Friday, January 29, 2010

Variety in Preaching—101 Suggestions

Many years ago (the list is mimeographed and so that tells you how old  it is), I received a list of sermon topics. It’s purpose was so that we imagemight periodically review our preaching over the past (whatever length of time) and make sure that we were covering a wide variety so that our congregations received a balanced diet. 

Even if you only preach expositionally or exegetically, still even in that context, the reality is that the Bible books or passages that you select must reflect the breadth of scriptural topics.

The list comes from my theological camp (thus #46) and comes from a bit more formal time and place, but I still find it a helpful list to periodically review:

  1. Apologetics
  2. Apostasy/Delusions
  3. Benevolence
  4. Bible
    1. Inspiration of Scripture
  5. Blessing
  6. Call
  7. Church
  8. Christian, The Name
  9. Christian Living
    1. Christian Standards
    2. Holiness
  10. Church, The
    1. Early Christian Church
    2. Pentecost
    3. Unity
  11. Civic
  12. Consecration
  13. Conversion
  14. Cross
  15. Denominationalism
  16. Discipline
    1. Personal
    2. Congregational
  17. Duty
  18. Education, Christian
  19. Eschatology
    1. Christ, Second Coming of
    2. Future Rewards
    3. Future Punishments
    4. Immortality
    5. Judgment
  20. Evangelism
  21. Faith
  22. Faithfulness
  23. Family & Home
  24. Forgiveness
    1. Divine
    2. Human
  25. Funeral
  26. God
    1. Existence of
    2. Fatherhood of
    3. The Love of
  27. Gospel
  28. Grace
    1. First Experience in
    2. Growth in
  29. Hebrew History
  30. Holy Spirit
    1. Personality & Deity of
    2. Witness of the
    3. Work of the
  31. Humility
  32. Human Condition
    1. Death
    2. Depravity of Humanity
  33. Jesus Christ
    1. As our Example
    2. Birth of/Christmas
    3. Crucifixion
    4. Deity of
    5. Humanity of
    6. In Prophecy
    7. Teachings of
    8. Resurrection of/Easter
  34. Kingdom of God
  35. Light
  36. Lord’s Day
  37. Love
  38. Ministry
  39. Ministry of All Believers
  40. Missions
  41. Morals
  42. Music
  43. Personal Religion (I think today we call this Discipleship?)
  44. Prayer
  45. Restoration of Erring Christian
  46. Restoration Movement
  47. Sacraments
    1. Baptism
    2. Lord’s Supper
  48. Salvation
    1. Atonement
    2. Confession of Christ
    3. Confession of Sin
    4. Faith (Saving Faith)
    5. New Birth, The
    6. Repentance
  49. Satan
  50. Service
  51. Sin
  52. Social Gospel
  53. Sorrow
  54. Stewardship
  55. Testaments, The Two
  56. Tongue
  57. Vision
  58. Way, The
  59. Worship
  60. Zeal

The list is too broad in some respects and too narrow in others (how many sermons on “Denominationalism” does one church really need?)  But I hold that lists like this are helpful in reminding us of the need to keep our preaching varied.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scripturalize routine prayers.

Last time here I mentioned a list of “Thirty Ways to Improve Your Church’s Worship Service".”  And it is worth your attention.  image

But one of the thirty stood out to me personally.  Many items on the list  are not unfamiliar to most of us who are responsible for leading the church in worship.  But #10 struck me, personally, as an important reminder.  (Probably because I know I get in this rut).  And so I draw it out for special attention:

Scripturalize routine prayers.

I was in a worship service in suburban Chicago one Sunday when "Joe" was asked to pray, something he had done in that church many times. As he spoke, a five-year-old boy near the front began to pray with him, speaking the same words in unison with Joe. Like a prayer duet, the two continued as if they were reciting the Lord's Prayer together, except that they were using "Joe's prayer" instead. Joe repeated the same prayer so often that a child of only sixty months was already able to recite it verbatim.

We've all heard—and perhaps offered—such "spontaneous" prayers in worship. Any repetitious prayer situation tends to breed repetitious prayer. For example, when I found myself in the situation of offering the pastoral prayer in worship each week year in and year out, I was tempted to repeat the same words and phrases since the purpose and goals of that prayer were almost identical each time. And the number and kind of prayer situations (such as at the beginning or end of the service, before the offering, etc.) in Sunday worship rarely change.

