Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Gospel...According To "The Boss"?

image Charles Savelle from Garland, TX points to a church (Grace United Methodist Church, Greensboro, NC) that spent a month using the music of Bruce Springsteen as the basis for the sermons. 

While I am not opposed to the series on principle, it would be interesting to see if the North Carolina pastor had legitimate biblical/textual reasons for going that direction or was just being sensationalistic.  Without knowing more about it I am not ready to diss him, but it does seem a bit odd. 

You can find Charles' comments here and a news video about the sermon series here.

It Never Stops Eating at Me

It doesn't happen a lot, but it always eats at me when it does.  This last Sunday two events unfortunately came together.  Our children's choir is a terrific outreach and we always have a good number of unchurched kids in the choir.  The Sunday before their program (they do two programs a year) they sing a song from the musical in the worship service as kind of a promo.  Because of that we always have lots of unchurched parents in the congregation. It is always fun to meet them and (at least unconsciously) I want the service to be attractive to them so they will return.

I am preaching through Acts and had committed to preaching on Stewardship in the book of Acts in this window.  And so Sunday was the second of three weeks on stewardship. I was preaching on Acts 4:32-37.  I think that the sermon was effective.  But about half-way through a man who I didn't know, but who had two kids the age of kids choir stood up rather noisily & stormed out.  His kids imagestraggled after him.  One of our staff who was outside the sanctuary doors commented that he was definitely not a happy camper and another confirmed that it definitely was the parent of a choir kid. 

I wouldn't do anything differently and believe that the message I gave was correct, but I am not above recognizing that it eats at me...should I have been more careful about when I scheduled that series? (I scheduled it as carefully as I knew how.)  Should I have softened the message of the sermon because we had a higher number of visitors present? (No.) I think I did it correctly, but wish that I had not angered this father with the message.  No matter how true, it still has to be communicated compassionately.  I think I did that. That's all I know how to do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Maybe I Spoke Too Soon...The Denunciation Comes


So this morning I state my admiration that Barak Obama has "stuck with" his minister-friend Jeremiah Wright even though he has had to distance himself from his words.  Looks like I spoke too soon.

Today Obama responded publicly to his pastor, Rev. Wright's appearances on television and in speeches given over the weekend.

He said in part:

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday,"

"The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago,"

"I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia explaining that he's done enormous good. ... But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS. ... There are no excuses. They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced."

Wrights words DO look inflammatory...although I have not hear/read them all in detail.  The point made in my former post about African American preaching is still true.  And I do still find it a fascinating time to live when preaching is so publicly discussed in the secular media.  Maybe I'm Pollyannaish, but I believe that some good can come from it.  Anyway, that's the update from here!

It's an Interesting Preaching-Political Time

Since this is a blog on preaching and because I am keenly politically interested, I suspected that at sometime I would address the Jeremiah Wright controversy going on currently in the American presidential campaign. (I have not seen one preaching blog address it at all, which is interesting).  On Friday, Rev. Wright gave a televised interview with Bill Moyers on Public Broadcasting. On Sunday he gave a nationally televised speech before the NAACP in Detroit.  Then on Monday, Rev. Wright spoke at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.  Don Gonyea of NRP reports on the NPC speech:

Wright spoke for a half hour, focusing on a religious tradition that he said has been misunderstood for too long. "It is not deficient," he said. "It is just different. Black worship is different from European and European-American worship."

imageI was stuck again today by how amazing it is to hear discussions on secular radio stations of the place and power of preaching.  On an All Things Considered analysis of Rev. Wright's speech at the NPC, two members of the House of Representatives gave analyses.  Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver of Missouri who is an ordained Methodist minister and a Hillary Clinton supporter and Rep. David Price of North Carolina who is an Obama supporter commented on his speech.

Rev. Cleaver commented,

"One of the things that really saddens me is that the country doesn't know how to handle what's going on right now. And that's to our embarrassment. But we can correct it.  By that I mean, most of the people in this country have never, ever, ever been inside a black church and so they have no idea what takes place there and they don't understand it. It shows that a dialogue is needed.  But I am not sure that the nation is ready for a dialogue." 

Rep. Price responded: 

There are many thing sin this county that we need to dialogue about. And one of them is the relationship between faith & politics.  A minister who I had a great deal of admiration for, once said. there are three kinds of patriots/three kinds of patriotism:  There are...

  • Uncritical lovers of their country
  • Loveless critics of their county
  • People who love their country, but who want to mend it's flaws. 

"It is a legitimate and important role of religious faith to be a loving critic of America  That is a dialogue, I think, that we need to have both within and beyond the church." (He describes Jeremiah Wright as the third kind of patriot). 

I find it humorous that from some quarters within the church we hear how ineffective and out of date and ignored preaching is and that it really has no effect on people's behavior, while on the other hand, secular people are terrified of the power of Rev. Wrights words and presume that Barak Obama would follow the words of Jeremiah Wright, his pastor in Chicago. 

Now I have nothing no say in this forum about whether the Democratic Party should choose Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton (or someone else, given a stalemate).  But it has been fascinating to me to hear the agitation and horror of many conservatives who are terrified that this preacher would have an influence on a possible future president. (Although many of them seem not bothered by the influence of the conservative white preachers that preach at white politician's churches). I have no insight into Obama's level of faith in Christ...I just take him at his word that he is a disciple of Jesus.  But I keenly respect that he refuses to back down from his pastor, even when he has had to distance himself from some of his words. 

The conversation has been instructive to me about how African-American preachers view the role of politics & preaching.  A year and a half ago when I was on a leave of absence from my church I attended worship services at an African-American Church pastored by a friend of mine in north Portland. In the sermon, I was struck by how strong his words were about the place of the "dominant culture" (to use Rev. Wright's words) particularly in Portland and how oppressive it still was to blacks. I know that Don has been labeled "an angry young black man" (although I think Don is the same age I am!) and wondered if I was just seeing that side of him.  But his preaching was very much in line with Rev. Wrights.

I think that I have much to learn about African-American preaching.  I will never be able to preach like that.  But I hope I CAN learn from them the importance of addressing the wrongs of our culture from a biblical perspective and doing so in strong terms. 

I have no idea whether Rev. Wright's words will ultimately hurt or help Sen. Obama's presidential aspirations. But I do think that the experience of looking at preaching in the secular media will ultimately be a good thing for preaching.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Preaching with Joy



"One filled with joy preaches without preaching." -Mother Teresa

The Connection Counts << Biblical Preaching

imagePeter Mead over at Biblical Preaching has a great article on the difference between preaching to a crowd who knows you and a crowd who does not.

He concludes:

If you preach to the same people every week, recognize the importance your connections and relationships have in regard to your preaching. If you are preaching to people who don’t know you, be aware of the risks that come when connection can only come from the delivery itself. Empathy and connection count whether people know you or not, and we are wise to think through the implications of this in our preaching.

He gives an excellent personal example.  You can find it here.

6 Ways to Recharge the Batteries

I have yet to find a preacher who has a good balance on work, family and personal time.  It is a constant struggle.  In that mix is the need to "recharge the batteries."

image Mike St. Pierre has an interesting blog called "The Daily Saint." Mike is a former youth minister who is now a school administrator in New Jersey. 

