Archive for the ‘preaching’ Category

I’m very stoked, pumped, excited, and animated to be heading to Rochester College this May 16-18 for “Streaming: Biblical Conversations From the Missional Frontier”. Streaming is an in-depth exploration about the adventure of ministry. It  will focus on the book of James and will offer ministers and church leaders biblical resources to help them lead God’s people in a missional era. Mark Love – the churches of Christ missional yoda and peculiarly dedicated Bob Dylan fan, has put together, along with JoPa Productions, an awesome line-up of missional thinkers.

The featured speakers will be Scot McKnight and Miroslav Volf! Wow!!

Many of you already know Scot McKnight. He’s a Christian blogosphere rockstar (if there can be such a thing), has written a first rate book on how to read scripture and is not afraid to call John Piper’s questions of whether or not “Jesus preached Paul’s gospel” stupid, well “irritating!” His newest book is One.Life.

Perhaps less people know Miroslav Volf, but you should. Volf is as first-rate as first-rate gets when it comes to theology, and his book Exclusion and Embrace is a modern-day classic when it comes to race, identity and reconciliation. His newest release, Allah: A Christian Response is supposed to be excellent as well.

Just those two guys make Streaming worth the mere $189 for the registration. Plus, other incredible folks you’ll want to be around will be there. People like me, Jack Reese, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt.

I hope you’ll join me this May in Michigan.

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2011 Preaching Plan

Posted: December 21, 2010 in Bible, church, homiletics, leadership, preaching

This is the time of year when I solidify the preaching/teaching calendar for next year. I’m excited about the terrain we’ll be covering at Redwood Church this spring. I’m so excited that I wanted to tell you now so you can make your plans to visit — plus, I needed to throw-up a post today.

First off, is a short ( 2 sermons) series, I’m calling “Win1”. The long and short of it is that we want to encourage people to “invest” in people and “invite” people to one of our environments, preferably Sunday worship or one of our small groups.

Then we’ll launch into a 4-week series on work, entitled, “The Office.” Four topics include (1) a theology of work, (2) how to fire your boss, (3) are you really “workin’ for the weekend, and (4) too much for 24: how to be ok with not getting it all done. I’m using one of my former professor’s books, “Responsive Labor” as a backdrop. This series can change the way you approach and feel about your work. If you’re happy with your job and family, you need this. If you’re not happy, you need this.

The weight of the spring teaching will center on The Fruit of the Spirit. The series is called, “There’s An App For That.” The Fruit of the Spirit are both gradual and inevitable. They serve as down-payment of the fullness of God’s Spirit. You want your life to get better, the Fruit of the Spirit is the ticket coupled with a heavy-dose of spiritual disciplines (call them “practices” if you’re a wimp).

Easter services we’re simply calling, “The Event”

After Easter, I’ll be preaching a congregation-driven series. It’s called, “I Have a Friend Who….” I’ll invite the congregation – especially young adults and teenagers – to submit the burning questions of their friends regarding faith, religion and Christianity. I think I can pretty much pick the questions that’ll be asked, but what the heck, I’ll let them decide.

If you’re around the Bay Area, come check it out.

I’m sick of it!

And if you’re a pastor/preacher/minister, you’re likely sick of it too. You’ve seen all the tweets and articles in magazines that act as if the pastor is a singular human in their organization, capable of creating and sustaining wonderful health and growth all by his or her own lonesome.

Here are some of the doozies I’ve heard lately:

  • As the pastor, you should be the happiest person in your church.
  • Pastor, what’s your staff culture? Remember, you set the culture for your staff.
  • If you don’t have 5 evangelistic relationships going on, how can you expect your congregants to have any?

On and on the lists go. It all adds up to this: As the leader of your organization you’re expected to have a great family, exercise daily, be studied in theology, history, culture, music, Bible and the local and national news. You’re also solely responsible for the culture and spiritual growth of your staff and congregation, as well as their intellectual and emotional health and growth. By the way, how up-to-speed are you on fund-raising and systems thinking and implementation? What about addiction, co-dependency, visitation, guest-services, and community activities. Oh, before I forget, don’t you have a sermon to preach this weekend?

The problem with these little maxims is that they are partly true. As a pastor and leader, you do carry some level of responsibility for all these things. Yet there are so many things to be responsible for that no human can do them all well. I don’t mean to be snippy toward our mega-church leaders who hand down their tools of the trade. Rather, I would like them to consider some real-world limitations that many leaders have to deal with and sometimes can’t be overcome. While these considerations run the risk of being labeled excuses, for many people they are the water they swim in. They are real. In nearly 20 years of working near, around and in churches, I know these considerations to be depressingly true.

