Monday, March 29, 2010

Evaluating Worship Outcomes (2)

I'm still reflecting on identifying signs that indicate God’s work in the hearts and lives of a community, evidence that worship is effective. In one of my classes, I invited some brain-storming on ways by which we might evaluate wider worship outcomes, and we came up with a list of other signs:
  • The level of participation of people within gathered worship – visible contributions of voices and bodies.
  • The list of things the church prays for week by week.
  • The percentage of the church budget that is given away to others in need.
  • The proportion of the congregation that is committed to meet in small groups during the week.
  • The number of secular community organizations that members are involved with , especially community care agencies.
  • Awareness of such community work within the fellowship.
  • The amount of hospitality given by members to each other in an average week
  • The amount of hospitality given to unchurched friends.
  • Willingness to speak the truth in love and maturity of relationships.

I know some of these are difficult to quantify but do you think they reveal something about authentic worship?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Evaluating Worship Outcomes (1)

When visiting the church at Country Club Hills two weeks ago a church leader said to me: "I always think that the numbers of people remining in the church bulding after a worship service is one of the best signs of church life. A few years ago nobody stayed here. Within two or three minutes the place was empty. People couldn't wait to get away. Now it buzzes with relationships up to half-an-hour and beyond. That's got to be a very good sign!" Another, overhearing said, "I agree, and it really mattes how people come into worship too. Whether they receive a true welcome or not!"

These comments made me think as I work towards the end of my book on worship. Are there signs of effective worship? At one level, trying to quantify a spiritual event like worship seems blasphemous. Only God really knows about what is going on in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Yet, are there signs ("by their fruit you shall know them" Matt. 7:16) that speak of something substantial that has happened in gathered worship? And of continuing worship in the lives of the congregation through the week (Rom 12:1)?

One of my students said, "I'll tell you another good sign: The number of volunteers who commit to serving in the life of the fellowship and beyond." I look forward to hearing ideas from you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lausanne Conversation

Last Wednesday I was invited, with about 35 other leaders, to a lunchtime conversation with organizers of the next Lausanne Congress (in Cape Town October 2010). The historic Lausanne Covenant of 1974 propelled evangelicals into a global commitment to share the holistic gospel, bringing together evangelism and social concern -"the whole gospel for the whole world."

In preparation for the next congress, we were challenged about needing God's help to engage with what is happening in our ever more rapidly changing world. We were handed material with headline issues facing the gospel today: global poverty; injustice, othe world faiths, HIV/Aids and religious persecution. A leaflet spelt out other details:
- massive people movements
- the advance of other faiths
- political violence
- techno-driven ethics and lifestyles
- increasing preference for visual images and the spoken word
- a parallel virtual universe.

At first sight some of this seems far too big to handle. They are global issues after all. But in rapid-fire conversation a panel of seven showed just how practical and urgent these questions are. They ranged over the challenges of globalization, the Muslim world, new atheism, justice for the oppressed, "the right way of doing church," what the W. church can learn from others, relationships between church and state, and how do we live with differences? And so much more! I was struck that though these subjects are large and complex it is of immense value to listen to others. That's the ongoing prayer for Lausanne - that a global Christian community may learn from the insights Christ has given in many different cultures for God's sake.

I cannot attend Cape Town, but I am going to try to remember these global conversations in prayer - that a truly global partnership in Christ will bring forth fruit.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another word on dialogical preaching

My postings on Doug Pagitt stirred much interest. As the Grace Community church continues to work through implications of his visit, many others have made contact.

My colleague, David Fitch, told me about Bob Hyatt who has practiced dialogical preaching in a different way in his church - Evergreen Community. His interview on Preaching Today Website commends dialogical preaching. He reckons recent dissatifaction with more traditional preaching owes much to congregations' higher levels of education, and the way current culture encourages greater interaction in communication. Questioned whether there are examples of dialogical preaching in the New Testament and church history he says "yes." Jesus engaged in dialogue as his teaching interacted with listeners, and Acts 17, 20 and 24 describe others sharing in speaking. Of course, 1 Cor. 14 does not support the idea of one person speaking either! Interestingly, he also sees evidence in church history among some early fathers, and notes that preachers such as Chrysostom were frequently interupted while preaching. He claims that only for the last 500 years in Christian history has preaching been mostly monologue.