He has created a list entitled "A Minimalist Guide to Weekend Renewal."  Now, whether your weekend is actually Saturday-Sunday (mine NEVER has been), still the idea of some simple ideas for recharging the batteries are always helpful. He states:

Weekend time can easily get swallowed up in errands, birthday parties for kids and house work.  Even for church-goers, weekend time can get absorbed in a myriad of programs and events.  The key, as usual, is to simplify. Here are some minimalist ideas for your Saturday and Sunday.

My favorite is #3:

Capture a moment with nature. Don't just go for a walk but get in the car and find some inspiring piece of nature that you can enjoy.  Choose a park, a scenic overlook or even a courtyard within a museum.  Just sit and enjoy.

You can find his complete list of six ideas here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Finding the Balance


Note: I wrote this post a little more than a month ago (the week after Easter).  It has sat in my drafts folder for over a month while I tried to decide what I didn't like about it.  It kind of seems like the amalgamation of too many posts into one.  Additionally, there is/was something about the comment on folding my cards that bothered me.  But I am going to just throw the post out there.  Maybe it will be helpful to someone just as it is.  cph.

As a church staff we are reading the Dan Kimball book, "They Like imageJesus, But Not  the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations."  It is a very good look at people, particularly young people who find Jesus attractive, but want nothing to do with organized religion.  In (admittedly unscientific) surveys of young non-believers, Dan Kimball tried to get a picture of how the people in his community (Santa Cruz, CA) felt about Jesus and the church.  He found that overwhelmingly they believed that

  • The church is an organized religion with a political agenda
  • The church is judgmental and negative
  • The church is dominated by males and oppresses females
  • The church is homophobic
  • The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong
  • The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

I struggle with this because I really find myself caught.  On the one-hand, I am unwilling to go to one extreme depicted by one young woman in the book named Penny: 

Make the gathering a roundtable discussion, an uplifting motivational dialogue.  Meet in people's homes, in coffee shops, places vibrant and alive. I'd like to meet with about twenty people in a bar, drink a few pints, and discuss the Bible.  That would be a church I would go to.  Make it a discussion: What do you understand of this paragraph from the Bible?  What does it mean to you?  Make church a book club with soul.

Maybe I am showing my narrowmindedness and inflexibility, but while that format may have merit in certain contexts (evangelistic week day Bible study?), that is indeed not the preaching or worship that we find in the Bible.  There is objective content to the Word.  There is a declarative aspect to the Word. There are objective things to be taught and obeyed.   People need to hear what the Word of God says and have it opened up to them...explained in a deeper way than most of them have the time or the education to explore. 

A good, albeit short quote from Jay Adams re: Gerhardus Vos and his disciples is helpful re: the fear (or theological opposition) to application is found here at Expository Thoughts.

On the other hand, I refuse to just be so slavishly exegetical that I refuse to seek creative ways to help people interact with the Word of God.  Obviously, the prayer art project we did a couple of weeks back was an example of that.

imageI folded my cards this past Sunday in this regard.  I thought I would be original...and preach on the resurrection of Jesus for Easter. (That is meant as humor....)  And since I am preaching from Acts, I had chosen all along to return back to Peter's sermon in Acts 2, which focuses on Christ's resurrection in a major way. 

And I did. 

Christ's resurrection is used by Peter to show...

  • …how God’s purposes, processes and plans are always perfectly fulfilled.
  • …that God’s Word gives us great insight into his way and his character
  • …God’s focus is on forgiveness, not guilt
  • ...the certainty of resurrection

Now the plan was (as laid out in my notes) at the end of point 2 above, to ask people in the congregation: "What do you learn about God in the resurrection of Jesus?"  I would limit it to 4-5 one sentence or one-word answers, but that is something I occasionally do.  We will have 150-200 people in each of our two services and that size is not too big for me to get some interaction like that.  I always repeat what the person has said into my mc, but it has been fairly well received. 

But I folded my cards on Sunday.  We had a full house first service, two baptisms, the Lord's Supper had taken much longer than planned (due to the number of people), an announcement by one of our elders went on too long and I could tell that people were getting fidgety.  And so I cut that out.  And I wish that I hadn't.  I think that it would have done several things:

  1. It would have helped keep people engaged in the sermon about half-way through it.
  2. It is a way to validate the spiritual experiences of the body without totally subjectifying it. We have the objective Word and we have the historical resurrection, but what it teaches each of us can be different.  I think that it would have been better received by "emerging generations" than what I did. 

But I folded my cards too soon.

Sermon Introductions

flower bud forming One of the changes that have come with maturity is in how I develop the sermon introduction.  More and more, the writing of my introduction is only coming after the sermon is written.  That is how I was taught in preaching classes, but I didn't actually do that for many years. 

The SUBJECT or THESIS of the sermon is prepared first (or at the latest very early on). The thesis is not the introduction, nor is the introduction the thesis.  By preparing the introduction after the sermon is done nor almost done, the introduction really leads into the sermon as it is, not how I project it to be. 

There are several ways to introduce the sermon. (I gave a list of some 27 possibilities last week) The worst way is to apologize for something...

  • "I really haven't had time to prepare."  (No need to say it, it will become painfully obvious as the sermon progresses)
  • "Many of you know more about this sermon subject than I do."  (YOU are the expert in THIS sermon...the form it will take, the ways that God has spoken to you through the preparation).
  • Anything that belittles the hearers. That will shut up their ears faster than anything I can think of.

The introduction should help the hearer not only understand where you are going, but also why this subject is both important enough for you to preach on and for them to give their attention to. 

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Don’t Get Stung By the Be’s « Biblical Preaching

image Peter Mead had a post last week that has stuck with me. It is a quote from Bryan Chappell.  At first I didn't like the quote. Something about it bugged me. But I have kept going back to it and reading it over and over again. 

Upon first reading, it seemed that Bryan (and Peter by extension) were saying that if we call people to "Be Like" certain biblical characters or to "Be Good" or holy or to "Be Disciplined" in Christian practices, that is wrong.  And that bugged me.  A lot.  It reinforced the old stereotypes I picked up as a kid that Baptist/Reformed folks believed, "Live however you want because you're saved anyway."  A wrong and immature preconception, but one that I picked up early (as a teenager). 

But I had really missed one little key in Peter's emphasis.  He said, in part...

It is easy to fall into the trap of being biblically based, but biblically incomplete in our preaching. Be focusing on the narrow slice of text we are preaching, and not taking into account the broader teaching of Scripture, we can end up implying (or even stating), that we need to “be” something in order to be loved by God. (See Christ-Centered Preaching, page 289ff).

I missed the little phrase "to be loved by God."  It is really an emphasis on God's love and even an emphasis on our identity.  As usual, I am glad I stuck with something that I disagreed with that someone I respect wrote and worked through it.

I would suggest that you read the entire post.  It is worth your time and attention.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sermon Introductions: Why We Don't Listen to Stewardesses


It is 12:30 a.m. and I am waiting to leave for the Portland Airport to pick up my younger son Trevor, whose flight is already an hour late and is now scheduled to come in about 1:30. But in the lateness of the hour, I am reminded of sermon introductions. ("Sure...yeah....right...," you say)

Robert Shannon says that the sermon introduction must turn involuntary attention into voluntary attention. There may be many things on people's minds as we begin the sermon and they will decide very quickly whether or not to listen to us. And so our introduction must not only serve the purpose of moving all of the congregation into the main point of the message, but it must also arrest attention.

