Episode 109: Developing Preachers and Teachers

In this episode we sit down to talk about some of the ins and outs of intentionally developing preachers and teachers in our congregations.

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Our conviction is that the word of God has to “go”, but we need to train people up to do this… 

A lot of churches depend only on seminaries to train preachers and teachers… but it’s not until you’re in the soil of the local congregation that you really develop your voice in preaching and teaching… 

The Bible is full of stories of God putting his hand on people, and the church’s responsibility is to call that out of them… 

Developing preachers and teachers need both opportunities and honest feedback… when I was a young pastor, a guy invited me to preach weekly at a truck stop chapel… that was where I got my start, but the problem was that I got no feedback… 

It’s a little like a musician getting started—if you can play in clubs and bars, you’ll get good pretty fast, and then when you’re on the big stage with all the support, it’s easier than if you just got thrown up there… you need to say “yes” to opportunities that come your way… 

Too many preachers are looking for instant success… the hard work of getting better requires a lot of work… after a hundred times—maybe—you’ll begin to find your voice… by two hundred messages you should be comfortable in your own skin… 

We need to create rooms where we review the work (of preaching) that we’ve done, and then preview the work that’s coming up… 

It’s important to surround yourself with multigenerational, multiethnic, and different gender voices… I’m trying to surround myself with people that will help me understand the people I’m pastoring…

We also need to create layers of opportunities… it doesn’t have to be 30-minute sermons from the start… even two to three-minute offering moments are a great place to start… 

Help people understand that preaching is a speech-act… it needs to be something that we can listen to and enjoy… listen to the great storytellers and writers… 

If we’ve got the greatest story that’s ever been told, we ought to be able to handle it beautifully..

Episode 108: An Interview with Winn Collier – A Burning in My Bones

In this episode we sit down with Winn Collier, Director of the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination at Western Theological Seminary and to talk with him about the release of his book, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson. Grab a copy here.

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When I was a young, struggling pastor, someone handed me Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles… I needed that book… I didn’t have language for what it meant to be a pastor, and Eugene gave me the starting of that language… 

A lot of people don’t understand Eugene… they think that even though he grew up Pentecostal, he left it in a huff… but that wasn’t true… he was invited into the Presbyterian world and at the end of the day it was more about what was in front of him… 

For someone who had as deep an ecclesiology as he did, he was profoundly un-enamored with any kind of ideal about any church tradition… when people asked why he was Presbyterian, he would say, “Because God put me here and I made a promise…” 

Eugene asked God to make him a saint… but a saint for him wasn’t someone who had achieved a nirvana-like experience but rather someone who in their very human body was so ravished by the love of Christ that their interior and exterior were becoming congruent… 

Eugene had a burning longing for holiness, for God… and at the same time he understood that a saint was someone who was becoming more and more human… that was the source of his gravitas… 

He insisted in a hundred different ways that all of our ideals have got to die… our pictures of the world are not the real world… until we let Jesus illuminate the actual realities of our life, we will just be fighting against God… 

There are a lot of things that Eugene stands for which we hear in an abstracted kind of way… but Eugene didn’t believe in abstract principles… he was interested in particular people in particular situations… he always started with, “Tell me what God is doing in your life…” 

When you ask the question, “What does Eugene Peterson contribute to the pastoral imagination?”, I think the answer is, “God…” 

We are so desperate to have God at the very core of our being again… all the upheaval we are seeing in our culture… and all the questions we are holding about the future… what the future holds is God… Eugene relentlessly pointed to the Triune God…

Episode 107: Four Rules for Preachers

In this episode we sit down to talk about some of the marks of genuine Spirit-inspired preaching.

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What I found fascinating reading through Micah is that the same word used for “wind” is the word used for “Spirit”… one wind is holy and one is not… not everyone knows how to discern the difference… 

Pastors should pray before they preach… we are under tremendous pressure these days… there are thousands of land mines… the temptation is to fall under the fear of man and to preach in a way that simply satisfies the base…  

The occupational hazard of the experienced preacher is that we can do this from our heads… we get good at outlining ideas, but we can forget that a good sermon is supposed to come from the living center of our union with God… 

Pastors should revere the Scriptures… right now there are a lot of people demanding content that is not Scriptural… they want us to preach on certain topics that are not informed and shaped by the Holy Scriptures… 

I believe it is going to become more and more important for pastors to explain why these texts are still important for us today… we need to get back to helping people understand the overarching narrative of the Scriptures… 

One of the things that we have learned is that by preaching the Scriptures, we get all the “felt needs” topics thrown in… we just have to be willing to hang in there for the long game… 

