Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beginning Year #3 of Talking the Walk


Two years ago today I began an experiment: could I improve my preaching by using the accountability tool of a public blog to force myself to think, read, evaluate and discuss preaching?  What had always been stated by others to be a key strength of my ministry suddenly now was being strongly criticized by an organized group within the church.  And while interviewing for a job to teach preaching at a Bible college, when I was asked what I had read recently on preaching, I was flummoxed.  I really wasn’t reading regularly in the area of preaching at all. And I was embarrassed by that. (And while they offered me the job anyway, I didn’t take it.) 

And so while at the Festival of Homiletics in Nashville in May 2007 (another effort to rejuvenate my preaching), I began this little effort.  I didn’t know if it would last and it has been through various stresses. At times my blogging became sparse. At other times I was posting more than one post a day for months in a row. And while my focus is preaching, I have at times steered off on tangents. 

Most recently my challenge has been that I am not preaching every week.  And I miss that.  But that doesn’t mean that it is not still one of my passions, that I won’t preach again nor that this can’t be a time to continue to lay groundwork for the future.  So, I continue to read, to listen to sermons, to outline sermons, etc.

So, if you have walked with me through the past two years, thanks. Knowing that people are reading this is a HUGE motivator to keep it up, and to improve both the quality of my content and the quality of my writing. And if you are still with me, let’s continue to talk about preaching so that this important task of Christian ministry is improved, both in our lives, but also in the church as a whole.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How’s Your Marriage…or Your Church?

Cal & Loretta 1977

As I have said here before, I am teaching a couple of classes: one on the New Testament and another on Communication Theory.  This week’s reading on Perception got me thinking.  Here is what struck me: (Ronald B. Adler & Russell F. Proctor “Looking Out/Looking in,”  Wadsworth Cengate Learning, 2006, p. 92-93)

Couples who report being happily married after fifty or more years seem to collude in a relational narrative that doesn’t jibe with the facts.  They agree that they rarely have conflict, although objective analysis reveals that they have had their share of struggles. Without overtly agreeing to do so, they choose to blame outside forces or unusual circumstances for problems instead of blaming each others.  They offer the most charitable interpretations of each other’s behavior, believing that their spouse acts with good intentions when things don’t go well. They seem willing to forgive, or even forget, transgressions. Communication researcher Judy Pearson evaluates these findings:

Should we conclude that happy couples have a poor grip on reality?  Perhaps they do, but is the reality of one’s marriage better known by outside onlookers than by the players themselves? The conclusion is evident.  One key to a long, happy marriage is to tell yourself and others that you have one and then to behave as though you do! (J.C. Pearson, “Positive Distortion: The Most Beautiful Woman in the world.” [1996])

My thinking went two directions:  one was about my marriage. We have been married for over thirty years (the pic above is from our dating years in the mid to late 70’s).  And it has been good and it has been hard.  But it has been worth it.  This concept (as I word it) of mutual self-delusion makes me a little uncomfortable.  And yet I think there is some truth in it. If you are in it for the long haul, you have to find some way of getting through the difficult times and the times when you truly hurt one another.

But my thinking also went back to the churches I have served. (In 30 years: one part-time and three full time).  And in the last two, I walked into situations where the church was at war with itself.  (The second one more so than the first one).  From Day 1 (or even before) it was not possible to believe that everyone had good intentions—both sides were frantically pulling you to get on “their side.”   And although I came to love most of the people in both congregations dearly, I don’t know that I ever overcame that suspiciousness /those reservations with which I began the relationship. And it limited my effectiveness in both ministries.

Can you develop that sense of “mutual self-delusion” in a church setting?  Should you?  In the article it says that the couples did not overtly agree to “collude in a relational narrative that doesn’t jibe with the facts.”  If one takes that attitude and the other one doesn’t, (as I have seen in numerous marriages), the result is often abuse and heartache.  If the preacher takes that attitude, but the church doesn’t, will disaster follow?  If the congregation takes it, but the preacher doesn’t (as is more often the case), does disaster follow?  Does a church who presumes, “We have a good preacher,” and where the preacher presumes, “I have receptive people” result in better preaching/teaching?  Or at least the self-perception of it?  How far can/should you push this?   As always, I have more questions than answers.

What do you think of the quote from Adler & Proctor? ( No, this isn’t my class…I just am wanting your input).  Thoughts?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Questions for a Preacher’s Wife

image Mary Kassien at Titus2Talk has put up a list of questions for Preacher’s Wives. Mary states that her purpose in the questions is: “to inspire and encourage women who are married to a pastor or to a seminary student. Also we want to give other women an insight into the challenges that pastors' wives face so we can better encourage and pray for those in leadership.”

