Chi Rho Singers

I sing with the Chi Rho Singers, the clergy choir of the Susquehanna Conference. We do one concert a month, meeting in a different district, nine months out of the year.

We gather in a local church at 1:00 p.m. and rehearse until 5:00 p.m. After a dinner break, we conduct a concert at 7:00 p.m.

Last Thursday, we conducted a concert at First United Methodist Church in Altoona, PA. It was a joint concert with the clergy choir from the Western Pennsylvania Conference. We have been sharing a concert with the Western PA choir since singing together for the 2004 General Conference, hosted in Pittsburgh.

At last week’s concert, Paul Bowers, a member of West Side UMC, recorded some video, using an Apple iPad. You can view them here …

That’s a Wrap!

As I mentioned in my recent post, 30 Days Till Ordination, we had two final requirements for ordination to complete: 1) a retreat with the Bishop for those being commissioned or ordained, and 2) one last session with our regional Learning Covenant Group. We completed both of these requirements within the past week!

Last week, we attended the overnight retreat with Bishop Middleton. The retreat took place at Mount Asbury Retreat Center. We were there with the group to be commissioned two years ago.

It was a nice, meaningful, celebratory 24-hour period. It was good to hang out with others who are on the journey—eleven for ordination, six for commissioning.

We were given some details about ordination-related activities at annual conference, what it means to be part of a covenant (particularly as part of the Order of Elders), and on Thursday evening, each of us told the story of our call to ministry in a 4-minute nutshell. We’ve had lots of practice telling our stories over the years (although it never seems to be told the same way twice)!

Yesterday, we attended our third/final meeting with our regional Learning Covenant Group. Future groups will meet eight times over two years, but since this was a new requirement this past year, we only got to participate in a group for one year. Even though our experience was limited, it was a good experience!

Well, we can finally say that our work for ordination is all done. Now we wait for annual conference to begin in less than two weeks!

Thanks be to God!

“Judging Amy” on United Methodist Baptism

Judging Amy was a TV show that ran from 1999 to 2005. It was one of two TV shows we watched at the time (the other was JAG).

Recently, I was reminded of an episode we recorded on January 6, 2004. In this episode, called Christenings, The Gray family is preparing for baptism with a “Methodist” minister. The dialogue centers around the Baptismal Covenant from the United Methodist Hymnal (also in the United Methodist Book of Worship).

The scene begins with the Methodist pastor meeting with the family in their home. Peter and Gillian are the parents of the child to be baptized. Amy (Amy Brenneman) is Peter’s brother and Maxine (Tyne Daly) is their mother. The dialogue in this scene goes like this …

Reverend: “At that point, little Walt will be presented, and I will address the family by saying, ‘Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?’”

Maxine: “Wow (laughter, then pause). That’s quite dramatic.”

Amy: “Ma.”

Maxine: “I’m just surprised. I always thought the Methodists were more, uh, understated.”

Reverend: “We have our moments.”

Gillian: “Please continue, Reverend.”

Reverend: “At the end of that passage, you will say in unison, ‘I do.’”

Family (except Maxine, who takes a sip of coffee instead): “I do.”

Reverend: “And then I will ask, ‘Will you nurture Walt in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example, he may be guided to accept God’s grace for himself. To profess his faith openly …

Maxine: “Could I just stop you right there?”

Peter: “Mother. This is the ceremony that Gillian and I have chosen.”

Maxine: “I understand that Peter. But wouldn’t it better if we pledged to help Walt become a kind person? A tolerant person? Something that we might actually be able to do?

Reverend: “Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, Mrs. Gray.”

Amy (leading mother aside): “Mom, can I talk to you for a minute.”

Maxine: “We’ll be right back.”

Amy: “What are you doing? Just suck it up and say the thing?”

Maxine: “It’s hypocritical.”

Amy: “Who cares? You’re upsetting Gillian, which is upsetting Peter. And, by the way, we did this little number at Ned’s christening and you didn’t say a word.

Maxine: “The world has become a little more real to me since then. There is power in ritual. I would like to get the ritual right. Wickedness and evil. I feel as if I’m at an exorcism.”

