“It could use a good movie clip…”: Multi-Media in Preaching

In my previous post I mentioned the importance of preachers being careful with the use of multi-media in their sermons because of some potential problems inherent to multi-media.  multimediaThe use of multi-media in preaching is a (relatively) new trend that is only growing in popularity among preachers (instead of the traditional “3 points and a poem” sermon, it’s now “6 points and a movie clip”).  The trend is becoming such that even if a preacher does not like it, congregations now demand they use multi-media in the sermon.  Whether true or not, the perception of many in our congregations is such that unless the preacher uses multi-media in the sermon, they’re not really trying (It’s the new “greek-word reference,” the signal to the congregation that the preacher had studied that week).  All of this is to say multi-media is a reality of preaching in the modern pulpit.  The problem is that multi-media is powerful.  So powerful, in fact, that a preacher who carelessly throws different forms of multi-media into the sermon will easily find themselves swept away with the result that what they actually say during the sermon is lost in the noise of media.

This reality has caused me to think long and hard about how preachers can effectively incorporate technology into their sermons in ways that still respect the sermon for what it is- a spoken word to God’s people.  Confession time: I don’t use media much.  In fact, I hate using it (it’s been my experience that because of what I believe preaching is and how I preach, media ends up as way more trouble than it’s worth).  But when/if I do, here are the guidelines that inform my use.  I believe if preachers are going to use multi-media in ways that are faithful to the preaching task, there needs to be some boundaries and “rules” for how we use it.  Here are some suggestions:

1) Plan.  Plan.  And then plan some more.

Like any aspect of good preaching, using media requires planning.  Think of it this way- barring unforeseen events that happened during the week, no preacher should be writing their sermon on Saturday night; it’s the same with using media.  Plan3No preacher should be throwing in media at 10:00pm on a Saturday night.  It also requires working with those who operate the computers/technology at your congregation.  They have to be brought in early enough in the process that you aren’t just throwing a jump drive at them and saying, “Make it work!”  That’s a great way to ensure mishaps during the sermon.  Using media in the sermon takes time, coordination, and working together with whomever might be involved in the worship service (that’s why using media can sometimes feel like a “production,” you have to involve so many people to make it work smoothly).  Nothing can ruin/wreck what you’re trying to do in the sermon more than technology mishaps that often arise when the preacher doesn’t plan enough on the front end.

2) You can’t win, so don’t compete.

Like I’ve said elsewhere, the problem with multi-media is that it works.  Movie clips, pictures, and cool slideshows do grab attention.  The problem is it’s often hard for the preacher to get that attention back.  You may only play a 30 second clip from that popular movie, but if it’s a movie everyone knows and loves, they will continue to play the film in their head.  “I wish he had showed that next part too…” And while the movie is playing in their head, they’re not listening to you.  sumokidThis is what David Buttrick calls “splitting congregational consciousness.”  You want their attention, but if you’re running multi-media while also trying to preach, the congregation now has two sources wrestling for their attention.  Which do you think will win: the guy speaking or the movie/picture with bright colors?  It’s not even close.

Instead, work hard to control when the congregation sees the media and how it fits into your sermon.  I have a couple suggestions.  Don’t try to talk if you show something that has audio or movement.  If you show pictures, make sure they are relatively simple in their content, and don’t keep them up on the screen if you’re no longer talking about the thing you are using the picture for.  I personally never keep a picture up longer than 15 seconds.  Your use of multi-media should match the movement of the sermon, not slow it down.  Use an image, but when the sermon moves on, so does the picture.  This way, your use of multi-media can enhance the sermon, not compete with it.

3. Don’t Overdo It.

It can be tempting to over-do it with multimedia.  If 1 movie clip is good, 10 is great, right?  Not really.  Too much media can overwhelm and confuse the congregation as to what you are actually trying to say.  Remember, one image that can completely encapsulate what you’re trying to say is better than 20 that only halfway get it.  I always try to restrict myself to one form of media per move in the sermon.  Remember, the goal isn’t to put on a show; the goal is to preach in a way that transforms God’s people more into the image of Christ.  And you can’t do that if the congregation is confused or overwhelmed because you’re throwing movie clips and pictures at them left and right.

4. Trust your own voice.

This is the biggest one for me.  trustOne thing I see in a lot of preaching is the tendency, when they want to say something they feel is important, to trust the message to a form of multi-media.  You probably hear it most often in the preface, “This clip says it better than I ever could…” or “This picture conveys the message like I can’t…” I don’t want to argue the possible right/wrong of those statements, because there’s really only one issue: the move clips aren’t the preacher, you are.  If movie clips can say what you want to say better than you, then why should the congregation pay you to be their minister/preacher?  Why not just show movies?  This is where preachers have to learn to trust their own voice instead of running from it.  The movie clip doesn’t have a relationship with the congregation, you do.  The slideshow didn’t stay up all night with the couple whose child is sick in the hospital, you did.  The picture isn’t involved in the lives of everyone that’s now listening to you, you are.  Trust your own, unique voice and the relationships you have built with the congregation.  If nothing else, don’t sell yourself so short.  Who’s to say that you, the one who intimately knows your context, can’t say it better than that impersonal movie clip?  Think about it a little more about how you might say it before you run to a movie clip.

Multi-media is here to stay.  So the responsibility is with those of us who preach to figure how we might use it responsibly.  But the responsibility is also with the congregations that listen to us.  They have the duty of not being fooled into thinking a shiny presentation is the same as good preaching.  It’s not.  Let me say that one again: A high-tech/fancy/creative presentation (multimedia or otherwise) is not the same thing as good preaching.  Maybe now, more than ever, our congregations have to be a people of discerning ears who demand more from their preachers than movie clips and funny pictures.  We can use multi-media, but not as a substitute for actual content.

What have your experiences with technology and preaching been like?  Are there any “rules” you might add to mine?        

10 Commandments of Preaching

From time to time someone will ask me for advice on their preaching.  They have a sermon, peanuts-blogging-advice-770x433but for some reason it’s not connecting.  Or they want to know how to improve their preaching in general.  I always feel honored that someone would trust me with something as personal as a sermon (and believe me, it’s an incredibly personal thing), and what I’ve noticed about the advice I consistently give is that it tends to revolve around a couple core concepts.  So for this week I decided to share the general guidelines that inform my own preaching.  There are other things I keep in mind, but I believe these “rules” will improve anyone’s preaching regardless of their style.  Keep in mind, the reason this list doesn’t include something on “pray before you write” or “maintain your relationship with God” is because I’m assuming them.  Obviously, if you’re not maintaining a healthy spiritual life, nothing else on this list really matters.