So changing the content of these routine prayers could immediately and noticeably affect worship. And there's no easier or better way to continually change their content than to "scripturalize" them. Use the words of Scripture as the basis of your prayers. Take part or all of a prayer found in the Bible (and I'm including the Psalms among the prayers found in Scripture) as the words you voice in public prayer. If you were praying through Psalm 23, for example, after reading it you could begin to pray with, "Lord, we thank You that You are our Shepherd. You are truly a Good Shepherd. Please shepherd our church, especially in the matter of ________." You would continue praying in this manner through the Psalm until you came to the end of the chapter or felt it was time to conclude the prayer. Another option is to pray your way through a few verses of a New Testament letter, again using the passage before you as the framework of what you offer to the Lord on behalf of the congregation.

In using this method you will not only pray about the matters you always want to pray for in these customary situations, but you'll be praying for them in stimulating ways you've never expressed before. Moreover, the Scripture will prompt you to pray about relevant matters that you otherwise would never think to mention. No other approach generates such potential for every prayer offered in the service—from the pastoral prayer to the spur-of-the-moment one requested of a layman—to be fresh and alive with the power of the Word of God.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

30 Ways to Improve Your Church’s Worship Service

I have expressed here before my appreciation for Colin Adams, originally from Scotland, but now ministering in Northern Ireland.   He recently recommended Donald Whitney’s three lists "Ten Ways to Improve Your Church's Worship Service" and "Ten More Ways to Improve Your Church's Worship Service" and then A Third Ten Ways to Improve Your Church's Worship Service."

imageWhile Whitney’s suggestions may be a bit polemical (and the more so the farther you go down the list), I think that they are worth all of our consideration.  I am only going to list then thirty in summary and point you to Whitney’s articles to flesh them out a little more. 

  1. Focus on God in every element in worship.
  2. Have clear Biblical support for every element in worship.
  3. “Offer to God an acceptable service [i.e., worship] in reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).
  4. Preach expositionally.
  5. “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13).
  6. Pray!
  7. Transition smoothly between elements of worship.
  8. Do as much as possible congregationally.
  9. Have congregational singing with musical accompaniment, not music with congregational accompaniment.
  10. Evaluate your worship service each week with several leaders.
  11. Plan worship only for people who can worship.
  12. Keep technology on a leash.
  13. Move the announcements, welcome, and time of greeting to the beginning or the end of the service.
  14. Prepare the congregation for worship.
  15. Construct a call to worship.
  16. Introduce new music wisely.
  17. Don’t hide the ordinances.
  18. Use confessional material.
  19. Lead in the corporate confession of sins.
  20. Scripturalize routine prayers.
  21. Sing Psalms
  22. If you consider your church's worship style to be historic, make sure you sing hymns and spiritual songs.
  23. If you consider your church's worship style to be traditional, make sure you sing psalms and spiritual songs.
  24. If you consider your church's worship style to be contemporary or blended, make sure you sing psalms and hymns.
  25. Use slides, but don't lose your hymnal.
  26. Consider congregational prayer in the worship service.
  27. Don't have solo or choral music every Sunday.
  28. Use silence strategically.
  29. Allow applause only rarely and spontaneously, not routinely.
  30. Allow only believers to lead believers in worship.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dr. Mike Jones: The Power of the Gospel

Last week the Spurgeon Fellowship met again at Western Seminary. (For those of you who are new to this blog, the Spurgeon Fellowship is the brain child of Dr. Art Azurdia, the ministry professor at Western Seminary.  3-4 times a year several hundred preachers (all men) gather in the Western chapel to hear outstanding preachers and theologians both encourage and challenge the preachers.

imageFor this session of the SF, Dr. Mike Jones was the speaker. Jones is a Western grad and has been the pastor of the Independent Bible Church in Port Angeles, WA for perhaps some thirty years.  He is the most frequent repeat speaker that they have at the Spurgeon Fellowship and after hearing him I can see why.

Jones is well spoken, thoughtful and insightful.  He is able to both challenge and encourage at the same time. 

His theme last week was the power of the Gospel. He spoke to the problem that too often, while we believe firmly that the gospel is sufficient to save men & women, we do not behave as if we truly believe that the Gospel will change people    We are too quick to push people into all sorts of therapy, as if therapy is more powerful than the Gospel.  He says we are too quick to jump to a Plan B (which he calls horizontal methodologies) if change is not spontaneous. In doing so we imply that the gospel is actually weak and to that degree we are ashamed of it.

