Great Preaching: (Final Cut) Run!

“If I was ever going somewhere, I was running!”


Now you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows. From that day on, if I was ever going somewhere, I was running!

Forrest Gump

As we discussed in parts I and II, you have spent time in your “thin place” seeking the heart of God. You have walked in the light of God’s Word as revealed in your living situation as you visited the “flight line” of your people. Now Sunday’s coming! In today’s blog, we will discuss how to run with your sermon come Sunday!

A few years ago, we visited a local church one Sunday where the pastor wore shorts and sandals, something like you would wear to a barbecue. We sat pretty close to the front. The worship service start time came and went. An elderly woman from the senior home next door timidly asked,”Excuse me, Reverend, my watch shows that it’s time to begin.”

The pastor stared her down and snapped, “Not according to my watch.” And continued to saunter around like he had no place to be. When he did realize it was time to start, he walked over to the choir room, snapped his fingers, whistled and commanded the choir out of their hiding place, “Come on, let’s go!”

Needless to say, my wife and I gave the pastor an “Irish Goodbye.” We stood, said nothing and walked past a few not too surprised deacons as we exited the service. As I still drive by the retirement home, I think about those captive old-timers who have no other choice but to endure Sundays there.

Head to Heart

We don’t rise to the level of our expectationswe fall to the level of our training.”

Archilochus (Frequently credited to an anonymous US Navy Seal)
Archilochus

Or as heard from sports coaches, You play like you practice.” The movement of a sermon begins in the head then moves to the heart. Assuming you have a two or three page outline or manuscript of your sermon, Saturday night is the time to read aloud the Bible passage two or three more times and practice looking at the people while reading the phases. Listen and mark for emphasis.

There is a huge difference between writing for reading versus writing for speaking and hearing. This is a pitfall of many a sermon. Pen in hand, read your sermon aloud as though you were preaching it. Edit for sound effect. Does your text translate well to the ear? If not, mark it through as you go. These edit notes are for you.

Recommended format for preaching notes: Two columns with text 14 point 

The two columns allow room for emphasis and edit notes. The 14 point font size make for a quick use in the pulpit if you need to fall back to notes. One way to preach without notes, its to uses notes as a security blanket, like the harness used for rock climbing.

For years I have used used a presentation binder with vinyl sheet protectors.

Allant”The Graduate Collection” Professional 3 Ring Business Card Holder Book. Swapped out the card holder sheets with 8.5 x 11 inch sheet protectors. This binder has front pocket for the bulletin.
Front and back view allows for easy reading of your edit notes. You can put your Bible passage with emphasis and pause notes for reading in the service.

If you’ve ever lost a page of sermon notes or mixed up the order, you can thank me later. If you preach enough, you will surely lead a service in a windy cemetery or under a busy ceiling fan and watch your notes blow away like leaves on a autumn day … an unnerving start of your message.

Sod’s law: ‘When you toss a coin, the more strongly you want heads, the more likely it is to come up tails’

Applying Sod’s Law, a best practice is to email yourself Sunday’s message and formatted Bible passage. Should you forget or lose your binder, you can either print the copy at church or use a smart phone or tablet to download your copy.

First Contact

Now you have moved your message from your head to your heart. Your outline or manuscript is captured both in your binder and in the cloud. Your first contact at the church on Sunday can set the tone for the rest of the services.

Arrive early with expectation – Something is happening here. God is with us! This is not a show or a game. It is encountering the presence of God.

Do a quick walk around campus. Ask the custodian to check that the coffee is on and that the restrooms are open and well supplied. Applying Sod’s Law, the day you think you have your best sermon will be the Sunday with no paper in the restroom. You will be the first to hear of it and asked by your elder deacon to personally restock it now.

Do a mic check. use new batteries. Your sermon is worth it.

