Sarah’s Laugh

Sarah has been with us almost five months. When we first met her, she smiled and laughed a lot. But it struck us a few weeks ago, that she wasn’t laughing or smiling as much. We felt we had to work fairly hard to make her laugh.

But I also realized today that Sarah is (and has been) laughing and smiling a lot lately. Joleen also remembers that our caseworker once told us that some adoptive families have noticed that their child seems to become a completely different child around the six-month point.

Even though from all indications, Sarah has handled this transition very well, it’s impossible to fully understand the trauma of the change she’s experienced — being “taken” from her culture (family/home, scenery, language, scents, etc.) and brought to a new one.

Sarah’s renewed smiles and laughter has us reflecting on her journey with us so far. It’s also really good to see her smiling and laughing more!

Preachers’ Kid Language

Ilove hearing (not-yet-3-year-old) Ethan’s language develop. It’s fun to listen to the stuff he comes up with from time to time. And one thing is clear — he’s a preachers’ kid! 🙂

A couple days ago during breakfast, he was asking me if I was going to “another church” (we live next to West Side, the church Mommy pastors and he’s come to know that I go to Centre Grove). That’s common language these days, especially during Lent. We’ve been attending the weekly Community Lenten Services, meeting at a different church each week.

Yesterday, I forget how it came about, but I asked him something and for some reason he said, “No. I’m not preaching anymore.” 🙂

You may recall that during our family leave, Ethan was wondering why we weren’t preaching on the weekends. See “Did you preach?”

This afternoon, Ethan found my wallet and was going through it, asking what everything was. Finally, he pulled out all my cash and said, “Ohhh, money. This goes in the plate.” 😆

Risk-Taking Mission and Service

Are you doing the same things that you were five years ago? Does your ministry (we are all called to ministry as followers of Christ) look the same as it did five years ago? As you discover your God-given giftedness, have those gifts developed beyond what they were five years ago? Have you discovered any additional gifts that you might have?

“As we mature in faith and grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God” which is our faith development, also our behaviors and actions change and develop, which is our works of mission and service.

Bishop Schnase writes …

Mission and Service refers to the projects, efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever become part of the community of faith.

Risk-taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond service to people we already know, exposing us to people, situations, and needs that we would never ordinarily encounter apart from our deliberate intention to serve Christ.

Jesus’ ministry was risk-taking as he healed on Sabbath, ate with with sinners, called a tax collector to “follow me,” touched the unclean (lepers), defended the adulteress, was anointed by a woman of questionable character, took time for children, and traveled through Samaria. Finally, he performed the act of a servant, washing the disciples feet, and called his followers to do likewise.

A parishioner shared a story about someone she knew who participated on a mission trip, a work camp to West Virginia and was greeted by the stereotypical hillbilly with a long beard in the morning with cigarette and beer. The mission person thought, “Oh my, what am I doing here?” But as the week concluded with a shared fellowship meal and the children exclaimed, “This was the best day of my life,” he knew why he was there.

Schnase writes …

They measure the impact of their work in lives changed rather than in money sent or buildings constructed. They do mission with people of other cultures, not ministry to them. People come first, and Christ’s love for people binds them to one another and to their task (Cultivating Fruitfulness, 68).

And so we ask ourselves, when do we recall being pushed beyond our comfort zone in ministry? To what is God calling us, individually and as a church?

5 Stages of Sermon Preparation

I am writing a series of posts on preaching. This is the third one, and a follow-up to the last one, The Preaching Process. The first one is The Preaching Challenge.

In the last post, I began writing about sermon preparation and mentioned that I have developed five words to help guide me through my own process.

Cultivate. This phase isn’t specifically sermon preparation, but it’s a prerequisite for good sermon prep. I may spend several days working on a sermon, but effective sermons develop out a heart that has been cultivated. See my earlier post: It Takes 20 Years to Make a Sermon.

This is the ongoing work of cultivating the heart. We cultivate our hearts through consistent practice of spiritual disciplines. Heart cultivation also happens through ongoing personal growth, including listening to and learning from other communicators and reading books about preaching/communication.

Immerse. I begin the week of sermon prep simply reading the Scripture text. But immersing myself in the text goes beyond a cursory reading. I normally print out my sermon text in about five different translations (from biblegateway.com). On Monday, I read through each of the translations a few times, sometimes highlighting words/phrases that particularly strike me.

After settling on a translation (usually the New Living Translation or the Contemporary English Version for their readability) I spend the rest of my immersion time in that translation. Basically, I want to spend time reading the text before I go to the reference works.