1. The intention of the sermon should match the intention of the text.

This is a big one, and if it’s not done it will doom the sermon before it starts.  Every biblical text is trying “to do” something.  It seeks to accomplish some end.  Whether it is to persuade, encourage, inspire, transform, or change, every biblical text has an intention.  When Jesus tells a parable, he is seeking to do something in the lives of the listeners.  It’s the same with Paul- when he wrote Galatians he was seeking to do something in the lives/hearts/minds of the Galatian congregation.  The most important aspect of the sermon is making sure your sermon captures this and seeks to do the same thing.  Does the text seek to encourage?  So should your sermon.  Move to praise? Your sermon should do the same thing.  As a general rule, if Jesus tells a story and your sermon on that text begins with “Here are three things I think Jesus wants us to get out of this story…” you haven’t gotten the intention of the text.  The most consistent problems I see in preaching are sermons that try to so something besides what the text is doing.

2. Keep the sermon in the present tense.

The Bible is not just a history book; it’s a living world to God’s people.present-tense1  As such, when preaching I should always intentionally couch the sermon in present tense language.  In preaching, I’m trying to get the congregation to live into the biblical text, not just understand it better.  The problem is that past-tense language holds the text at arms length so that there is a distance between the congregation and the text.  As the preacher, I want to close that gap so the congregation can experience the passage as a word from God to them.  If your sermon seems boring or that it’s not “connecting” it is probably because your sermon is in the past tense.

3. Use an economy of language.

This is another big one.  writing_essayPreachers can kill their sermons because they’re talking too much.  This isn’t to say that sermons have to be short, but that preachers need to be intentional in their word choice.  Don’t tell a story to introduce your illustration.  Watch for all the “non-words”- “uh,” “you know,” “see,” and “like” are some common ones.  You want your words to count, and you bring down the value when you flood the market.  My general rule is “don’t use 100 words when 10 will do.”  If you can tell the story in 5 sentences, don’t take 20.  Make sure each part of the sermon plays a part in where the sermon is going.  Purposeless stories/jokes are just a distraction.  Part of being a skilled preacher is being able to say what you mean clearly and concisely.  Remember, perfection is reached, not when you can’t add any more, but when you can’t take anything else away.

4. Know what each part of your sermon is supposed to do.

Introductions are supposed to introduce.  Conclusions are supposed to conclude.  It seems simple enough, yet much of the preaching I hear suffers from uncertainty as to what each part of the sermon is supposed to do.  intentionIntroductions orient the listener to what they can expect to follow; so the introduction should be connected to the rest of the sermon, not just a story that gets people to laugh.  Conclusions should conclude; not go on for 10 minutes.  If you know what each part of the sermon should accomplish and make sure it fulfills that purpose, your preaching will improve by a factor of 10.

5. Be careful with media.

The problem with multi-media is that it works.  So from the moment you introduce it into your preaching, you are now competing with yourself.  David Buttrick says you “split congregational consciousness.”  It works like this: if I show a picture, the congregation looks at the picture, and as long as I leave the picture up, the congregation will continue to look at it.  Even if I’ve moved on in my sermon.  Whether you realize it or not, in the sermon you are competing for the attention of the congregation, and when you introduce multi-media into the process you have added competition for yourself; and the problem is that multi-media is an all-star.  I’m not saying you can’t use multi-media, but it does require a lot of discipline and some hard and fast rules to keep you from competing with yourself for the attention of the congregation.  But that’s another post…

6. Watch your illustrations.

Like multi-media, the problem with illustrations is that they work.  Many times the congregation will remember nothing about a sermon except the funny or moving story.  That would be ok, except we’re not just preaching our own stories.  Theoretically, we want people to remember the biblical text (this is why my preaching professor, Dr. Sensing, is against illustrations entirely).  If you’re going to use illustrations, be sure they are theologically appropriate and don’t come to dominate the sermon.  As my preaching professor often says, “There is no dog story that can carry the theological weight of the resurrection.”

7. Leave the Greek and Hebrew in your office.

A huge pet peeve of mine is when preachers talk in their sermons about what a Greek or Hebrew word means. open-greek-nt There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, most people in the congregation don’t know Greek or Hebrew and won’t have a clue what you’re talking about.  Second, there are other (read: Better) ways to accomplish your intention (unless your reason for talking Greek in the pulpit is to have others impressed with you, in which case, find another job).  I’m not saying you shouldn’t work with the original languages, you should.  But there are always better ways to make your point than talking about it in the pulpit.  Use your imagination.

8. Funny introductions aren’t enough.

This relates to one I’ve said previously, but it deserves special emphasis.  A funny story does not an introduction make.  I’m not against humor in preaching- it can do some really good things.  But the function of an introduction isn’t just to make people laugh.  It also needs to orient the congregation toward the sermon and get the movement of the sermon underway.  If your only reason for having the introduction you do in any particular sermon is that it’s kind of funny, change it.  It’s that simple.

9. Don’t run from the text.

Being a preacher is to occupy a unique position in relation to the biblical text.  You go to it on behalf of the congregation you preach to.  The problem is that what we find in the biblical text is sometimes not as nice as we’d like.  In those cases, preachers often want to skip them, try to spend the sermon apologizing for the text, or explain them away.  My advice here is to not run away from a troublesome text, but to stay with it and wrestle with it.  After all, the Church has received the whole Bible, not just the parts we like.  It’s been my experience that when I stay with a text I’m having “trouble” with; it’s usually me, not the text that has the problem.

10. Pick your spots.

“Prophetic Preaching” has become a popular phrase lately.  The idea is that the preacher will get up in front of the congregation (usually one they don’t see regularly) and “drop bombs” about how they should change something.  It’s an approach that is based on confrontation and “plain talk.”  While I’m not saying there is never a time when such preaching might be necessary, I think it’s important to pick carefully when you intend to do it.  The reason is that speech acts work like an economy.  The more you do this kind of “calling out,” the less effect it has, so that if a time comes when you really need to do it, nobody will listen.  It will be the case of the boy who cried wolf.  Doing this kind of preaching requires a deep relationship with those who are listening.  It takes love and trust, things that take time to develop.  In all likelihood, you will spend years ministering to a congregation before you can even preach one of these kinds of sermons.  But if the goal of your preaching is the transformation of God’s people (and not the stroking of your own ego), that’s something you’ll be willing to accept.

Ape Must Not Kill Ape: A Beginner’s Guide to Virtue Formation in Youth

JakeThis week’s guest post is from Jake Owens.  You can check out his previous post here.

