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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Sermon Preparation Process: Preaching as a Spiritual Discipline

Helpful Guidelines
• While the model does not describe the spiritual formation of the preacher outside of the homiletic process, it is assumed. In other words, this spiritual homiletic is not a magic formula that negates the importance of the preacher’s formation outside of the homiletic process. The preacher’s accumulated thoughts, habits, influences, and experiences will shape the preacher in profound ways, in ways that move well beyond simply weekly routine of preaching.
• It will be nearly impossible to preach a topical sermon with this model because in a topical sermon the preacher has already decided in advance what the text says and how he will use it. In the topical sermon the preacher is not typically led by God through the text but actually controls and, sometimes, distorts the text since it must fit his topic.
• Refrain from running to book or website illustrations until you have spent adequate time prayerfully reflecting upon the text and your personal experiences that surface from it. Try your best to let illustrative material come from your rich life and ministry experiences and observations.
• A good commentary or two should be consulted but only later in the process to check the exegetical credibility of what you sense God is saying to you through the text.
• Enjoy the homiletic process and try your best to see it as a devotional opportunity to be with the God who called you to preach the Gospel.

Movement 1: What is God saying to the original audience through the text? (Scripture)
A. Prayerful Preparation: Pray a small portion of Psalm 119 slowly and reflectively. Ask God for revelation and insight into His word. Quiet your soul by sitting before the Lord and allowing him to remind you of his love for you and the important calling he has placed upon your life to preach Christ. Ask God to purify your preaching motives and to spiritually form you through the homiletic process to be the “fragrance of Christ.”

B. Text Selection: Prayerfully select the biblical text to be preached. Be careful to avoid assuming that you already know what God is saying through this text, even if you have preached it before. If you assume the meaning of the text and sermon point at the outset, it will stifle the process of allowing God to speak and it will remove the element of delightful surprise from the homiletic process.

C. Exegetical Insights: Read the preaching text several times, praying for God’s guidance, and record your reflections on the following questions that may apply:
• What do you observe about the text as you read it through several times?
• What questions surface regarding the meaning of the text?
• Who is the author and what do you know about him?
• Who is being addressed and what do you know about them?
• What is the historical context (time and place)?
• What light does the literary context (immediate context, book context, canonical context) shed on the text?
• What important words or phrases appear in the text? What do they mean and how are they used (feel free to consult dictionaries at this point)?

D. Playful Imagination: Fast a meal and pray at least 30 minutes for imaginative insight into the text. Read the text slowly verse by verse trying to imagine yourself as an observer of the original scene. Try to see, hear, smell, touch and taste the original scene. In other words, try to prayerfully and even playfully imagine yourself in the original context of the passage through the eyes of the main characters in the biblical text.

E. Theological Reflection: Reflect theologically about the text. How does this text intersect with a Wesleyan theological foundation? How does the text relate to important Christian doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Creation, etc.? How might events from Church History and the writings/lives of significant theologians (Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory, Luther, Calvin, Wesley) inform your reading of this text?

F. Text Focus: In no more than one paragraph, record what God is saying through the text to the people who originally received it. This is not the sermon point or sermon idea, which would take into account both the text of Scripture and the context of your congregation. This is simply a summarization of the passage’s meaning in its original setting (i.e., Paul is telling the Galatians that it is foolish to look to legalism for what only faith can provide.)

G. Commentaries: Read 2-3 reputable commentaries on your passage. How do these commentaries confirm or challenge your reflections? What do they add to what you already observed about the text?

H. Internalize the Word: Memorize the preaching text (or at least a main portion of it).

Movement 2: What is God saying to me through the text? (Prayer)
A. Lectio Divina: Prayerfully read the text using lectio divina. As you do, consider the personal implications of the text for your own life. Consider what God is saying to you through the text. How does the text apply to your relationships with Christ and others? How does it confirm, challenge, or comfort you? What does it reveal about who Christ is and who you are?
• Lectio: Read the text slowly several times inviting God to impress upon you the word, phrase, or sentence from the text that he most wants to speak to you. Record these words.
• Meditatio: Reflect on this word or phrase from the text and consider its intersection with your life and with other passages of Scripture. What do you sense God saying to you through this text? Give God some time to speak this word of truth into your life. Be still and let the words from Scripture fill your heart and mind.
• Oratio: Write a prayer of response to God in light of what He has spoken to you. This prayer can be one of thanksgiving, confession, or intercession, to name a few. Note any changes or commitments you will make to God as a result of being confronted, convicted, comforted, challenged or confirmed by this biblical text.
• Contemplatio: This final step takes one beyond words and into intimacy with God that allows the person to actually experience the grace of the Scripture reality being studied. Don’t focus on words or even the sermon, but simply enjoy intimacy with God, resting in His presence as you reflect and worship in images and not words. What do you picture? What images is God allowing to surface?

