Monday, September 26, 2011

Thank You Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church

Yesterday I concluded my short interim engagement at Elmhurst CRC. Both morning services saw the installation of the new lead pastor: Rev. Peter Semeyn, by a group who represented both Peter's past pastoral work and his family, and also representatives of his new charge. It was solemn yet warm, and from the little I have seen of Peter this church has a great future ahead.

Someone commented to me that it seemed that every service I had preached at over 5 weeks was action-packed with different events. Yes! And this was another full but well conceived Sunday. In the first service I managed to restrict my sermon to 20 minutes (with over 20 powerpoint slides) so that we finished in time for all the education classes. However, during the second service, Pastor Gregg leaned over and whispered that I could take as long as I felt was right (because there was no deadline....apart from congregational fatigue!) What a difference it made. I guess it probably ran to 30 minutes but Carol commented that there seemed to be so much more space (and some humor) because of those extra minutes. I was certainly grateful to finish with such warm and encouraging follow-up from the congregation.

We both thank the members for letting us in on their journey between pastorates - it has been a really wonderful experience. Thank you all.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Re-visiting a vision

Back on July 19th I posted a blog about a meeting I had with a visionary called Dwight Moody. who founded the Academy of Preachers (, which focuses on young people aged 14-28! At various "festivals" around the country, with a national festival in January, all these young people are encouraged to preach. They are promised not only the practical (and invaluable) opportunity to preach sermons (on a selected theme), but also to receive ongoing guidance and feedback. Dwight said that if young people can be enthused and trained in other interests early in their teens, such as sport, music, and their studies, why not enthuse them about the highest way of serving Jesus Christ - being preachers?

I mentioned some of my initial questions such as: Isn't 14 too young? What about testing a call? Where's the accountability? How do you ensure biblical integrity? Aren't they likely to be mimicking others? What happens when they reach 28? Isn't this all a big risk? BUT I also said that the more I listened to Dwight the more I sensed how worthwhile this risk is.

Well, during my visit to Georgetown last week I witnessed a "festival". From 4:00 - 8:15 pm seven young preachers were given opportunity to preach at the Georgetown Baptist Church before an open audience. I arrived in time to hear the last four preachers. The youngest was 18 who suffers from deafness and the others were college students, including one currently at Asbury Theological Seminary.

Each of the preachers was introduced by their mentor who clearly had an important role in preparing these young people. Overall, they preached with considerable skill (two largely without notes!) developing themes from the Sermon on the Mount with careful attention to the text and lively application. An evaluator was responsible for providing solid feedback (given privately) - Dr Charles Bugg is a noted homiletician and I was impressed by his level of commitment and enthusiasm for the whole task.

What stood out for me:

  • their enthusiasm. They demonstrated keen desire and interest in preaching (so often missing among older folk!)

  • their authenticity. The personalities and experience of these young people shone through, especially in humor and application.

  • their Scriptural work. Each paid careful attention to their texts in Matthew 5.

  • their giftedness. There were no "poor" sermons but rather a (surprisingly) high level of skill both in content and delivery.

Later the President of Kentucky Baptist Seminary spoke to me. Three participants came from his seminary. He said: " I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity that gives these young people such a high-profile opportunity to share their gifting. Without this event, they would never have opportunities to preach." Yes, this experience definitely showed that it's a worthwhile risk working with such young people! I wonder how many of you are in contact with young people who would value such an opportunity.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scurrying Through

After my 'Book Launch Workshop' in Georgetown, Kentucky, followed by preaching at the first chapel of a new academic year at Georgetown college, I am catching breath. We met some great new friends in a new context. Wonderful. And I need to share some of the happenings, especially about a festival of young preachers I also attended. But for now we are scurrying through. I know Americans are used to driving 7 hours before breakfast and another 3 hours before lunch (!) but we poor Brits are struggling to maintain high energy as we pause before continuing our roadtrip north to honor Ken Giacoletto, who is retiring as President/CEO of Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin at a banquet tonight.

I gladly report that it has been an exhilarating and encouraging time so far. As foreseen, my new book on Preaching as Worship is raising eyebrows! I can see pastors pondering: Is worship really such an important part of a preacher's responsibility? How can I possible take on board some fresh ideas in the midst of busy ministry? Oh, how I hope they will!

On Sunday I preach my final sermon at Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church, swiftly followed by new preaching classes beginning Monday and Tuesday. I told the Georgetown workshop about my sermon blogging exercise, but I realize (if they look up this blog!) it has been particularly sketchy this week. However, I know from worship planning details that are filtering through that several of you are tracking with me for Sunday. As always, I am grateful for your prayers and preparation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Three Sermon Prep Day!