Striking back like the Empire! Mason’s asked me to put some more thoughts down, this time on the idea of virtue formation in youth ministries, and like any good youth pastor, I begin with an anecdote.

I had been in full time ministry for about 60 days when the call came. The Church’s administrative assistant told me that one of the youth moms was on the phone, and she sounded panicked. This was it. I’d been called up to the majors, but now was the moment all youth pastors dream of: Bottom of the 9th, bases loaded, 2 outs, and there’s a frantic mother on the mound.

Game on.

I opened with the usual pleasantries, thanked her for her help at a recent youth event, and then we got right down to it. “Jake, I need your help. I found something in one of the girls’ bedrooms this morning, and I don’t know what to do. I was hoping you could talk to them.”

Well of course I could! I have over 12 undergrad credit hours dedicated just to adolescent psychology! What was the offending item? Drugs? Stolen money? Illicit publications?

She managed to choke the words out: “A Lady Gaga CD!”

So clearly, virtue formation is a tricky subject.plant growth

The first and most obvious issue being demonstrated above: It’s a somewhat subjective topic. Sure, we can all agree that murder is wrong, but the average American youth group isn’t dealing with multiple homicides. Where virtue formation could be truly beneficial to our youth is in those grey areas. What sort of clothes should a Christian wear? What kind of music is appropriate for a Christian? What kind of people should I associate with? These are trickier questions that we can address in a healthy way and better prepare the young Christians in our midst. It seems to me that we are caught between two equally destructive approaches, and that as in all things, balance might be our answer.

Let’s start by identifying the need though. As we’ve drifted over the last 20+ years to a more grace-oriented gospel (and rightly so!) we always run the risk that the pendulum will stock-footage-close-up-of-newton-s-cradle-desk-toy-pendulum-being-activated-black-backgroundswing completely in the opposite direction. In an effort to teach kids that God will love them no matter what, we’ve managed to leave behind a large chunk of instruction on how a Christian interacts with the world. And make no mistake, that is important teaching. If the Church is to fulfill its role as a priestly people, ambassadors to the world, then it is imperative that we develop a clear sense of who we are and how we must behave as a result. All cultures- mainstream, sub, or counter- have some kind of a code of ethics that helps them stand apart, and without them we run the risk of losing our identity as God’s representatives. (Heck, even the Planet of the Apes had SOME kind of rules.)

Of course many other Churches still teach virtues and their formation, but often times we’re going at it in a way that is legalistic and downright unbiblical. While some congregations have floated to a downright relativistic way of living, others have tightened their fist and cracked the whip to uphold “traditional values.” Ignoring the obvious fallacies in trying to claim the values of a 200 year old civilization are “traditional,” there are some real dangers in this. First of all, the values that we teach are often more reflective of our culture and history as a physical nation than our culture and history as the people of God. What’s more, it teaches that God’s love is conditional on our behavior, and even worse, that Heaven is the goal of our faith, something to be achieved, not a natural consequence of a life lived with God, which should be our true objective.

Enough negativity, enough dwelling on the problem. Let’s talk solutions. I’ve tried to put together a few suggestions that will help us head out on this journey together properly. As always they’re just suggestions meant to spark discussion and Spirit movement, not a set of rules to follow. Also, I’m making the assumption that anyone who is endeavoring to teach teens about God has done a good deal of praying in the first place. So if you didn’t do that, fix it. (That part’s not a suggestion.)

1) Discern who is and isn’t under your authority.

This is a tricky thing; you may have 100 kids coming to Church and youth group, but only 80 of them have really submitted to you and your staff as their mentors and pastors. The trick here is that there isn’t really a concrete way to say, “This kid has; this kid hasn’t.” They’re teenagers. Some of them are there against their will, and some aren’t nearly as advanced into their education about Christianity as they think. It’s on you as the adult and the leader to identify who is part of your pastoral flock and who isn’t. The ones who have submitted to your leadership are the ones you need to form some virtue in. The rest? Just show ‘em Jesus, they’ll get there.

2) Be careful about who you choose to lead the ministry.

I said something like this in my last article, but I mean it so much I’m saying it again. Our standards on who should and shouldn’t be a part of the youth ministry are lacking. I’m talking about adult volunteers here people. Procreating does not qualify you to lead another human being through the insane maze of adolescent spirituality. Choose volunteers who already exhibit some of the virtues you want your youth to develop. Give special attention to those who know how to forgive and sacrifice.

3) Develop a way of life.

This is a fun one, and one that can be a great theme for a good while in a youth group. It practically writes itself! Study some Church history; hit the Franciscan orders and the codes that great heroes of the faith lived by. There are a variety of advantages here. First, it teaches the kids that these are rules that they’ve willingly submitted to, and that’s a LOT different than rules that were thrust upon you. The level of investment skyrockets. It also avoids legalism; this isn’t some code of law that all people must follow or be damned! It’s the way that we’ve opted to follow our Lord, and the way that we make sure that the world around us sees the difference in us.

An effective way of life would involve practices like daily prayer and fasting, attending Church gatherings at specific times, rules for hospitality and how we treat others, how we spend our time and money to benefit the poor, etc. It’s a much more Biblical approach than, “Good Christians don’t have sex or drink or listen to Lady Gaga.” It should also be formed with input from the youth themselves, and parents! (Sure, they shouldn’t all volunteer, but they’re still all more invested in those kids than even we are.)

Ultimately, it’s on us to find balance in our own lives, and to impart that to the people that God has placed under our authority, youth or otherwise. My prayer is that we all find a way of life that glorifies our creator, and honors the image of God in all people. Until next time true believers!

We’re All Creators

MitchellRoush

This week’s post is from Mitch Roush.  Mitch is a graduate of York College with degrees in Communications & Theatre with a minor in Biblical Studies. While at York, he took part in short-term missions in Mexico and China. On the heels of college Mitch attended The International Theatre Academy of Norway in Oslo to study creativity and entrepreneurship. Mitch has been a guest key-note speaker; teacher and performer at numerous events and universities. He is currently the Campus Team Developer for the Let’s Start Talking (LST) Ministry. He and his wife Marissa live the dream in Ft. Worth, TX with their two dogs.  Having spent his life at the crossroads of faith and art, I thought Mitch would be a good person to talk about how he believes faith and creativity intersect, and what potential such an intersection has for the Church.

Telling you I grew up in a house full of free-spirited and emotional artists in the middle of right-winged and white-knuckled Nebraska should tell you I’m comfortable being in the minority.  As far as family dynamics and hobbies are concerned, what most call weird–I call normal.