Now, the airline tie-in...

Why do most of us not listen to the safety announcements that airline stewardesses give at the beginning of flights? Our lives may depend on what she/he says. And yet, if you are like most...the only people who listen to those safety announcements are the 3-4 people on the flight for whom this is their first time to fly.

The reason is...because we have heard it all before. You know what she is going to say. Frequent flies could almost quote the words of the flight attendant along with her. The drone goes on...the partial seat belt held high showing how to click and unclick it. (Only people who have never ridden in a car made after 1965 don't know how a seat belt functions). The safety card in the seat back pocket...the mock oxygen mask with tubing. (Like if that thing drops, I'm not going to grab that puppy and start sucking air for all I'm worth). We know what the stewardess is going to say, and so we "can ignore it."

That may (or may not) be OK on your 10th flight this year, but is that really how you want your congregation to respond to the beginning of your sermon? ("We've heard it all before...") Instead, it needs to arrest attention. it needs to (in Shannon's words) "turn involuntary attention into voluntary attention."

What have you found is one of the best ways to do that?

FYIW: Trev got in fine. An hour late, but it's amazing how empty Portland freeways are at 2 a.m.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


image Assertion (“Here’s what we’re going to talk about today)


Antiphonal scripture reading

Biographical summary

Catalog introductions (“A hammock under a shade tree, a tall glass of iced tea, and Mozart on the breeze. Ahh, that is contentment.”);

A challenge to the validity of the theme the preacher is about to propose

A drawing (charcoal, chalk) or quick painting done by someone in real time

Dramatic skit


Historical Event

Hymn or Song

Human Interest Account


Interpretive dance


News Item

Neighbor nudge (quick discussion question)


Provocative Question





Striking Statement

Silence (for a purpose)


Video Clip

Speak Truth in Love

image Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley did an experiment some time ago that involved introducing an amoeba into a perfectly stress-free environment: ideal temperature, optimal concentration of moisture, constant food supply. The amoeba had an environment to which it had to make no adjustment whatsoever. So you would guess this was one happy little amoeba. Yet, oddly enough, it died. Apparently there is something about all living creatures, even amoebas, that demands challenge. We require change, adaptation, and challenge the way we require food and air. Comfort alone will kill us. “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.” (Psalm 41:1)
Chris Peterson, "Optimism and By-pass Surgery," in Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, Oxford Univ. Press, 1993 (via Church Leaders Intelligence Report)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sermon Handouts

I have used sermon handouts almost as long as I have been preaching. It is probably that teaching side of me that seems to cause me such difficulties.  Anyway, it is something that I have used for a couple of decades and not given much thought to.  In fact, I am probably in a rut as to how I use them.  I just simply shoot the major points with fill-in blanks to one of my secretaries and she copies & pastes and it's done.  For better or for worse.  image

But Craig Webb has a helpful article on sermon handouts.  He gives some good uses/purposes of handouts:

    1. It encourages people to participate and engage the sermon by writing something down. This is an added level of learning to your speaking and the visual images they see on your PowerPoint.

    2. It eases the tension of persons who were unfamiliar with the Bible and are afraid of the clumsiness of finding a particular Bible reference.

    3. It allows me to share different translations and paraphrases of familiar passages.

    4. It provides a take home reminder of the content of the sermon. Members and attenders can share these with family or co-workers. At one church I served, we provided notebooks for members to keep sermon notes.

He also gives four simply but good suggestions for improving sermon handouts.  He also attaches a .pdf with some samples of different styles of handouts.

You can find his complete article here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

This is True of Leadership Development as Well

image Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. W. B. Yeats

A Surprising Stat About College-Age Church Dropouts

image I came across this stat today via Outreach. It really stunned me. We have for decades decried how colleges "destroy the faith" of young people. And it IS true that we do not adequately prepare our teens for what they will face in a college classroom (or college dorm!). But look at this stat:

70% of people who discontinue going to church in America do so between ages 18 and 22. Of those who attend college, 69% of active churchgoing youth stop attending church for at least a year between ages 18 and 22. Yet 71% of active churchgoing youth who do not go to college stop attending church during the same period. Outreach 3/4/08

It is not simply college (and "godless professors") that is the problem. We are not preparing kids who are NOT exposed to this to live a life of consistent faith either. I am also not ready to give in to the pessimists who say it is just a natural part of growing up. It doesn't have to be that way. Maybe I am blind, but historically I don't see 70% of the young adults in past generations stepping away from the faith in which they were reared. I am not ready to put blame on anyone/thing. I am just amazed by the statistic. It is definitely a matter for prayer.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Donald Miller: Love and Truth

image Donald Miller lives and ministers here in Portland. His most famous work to date is "Blue Like Jazz." He serves as a campus minister at Reed College and worships at Imago Dei.  I usually find his stuff insightful and encouraging.  Last week the Church Leaders Intelligence Report had an excerpt from an interview he did with Christianity Today's Out of Ur blog that I found helpful: 


I think of love like a magnet. When people see it given in the name of God, they're drawn to it. If I withhold love, then people believe I have met a God that makes me a hateful and vicious person, and they're repelled. I have two responsibilities to this world: the first is to love; the second is to speak the truth.

My pastor is a perfect example of somebody who speaks the truth in love. He is a genius at saying such and such an idea is true, and it is hard, and sometimes I don't like it, but we must trust that God is good; we must help each other, and we must obey. People feel loved at my church, but they also feel instructed, guided, and that God is not just a Deity who is there to give them whatever they want. I spoke there right after the election, and a woman, a homosexual, was sitting on the front row with a giant sign that said, among other things, that she hopes our children die, that the legacy of hate will end. At the end of the service, her sign was laid down in front of the communion table, and she was being held by me, and many others, sobbing as she had never heard truth being presented in love. She had not known the difference between a parental communication of truth and a judgmental, hate-filled communication of truth.
Adapted from an interview with Donald Miller, Out of Ur 5/15/06

The Problem With Preaching Updated: Updated, but No More Light

Back on January 9, I commented on an article by Kiwi David Allis, "The Problem with Preaching."  I commented that I found several problems with the article, particularly in that it is the common form of proclamation in the New Testament. 

Because of my post, David commented with a quote from an updated article he wrote.  I scanned what he said, printed out his response and have been carrying it around in my "to be read" folder ever since.  I finally got around to it and was disappointed that he didn't really make any new points in his case. 

David comments that he finds no "evidence of this form of monologue preaching to a church congregation visible in the New Testament"--hence his statement that this form of preaching is extra-biblical."  I raised the objection that the Bible I read has plenty of examples of preaching. 

While I have no problem counting Peter's sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, Peter's speeches to the people and the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 & 5,  or Stephen's sermon to those who are about to kill him in Acts 7 as legitimate sermons to God's people, (it appears he would) I would point to Paul's exhortation to the elders at Ephesus.  (Acts 20) or Paul's speech before the gathered leaders at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as prototypes of Christian sermon. 