I probably spend at least as much time in this phase as any of the others. Monday is a lighter day (I’m still recovering from my pastor’s hangover), simply getting acclimated to the text, reading it in multiple translations.

There’s a tendency to say, after the first few minutes of reading the text (especially if I’m familiar with it), “Okay, I got it.” But the discipline is saying, “Wait, not so fast.” In my experience, it’s usually the second day that the text really starts to come alive.

Also, during this time I have to watch that I don’t jump too far ahead and short-circuit the process (i.e., mapping out my message before I’ve done enough preparation).

In recent weeks, I’ve been devoting Mondays and Tuesdays to this phase. This week, I’m going to experiment by immersing myself in the text on Monday and Wednesday and devoting Tuesday to study (the next phase). The idea will be to immerse myself in the text on Monday, follow it up with textual study on Tuesday, then on Wednesday, meditate on the text in light of what I’ve studied the day before. I’ll adjust as necessary.

Study. I try to do all my study in one day, if possible. That may not be as much as some preaching professors suggest for this segment, but if I’ve immersed myself in the text, processing the information during this part seems to go faster.

I generally start out on the lighter side with three study Bibles (Life Application Study Bible, Archeological Study Bible, and the The Life with God Bible, formerly Spiritual Formation Study Bible; actually, I would have bought the Wesley Study Bible, published last year, but I noticed that they were given as gifts to those being ordained at annual conference last year, so I’ll have to wait till 2011 to add this one :-)).

I try to refer to a couple different commentaries as well as The Idiot’s Guide to the Bible. 🙂 I like to do as much as I can online (see my post on Online Bible Study Tools; my favorite it is the extensive translation notes at nextbible.org).

My study time is primarily devoted to the text. Some people collect and file illustrations for future use. I use to search for illustrations, but I don’t really use too many third-party illustrations anymore (unless I happen to come across one or remember one, in which case I use Google to find it).

Craft. This is the phase when the sermon begins to take shape. If I’m still on track at this point, it’s Thursday. After immersing myself in the text and doing textual study, I’m ready to map out the message. This part of the process involves picking a point and then building everything around it. My post on One Point Preaching (based on Stanley and Jones’ book, Communicating for a Change), which offers a “relational outline” — ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE — deals with this phase more in-depth.

I want to write a separate post on sermon notes, but for now, I’ll simply say that your style — manuscript, detailed outline, brief outline, or little or no notes — may determine what you write during this phase.

Having pretty much worked my way through all those phases, I’ve found that using little or no notes, that I don’t like to write out too much in advance because I seem to work too hard to try to remember what I wrote during the presentation. Instead, I try to think in terms of a map/outline, and if I’ve done a good job in the other phases (especially the last one), this works pretty well.

Internalize. Internalizing the message is the final stage of the process. This is time spent reviewing the message I’ve crafted making certain that the message is part of me. Stanley and Jones have a chapter on internalizing the message. They write, “Until you can stand up and tell a story, you’re not ready to preach.” (53).

Part of internalization is rehearsing the message — not so much saying it out loud (not that that would be a bad idea) as much as thinking through it mentally. Sometimes, I run out of time to do this step … and sometimes I regret that! 🙂

Well, that’s a breakdown of my sermon prep process, as it is now: Cultivate (ongoing), Immerse, Study, Craft, and Internalize.

It doesn’t always go smoothly. Every week is different, and occasionally, there are weeks where I have to be away for part/all of one or more days during a particular week and I have to find a way to make up for the lost time. Some weeks, I do better in some stages than in others (last week, Immerse and Study went pretty well while Craft and Internalize could have been better).

Oh well, it’s Monday. Time to start the process all over again!

What about you? What works? What doesn’t? What are you learning in the process?

(Edited to say that I’ve since written a follow-up to this post: The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation.)

Crowd-Pleaser or Voice for God?

I will post my “5 Stages of Sermon Preparation” tomorrow, but I want to interrupt my series of posts on preaching with a thought from today’s sermon. We looked at Mark 15.1-15.

In Mark 15, Jesus is brought to Pilate by the religious leaders with a charge of high treason (as opposed to blasphemy, which the religious leaders knew wouldn’t get Pilate’s attention). Pilate, the Roman governor, would rather frustrate the religious leaders’ attempts to use him for their own purposes (which is why he really wanted to free Jesus), but at the end of the day, he fears an uprising by the people.

The text includes this telling phrase …

Pilate wanted to please the crowd.

