Sunday, April 19, 2015

USA Weeks 2 &3 - Collaboration Force 10

These last days have passed as a blur.  The reason why we came here was to launch the first phase of  A New Kind of Preacher/Leader.  I have posted already about my wonderment that my preaching work at Northern is going to form the basis of an initiative funded by the Lilly Foundation.  Rather than focus on preaching (which seems the obvious route) I am going to concentrate on the preacher. Yes, the art and craft of preaching deserves attention.  But I am concerned more about the being of the preacher than the doing. What are the roles that a preacher needs to embrace as a child of God who is called to the improbable task of proclaiming as an ambassador of Christ?

One of the key roles that needs developing is COLLABORATOR.  Too many preachers are solo and isolated. Burnout and disappointment lie around the corner.  Co-laboring with others is pivotal for opening up preaching so that God can use it to transform his community to live together in unity for works of service (Eph. 4:16).  Actually, it begins by co-operating with our triune God, participating in fellowship and mission.

Being a collaborator is a demanding role as it develops to involve others.  It requires active listening with willingness to change, seeking God's agenda rather than ours.  Plenty of love, patience and time are essential to co-labor with others.  I call this post: Collaboration force 10 because those of us involved in leading this new initiative have found ourselves needing to model collaboration in an intense blur of planning meetings during my (too) short stay.  So much good has emerged.  On Wednesday this week we have called a meeting of partners to help us further flesh out the vision.  All kinds of details have become clearer.

I am so grateful for the face-to-face collaboration that has been possible.  All the conference calls and emails across the Atlantic cannot facilitate force ten collaboration like we have experienced!  We are on the way!  Thanks so much for your prayers and interest.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

USA Week 1

I look back over this last full week with wonder.  Every day we enjoyed meals with different groups of friends, including a couple of large groups who brought pot-luck suppers to share.  Among the highlights was a reunion with our First Friday group (which now actually meets on the second Saturday each month!) 15 gathered for a pot-luck supper.

Conversation among us was lively = noisy (as it always is!) The last part however was memorable. Time was spent going round the table as each of us shared a particular blessing for which we wanted to give thanks to God. I was struck by the seriousness and intensity as people took turns. A couple of people paid moving tributes to their spouses and families; others spoke about the quality of friendship and prayer support that the group had provided - several of us have been ill recently with three of us men undergoing cancer surgery. Another group member has just become engaged and he told us the story of his proposal on bended knee at the arboretum. Apparently, he shared his desire to marry a few years ago for support, and he gave thanks for the long-term prayers of members of the group.   Another gave heartfelt praise that his relatives who live on a farm in Rochelle had survived the tornado that had ripped the roof off their house and flattened farm building three days earlier. Another, told us how his daily devotions with his wife every morning had transformed his working days.

When we concluded with prayers for each other I marveled that we belong so securely to this group of friends.  As we drove home we said: 'This is real Christian fellowship - and the Atlantic cannot get in the way.'

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter

Landing back in the USA two days ago, Carol and I have just celebrated Easter with the community at First Baptist in Wheaton (where I once served as interim).  The service began with dramatic video of a bleak landscape, one early morning.  A low drumbeat and musical murmur suggested something might happen, yet the camera moved very slowly towards a low hill in the distance.  Eventually, we could see a soldier standing guard alongside a large circular stone.  The beat increased.  The stone became center stage.  Suddenly, with crashing splendor the stone rolled back with brilliant light cascading from within the now empty tomb.  Christ is risen- He is risen indeed. Alleluia.  The choir and congregational singing lifted the roof:  Jesus Christ is risen today.

It was wonderful to be back with so many friends who hugged us with enthusiasm. And what a day to celebrate. For Easter changes everything.  In my recent reading I came across this prayer (by Ted Loder) which I make my prayer today.
O God, let something happen to me,
something more than interesting
or entertaining
or thoughtful.
O God, let something essential happen to me,
something awesome,
something real.
Speak to my condition, Lord,
and change me somewhere inside where it matters,
a change that will  burn and tremble and heal
and explode me into tears
or laughter
or love that throbs or screams
or keeps a terrible cleasing silence
and dares the dangerous deeds.
Let something happen in me
which is my real self, O God.  Amen.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Joined-Up Preacher

This week I am back in Chicago to help the next phase of the Lilly preaching project for which I have responsibility. (I have posted on this before!) Two conferences have been planned in April as pre-launch events, the second one focusing on preparing facilitators for the peer-learning groups that will be formed in October after the major launch forum.

I have eight sessions to address at this conference which will (hopefully) build up the vision for the New Kind of Preacher/Leader that lies at the project's heart.  Already, along the way, I have become convinced about the need to use the hybrid term 'preacher/leader' that I popularized (or at least tried to) in my book 360degree leadership (2006).  Frankly, without combining leading with preaching I think the big vision we have of preachers building missional communities is doomed to failure!