You need to read his interview in full. I found the most interesting part describes the practical details of his typical dialogical sermon. Beginning the Monday before Sunday he posts the Scripture for the next Sunday in an on-line forum, inviting responses. Meanwhile he operates in the traditional homiletic. He still writes a manuscript of the sermon. "I know exactly what I'm going to to say during the worship gathering, but I've also chosen certain places to ask open-ended questions. I'm still going to share the things I feel God is saying to our comunity through the passage, but I also want to involve other people....if no one has spent time in prayer and preparation, that's not good stewardship of the teaching gifts of the church.

The "sermon time" on Sunday has three parts. First, he opens discussion of the passage with a series of questions that reflect the question the text will ultimately answer, and then leads into a verse-by-verse review of the text.

Second, he "leans" more on the audience. Sometimes there is a key issue in the text that he will leave entirely open to the community: " 'What do you think?' I am almost never disappointed - it's a unique opportunity for those who have studied the passage through the week to say, 'I thought about that, and here's what I've concluded in my study.' "

Third, he "gets on his horse and goes." He uses the final part to lay out the texts' implications for people to see. "Hopefully other people have already contributed to that sense of what the text is saying to us as a community, but it's my goal as the teaching pastor to frame the implications and challenge us as a community."

"There's still a critical role for the preacher and proclamation as we've known it; I just want the whole community to be involved in that procalamtion by speaking to one another, giving good examples of things, answering questions, and even bringing up points that I didn't think of in my time in the Word."

Bob Hyatt's practice helps answer some of my earlier concerns about the prophetic voice of proclamation. As I say above, his whole interview deserves attention.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Uncle Google

Today, I heard from the past. Stuart, a doctor in Austrialia, was planning his testimony to give to a group of Christian medical professionals. As he created power point-slides of the most important steps in his Christian life he thought back to his student days, and to the Sunday sermons he heard between 1985-1991 ! Yes, you guessed. He attended St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, where I was minister!

So, then I wondered what my pastor from way back then was up to these days and good old Uncle Google provided the answer! So it seems an opportune moment to thank you Michael for all you did for me (and a generation of other students) way back then - seeds sown and all that.

I am sure you can sense what encouragement this brought. It's not too often I hear about seeds sown - especially among students!

Last Sunday, I encouraged worshippers to find practical ways to pass on something positive to others. Having received this message, I wonder how Uncle Google can help me pass on something positive to someone else - maybe years later?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunday Preaching at Country Club Hills (2)

What a surprise this occasion proved to be. Though under pressure (!), I had worked hard to prepare a sermon on Heb. 10: 19-25 emphasizing how faith requires relationships - Jesus and me, Jesus with us, Jesus with us for the world. We need to draw near to Jesus Christ with a sincere heart and full assurance of faith ( v 22); to stay close together (Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing verse25) spurring one another on toward love; to encourage one another in doing good deeds (verse 24) for the sake of the needy world. OK - fairly predictable stuff!

As always, I had internalized the message to be free to speak without notes. I expected with a black pastor the service would be longer than usual and more enthusiastic! But nothing prepared me for the explosive joy which rocked the congregation from the opening moments. Adron has only been there a few months. I think he said there were around 80 regulars when he arrived. On Sunday there were nearer 300. With some white faces but mostly black, congregational participation was extraordinary. Starting at 10.45 the worship rocked on until well past 12.00 o'clock. I stood up about 12:15! Adron invited me to preach for at least 40 minutes. To my amazement I found I did, and the actual message was shaped by the congregation's interaction with me. Actually, what I said bore little resemblance to my prepared draft though it used all my preparation work! Afterwards as the church met for celebration lunch Adron told me that the whole service was exceptionally free and worshipful - he had never witnessed it at the church before.