From the time I turned thirteen, I’ve been on a rather frustratingly beautiful journey.  (Or is it beautifully frustrating?  Changes from day to day.)  As an imperfect disciple of Christ raised by wonderful christian and creative parents, I find myself ever running towards answering a daunting question:

Is it possible for Christ to reign supreme in my life without compromising my artistic integrity?

Perhaps the most important discovery I’ve made worth sharing is that I’m in a constant state of becoming; and by the Grace of God, I’m discovering more and more of how my soul should manifest in the world around me.

What I’ve found is asking the tough questions and daring to go against the grain, when appropriate, has helped cultivate my creativity within the church that still seems frightened of the term itself.  I’ll do my best to make my brain-purging comprehensible.

Let’s play the, “What if?” game, shall we?

What if your search for something deeper could be materialized?

What if your, “pipe dreams” are exactly what you need to pursue?

What if the act of creativity was connected to nearly every decision you ever made?

What if life was breathed into you by The Creator so that you may create within a world that’s designed to be recreated and renewed?

Whether you’ve made the realization or not, all these, “What ifs…” are exactly aligned with the broader landscape God is currently fashioning.

So please, bear with me when I dare to say:

Your faith desires a journey into the artistic realms.

How can the church burst through the glass ceiling and embrace creativity?

It all starts with The Artist.

“In the beginning God created…”

Perhaps the most underrated cornerstone of Scripture is found in the first-sentence!  Dissecting the details of creation and its story finally allowed my artistic soul the chance to wonder.  Try to comprehend just how profound this concept is.  God, in His very nature, is an artist.

I don’t know the context of your church experience, but it seemed rather strange to me that this notion wasn’t discussed much while I was growing up.  Could there be a more obvious game-changer?  If you stop to think about the creative process, you start realizing how much thought and creativity God puts behind all He does.

The fact that God first conjured me up in thought; deemed me worthy of being created fills me with a sense love I’ve never otherwise experienced.

This is why we have so many, “spiritual epiphanies” while experiencing raw nature, or exploring an area that is new to us.  We’re filled with awe because we’re witnessing first-hand a snapshot of The Great Artist’s work.  The broader landscape that encompasses the world around us has God’s fingerprints all over it.  Make no mistake about it:  God is in the business of creating and making things new.  Which leads me to believe…

Creativity is a window into the very nature of God.

Art is an opportunity for us to experience a slice of the supernatural.

Here’s the point of my monologue where a “non-artist” interjects and says something to the effect of, “That’s all well and good, Mitch.  But I’m just not a creative person.”

And that’s it.  That’s the left-hook they think is strong enough to end the discussion.  Don’t get me wrong, if any of you reading this and truly feel as though you have no artistic or creative inclinations what so ever–I still love you.  This is exactly my point.

For a multitude of reasons daring to explore the unknown; inviting others to wonder; and pursuing our day-dreams has become a fearful notion for us in the church.  It’s much easier for us to assume those of us that aren’t, “artsy” will surely find fulfillment remaining “safe” in the middle.  Certainly those whacky artists will eventually have enough real-life-experiences sober them up to a point of being realistic.  But I ask you this:

What are we if not creative and deeply emotional beings?

In his book, The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, Michael Gungor sums-it-up perfectly:

For many people words like art and creativity feel lofty and out of reach.  But in truth, the foundation of the artist’s work is no different than any other human work.  It’s simply an intentional ordering of reality.  Every sentence you’ve ever articulated has been a creative work on some level.  As a child, you learned how to use your tongue, lips and vocal cords to create sounds that have been culturally agreed upon to act as symbols of objects and feelings–even abstract ideas like justice or beauty.  Speaking is the process of creating and communicating a series thoughts by combining these sounds into patterns–like a painter combines individual colors into a painting or a musician strings together individual notes into a composition.  Creativity is simply the human brain forming new connections between ideas, and we all are engaged in this process every day.  The common idea that there are some people who are creative and some who are not is a myth.  On some level, we are all artists.  We are all creators.  (p. 3 – 4, emphasis added)

No longer is it a question of, “Am I a creative individual?”

Now you can embark on the spiritual and euphoric journey of discovering how art and creativity fuses with faith.

After all, art is the great equalizer.

Goosebumps appearing when your favorite song plays.  A surprising emotional revelation that’s sparked when looking at a painting.  Joyous belts of laughter while reminiscing through family photos.  Surprising tears falling while watching your favorite film.  Every single one of us has been deeply moved by experiences that accompany artistic media.

Art aids us in discovering the depths of emotion.

Art is how we dictate our values to the world.

Art provides the most meaningful platform for the voiceless to be heard.

Art has sparked revolutions of the mind, heart, spirit, and religion.

Art is perhaps the most profound medium for which generations have been and will be remembered.

Art is the manifestation of the supernatural experiences in the world.  That’s why the act of creation is so in-tune with the very nature of God.

What does this mean for the church?  As my dad eloquently expresses:

“Once the created get past their fear of exploring the unknown; then creativity can be a huge key to helping us discover more about the Creator.”

Here’s a short-list of ideas a congregation of any-size could implement to delve into the realm of creativity while welcoming more brothers and sisters to the family:

  • Start the Discussion & Open Our Minds:  Feel empowered to open-the-floor of discussion on the spiritual ramifications of creativity and art.  Yes, let’s discuss the raw power to be found in the Bible.  But let’s also open our minds to the fact that we can discuss the spiritual undertones found in a Bob Dylan song.
  • Be Intentional:  Instead of asking yourself, “What can I get out of this?” start challenging yourself to ask, “What can I contribute?”  Sharing a hug; causing a stranger to smile; telling your story; inviting someone to coffee; random-acts-of-kindness; and so many other things are all opportunities to create something new.
  • Story-Telling:  Once a month, host an out-door BBQ for members and visitors.  Fellowship, break-bread, enjoy each other.  Culminate the evening with a bonfire.  Have men and women from the older generations share their stories of life, love, & faith while everyone else sits at their feet.  Truly, this would be creativity found in the church.
  • Sponsor an Entertainment Evening:  Concerts, film viewings, poetry-slams, reader’s theatre, art-shows, ANYTHING.  Imagine bringing in sacred and secular professionals to perform their craft, sponsored by your congregation with an audience filled with members and visitors.  What a wonderful way to invite new people to the family of God while removing the, “Country Club” atmosphere.  And on that note…
  • Scrap the Sermon:  What if once a month your worship service was completely dedicated to celebrating creative media minus the sermon?  Congregation members (as well as professionals) can share their original poetry, orally interpret a scene from Scripture, share inspirational videos, children performing, finger-painting murals, the list goes on and on!