I think it might also be helpful for preachers to ask themselves if they know how their wife would answer these questions…and then ask her to see if you are right!!

1. What do you think is your most important responsibility as a pastor's wife?
2. Is there anything that you think is not part of your role that others may assume is?
3. What boundaries have you established in order to protect your marriage and family life?
4. How do you apply Galatians 6:2 ("Carry each other's burdens") when facing difficulties or frustrations in ministry?
5. Where do you and your husband find your own pastoral care?
6. How do you deal with criticism of you or your husband?
7. What is the greatest blessing and what the greatest burden of being a pastor's wife?
8. Are there any books you would recommend that you've found particularly helpful as a pastor’s wife?
9. What one piece of advice would you pass on to a new pastor's wife?
10. How can the other women in a congregation best support you practically and in prayer?

Find the original post, plus some answers here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mead>>When Listeners Aren’t Satisfied

Peter Mead has a series of posts on “When Listeners Aren’t Satisfied”.  As someone who has struggled with this and too often taken it personally, I found his  series extremely helpful.  Peter begins:

Preaching is complex. Take, for example, the matter of listener satisfaction. If they aren’t satisfied, it could be a good sign, or a bad sign. Likewise having everyone happy may mean something is wrong. So how do we navigate the issue of listener satisfaction, after all, dissatisfaction expressed is seldom water off a ducks back (for most of us). image

He then gives a list of ten “thoughts.” I will list them,but you really need to read his comments under each category. Find the beginning of the series here.

  1. Expressed dissatisfaction is often overstated.
  2. Recognize that tension fired your way is often nothing to do with you or your preaching.
  3. Remember that you answer to God.
  4. Prayerfully process feedback.
  5. Remember that happy listeners may mean sermon failure.
  6. Anonymous feedback is borderline useless
  7. You don’t have to take the hassle.
  8. Strengthen yourself with the biblical giants.
  9. Know your own inner landscapes.
  10. Whatever the justification for the criticism, make sure it improves your preaching!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Colin Adams>>Picking a Sermon Series

imageRecently Colin Adams (pictured, right) reflected on some time he and others spent with Peter Grainger discussing how one chooses sermon series. 

God’s Word addresses all and every situation. Nonetheless, certain parts of God’s Word can be more apt for a given time and situation.

Factors in choosing a sermon topic/series?

1. The profile of a particular church (know your church)

  • Age range/background
  • Christian maturity
  • Non-Christians present 
  • Oncers/twicers
  • Needs of congregation

2. The challenges/message to THE Church (which can/should be preached in every church)

When starting out or preaching elsewhere: try to find as much as you can about the church. Or ask: What is the Spirit saying to Western churches in general at this time?

  • financial – materialism (credit-crunch)/insecurity 
  • sexual – Internet etc.  
  • truth/exclusive claims 
  • hot topics – what about the Canaanites?

Specific situations may lead to a last minute alteration

  • Dunblane massacre
  • Princes Diana’s death
  • Tsunami

e.g. Luke 13 – Jesus and tragedy (have in reserve)

Colin lists a couple of more, but I would just direct you to his post to read the entire article.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mead>>What Is It That We Preach

During this last week, while I was discussing Bob Russell’s Preaching Forum, there were several helpful posts that I could not draw attention to without interrupting that image series.

Peter Mead (good as always) asked those of us who have committed ourselves to preaching the Bible, “What is it really, that we preach?”

Two options exist:

Option A – We preach the main thought of a text.

Option B – We preach an aspect of biblical theology prompted by the main thought of a text.

Peter discusses both, while pressing for the first.  he says, “I see value in both options, but on this site I urge a commitment to option A (preach the text you are preaching), with an awareness of option B (develop the theology of the text biblically if you deem it necessary)”.   He concludes, thus:

Identifying these two categories is an intriguing starting point for reflection on my own approach to preaching and hopefully for yours too.  Where might this reflection lead?  Is it necessary to offer rationale and critique of each?  Will people recognize that I am not setting up a permanent either/or mutually exclusive construct, but rather identifying the primary leaning of the expository preacher?