And so, in the end, Pilate did what was expedient (i.e., avoid an uprising), not what was right (i.e., release an innocent man). My point today was …

Pleasing the crowd keeps us from doing the right thing!

But I’ve also been thinking about this in the area of preaching. Anyone who is called to lead people struggles with the desire to please the crowd. We want to reach people. We want people to like us (who doesn’t?). But it’s when crowd-pleasing becomes the driving force that it becomes a problem.

With preaching, we have a choice: are we going to be crowd-pleasers or a voice for God? It’s about the motivation that drives us. A desire to honor God leads us to be a Truth-teller, whether it’s popular or not. A desire to please the crowd may keep the peace (for a while) but it also keeps us from being a voice for God.

This is not to say that crowds won’t like us if we refuse to be crowd-pleasers, but the “crowd” will be different. 🙂

I’m sure there’s more to this idea that could be fleshed out, but this phrase really struck me as having implications for those of us called to be a voice for God in the world!

Faith and Works: The Test of Faith

I presented the sermon at last Thursday’s Community Lenten Lunch service here in Clearfield. My sermon followed the reading of John 6.1-15.

A Group Workcamp is coming to Clearfield, June 20-26, 2010. Who would think that 430+ youth from all around the U.S. would want to come to Clearfield to home repairs, let alone pay registration fees ($432/person) to come?

Who would think that Clearfield could raise $19,000 to buy the building materials needed?

Who would think that there are that many people in Clearfield area that are in need of weatherproofing, handicap accessibility, etc. and without the volunteer efforts of this Group Workcamp, they otherwise cannot afford it?

Who would think that an agency such as Community Action and the Churches of the Clearfield Ministerium could partner and support one another in this effort?

Tia Lansberry has been attending our Ministerium meetings, keeping us informed of the progress and the needs associated with bringing this workcamp. She is always enthusiastic; she always has an abundant list of ideas, some necessity, some hopes. One of Tia’s current pleas is for “hospitality” — how are we going to welcome this group of 430+ youth plus adults to Clearfield. West Side UMC just completed a three-week study, not just on hospitality, but radical hospitality, a hospitality that welcomes the stranger and makes them feel as if they were home.

How do you make a group of 430+ youth who will be camped out on the floors of the Clearfield Middle School feel at home?

Well, one of things Tia would really like to do is serve hot dogs along with having a band and some other fun things for the group as they arrive Sunday evening. Hot dogs, we can do hot dogs! Then I get to thinking … 450 people. Hungry youth. Not just 450 hot dogs … maybe 900 hot dogs. How many hot dogs fit on one gas grill at a time? Hmmm … probably can’t build a bonfire on the lawn in front of the Middle School … And where are all of those hot dogs going to come from?

There is a story in the Bible about Jesus and his disciples. The crowds have followed Jesus, hungry crowds. Not of 430+ youth, but 5,000 men (plus women and children.) As this crowd is closing in on Jesus and his disciples, Jesus asks his disciples, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” It’s not should we or can we … but where shall we?

The Scripture reveals this is a test, and Phillip fails the test, for as Jesus asks “where”, all Phillip can think is “how?” How are we going to feed 5,000 people? “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each on to have a bite.”

And so I have failed the test this morning as I ask, “How are we going to feed 450 youth hot dogs?” And others have failed the test as they ask, “We have to raise how much money for this Group Workcamp?”  … as they hear the figure, $19,000, Phillip’s question is echoed, “How?” “How are we going to do it?”

Then along comes Andrew. Andrew brings a child who has a lunch of five small barley loaves and two fish. Some surmise the fish a little more than large dried minnows; the barley loaves, the food of the very poor. But Andrew brings the child and the lunch with the commentary, “How far will they go among so many?” But yet Andrew brings him.

Perhaps it is the child who has stepped forward. That would keep with Jesus words, as Jesus once called a little child to stand among the grown-ups: “And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 11.3)

The test in this passage is “Do you have faith?” “Do you trust God?” “Do you believe that God will provide?”

Rarely does God lead us to do things that we can do all by ourselves. God leads us to do things that we have to depend on him. God is always seeking to stretch us; to deepen our faith; to reveal a little more of who he is; to display his great power in the midst of our meager offerings. He invites us out of our comfort zones and into a risk-taking ventures in the name of Christ.

Whether it’s manna and quail in the wilderness (Numbers 11) or barley loaves and fish. God provides. Whether it’s wine at a wedding in Cana or hot dogs at a Group Workcamp in Clearfield, PA, God will provide.