As christians it’s okay to admit that we gain the bulk of our emotional experiences from stimuli that are normally categorized as “secular”.  But daring to view the world as though faith and creativity co-exist changes everything.

I’m not declaring that all American churches need to be turned-upside-down in order to effectively share Jesus.  What I’m simply pointing out is, on some level or another, we’re all emotionally touched by art.  The act of creating comes from God.  Why would we not want to explore what means for others finding Grace?

Imagine what we could be on the cusp of:

  • Our collective fear of public emotion and the journey towards healing will subside.
  • Embracing the universality of creativity will help us better understand deep grace.
  • Avenues for the artistic souls to serve, create, perform, share, & worship will open.
  • Maybe, just maybe, those, “of the world”, will feel welcomed as family rather that projects.

Here I am, an open-hearted artist trying to make sense of my journey.  Some days I feel closer to answering the daunting question.  Other days I feel stagnant.  But everyday, I remain a ragamuffin soul on fire for Jesus, getting my fix from emotional artistic experiences.

May our journey of connecting life, faith, art, and creativity lead to a deeper understanding of the Love that is God and strengthen the foundation of which our community stands.

 

 

Preaching to the Choir?

When I say the word “preacher” what image comes to your mind?

preacherSomeone in a thick wool suit holding a black leather Bible talking about drugs and rock-n-roll? A person standing on a street corner announcing impending doom to everyone within earshot?

Or maybe the picture in your mind’s eye is something more kind.

Perhaps you think of Billy Graham on one of his “crusades” (a terrible name for a gathering of Christians in light of our history, really) standing in the middle of a football stadium preaching the gospel and baptizing thousands.  Or if you’re from my faith tradition (and old enough to remember when we had these), you might think of preachers at Gospel Meetings or revivals who came to town for a couple of days to try and convert as many people as possible.  Maybe you think of Great Awakenings, Billy Sunday, or other frontier preachers who rode around proclaiming the gospel and converting people from lives of sin.

What I find most interesting about all of these images (and the images others reveal when I evangelismtalk to them) is the strong connection between evangelism and preaching in our portrayal of preachers.

It seems preachers, in our imaginations at least, are those whose primary job is to convert others to a like-minded faith.  To me this seems why most of our churches are still insist on having a time of “invitation” at the end of each sermon.  Theoretically, the preacher has delivered a sermon that has convicted those in the audience who are not yet believers to come to faith.  Or for those who do believe already, yet may have “back-slid” in their walk, the sermon should have convicted them to a sufficient degree to inspire them to “rededicate” their lives to Christ.  This all seems well and good, and certainly the Church has grown over years because of preachers who have done just this kind of preaching.

Yet I can’t help but notice how times have changed.

Most of our preaching (mine at least) does not occur on street corners, at frontier camps, or during gospel meetings, but in Churches, during worship services, among congregations of people who already believe in the Christian message.  While visitors are (hopefully) present at these gatherings, they are certainly not the majority and the gathering was certainly not called for their benefit.  Something else is happening in that context.

choirpreaching

It seems then that in our day and age, the majority of our preaching is, to steal an over-used idiom, preaching to the choir.

The reality of this situation leads me to wonder about the place of evangelism in our preaching and, by extension, in our worship.  At the risk of drawing too sharp a distinction, should preaching in our worship services (the predominant place where preaching takes place) be preaching that seeks “to convert”?  Or should it seek to speak a word “to the choir”?

As a way at getting at this question (and hopefully making this post more interesting for those of you who don’t share my love of preaching), let me widen this question to the larger worship service within which our preaching takes place.  Asked in this light, the question is this:

What place does evangelism have in our worship services?

This, I think, is a more relevant question for all of our churches.  And answering this question will also give us an answer to the question of evangelism and preaching.  We see the debate happening in every aspect of our corporate worship (and yes, there is a difference between the Church and worship.  Those are two different things); from the style of songs and singing to the method we use to take the Lord’s Supper.  We see it most clearly in the debate over what are often called “Seeker Sensitive” approaches to “doing church,” by which I’m assuming those who use that term mean “worship.”

Typically, these styles of worship try to have music that is more contemporary and less “stuffy.”  They also watch their vocabulary by trying not to use words that might be strange to those who are not Christians (words like atonement, justification, or any other word that could fit the description “Churchy”).

The intention is clear: if we make our corporate worship more welcoming and inclusive to those who do not share our beliefs, we stand a better chance of getting them in the door and converting them to our beliefs.

In this view, a primary goal of worship is evangelism.  While we might come together to worship the risen Lord, we are doing so with an eye to those who are not “one of us” in the hopes that they will come in, feel comfortable, stay awhile, and over time become “one of us.”  In this view evangelism has a high priority; even to the point of influencing how those who already believe “do” worship.  This view has obviously decided what the connection between worship, preaching, and evangelism is.

Of course there are others who do not agree with these models of worship (to tip my hand, I’m one of them).  They see several theological problems with such a view.  And they see worship and preaching as having other functions than evangelism.  And that’s what I want to talk about now.

As a way of answering the question, let me change it just a bit.

I do believe worship and preaching are evangelistic.  Absolutely.

I think the question we have to ask however, is “How?” or “What?”  In other words:

What makes preaching and the worship it is a piece of evangelistic?                               How is worship evangelistic?

This is where two choices appear:

Is worship evangelistic because it’s inclusive?  Or is worship evangelistic because it’s transcendent?

Here’s what I mean.

In the seeker-sensitive approach I mentioned above, the view is that worship is evangelistic because it’s inclusive.

We’ve done everything we can to make worship appealing to those who do not share our beliefs.  We’ve toned down the theological language, we’ve adjusted the singing and other rituals (communion, offering, etc.), we’ve even adapted the sermons to be such that those who don’t necessarily believe in Jesus can still find something useful in them.  The goal in this model is to get new people in the door and keep them there so that over time they will come to believe.  Under this model preaching should be useful, but also evangelistic, because the goal is to evangelize.

There are two major problems I see with this model:

1) Evangelism becomes something only the minister is responsible for.

In this view, since the worship is designed to convert, all the average church member has to do is bring a person to Church.  Relationship building, weekday conversations, and the act of walking through life with one another disappear.  In other words, true evangelism disappears in this model because the congregation develops a mindset that evangelism is something the paid professionals do; their only job is to get the person in the building and let the minister take if from there.  In this mode worship becomes simultaneously a replacement for the true work of evangelism (relationships and the act of bearing witness with our entire lives) and an excuse for why ordinary (non-paid) church members don’t bear witness themselves (“I brought them to Church, what else am I supposed to do?”).