Gillian (interrupting): I know what this is about, Maxine. This has nothing to do with the wording of the ceremony. You’re punishing me because I left your son.

Maxine: “Gillian, no one …”

Gillian (to the Reverend): “I apologize. I will see you at the church on Friday night, whether or not the Gray family chooses to participate.” (Gilliam leaves)

Peter: “Thanks so much, mother.” (Peter leaves)

Amy (to mother): “Why couldn’t you just say what she wanted you to say. It’s all meaningless crapola anyway.”

Reverend (overhearing and interrupting): Hm-hm.

Amy (patronizingly): “But very, very moving.”

First, the word “baptism” would have been more appropriate that “christening” in a United Methodist context. They also seem to be preparing for a private, family service of baptism; in the United Methodist tradition, baptism is conducted in a worship setting with the congregation, rather than in a private ceremony.

But mostly it’s interesting that the faith struggle of the Gray family took place in a United Methodist context and featured United Methodist baptismal liturgy.

What Happens at Ordination?

We have been thinking about ordination for a long time, of course, but recently, I’ve been pondering what happens at ordination, spiritually (see Theology of Ordination for more reflection on the meaning of ordination).

Practically speaking, ordination will take place at the Service of Commissioning and Ordination, the final service of annual conference, which meets at Messiah College, June 8-11. The ordination service will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2011.

This year, eleven men and women will be ordained—ten elders, one deacon. The service is lengthy, at least two hours. Toward the end of the service, those to be ordained will be invited to come forward and kneel, one at a time. The bishop and other leaders will gather around, pray, and lay hands on the ordinand. Then the bishop will place a stole on the ordinand.

Ordination is the church’s recognition of one’s gifts and calling to ordained ministry. But I am praying that it will be more than just a symbolic act. I’ve been saying to God that I want ordination to be more than just another level we reach, another “notch on our gun,” an item to add to our résumé (or About page), a title we receive (“elder”), something we check off our to-do list.

The question I’ve been pondering is, what will God do at our ordination?

A few days before ordination, we will post our prayer(s) for ordination, what we’re asking God to do in our lives, particularly at ordination, which is now less than three weeks away!

The Preacher’s Burden

Recently, I wrote Developing the Preaching Gift where I listed five steps I am taking to grow as a communicator. One of the steps is to (periodically) review Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (for more on this book, see my post, One-Point Preaching).

I am in the process of reviewing the book now. At one point, Andy Stanley shares his dad’s perspective on preaching. Charles Stanley says …

You’ve got to have a burden. That’s the thing most preachers are missing. A burden. If they don’t have a burden it’s just a bunch of fluff. (113)

Andy says “you can tell when a communicator is carrying a burden versus when he (or she) is simply dispensing information” (113).

Andy notes that the key to finding your burden is by answering the questions, “What is the one thing I must communicate? What is it that people have to know?” (114).

The benefit of having a burden is that it “brings passion to preaching. It transforms lifeless theology into compelling truth” (114).

I’ve preached sermons where it felt like I had a burden. I’ve also preached sermons where it felt like all I was doing was dispensing information. I much prefer preaching with the preacher’s burden!

30 Days Till Ordination

I can describe the couple of months since we were approved for ordination with a few terms: relief, adrenaline crash, and limbo.

Of course, reaching the end of this journey has been a huge relief, but after working toward ordination for so long (including D.Min. programs)—many times we were driven by adrenaline—we simply feel depleted (we’re slowly recovering).

We also feel like we’re in a state of limbo. Because we’ve been approved by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry, the process is complete. On the other hand, we’re still waiting for ordination. Plus, we have some remaining requirements (an overnight retreat with the bishop next week, and our final regional Learning Covenant Group meeting the following week).

But we are trying to make the most of this time of waiting/anticipating. In January, after submitting work to the Board of Ordained Ministry, I wrote 150 Days of Preparation for Ordination, pending approval. Later, after approval, I revised the list in 75 Days of Preparation for Ordination.

I continue to pray “Wesley’s Covenant Prayer” (fairly regularly). I’m also periodically reviewing the Historic Questions that ordinands are asked prior to ordination (see also Historic Questions 2.0).