The theme of his two presentations was: The same Gospel that saves us is the Gospel that transforms us.

He then spent almost an hour exegeting Romans 1:16-17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Jones noted that we live in an age of horizontal resolution.  The apostle Paul states: “I tried those and they don’t work.”

Three things that trip us up in how we are to live:

  • Love-
    • John 13:34-35
  • Acceptance –I withhold judgment from you but will assist you
    • Rom 15.7
    • Marrying someone does not give you permission to change them.
  • Forgiveness-I assume a burden that they are never able to pay. My forgiveness from God cost him everything.
    • Eph 4.32
    • Jones showed a powerful documentary on the power of the Gospel in bring forgiveness between the Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda after the mass slaughter that took place there a few years ago. It was entitled “As We Forgive” and is based on a book by Catherine Claire Larson, which is based on a PBS documentary of the same name.  It was not a “cheap” humanistic  forgiveness, but one that was real, costly and absolutely necessary.   (The trailer for the documentary is found here.) The clip is too long to use in the normal Sunday sermon (I believe), but is extremely powerful It would be interesting to know if he has used it as his church).


Most of us believe that God is powerful enough to save us. But…

  • Is the Gospel strong enough to enable us to forgive?
  • Is the Gospel strong enough to believe that it can change me/someone else?

It was indeed a powerful presentation.  Western Seminary is fairly slow about getting their presentations up on the web, but they eventually do. So when this one comes up, I will give you a heads up,  It is an important one to listen to. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WWJD…fH (What Would Jesus Do…for Himself?)

image I am currently working on an e-book on taking care of ourselves as clergy as Jesus took care of myself.  In my research, I came across this checklist that I found helpful.  (Look for the book in the next couple of months).

It comes from an article Jesus and Clergy Health by John Marshall Crowe, a United Methodist minister from North Carolina.

He says:  “Prayerfully and honestly answer the following health inventory”:

1.) Does the incarnation of Jesus Christ lead me to value my body?

2.) Do I feel that my attitudes about Jesus’ value of my body influence my care of myself in life and ministry?

3.) Jesus’ earthly life and ministry involved both private time to refresh himself as well as public ministry. Does His balanced model inspire me to do likewise in my life and ministry?

4.) Do I experience the love of God shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit as an empowerment to not only love and forgive others, but also myself as well?

5.) Does both Jesus’ incarnation as well as the balance of his life and ministry helps me understand the vital part that my bodily-emotional self plays in a vital spirituality?

6.) At one time, did I labor under a religious burden telling me I had to take or at least try to take better care of myself?

7.) Did that religious burden often result in guilt, anxiety, and shame in my life?

8.) Does my relationship with Christ create in me a ‘want to attitude” in taking care of my health?

9.) Have I practiced a form of spirituality that twisted the basic issues of self-denial into a denial of my unique self as created by God?

10.) Does my practice of spirituality lead me to believe that I must give up myself in order to be loved by God, by others and to be viewed as a success in ministry?

11.) Do my behaviors concerning my own health care reflect an unscriptural belief that my bodily self is in itself sinful, despicable, or unworthy?

12.) I find myself agreeing with the fourth century church father, John Chrysostom? He said, “We do not wish to cast aside the body, but corruption; not flesh, . . . What is foreign to us is not the body but corruptibility.”

13.) Do I understand Paul’s statements about the deeds of the flesh to be sinful aspects of my personhood and not my body?

14.) What does Jesus’ experience and expression of a wide range of emotions in the Gospels and the first three chapters of Revelation say to me?

15.) Are my emotions naughty monkeys for repression via religious rules, practices and structures?

16.) Are my emotions a valid part of myself that I need to respect, listen to, learn from, and then bring to our gracious savior and Lord Jesus? 

17.) Do I feel comfortable taking my unheard feelings to Jesus for validation that he has dear them? I feel comfortable taking those feelings in need of healing, transformation, nurturing, or empowering to Christ’s compassion and sanctification?

18.) Does the manner in which Jesus bore many human wounds in the Gospels leads me away from taking a victim’s stance in the face of my own human wounds?

19.) Does Jesus’ incarnation in the flesh, life & ministry in the flesh, death on the cross in the flesh, and bodily resurrection tell that I am my body? 

