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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Coming Soon- Preaching with Empathy: Crafting Sermons in a Callous Culture

 
 
Table of Contents
 
Part 1: Surveying the Land
Chapter 1: A Culture of Apathy
Chapter 2: A Case for Homiletic Empathy
Part 2: Pouring the Foundation
Chapter 3: Empathic God
Chapter 4: Exemplars of Empathic Preaching
Part 3: Framing the House
Chapter 5: Practices for Cultivating Empathy in Preachers
            Chapter 6: Practices for Infusing Empathy in Preaching
 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Unexpected Annoyances for the Preacher


 
Audio-visual glitches, member outbursts, a fainting bridesmaid, and a light fixture fire are just a few of the surprises that may surface during the sermon. My goal in this chapter is to simply highlight some of the surprises you might run into so that they are no longer surprises. Some of these unexpected and unwanted occurrences cannot be avoided, no matter how hard we try. Yet if we know what might happen during the preaching event the shock is minimized and we can plan, in advance, how to respond in appropriate ways. 

Annoyances

            Fire station alarms and police car sirens, crying babies and cell phones, pouring rain and talkative teenagers, intoxicated sleepers and a loud motorcycle are just a few of the annoyances I have endured during the preaching event. Some of these are unavoidable. Do your best to keep preaching over the noise outside and inside of the church. You will probably have to raise your voice a bit until the police car goes by or the baby stops crying. Address the problem of talkative teenagers with gentleness and tact, but not during your sermon. Remind people before the service begins to silence their cell phones. Remember that people are watching the sermon you live, perhaps more intently than they are listening to the sermon you speak. No matter what surprise surfaces, be sure to respond to the annoyance with grace and composure. When the time is right, address those annoyances you can alleviate.   

Outbursts

            What do you do when a guy raises his hand in the middle of your sermon and, even though you managed to ignore him for ten minutes, refuses to put his hand down? Do you call on him or not? Well, I called on him and my preaching momentum, it seemed to me, was lost.

            On another occasion a young man I will call the “preach it” guy showed up. I enjoy some verbal response to the sermon but this guy was downright distracting. He sat in the second row and no matter what I said, every two or three minutes he would yell out with a screechy voice, “preach it.” Many in the congregation were distracted and, along with me, on the verge of laughter for most of the sermon. It probably didn’t help that the assistant pastor was sitting right behind the “preach it” guy, laughing his head off. There is nothing we can do about these outbursts. Developing a hospitable church culture that is welcome to all may even contribute to some of these outbursts. But it’s worth it. Preachers must learn to “ride out” these outbursts without blowing our lids. Someday we may look back upon these moments as fond preaching memories like I’m doing here.   

Audio-visual glitches

            In one of the churches I served we experienced audio-visual glitches just about every week. Videos wouldn’t play at all, or we would hear the sound without seeing the video, or see the video without hearing the sound. This drove me crazy. When these videos were intended to be enhancers of my sermon, I was especially frustrated. If the video didn’t play properly or the microphone would snap, crackle, and pop loudly I would say something humorous to reduce embarrassment for our technical people, but inside I was fuming.

            In order to avoid some of these glitches find and train qualified people to run your church’s audio-visual ministry. Make the financial investment in quality hardware and software. Until you acquire capable personnel and equipment, don’t attempt to be overly clever or frequent with your use of technology. In my opinion, it’s better to use plain old fashioned words to paint the sermon’s picture than audio-visual technology that may or may not work. 

Health problems

            Be prepared for someone in the wedding party to faint, an attendee to have a heart attack, or a kid to have an epileptic seizure. Most of us encounter these health scenarios at some point in our preaching tenure. It is very difficult to finish the sermon under these kinds of circumstances. Regardless of the severity of the situation and the size of the church, you will want to finish the sermon, perhaps with some modifications to the sermon’s tone and length. You can prepare for these surprises by helping the church establish a detailed plan to respond to health crises. Also, when someone in the congregation becomes publically ill during the service be sure to pause the sermon and lead the congregation in praying for this person. 

Building issues

            As I stepped up to preach the sermon, I noticed one of the light fixtures in the ceiling was on fire. Someone called the fire company and I invited everyone to grab a folding chair and head outside for the sermon. The weather was great. With the fire truck in the background, I preached in the open air. It was fun. There are other building issues that don’t have such a happy ending. When the air conditioner breaks in the heat of summer, you can expect people to fidget, fan, or fall asleep during the sermon. You want to keep the sermons shorter than usual until the air conditioner gets fixed.

            Another building issue you may encounter is a power outage. This is the perfect time for a prayer meeting and the sacrament of Communion, both of which rely on spiritual, not electrical, power. The point is, be willing to adapt to whatever surprises may surface during the service and be sure to demonstrate a high level of patience, grace, and calm. 

EXERCISES

            1. Recall some surprises you have encountered in life and ministry. What tends to be your knee-jerk response to surprises? How can you respond to future surprises with grace and assertiveness, resisting the temptation to be either passive or aggressive?

