realities of our personal and collective shortcomings and seek to find the solutions as opposed to the blame. For Christians, the shalom of Jesus does not come by securing worldly power, it comes by seeking the Kingdom of Christ. Though I believe we need to be faithful with our civic duties, the question we need to concern ourselves with is, “Where have all the great churches gone?”

Presidential Debates, Facebook Rage, Expectations & Response

As we know Wednesday night featured this campaign’s first Presidential Election debate. A lot has been said on the candidates’ performances and positions but I want to highlight the words of one person when he proclaimed, “This the most important election in our nation’s history.” We’ve heard it all election season, also heard it four years ago, and we’ll hear again in another four years. But that person was of course, the host of the television program that came on after the debate.   [Read more…]