B. Prayer Walk: Take a prayer walk around the church campus, your neighborhood, or in a nearby park or woods looking and praying for God’s glory and for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” through the sermon. Also, keep an eye out for physical illustrations that highlight the main thrust of the biblical text.

C. Retro Reflection: Prayerfully and honestly reflect upon why and how you chose this text to preach. What is behind your choosing of it? Are your motives for choosing this text pure? Is there some past, present or future concern that preconditions you to choose this text and/or skews or enhances your reading of this text? What part did God play in your choosing of this passage? In what ways did the meaning of the text surprise you?

Movement 3: What is God saying to the congregation through the text? (Fellowship)
A. Intercessory Reflections and Applications: Spend at least 30-60 minutes praying through the church directory and any special congregational prayer requests, incorporating the preaching text into the prayer time as often as possible. Reflect on how the text might address the joys, sorrows, hopes, hurts, sins, and dreams of people in your congregation, in particular, and of humanity, in general, and pray accordingly. Prayerfully consider how God wants to guide, comfort, or confront the church through this text. What changes might God want to initiate in your church through this text? Be careful to let God’s desires for the church, and not merely your own desires and ambitions, determine the application of the text to the congregation you serve. Don’t force the text to say more or less than it really says. List the possible sermon applications that result from this intercessory prayer time.

B. Initiate Contact: Initiate contact, by phone call or visit, with 2-3 congregants for spiritual care and directing. If possible, select congregants whose lives may be profoundly addressed by the biblical text and sermon for the coming Sunday. Depending on the circumstances, you may not want them to know that the coming sermon applies to them. This, however, does not prevent you from offering spiritual care to them.

C. Human Feedback (optional): In staff meeting, read the text and ask staff members to reflect upon how the text might intersect with their lives. Ask them to express how the text challenges, comforts, convicts, instructs, etc. (If you don’t have a staff, you can do this with a group of pastors, your family, or your friends). Record their reflections, but ensure anonymity. If you want to share one of their reflections, get their permission first.

D. Sermon Function: You have already written out the focus of the biblical text, answering the question “What did God say to them (the original recipients).” You also reflected on the question “What is God saying to me.” Now, prayerfully consider and write out, in one sentence, the main function of the sermon that will connect the meaning of the text with the context of your congregation. Reflect on the question “What is God saying to us (the congregation).” This is a crucial step in the homiletic process that will hold all the parts together as one whole.

E. Illustrations: What stories, images, analogies, people, current events, songs, movies, tv shows, statistics, sports, jobs, animals, etc. might illuminate the sermon function? Have fun brainstorming and listing everything that comes to your mind, even if it seems a bit odd at first. Some of the best illustrations come from our past experiences or from the stories of people in our lives. Make sure the story does not detract from but works to illumine the Word of God.

Movement 4: Prayerfully Put It All Together
A. The Big Picture: Prayerfully complete the “Putting It All Together” worksheet by going back through your notes and listing the most significant reflections that answer the following questions: What is the main sermon function around which everything else will revolve? What are the most significant exegetical insights that highlight the text focus? What other significant theological or personal reflections have surfaced? What illustrations illumine the meaning of the text? What applications accurately flow out of the text and challenge the congregation to embody the reality of the text through their lives and community?

B. Prayerful Pause: Spend 15-30 minutes prayerfully asking God to guide you in ordering the parts of the sermon so that it will most glorify Him, clearly communicate the sermon function, and spiritually form believers. This is where preachers tend to rush things. We have all the parts we want to throw in the sermon, but we must remain prayerful as we consider whether or not all the parts really fit and how they should be ordered into a seamless flow. Think of the parts of the sermon as a recipe in which some ingredients must come first to prepare the way for later ingredients. Pray for guidance and wisdom on this often overlooked element in the homiletic process.

C. Outline It: Since the hard work has been done, it’s time to have fun with the sermon parts, putting them together in a seamless flow. You should have more than enough spiritual sermon fodder than you will actually need. Develop an outline of the parts (i.e., exegetical insights, illustrations, applications, personal and theological reflections), including a one sentence idea for both your introduction and conclusion. Try to maintain conversation with God and keep in focus the intersection of the biblical text with its original audience, your life and your congregants’ lives throughout the process.

D. Title It: While the title should have attention-grabbing appeal, it is even more important for the title to be a memorable reminder of the main thrust of the sermon, it’s function.