I finished reading John Wesley: A Preaching Life by Michael Pasquarello (see post here) and Reading Scripture as Wesleyans by Joel B. Green (see post here).

I decided to postpone Why Jesus? by William Willimon, but may still try to squeeze it in before ordination. I am currently reading Bishop Willimon’s Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry and will soon start American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists by John Wigger.

Last month, I wrote a post called, Theology of Ordination, based on a quote from Willimon’s book, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. In the coming days, I plan to post some quotes/thoughts from the companion book that I’m currently reading, Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry.

Basically, I want ordination to be a meaningful experience, not just a new title we acquire, another level we reach, another item for our bio, or “notch on our gun.” Through ordination, the church recognizes our call and gifts for ordained ministry. We trust it will be meaningful, if for no other reason than the fact that our journey toward ordination has been long and eventful.

T-minus 30 days!

Developing the Preaching Gift

No matter what our gifts are, we should constantly work on developing them. That certainly includes those of us called to the work forming and equipping followers of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of God’s Word.

Unfortunately, too many people believe the old adage, “practice makes perfect.” I once heard John Maxwell say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes permanent.” The reality is, you only improve if you are intentional about it, doing what you need to do in order to grow.

Recently, I’ve been feeling a discontent with my preaching (hopefully, a holy discontent). I will flesh this out in future posts.

In 2006, I read Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones, and then immediately switched from preaching multiple-point messages to one-point messages (even before I finished the book). That was the biggest transition I’ve ever made in ministry. My post on One-Point Preaching is the most visited post on this blog (it usually gets two to three times as much traffic as the second most popular post in any given month).

But with any approach it’s possible to get in a rut. Every so often, you have to shake things up (I often say, there’s always a better way). I’m not looking to change my approach from one-point preaching, but I am looking for ways to develop the approach and to develop the preaching gift in order to become a more effective communicator of God’s Word.

Here are five steps I’m taking to develop the preaching gift …

Improve sermon preparation. Mainly, I would like to get to the point where I am working on sermons for more than one week. This will mean juggling multiple sermons in varying stages of development (I’m not really sure how well I will be able to do this). I’m also working on revising 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation, which I hope to post in the next few days.

Listen to effective communicators. When I may listen to sermon podcasts, I listen to Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, Ed Young, Mike Slaughter, Adam Hamilton, or Erwin McManus.

Listen to my own sermons. Actually, I don’t do this very much, but I know it’s something that all communicators ought to do. But I don’t really want to!

Review Communicating for a Change and improve my understanding and use of one-point preaching. Reviewing the book will also help me as I try to incorporate what I’m learning from other resources and approaches.

Learn from helpful resources on preaching/communication—books (some of which have been on my reading pile for a while) and audio/video material, including …

I just finished Davis’ Secrets of Dynamic Communication. I plan to post some takeaways as well as how it might fit into Stanley’s one-point preaching approach.

The next resource I’m looking forward to getting into is also the one that I learned about most recently—Duarte’s Resonate. I have extremely high hopes for this book. I think it will have huge implications for my preaching. I also think it will tie in nicely with the one-point preaching approach.

Well, these are some steps I’m taking to improve my preaching. What are you doing to develop the preaching gift?

Evaluating Jesus’ First Sermon

This morning, I was reading in Luke 4. As I read the account of Jesus’ first recorded sermon, I thought about how “successful” it was in light according to the way we often think of success (i.e., whether or not it produces some positive response).

In a Nazareth synagogue, located in the community where Jesus was raised, Jesus read a portion of Scripture from Isaiah 61. After reading the Scripture, Jesus sat down and stated, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

So far, so good. Luke notes, “Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips.”

If Jesus would have finished there, we would have described it as a “successful” sermon. But Jesus didn’t finish there. He continued …

Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me. ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’” 24 He said, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown. 25 And I can assure you that there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three and a half years and there was a great food shortage in the land. 26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed. Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.” (Luke 4.23-27, CEB)

These words produced a response alright, but it was not a positive response. Jesus spoke the truth and the truth struck a nerve. Luke describes the congregation’s response …

28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. 29 They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4.28-29, CEB)

Preaching (and living) like Jesus is dangerous work!