God takes what little we have to offer, but note it is the whole of the child’s lunch, not just part. And Jesus provides so that each has “as much as they wanted” and “all had enough to eat.”

All too often we worry if there will be enough; we wonder and ask “how?” And the answer of faith that God is looking for is, “Lord, you know.” Lord, if you want to feed 5,000 you know where, you know how. “Lord, you know.” “Lord, you are able to provide.”

And so each of us brings what meager offerings and gifts that we have and God blesses and multiplies them and uses them in ways beyond what we can ever think and imagine.

We currently have $13,482 of the $19,000.

And if you are interested to help in this Group Workcamp in any way, contact your Clearfield area pastor or Tia at Community Action.

As in any work of mission and service, you will blessed beyond measure.

The Preaching Process

This post (and the next one) should probably come with the warning label, “Under construction.” And while I hope this process is well thought out, it doesn’t necessarily always play out so smoothly! So, with that out of the way …

Sermon preparation must be understood as a process. But the challenge is that every communicator has to discover the process that works best for them. Here, I will share what I’m currently doing in the area of sermon preparation with the hope it is helpful to others, especially to those starting out in preaching ministry.

Different strategies work for different people. Some people devote large blocks or days to sermon prep. Others spend some time in sermon prep every day. In fact, Andy Stanley and Ed Young, who wrote Can We Do That?, share their sermon preparation routines in the book. Ed spends some time every day and Andy blocks out two days, plus Saturday evening for review (he works on messages 2-3 weeks in advance, reviewing them the evening before).

Different settings work for different people, too. Speaking of Ed and Andy, Ed likes to prepare his messages at Starbucks and Andy prefers to work in isolation. I prefer isolation, as well (although with two kids under 3 that has taken on a different meaning!). I’ve always tended to work in motion (i.e., walking, pacing, etc.), though, so I usually do some of my reading / reviewing / praying on a treadmill.

One other factor that comes into play is one’s preaching calendar. If you follow the lectionary, Scripture passages are pre-selected. Preaching sermon series (as I do) usually involves some intensive pre-planning. I *try* (but don’t always succeed) to plan well ahead by blocking out weeks on the calendar for different topics/seasons.

Over the years, I’ve tried different strategies for weekly sermon preparation. In the last couple of years, I’ve had to make some major adjustments (again, blame it on the kids). But I think my current process, which I’ve been working on in recent weeks, is working well, so far. It involves doing some sermon work most every day. I’ve come up with five keywords to help guide me through the process, which I will write about in the next post.

This post is second in a series on preaching. The previous post is The Preaching Challenge.

The Preaching Challenge

I have been planning to write more about preaching for a while. In fact, it’s been around 2.5 years or so since I wrote One Point Preaching (a review and interaction with Stanley and Jones’ book, Communicating for a Change) and StoryMapping (two of the most popular posts on the blog).

So, I am going to write a few posts about preaching, especially sermon preparation. But first, let’s begin with some of the challenges involved in preaching today, such as …

  • The pressure of preparing fresh sermons week after week.
  • Low credibility (due to inauthenticity in the Church).
  • The perception that the church is irrelevant (which naturally hinders our influence).
  • Information overload (the teaching of God’s Word gets lost in the mix).
  • Closed-mindedness or hard-heartedness among listeners.
  • Ineffective approaches to preaching.
  • Time. With all the things a pastor does, plus interruptions and/or emergencies, sermon preparation can easily get squeezed out.

In spite of these challenges, I still believe in the value of preaching/communicating God’s Word. So, what do we do in the face of these challenges?

Choose the right goal. Stanley and Jones contend that the goal of preaching is not to “teach the Bible to people” (focus on the content), or even to “teach people the Bible” (greater focus on application but still focused on content). Rather, they argue, the goal of preaching is to “teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible” (93-95). In other words, the goal of preaching is life change — the information must lead to transformation.

Change your approach. The world has changed so much, and will continue to change, that we need to adjust our approaches to preaching from time to time in order to connect with current culture. See One Point Preaching for one approach.

Improve your preparation. Once you’ve settled on your goal and approach, then it’s time to focus on preparation. That’s what I want to continue with in the next post. Since this is something we do every week, finding a better way to prepare is critical (and there’s always a better way)!