Prepare for technical difficulties. The best sermon can be tanked with when the projector bulb fails at the start of your service. Expect technology to fail you and roll with it. In my last church, the sanctuary’s video and sound control booth was caged in another building. A tiny speaker broadcast to the operator what was heard in the sanctuary. During one funeral, the facility manager was recording the service and running the slide projection, when an audio feedback filled the sanctuary with a heavy-metal like screech at the level of a jet aircraft. I made a visual gesture to the camera that remained unseen. I had no choice but to announce to the grieving congregation, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” As I stepped out on the sidewalk, I saw the facilities manager looking back at me out of the other door. My sign language confirmed – “Pull the plug!”

Check in

Check in with your musicians. Your music and choir members are your fellow ministers. A moment sharing a smile and good word breeds goodwill that will continue through the service and beyond. Tell them how glad you are to serve with them. Praise your choir leaders for their choice of music and song.

In contrast, avoid any hint of accusing a musician with a pastor’s righteous indignation, “I didn’t approve the choice of that song, and I am striking it from the bulletin today. Don’t you ever do this again without my approval.” Word of these pre-service arguments will squelch the spirit of your choir and worship team.

This would be good time to return to your office and pray for the people. Sunday mornings before services are not the time to be on-call for listening to the woes and complaints of church members. You want to be listening to the voice of God.

Look ‘Em in the Eye and Tell ‘Em What You Got!

The first step of preaching to the people 
... is that you must like the people.

People have the innate ability to tell whether the pastor likes them. My first piano accompanist’s father was an Episcopal priest. His wife used to pray for him that”the people would like him, so that they would like his message.” Too many clergy treat other staff members, music people and church members as obstacles in the way of their message.

You may say, “Jim, how could that be true?”

  • The answer is do you actively listen to your people?
  • Do you welcome their opinion of value?
  • Do you promote and encourage them?

One of the values of working a separate career as an insurance adjuster is learning how people desperately need encouragement.

Eye Contact

I once knew a pastor who shook hands with the people as they left church. But you learned that as he shook your hand, he looked down the line for someone he didn’t want to miss. Your eyes are the handshake with the congregation.

Make eye contact for a few seconds before your begin the service.

Make eye contact for a few seconds before you begin your message.

Make eye contact for a few seconds when you want your people to get the point.

Are you with me or have you gone home yet?

Crossing Over … barriers between you and the people

Pews corral in the people.

Aisles isolate the saints.

Pulpit cages the clergy.

The banister quarantines the choir.

I knew a Catholic priest who, during funerals, would step down from the chancel and put his hand on the casket on level with the people as he spoke to the congregation and family about what a wonderful wife and mother she was. The steel casket and flowers formed a separation layer, but the pastor’s touch made a human connection crossing the barrier.

One effective Baptist evangelist I knew mastered crossing over. This evangelist held a concurrent career singing country music in Branson, Missouri. His voice resonated like a combination of Marty Robbins and Elvis Presley. At the close of one service, as he called the people to the altar, he stepped out from behind the pulpit, crossed the front isle, stood on the first pew and made eye contact with those seated on the back row of the packed church. He appeared like a sea captain on the bow of some ancient ship peering through the fog in search of land.

The people streamed forward to recommit their lives to Christ as they realized that, even hidden on the back rows, God knew all about and cared for them.

You may not stand on a pew at your next service, but you might try walking up into an isle. A word of caution: crossing over does not replace “flight line” visits with your people during the week. A pastor’s “flight line” includes the home, hospital, surgical center, care center, golf course, camping trip, retreat, conference, fraternal organization, mission trip, workplace and entertaining in your home.

A pastor’s “flight line” includes the home, hospital, surgical center, care center, golf course, camping trip, retreat, conference, fraternal organization, mission trip, service project, workplace and entertaining in the home.

An example – Karen served as a Senior Deacon. Her late husband, JD, would join Karen and me at her private care home for home Communion. As part of crossing over ministry, the church recorded its services on DVDs and provided home players to be delivered on home visits. Here you see the ripple effect of a crossing over ministry that involved, the choir, musicians, pastors, church staff, and visiting pastor. These types of ministry extends the impact of your preaching and ministry beyond the four walls of your church. Not shown is my trying to diagnose a stubborn DVD/TV connection. In this photo, you can see Karen’s joy at the clear picture and sound as she felt part of the worship experience and that her church remembered her.