2) In an effort to be inclusive to those who aren’t Christian, worship looses the distinctions that make it Christian.

In many ways, seeker-sensitive worship is worship that allows those who know the story least to dictate how the story is told.

Think about how this sounds when I phrase the question this way: why would we tone down our songs about Jesus so that those who don’t believe in Jesus can sing about him and feel comfortable doing so?

The question is a little dramatic, but hopefully you see the point.  Why would I want to make the Lord’s Supper something that even those who don’t believe either in Jesus or in his death and resurrection would feel comfortable doing?  Doesn’t that make it something other than the Lord’s Supper?

I’m not saying there aren’t ways we can be more welcoming as congregations when visitors see us at worship.

We can be welcoming.                                                                                                         We can be hospitable.                                                                                                          We can approach and be kind.                                                                                           We can be sure no one is ever sitting alone.                                                                        We can be a group that loves one another and anyone who steps into our midst.             We can model the kind of community Christ envisions for the Church.

But I think we also have to admit that Christian worship is a distinct, and in some ways strange, thing.                                                                                                                           We have our own vocabulary.                                                                                              We have our own, distinctive, rituals.

In other words, we’re Christians – a distinctive group that makes certain claims about the nature of our world and our existence.

We’re a group that believes a certain set of narratives that form and shape us into particular kinds of people and a particular kind of community.

We believe in a particular God and that God’s actions and disclosure through his Son.

And I can’t help but feel that when we downplay our distinctiveness for the sake of attracting visitors we stop being the Church and start being the Rotary Club at prayer.

So what if, instead of trying to be evangelistic in our preaching and worship by being inclusive, we started trying to be evangelistic by being transcendent? th What if our worship became evangelistic by being a place where the living God actually shows up and dwells?  What if we designed our worship – our singing, our rituals, and our preaching – to try and create space for the risen Christ to dwell in our midst?  This, I think, is a far more faithful (not to mention biblical) approach to worship.

And then our worship becomes evangelistic, not because visitors feel comfortable, but because they have seen a people among whom the living God dwells, and in a world where so much is false, they witness a community that’s real.  Because among this transcendent community, they’ve seen the purpose and meaning of their lives.

So what’s the role of evangelism in preaching?

What if rather than being evangelistic in the sense of standing on street corners or at gospel meetings, we started to think of our preaching as being evangelistic in the same transcendent way as our worship?

Our preaching is evangelistic because God shows up and speaks through our words.  Rather than seeking to convert the non-believer by removing anything that might be distinctively Christian and so “alienating” to those who do not identify as such, we seek to speak a word of God to the people of God, praying all the while God would use our words to speak anew in our time.

Maybe our preaching is most evangelistic when we are preaching to the choir, and by God’s grace speaking a word through which God chooses to show up in such a way that our non-Christian neighbors cannot help but believe.

Manifest Destiny?

(This month’s guest post is from Jake Owens.  JakeJake has spent a decade in ministry, whether as a volunteer, part-time, or full-time professional.  Jake graduated from York College in York, Nebraska with a degree in Biblical Studies with an emphasis in Youth Ministry. He has been on multiple mission trips to multiple continents and countries. Jake briefly worked as a Short-Term Programs Director for an international missions organization.  He is currently a Senior Youth Care Worker at Boys Town Nebraska’s Intervention and Assessment program. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife Elise, dog Sheldon, and hairless cat Nakey.)

When Mason and I were undergrad students together, we spent about 5 nights a week at a truck stop called Petro. (There weren’t many options for entertainment after 8pm in the booming metropolis of York, NE.) For the first several months as roommates, we had a regular waitress by the name of Deb. She knew what I liked, how I liked it, and gave me free sweet tea because she was so impressed that I did homework every night. She could anticipate our needs with a supernatural prowess that led me to believe that she was a house elf someone gave an apron to and set free. Then, one terrible night we showed up and Deb was gone, replaced with a grouchy lady named Linda. She didn’t know what I wanted, didn’t get it to me in time, and would never be able to fill the Deb-shaped hole in my heart.

Hi. I’m Linda.

Mason asked me to write on a topic that I have some level of knowledge on, and since this blog has absolutely nothing to do with video games, comic books, or pathetically bad sports teams, that left me with non-profit ministry work.

My topic today is short-term missions, and I think that before I get into the subject I should make a few disclaimer statements:

1)    I love the Church, with all of its faults and all of its blemishes. I love us for what we are, what we can be, and in spite of what we do sometimes.

2)    I am in no way advocating that we shut down all short-term missions programs; simply that we reevaluate how we do them.

3)    While there are a great many places from which I could draw inspiration, my primary theology for this post comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. I don’t claim to perfectly represent what Francis or our shared Lord taught, but I do aspire to emulate these things as best I can.

If you’re still with me, I’d like to open with a story.

The names have literally been changed to protect others, which is pretty awesome. It takes place in a city in China in the summer of 2009. I was there on a mission trip to teach English to college students from the Bible, an evangelism method that has a long history in the Church, sometimes proud, sometimes shameful. I was speaking with a young man I’ll call John, who I became rather close to over my brief time in China. We were discussing our shared interest in history, and while discussing the Japanese invasion of China during WW2 (Something China’s still not over) he suddenly became very serious and said, “People have come to China a lot to try and make us more like them. Japan, Americans, Christians.” He smiled at me to make sure that I didn’t take any offense to this, and honestly, I didn’t.

I felt pretty much like I’d been smacked in the face.

John’s comment is just one of several incidents that led to a growing unease with the way that we do short-term missions.

I’ve seen Christians in South America fighting over doctrinal issues that trace directly back to the US’s culture and history.

I’ve been told by new believers in developing nations that they hope they can have a Godly nation like we do.

I’ve seen youth under my care enter a cycle of spiritual starvation followed by summer binging, where they fly off to all corners of the world hunting down a temporary high, then I’ve heard those same youth tell me they’re so glad that they went and helped the “less-fortunate.”

My goal today is to fix a problem, and where I work we do that by observing andshort term missions describing what’s wrong, then suggesting an alternative. So first, we observe and describe.

Short Term Missions are all the rage among youth ministries these days.  They’re also growing in popularity and frequency with Millennials like college students and late twenty-somethings. We’ve begun to follow the very Godly pull in our hearts to contribute more to the world than we take from it, but we’ve rushed off to do it without consulting God or thinking it through. The results are terrifying.