David concludes that paragraph by saying, "Even if examples of this form of preaching are perceived in the New Testament (eg. 2 Tim. 4), these examples don't make preaching prescriptive or essential for all churches at all times."  I wonder what else in the church he would throw away?  There are those who do see the Lord's Supper/Communion/Eucharist as optional and there are those who see baptism as optional, but they have always stood at the fringes of orthodox Christianity. I doubt if David would see belief in Christ as optional, but why would that be normative, but preaching not?  Why would he not see the preaching found in the scriptures as normative?  Because he disagrees with it?  There has to be a better reason than that!

I remember back in the 60's & 70's the debate over preaching-vs-teaching.  The end result seemed to be that it was a false dichotomy.  There was preaching that was teaching and there was teaching that was preaching but they were not identical actions.  If my understanding of David is correct, he would ideally see preaching as the same as teaching. 

Fortunately David does acknowledge that preaching has been the predominant form of communication throughout church history.  But he then blames preaching for the ignorance, biblical illiteracy and disempowerment he sees in the church. Maybe he has only sat under poor preachers, but my experience is just the opposite.  The wealth of learning, inspiration and conviction I have received from preaching is as great or greater than other form of learning in my experience.

He would propose that if people can’t feed themselves, "we should stop spoon feeding them, let them get hungry and then they will become motivated to learn to feed themselves. They might even learn to how to cook, plan their own menu, and begin teaching others to feed themselves." 

Or they might die.  I am very much in favor of teaching people how to feed themselves, (Willow Creek recently found this to be an area in which they needed to grow).  And teaching people to feed themselves is (of course) an essential part of what we must teach (and preach).  But to just stop cold turkey or to say that people should feed themselves INSTEAD of  being fed through preaching is a false dichotomy. It is not either-or, it is both-and. I do not believe that the majority of believers will spend the time necessary to understand the Greek text, to read theological works to get the finer points of biblical theology or will know what is happening across the body to be able to teach towards that.  I have also commented on this blog (about preaching and house churches) that preaching by a well-trained and educated preacher helps to avoid the excesses and heresies that have arisen regularly in the church. 

While I can disagree with his degradation of preaching as an exercise in together seeking the truth, I take offense at his excluding any criticism that comes from preachers.  At the end of the article his argument descends to personal attacks:  "Its no surprise to hear ministers defending preaching. Professional ministers usually love preaching and are paid to do it. Preaching is typically part of the ‘package’ of this form of church leadership. A minister questioning preaching and other aspects of professional ministry is like the proverbial person who saws off the branch they are sitting on. It is as rare as beef farmers promoting vegetarianism." That type of ad hominum argument discredits his entire proposition. 

Anyway, I was hoping that an update would have more to it.  It did not.  His argument continues to be unconvincing.  Too bad. 

Sunday, April 20, 2008

John Piper Part 2: How My Pastoral Ministry Affects My Pulpit Ministry

image Continuing a post from yesterday in which John Piper shares sixteen ways in which his pulpit ministry is informed by his pastoral care ministry:

9. There is a synergy between pulpit and people when it comes to global, cross-cultural, frontier missions. The effect goes both ways.

10. Listening to feedback from the sheep will keep you from mistakes and make you more discerning.

(He speaks of being confronted when his language made obese as a synonym for gluttonous and how hurtful that was to obese people who were obese for reasons other than gluttony).

11. Listening to people talk about their fathers who are unbelievers or absent or abusive or unemotional or drunk or unfaithful has had a significant effect on how I talk about the fatherhood of God.

12. When I was shepherding the people through the worship wars in the mid-nineties, I found that the way the pulpit served best was by lifting up the great things we held to and not emphasize one side or the other.

13. The pastoral need to raise money for budgets and missions and buildings makes its way into preaching from time to time and my aim is always to put such immediate needs in the larger context of the greatness of God and show how the main issue is whether Christ is your treasure.

14. The pursuit of racial diversity and racial harmony is a pastoral commitment in the church and in my life. Therefore it has made its way into the preaching with a regular commitment to address the issue directly at least once a year on Martin Luther King weekend, and with frequent allusions in other sermons.

15. Closely related is the pastoral passion for the weakest members of our society, namely, the unborn, and the fact that a million of them are killed every year legally in our land. This shapes the preaching in a direct way at least once a year.

16. In my pastoral interactions with my people I hear how difficult prayer is for most of them and the few surveys we have done over the years has shown how little time our people spend praying and meditating on the Word. So I devote two messages at the beginning of every year to this.

You can find the expanded notes of this lecture here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Piper: How My Pastoral Ministry Shapes My Pulpit Ministry

I have a love-hate relationship with John Piper. I know that is heresy to many who read my blog.  But it is true. I (even as a male) find his views on women in the church not only unbiblical, but offensive. I would like to just ignore him.  And yet, when I listen to him I am incredibly blessed.  What he says is good. It is (usually) highly biblical. It is passionately felt. 

In February, Piper spoke at the Resurgence Conference in Seattle. The theme for the 2008 conference was Text and Context. 


While there he led a session of "How My Pastoral Ministry Shapes My Pulpit Ministry."  He began the session in such a way that I almost quit listening.  He kept emphasizing that it was an assigned topic and he rather degraded the idea of his pastoral ministry affecting his pulpit ministry.  In his desire to be God centered, he neglects that men & women are the focus of God's love.  It basically came across as "I'm going to teach what the Bible says, but whether or not it has any relevance to your life is irrelevant to me." 

And he led out with "Sixteen Foundational Convictions That Shape How I Preach." 

But he followed that with sixteen observations on how his pastoral ministry informs his pulpit ministry.  The change of wording from "shapes" to "informs" is my change...not his.

But today and tomorrow, let me share just the headings of his sixteen ways in which his pastoral ministry informs his pulpit ministry. I will add a comment or two where the heading is not self-explanatory. 

Piper says,

1. Two pastoral experiences confirmed deeply in me in the early years of my ministry that the sheer greatness and holiness and glory of the sovereignty of God unfolded with rich biblical explanation and illustration and minimal personal application can have powerful personal, pastoral effect for good.

(Both had to do with Piper preaching on the greatness of God and being approached by people (in one case parents who had had three daughters molested by a relative and the other by a woman whose husband had died that very morning) who spoke of the helpfulness of his declaration of a vision of God on that particular day.) 

2. I find that in talking to people that many do not have a heart relationship with Christ but only a head knowledge. They tell me that over time my passion has awakened theirs.

3. I am aware in my pastoral life that we are surrounded by a sea of postmodern relativism that belittles propositional truth and justifies it by pointing to dead churches that love their propositions. The effect this has on me is to confirm my commitment to be alive and passionate in my use of propositions.

4. How my pastoral ministry effected my commitment to Bible memorization.

(He speaks of making an emergency hospital visit to a powerful man in his church without his Bible. The man wanted Scripture read and Piper did not know any and was embarrassed. He determined to memorize scriptures that would help people in crisis situations like that.  That was particularly convicting and helpful to me, but I don't know that it had much to do with his PULPIT ministry. )

5. My awareness of the context of American wealth has moved me to return fairly often to the New Testament emphasis on a wartime lifestyle that highlights radical generosity for the sake of the kingdom’s advance and for the sake of your own soul.