You really need to read the entire post here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bob Russell, Part 5: A Potpourri of Q&A

Bob Russell workshopjpg_thumb[1]This series, summarizing and commenting on Bob Russell’s presentation at the Oregon Christian Convention last Friday, has gone on long enough  Today, I want to close the series with kind of a potpourri of Questions and Answers asked by preachers from around the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  There were numerous other questions, but I have  only selected the ones that seemed most pertinent to the purpose of this blog. 

Q: How has your sermon prep changed over the years?

  • From the beginning he spend four hours a day five days a week in sermon prep. That habit lasted his entire life. He credits that with the quality & perseverance of his preaching.
  • The biggest difference he could identify is that he preached on a team toward the end, (only preached about half of the time, but he spent at least as much time in prep).
  • He also began to be part of a preaching preparation group
    • They could draw on the strengths of one another.
      • One better at outlining
      • Another better at illustrations & quotes.
    • 4-6 seemed to be the biggest that this group should be. 
    • Not everyone has the personality to buckle down and do this sort of group work.

Q: Looking back what things would you not spend as much time doing?

  • Too much time in counseling: found solid referrals
  • Too much time doing hospital visitation: recruited a team of hospital callers.
  • “The church is not a pyramid with one guy at the top; It is a circle where everyone ministers to one another. We forget that and our churches forget that.”

Q: What was the key to your growth in Louisville?

  • “In all the large dynamic churches there is an air of anticipation that God is going to do something today.”  We need to ask “Is something significant going to happen here?”
  • Stressed changed lives: -people are not as impressed today with numbers. But people do get excited about seeing lives changed.
  • Russell said that from Monday noon on, he is asking people all week about their reaction to what he is going to say in his sermon.
  • He absolutely does not credit the growth to a vision:  his own or others.  He said, “None of us ever would dream that Southeast would become what it has become.”

Q: What question do you wish preachers would ask?

  • About the current lack of church discipline.  I have hardly found a minister under 30 who, when presented with the situation of a young couple who wants to join church, but are living together, who would refuse them membership until they were married.  He specifically spoke of a group of 8 young preachers just out of seminary: all said, “Let them in, they will change in time”.
  • Russell:  We are shouting in grace & shallow in repentance.
  • John Stott:
    • Truth without love is Dogmatism
    • Love without truth is Sentimentality
    • Truth with love is Christianity

Q: (from a staff person): How did you relate to your staff? 

  • Encouragement is huge. BUT…
  • Encouragement means more when you occasionally rebuke.
  • Nothing encourages staff like a gift certificate or a gift of money.

Q: What authors would you recommend preachers read? (This was the question to which his answer was most disappointing to me): 

  • “Oh, I wouldn’t recommend anyone that you are not already reading: Wiersbe, Stott, Colson, perhaps Andy Stanley.”

Cal: I find that pretty sad both that two of the four are dead, two of the four are more popular, superficial writers and none of them are books that would require more than a layman’s familiarity with the Bible or theology or preaching. 


So…that was it.  There really was a lot in the couple of hours that Russell spoke, some good, other parts a little more disappointing, but well worth my time and the time of those who were there.  Thoughts?  Reactions?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bob Russell: Part 4

This week I am reviewing a workshop I went to last Friday, featuring Bob Russell, formerly the preaching minister of the large mega-church Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY (attendance around 18,000 per weekend).

When it came time for the second half of the “forum” the focus moved ore toward preaching.  Most of us had come under the impression that preaching was the theme, and so when the Q&A started, it focused heavily on preaching. 

IMG00019I asked the first question.  I asked Bob: “In looking back over the past fifty years, how have you seen preaching change, and are you able to see any trends that might point to what preaching would look like in fifty years hence?”  Russell deftly (and probably wisely) deferred on the second part.  But he made several interesting comments on the first.

1. When he was beginning in ministry, preaching had to be loud to be good.  (I found that during my years in east Tennessee.  Unless the preacher yelled, it wasn’t really a very good sermon). But over the years, preaching has become softer and more accessible  His specific words were that preaching has moved from a more “dogmatic” approach to more of a “teaching” approach.

2. He also talked about the difference in illustrating sermons and I found what he said here, perhaps one of the most helpful things of the day.  When he was beginning in ministry, he said the preacher would teach a point and then illustrate the point.   That was inadequate.  Now Russell highly recommends teaching a point, applying it and then illustrating the application.   It is not usually the truth that needs as much illustrating as the application.  Or at least people can more easily see what to do with the truth if they can see how to apply it lived out in the lives of others.

