I am continually humbled by the role I play in God’s work. Not that this is about me at all – I actually am realizing how little I have to offer to the real life issues that the people I speak to each week are dealing with. On any given weekend there are people who are dealing with loved ones with life threatening illnesses, couples feeling helpless as they desire to have a child but are unable, folks who just lost a job, had an unexpected financial crisis, are dealing with depression, anxiety, relational pain, couples on the verge of divorce, parents whose kids have wandered far from their roots, singles contemplating a life alone and countless other life realities. And then there are people who are coming off of amazing weeks where a promotion was granted, a graduation from 4 long years of school, a new job, a new baby, a fun vacation, an engagement, or countless other windfalls. And finally there are a group of people who are neither experiencing a big high or low low – they’re just doing their thing, working, living and enjoying friendships and life in general.
From time to time, I will do what I’m going to call “Behind the Scenes” blog posts where I’ll share a process or piece of information that is more “how” we do things or what goes into them. While the practitioner may find this more valuable than others, I do hope there is some appeal, especially if you’re a curious “how do they do that?” kind of person.
So I had a few ask about the process I go through to prepare sermons/ messages and where I come up with the angles/ applications in messages. If that is of interest to you, well then, read on!
We’re currently in our “Untangling the Mess” series which I pray has been very helpful for people. The reality is both me and I’m sure lots of us have unnecessary stress and worry because of the way we approach our lives, the degree to which we trust God and the way we process events that happen to us. If we could move in this area, just imagine what our lives could be like everyday?
So where do we go after this series? Well, this series will take us through May 2nd. On May 9th we’re starting a new series (which I haven’t landed on a title for yet) going verse by verse through the book of Titus. WOW – how eye-opening has this study been for me? Great stuff and I can’t wait to share what God has shown me as I’ve gone through this. You may want to read it now a few times to get yourself familiar with it.
Here’s another question I was asked:
You blogged a few weeks ago about not using your notes as much when you preach. I was wondering from your standpoint, how is that going?
Well, Allow me to clarify – I am currently preaching with little notes. I started this experiment about 2 weeks after Easter, was affirmed and prayerfully felt it was the right direction to keep pursuing. I tried it by using the back screen with some “rough notes” on it but that didn’t work real well and required an extra volunteer back there (so I stopped doing that). I then tried just memorizing the whole thing, while having my notes up there when I needed them, but I didn’t feel as free. Today, I’ve now gone to: studying like crazy during the week, thinking over the passage, typing up a rough outline and thoughts, stories, ideas, then finalizing that work and ultimately (on Friday or Saturday) typing up a half sheet or so with some rough thoughts on it which I have up there with me on Sundays, but it’s typically just a word here or there, incomplete sentence etc. on one or two half sheets of paper. And so I just talk based loosely on the outline I’ve prepared.
So, how do we think through and develop the creative elements in the services?
Well first of all, I need to say upfront that Chris Thomson is our “pastor of creative arts” and does an amazing job in this process, so I will not take credit for most of the amazing stuff we are blessed with in this area! But let me at least give you the behind the scenes picture of how we get there.
First of all is the sermon/ message/ theme development and I would say that is primarily on my shoulders (but please take note of pt.3 of this blog series for more info on what goes into that). But any speakers other than myself are typically assigned by me and they are typically asked to fit in with whatever series we’re doing. So whoever is speaking on a particular week comes up with a 5-6 sentence paragraph stating what they feel God has put on their heart to share. When I’m speaking, I typically try to get the message into a key sentence or “take away”.
Ok, let’s talk about what we talk about. (this is part 3 of 4 on the topic of our weekend services and particularly the communication of God’s Word).
In this post I want to examine how we plan what we’ll talk about and how we come up with the particular themes and books of the Bible we teach.
The big thing on the planning side is that we look at the church communication as 52 weeks as opposed to one week at a time. So we’re thinking in sections of weeks and we’re thinking about the whole year not just this season. So for example, we know that Easter and the weeks following Easter tend to be a great time to connect with newer people, non-Christians and family members. So we tend to plan a topical series that connects with some felt needs in our world. We also promote this series big time in hopes that’s lots of Grace people will invite friends and family for this series. The same is mostly true for the first series in September. We tend to use the fall (Oct-Nov) and winter (Jan-Mar) as times to go deeper for the Christ-follower, typically preaching through a book of the Bible or a section of Scripture. The summer is also a time where we like to take on a more “study-like” topic to connect with people. August often involves some kind of vision/ direction of the church type series and sometimes vision is shared on the weeks leading up to Easter. The point is we try to think in 52 week sections hoping to build a “balanced diet” spiritually speaking for the church. Every week, however, I would say our goal is to preach to believers in Jesus in a way that is always intelligible for unbelievers/ unchurched folks. The primary audience though is believers in Christ and calling us to life in the way of Christ.
Ok, let’s talk about style and form in preaching.
There are a number of different types of preaching, allow me to briefly define them and tell you where I land. I am grateful for Mark Driscoll’s book: “Vintage Church” (a worthwhile read by the way) for his summaries on the types. What appears here are my summaries with some insight from Driscoll.
Expository Sermons – these are sermons that go verse by verse through a book of the Bible. While the Bible doesn’t command or even really illustrate this style it is a great style for the following reasons: it ensures that the preacher doesn’t just preach his “pets”. Meaning, by going through a book of the Bible we cover the whole counsel of God, even the challenging parts of Scripture. It also makes it easier to follow and prepare since we’re not going all over the Bible the participant knows what we’re doing next week and can read ahead.
Today begins a short series on how I/ we think about preaching at Grace Church. In this series I’d like to take on the subjects: what is “deep teaching” really? (there’s lots of misunderstanding on this subject in evangelicalism); why do I preach in the style I do?; how we plan sermons/ themes (calendar wise)? and finally how do we plan the services (creative elements, dramas, videos etc). The hope is to pretty much cover most of the Sunday morning experience and give you a true “behind the scenes” look at it all.
Ok, so here are the “blanks” we never got to during Sunday’s message — keep reading if you want a behind the scenes view on my preaching journey lately…
A Snapshot of the Church (Ephesians 4:1-16)
1. Authentic Living
2. Pursuing Unity
3. Leaders Equipping
4. Members Participating
5. Jesus Glorified
Lately, thanks (I think) to a few godly men in my life who called me to it, I’ve been experimenting with more “extemporaneous” preaching. What that means is you study, you immerse yourself in the text or topic you are teaching on Sunday. You think through stories from your life, ways to explain tough concepts. You read everything you can get your hands on and listen to whatever is appropriate. Then on Sunday, you get up and speak, often with an outline in your head and some rough concepts, but you let the Spirit lead and guide through your time. Now, let me be clear, I do believe the Spirit guides and leads when you prepare a manuscript or notes to teach from. And I also think some guys are wired to do this more than others and you need to find what works for you. But again, I had a few guys who I trust say, “Jason, when you step away from your notes, it really seems to come alive”. So for the Help Wanted series I “experimented” with this style and a number of people came up and affirmed that my friends are on to something.