  1. Many pastors have no say over their staff. Who they are? How well trained? How committed? They can neither reduce salary for underperformance or increase it for a job well done. They do not hire and fire, and can’t even make recommendations to do so. What’s more, for many people, the staff is inherited. Thus, the staff culture is inherited. While a good leader can change the culture, it takes time. Sometimes a long time.
  2. Some church systems are anti-leadership.  The pastor is NOT the leader and no one wants them to be. Decisions are largely made by committee. Believe it or not, some folks think that’s the Biblical way to do it, even if it’s not efficient. Plus, it’s not as easy as you think for people who’ve gone through the process of education and the processes of becoming ordained, just to pick-up and leave their church or denomination. This becomes more difficult when children and family are involved.Many were reared in these churches, went to camp in these denominations and are deeply rooted relationally. To leave isn’t merely a job change, it’s a life change!
  3. Many pastors are flying solo. While some have no say over their staff others have no staff at all, save volunteers. Surprising as it may sound to you, sermon preparation takes just as long in a 20-member church as it does a 200-, 2,000-, or 20,000-member one. And the clergy-person in the 20-member church has to oversee building concerns, adult ed, children’s ed, the youth group, processes for spiritual formation, pastoral care and nearly everything else. While some jobs in the church do scale with the size of the organization, some do not, and when you’re doing it all by yourself, you’re doing it all by yourself.
  4. Most ministers aren’t starting from scratch. I’m a big-believer in church-planting, but that’s not what most clergy are doing. Most are working within existing cultures and systems. If you asked them, they could name 50 things they’d change tomorrow if they could. Why don’t they? They have chosen being pastoral over being a CEO-type leader. Pastoring means walking with people, guiding them along — often at a slow pace. I’m struck with a little referred to story of Jacob meeting Esau. As they leave for Sukkoth, Jacob – who was traveling with his wives and children – ask Esau to go ahead of him so that he can care for his children and flock. Jacob tells his brother he needs to slow his pace to the speed of the children. This, my friends, is ministry too — slowing down for the ones who cannot move more quickly. Some ministers choose to do so in order that we all arrive to worship God together.

These are just the beginnings of ministry in the real world. Again, I’m not saying that much of the counsel offered by church leadership gurus isn’t valid. It’s shaped who I am and how I lead. I am saying that I’ve not always been in the kind of context I am now, and I remember what it was like to work within other kinds of systems.

So, I  question whether much of what is flippantly stated in church-leadership conversations is realistic. More so, I question if it’s dismissive of the context the majority of ministers work in. If so, our gurus are speaking to a very small audience. It doesn’t mean that these men and women won’t show up at your conferences and buy your books, it just means that the beautiful meal you’re serving is going uneaten.

Perhaps it may be time for many of us to recalibrate our leadership message from, “what works for me” to “what can work for you.” Maybe we need an orientation that sees ministry in live-action and on-the-ground, rather than from the preaching Pentagon.

A while ago, I began a conversation about how congregant could help their preacher preach better. You can read about those here and here. Today I’d like to turn our attention to how congregations can get the most out of a sermon.

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A sermon, like any form of communication, can go in one ear and out the other. Worse still, a sermon can find hospitality in the head and hostility in the heart. Many of us struggle with the weekly homily, but we don’t want to. We struggle with how to apply it, how to remember it, how to live it out, and make sense of it in a world wherein we hear so many messages all the time. So I thought I’d offer 5 Strategies to “Getting” the Sermon.

1. Dwell In The Word. If Sunday morning is the first time you’ve read the sermon text, much of what the preacher says will be lost on you. It’s cold. You haven’t had time to allow the scriptures to seep into your skin. At Redwood Church, we provide the entire congregation the sermon text(s) and a brief synopsis of the sermon every Thursday via e-mail. This allows the willing to read the text(s), get a feel for where the sermon is headed and allows God to work the mystery of His presence in a hearer’s heart before Sunday. Peeking at the text ahead of time gets you back into story – it’s probably been a long time since you’ve read about Judah and Tamar, my subject for this week – refresh your memory.

2. Take Your Own Notes. Our congregation provides notes for every one in attendance. These are largely useless! Why? Because these notes are limited to what I think is most important in the text and are typically subject heading. Don’t check your brains at the narthex. Surprise, surprise; God may have something distinct in mind for you. Each scripture passage is deep, rich and meaningful, only so much can be covered in 20-minutes, um, I mean 40 minutes. 🙂

3. Bring Your Own Bible. We provide Bible for new Christians and visitors, but for old hands, there’s nothing as good as thumbing through your Bible, making notes in it, highlighting meaningful texts and moving insights. My Bible is a kind of journal of my with-God life. When a teacher or preacher says something important or I gain a new insight, I jot it down inside the text and it serves me for the rest of my life. Not only that, by using my own Bible – and not being dependent on the screen – I learn the text and memorize where things are. It’s a way of taking responsibility for my own attention to God’s Word.