20.) Does the great commandment to love the Lord our God with all my heart, with all of my mind, with all my soul and all my strength lead me to nurture in a healthy manner all of these aspects of my total personality?

21.) Does Jesus’ command to not worry about tomorrow lead me to live authentically in the present or to promote some false self covering my anxiety about the future?

22.) Does Jesus’ forgiveness of my past and present sins lead me to live fully in the present or behind some mask covering how I’m beating myself up with guilt over my past?

23.) Does Jesus’ example of placing his trust fully in God, but not in people focus my trust and place realistic boundaries upon my expectations of others?

24.) How does Jesus living for the praise of God influence whose praise I live for?

25.) How does Jesus’ earthly ministry grounded in serving God and overflowing into ministry to others influence my own practice of ministry?

Again, find the article from which I drew this list here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Samson and Integrity


I came across this quote by Nate Larkin today and am mulling the  ramifications of it:"

“Yes, it is true...that God wants men of integrity. But integrity is not perfection. It is not completion. It is not even purity of intention, something that, frankly, we are all incapable of achieving. Rather, integrity is a combination of rigorous honesty about my own condition and humble faith in the steadfast love of God."

--Samson & the Pirate Monks, p. 57.

Giving Recognition

image In ministry, one might think that recognition isn’t necessary…we’re just so altruistic!  Not so.  We all need kudos & recognition.  And so do those around us.

Whether you are working with a paid staff or a volunteer staff, it is vital that you acknowledge accomplishment.  It is not only good for the one being recognized, but also a good motivator for others to achieve.

According to Linda J Miller & Chad W. Hall in Coaching for Christian Leaders, there are three aspects to giving recognition or acknowledgement:

  1. Timing
  2. Specificity
  3. Style.

1. Timing.  Speed is everything.  Getting the acknowledgement as close to the accomplishment is important.  It not only reinforces the work quickly, but it enables the person to know that their work was noticed.  Sometimes when we have worked hard on something, we wonder if anyone notices or cares.  Quick recognition does that.

2. Specificity.  Miller and Hall state:

Be specific about what has been noticed, about the small steps taken, about a change in attitude, about a changed belief, or about anything the person…has done that can be genuinely acknowledged.

3. Style. Hall & Miller note two important things about style in giving recognition.

a. Try to begin your comment with “you” or something other than “I”.  YOU are not the point (“I so appreciated how hard you worked on that!”)  THEY are the point. (“You really showed your perseverance in getting that done.” or “The program you put together really was creative and gave the event that extra touch of class!  Thank you!”)

b. But the second element of style is knowing HOW the person likes to be acknowledged or recognized.  Do they like recognition to be public, or do they prefer to be recognized privately?   Do they like to hear the acknowledgement or see it in writing? 

Many years ago I had a wonderful volunteer secretary who faithfully came in every week to type & print the church bulletin. I gave her verbal thanks & recognized her work in front of others.  And she always smiled & seemed sheepish about it. But one day I wrote her a simple thank you note for her work.  It took less than 60 seconds. 

Over a year later, our family was in her home & I noticed that my thank you note was up on her refrigerator.  I mentioned it and she said, with tears in her eyes, “No minister has EVER sent me a thank you note for what I have done at the church.  It means SO much.”

I found her method of being acknowledged.

However it is done, acknowledging those who work so hard around us is a critical skill in ministry.  It is one in which most of us could do a much better job!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lutzer: 5 Principles for Pastoral Success

In his book Pastor to Pastor: Tackling the Problems of Ministry., Erwin Lutzer describes five principles for pastoral success: image

  • Praying is more important than preaching.
  • Preaching is more important than administration.
  • The family is more important than the congregation.
  • Faithfulness is more important than competition.
  • Love is more important than ability.

Note that he does NOT say that preaching, administration, the congregation, competition or ability are UNimportant. He simply says that praying, preaching your family, faithfulness and love are MORE important. 

I will confess that when I have not been my best in ministry it is because I was out of balance in one (or more!) of these areas.

I remember telling myself, “You’re ALWAYS going to be out of balance in one area or the other.  It is just important that you not STAY out of balance in that area forever.”  But I’m not sure that that statement was healthy.  It gave me permission to stay “temporarily” out of balance.  And temporary became long term.