E. Manuscript It (optional): Fill in the outline with a word for word manuscript, allowing your language to paint a picture of the Kingdom of God embodied by the people of God. Do it as if every word choice was a devotional act of worship that comes from a heart of deep love for God and for people.

Movement 5: The Main Event
A. Prayerful Practice: Prayerfully meditate on and practice the sermon in your study or home, not for eloquence but to spiritually reflect upon the message to be shared. Speak it aloud 1-2 times, as if you were preaching it to yourself (since the sermon must impact you before it impacts anyone else).

B. Personal Prayer: Pray at the sanctuary altar for personal purity, love, humility, and the ability to incarnate and communicate the sermon through your own life.

C. Intercessory Prayer: Do a prayer walk around the sanctuary, praying for the peoples’ receptivity to God’s Word and spiritual formation through it.

D. Develop Prayer Teams (2 or more people): Maybe you can delegate the recruiting of these prayer times to someone in your church who is passionate about prayer and its importance. The following teams of people should be recruited and empowered to pray:
• Pre-Sermon Prayer Team: to pray with the preacher before the sermon
• Sermon Event Prayer Team: to pray during the sermon
• Post-Sermon Prayer Team: to be available for prayer with people after the sermon (if no one needs prayer, this team can pray for the impact of God’s Word)

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Top 12 “Must Reads” for Preachers

Here is a list of the books that have most significantly enhanced, changed, corrected, and confirmed my preaching convictions and habits. They are listed in no particular order. Some are mentioned because of how they shifted homiletic thought in some ground-breaking ways. Others are listed because they are helpful for the nuts and bolts of preaching. Some focus more on the science of preaching and others on the art of preaching. Some are primarily concerned with the theology that undergirds preaching and others with the practice that guides preaching week to week. All, I hope, are worthy of your valuable time.

-The Witness of Preaching by Thomas Long

-Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley

-Preaching in the Spirit by Dennis Kinlaw

-Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson

-The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry

-The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor

-As One Without Authority by Fred Craddock

-Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner

-Company of Preachers ed. by Richard Lischer

-Homiletic by David Buttrick

-Designing the Sermon by James Earl Massey

-Preaching Essentials: A Practical Guide by Lenny Luchetti (I hope my book, to be released in May 2012, is worthy to be considered a “must read” for preachers someday.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Overcoming Leadership Digression

The Apostle Paul drafted a letter, which we call 1 Timothy, to a young pastor named Timothy centuries ago with a warning that 21st century pastors need to heed. Throughout most of the letter, Paul is advising young Timothy on matters concerning how to lead the church. Timothy was leading the Ephesian Church, a church whose leaders happened to be heretics. So, the seasoned apostle guides the rookie pastor on the importance of teaching sound doctrine and on the selection of church leaders.

An abrupt shift occurs, however, in 1 Timothy 4:7-16. Paul has spent most of the letter guiding Timothy on how to lead others. Now, the apostle focuses his words on challenging Timothy to lead himself. Paul writes, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (4:7) and “pay close attention to yourself” (4:16). It is almost as if Paul realized at this point in the letter that Timothy has no chance of leading others if he cannot lead himself. A message like this one to church leaders will never become outdated.

When pastoral leaders neglect self-leadership, we enter into a digression that could potentially destroy our ministry. Here is the digression:

The Pharisee Syndrome: The Pharisees of Jesus’ day tended to put a “yoke” on other people that they themselves were not willing or able to bear. In other words, they expected more from those they led than they expected from themselves. This is bad leadership, to say the least. In one of the church’s I served, a lay person came to me with a strong desire to lead. I gave him the chance, but he wasn’t reliable. He would call meetings and then show up late and unprepared, or forget to show up at all. He was hard on others who showed up late and he was hard on volunteers who didn’t do what they promised. I suspect they had learned this from him. In short, he expected more from those he led than he expected from himself. A lack of self-leadership destroyed this person’s leadership influence immediately.

Vision Leak: When Christian leaders neglect the importance of leading ourselves to the waters of Christ’s refreshing love through bible study, prayer, and other spiritually-formative disciplines, we quickly forget why we’re doing what we’re doing in ministry. Neglecting self-leadership causes the leader’s vision for ministry to leak out. When this happens, the leader begins to see ministry as a career through which to build one’s personal kingdom instead of as a vocation through which to build the kingdom of God. The passion for ministry dies and the pastor goes through the motions of ministry robotically, sort of like the guy in the old Dunkin donuts commercial who woke up and rolled out of bed saying, “time to make the donuts.” Doing overtakes being when the pastor stinks at self-leadership.