Your typical short-term mission trip is organized by a youth pastor. Said pastor gathers up a handful of parents, usually as much based on willingness as on qualification, and designates them “chaperones.” Youth are sat down and shown pictures of people living in conditions less affluent than their own, then given a price tag and a schedule. The youth raise the appropriate amount of money, flight plans are booked, meetings are had, prayers are said, and after many months of preparation, the youth arrive. Roughly 7 days are spent doing back-breaking labor, fumbling through a foreign language, and experiencing a different culture. Youth return exhausted, uplifted, and enlightened by their multi-cultural experience.

While good things can come of this experience, I want to argue that those good things are more an accident, and testament to God’s ability to work through human failure than they are the result of planning and foresight.

When we do missions this way, there are two key problems I see:

1)    Youth are inadvertently taught that we (our culture) are more blessed than others, somehow favored by God, and that living a life with fewer material blessings than ours is somehow outside God’s plan for humanity.

There are several problems here. First of all, it encourages the patronage system that we find so often in Christendom. Our youth learn arrogance and develop mini-messiah complexes rather than learning humility and service. In addition, it equates salvation and blessing with a certain level of material wealth, encouraging materialism. Worst of all, it equates our culture to God’s Kingdom, an idea that has had disastrous consequences in the days of colonialism and western expansionism.

2)    Youth are set into a self-destructive, out of rhythm cycle of spirituality.

I’m fully aware that your average evangelical American isn’t practicing centering prayer or Lectio Divina; that being said, this is a problem that transcends missions and enters our entire Church/Youth Ministry culture. The mission trip is simply the crux of the problem. Kids are starved spiritually for 9 months, given only the occasional weekend retreat to truly engage in community driven, disciplined spirituality. Then for 3 glorious months we send them off to camps, service projects, and mission trips, all the while preaching against the dangers of the dreaded “camp high,” in a thinly veiled attempt to up our retention rates from the summer by lowering expectations. When service and community are taught only 3 months a year, we teach kids to grow into the sort of out-of-whack Christians that purge and binge, rather than experience a reasonable relationship with highs and lows.

Ultimately, the low-quality mission trip is just really, really bad theology; and it’s damaging our witness to the rest of the world, on top of completely screwing up our relationship with God. We’re training entire generations that God’s ultimate plan is for us to fly into a frenzy of activity every year at the same time and save the poor “have-not’s” of the world from a life of poor hygiene and inadequate building projects.

As I said in my disclaimer, I’m not suggesting that we should pull the plug altogether on Mission Trips. Some Churches do need to embrace the fact that God hasn’t gifted them with the resources to do mission work, and move on to areas where they can better serve the Kingdom. But a lot of Churches can do a lot of good if they can make some major changes to their thinking.

Here’s what I recommend. Rather than a model to be rigidly followed, it’s meant to be the start of a discussion about more Godly missions:

1)    Teach a more Biblically sound theology of povertybible

The poor are so close to the heart of Jesus.  I would argue that you can hardly know him without knowing them. This is a blessing if there ever was one, a far greater blessing than my air conditioning or my Xbox 1.  We need to stop teaching kids that we’re coming to “save” or even “help,” and adjust our language. Said with the best of intentions, these are still loaded terms that speak of patronage and arrogance. Instead, teach kids that we’re going to go meet the beloved of Christ, to learn from them and be taught by them what it means to be poor, and in turn to offer whatever inadequate gifts we may have in exchange.

2)    Choose your volunteers carefully

I won’t rant about the “Family-Based” model of youth ministry here, but the simple fact is that having a kid does not qualify you to lead a ministry. Parents have plenty more invested in their kids than we do, and in an ideal situation they’re going to be partners in the ministry.  But that doesn’t mean that a kid’s mom needs to come on every event if she’s not going to create the sort of culture where the Holy Spirit thrives and grows in young Christians. If Dad has a morbid fascination with racist jokes or if Mom thinks people are only poor because they’re lazy, leave them home. Plain and simple.

3)    Make the mission trip a part of your culture, not an event

This one’s trickier. Maybe in an ideal situation we could break from the mold and have our mission trips at a different time of year than summer, but the reality is that’s just logistically impractical. Instead, teach lessons related to a healthy theology of poverty during the fall. Make consistent spiritual disciplines a part of your program, and incorporate them into the trip.

4)    Make a long-term commitment to one site/group of people

Once a long-term commitment is made, engage those people in community. Skype them in commitmentfor worship service once in a while, and let one of them teach you. Encourage the kids to develop close relationships with specific people and keep in touch. Help them find prayer partners in the other culture and facilitate regular prayer sessions together. This makes us all one community; two parts become something greater than their sum. When people are friends and family, it gets harder to view them as strangers that we’re blessing with our presence.

As I said, these are just some suggestions to get the conversation rolling. Above all, pray. Pray with your leaders, pray with your family, and pray alone that God will help us find our place in the Kingdom, and fulfill the role that we’re best suited to in the Body of Christ.

Biblical Preaching vs. Preaching the Bible, Part 2

(In this post I want to offer an alternative to the stereotypical understanding of Biblical Preaching as preaching the Bible.  Rather than merely preaching the words of a passage in Scripture, I want to suggest that a better, and ultimately more faithful, avenue of preaching opens to us when we understand the phrase Biblical Preaching as preaching the theology of the biblical text.)

In Part I of this series I sought to introduce the familiar concept of Biblical Preaching and our typical understanding of the term.  Usually we understand “Biblical Preaching” as preaching the Bible, or better, preaching passages of the Bible.  In this understanding the preacher takes a biblical passage (it could be no more than a verse) and connects the content of the passage with the situation of the congregation.  For this kind of preaching model we can use the bridge as a metaphor — the preacher picks up something from the text and carries it to the congregation.  I think this way of looking at preaching and thinking about the Bible is problematic for several reasons (briefly):

1. It has no regard for the unity of the entire Bible as Christian Scripture or the literary and rhetorical unity of an individual book.

2. It ignores both the intention and genre of the text and something seeking “to do.”

3. It confuses the medium with the message itself in such a way that the Bible becomes useless and irrelevant unless it is able to “offer good tips for my life.”

Ultimately, such a view of Biblical Preaching as “preaching the Bible” is incredibly unbiblical.

In such a view, preachers are able to make the Bible say anything they want as long as they have a verse that semantically appears to support their statement (we usually call this approach “proof texting”).  In this view, it would be possible to come up with a sermon that uses the biblical text in a way that contradicts and violates the intention of the text and the larger Christian story of which they are a part (sermons from the 1940’s-1960’s that used the Bible to endorse segregation are a good example of this).