I remember in Bible College having an older (at least he seemed older at the time) and very successful minister coming and talking about planning an evangelistic revival (we did that sort of thing in the 60’s & 70’s).

And he gave us this multipage list of tasks and events to have in preparation for that. 

OK.  But he also commented that he required all staff people to cancel ALL days off for the 6-8 weeks leading up to the revival.

And no one outwardly challenged him. To do so probably would have seemed “lazy” or “uncommitted.” 

“I’d rather burn out than rust out.” was our mantra.

Today I realize how out of balance that man was and how out of balance was the modeling he was doing for us.

I learned a lot of unhealthy habits early in ministry. 

If you are young in ministry:  watch every habit you develop.  Question every priority along scriptural lines.  The attitudes you develop when you are young you will carry with you for a very, very long time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

4 Types of Friends Every Pastor Needs

image A number of years ago, I heard both Bobby Clinton (in a Fuller doctoral class) and Howard Hendricks (probably at PromiseKeepers in Boulder) talk about the three friends every Christian man needs:

  • A Paul-someone who pours into your life
  • A Barnabas-a peer who challenges and encourages you and who holds you accountable.
  • A Timothy-Someone (probably younger, at least in the faith) into who you are pouring your life.

This week, I read Ike Reighard’s post on Four Types of Friends Every Pastor Needs.

Study after study shows that most pastors, while they have lots of acquaintances with whom they are friendly and colleagues, have no friends.  (I am not counting one’s spouse in that list-Reighard says some helpful things re: one’s wife as best friend & the dangers it brings).

The Developer-”Your best friend will always be the person who brings out the very best in you.”

The Designer -“We tend to think of mentors as a personal, hands-on coach. The Latin and Greek define them more as “advisors” or “wise men.”… The designer mentors us in our marriage, ministry, child-rearing, civic involvement, business acumen, or any area where we need a model.”

The Disturber-“We need friends who will shake up our status quo. Disturbers ask us difficult questions, forcing us to take a closer look at motivations and ambitions.”

The Discerner -“In a lifetime of relationships, perhaps only a handful of people are willing to play this vital role because it requires mutual vulnerability. More popularly known as accountability partners, discerners bring the gift of spiritual insight into our lives. They know how to speak the truth in love. They know how to exhort and rebuke, seeking to keep their friend on the right track. They are also vulnerable—the true friends who will walk into the room of your life while everyone else is walking out.”

Find the complete article here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones

I debated whether or not to spend the time writing a review of “Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones.” (New York: Banner Press, 1999) I read it in an evening over the weekend and immediately put in my box of books to sell. (Where it still sits).

But I thought it at least deserved a cursory review.  This is not the normal book I read.  I appreciate Jim Wallis and Sojourners and the emphases that they make.  And as I thumbed through it, I saw lots of references to him and some critical remarks of Bill Bennett (on whom I am fairly neutral). 

I totally believe it is fair to make social and economic critiques from the pulpit.  The Old Testament prophets did it.  John the Baptist did it.  It’s not popular, but I believe there is a definitely place and need for that.

And so a few weeks back when I was at Powell’s Books in downtown  imagePortland perusing the Preaching section (as I am wont to do whenever I am at Powell’s) this little work caught my eye. 

Especially the subtitle: “We Need Morality, but Not Traditional Morality.”  OK. 

And then as I read the back cover, I saw that the book was written by the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.  Hmmm…. never heard of communist leaders preaching--at least from a pulpit-- before. 

So, since it was a used book and relatively cheap, I broke loose with a few bucks and decided to give it a try.

I didn’t need to.  I can’t figure out why the book was in a preaching section other than the title.  The section identifier on the back of the book was Politics/Ethics.

Bob Avakian is a child of privilege—his father was an Alameda (CA) County Judge and member of the Berkeley (CA) School Board.  Avakian imageattended UC-Berkeley in the 1960’s.  It was there that he was radicalized.  He continued to grow in importance in revolutionary circles throughout the 1970’s.  In 1979 the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping came to the US to meet with Pres. Jimmy Carter.  Avakian was involved in violent protests against what he saw as China’s reversal of its communist economic policies (he was correct in his evaluation).  Violence ensued and felony charges were brought against 17 people,  including Avakian.   Through a number of other events, Avakian came to believe that the US government was going to assassinate him and so he went into self-exile in France.  All charges were later dropped against him. 