Trying to shake hands with every parishioner every Sunday, coming in and going out, may actually distract them from their encounter with God. The evangelist described a few paragraphs above ate dinner in a different home each night of the revival where he laughed and prayed and cried with the families. A trustworthy message is built in the home visit and not in the handshake on Sundays. As my wife and I visited over a dozen churches and faith groups in the Verde Valley, we received a few canned welcome letters with no personal visit, with the exception of two young missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We can learn something from them.

A trustworthy message is built in the home visit and

not in the handshake on Sundays.

The most effective pastor I knew in using crossing over is Rev. Jud Souers, Pastor Emeritus of The Church at Litchfield Park, Arizona. I have seen him glide like a cat from the chancel out into the isle and look back on the chancel as though he were carrying on a dialogue between the people and God. For decades, he demonstrated the same fluid movement through his golf swing as a member of the local club for decades. For Pastor Jud, the local golf club served as his Jacob’s Well place of meeting the people.

The Lazarus Ending – the sermon that ends … and then ends again … and again

The Lazarus Ending goes like this – The pastor hints that time is late but there’s just one more point to consider. “Oh, wait, I remembered you really need to know … ” Following the benediction and closing hymn of five verses, you’re ready to leave. But wait. “Lazarus, come forth! …” The pastor, out of some need to prove her message was important, gives the people a summary of what she said in the sermon.

This sends the message, “Just in case you weren’t listening the first time …”

Lest we focus too hard on the clergy, for churches that don’t have music directors, you are now set free to sing only a few verses of a closing hymn.

Why are congregations held hostage to singing all 13 verses of Amazing Grace as though some ancient hall monitor demands they sing all verses?

Start White Hot

Listen to a few Johnny Cash songs. They start strong and hot out of the box. Some churches start their worship service like a late opening at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The only think lacking is a number dispenser.

A white hot start would feel something like the introduction of the series Chef’s Table … something is about to happen.

Schedule the Unexpected

In your sermon, give space for the “impromptu moment” for the Holy Spirit to lead and surprise. Expect the Spirit to come down … welcome this. In my first church, in the middle of an evening message. A 6’4″ young man entered the back of the sanctuary and slowly shuffled up the center isle asking aloud, “Can I find God here? … Can I find God here?”

I paused my message, realizing the message came to me. “Yes,” I announced, “You have come to the right place. You can find God here!”

Later I learned that he was a patient of the Arizona State Mental Hospital. His parents told me he would scale the barbed wire fence and wander off into the desert in search of some peace for his soul.

One Easter Sunrise in the main courtyard, church members will remember as I stood to deliver the Easter morning message, all the sprinklers clicked on then off for a half second. Not enough to soak them but enough raise the question, “Will they turn back on?”

I made eye contact with the people and broke the damp silence with, “Well … you done been baptized!”

Leave Them Wanting More

Start Two Minutes Early.

Be Meaningful.

Be Brief.

Save Fill-in-the Blank Notes for the Classroom.

Leave ‘Em Wanting More.

The Gift – take and do

In the sermon shown on Vimeo [password is grace4you], you can see where both pastor and people “crossed over” barriers: the people, in response to my prior sermon calling them to a prayer shawl ministry, crossed over the front isle and placed their prayer shawls on the prayer rail for dedication. In January 2018 I received my own prayer shawl in the hospital during my kidney cancer surgery. The prayer shawl kept me warm and reminded me of God’s presence during those long nights. I am thankful for my cousin, Karen, who first shared with me the prayer shawl ministry of her church. This ministry I shared as a gift with my congregation.

Example of using “Crossing Over” and “The Gift -Take and Do”

What gift will you give to your people that they can take and do?

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1,2

Run!,

Pastor Jim

Great Preaching: (Part III) Walk in the Light!

Leave It The Way You Found It?

A pastor places his order at the pet store: “I need at least 50 mice, 2000 ants and as many of those little silverfish you can get.”