(He has an excellent section on the difference between the Old Testament concept of "Come and See" to the New Testament concept of "Go and Tell".  I may blog on that separately.)

6. The suffering of my people has a huge impact on my preaching. It has driven me to think and pray and write and preach about the sovereignty of God in suffering over and over again for the past 28 years.

7. Two weeks ago I was preaching on the role of the word in the new birth from 1 Peter 1:23 and that week had two encounters with the issue of Yoga and Mantra. Those encounters totally shaped how I approached that sermon.

8. I live in a state where about 40% have a Roman Catholic background and about 40% have a Lutheran background. So Garrison Keillor is totally intelligible. The effect on my preaching is that I am keenly aware as I talk about some things I want to make clear, especially as regards the sacraments, and the nature of the new birth.

(I will conclude Piper's list here tomorrow)

You can find the expanded notes of this lecture here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Don't Begin Your Sermons Too Well!

image Bob Shannon has an interesting quote from Krohl on preaching introductions:

“The introduction should not be too good”

That may seem strange! He then follows it with a similar quote by Broadus that explains a little what Krohl means:

"It [the introduction] should not seem to promise too much in its thoughts, style or delivery."

Shannon reflects on these quotes "It is a promise to the listener (explicit or implicit) that they want to be kept."

There is a fine balance. I want the introduction to be good enough to arrest attention and to spark interest. But Broadus' comment that it should not promise too much is an important reminder. I am not going to explain "everything" about a subject or text. I am not going to provide evidence that will "force" everyone to agree with my position.

There needs to be enthusiasm and interest, but must point to what the sermon actually contains.

Thanks again, Bob.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

CROSS-eyed: Pray for Those who Preach

image Milton Stanley recommends a list on how to "Pray for Those Who Preach."  The list is quite good, but I found the couple of scriptures that Justin Childers used to be suggestive:

Ephesians 6:19-20: Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Colossians 4:3-4: And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

The entire post is worthy of your attention.  Find it here: CROSS-eyed: Pray for Those who Preach

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Just Pick A Book, Any Book… « Unashamed Workman

Colin Adams over at Unashamed Workman has an interesting quote from Mark Dever. What is your reaction to:

“Generally, I do not choose a series of expositional sermons because of particular topics that I think the church needs to hear about. Rather, I assume that all of the Bible is relevant to us all of the time. Now, I trust that God may lead to some particular books, but very often when I’m working on a text and reading through it in my quiet times the week before preaching, and working with it very seriously on the Friday, there will be things that I find in it that I didn’t expect to find at all.”
(Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p 40)

Find Colin's article here: Just Pick A Book, Any Book… « Unashamed Workman

imageThere is part of me that wants to agree with that. It sounds "spiritual." On the other hand, it also sounds like the old technique of closing one's eyes, opening the Bible and pointing at a verse & using that as God's message to me today. That makes me VERY uncomfortable. Like we are presuming on God. God, I am not going to use the judgment, experience and discernment you have given me to know which parts of your Word our body needs at this moment. I am just going to randomly pick & trust that you will somehow make it relevant. That may overstate the case, but I think that is the core of that philosophy. I would at a minimum be very cautious about it. Just a thought.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tell It As It Is? Maybe Not So Much


Recently I heard a speaker say, "Many preachers think that they  should 'tell it like it is.'  In reality, our job is to tell is like it CAN be."

That is important for me to remember.  Maybe for you too?  Tell me about it.

The Three Parts of the Introduction

image Dave Reddick comments that there are three parts to a sermon introduction:

The First Sentence-what will immediately grab their attention without promising more than the sermon can deliver.  Word it carefully.  Speak it out loud. 

The Body of the Introduction

The Transition-a sentence (no more than two) that shows the connection between the introduction and the body of the sermon itself and "often tells the hearer what the sermon is about".

More on introductions to come.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Alliteration Chart

One of the tools I have used for many years (even before using Excel) was to create a comparison chart when I was trying to make the sermon outline alliterative. I would find one descriptive word for each point in my outline and then place that word along the top and the first letter of those words down the left side. I would go to my thesaurus (more recently I have been using and see what words I could find beginning with those letters on the left that carried in some way the sense of the original word at the top of each column.

Below is a chart that I used last week in my preparation for yesterday's sermon. It is better than some and worse than others. Notice that if I had two words with the same initial letter (below: P & T) I put those words on the same line even though they were a separate column.

Alliteration chart2

I could have used the "R" row, but I didn't think some of the words fit the meaning I wanted to convey. I ended up using the "P" row, even though I could not make some of the words fit into my descriptive sentences. My outline is below. The words in all caps are from above. The sentence outline follows:

How We React to Persecution

Acts 5:17-42

  1. PREACH: They continued to preach (12-16)
  2. POSITIVE: They trusted that God was in control even when facing unjust treatment (19-20)
  3. PERFORM: They obeyed God. (21)
  4. PERCEIVE: They knew who their ultimate authority was
  5. PROCLAIM: They testified to their experience (32)
  6. PAIN: While they still suffered there were limits to the suffering God would allow (34-40)
  7. PRAISE: They rejoiced in the privilege of suffering for Christ (41)
  8. PERSEVE: They were not cowered in fear (42)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sixteen Things Paul Did Right in His Sermon Intro on Mars Hill

image There is a debate about whether or not Paul's sermon on Mars Hill was "a success" or not.  Several note that there seems to be little positive response to Paul's sermon.  Luke records: "A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others."  (Acts 17:34)

I tend toward the view that while there were few converts, that was more a reflection of the hard soil that had been created by the prevalence of human philosophy in Athens. 

Robert Shannon, however, notes that Paul did many things right in his introduction to his sermon on Mars Hill.  He lists sixteen things about his introduction from which we can learn. (A few of his observations seem to come more from the body of the sermon rather than the introduction proper).  

“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

1. While the first sentence begins with the pronoun “I” the intro is really focused on “you” (the hearers)

2. It is not (at least in the introduction) an accusatory “you”

3. He showed a familiar with their customs, with their city, with their faith.

4. He began with their “unknown god” and declared to them his own well known god.

5. He did not begin with flattery

6. He does not begin with an apology about bothering to address them at all 

7. His topic is simple : the unknown god. (Not “Thoughtful Considerations of Cosmic Deities and their Concrete Representation in Art”)

8. It suggests a little of what lies ahead, but only a little.

9. He did not begin with a complex theological argument

10. It is concrete, not abstract

11. It is not arrogant

12. It is not technical

13. It is Interesting. A dull introduction signals a duller sermon. Everyone puts his best foot forward and if that’s the best we’ve got it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the sermon

14. He begins by talking about idolatry, but does not begin to condemn it (at the first).  He has already faced hostility at Iconium, Lystra, Philippi and Thessalonica. He saw no need to evoke unnecessary hostility with the introduction to his message at Athens. v. 29: Not “You should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone…” He said We should not think…” Paul had never in his life thought that God could be captured in graven images, but he uses “we” as a mark of courtesy. His persuasive ability required that he rhetorically include himself.

15. His into sets the tone for the rest of the message: it is going to be a friendly sermon and respectful. If we set a negative or hostile tone, many will decide not to listen. If we signal that a depressing half hour lies ahead…all diagnosis and no prescription, a diatribe against things the listeners are helpless to remedy, then we should not be surprised that people begin to look out the window.