At the same time I have begun writing a work-book which will provide a resource for the peer learning groups.   It has proved more complicated than I first imagined.  So many aspects that I  seek to bring together in the preaching/leading ministry will push boundaries into worshiping, collaborating, community building and living as missionaries in the twenty-first century. One key advantage I have is that I can rely on others collaborating with me in fleshing out the vision, and co-editing the work book.   My workbook's working title is: The Joined-Up Preacher.  We talk about joined up writing....well, this is joined up preaching/leading.  I look forward to keeping you in touch as the project unfolds further.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

28 questions

I have just filled in a questionnaire 'How I preach.'  Abe Kuruvilla has a website where he has published answers garnered from a variety of preachers, and he's adding me to the list.

Some of the questions are to be expected: Who or what made you want to preach in the first place?  Tell us your sermon-prep routine. Average numbers of prep hours per sermon? Who critiques your sermon, besides yourself? Use of Greek and Hebrew?  One word that best describes how you prepare to preach? And how you preach?  Any props used regularly?
Other questions are less likely: Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?  What do you listen to while you work?  Exercise routine? Sleep routine?  Spiritual disciplines?  Favorite food?

I liked the way that he ensured a more holistic approach by including questions about personality type and both physical and spiritual disciplines. 'How I preach' is intimately bound up with who I am and my experiences so far on my spiritual journey.  One question asked: How has your preaching improved over time?  I had to respond honestly that I couldn't be sure - I hoped that I was more mature and helpful but there's really only one Judge of whether I have been a faithful ambassador!
At the end of the questionnaire he asks if there is anything else you'd like to add. I am sure there are other issues that I should face.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Away Day (2)

I have just returned from a very lively Away Day.  The attendees included several friends from the past when I used to be minister in central Cambridge. What thrilled me most were the young people present - three from Southend and another from Woodbridge.  To see their animated faces was a delight.  Afterwards the Southend trio came up to share their excitement about preaching. 'How much we need good preaching today!' said one. Oh yes!

I had a couple of lecture slots and a sermon to preach.  In the first session I opened it up as I mentioned in my last post. I anticipated a range of concerns including:
 personal, communication, congregation and culture.  Actually, these proved to cover most comments.

A very interactive session began, unsurprisingly, with congregation - the difficulty of knowing a congregation when itinerant, or of knowing a group too well to be able to challenge small groups who need encouragement.  How do you cope with breadth when a congregation has university theology professors at one end?  (Treat them like hungry sheep, says I!)  Because lay preaching is often itinerant there must be 'research' about the congregation if at all possible.  Mind you,that's true for all of us when visiting another pulpit. Communication emerged strongly too as preachers expressed concern about being relevant, having appropriate illustrations and using technology properly.  Questions of body language when delivering sermons opened up into debate, including the value of preaching without notes with connectedness. Culture change emerged in concerns about the lack of bible literacy, the changing communication styles and emphasis among young people on authenticity.  Said one young person: 'When a preacher seems to be honest and vulnerable then it connects with us."  And that led to observations about the need for personal integrity.

Were there surprises?  We spent some time on the lectionary.  About half those present were lectionary preachers which allowed us to consider some of the pros and cons of lectionary preaching.  Of course, lectionary preaching not only keeps lay preachers fresh (preventing continual reuse of favourite sermons) but means the local church has a more balanced diet through the year.  Other issues, like biblical interpretation were also raised.

I was encouraged by the serious intent in my afternoon session as we developed issues further.  Actually, I witnessed serious intent throughout and felt much encouraged.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Away Day

My next task is to take an Away Day for area lay preachers on Saturday.  The theme is: 'Issues facing today's preachers.'  It's a very long time since I addressed such an audience.  I am trying to learn from experience how best to deal with such an opportunity.  So, guess what, I am using a flip chart at the beginning to list their issues! (My last time doing this in Devon ended up with an almost unstoppable flow of issues that went onto three pages!)

I wonder whether as lay preachers they will have some different concerns, especially if they are itinerant going from pulpit to pulpit?   Being an occasional preacher is such a contrast with those who are in pastoral charge week-in-week-out.  I expect a range of issues to emerge such as:
  • personal - confidence, building experience, developing gifting
  • communication - how best to prepare and deliver sermons
  • congregation - dealing with very different contexts with all that is involved in planning worship etc.
  • culture - are there changes that make preaching more or less difficult?
But, I could be really surprised what this group says!  If you are a lay preacher reading this I would love to hear from you. As always with any group, I expect some unlearning will have to take place as well as (hopefully) fresh understanding.  Apparently around 30 people have signed up.  I'll let you know what happens.