The clerk replies, “We can probably do that, but it might take some time. Mind if I ask why you are placing such an unusual order?”

The pastor replied, “I’ve accepted a call to another church and the congregation council told me to leave the parsonage the way I found it.” From My-Pastor.com * That is the problem with so much preaching today – it leaves people the way they found it.

In a few years, will you have left your congregation the way you found them? Or, will your preaching have sparked a spiritual awakening … that glows long after you’ve gone?

The first step of Great Preaching: Walk in the Light is –

Learn to see the light of God

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. I John 1:5-7

Charles Adams helped his son to see the light in the world by taking him to the Panama-Pacific Exposition fair in 1915. A gift to his son to capture the visions of the fair and the Golden Gate area was a Box Brownie #1.

The following summer the family crossed the shimmering heat of the San Juan Valley and wound their way to El Portal, where 14 year-old Adams exited the vehicle to take snapshots with his Brownie. From that day forward, the vision of Yosemite held Ansel Adams, as he wrote –
“That first impression of the valley—white water, azaleas, cool fir caverns, tall pines and stolid oaks, cliffs rising to undreamed-of heights, the poignant sounds and smells of the Sierra…was a culmination of experience so intense as to be almost painful. From that day in 1916 my life has been colored and modulated by the great earth gesture of the Sierra.”

Move Beyond Snapshot to Vision

Below is a snapshot I took of our dog, Shadow. A snapshot captures a surface, temporal point in time. It captures what is required for a picture that might get a “like” on social media. It presents what is expected. A snapshot captures what happens in a typical Sunday morning pulpit. The people come, with expectation that the pastor will perform a sermon. Once completed, the pastor gets an “atta-boy” and everyone goes home. The pastor is satisfied that he/she did all that was safely required to retreat into the pastor’s office “dog house” until the next Sunday.

Shadow

Vision discerns the eternal truth behind the surface. Vision moves beyond the required to the acquired. Vision finds that serendipitous moment as Jacob described in Genesis 28 “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it. “

Thunderstorm at Yosemite Valley, Ansel Adams

The above shows a thunderstorm at Yosemite. Using the darkness mixed with light, Adams was able to point his lens to the picture behind the picture. Adams used his black-and-whites as a medium of change that would ultimately expand the US National Park system, for which he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

In the photo below, Adams captured a simple baseball game, something like he might have snapped with his Box Brownie at 14. We can taste the mustard on the hot dog and feel the sun and breeze on our cheeks.

Baseball 1943

The image of the game captured what is typically required of clergy on Sunday morning. The organist throws out the opening hymn, while the choir director tosses some high and low notes. Finally, the preacher walks out as the heavy-hitter to send everyone home.

Not so fast … True to Ansel Adams’ use of “picture behind the picture,” let’s add some clues to see through the surface of the photograph – World War II, California, Japanese Internment Camps 1943. We receive a serendipitous moment that these Americans, enjoying the “All American Pastime,” were interned as part of the 110,000 Japanese Americans held in 10 camps on the West Coast . Adams helped to heal America’s blindness to the plight of our fellow Japanese Americans. Photos from slate.com

As a result, in some instances Ansel Adams’ books were banned from bookstores and even burned as un-American. Remember that while Adams showed what he could in the camps, he was forbidden to photograph the guard towers and barbed wire.

Are you willing to take the risk to move beyond preaching what is required to sharing what is acquired as a word of God for the people? When was the last time your church heard your church bulletins were banned or burned as they moved the masses toward embracing the unfolding truth of God? What are the new forms of internments, the social concertina, that hold people captive today?

The New Sitz Im Leben

Back in my seminary studies across Baptist and United Methodist seminaries, we learned the term sitz im leben represented the original “situation in life” that gave gave rise to the Bible text. The New Sitz Im Leben is the situation in life of your people which provides the fertile soil for the Bible passage to produce life.

While attending seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, I spent a summer as a paid student chaplain at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. About that time, I read about an Air force Base colonel who saw that his base chaplains sat in air conditioned offices and debated Karl Barth while the crews sweltered on the flight line. So, the colonel ordered the chaplains out of the office to minister to the soldiers working on the hot tarmac by the aircraft.