Bryan Chapell warns preachers about using autobiography: "The only one you can poke fun at is yourself, and the only one you should not pat on the back is yourself." Good advice. But, I cannot refrain from mentioning that today has been dominated by my needing to prepare three sermons. Yes, three! Not that any one is finished yet, but they are all on their way. Why today? Because this week is so full with a two-day faculty retreat and then travel to Kentucky and today was my only completely free day (actually not completely free!)

My next sermon for Elmhurst CRC (on September 25th) will conclude my short series on the Beatitudes focussing on "Blessed are the peacemakers" and "Blessed are those who are persecuted." Key Scriptures will include Romans 5:1-11, 12: 17-21 and John 15:18-25. I am focussing the main impact:
By the grace of God this sermon will SAY: Christian living means peace-making grounded in doctrine and empowered by grace. Yet persecution will inevitably follow.
This sermon will DO: challenge hearers about making peace and the reality of persecution today.

The worship planners at Elmhurst have collaborated wonderfully these last few weeks. Yesterday's services which included Communion also made space for 9/11 remembrance. Each song and prayer seemed so appropriate for the whole act of gathered worship. I have greatly valued the levels of collaboration. Of course, that is what my book Preaching as Worship pleads for. It's been exhilarating to see it in action.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An unusual evening

Last night I visited the Risen Savior Assembly of God church in Chicago for the session on preaching (mentioned recently!) I was told that they had concerns about preaching and a group wanted to meet with me to learn more. What happened?

Well, their concerns were not about the importance of preaching to Jesus and his church. In an opening free-for-all they shared how their hestitations about preaching were to do with their feelings of unworthiness, of poor preparation, of not making sense and being irrelevant. One person spoke about the danger of manipulation and need to avoid it; another of the need for accountability. Here was a group of people (around 20 in number) who were hesitant for VERY GOOD REASONS. No one should rush into preaching as though it is not a high responsibility which needs humble gifting and hard work. I so warmed to their honesty and willingness to learn.

We then went into group work on a text I gave them: 1 Peter 2: 9-12. Of course, the one and a half hour session was always going to be too short. But immediately everyone got down to working with their neighbors which resulted in some amazing open sharing. Previously, I had been studying this passage because I want to use it at a conference shortly. Yet, I learned so much from this lively, honest, committed group. Really! I think they now plan to work in preaching teams to enrich the whole fellowship. Their pastor took an active part and encouraged this vision at the end.

I drove home late last night so grateful to have met with another group committed to work at preaching. I had this thought - how wonderful it would be if many other churches began to think and work this way! Do you agree?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Elmhurst Sermon (4)

This morning's worship focused on beatitudes 3 and 4 with two challenges. 1) about rehabilitating the key Jesus quality of MEEKNESS. Our aggressive world considers meekness means weakness, but meekness could not be more different from weakness. Actually its about strong personality under God's control. Strong personality - yes! But personality demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) -gentleness with the strength of steel. God blesses strong personalities submitted to him. Velvet covered bricks!

And 2) about how authentic is our desire for God to be more real - hungering and thirsting after righteousness. This gave us opportunity to marvel at Rom. 3: 21-26 and to consider the level of our own spiritual desire in our practical lives.

I had the luxury of being able to preach for around 30 minutes but next week I shall need discipline to keep it under 20 minutes! On the anniversary of 9/11 there is much to do in the two morning services. The next two beatitudes are:
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Three Scriptures will frame the sermon: Mark 10:13-22 and Matthew 18:21-22 for the first of these beatitudes; Mark 7:1-8 for the second.

I need to work hard to focus this sermon appropriately. There is so much rich teaching here.
At this stage of preparation the main impact of my sermon is:
By the grace of God this sermon will SAY - Christian living means Christ-like mercy love for those in need and who hurt us, together with personal holiness.
This sermon will DO - challenge hearers about showing mercy love with purity of heart.
As always I am grateful for friends who are sharing in my journey. All insights will be welcome.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Book....oh yeah!

Today marks the official date of publication of "Preaching as Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church" (Baker Books). As many of you know it has taken 5 years of gestation, much energy and (mostly) admirable patience from my wife Carol! At last it's out. The back cover says: Move your church from small-picture to big-picture worship. Oh Yeah!

Anti-climax lies around the corner! After all, tens of other books have also been published today - many with more interesting titles (and content) than mine. Publishers say that lively sales in the first months are absolutely vital for the longevity of any book. Of course, far more than sales, I long for people's ministry to be revolutionized by application. So, my obvious prayer is that (numerous!) pastors will open the book and be changed by it, and their congregations with them!

However, I do have one special opportunity ahead. I am leading a Preaching Workshop in Georgetown in two weeks' time directly on this theme: Preaching as Worship. In between other commitments I am working on some powerpoint sessions which will give me the very first opportunity to fire up pastors with the big picture. Please join me in praying that this book is not a damp squib but makes a significant bang out in God's kingdom.