When you do preach it should be producing the fruits of the Spirit… what kind of people is your preaching producing…? How is it shaping them…? And in what spirit are you preaching the text…? Anger and divisiveness are not of the Holy Spirit… 

Many people think that the issues we’re seeing in our culture demand an angry response… I am very concerned about what’s happening in our culture… but I want to speak out on them in a radically new way… 

Pastors should be pointing people to Jesus… I know that sounds obvious, but the Great Commission has not been amended… we have the same assignment the saints of old had: to bring people to Jesus…

Episode 106: An Interview with Dr. Chris Green – Sanctifying Interpretation

In this episode we sit down with Dr. Chris Green to talk about his book, Sanctifying Interpretation, and how God uses the ‘troubling texts’ of Scripture to make us holy. Grab a copy of it here, and/or read Andrew’s review of it here.

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My relationship with Scripture began in church… we went to church 4-5 times per week and the sermons were almost always from the Old Testament… the readings of the Old Testament were almost always typological… 

From the time of my childhood, the Old Testament texts—especially the troubling ones—have been the ones that have drawn me…  

I believe that God is like Jesus… if that is true, then all of Scripture is written by Jesus… so we should look at his teaching to see what the rest of Scripture is… 

When you look at the Gospel portraits of Jesus, you see that he is incredibly difficult… we have this notion that Jesus was a simple teacher… but that’s not true… Jesus in the Gospels almost never says anything that anyone understands, and when they do think they understand it they try to kill him… that’s true to what the Old Testament is… 

Before I wrote this book, I was convinced that you couldn’t talk about reading Scripture without first talking about what it means to be human and what it means to be the people of God… human beings have a calling: to be interpreters and mediators, and we mediate by interpreting… we are priests in that way… 

This, I believe, is the only way to understand why God would give us the Bible in the first place: it must be that he means for us to have to grapple with texts… Jesus never writes anything himself; he inspires others to write his story—and this is how Jesus writes and teaches… 

The reason that interpretation is difficult is because the process of becoming holy people is difficult…  

When we’re reading troubling texts, the first and most important thing is to pay attention to the fact that we are troubled, to lean into it, and to ask why we are troubled…  

Everyone says that the Old Testament is full of judgment… but if you actually go back and read the texts, what you see is that without exception, the judgments fail to work… no judgment short of the judgment that falls on Christ actually solves the human situation…  

Everyone needs to read Scripture… but we need to stop talking about it and actually read it, and read it well… we need to defamiliarize ourselves with our “readings” of Scripture and go back and read them with fresh eyes…

Episode 105: The Places of Encounter

In this episode we feature a conversation we had at our recent Essential Church Learning Community on “places of encounter” in our worship gatherings.

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Worship in the early church was designed around a fourfold shape or movement: the (re)gathering of the body, the proclamation of the Word, the response (which was usually done at the Table), and the sending, where the church is sent back out as missionaries… 

One of the things that can happen to us when we think about “encounter” as the place where the Holy Spirit “fits” within our worship service… but in the thinking of the New Testament, the Spirit is the whole logic of the service… the Spirit supersaturates everything that the church is… 

The third stanza of the Creed speaks to this… the church is a continuation of the stanza on the creed… the impact of the Triune God in the world is the existence of the church in the first place… which means that the whole service, in a sense, is “charismatic”…  

When we’re thinking about the “encounter” paradigm, it’s easy to think that we only encounter the Spirit in one part of the service… but this runs contrary to what Paul says in Ephesians 5…  

Paul thinks that we get filled with the Spirit by speaking to one another, by singing and making music, by giving thanks, and by submitting to one another… which means that we encounter the Spirit in each one of these places… 

Too much evangelical preaching prizes doctrinal correctness as the bar we must measure up to… too much charismatic preaching prizes experience… we think both are crucial… 

We think that the sermon is the place where the Word of God himself is speaking through the words of Scripture and through the words of the preacher… good preaching happens when we ask, “What is the Spirit saying NOW to these people?” 

Art is intentionally evocative… when Cranmer wrote the prayer book, he knew that what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies… part of why the arts belong in church is because we are trying to help people love Jesus, not just learn about Jesus… 

Sacraments are a proclamation that there is a startling physicality to the life of faith… we’re not gnostics or dualists… Jesus gives his people bread and wine because Jesus thought that faith was startlingly physical… to follow Jesus is to become “fleshy” in all the right ways… 

I want to remind you that sacraments are not just nice little mental assents to something that happened but that Jesus is changing us spiritually, physically, physiologically through them… 

The Spirit comes to us through other people… when we show up in worship, we are bringing the gifts and graces God has given us for other people…

Episode 104: The Pastor and the Worship Leader: 5 Battles

In this episode we take you to a conversation between Pastor Brady and Pastor Jon Egan at our recent Essential Church Learning Community on the relationship between the senior pastor and the worship leader.