16. Paul’s intro is short. That reassures the listeners. If an intro goes on and on we wonder if the preacher knows where he is going.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Will you turn with me to...": To Wait or Not to Wait?

image I have usually been taught that it is important to allow the congregation to turn to the scripture you are reading (at least the MAIN text) in their Bibles so they can read along with you.  Often that is prefaced with the words, "Will you turn with me to..."

Robert Shannon, formerly of Atlanta Christian College has a different perspective on that.  Here is what he says: 

Don’t use the opening line: “Will you turn with me….” Half of the people aren’t going to do it. Of the half that do, half of them are not going to find it until you are well into your first point. Another third are going to keep reading after you have finished reading you text and are going to miss your entire sermon introduction.

Let people read the Bible on their own time. I only have 25 minutes. Why should they take MY time for their Bible reading? Don’t you find it disconcerting when you have come to the end of your text and you are preaching and there is some person out there who is reading on into the next chapter?

I guess I am not sure that I would KNOW that someone was reading into the next chapter.   I have always found it important to reinforce people bringing their scriptures to church, and if they are going to bring them, they should use them. 

But I guess it is fair to ask the question WHY?  Why is it important that they bring them?  Why is it important that the look up the scripture along with you?  Do they suspect that you are lying; that you are changing the words of scripture? 

For many years, I put the text of the main scripture used (and often the text of ALL of the scriptures used) up on the Powerpoint screen behind me.   That way I could just jump into the text without delay and they could read along from the screen. That also helped with the problem of numerous translations being read all over the sanctuary. To have one thing read and people trying to note all of the differences between you are reading and what they are reading has got to be distracting.  But after having people complain that I wasn't giving them time to turn in their Bibles to the scripture and that I was not encouraging people to bring their Bibles, I have drifted toward just putting the scripture reference (along with the page number in the pew Bibles) on the screen. 

What has worked best for you?  What do you think of Bob Shannon's comment?  Go ahead and chime in!

Steps To Faith « Biblical Preaching

image I found these words of Peter Mead helpful:

Coming to faith is a process. I’ve been studying the early chapters of Daniel and the early chapters of John. It’s not uncommon to find, in the Bible, that there is a process involved in understanding God for who He is and accepting His role and self-presentation. Whether or not Nebuchadnezzar is truly “converted” in chapter 4, there are key incidents in the previous two chapters. What might this all mean for us as preachers?

1. View each message as an opportunity to move people forward one step. It takes repeated exposure to the gospel for people to gradually be drawn closer to that point of heart-level understanding and response. Even once people are saved, the process continues. So let’s not have the mentality that says, “I’ve already told them this, they should get it now!” Our listeners, just like us, are notoriously slow and gradual in responding to God.

2. Remember that the process happens apart from preaching too. While that visitor may be a first-time listener to your preaching, they may have already been through many steps on the journey (listening to preachers on the radio, reading books, interacting with believers, etc.) So while we should view each message as an opportunity to prompt the next step, we should not underestimate the opportunity and fail to present an opportunity to fully respond. Somehow we need a real sensitivity to God and to people in this aspect of ministry.

You can find it here: Steps To Faith « Biblical Preaching

Thursday, April 10, 2008

100th Post for 2008!


It took me six months to reach 100 posts in 2007, my first year of blogging.  Here is my 100h post of 2008-in a little over three months.  (Actually if you take the two Nazi posts that are temporarily suspended, we have surpassed 100 posts)  The frequency is increasing.  I hope that the quality of posts is increasing as well.  Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Buzzard Blog: Don't Give Them a System, Give Them A Redeemer

Great Quote via Justin Buzzard: 


"We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer."       --Paul David Tripp, Instruments In The Redeemer's Hands, p. 8

The original is here:  Buzzard Blog: Don't Give Them a System, Give Them A Redeemer

Nazi Cowardice

Nazi5Because of my two posts here at Walking the Walk about Nazis and preaching, the cowards of the National Socialist party have tried (unsuccessfully) to cause fear in my wife and me by placing their ANSWP literature in front of our house ("we know where you live"). They have done so by dark of night because they know what they do is dishonorable.Nazi pic2

My Bible reading for this morning providentially included Psalm 14, Proverbs 26 & I Thessalonians 5 (I am a day behind in my reading--I am using the Robert M'Cheyne Bible Reading Calendar--these are actually the readings I was supposed to read yesterday when I discovered the vile literature in front of our house):

Psalm 14:1: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

Proverbs 26:1,4-5: Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

I Thessalonians 5:But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.

I haven't selected these verses because of these events...they actually are the verses the M'cheyne reading program called for me to read yesterday (but I didn't get to until today) God is good.

As I stated in my former post (which I have been asked to temporarily suspend), I continue to pray for the Acts 9 conversion of Bill White, the head of the American National Socialist Party.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What a Difference a Sermon Made


In 1963, the youth minister at First Methodist of Park Ridge, IL  took his youth group to hear a sermon in downtown Chicago.  The preacher was Martin Luther King, Jr. and his sermon was "Sleeping Through the Revolution."  After the sermon, the youth minister took the group backstage to meet and shake hands with Dr. King.

Hillary Rodham (Clinton) describes that sermon as an important turning point in her life.  She later reminisced, "At the time, I didn't realize how important that event would become for me.'" The day he died was another.  Hillary was student body president at Wellesley.  The next day she, wearing a black armband, called for a two day strike at the school. 

My purpose is not to play politics.  I have no idea who I will vote for this falls US presidential election.  I live in Oregon and we are one of the very LAST states to hold our primary.  Hillary just made her first visit to the state of the entire campaign this past weekend. (Barak Obama made his first the week before). I'm not even a Democrat, so I can't vote in the Democratic primary. 

But what struck me was the impact that one sermon had on a life.  Now, granted, there were additional experiences that shaped Hillary to be who she is.  But she points to a sermon as one of the foundational turning points of her life. 

"Oh Lord, that in a lifetime even one of my sermons would be sermons that someone can say was a pivotal turning point in a life." 


[I couldn't find the specific sermon with that title & date on the Internet.  I found a similarly entitled sermon (Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution) that was preached at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. less than a week before MLK's death in 1968.  I suspect that there were at least some similarities, although this sermon makes heavy references to the Vietnam War, which I doubt would have engendered such attention in 1963.  His text was from the book of Revelation: "Behold I make all things new; former things are passed away." and he used as a central picture the picture of Rip VanWinkle who slept 20 years and, indeed, slept through the American Revolution.  There are (were) three revolutions happening at the time King preached: 

There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution: that is, a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare; then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place. And there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, "Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away."

A sermon well worth your time reading.  If anyone knows where I could find the text of that ORIGINAL 1963 sermon, I would appreciate hearing where it can be found.]

A 100th Birthday Reflection

Grandma Ds 100 birthday 036 Sunday was my wife's grandmother's 100th birthday. She lives in a care facility in Kansas City. Edith is a godly woman who has served her Lord, her family and her church in many many ways. She has been a quiet woman for the most part. She was the church treasurer for many, many years (there is a special place in heaven for church treasurers). She has opinions, but doesn't feel they necessarily need to be shared with everyone.