2. Reflect on which category of surprises above is most typical or likely in your ministry
context. Develop a plan now to respond to those surprises when they surface again.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Beauty of a Neighborhood by Amy Luchetti


The Beauty of a Neighborhood
By Amy Luchetti

We were happily living in Pennsylvania near our families when my husband, Lenny, got a phone call from Indiana. My first words when he hung up were, “I’m not moving to Indiana.”

We moved to Indiana six months later.

Since we had been married 12 years and never owned a home, I started to dream about my dream home. When we went to look at houses in Indiana, Lenny said he wanted to show me a new subdivision near the university where he would be teaching. “No way!” I said. “I want old and quaint.” A new subdivision didn’t fit my vision of a mature tree-lined street with Bungalows, Tudors and Victorians. I declared that I wouldn’t move where every other house looked the same.

We moved into our newly built home in the subdivision a few months later. And our house looks exactly like our neighbor’s house two doors down. To their credit, they built first.

                               
                                               Our house on the far right and Wayne and Jan’s on the far left.


We chose this neighborhood because there was a community pool and playground for the kids.  My husband could ride his bike to work and we could continue living with one car (not sure why that was so important to us). Plus, the university offered an incentive for building there.

It may not have been my dream home with the attic or wide front porch and character I desired, but it has become the most beautiful home and even more beautiful neighborhood to me. The character is found in the people of our neighborhood. We have officially lived here longer than any other place in our married years (7 years now), and I grow more and more in love.

Let me paint a picture of our neighborhood. We take care of each other’s kids, pets, and plants. We borrow each other’s tools, games, and bikes. We car pool each other’s kids to school, practices, games, and concerts. We chase each other’s dogs down the street and look out for each other’s kids.  Our kids get knocks on the door all the time. And I send my kids knocking on doors when I need a cup of sugar, butter, or a spice.  My daughter goes to a friend’s house down the street for homework help and ends up staying for dinner.  My oldest son cuts lawns in the neighborhood while my daughter babysits the neighbor kids.  My youngest son enjoys making his rounds and visiting the neighbors, causing us to knock on doors searching for him. There’s not only the neighborhood pool, ponds, and playground, but also a neighborhood fort. It’s kind of secret, set back in the wild territory of brush and trees by the
un-manicured third pond. Its location makes you feel like you are out of the neighborhood and in some far away land that can become anything the mind wants to imagine that day. 

                                                          

               
                                                           Sam and neighbor Seth at the fort


Then there are the dear people on my street. Miss Veronica across the street comes over for tea. She has a warm and big personality that lights up a room.  Sam, our youngest son, beelines across the street when he spots her to get occasional bear hugs. We get together with Travis and Courtney, the cute young couple across the street, for coffee and dessert dates when the kids are tucked in bed. We celebrate some Easters with our neighbors next door, the Millers, when neither of us is travelling to visit family. It was Grace who taught our family to dye Easter eggs with crayons and homemade dye.  They also host the annual Christmas potluck dinner and caroling.  Every year I feel like we are upholding a timeless tradition when we all bundle up and head out their door to go Christmas caroling, song sheets in hand.  I think how my kids will hopefully look back on these traditions with fond memories and appreciation.
 
                             
                                                       Miss Veronica over for tea with my mom, Lia, and me

                                                
                                                            Courtney and Travis with Zach and Lia

                      
                                                         Grace, Noah and Zea with our kids dyeing eggs

                                                            

                   
                                                                    Annual Christmas Caroling

Then there’s Wayne and Jan. Wayne and Jan host the July 4th street picnic with the highlight being the annual decorated bike parade. Kids decorate and race their bikes down the street while adults line up and cheer, clicking their cameras. Wayne and Jan host the potluck soup dinner in the fall, too.  And Miss Jan is known around the neighborhood for passing out regular-sized candy bars at Halloween and serving hot apple cider.

                     
                                                                    July 4th annual bike parade about to start

 

                      
                                                Miss Jan (in the witch’s hat) serving hot cider

I guess I’m feeling reflective because Wayne and Jan, the glue of our neighborhood, are moving next month. They started the connection for all of us by hosting the first July 4th picnic on our street.  I believe our street is the way it is because of their intentionality in gathering us together and starting traditions. They are adopted family to us and have attended our kids' concerts and games. They have prayed for us faithfully. And they will be sorely missed.  

We met the lovely family moving into Wayne and Jan’s house. When I asked what made them decide to move here, they said it was hanging out with the families on our street. One neighbor told them he could tell who was at the door by the knock. Some may find that down-right creepy and incredibly annoying, but I find it pretty cool.  Apparently, the new neighbors thought the same, because I think that statement about the door knocks is what sold them on moving here.

You know how sometimes you realize the value of something when it’s gone? That’s not the case with our neighborhood. I realize how unique and special it is, and that it probably won’t be duplicated anywhere else we may live. I appreciate it right here and now. I am thankful that our children are being raised here. I am thankful for this beautiful neighborhood.  

How does one get to live in such a beautiful neighborhood, you may wonder? After seven years of living in such a neighborhood, I believe IT can be summed up in two words:  

Intentionality & Traditions.

Just the other night my husband and I were out walking our dog. He mentioned how much he liked our neighborhood and that he had no regrets moving here. He asked me if I had any regrets.

 No. No regrets at all.