Dry-Up: As vision leaks and what the pastor does matters more to her than who she is, the pastor begins to dry up. When the Christian leader dries up, that leader has nothing left to give to other people. There have been a few times when I have dried up, due to my inability to lead myself spiritually and emotionally. On several of these occasions I recall seeing one of my church members in Walmart and hiding behind a cereal box or running to the other side of the store to hide from them. I am embarrassed to admit this, since I usually relish the opportunity to minister to someone “off campus.” My inclination to avoid people is a huge red flag that reminds me to get on the self-leadership track, especially in the area of my devotional life.

Act-Out: On the heels of dry-up comes the tendency to act-out. When people are not receiving what they need from our leadership because we are spiritually dry, they will begin to challenge us. Of course, unless we have gotten on the self-leadership track we will begin to act-out toward those who challenge us. While I have never overtly acted out, I have been in board meetings where I envisioned myself overturning the board room table and yelling at particular board members “if you think you can do a better job leading the church, here are the keys to the lead pastor’s office!” Thankfully, I never actually did what I imagined myself doing, but just entertaining the thought was a sobering wake-up call to refocus on my self-leadership.

Burn-Out: I do not believe burn-out is caused by busyness in ministry; it is caused by trying to do the work of the Lord without the Lord. There are few ministry contexts more challenging and busier than impoverished villages in Africa. Pastors in that context are bombarded with the challenge of caring for dozens of orphaned children whose parents have died of AIDS or other diseases. People are starving, sometimes to death. Warlords and gang members threaten to make matters worse. If any pastor is expected to experience burn-out, as commonly defined, it is the African minister. Yet, the African pastors I have known evidence not burn-out but passionate zeal for Christ and the villages they serve. I’m convinced that these pastors maintain self-leadership as a high priority or they would indeed burn-out in no time at all. The pastor who neglects self-leadership will dry-up, act-out, and, eventually, burn-out. The burned-out pastor gives up trying to minister and has not even the energy left to fake ministry anymore.

Fall-Out: Unless the burned-out pastor takes a break from ministry to get some major help in some of the ways outlined below, the pastor will eventually experience the fall-out known as moral failure. Long before a pastor is running off for an affair with his secretary, long before a pastor is embezzling ministry funds for her time-share in Hawaii, and long before a pastor finds himself addicted to pills and alcohol, the pastor has neglected self-leadership. Not only does fall-out destroy the leader, it almost always devastates the community the leader was called to lead. If only the leader would have seen one of the previous red flags listed above and pursued help, fall-out could have been avoided.

It’s not too late for you. Perhaps you are beginning to see the Pharisee Syndrome show up in your ministry as you challenge others to pray and read the bible, though you haven’t done either in weeks. Maybe you’ve had a Vision Leak by slipping out of ministry and into career mode as you find yourself more consumed with the work of the Lord than the Lord of the work. Could it be that you have had a Dry-Up and, therefore, have little energy left to give the people you are called to serve. A ministry Dry-Up, if not treated, will often evolve into an Act-Out causing you to harshly snap at the people you have been called to lovingly lead. If self-leadership is still neglected, Burn-Out will occur leaving you depleted of any spiritual, emotional, or physical energy at all. Unfortunately, being human, you will still have enough energy to sin. Burn-Out, unless confessed and remedied, will eventually lead to the Fall-Out of moral failure.

Whether you find yourself in the early or late digression of neglecting self-leadership, here is what you can do:
Confess it to God. When we voice our confessions to God we are also moving beyond self-deception and telling ourselves the truth God knows we need to hear.
Call in some friends. No matter where you are in the debilitating digression, you will need your spouse and friends to offer both support and accountability. Invite them into your struggle. You will be glad you did.
Consult a counselor. Ongoing professional Christian counseling ensures that you take seriously your process toward health, since you have to pay and make time for it. More importantly, a qualified counselor has likely sat with people in your dilemma many times before and has learned, through trial and error, how to help people like you.
Contemplate the Psalms. If you have gone far down the road in the digression, praying may be too much of a challenge at this point. The good news is that you can pray the prayers of others by reading the Psalms. The Psalms are prayers known more for their honest angst than their theological profundity. Pray them aloud and with emotion when you don’t have your own words to pray. When you do, you will experience soul-therapy.

If you find yourself digressing in self-leadership, I pray you will utilize the resources above. Don’t wait until you reach the next stage of digression. Do something now so that the grace of God can make you into the leader He has called you to be for your congregation.

Lenny Luchetti