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I firmly believe that this is one of the most vulnerable relationships in the church… it’s an area where the enemy attacks… the key for Pastor Brady and I is understanding that we have different personalities…

If you do not like conflict, you can’t lead… leadership requires conflict… conflict is where the best ideas come from…

I believe that there is an ordained leader to lead the church and that it is not the worship leader… I think the senior pastor is the worship pastor of the church… deciding that early makes things a lot simpler…

Most of the major conflict in the church is just the accumulation of minor aggravations that went unsaid… but if you’ll speak out on the minor issues, you’ll have very few major issues…

One of the things that’s helpful is that you want your worship pastors to feel like they have ownership over the process of choosing songs, but they have to be willing to submit it…

Another battle is the battle for the clock… we shouldn’t go long just because we haven’t prepared… a lot of worship can happen if everyone comes ready…

I grew up in a tradition where 20-minute worship sets felt like a joke… it was a great lesson to realize that every minute, every breath, can truly count…

A lot of the wasted time in worship is not the songs, but the transitional moments that aren’t prepared… if you’re not prepared, you’ll start rambling…

All of us need words of affirmation, but we all need to wrestle with whether we need inordinate amounts of affirmation in order to do our job… how much of the spotlight do any of us really need? 

People are coming to church when their whole world is being turned upside down… people need to know that church is predictable, stable, and safe… and sound and lights can help with that…

This is a highly relational environment, and there needs to be as much relationship as possible between the senior pastor and the worship leader… I don’t just see Jon as a gifted musician and singer… the first thing I see is a remarkable person who I enjoy as my friend and who happens to be my worship leader…

Episode 103: An Interview with Dr. Simeon Zahl – The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience

In this episode we sit down with Dr. Simeon Zahl to talk about how a robust theology of the Holy Spirit can give us better language for talking about the role of experience in the life of a Christian. Grab a copy of his book, The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience here.

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The main thing that drove me to write this book was that Protestant theology had gotten into a false dichotomy: either suspicion about experience or being uncritically accepting of it… I just think we need a better way of accounting for the experiential dimensions of the Spirit’s work… 

I grew up with good Lutheran theology, but when I was in college at Harvard I got involved in the Alpha course… and at the Holy Spirit weekend, a lot of people had experiences of the Holy Spirit that were life-changing… I had been taught that I needed to make a choice between my Lutheran theology and the charismatic experience, but Alpha showed me that wasn’t the case… 

People mean different things when they talk about ‘experience’… but fundamentally, everything is experience… you can’t get rid of it… the thing to do is to try to think well about it…  

The main way the Scripture leads us to think about experience is through the doctrine of the Holy Spirit… the Spirit is the right way of talking about God’s action in the world…  

There’s a story that’s told in the theological academy that the doctrine of justification by faith is a cold, legal, rationalistic form of Christianity… but when you read [the Reformers], you see that it’s all about a kind of experience that you’re being led to… an experience of moving from terror to joy…  

Biblically and theologically, the Spirit is involved in three areas of life: salvation, sanctification, and the mission of the church… these things are not abstract… they are about having our desires transformed so that we desire the things of God…  

There’s a way of talking about the Spirit where when you’re stuck in behavior patterns you can’t change then it must be a sign that you’re not a Christian… that always bothered me… what do we do when there isn’t striking transformation? 

Luther is helpful here… he says you are both a sinner and a saint, which creates room to admit what is true… the gospel creates a firewall against despair… when our attention is on God, things go back into their proper shape… 

We need to beware where we are preaching an idea or a concept that hasn’t been filtered through experience… it will create a disconnect for people…

Episode 102: An Interview with Rich Villodas – A Deeply Formed Life

In this episode we sit down with pastor and author Rich Villodas to discuss his book, The Deeply Formed Life.

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The five values of our congregation are contemplative rhythms, racial reconciliation, interior examination, sexual wholeness, or missional presence… we’re trying to offer these values to the world and to the church as a paradigm of faithfulness to Jesus…  

Contemplative rhythms are not just about slowing down our pace, but also giving ourselves over to God so that we can address the issues of our day from a deeper kind of wisdom…  

We need to resist formational compartmentalization… the evangelical tradition prioritizes right thinking, the Pentecostal tradition prioritizes right experience, and the progressive tradition prioritizes right action… I want to hold them all together… 

The foundation of engaging matters of race is thinking about the gospel differently… if I limit the gospel to a post-mortem status, I’ll miss it… I’ve found myself this past year regularly coming back to the question, “What do we mean when we say ‘the gospel’?” 