You may say,

“Jim, I’m too busy preparing my sermons to visit the people.”

Get out on the flight line.

“I’m more of an ‘executive leader’ than just a pastor. “

Get out on the flight line.

“I’m more of a teaching pastor than a pastoral caregiver.”

Get out on the flight line.

“It’s just not exciting visiting widows and shut-ins than discussing the computer images of the next big service.”

Get out on the flight line!

The result of failing to embrace your sitz im leben will be that your sermons will come across as Kodak slide shows of vacations you’ve taken where your members pretend to be interested. The message will be void of life that springs out of that context. For those of you who don’t remember, a Kodak slide show was a meeting of friendly captivity at which a host projected images of distant lands while guests feigned interest. Feigned interest is quite difficult and can only be accomplished by consuming large quantities of chex party mix.

f/64 Sharp Focus

  • Use and carry a Vook. A Vook (vision book) is a small lined book that you use to obtain insights and applications that you gained from your sitz im leben – your vision book. Keep it by your bedside and be ready. God may give you insights in the middle of the night that may become the heart of your message.
  • Use Bible software to do an in-depth “instant verse study” that will compile the data from a variety of Bible translations, commentaries, word studies and devotional works. The image below shows a favorite tool of mine used for over ten years and versions – Wordsearch Bible

I chose Wordsearch Bible as a tool over other more technical Bible study software as it more applies to the lives of the people versus a Bible language analysis tool. The people don’t need the nuances of meaning of the Greek verb if they are facing a death in the family or a job layoff.

  • With a few clicks, you can create a 40 page instant report containing the best Christian writings available on your chosen text. With that you can read through the study material and mark it with a check mark (for check this out!), ! for must focus, and ? for question.

The Shutter Squeeze

You’ve spent the week with your Vook and have consumed your “Instant Verse Study” with process notes. Now is the time for the frame, which involves focus – What is the subject of your message? What one or two points will you use to convey the message? Focus – What is the subject of your message? What one or two points will you use to convey the message?

As every photographer knows, frame is followed by shutter squeeze. Your “instant verse study” resulted in 40 pages. You may find them all as interesting as riding every amusement ride in the park. Squeeze your message down to ten minutes but have something to say.

Some rules of thumb:

Leave them wanting more.

Rather than fill-in-the-blank sermon notes, provide vision space in the bulletin for flash notes on an empty canvas.

Today fill-in-the-blank sermon notes have crept into PowerPoint slides – a form of the Kodak vacation slides party.

Write out your sermon. Give yourself permission to cut it down to two points.

Keep your outline on the pulpit as a safety-net while you preach without notes.

If you can’t remember what you’re saying, how will your people?!

Start on time. Finish early.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about how to Run with your Message!

Pass the Chex Mix!,

-Pastor Jim

Great Preaching (Part II): Max Your Understanding in Preaching!

Meet Max! Max Understanding. *


For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. – Colossians 1:9

Too much preaching is a reaction to something rather than addressing insights gained by “spiritual understanding.” It’s Advent? OK, it’s time to rework an old sermon on the birth of Jesus. Offerings down or time for the annual pledge drive?, then work up a not-to-pushy sermon on giving and avoid any texts that speak of Jesus driving the money changers from temple. We can speak of changing the world … as long as this change doesn’t swap our liturgical colors or interrupt our capital improvement drive.

Reactionary preaching is the “astroturfing” of the wild lilies of the field. A predictable form haunts Sunday’s services like a woman who received too many Botox injections. Even churches that began as wild revolutionaries that held services in open fields have turned electric guitars and drums into a loud monotonous chant of the same decibel crunching pitch and meter.
Artificial plastic smiles are frozen on every face without real spiritual movement.


Reactionary preaching is the “astroturfing” of the wild lilies of the field. A predictable form haunts Sunday’s services like a woman who received too many Botox injections – artificial plastic smiles are frozen on every face without movement.