I really appreciated the way that Russell said he does this.   He has a doctrinal or biblical point.  And then he comes up with one sentence applications of the truth.   He lists out as many one-line applications as he can.  And in that process, he usually can come with a real life illustration of that application in his own life or in the lives of those around him.   I found this to be probably the most useful “tool” of the day.

3. Bob also commented on the need to make the application “to Monday and not to Sunday”.  By that he means, look for applications that don’t necessarily have to do with public worship and Sunday “Christianly” things.  Look for the application in the work-a-day worlds of our people.  Recently he preached on the different kinds of consciences. (a lax conscience, a seared or hard conscience, a sensitive conscience, a defiled conscience, a pure conscience, etc.)  And when he came to applying having a sensitive conscience, the temptation was to apply it to being overly sensitive to things that happen on Sundays (types of music, men not wearing suits, the type of grape juice used, etc.). 

Russell commented that that sort of application focus is MUCH less helpful than thinking through how a sensitive conscience might react to things in the workplace, the community, the home.

4.  Later in the  Q&A time Bob added another way in which preaching has changed over the past 40-50 years.  Back when he began in ministry and for many years people were most impressed by numbers.   If you had numbers, you were doing things right.  (I think we saw a reflection of that in Bob’s comment differentiating Driscoll and McClaren that I commented on in the Day 2 post.  But today, Russell noted, people are more impressed with changed lives.   They recognize that any circus can gather a crowd (my words, not his).  But the power of Christianity is in changed lives. And THAT excites people today more than numbers (as it should). 

Tomorrow I will finish up this summary of Bob Russell’s presentation to preachers by finishing up the Q&A.  

Monday, May 11, 2009

How to Kill a Church! [Osborne>>Rhoades>>Schroeder>>Stanley>>(Habig)]

(We interrupt this Bob Russell series for this special word):

One of the joys of writing a blog is finding good stuff on OTHER people’s blogs and sharing it with your specific audience.  But often bloggers recommend  posts by other bloggers who are recommending still other bloggers.  It can get a bit incestuous (not to mention out of control).  Today, it began by my reading a brief recommendation by Milton Stanley of an article by John Schroeder. John, in turn, is drawing from an article by Todd Rhoades, who is making commentary on an article by Larry Osborne.

While each of the manifestations of this information is different, they all point to the same source.  If you only have to choose one of the posts to read, I would recommend John Schroeder’s.  A taste:  (The first two paragraphs are from the Larry Osborne piece)

“Years ago, I watched the management team at Nordstrom’s almost commit organizational suicide by their failure to understand this difference. [We not only have a future to create, we also have past gains to protect.]  Concerned by slumping sales, they decided to overhaul their stores in an attempt to imagebecome more hip and reach a younger crowd. Following the lead of a couple of fast growing new clothiers who had recently burst onto the retail scene, they made significant changes to their ambiance, inventory and marketing in order to draw the kind of people who were flocking to these new retail outlets. (Does that sound like a lot of churches?)

“But here’s what they missed. The customers they already had didn’t want the changes. They shopped at Nordstrom’s because they liked the very things that turned off the younger and hipper crowd. And unlike the new startup stores, Nordstrom’s had a huge infrastructure and overhead to support. Losing large numbers of current customers to chase potential customers put them in a near financial death spiral.”

Todd, of course draws the inevitable parallel to churches where I think it is even more pronounce[d]. Do the demographics some time in your giving patterns. It's the over 50 crowd that pays most of the freight, and anymore are the only ones that routinely pledge and fulfill that pledge. Wholesale innovation in an existing, healthy but starting to fade church is a recipe for hastening the end. I've seen it happen more times than I can count.

Larry Osborne has three points for preservation AND innovation.  Find John’s article here.  What these guys says really needs to be heard.  Check it out (at least one of them!!)

Bob Russell, Part 3: How Do We Respond to Difficulties in Ministry?

Bob Russell This week I am reviewing a workshop I went to last Friday, featuring Bob Russell, formerly the preaching minister of the large mega-church Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY (attendance around 18,000 per weekend).

Russell gave five challenges that ministers face today:

  1. The economic downturn
  2. Stark generational differences
  3. Increased cultural wars
  4. Postmodern thinking
  5. Unrealistic expectations on the part of the people.

In response, he talked about how do we respond?

1. Rely on God.

    • Always remember: We preach to an audience of one.

Cal: I think this is the only way to do most of the rest of the list.

2. Maintain your composure and integrity even when you have a reason not to.

    • Kipling: If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs; you’ll be a man, my son.”
    • Don’t use temper, porn, etc. as an escape
    • Pain is God’s spotlight.
    • 1 Peter 2:23: When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

Cal: this has been my struggle over the past five months.