I’ve found myself also this past year reframing for people what racism really is… it’s not just an individual thing… we need to look at it from an individual, interpersonal, and institutional perspective…  

We need to think about how our family of origin shaped us with respect to race… to have people reflect on that and name it is painful… but we need to go back to the scene of the crime—where the malformation first took place… 

We also need to practice listening to other people’s experiences “in the bond of peace”… those who have had the privileges of social power must take the lead to listen first and most often…  

I am very hopeful for the church… I’m in conversation with so many pastors who are showing leadership, creativity, and innovation… a willingness to try new things amidst a new reality, and doing it with joy…  

I’m also encouraged by so many people who are investigating the claims of Christ… I’m hearing so many stories about how the pandemic, our current political climate, and the racial hostilities of the past year are pulling people to something deeper and higher…

Episode 101: An Interview with Steve Cuss – Managing Leadership Anxiety.

In this episode, we sit down with Steve Cuss to talk about his book Managing Leadership Anxiety and how leaders can become not only more self-aware but also wise about managing both their own anxiety and that of others. You can learn more about Steve and his work at capablelife.me.

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This book was born out of some measure of personal desperation… from a deep desire that the life I was proclaiming to others was also the life I was living… 

All chronic anxiety is based on false belief and false need… leadership anxiety is what happens to us when we don’t get what we feel we need to be okay… 

One form of this for me was the belief that every sermon I preached needed to be the best sermon people had ever heard… then, whether it went really well or poorly, I became anxious… I was living under a false need…  

There are universal sources of anxiety, where it doesn’t matter how you’re wired, if you’re in that situation, you’ll be anxious… for instance, whenever we are in situations where we don’t know what to do, we’ll be anxious… that’s where a lot of pastors are right now… 

When a pastor is better at eloquently telling people about the love of God than they are at experiencing it for themselves, they are going to hit a wall… 

Burnout isn’t because of workload… burnout happens because we haven’t addressed, for instance, what happens when the critic calls and all of our old “stories” from the past come up… we can’t control whether that will happen, only our response to it… 

What anxiety does is that it tells us a lie… it is spiritual warfare… it’s about the story we tell ourselves and the voice of our inner critic… the gospel frees us from the tyranny of believing these lies… 

The first step to becoming a non-anxious leader is to pay hyper attention to your own reactivity… and then to learn to notice how your anxiety infects other people and how their anxiety infects you…  

I think that we are failing at discipling our people into non-anxiousness… most people are more discipled by their political point of view than they are by Jesus…

Episode 100: Responding to January 6th

In this episode we sit down to talk about the events that transpired in our nation’s capitol on January 6th, what those events are telling us, and how the church needs to respond to it.

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The timing of what happened in our nation’s capitol could not have been worse for pastors… we’re all feeling it… that we didn’t need this… but sometimes we don’t have the luxury of choosing timing… 

What we saw in our nation’s capitol is an accumulation of emotions that have been building up for a long time… it was hard to watch… I want to come out and say publicly that I condemn mob violence in any form… it was travesty, demonic, it was a sin…  

We’ve always told our people to vote and get involved in politics… we’re not a-political… but we also believe that maintaining our witness to Jesus is the paramount thing… we have to maintain the integrity of our witness…  

We need to ask ourselves one primary question: What is it that God blesses? That question leads me back to the beatitudes, which teaches us what God blesses… what we saw at our nation’s capitol is not the beatitudes being fleshed out…  

We cannot choose the ways of the world and get the kingdom of God… if you want the kingdom of heaven to come to the earth, you have to choose the narrow way of Jesus…  

The crucial thing about the way of Jesus is that it’s not quietism… Jesus bears truthful witness all the way to the end… but what he won’t do is he won’t yank the reins of power back…  

At some point it just comes down to having faith: do we believe that God is in charge or not…? Do we still believe that the Holy Spirit is better at changing hearts than we are…? 

I think in this moment, something is being driven out… if we’ll respond to the invitation of the Spirit, Jesus will cast some things out of us…  

The meek will inherit the earth… we’re not trying to protect something that’s already given so much as we are trying to live in a way that positions us to receive what God will one day give… 

What we’re all afraid of is that there’s some identifiable group out there that’s going to take away everything we hold dear…