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Monday, December 31, 2012

Movement 5: A Sermon Preparation Process

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 2-3 times, as if you were preaching it to yourself (since the sermon must impact you before it impacts anyone else). Try to memorize the flow of the message so that you can internalize and embody the message during delivery.

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: Maybe you can delegate the recruiting of these prayer teams 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)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Movement 4: A Sermon Preparation Process

Movement 4:  Prayerfully Put It All Together

A.        The Big Picture: Prayerfully put it all together by going back through your notes and listing the most significant reflections in response to the following questions: What is the main sermon focus around which everything else will revolve? What are the most significant exegetical insights that highlight the focus? What other significant theological or personal reflections have surfaced? What imagery illumines 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 focus, 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.        Structure 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 sermon material than you will actually need. Structure 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, its focus.

E.        Manuscript It: Fill in the outline with a word for word manuscript, allowing your language to paint a picture of what it looks like for the people of God to embody the Kingdom of God. Do it as if every word choice is a devotional act of worship that comes from a heart of deep love for God and for the people to whom we preach.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movement 3: A Sermon Preparation Process

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: In staff meeting or in a group of friends, read the text and ask the group to reflect upon how the text might intersect with their lives. Ask them to express how the text challenges, comforts, convicts, instructs, etc. Record their reflections, but ensure anonymity. If you want to share one of their reflections in the sermon, get their permission first.

D.        Sermon Focus: 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 focus 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.        Imagery: What stories, images, metaphors, analogies, people, current events, songs, movies, tv shows, statistics, sports, jobs, animals, etc. might illuminate the sermon focus? Have fun brainstorming and listing everything that comes to your mind, even if it seems a bit odd at first. Some of the best imagery comes from our personal experiences and observations. Make sure the imagery does not detract from but works to illumine the Word of God.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movement 2: A Sermon Preparation Process

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?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Movement 1: A Sermon Preparation Process

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 your particular theological tradition? 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 description of the passage’s meaning in its original setting (i.e., Paul is telling the Galatians that it is foolish to rely on legalism to do what only faith can accomplish.)

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).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pre-Converts Shaped My Preaching

“Agnostic seekers who visit churches don’t want meaty preaching.” “Un-churched people tend to venture into those churches that preach a watered-down Gospel.” “Our church preaches the truth so we don’t have a lot of seekers and new believers.” Have you ever heard a churchgoer, maybe one who attends your church, spew out assumptions like these? The mindset behind these assumptions is warped and reveals a lack of interaction with pre-converted agnostic seekers.

To my shame, I have held some of these assumptions. Then, God began to lead a large number of pre-converts into the life of the congregation I served as pastor. My assumptions were demolished. I spent lots of time interacting with these spiritual explorers. They taught me so much about how to preach. In fact, I would venture to say that nothing shaped my preaching more than the influx of seekers God brought into the life of that church. As I looked into their eyes and listened to their hearts during and beyond the preaching event, I sensed them conveying:

“Don’t just give us life-application that will help us with our marriage and finances; Give us God.”

“We can handle the hard questions of life, so please refrain from overly simplifying and neatly packaging complex issues.”

“We want you to be a person of integrity, but we also want to know you are one among us and not one above us. If you are the spiritual hero of every story you share, you will seem inaccessible.”

“Be honest about the bad news and we will hear you when you proclaim the good news. Don’t sugarcoat life. No one in the real world experiences life as a bed of roses. If you suggest that you do, we will conclude you are a liar living in la-la land and stop listening to you.”

“We don’t want purposeless humor and anecdotes strung together to entertain us; we want to encounter Christ in the moment your words are spoken.”     

“Show us that you know us. Voice our questions and concerns. Voice our disappointments and dreams. Voice our heartache and hope. But show us you know God too. We crave both contextual relevance and theological substance.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Does a Pastor Really Need a Distict Superintendent?

Young pastors in a denominational system need a certain kind of district superintendent. While a pastor agrees to serve a particular local church, she/he also joins a district of churches. I used to under-value the role of a district superintendent expressing thoughts like, “I don’t need or want a paper-pushing, policy-shaping district superintendent looking over my shoulder” and “a washed up pastor-turned-district superintendent has so little, if anything, to offer a young and energetic pastor like me.” And then I experienced a district superintendent who wore the role with such wisdom, grace and vigor that my mind was forever changed. This DS (district superintendent) provided services that profoundly and directly shaped me and indirectly but significantly impacted the local church I served.