3. Quit comparing & complaining & looking for greener pastures.

    • Ill of Russell’s book“When God Builds a Church” and “Purpose Driven Church”—both books came out at the same time. Hard not to compare.

Cal: ditto on what I said on #2

4. Get a life outside of the church.

    • Importance of shifting gears.
    • Too often our wives get the leftovers of our emotions & energies.
    • Cal: I think that this is one of my greatest weaknesses.  But I think that the failure to do this is a result, no a cause.  Identifying too closely with a congregation; forgetting that you “work” for God, not for a  board of elders or a congregation; believing that “if I just work a little bit harder/more/smarter that things will turn around.”

5. Either get happy or act happy!

    • I Thess. 5:18
    • Minirth & Meir: Happiness is a Choice.
    • You can choose to be happy in your present ministry.
    • Nobody wants to be around a whiner.
    • Congregation will take on the tone that you set.

Cal: This one caused the most controversy. One of the pastors consistently held out that this was simply justifying hypocrisy and two-facedness.  Russell conceded that on occasion, we can show people a non-happy side.  But, he said, make it very rare and very short.   I am not sure what I believe about this. I saw it an an internal attitude more than an external projection.  I have to work first on BEING happy, or “acting my way into happiness.”  What do you think about this??

6. Remember our primary calling & hold on to the power of preaching.

    • Many times we don’t even use the word preaching. “Our teaching pastor will now come and share a message.”
    • “Preaching doesn’t just matter but it is the most important thing that we do.”
    • “Preaching is indispensible to Christianity” John Stott’s opening to Between Two Worlds.
    • Words have power. Barak is President because he is a dynamic speaker. If that can happen with secular words, what can words do when they are ordained by God?
    • “If you teach the book & apply the book where people live, it comes alive.”
    • The preached word bridges the gaps between us and people who are very different from us.

Cal: more on preaching tomorrow.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bob Russell, Part 2: Difficulties in Ministry We Face Today


Yesterday I said that I had attended a preaching workshop featuring Bob Russell, formerly preaching minister at the large Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.  

While the event was promoted as “A Passion for Preaching,”  Bob announced up front that he was really going to talk primarily about preaching, but about ministry in general.   That was disappointing to me.  I had gone to hear specifically about preaching and it seemed like a bit of bait & switch.

But Russell began talking about the Difficulties that Ministers Face Today:

    • Downturn in the Economy- “If there is not money, many projects in the church cannot be accomplished”.  And Russell is concerned (rightfully, in my judgment) that this recession may last many years.  Not necessarily the crisis, but economic lethargy.  (My thoughts: the church MAY be hindered by lack of money perhaps, but the downturn also provides huge opportunities for showing people the strength of the gospel.  If our church is programmed focused, then yes, we are hindered by a lack of money.   If we define success in the church as building programs and large program-centered events, then he may be right. But I still believe two things: 
      • Our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills and when there is true need, he seems to provide. 
      • In times of crises, God seems to raise the creativity and faith level of his people.  I believe this CAN be an opportunity for God really to help us sort our our priorities. 

2. Stark generational differences Russell talked about the worship wars.  While this is,surely, a difficulty many preachers in established churches face, it is one we have faced for forty-plus years.  It is nothing new.  In the 1960’s there were struggles in my home church about what type of music was “appropriate” for Sunday worship.  The issue will probably never be totally decided until the current generation of leaders has died out, but I don’t really think that this is a “new” problem.

3. Increased cultural wars. Bob highlighted this less than some of his other points, but I think that it is really more important than either of the first two.  He mentioned the examples of conflict over stem cell research, gay rights, abortion, etc.   My thinking:  This does place real challenges before the pastor.  Of course, this is nothing new.  The conflict over slavery in 19th century American churches was also a huge cultural war.  The conflict over “scientism” in the early to mid-twentieth century was a huge culture war, the repercussions of which we continue to live with today. There will always be some level of cultural war when the kingdom of God is not yet come “on earth as it is in heaven.” Russell did point out that the level of incivility in public discourse has heightened. And it has…from the twentieth century.  But if you go back to the nineteenth century and before, I think you will find even great levels of incivility in public discourse.