But does that mean we should forever abandon the term Biblical Preaching as a relic of days when preachers didn’t know better?  Changing CourseI don’t think so.  Instead, what if we begin to understand the term Biblical Preaching differently?

To start, it might help us if we consider the “what-is-preached” of sermons.

Or said another way, what is the content/focus of our content in preaching?  What do we seek to get across or present to the congregation when we stand before them and claim to present a Word from God?  Surely the answer isn’t “the Bible.”  To say the Bible is the “what-is-preached” of our sermons would be to confuse the medium with content (even if the two are closely linked).  We base our sermons on passages from the BIble because we believe the Bible reveals and references to something beyond itself, and it is this that function as the “what-is-preached” of our sermons; not just the words on the page themselves.

But this question could draw any number of answers.

Some might say something like, “God is love, therefore love is the ‘what-is-preached’ of our sermons.  We seek to communicate the love of God to the congregation that the biblical text presents.”

Others may say, “We gather to remember Jesus and him crucified, therefore the ‘what-is-preached’ of our sermons is the Gospel.  In our preaching the focus and content is the Gospel.”

Both of these things are good answers.

As my preaching professor Dr. Tim Sensing would say, “If every preacher in America woke up one day and decided to make love the ‘what-is-preached’ of their sermons, America would instantly have better preachers.”  And we could say the same thing about any number of topics; love, Gospel, mercy, sin/grace, any of these would be worthy possibilities of the “what-is-preached” of our sermons.

Yet I believe all of these would leave us unable to preach certain passages; they would flipping through Biblecreate a “canon within the canon.”

If love is the “what-is-preached” of our sermons, for example, how could we preach the last three chapters of the book of Judges?  Similarly, if the Gospel was the “what-is-preached” of our sermons, how could we preach much of the Old Testament without first silencing its own unique message and applying the “Jesus card?”  In both cases, naming these as the “what-is-preached” of our sermons leaves serious holes in our Bible.

And while David Buttrick might be OK with this kind of “Bible within the Bible,” I think we should aim for preaching the entire Bible since it’s the entire Bible that has shaped the Church through the centuries.  While my specific context may never call/require that I preach from the final three chapters of Judges (at least I hope not!), I think we should still be able to.

These were all good possibilities, but I believe there is something even underneath these concepts.  Underneath Love, The Gospel, Grace, and these other possible “centers” of our preaching is the one about whom the Bible claims to speak and reveal-

God.

Christian Scripture, in its multiple forms and genres, in both its testaments, and through a variety of obvious and less obvious ways, claims to reveal the one true God of Israel who took on flesh in the person of Jesus and empowers the Church through the Spirit.  Word GodThis, I suggest, is the “what-is-preached” of our sermons (or at least it should be).

In preaching we seek to “name God” for the congregation because this is what the biblical text itself claims to do.  So we can say the content of our sermons is theology.

If the “what-is-preached” of our sermons (and of the Bible itself) is God, or theology, then perhaps we should understand the concept of Biblical Preaching as preaching the theology of the biblical text.

Instead of beginning with a need of the contemporary congregation and mining the biblical text for supporting verses, such a view of preaching would look at a particular text and seek to understand what that text is trying to communicate about God or seek to preach sermons that are faithful to the Biblical Story.

So what would Biblical Preaching that is preaching the theology of the text look like?  Let’s take the text of the example sermon I gave in the last post, 1 Thessalonians 5:14,

“And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.”

While I won’t provide an outline, there are several things to consider in building a sermon with this new understanding of Biblical Preaching.

First, it would be important to see how this verse functions in relationship to the larger section it’s in (it is one of several imperative).  Second, it would be vital to ask what this particular section is attempting to communicate about God (a rule of thumb when interpreting imperatives in letters is that when you encounter a group of commands, the theology of the section usually resides in the one sentence that isn’t a command.  In this case, v. 23: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely…”).  Third, with this verse and its theology, it would be important to ask how the concept of sanctification functions within the larger framework of the letter of 1 Thessalonians.

You can see already how vastly different this approach is from the view of Biblical Preaching as merely “preaching the Bible.”  Yet I believe this is a more faithful view of the Bible and of preaching.  For a couple reasons:

1. This view starts with God, theology, and then works to the congregation. 

I think this is important because it affirms the Bible as the truthful narrative and the need for us to live into the ongoing biblical story.  Thus, the story of God the Bible tells is affirmed as a story that presents us with the truth of our lives.

2.  This view respects the Biblical text in both its intention and its genre.

Notice how the example above takes seriously the text’s position within the letter and the Christian canon.  The example also seeks to take seriously what the biblical text itself is trying to do and how it is trying to do it.  This view, for example, wouldn’t seek to find “3 points” from a text that is primarily a narrative or a clear proposition from something as beautiful as a Psalm.  To do so would destroy the biblical text by robbing the genre of its ability to speak of God in unique ways (but that’s another post).

3.  This view is faithful to the larger story of Christian Scripture and does not allow the preacher to simply harvest the Bible for proof-texts.

It doesn’t claim any passage of scripture can mean anything, but instead listens to the biblical text and respects its unique contribution to our language and image of God.

For many preachers (and the congregations that listen to them) this will require a completely new way of thinking about preaching and the Bible.

(Let me take an aside here to say I firmly believe if the quality of our preaching as a faith tradition is going to improve, it will almost certainly have to begin with congregations becoming people with higher standards for the preaching they hear.  They will have to become communities with discerning ears who value substance and well-thought intention more than a “conversational delivery” and funny story-telling.)

This view of preaching and the work it demands is far more taxing than what comes with the view of Biblical Preaching as preaching the Bible.  It will no doubt force preachers to grow in both their knowledge of the theology of each individual book and of the entire Christian story.  It will force them to read books of the Bible in their entirety to understand their movement and think of their connection with the rest of Christian Scripture.  It will mean that preachers can no longer throw a sermon together in five minutes or simply get by with funny stories or wise one-liners.

In short, it will mean they have to start taking God seriously in their preaching.

But it will also mean that we will gain respect for the canon of Christian Scripture and the revelatory power it has held over the Church’s history. 

It will allow us to preach with greater faithfulness. 

And it will mean that when we sit down from the sermon, our congregation will have heard a Word from God, because those who preach have taken the time to name the God who chooses to reveal himself through Holy Scripture. 

And isn’t that what preaching is all about anyway?