Supplication: The DS faces with St. Paul “daily the pressure of concern for all the churches.” This “pressure” drives the DS to pray for the churches and the pastors under his/her care. The ultimate drive of the DS is to get past the administrative paperwork, policy making, and procedural protocols to a posture of prayer. The bottom line is that DSs who consistently and passionately pray for their pastors, shepherd those pastors well. If you are called to be a pastor to pastors, go ahead and begin to contact those pastors and pray with each of them over the phone.

Support: The DS can be a buffer between the local church pastor and her board. When there is conflict, the DS steps in not to take sides but to build a reconciliatory bridge. The DS celebrates the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the pastor in the presence of the board. If the board is stingy when it comes to compensating the pastor, the DS steps in with the facts like “churches of your size in this region pay their pastor twice as much as you pay yours.” When the pastor experiences some sort of personal crisis, like the death of a loved one, the DS provides the ministry of presence. Pastoral ministry can be lonely and is almost always rigorous. A supportive DS can ameliorate some of the challenges that pastors face.    

Strategy: Good DSs are constantly reading, observing and discussing best practices for the local church. They are building a storehouse of strategies to help the local church pastor when needs arise. They are not merely focused on where the church was or even is but where the church is heading. They are able to insightfully analyze the trends in culture that should be adopted and/or confronted. They are resource gatherers whose primary focus is to help the local church pastor lead faithfully and fruitfully. They spend more of their time on vision and strategy then on “administrivia,” though the latter must be done by someone for the sake of efficient stewardship.  

Stop-Gap: A stop-gap is an improvised and immediate fix that can suffice until a long-term solution is identified and secured. Most young leaders, or at least this use-to-be young leader, wanted to go from problem to solution without considering some of the incremental steps needed to get there. When the local church is bursting with growth, we think “let’s build a new sanctuary.” A wise district superintendent advises “let’s add a service or two and raise funds to build.” When there is minor conflict the pastor commits with full force to “confront that guy head-on and excommunicate him from the local church,” the DS advises “why don’t you fast and pray past the heat of the moment and then respond with a spirit of reconciliation.” In other words, a DS helps the pastor, at times, get past the latter’s plan A to identify a plan B or C that is more realistic and sustainable.

It may seem odd that someone like me, who has never been a DS, would postulate what it takes to be an excellent DS. The little I know concerning what it takes to serve effectively as a DS comes from observing a DS who served so well. Harry F. Wood, former DS of the Penn-Jersey District of the Wesleyan Church, offered the supplication, support, strategy, and stop-gap I needed as a young pastor serving in his district. I used to think that the best thing a DS could do for a pastor was stay out of her way, until I experienced a DS who embodied the role so valiantly. Thank you, Harry. Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tweets Worth Blogging

Here are some of the favorite tweets I tweeted:

Christ died not to make us happy but to make us holy so that holiness becomes our greatest happiness.                 

The Church is frightening and frustrating but formative.

If the tree grows taller than the roots go deep, you might as well yell "timber."                 

Preacher try building a sermon on plot not points. Your people will love you for it and you will have a blast.                 

If human affirmation is the fuel that keeps us going in ministry we will eventually run out of gas. Get your kudos from God.                 

In a world full of egotistical self-promotion, people need to see selfless God-devotion.                 

Using words to change lives through preaching is sort of like taking a knife to a gunfight. But God can do a lot with a knife.

Thanking God for yesterday purifies the soul today and fuels hope for tomorrow.

Preach to inspire not merely to inform an American church that is well-informed but uninspired to embody what she knows.

Disciples are made through silence, solitude and slums not merely programs, projects and performance.

Do you ever feel as if the wave of your life is being carried by an ocean of grace almost too powerful to resist?                 

"Confession and forgiveness are the concrete forms in which sinful people love one another." Henri Nouwen                 

Christians grow most when they are thrown out on a limb and forced to rely on God as if their life depended on it.                 

When you say I do to Christ you get the Rachel you want (Christ) & the Leah you don't (Church). The only way to get Rachel is to love Leah.

Preachers- a sermon is compelling enough to preach if it's theologically substantive and contextually relevant. Anything else is just a talk                 

Lord, apply your powerful hammer and gracious chisel to the stubborn stone of my heart so that I become what you created me to be

Lord, break the dikes that dam the torrent of grace from flooding the soil of my soul.

"Best practices" for Christian ministry are rooted in biblical, theological and historical foundations not in methodological pragmatism.