4. Postmodern thinking.  The subjectivism and relativism that is apparent in many postmodern thinkers today is, truly, amazing and a challenge for the preaching of the truth of the Word.  And the church cannot compromise on the issue of Truth and the uniqueness of Jesus.  I was troubled by one thing that Russell said, however.  He was commenting on the fact that, while many are saying that in order to reach you adults, you must be willing to compromise the truth and uniqueness of the Gospel.  And he used as his example Brian McClaren.  He said that while McClaren compromises, he “only preaches to a church of 400 people”, while Mark Driscoll [who is NOT known for doctrinal or moral compromise] “preaches to thousands every Sunday”.  But if we determine who is right by the size of the crowd they preach to, then Joel Osteen is one of the most right preachers in the country!  And that (at least to me) is totally offensive. 

5. Unrealistic expectations on the part of the people. Russell concluded his section on Difficulties Faced by Preachers Today by stating that congregational criticism is more intense than it has ever been.   E-mails make criticism harsher than before. Before you had to write out a letter and then mail it and by the time that many (not all!) had done that, they had reconsidered the rashness of their words and pulled back or at least tempered them.  But today it is much easier to send notes. One can dash off a two sentence diatribe or cutting remark and hit the send button on e-mail and it is gone, out to do its damage.   And what he says is true.  But I hesitate to place too much stress on that.  Preachers in America in 2009 certainly do not hold the positions of honor and respect and influence that they did 50-75 years ago. And yet, historical/biblical perspective is always needed in discussions like this. In previous times, “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy.” (Heb. 11:35-38)

In some ways, I fear that we preachers of the 20th & 21st centuries are pretty soft & coddled.  I have had my fair share of garbage thrown at me, but perspective says that we still have it much better than a large number of God’s spokesmen throughout the centuries. 

More on Bob Russell’s presentation tomorrow and I promise to get down to the subject of Preaching.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Bob Russell: A Passion for Preaching

Bob RussellYesterday, the Oregon Christian Convention sponsored a two hour forum with Bob Russell.  Bob was, for forty years, the preaching minister at the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.   The OCC always has an event “Mayfest” the first weekend of May (the purpose of which I have never been able to determine). But Russell was the main speaker for Mayfest and so preachers from the Willamette Valley and northern Oregon were invited to dialogue with Bob.

There were about thirty preachers who gathered in a circle and spent on hour listening to Russell and then spent an hour dialoguing with him. Actually it was more than that because when I left 30 minutes after the session ended, Bob was still dialoguing one-on-one with preachers.  While there was a wide variety of ages, from twenties through probably retirement age, I was struck by how many of these guys were in their late 40’s & 50’s. 

  • Perhaps that is indicative of the Christian Churches in Oregon.   They are heavily rural and older.
  • Perhaps it is because Bob was at the height of his ministry during the formative years of most of those guys who were in their 50’s (like me). 
  • Perhaps younger guys have given up on preaching and have no interest in hearing an “old guy” talk about it. 

Bob Russell workshopjpgI don’t know.  But it DID seem striking how many guys were similar ages.

I will spend the next couple of days or so just sharing some insights that Bob Russell shared and interacting with them.

One quote before I go:  Russell made one statement that I thought was insightful.  “In all the large dynamic churches there is an air of anticipation that God is going to do something today. Something significant is going to happen here.”  My thoughts: the vast majority of Christian Churches in Oregon are sedate, older, fairly traditional.  That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t show up and do things in sedate, older, traditional churches, but do we expect that? Furthermore, there is the chicken & the egg question:  do we have that anticipation because God has regularly shown up and done something in our worship in the past, or does that sense of anticipation allow God’s Spirit to move in significant ways?  And is that sense that “God did something today” a result of programming and planning?  Or is it a result of the heart attitude of all of the people?  What do you think?  Stay tuned.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lecturing or Preaching?

Milton Stanley points to a pregnant quotation from Erik Raymond over at Irish Calvinist.  You can find the original here.image

Why do some guys walk to the pulpit and from first word to last seems to be clicking, dripping with passion, demonstrating some brokenness, and a visible burden for their people to ‘get it’? While others are able to deliver a biblically faithful message but seem to lack that extra ‘something’ that makes a good sermon different?

I think it comes down to what one is doing in the pulpit. There is a difference between being a lecturer and a preacher. A lecturer may get all of the points correct, be elegant, engage you with humor, and even give you something to think about as you leave. The preacher, on the other hand, has been powerfully affected by the truth that he is proclaiming. He himself has spent a considerable time canvassing his own heart for agreement with the text’s proposition. Where there is a deviation from the divine will the preacher has bent his own will through prayer and meditation that he might be aligned with heaven in truth. Furthermore, the preacher is one who has worn out a path to the throne of grace petitioning for the hearts of his people to ‘get it’. The preacher is convinced of the urgency and power of the message; he really believes that what he is about to say is exactly what God wants these people to hear, therefore, it is the most important thing in the world for them to attend to at that very moment.