4. Listen Again.With modern technology, sermons don’t expire at noon on Sunday. Anyone in the world can download my sermons and listen to them as many times as they’d like. (This isn’t just about my sermons. I, too, listen to sermons each week from other pastors. I don’t just listen once. There’s too much in any given homily to get it all the first time.) If you do this, sooner or later you’ll get a feel for your preacher; how they walk through a text; what’s important to them, etc….This will help you glean more.

5. Ask, Prod, and Seek. Guess what? You’re preacher won’t be offended if you need further guidance or have questions about something. They’ll probably be shocked!! Though they may point you in the direction of a book with a fuller treatment of the issues, your minister wants you to “get it.” Here’s a crazy idea; ask your preacher to point you in the direction of the resources they use. Next week, you may be ahead of them!

Well, there you have it, 5 quick hitters to help you get more out of the “kerygmatic event.” Hope that helps.

I was slightly taken aback when one of our church members – a friend and supporter of mine – joked to her husband that she listens to me 40-minutes every Sunday. Trust me, no one knows better than I do when I stray over my allotted time. In fairness, my sermons are typically about 30-minutes, not 40. A co-worker complained to me once that a particular sermon was 38-minutes (I could tell she had only checked the time stamp on the podcast and hadn’t listened to it. There was more recorded than the sermon and she hadn’t been in worship to hear it the first time. That sermon was 30-minutes). However, she was right in that my sermons are longer than (1) I was trained to make them, (2) have typically preached them in the past and (3) than I grew up hearing others preach their sermons.

What’s more, I’m not the only one who is preaching longer. As I examined the podcasts I listen to, began paying attention to the length of the sermons I watch online in the early hours of Sunday morning, talked to local preachers and perused all types of church websites, I’ve noticed something: Hardly anyone preaches 20-minutes sermons anymore! As a matter of fact, recently we had  a family join our congregation only to leave a month later. When I encountered the husband one morning in BestBuy, he reluctantly confessed he left because of “the teaching.” Surprised by his bluntness, I stepped back. He continued, “Sorry, Pastor, It just wasn’t enough. I need an hour of teaching; 50-minutes at least.” I’m finding that while attention spans in America may be getting shorter, sermons are getting longer. And there are 4 reasons why!

1. Biblical Illiteracy. When Rochelle and I came to Northern California we wanted to break out of the Bible Belt. We got all that and more. In the last 20 months we’ve had folks ask us if Abram and Abraham are the same person, who the “Lamb” is in reference to songs we sing, and hosts of questions we had answered for us in VBS as kids. It is an honor to introduce new people to the scriptures. We can never fault people for not knowing the basic narrative of the Bible, but it does mean that during the preaching event, nothing can be taken for granted. Each week preachers have to cover more of the narrative than they used to because many in the congregation don’t know it. This is especially true out of the Bible Belt and for churches growing with lots of non-churched people.

2. Children’s Ministry. In my childhood church there was no such thing as children’s ministry. And no one envisioned children’s church and the plethora of fun teaching environments my kids enjoy. That meant as my brother and I fidgeted in church, my mom and dad had to control/ entertain us. In this environment, the preacher received tacit (and overt) signals to stand up, speak up and shut up. With kids outside of the preaching event and experiencing specialized programs that need quite a bit of time themselves, there is opportunity to teach more – and longer. When I was young, worship services were one-hour, now I don’t know a church that’s less than an hour and a half, and many are two hours. As a matter of fact, our children’s minster recently told me that a slew of the programs available to purchase are now in 2-hour formats.

3. Better Presentations. Sermons are more entertaining/interesting than ever. As a youth all my preachers had in their arsenal was the Holy Spirit and their personal rhetorical skills. Nowadays, there are videos, props, object lessons, dance teams, dramas, etc…. Preachers can use the full weaponry of their creativity and because churches are now filled with adults who came of age in modern-day youth ministry, audiences are used to and expect engaging, visual presentations.

4. No Sunday Night Services. Again, when I was young, we worshipped on Sunday morning & Sunday night. That meant there were more opportunities for teaching in the life of the church. Let’s face it, most folks in our churches only get the weekly sermon in terms of spiritual formation and education. Of course, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is…for most! Increasing the sermon a few minutes helps make up what used to be standard.

The miraculous part is that many of the churches with longer sermons — think Francis Chan, Tim Keller, Rob Bell and Andy Stanley (all who go a MINIMUM of 40 minutes) — are growing. These pastors, and many much lesser known churches, are growing and impacting their communities. Longer sermons seem to be a trend…and I think, within reason it’s good.