I know I have been blogging about dialog preaching involving others....but this whole act of worship seemed to involve everyone from start to finish to an extraordinary degree. I guess the service took 2 and a half hours, but people were staying right through for another service at 3:00pm. I wonder what lessons white congregations could learn?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sunday Preaching at Country Club Hills

On Sunday I am preaching at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Illinois for one of my former students. Adron Robinson who turned his back on the gang culture of Chicago, trained at Northern Seminary and became the first African American pastor of this church. He's invited me to preach at its 42 anniversary.

Actually, more than that he has given me the sermon Bible text Heb 11:1 in King James Version: Now faith in the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Coupled with this the service theme runs: "We've come this far by faith" - the first line of a hymn!

It's a mixed blessing being given such details. Usually I rejoice at such guidance. But when swamped with work, it means extra effort. Yet it is a wonderful (yes, really!)discipline to be forced to listen to Scripture for such a great purpose as declaring its good news.

Looking at Heb. 11:1 I realize that I need to begin my text earlier at Heb 10:19. Actually this verse itself marks a big division (it could have begun a new chapter), because it moves from doctrine (Heb 1:1-10:18) to vital practicalities about living by faith. Here is a church which is called to persevere on its faith journey. Apparently some are giving up meeting with others - worship attendance is declining (verse 25). Sound familiar? Great encouragement is needed. I love the challenge of verse 24: And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.

Persevering faith is such a vital topic. I'll let you know how this develops. And, as always, all insights are welcome.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Reflections

Three more aspects of preaching: Prophetic, Transformational and Incarnational - how well does dialog reflect these?

Prophetic - a bible study dialog certainly allows participation with interesting insights, but is this the same as proclaming God's authoritative word? Such authority derives from Scripture, but also needs God's called preachers, who humbly submit the best of their knowledge, character and skills to deliver God's word with courage. It's confrontational stuff. As someone put it: "It's not us fitting God's story into our lives, but us fitting into God's story." Here is real tension. There's always danger of hearing the gospel in our terms, emphasizing parts we like of God's grace. It's wonderful to be affirmed. But what about God's words of judgement and correction - about sin and forgivness? About selflessness and community?

And does God actually meet our questions with answers? Doug mentioned several times that people come to church with questions yet the speacher avoids them. But in what ways does dialog deal with difficult questions? No one raised questions during the seemed a pooling of insights with apparently no urgent questions.

I guess I was most concerned about Doug's role. Sure he needed immense leadership skills, but he seemed to be a "conductor" orchestrating other comments. Afterwards he said that he had shared everthing that he had prepared beforehand, but it was difficult hearing a clear message. Does dialog mute the prophetic voice?

Transformational - closely linked with prophetic - in what ways can dialog lead to individualis and communities being changed? I am sure there are many positive stories about how the Spirit worked on individuals as they participate. But how does such preaching actually break through people's own comfort zones, dealing with ethical issues of behavior, etc. as a group? I think Acts 2:42-47 remains incredibly difficult to respond to because of its high demands of community living before the watching world. Is there need for intentional leading, aided by the Holy Spirit, to help communities grow in responsibility towards each other and their neighbors?

In class this quarter we have been looking at James W. Thompson's book: Preaching Like Paul in which he claims the apostle Paul sought to build community by repetitive evangelistic and pastoral preaching, always ensuring a doctrinal base. Does building community need more than dialog?

Incarnational - dialog obviously opens up the sharing of good news by many individuals. But how can we ensure we are not dominated by the spontaneous and superficial? I am reminded of a quote about preaching which compared the "scattered self" with the "gathered self." "There is a thoughtful, prayerful, cultivated you that lies deep. There is also a surface you that is immediately available. The latter your people can have any time. To preach well is to go in search of the is a mistake to think that the scattered self is authentic and the gathered self somehow less open and sincere.(Gerard Sloyan, Worshipful Preaching page 22.) Possibly dialog leads to more "scattered selves" sharing?

I think Doug's challenge to dead speaching must be heard loud and clear I see dialog as a vital way of involving others in the preaching task. My own practice involves others in dialog on the way to more traditional proclaming, by employing my blog to generate many postings. But this whole experience at Oak Lawn opened my eyes to new possibilities.

It will be very interesting to see how the congregations at Oak Lawn will be able to respond. As I hear things I'll try and post some details in the future.