Search This Blog

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Prayer for the Class of 2012


May the life of Christ the son inspire these graduates to use their degree not to keep their hands clean but to get them dirty, not to succumb to self-service but only selfless service, that they would combine critical thinking with compassionate living as they partner with Christ in redeeming and restoring the world one person at a time, one family at a time, one neighborhood at a time, and one nation at a time.

May your Spirit come upon these graduates so that the degrees they have earned would not cloister them off from the needs of the world but compel them to engage the needs of the world in the name of Jesus Christ by proclaiming good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release for the prisoner, and to set captives free.

May You, Almighty God, gift them with the three smooth stones of faith, hope, and love that will enable these graduates to conquer Goliath-sized giants in the land such as poverty, disease, and tyranny, racism, sexism, and classism, addiction, desperation, and oppression, consumerism, narcissism, and egotism. May the degree they worked so hard to acquire propel them not toward a career through which they earn a paycheck, but toward a vocation through which they build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

This we hope, this we pray, this we believe, this we pursue in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who used his degree, his status, not to be served but to serve by giving his life as a ransom for many. Amen!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pastor, How Do You Rate on the Authenticity Scale?

The overuse of the word “authenticity” seems, ironically, inauthentic. The term is in desperate need of definition to preserve its value and to promote its practice. As far as I can tell, those pastors who preach and lead with power are not only anointed; they are authentic. I still haven’t quite figured out whether divine anointing fosters or follows human authenticity. What I can say, with some degree of certainty, is that the most effective pastoral leaders are authentic. Although authenticity is more easily discerned than defined, the virtue surfaces in the following ways:

·         Authentic pastors laugh at themselves but take their role seriously. Pastors who take themselves too seriously are usually surrounded by people who don’t. The opposite is also true. Christian leaders who don’t take themselves too seriously are typically followed by people who do. Of course, pastors can laugh so much at themselves that it becomes a sign of insecurity instead of security. Also, though authentic pastors may laugh at themselves from time to time, make no mistake- they are serious about faithfully fulfilling their kingdom role. They are, like the Christ they follow, dead serious about their mission but humble about their self.     

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

·         Authentic pastors value people so much it hurts. There is a world of difference between a pastor who values people as pawns for self-glory and those who value people with no strings attached. Authentic pastors, no matter how many times they are disappointed and hurt by people, keep loving and taking risks on people. The inauthentic pastor, likely due to past pain, keeps people at arm’s length unless there is a chance the person can be a pawn in the pastor’s plan for power and prestige. In other words, the authenticity of pastors can be discerned by how well they love and how highly they value people who cannot help them in any conceivable way.     

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

·         Authentic pastors welcome constructive criticism. Criticism stings. However, authentic pastors welcome critique, especially from the people they lovingly lead. Some congregations have had a long line of ultra-defensive, hyper-sensitive pastors which make the flock gun-shy about offering any constructive feedback at all. The authentic pastor will initiate a loop that welcomes constructive critique and safety for the lay people who offer it. This is one of the reasons why the authentic pastor gets better and not bitter over time, while the inauthentic pastor coasts bitterly and, most of the time, fruitlessly toward resignation or retirement.   

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

·         Authentic pastors commend and empower others. One of the occupational hazards that pastors face is the need to be appreciated and affirmed. On most days this hazard is a sleeping dragon that doesn’t awake until someone else on the pastor’s team begins to shine and receives affirmation. Inauthentic pastors feel threatened and become jealous. What is more, they begin to wage a secret war designed to hold others on the team back from fulfilling their potential. Authentic pastors are so consumed by the joyful work of commending and empowering others, they don’t have time to worry about being noticed. Authentic pastors are not threatened by other gifted leaders on the team because they are too focused on valuing, commending, and empowering those leaders.  

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

·         Authentic pastors are acutely self-aware. I have been a pastor for more than 15 years and have had the privilege of developing pastors for nearly a decade. Most of my closest friends are pastors. In my estimation, self-awareness is one of the biggest challenges pastors face. Some of us try to be what we think people want us to be. Or, perhaps we try to be the type of pastor we always hoped to be. The authentic pastor is fully aware of her strengths and weaknesses. No one needs to guide her on a walk from the la-la land of her dream world toward the real world. She is fully aware of her abilities and honest about her deficiencies. This self-awareness prevents her from portraying what she is not and pushes her to embody who she deep down knows herself to be.   

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

So, how do you rate yourself on the authenticity scale? Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each of the evidences of authenticity described above. I have yet to meet an inauthentic leader who has developed a healthy, vibrant congregation. Anointed, authentic pastors, on the other hand, tend to cultivate a congregational culture of authenticity that sends transformational ripples into the world. Could it be that the starting point for the pastor who wants to build an authentic Christian community is to first become an authentic person?