Of course, every preacher will need to find what works for themselves, but in the next post, I’ll write about my own process of preparing sermons, which I’ve been working on recently. I invite preachers/communicators as well as those who listen to preachers/communicators to join the discussion. 🙂

How to Reach Unchurched People

Last Saturday, four of us from Centre Grove went to a leadership seminar called, How to Reach Unchurched People in Your Community, presented by Dr. Charles Arn, held at Krislund Camp. The presentation, as well as the content and research behind it, were very good!

Some notes I jotted down …

The church is in the business of relationships (with God, each other, and the community).

Keep the congregational focus outward!

Even though Arn is Presbyterian and the event was sponsored by the Northumberland Presbytery, there was a strong Wesleyan influence. Arn quoted Wesley as well as contemporary evangelism expert, Dr. George Hunter, including his seminal book, Church for the Unchurched. One of the highlights of our time at Asbury Theological Seminary was taking Hunter’s class, Church for the Unchurched.

Arn talked about the New Testament focus on one’s “household” (oikos), or social network, as we might call it today. When someone became a follower of Jesus in the first century, they influenced their entire social network for Christ.

The same is true today. The overwhelming reason why people first come to church is because of a friend or relative (75-90% while no other factor surpasses 5 or 6%). Research also shows that people who leave churches do so because they don’t feel needed/wanted (81%).

Interestingly, only 1-6% of people attend church because of the pastor. I’ve always known that that number is low, but what I didn’t know is that it’s even low at a place like the Crystal Cathedral, founded by Dr. Robert H. Schuller, where researchers discovered that about 7.5% of the people attend because of the (extremely high profile) pastor. Of course, pastors play an important role in shaping church culture which has an impact on how invitational people are.

Some other statistics that were especially interesting …

In the average church, 9% of first-time visitors become active members or regular attenders within a year. But in growing churches, 21% of first-time visitors become active attenders/participants — (only) 2 out of 10, instead of 1 out of 10.

About 1% of people attend a church event after receiving a well-written notice in the mail (yikes!). But 28% attend when invited by a friend! That’s an astronomical difference!

Arn suggested focusing on people who are receptive at any given time (people can fluctuate between receptivity and resistance). Based on the research above, often the people who are most receptive are friends, relatives, and neighbors of present members.

Arn presented an approach called Ministry-based Outreach, which he defined as …

an intentional commitment to build meaningful relationships between members and non-members based around shared interests.

Churches can form ministry-based outreach groups for people who share common concerns or common interests.

In fact, on the hour-plus drive home, we developed an idea for our first ministry-based outreach ministry. The details will need to be worked out, but we anticipate putting our first group (made up of people from Centre Grove AND people who are not connected to the church) together sometime this summer.

Well, there was lots of other practical stuff, more than I can include here. But the event was well worth attending!

Raising an Emotionally-Intelligent Child

One of the books on my rather aggressive Lenten reading list is Raising an Emotionally-Intelligent Child by John Gottman. The book was published in 1997 and I actually read it shortly after that, mainly due to my interest in emotional intelligence.

I haven’t completely re-read it yet, but I have done a little reviewing. Based on research, Gottman says there are four styles of parenting — Dismissing, Disapproving, Laissez-Faire, and Emotion-Coaching. Those are fairly self-explanatory and the good one is pretty obvious.

A small part of the description of emotion-coaching is that an emotion-coaching parent …

  • respects the child’s emotions
  • does not poke fun at or make light of the child’s negative emotions
  • does not say how the child should feel
  • does not feel he or she has to fix every problem for the child (52)

The benefit of emotion-coaching is that children …

learn to trust their feelings, regulate their own emotions, and solve problems. They have high self-esteem, learn well, get along with others (52).

Gottman writes, “Emotion-Coaching parents serve as their children’s guide through the world of emotion” (63).

We want to be emotion-coaching parents, but we also know we have some growing to do. Due to the transition of bringing Sarah home from Korea, the last few months have been, and continue to be, pretty challenging. Reviewing/Re-reading this book comes at an important time (maybe Sarah was giving us a hint after all!).

Gottman describes five key steps that are part of the emotion-coaching process …

  1. Become aware of the child’s emotion.
  2. Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching.
  3. Listen empathetically, validating the child’s feelings.
  4. Help the child find words to label the emotion the child is having.
  5. Set limits while exploring strategies to solve the problem at hand.

The book includes a self-assessment to help parents determine their parenting style (81 True/False questions). There’s also a self-awareness assessment to help you take a look at your own emotional life (84 True/False questions).

The book also offers a lot of practical guidance. And the final chapter describes what emotion-coaching looks like with children from infancy to adolescence.

It’s a good book for parents and those interested in emotional health/intelligence.