Mead: Preacher’s Block and What If You’re Not Ready?

Peter Mead over at Biblical Preaching has a couple of related posts recently that I found helpful.  image

The first one is on Preacher’s Block.

1. Take a Break

2. Talk It Through

3. Preach It Through

4. Confess, repent and press on.

He has good suggestions under each one, but under “Preach It Through” I found this helpful:

Most people leave running through their message much too late.  It can be a very helpful practice, once you have the passage studied and the main idea somewhat clear, to stand and deliver.  You probably won’t want people listening in at this stage, but you will often find it really helpful for you.  After all, the preparation process is supposed to culminate in oral communication.  Too often we trudge slowly through written preparation when our goal is not to write a book, but to speak a message.  Sometimes you will preach it through and then write down some helpful thoughts (phrases that worked well, transitions that communicated effectively, etc.)  Always you will find out where you are unclear and where further study, further work, further prayer and further thought are needed.  Preaching it through is not exactly a short-cut, but it can be a major tool for focusing and fine-tuning your preparation.

I know that in running through a message God always opens up new ideas.  Why do we wait so late to do so?  Find the post here.

The second Post is the one for today.  “What If You’re Not Ready?” is the question he asks. He is not advocating sloth, but recognizing that some texts just take more time to break apart. Peter’s suggestion: “If you’re not ready, don’t preach it.  Instead preach an old message again that you are confident is biblically sound.”

That said, Peter gives several caveats, and one of them really struck me:

Recognize that as a Bible student we never fully plumb the depths of any passage and as a preacher we shouldn’t really present all the plumbs either!  It takes wisdom to know the difference between “I’ll never fully plumb this passage” and “I haven’t grasped the fundamental unity and flow of thought in this passage.

You can find this post here.Thanks Peter, for your consistently sound advice.

Recognizing the Need for Vision in Preaching Not a New Thing

image I was preparing a PBB to answer a question posed by a friend. I had found several helpful pieces to the answer in an old volume, the 1909 Centennial Celebration of the Disciples of Christ. 

But as I continued perusing the book, I found a paragraph that I thought could have been written in 2009 instead of 1909.  It was written by PH Welshimer, the preacher of what was in those days a megachurch in Canton, OH.   He is talking about the role of the preacher in promoting missions in the church. But I believe the plea he makes for vision is true in whatever situation the local preacher finds himself.

If missions is the work of the church--as it is--what other man ought to be more interested in this great work and his own preparation for leadership than the preacher in that church? To-day he must have a vision, and he must be enabled to impart that vision unto others. Many a church that might be a potent factor for good in a community, and likewise send its influence beyond State and national lines, is to-day as dead as a mummy, because it has never been moved by a great vision. He who will inspire others to live and to work must first himself be inspired with his mission. The pastor's vision ought to be one of the imperative importance of missions. He ought not to think it a matter with which to play fast and loose, simply preach a missionary sermon now and then when an offering is to be taken, and then spend the first half of the time to be given to that service in making an apology. He ought to realize that the great work to which God has called him is to so lead and to so inspire men that they will be saviors of men. His vision ought to also see the great need in the heathen lands to-day. His people are willing to give and his people are willing to do when they realize the great need of giving and doing. If your Christian men and women in America to-day could make a journey through all the missionary fields and through heathen lands, and behold the darkness and superstition and need that is there, they would all come back home, and every one would be enthusiastic in the great work of world-wide evangelization.

Oh that more and more of us could catch that enthusiasm. 


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Another Restoration Movement PBB: Sand Creek Documents


Perhaps I should start a new blog just to announce the production of Restoration Movement PBBs.  (This is supposed to be a blog dedicated to preaching). I have another one which is probably the most obscure one to date.  The fellowship of churches to which I am a part (American Restoration Movement or Stone/Campbell Movement) has “officially” divided twice.  Once between the non-instrumental churches of Christ and the rest of the movement (1906) and then with the formation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination and the rest of the movement (1967).  (This is my not-unprejudiced slant on it, here…). 

The first division “unofficially” began with the Civil War:  cultural differences between churches in the South (predominantly non-instrumental churches of Christ) and churches in the North (more often instrumental) created natural tensions.