To move beyond reaction to understanding, you need Max understanding! It was 8:00 p.m. on Friday night of Cinco de Mayo weekend when Max, our neighbor’s Border Collie started barking. An hour of barking later, I looked and saw that our retired neighbors were out with the truck and camper gone. At 10:00 p.m. I began reacting, “How dare they go away and leave their dog. It’s disrespectful to the neighbors!” I considered calling their cell phone … if I had it. At 1:00 a.m., Max had barked non-stop for three hours. I climbed in my car to confirm they were gone and shined my flashlight over the back fence in the backyard to rule out another problem.

A fitful night of sleeping in the guest room, with dreams of calling animal control and leaving a nasty letter on the door, I awakened to attend an all-day course in Flagstaff. I returned home only to see that the truck and camper were still gone and as I stepped on the patio — barking. Reaction had run its predictable course.

It was here that God showed me how I went through my life and ministry … reacting in one form or another, allowing circumstance and calendar to drive my life, attitude and message. I then looked at Max with the eyes of understanding and saw the old dog, recently diagnosed with advanced cancer, staring for his masters at the back of their house, where he remained barking in that position for hours. His jaw hung slack and his coat now appeared dull and disheveled. His bark now a weak rasp, barely audible. His normal brisk walk became a slow shuffle back under the deck. I saw no food or water were in sight.

Now, understanding awakened. “What if our neighbors had an accident or illness and could not return or communicate to care for their beloved pet they raised since a puppy?” “What if the grown daughter, who has placed other burdens on her parents, got carried away in her own Cinco de Mayo activities to the extent of ignoring old Max.

Understanding plowed through the brick-like surface of my astroturfed reaction and moved me into action. I cooked two hot dogs and put them over the fence with a pail of cool water and called Max, but he was too weak to come. No barking was heard that night. I was now afraid Max had died. The next morning, I looked off the porch and saw that Max was now walking and no longer panting. The hot dogs were gone. As he took his position again on guard at the back of the house.


Understanding plows through the brick-like surface of our astroturfed reaction and creates a bloom of transformation

When Jesus disappeared as a boy in Jerusalem, his parents found him three days later in the temple:  

Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
So when they saw Him, they were amazed.
Luke 2:46-48 (NKJV)

As you have your Bible passage in hand, and the predictable elements pushing you forward through the calendar of teaching and preaching, take a moment and look through the the Bible passage and the issues beating their drums in your ears.

If you will pause and listen to the the Holy Spirit, you will give your people pails of cool water that will not only refresh them but that they can share with a thirsty world. Your church members in the workplace live in a world built on action and reaction. Imagine the transformation when they learn how to max understanding in the workplace, turning reaction, that breeds more reactions, into transformation.

*The image above is that of our Border Collie mix, Shadow. Tonight as I checked on old Max. The house was still dark. Now there is no barking and no sign of Max. I think of how Max’s owners would feel knowing that their neighbors reached over the fence to their distressed companion with of a pail of cool water and warm hot dogs.

In the next video blog, we will discuss some practical tools that you can use to Max Understanding in your Walk to Great Preaching.

-Pastor Jim

The Preacher’s Crawl

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – St. Paul

Preach: Crawl, Walk, Run! is not about how to preach, which is often a personal subject wrapped up in ego. Rather this is a pool of the best resources on 1. how to read the Bible in a worship service, 2. discover your thin-place where God speaks with you in your sermon preparation, 3. tools to prepare you for preaching and 4. launch ideas for your sermon.   

Back again with you after after a few weeks delay for a shed wiring project followed by my wife’s surgery. Thanks for waiting – the shed now has lighting and my wife is recovering. This delay stands in contrast to your regimented weeks marked by Sundays rapidly approaching.

I remember attending our sons’s Saturday soccer games in body while my mind was away on Sunday’s sermon. Present in body but absent in spirit. One regret was that I lacked of a healthy crawl toward Sundays’ services.