But we are not really doing much to celebrate this 100th birthday. She is too weak to tolerate much celebration. If she gets her hair done, it exhausts her for the rest of the day. She sleeps much of the time. Her only wish was that her son & daughter (my mother in law) come with their spouses and bring her Chinese food. She may not each much, and she may fall asleep before the meal is done, but she wants a quiet meal with her two children. All of her grandchildren (us included) put together some visual greeting whether it is a photo or a video holding signs wishing her a happy 100th. She is deaf and could not hear if we verbally wished her a happy birthday, so we are doing it in written format. Loretta's brother has put it together in video format and it was shared with her.

Grandma Edith often wishes she wasn't turning 100. She wishes she was with her Lord and her husband Ed (my wife's grandfather). Ed only heard me preach one time before he died and his only comment was that it was way too long ("If it can't be said in 20 minutes, it doesn't need to be said!").

With all respect, I disagree with Ed. Length and quality are measuring apples and oranges. Both a life and a sermon can have one or the other quality, or both, or neither. I have been enthralled by some sermons (rare though they may be) that have stretched over an hour. On the other hand, some of the most excruciating sermons I can remember have been bad short ones. And the same is true of a life. Many a newborn or young child has died. Some, even in their short life, have left those who knew them blessed and better. Some have lived tragic, painful, short lives.

Fortunately, Grand-ma Edith has had both...a quality life and a long life. I wish Grandma Edith a blessed 100th. We have no idea how much longer she will be with us, but soon she will taste eternal life that is of higher quality AND length than anything we can imagine here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mini-Sermon Could Win $200,000!!!!

Of course the above caught my attention!  When I saw a headline like this on my news aggregator, I HAD to check it out!!  

  • If I preached a short sermon, could it really win $200,000?  What are the criteria? 
  • Who is sponsoring it? 
  • How short REALLY is a mini-sermon?
  • Do I have to write a new sermon?  Could it be one I have already preached (or, I guess, PART of one I have already preached?)
  • Does it have to be preached live or do I send in a tape or a manuscript.
  • What I could do with $200,000!

Imagine my disappointment when I found out that Mini-Sermon (pictured) is a horse in this Wednesdays running of a race at the Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, KY.  I guess she is quite good.  Supposedly, she was the winner of the running of the Top Flight at the Aqueduct Racetrack in New York over Thanksgiving weekend last November. 

Oh well... I guess I can't outrun her...there goes my $200K (but I bet I could out preach or not!)



Thomas Long: Stolen Goods


I heard Thomas Long for the first time last May at the Festival of  Homiletics in Nashville (the occasion, although not really the reason, for beginning this blog).  Long is Professor of Preaching at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Georgia.

He wrote an article in Christian Century last year on pulpit plagiarism that is one of the best I have seen. I would commend it to you.  You can find it  here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

No One Went Psycho Over My Illustration

psycho ending

For what its worth, the vote to go ahead with my video clip from Psycho was 2-0 in favor. I used it and believe that it did what I wanted it to do. It depicted well the literal covering over of sin (as Norman Bates pushed Marion Crane's car containing her body in the trunk into the swamp) as the water slowly enveloped the car. And then I took a snap shot of the final scene of the movie as "The End" comes up and the car is being towed back out of the water. His sin had been discovered.

My sermon was from the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. My theme was that God will not allow sin to be forever hidden.

Thanks to the two of you who gave me feedback!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Pleasant Game of Solitaire

image"A sermon leaving the station without the interest of the  listeners onboard is like what John Edgar Parks called 'the preacher playing a pleasant game of sacred solitaire.'"      --Alger Fitch

Friday, April 4, 2008

30 Worn Out Preacher Perspectives In Need of the "Oh Really?" Factor

Not all of Satan's temptations come in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. Many times the mental games we play are as destructive as an external temptation. In about 15 minutes I came up with a list of preacher perspectives that we need to at least have someone ask, "Oh, really...?"

  1. I have too much (pastoral care, imageadministrative, teaching, family, etc.) work to adequately prepare for preaching
  2. No church would hire me. I'm too (old, young, fat, non-white, whatever)
  3. I don't need any formal education, I just need God's call.
  4. I have a degree, I am totally read to preach wherever.
  5. Writing for publication is a distraction from preaching and ministry.
  6. Church people learn best from a direct lecture.
  7. You are a loser if you read other people's sermons for ideas.
  8. I don't need a Palm pilot, blackberry, organizer, Daytimer or any other tool to keep my on task.
  9. I need to be just like __________.
  10. I can't learn anything from any other preachers/mentors.
  11. Only those preachers who preach in big churches are effective.
  12. A preacher can't/shouldn't have friends in the church.
  13. I would have been more effective if I had never married.
  14. I can't be effective unless I AM married.
  15. If I can't do everything that needs to be done in this church, therefore, I can't do anything.
  16. There is no one in this church who wants to change.
  17. There is no one in this church who is critical of my ministry.
  18. It is carnal to think of investing for my retirement.
  19. Everything in ministry is of equal importance and effectiveness.
  20. I can never get my e-mail Inbox down to zero
  21. The next church will be easier than this one.
  22. If I found the perfect church everything would be OK in my life
  23. If I step away from ministry to gain perspective. I could never get back in.
  24. My congregation never wants to hear anyone but me in the pulpit.
  25. I can't leave this church. Everything will fall apart.
  26. I can not understand today's culture.
  27. Christians always vote (Republican/Democratic in US; Labour/Conservative in UK)
  28. My people want straight exposition. They can apply the Bible to their lives themselves.
  29. My people only want topical sermons that have obvious direct application. They don't really want to know the specifics of a Bible book.
  30. There's nothing I can do about it.

(Thanks to for a similar list from a different angle)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Psycho Question and a Not-So-Psycho Offer

MV5BMTQ1NDY1NTQ2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMTAzNTQ2It is fairly common for me to use video clips to illustrate a point in my sermons. I am really torn this week, because I have a clip I want to use that I am not sure I should.

My sermon is from the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. My theme is that God will not allow sin to be forever hidden.

The clip I want to use is from the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho. NO... I am not going to use the shower scene (one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history). The clip I want to use is the clip of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) pushing the car carrying the body of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) into the swamp and watching as the black swamp waters engulf and eventually cover up the evidence of the crime. Of course, the last scene in the movie, as "The End" appears is of the car being towed, dripping with moss and mud, out of the swamp.

"Be Sure That Your Sin Will Find You Out" (Numbers 32:23).

It is a powerful picture and I believe it really supports the theme of the sermon. But it is...after all...Psycho. One of, if not, THE most famous horror films in history (and rated "R"--although my youth minister says today it would be given a PG-13). The age old question arises, "Am I promoting the movie by showing a clip from it?" I have had angry parents when I have shown clips from "R" rated movies before. (Although I had a lady leave the church a little more than a year ago and one among her litany of complaints was that I had used the movie "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" as illustrative material in my Christmas sermon series).

In this case it is not that I am solely trying to be culturally cutting-edge relevant--this movie is almost 50 years old and tame by today's standards! It's that the clip FITS! It visually makes my point. Seeing the waters close over the hood of that car is so much like trying to hide the sin that we hold onto in our own lives.