Avakian’s whereabouts today are unknown, although he did do two speaking engagements on the east & west coasts of the US in 2003. 

Basically the book is made up of two essays.  One (“Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones: The Reality Behind William Bennett’s ‘Virtues’”) and the second (“Putting an End to ‘Sin’: We Need Morality, but Not Traditional Morality”) are both diatribes against religion from either the right or the left.  He “examines Bennett’s book and also writings by Jim Wallis of Sojourners and finds both wanting. 

I had thought that the “Bones” of the title referred somehow to the bones in Ezekiel:

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.  (Ezek 37:1-10)

Not so much. 

The book is basically a diatribe against religion of any sort.  The pulpitimage of bones represents religion that is lifeless and kills those around it.  It is made up of the bones of the people it exploits and destroys. 

Avakian’s description of religion is that it describes something that is “higher than life”, but is in actuality based on falsehood. 
He says that religion and art both share this characteristic of presenting things that are “higher than life.”

“Yet, as important as it is to recognize this identity between religion and art, it is even more fundamentally important to grasp the difference between them.  While much of art requires ‘the suspension of disbelief”—the willingness to accept that things which do not actually exist and are not actually happening are existing and happening--it requires this only in a limited and relative sense, only in relation to the work of art itself  Religion, however (including religious art), requires and demands that people do actually believe that its fantastic representations of beings, things, events and forces really exist, when in fact they do not….

If religion were to present itself in the same way and with the same expectations and requirements that art typically does—if it were to allow and encourage people to have the ultimate recognition that its fantastic creatures are not real—then it would no longer be harmful and a hindrance to the all-around development of humanity in the way it is now. But it would also no longer be religion.  In this era of world-historic transformation and in the future to come, humanity will never be able to do without the imagination and without; it must and will do without—and do much better without—religion. 

I have devoted way too much space to this little book.  It was a (sort of) interesting read if only to hear the take of a true-communist believer about religion. But it was more of the Marxist line that has been standard for 100 years or so. 

The only thing I would say is: if you are wandering down the aisle of a used book store and find a book entitled “Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones,” keep on moving down the shelf.  There is much more helpful fare. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is Portland Jesus’ Favorite City?


The current issue of Portland Monthly has a fascinating series of articles. Next month, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens comes to Portland to leclture. And so in anticipation of that, the Portland Monthly produced a series of articles on religion (or at least a couple of forms of it) here in Portland.

The title of the series (Portland: Jesus’ Favorite City) is an adaptation of a statement by Commissioner Nick Fish after evangelicals presented Mayor Sam Adams with a check for $100,000 to help curb teen dropouts in the city schools. (As a part of the Season of Service campaign among evangelical churches).

The articles include an interview with Christopher Hitchens done by retired First Unitarian-Universalist Church of Portland minister Marilyn Sewell. (find it here.)

(As an aside, I laughed out loud when Hitchens told Sewell that he didn’t consider her a Christian! He said: ”I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, [none of which she believes] you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

The series then goes on to feature Dr.Marcus Borg,retired OSU professor or religion and currently the Canon of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. (Find it here.)

Excerpt: Liberal Christians like himself, Borg explains, have long been better known for what they preferred not to believe. With the emerging church, that’s changing. “They take the Bible very seriously, but I don’t for a minute think that it’s inherent,” [sic-this probably shows the reporters ignorance rather than Borg’s. The term is “inerrant”.) he says. “The fear of some people is that emerging churches are moving too far away from the scriptures. I would say that it’s not that they’re moving away from the Bible as they’re recovering the Bible as a story, symbol, and metaphor.”

At the other end of the theological spectrum is Rick McKinley of Imago Dei. (Find it here.)

Excerpt: While McKinley’s preaching is notably free of the high drama and polish of megachurch and TV evangelism, Imago Dei (which takes its name from the Latin for “image of God”) adheres strictly and unabashedly to a literal reading of the Bible as both spiritual and historical truth. But McKinley insists that his church’s fundamentalist interpretation of the gospel actually encourages liberal social action—not to mention harmony with Portland’s prevailing culture. If, as Genesis tells us, humans are all created in God’s image, it follows that we must love them as we do God. In affirmation of this lofty ideal, McKinley notes proudly that his young congregation is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

They interview Bob Hyatt of Evergreen community (here). This is the church that meets in a bar.