Worship Plan Book: Your denomination likely has some sort of plan book for worship and preaching planning. If you teach Sunday School, you likely use a teacher’s guide. I have recently used the United Church of Christ Desk Calendar and Plan Book –

Plan books such as these orbit around the Revised Common Lectionary, a three year plan of Bible readings that provide a guide of passages for reading and preaching based on the church year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter Seasons after Pentecost.

You may, such as I, come from a tradition that doesn’t follow the church calendar. You may consider yourself an “expository preacher” who preaches through the Bible verse by verse. My response, “That’s great!… But beware of the instrument that plays only one note.”

In preparing for these blogs, my wife and I visited many churches in the Verde Valley of Arizona – from Methodist to Nazarene, from Community to Seventh Day Adventist. We noticed many with beautiful views but empty parking lots. We also noted a lack of women women participating in the worship services (This will be subject of a future blog … that women’s ministry means more than just the kitchen, the nursery and the coffee pot! Oouch!

In one church, the pastor had committed to preaching through a series of messages as part of a program that came complete with slides. Though we arrived at the service ten minutes late and the pastor baptized some believers earlier in the service, the pastor determined that he could not push the sermon material to the next week. The fill-in-the blanks sermon note acted like grains of sand dribbling down in an hourglass. The pastor’s prepackaged sermon agenda held him in a grip tighter than any liturgical calendar. I must confess that during a merciful break for prayer, my wife and I slipped out before the conclusion. Almost every blank in the sermon notes could be answered by writing the word, “Jesus.”

Enter Your “Thin Space”: Take your worship planner and enter into your “thin space,” a sacred space where you encounter God. For me, I would take my Anglican prayer beads and go on a prayer walk on the top of a limestone bluff, overlooking Wet Beaver Creek on our Rimrock property, home to rattlesnakes, deer and beaver … and and occasional mountain lion.

He restores my soul …

In the shadow of this mesquite tree, I encountered the presence of God

When Moses encountered God in his “thin place,” he said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

In the shadow of an old mesquite tree, I encountered God and listened to the voice of the Spirit.

One guest preacher from we hosted at my first church told me his “thin place” was the altar area of the sanctuary at night. Alone in the church, he would place himself prone before the altar and seek God’s presence and ask for insights into God’s message for the people. His personal insight into his “thin place” has stayed with me 34 years. To this day I don’t think his prominent congregation knew of his practice.

All great preaching and teaching begins with discovering your “thin place” and listening to the voice of God. The Spirit of God will prompt your preaching and worship leading only as it springs out of your own experience with God.

Out of the above encounter, you may ask the Spirit to guide you in your worship and preaching preparation. Be prepared … but be open for the Spirit to change your plans.

Feed Your Staff: Church staff’s planning and production depend on your sharing with them. You may now have a quarter of the year charted, for which your worship leader and office staff will rise up and call you blessed. Your staff can now can select music and live in hopes they might print the church bulletin before Friday. There’s nothing more awkward than the church administrator asking the pastor on Thursday, “Well, do you have a sermon title?” The pastor hears this question as, “You mean with all the hours you had this week, you have no clue what you are saying Sunday?”


“Well, do you have a sermon title?” The pastor hears this question as, “You mean with all the time you golfed this week, you have no clue what you are saying Sunday?”

I have experienced more than one Sunday, where I awakened at 4:00 a.m. with the hopes of finishing Sunday’s message. There’s no worse “agony” of preaching than staring at a full coffee cup and a blank screen at zero-dark-thirty on Sunday morning. Thankfully, those mornings were the exception. I share this to affirm that you are not abnormal to encounter this wild beast.

Internalize the Passage: Now, here is a resource most often overlooked by today’s clergy – the oral interpretation of the Word. First, visit www.Biblegateway.com and look up your passage in New International Version (NIV). Click on the speaker arrow and you can listen to the narrated reading of your passage. Print out your passage and as your listen, make marks on your passage, noting where the reader pauses and how phrases are emphasized.

Now make it yours – Read the passage through as the narrator gave … until you are comfortable with the words. Now practice it and emphasize the passage so that the reading makes the most sense to you. Until you have the passage in you, you will not be able to share it from you. Too many preachers try to talk about the Bible rather than sharing what they have experienced in the Bible.