I am not afraid to be provocative, I just don't want the clip to overshadow the point of the sermon.

Thoughts or suggestions? Many of you lurk here without posting (and that's OK), but I really would covet some advice.


If you will comment, giving me your advice on whether or not I should use the clip from Psycho and give me your e-mail address, I will send you a free copy of my little e-book on Suggestions for the Public Reading of Scripture in Worship.

You don't want all the world to have your e-mail address you say? No problem. Make a comment and then drop me a note at I will turn around and mail you the e-book.

The only reason I want your e-mail address is to send you the e-book.

Hope this little incentive encourages you to give me your advice.

Nazi Redux

image For anyone who is interested here is a follow-up to my post on Nazis and Preaching.

The American Nationalist Socialist Workers party has both posted the letter that the Tigard ministers published: here. (He got it from today's Lake Oswego Review. Lake Oswego is another Portland suburb, directly across I-5 from Tigard).

Additionally Bill White (pictured), the national commander of the ANSWP has responded here. (Creatively sub-titled, "Like We Care What Some Judaized Bolshevik Pseudo-Christians Think")

At least he clearly confirms the point of our letter...there is nothing Christian about Nazi hatred and fear and prejudice. It was simply important that when these flags were flown (whether it was a Middle-school boy-prank or not), that it not be met with total community silence, (as it had been). It seemed (and seems) important that someone stood up and said "This is not acceptable and does not represent the Christian people of this community." It is well known that much of the German Protestant church acquiesced to the Nazis and that even the Pope at the time--Pius XII--seems complicit at least by silence.

The Nazis have the first amendment right to do this (although that it was done in the cover of night speaks volumes), but we also have the first-amendment right and the Christian responsibility to denounce the hatred which this symbol represents.

My prayer continues to be that Bill White "still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples," (Acts 9:1) will have the same experience that Saul did in the rest of Acts chapter 9.

As for preaching, I haven't yet mentioned it from the pulpit, but if it gets more public than this, I probably will need to.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

When Is It a Laughing Matter?

imageOne of the more difficult issues with which I have struggled in preaching is the use of humor.  My humor is sometimes biting, ironic (and perhaps too often a bit ribald).  And yet I love being funny--especially one liners.  (Sometimes it is also a cover for insecurity).  But what are the guidelines for when you begin a sermon with humor? 

I remember at my last church (in Garden City, KS--I was there 1987-1999) that one of my elders (appropriately) upbraided me because the humor I used to begin my sermons often had no relevance to the sermon itself.  While I usually can keep the ribald stuff out of the pulpit, I struggled with how best to use humor.

In recent years, I hardly ever begin my sermon with a "joke."  But I still struggled with guidelines for using humor, particularly in the introduction. 

I found the following words from Bryan Chapell very helpful.  They come from his Covenant Theological Seminary lectures on preaching.  (It may be similar in his book on preaching, but I haven't compared them): 

Here is the basic idea: humor serves you when you raise the hammer of emotional intensity in order to drive home a point. Now, you must hear that it is to drive a point. The humor must be obviously used to drive a point because of what happens to listeners if the humor does not do that. Not so long ago, if you were trained in law or almost any business school, you were trained to begin virtually every public address, any talk, with a joke. Start every talk with a joke. This is because of that rubric from rhetoric of long ago, “The introduction is the handshake of good intent,” was taught over and over and over again. Therefore people thought, “If I just say something funny, it will draw people in. They will like the joke, and they will feel good about me.” And it is true. If you were to look for the emotional reason people will listen to a message, they will say that by using humor you will get people’s attention. Humor really draws people in, and they listen. But—here is the important “but”—what they also began to recognize was that everyone was doing this. Thus all listeners knew what was going on. “You are telling a joke at the beginning to get my attention and to draw me in and to make me feel good about either you or the situation I am in. Therefore by telling the joke you are trying to manipulate me.” This happens so much in our culture that those who researched it would say that just as fast as attention is aroused, trust goes down, because no one wants to be manipulated.

Now, what is the way to bring attention and trust together to accomplish your point? You should recognize that humor does work when people do not feel manipulated. They do not feel manipulated if they can see what you told as a joke is tied to the subject. It has a purpose. It is when the humor appears not to have a purpose other than manipulation that I will strongly distrust you. When the humor is tied to the point, I can often say, “I now feel the subject in my heart with greater intensity because of the way you used this. Now I actually appreciate the humor and recognize you did it with purpose for your subject, not merely to manipulate my feelings.” Now, if you throw away humor from your message, believe me, you will be a very sour preacher. Did Jesus ever use humor? There is no question that Jesus used humor. When He talked about “You are willing to judge your brother, and by that you will take the splinter out of his eye but ignore the log in your own eye” or when He said, “It is harder for a wealthy man to get to heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he was using humor. We may not be sure exactly how to exegete these passages, but there is no question that people laughed when He said it. He used humor, and His humor had a point. That is the issue: humor must have a purpose that is clear.

I don't know about you, but I find that particularly helpful.  What have been some of your struggles in using humor?  Have you found a good solution?  Let me/us know!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Begin Your Sermon with SPACES

image I am working on a multi-part post on sermon introductions.  But to whet your appetite let me throw this up for your consideration. 

When you are beginning a sermon, of course before deciding on any introduction technique, you must ask, "What am I trying to do in this introduction?" There are several possibilities as I will share later. 

AFTER YOU HAVE DECIDED THE PURPOSE of the introduction, then you begin to ask, how best to reach that purpose.  One suggestion is to use the acrostic SPACES in thinking about possible technique. 

S-Ask for a SHOW of hands--then react to the response.("If you knew that you could share the gospel confidently with your family, would you be willing to practice three techniques found in scripture?  May I see a show of hands?  I see that more than half of you responded positively.   I want to tell you this morning of three principles found in the New Testament book of...")

P -PROMISE the congregation something in the opening of the sermon.  It whets their appetite.

A-Begin with an ANALOGY (I heard Robert Shannon use the pre-take off talk in on a commercial airplane as an analogy for the strengths and weaknesses of many introductions.  While this was not a SERMON introduction, it makes the point.)

C-Arouse suspicion or CURIOSITY.  The old Paul Harvey technique of weaving a story without revealing who it is about (as he says, "The REST of the story") used this well.  You don't reveal the identity of the person on whom the story is centered until the end of the introduction or even later in the sermon. 

E- Use an EXHIBIT or demonstrate something(I have secured a casket key for a mortuary that occasionally I have used in a sermon on death or resurrection. After asking what they believe the key is, sometimes I will tell them right away; other times I will hold onto the key and reveal it later.  Usually it has something to do with the key to life and death.)

S-Begin with STATISTICS or the testimony of an expert.  This can be startling and attention grabbing.  Last Sunday I began with statistics on how many Americans of whatever faith pray at least once a day (65%) and how many pray two or more times a day (35%).  I am not a Southern Baptist, but I also included the statistic that over 95% of all Southern Baptist teens say that they pray at least once a day.  I used that as a lead in to a sermon on the importance of corporate prayer in addition to private prayer. 


There are other ways to do this effectively, of course.  I will be sharing more on sermon introductions over the next several days.

And that is not an April Fools joke.

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