Lenny Luchetti     

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Sample Preacher Growth Plan

Preacher Growth Plan

·         Read Deeply and Broadly

o   Read one preaching book every two months in the following order: Telling the Truth by Beuchner, The Witness of Preaching by Long, and Preaching in the Spirit by Kinlaw

o   Subscribe to Newsweek and spend 15 minutes each day reading headline news

o   Read one of the top five NY Times Bestsellers every 6 months

·         Develop the Imagination

o   Sense and draw the biblical passage I am preaching at least once each month

o   Write an allegorical short story based upon the focus of my sermon at least once every other month

o   Read Lord of the Rings and watch the movie looking for ways the film director imaginatively engages and interprets the text

·         Attend Seminars, Conferences, and/or Classes

o   Attend the Preaching Essentials Workshop in the Spring

o   Attend the Gordon Conwell Preaching Conference in the Fall

o   Audit a preaching course at Wesley Seminary

·         Listen to and View Sermons

o   View or listen to two sermons per month from the following preachers: Barbara Brown Taylor, Steve Deneff, Andy Stanley, Cleophus Larue, Craig Barnes, Anna Carter Florence, Francis Chan, and Haddon Robinson.

o   Listen to one of my sermons monthly and view one of my sermons quarterly in order to analyze strengths and weaknesses of my sermon content and delivery.

·         Receive Feedback

o   Identify and meet with a preaching coach every three months who will view one of my sermons with me and provide immediate feedback and coaching.

o   Distribute an identical congregational survey at the beginning and the end of every year to solicit commendation and critique regarding preaching in my local church

·         Experiment with Creative Sermon Forms

o   Employ one creative, out of the box, sermon form per month in the coming year.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Preaching Dress and Sermon Length

When I preach in a context that is unfamiliar, I always ask two questions that reveal much about the people to whom I will preach. I inquire, what is the appropriate sermon dress and length? How long I preach and what I wear are factors that, despite their less than spiritual significance, can help or hinder the reception of the sermon. While some preachers may claim a certain sermon length or style of dress as God-ordained, these considerations are determined more by the preaching context than any other factor.

Sermon length and clothing must not only fit with the people in the preaching context, they must also match the personality of the preacher and the community that surrounds the preaching context. So, whether preaching in the local church I serve or as a guest preacher in unfamiliar territory, I aim to be in close proximity to people in the church, to people in the community around the church, and to my personality in terms of what I wear and how long I preach.

Match the Preaching Context
Wherever we preach, we want to be sensitive to the particularities of the context. Although I am quite comfortable preaching with jeans, I wouldn’t even think about doing so in a church with a large number of senior citizens. I own a few suits, but I wouldn’t dare sport mine when addressing teens or twenty-somethings. I saw a well known Christian author speak at a conference for mostly mainline pastors. He was a white young man donning dread-locks and a long skirt-like shirt. His dress did not distract me from the important and impactful message he shared, but it did become an obstacle to several of my colleagues in attendance. It was unfortunate that some allowed the preacher’s clothing to keep them from hearing his message, but I wonder if he could have done more to prevent his dress from blocking his Gospel message.

Sermon length is another contextual issue. I preached as a guest at a multi-ethnic church in Queens, NY that asked me to preach a 45-60 minute message. The suburban, mostly white congregation in the Midwest that invited me to preach wanted a 25-30 minute sermon. The preacher who stays within the bounds of contextual expectations regarding sermon length is more likely to be heard than the preacher who totally ignores these boundaries.   

Match the Preacher’s Personality
While ignoring the preaching context is disrespectful, ignoring your personality is inauthentic. As much as possible within the parameters of your context, be yourself. If you are a 23 year old preacher, my guess is the three piece suit is not your style even if it fits the context. If you are a 75 year old preacher, you may not want to wear baggie jeans and a t-shirt even if that dress aligns with the style of most of the people in the preaching context.

I tend to be a 25-30 minute preacher, perhaps because I am a product of my sitcom culture. Unless I’m invited to speak longer or shorter, this is the sermon length I hit every time. You probably have a default sermon length too, along with convictions to support your modus operandi. The point is, know yourself.  

When a local church hires me to be their pastor or someone invites me to be a guest preacher, I assume they want me to be me and not a clone of some other preacher. However, in an effort to be myself I must also be sensitive to the context. In some instances, we preachers have to find a compromise between the context and our personality. For example, you may be a jean wearing preacher in a congregational context that expects and desires a suit wearing messenger. Perhaps you can compromise by wearing a shirt and tie without a suit coat. If you prefer to preach 25 minutes and the context expects 45, perhaps you can stretch to 35. Know yourself, know your context, and preach in a manner that is sensitive to both.         

The community around the preaching context matters too. If you are a local church pastor you will likely want to wrestle with the question: What kind of dress would foster a sense of welcome to people in the community who do not yet attend the church? One of the churches I served was attracting people from the lower social classes within the community. Few of them owned or could afford a suit. Our pastoral staff and most lay leaders dressed in a manner that the economically challenged could adopt for themselves.

The preacher must also consider the community when it comes to sermon length. One church I served as pastor was in an area consisting mostly of Roman Catholic churches. Many of the people moving into the community were from a nominal Roman Catholic background. So, most people from the community who visited our church were used to the 10-15 minute homily of the Roman Catholic liturgy. I didn’t want to overly exhaust them with a 35-40 minute sermon so I tended to go about 25 minutes, which fit with my personality. The preacher’s sermon length and style of dress should not be a needless barrier to community people who visit the church and are processing the decision to return.

How does or how should your personality, local church, and community context impact how you dress and how long you preach?