The challenge for preachers is to maximize the time. If you’re not a gifted communicator, cut back. If you are, continue to master your craft. It matters less how much time you take, what matters is the time you waste.

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P.S. Sermons from Redwood Church can be subscribed to via iTunes.

If both your mission and the communication around your mission aren’t clear and easy, you’re frustrating both yourself and your constituents. I’ve been saying this for some time now, but amazingly, I get more push back than you’d expect.

In the last few weeks I’ve had multiple conversations with new bloggers and non-profit organizations about fine-tuning both their mission and communication streams. My axiom has been: Be generous, Be helpful. Initially, everyone agrees, but when I move on to highlight that constituents want things easy, simple and clear, my audiences have appeared shocked. But my instincts are nevertheless true. Whether you’re a CEO, teacher, pastor, writer, therapist…whatever, your constituent’s lives are intensely busy, their concerns are monumentally large, and their time is magnificently short. If you want to lead them, you have to wrap your arms around your phenomenal mission and contract it into bite-sized chunks for your constituents.

Yet in so many industries (especially the church), the professionals make accessing the pertinent information hard for the populace. We don’t mean to, we just do. And I think I know 3 reasons why. See if you make these 3 mistakes while formulating your communication:

1.  You’re A Intellectual Snob – You like demonstrating that you’re smarter than most everyone else so you use every big word you know and you employ the jargon of your scholastic guild. Whenever you can you turn your staff meeting, sermons, blog posts, etc…into your greatest hits from graduate school, you do. If that’s you, here’s a tip: The people you’re communicating with aren’t stupid, they’re just outside your field. They don’t know your field and don’t care about the intricacies of it. And, by the way, the sign of a truly smart person is the ability to explain complex things simple.

2. You Had To Learn It – Speaking to a physician years ago, I asked why resident doctors had to keep such long, insufferable hours which made them more likely to make medical mistakes. His response, “I had to do it.”  This notion is at play in a great deal of communicators. Since they had to learn Greek & Hebrew (or whatever they had to learn in school to do a job) they come to think no one can be a good Christian if they don’t know. In reaction, they make sure that their audience is forced to know the ins and outs concerning the peculiarities of their field.

3. You Don’t Want To Communicate – Know one says this, but it’s true. I’ve been apart of organizations that thoroughly believed they were elite. In order to keep this ruse alive the organization must remain small. Therefore, the more esoteric and ethereal the communication the better. And guess what, when you don’t want the masses, they know it.

Each of these are killers. Over the next week, review your most recent communications and see if these communication killers are at play in your world. I know, they are too often working in mine.

Every successful person you know or have known is a nerd. By nerd, I don’t mean the Lewis and Gilbert, Revenge of the Nerds kind, but rather true nerds. A true nerd is someone who has a disproportionate interest in something. They read all the books, they make special trips, they tweet endlessly, they comb the interweb to experience, know and engage their pet subject as much as possible. It can be Star Trek, baseball cards, or fantasy sports; but it can also include athletics, cars, acting, or just about anything else. Nerds love the minutia and intricacies of their guild and there’s no limit to what they’ll spend, where they’ll go, or what they’ll do. Just imagine: Many of you readers are church attenders, but how many of you would pay money to attend the Festival of Homiletics? I would!

All that to say this: If you want to be successful, embrace your inner nerd!

Here’s why nerds are leading you:

  1. Nerds Don’t Care About Balance. As a matter of fact, balance is a ridiculous notion. When it comes to things that matter — your family, your personal success and happiness, etc… — why would you want balance? Those who achieve in their field pursue the depths of it well after others have given into balance. Michael Jordan and Bill Gates didn’t achieve their dreams because they were equally interested in their fields as they were something else. They worked hard and cared more than most people, so they got the edge. Forget about balance!
  2. Nerds Are Passionate: Each time Apple rolls out new products, thousands tune in to watch Steve Jobs’ Keynote. These are commercials, in essence. In fact, Jobs shows little commercials while he’s presenting his big commercial, and people love it. Why? Because he brings tremendous passion to new products, and passion is contagious. No one with a passing interest in something is passionate. Only nerds are. Nerds can tell anyone the complete in and outs of a subject with missionary zeal. Because they can, they lead.
  3. Nerd Don’t Care What Others Think: Believe it or not, people who are nerdish about a subject don’t care if you think they’re nerds. Their thing is more important than you. For this reason, while you’re making fun of them, they are learning and developing new skills and techniques, and one day they will own you. If you want to shift the leverage in your favor, regardless of what field you’re in, becoming a nerd about it is the best way to go.

The world belongs to nerds. They are the innovators, leaders, developers and thinkers that are paving the future. If you want to join them then it’s time to embrace your inner nerd.