The outward battles did not begin, however, until the 1880s with a document called “The Sand Creed Address and Declaration.”  It was a document mostly written by Daniel Sommers (pictured) dis-fellowshipping any churches who (among several offenses) used instrumental music.   The battle raged for twenty years or so, until 1906, when the non-instrumental churches of Christ asked the census bureau to list them as a separate church “group” (how that differs from a denomination, I’ll never know).

The late A.K.Guthrie of Lynchburg, VA did all of us a great favor by compiling several documents relating to “The Sand Creed Address and Declaration.”  A couple of contradictory version of it exist and several periodicals of the time commented on it (mostly negatively).  Included in Guthrie’s collection is a history of the Sand Creek church. 

You can find the PBB at my website:

American Patriots Bible: Any Contradiction Here?

image While I admit not having seen this monstrosity from Thomas Nelson, but from I hear from others, I find it truly alarming.  You can find a review of the Patriots Bible at Greg Boyd’s blog, Christus Victor.   THAT, combined with the fact that a recent Pew Research Center study found that evangelical Christians as a group have a significantly more positive view of torture than any other group in America. The group that has the lowest view of torture are non-church goers.

When will we as Christians learn that American conservative political machine is not our friend?

Monday, May 4, 2009

2 More PBBs


For any of you who use Libronix Bible software (and have the PBB [Personal Book Builder] key) and also have any interest in American Restoration Movement history, I have produced a couple of PBB’s for public use:

The Christian System (by Alexander Campbell)-the pagination on this one is a bit odd, but it is still totally functional. The longest PBB I have done to date.

Our Position (Isaac Errett)

They are downloadable on my website (

If you have no idea what I am talking about (Libronix, PBBs, American Restoration Movement) don’t sweat it.  It only appeals to a narrow band on nerds like me, I understand! But it is my small piece of contributing to historical study.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fined by the Police for a Sermon Illustration!

I smiled when I read in the current Preaching magazine of a pastor who was fined by the police for a sermon illustration!image

SHEBOYGAN FALLS, Wis. (AP) - A pastor and church member have been ticketed by police for shooting an arrow during a church service in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin.

Rev. John Putnam had Jason Wilke shoot the arrow across the front of the church during a recent service at Pentecostals of Sheboygan County. Putnam says it was a "teaching tool" used during his sermon.

As Wilke prepared to shoot the arrow with his bow, one man stood up and objected, telling Putnam it was unsafe and illegal. Others at the service say Putnam told the man to be quiet and sit down.

When the man objected a second time, Putnam asked him to leave. He did and called police. (The Preaching magazine article said he was forcibly removed from the church).

Wilke received a citation for using a missile indoors. The Rev. Putnam was cited for aiding and abetting. Both were fined $109. (March 23, 2009)

I feel a little sorry for the pastor, because I have been the subject of vigilante worry-warts in church as well.  But part of my smile is because of what happened yesterday.

I was performing the wedding of a young man who used to attend the church I served here in Portland.  He had left our church to go to an area mega-church “because there weren’t enough eligible females” in our church. (At least he was honest about why he was leaving our church).  He found his bride, but still considered me his pastor and so asked me to do the ceremony.


Towards the end of our premarital counseling I found that the wedding was to be a middle-ages or “Renaissance” wedding. Again, fine.  The groom was in “princely garb” including an elaborate velvet cape and the bride was in a princess-maiden sort of dress carrying lilacs.  (Three days before the wedding they asked me to wear a monk’s robe, which is another hilarious story all in itself).

But as we prepared to walk into the sanctuary of the church (they had found an old castle-looking church in downtown Portland—Grace Bible Church—who would host the wedding) the groom (nameless to protect the guilty) showed that he had a 12-14” sword at his side, under his cape.  The best man cried out, “Dude! you could be arrested for carrying that thing!”  Which is true. In Portland, you cannot carry a knife with a blade longer than the width of your hand (appx. 4”). This “knife” well exceeded that.  PLUS having it under his cape made the offense “carrying a concealed weapon.”  I could see (jokingly) the bride & groom stepping out of the church to waiting police.  (I later asked the bride how she would like to go on her honeymoon alone while her husband sat in jail!).  The groom finally agreed to lock the sword up in the trunk of his car as soon as the service was done and before they went to the reception. 

The laws make perfect sense and I agree with them.  I just found it funny.  Just like a preacher being fined for a sermon illustration, so a groom could be arrested for his creative costume!

Who says church is boring!

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007