Too many preachers and teachers try to talk about the Bible rather than sharing from what they have experienced in the Bible.

How many times do you need to read a passage to internalize it? I recommend three times listening while marking from the narrator. Then three to four times on your own. So, let’s say a good biblical reading aloud seven times.

OK, you have crawled by encountering God in your “thin-place,” shared with your staff, and internalized the passage. Your choir leader is sings your praises as she can select music for a full quarter. And your church administrator no longer thinks you are golfing way to much as her bulletin is done by Thursday.

Hold the phone – we are not done. This is “Crawl …” In the next blog, we will “Walk” … putting flesh to the passage that has become part of your life.


How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

– Romans 10:14

-Pastor Jim

Special thanks to my wife, Carol, whose editing fixed issues where I was limited by a growing cataract in my left eye.

The Agony of Preaching

Some helps for preachers and those who hear them

28  We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” – Colossians 1:28-29 (NASB)  

The word “striving”* in the above letter captures the gnawing reminder that Sunday’s coming! What is the message from God? With all that is in the Bible, the problem is not running out of something to say; it is running on saying something. When I was called to my first church, we held worship services Sunday morning and Sunday night, with prayer meeting on Wednesdays. Throw in Bible studies and church training, and I learned the agony of having something to say versus having to say something. You can’t stand in the pulpit and say, “I’ve been so busy dealing with church property issues, I haven’t thought about God much. So, let’s skip right to the closing hymn and call it good!”

The next three blogs on Preach: Crawl, Walk, Run! is not about how to preach, which is often a personal subject wrapped up in ego. Rather this is a pool of the best resources on 1. how to read the Bible in a worship service, 2. discover your thin-place where God speaks with you in your sermon preparation, 3. tools to prepare you for preaching and 4. launch ideas for your sermon.

The outcome of your sermon and results of your preaching I leave in God’s hands. If this blog has lessened the agony of the process, then I have succeeded.

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Paul before Herod Agrippa  – Some Sundays a preacher can feel the chains of preaching the Gospel.

One of the benefits of having served as full-time pastor in four churches and having attended church as a full-time insurance adjuster is that I have experienced the view from the pew through the eyes of someone who battled through the workweek tied to a computer. The sense of relief and peace just to make it to Sunday. My own fatigue of the work world has given me the eyes of the layperson who makes a commitment of time to attend church. Our appreciation of that time begins with the agony of preaching.

While attending Southwestern Baptist Sunday in Ft. Worth, Texas, we attended South Wayside Baptist Church a few minutes from campus and filled with fellow students. There I began to capture the reality of preaching. Some of the elderly ladies, when the clock struck noon, jingled their car keys as an audible warning to the preacher that he was cutting into their cafeteria time! This particular preacher, by the way, had a nasty habit of considering prayer time as opportunity to correct sagging suit pants and other fashion problems while “all eyes are closed.”

Now that I am part of that cafeteria crowd, I understand the purpose of keys. If you are a layperson in your church, thinking that you should break out the truck keys, then give your pastor a link to this blog. Who knows – you might find some extra cafeteria time!

When I started my first pastorate in 1984, you felt you earned your keep by delivering a 35 minute sermon, with three points and an altar call in which one person walked down the isle. The next day at Piccadilly Cafeteria the minister’s group would ask one other, “Did you have any movement?”

The question, “Did you have any movement?” referred to the practice of church members physically walking down the isle at the end of the service to make a commitment of faith. The question “Did you have any movement?” today speaks more to moving the minds and hearts of believers. What is a symphony without movement?

Make it Meaningful. Make it moving. Move on! Try one moving point shared in ten minutes …without notes.

Let’s crawl, walk and run together!

“Lord, Fill my head with useful stuff, and stop me when I’ve said enough!”

Unknown

*”Striving”- Greek ἀγωνίζομαι – agonizomai – transliterated English “agony”- to strive earnestly, to combat in public games