Excerpt: “It says that we don’t fit the stereotype of the anal-retentive sort of Christian,” he says, sitting at one of the communal tables at Lucky Labrador Brew Pub in Southeast Portland. “It also helps to weed out the type of Christians that wouldn’t fit with us. But most importantly, meeting in a public space embodies what we’re about: we don’t want to hole up in some building with big doors and be a sanctuary from the world.”

House church networks are represented by Duke Revard and his Bread and Wine network. (Find it here.)

Excerpt: Recalling that early apostolic vitality, Revard shrugs off the hard-nosed, conservative intolerance so commonly associated with evangelical churches. “We want to speak to people in their own language,” he says. As with other emerging churches, service takes precedent over theology and politics. It’s embodied by projects like Laundry Love, a monthly gathering at the Alberta Washhouse that provides free laundry and food for the less fortunate—a small act of Christian charity, to be sure, but to Revard and his congregants, it exemplifies the apostle Paul’s reminder to the Romans that God “does not live in temples built by hands.” Bread & Wine aspires to a more metropolitan goal. “Let us love our city,” Revard intones, leading his living room gospel community in a closing prayer. “Let us love Portland.”

Last they interview Dan Merchant, the director of the Michael Moore-style movie “Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” (here).

Excerpt: Dressed in a white jumpsuit plastered in religious regalia ranging from a Jesus fish to a bumper sticker that reads, “Sorry I missed church, I’ve been busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian,” Dan Merchant bundles evangelism and paradox.

He doesn’t want to convert you; he just wants to get you talking. “Everybody has faith of some kind, in something—whether you’re an atheist or a Baptist,” he says. “And since we all have that enormous thing in common, the conversation about religion oughta be a whole lot bigger than what can fit on a bumper sticker.”

I heard about this series today at a workshop on house churches that I attended. The articles are actually pretty fair. There is not a huge bias and from my limited perspective they allow each one to speak in his own words.

If you are interested in Portland, or just interested in interesting ways that God is working in our nation, check it out.

(Note: I had previously stated in this post that Commissioner Nick Fish was gay. I was in error. He is not gay. He is married to his wife Patricia and together they have two children. My apologies for the error).

Friday, January 8, 2010

Favorite Preaching Quotes?

I am working on a project…can you share with me one or two of your favorite preaching quotes?  One of mine is by Billy Graham:  The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying, not “What a lovely sermon!” but “I will do something.”

What one would you add?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Shifting Times/Shifting Focus

If you watch this blog at all, you will notice that I have not blogged for almost three months. (It is interesting to me that not one person has noted that or asked me about it). Part of the lack of posting has been because of a major transition in my own life and with that has come a shift in what I desire to do with this blog.

A question with which I have been struggling for the past year is: what direction is God leading me in ministry? After leaving the Tigard Christian Church, my wife and I both believed that God was not calling us to move to another church (and DEFINITELY not to start another church). We prayed and talked and agonized. God simply waited. He knew that there was healing that had to happen...mostly emotionally & spiritually, but also physically...before I was ready to move into a new ministry direction.

But in September a series of circumstances came together where I began a journey training as a professional coach. (No, not for the Portland Trailblazers!) The type of coaching that helps professionals (and individuals) clarify their purpose and direction and helps them to become more productive and effective.

In September I took my introductory course on coaching and then in October I began training with a formal coaching school here in Portland. At first I was hesitant (for several reasons) to coach ministers. But as the weeks & months wore on, I realized that this was what God wanted me to do: to coach ministers to higher levels of effectiveness and personal satisfaction.

Most of us in ministry are familiar with the statistics:
  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
  • Eighty percent of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • Eighty percent of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • The majority of pastor's wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry. (stats from Mark Driscoll, article: "Death by Ministry")

God seems to be telling Loretta and me that both because of our faith journey over the past thirty years but also because of my passion & giftedness that I need to move into this area of coaching ministers.

Talking the Walk has been a blog about preaching. While I have varied from that a few times, I have tried to stick to that principle fairly strictly. But as it slowly re-emerges from the hiatus that it has had, the focus will broaden to more than just preaching (although since that is a huge part of my heart, it will continue to be an emphasis). It will broaden to the area of ministry in general...what it means to be an effective Christian leader in ministry in the season of time in which we live.

If you have thoughts on this...I would encourage you to either e-mail them to me ( or leave them in the comments section.

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