Communication Making Church Matter

Starting the Conversation

June 13, 2010

Today we come to the end of our current message series, which is also the final series of our 2009-2010 season.  It was a great year of learning and growth for me and hopefully for the church as well.  

Drive was the perfect kick off to the year, because it provided a clear, simple and very practical message, which was also very relevant to the season. Getting people to begin their school year headed in the right direction was a big deal.

Forecast and Advent Conspiracy were powerfully effective in moving the congregation forward to a new place in terms of giving, stewardship and service.  What we are doing in Nigeria, what we will be doing in Haiti, and our expanding efforts here in our own city were all well served and advanced by these series. Some of the projects we are currently undertaking here at church, as well as our staff expansion is made possible by the change in  thinking that happened during these series.

You was a very successful effort to get more people into ministry as we began the new year.  That the number of “First Serves” (people giving ministry a try) soared this spring surely was not unrelated.

Sfumato was probably our most creative and interesting series ever, and it provided a powerful Lenten reflection.  It was also a terrific offering for the Crowne Plaza launch. Antidotal information provided many stories of the impact of this message in the lives of individuals and families.  I felt it had a huge impact in my own life. 

Dangerous Church was, far and away, my favorite series of the year. It combined a strong Biblical message about the church as we read about it in Acts of the Apostles, as well as an important challenge to our own church community. The challenge was to get serious about how we are church in our community.  For me, there was a palpable difference in our parish after sharing this message together.

What on earth? was a very different kind of series for us, and in some ways we struggled with it.  But through this series we took a topic we haven’t ever considered before and looked at it in a completely different way. I think more than a few people walked away rethinking their own worship.

What is the point of all these messages, and of preaching in general?  What is the point of pouring into them the effort and the time they take each week?  What is the point of prioritizing message preparation and presentation above most every other thing on my schedule?  What is the point of preaching over and over again to largely the same people who already know the basics of the Christian message?  

Well, there is no point if nothing ever changes, if no one ever changes, if the congregation is always the same after as before, there is no point.  At best it becomes entertainment, at worst, a weekly confirmation of the lie that just because we show up we’ve got it all together.  And in between those two extremes, there is just a lot of preaching going on that doesn’t really have any point.  How many sermons have you heard that you couldn’t repeat a single thing that was said? Nothing happens, no one changes.  There is no point. That’s why the greatest value in preaching becomes brevity.

Jesus preached for life change, and that’s what he asks his church to do too.  Life change is the point.

We should be preaching life change.  Sure, we need to do it in ways people can hear, yes we need to do it in ways that will engage and perhaps even entertain them.  But our message has got to be a challenging message of change or its not the Gospel. 

The weekly message ( what Catholics call the “homily” and Protestants call the “sermon” ) is sort of where the conversation about life change starts.  If I am effective in my weekend message I have started a conversation.  The biggest compliments for me aren’t the people who say “nice job.”  The biggest compliment I get is when someone tells me they were talking about the message in the car on the way home from church, or that it came up at dinner later in the week, or that it got them thinking, it got them angry, it got them reading their Bible, it got a rip roaring discussion going in their Small Group.  I started a conversation. Hopefully, that conversation eventually expands to include God.

Spiritual growth happens relationally and that is going to mean conversationally. This is what we read about in today’s Gospel reading from the 7th chapter of Luke.  Jesus strikes up two conversations: one with the “sinful” woman and another with Simon the Pharisee.  We don’t know what happened to Simon but the woman in the story definitely experiences a changed life. 

Each weekend, when we get to the message, its not meant in any sense to be the last word, its meant to start the conversation. And hopefully that conversation leads you into conversation with God, and the life change (big or small) he has in mind for you this week.  

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