Preach Responsibly

Musings on Preaching, Ministry, and Life


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Change

I still love to preach.

I still love to hear great preaching.

I still plan to write a blog that talks about preaching responsibly.

But I’m not going to be a full-time preacher, at least not in the immediate future.  Like a Robert Frost poem, my life has taken a divergent path to a different sort of ministry.  Oddly enough, this ministry coincides on many points with my philosophy of ministry that I posted (ages ago) as my last entry on the blog.  It’s amazing how God works those things out.

So what am I doing?  I’m working with this awesome nonprofit organization in Memphis called HopeWorks.  A large part of my job consists of teaching GED classes.  The HopeWorks GED program recently expanded with the goal of enrolling 2000 people this year.  We’ve been blessed to have a partnership with the Holmes Road Church of Christ.  The members and staff at this church have been exceptional in terms of their involvement with the Adult Education Program here.  I am thankful for the space they have given us to use for our classes, but I’m more thankful for the people who are investing in the lives of our students.

What do I do with HopeWorks?  I teach High School Equivalency classes to adult learners.  Most people have heard of the GED test, which is often used to test for HSE, but there are other tests used as well.  At the moment, Tennessee uses the GED test, but will be switching to the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) in 2014.  I also act as sort of a “chaplain” for the Adult Education program.  I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of everything I’m doing, but those two hats (teacher and chaplain) seem to best describe what I do.

How does that fit with my philosophy of ministry?  The most striking thing is building something that wasn’t part of the HopeWorks Adult Education program before.  I get to build a formal spiritual component to add to the Adult Education program.  Spirituality was already part of our classes, but it was an informal part.  I’m working on lots of things to sustain and grow the impact we have on our students.

Some statistics to help you gauge our effectiveness.  First, our goal is to serve 2000 students over the next two years (running July 2013 to June 2015).  That’s a lot of students looking for a better opportunity in life!  Second, at the Memphis City Schools testing facility, 20% or more of the students receiving their GED have come from the HopeWorks program.  Of all the HopeWorks students testing for the first time, 75% of them are passing the math test.

How can you help?  Please check out our website for more information about the organization.  Your contributions go a long way.  If you’d like to make a donation, the website has a means to do that here.  Or, we’d love to have you volunteer some time with our students.


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Philosophy of Ministry

I think it is good for preachers and all ministers to have a concise philosophy of ministry.  Mine will always be a work in progress to some extent, but I do think it’s important to have focus as we engage in our preaching and ministry tasks.  Below is my current philosophy of ministry:

 

Everything I do in ministry will be done in order to honor God. God is revealed to us in scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is relational within the Godhead, and God desires relationship with Creation. This is especially true of humanity. Since humanity is made in God’s image, he desires a relationship with us. His desire for us is also that we live in right relationship with him, with others, and with his creation.

 

Many of the forces working in the world today are destructive—they seek to tear down institutions, families, and individuals. God, however, is a creator. The Father sent his son to grow up as the child of a carpenter. Therefore, I choose in my ministry to build rather than destroy, but rarely in ministry do we create out of nothing. As an adult, Jesus mended many who were broken in body and in spirit. Sometimes buildings need an inspection, but a building inspection serves no purpose if it points out the flaws in a structure with no one following up to make repairs or improvements. I will use my gifts of training and teaching in order to build-up the members of the church and their relationships with one another and with God.

 

I focus on three areas of building. First I seek to build and strengthen relationships, starting with my own relationship with God. I also seek to help others strengthen their relationship with God. Preaching is one of the primary avenues that I use to encourage people in this direction. Another avenue is teaching—which has an entirely different flavor from preaching, but both serve to instruct, exhort, and encourage Christians and non-Christians alike. In this area of building, I also seek to establish healthy relationships with other leaders of the congregation, and with church members. In these relationships, we can encourage one another to greater faith and service in Christ.

 

Second, I seek to build stronger families. By focusing on marriages and parenting, we can help to build, or rebuild, a structure that is undergoing increasing decay in America. I do not think anyone enters into a marriage hoping it will fail, but too often this is the story, even with Christian couples. Through emphasizing pre-marital and marital assessment and counseling, through mentoring relationships, and through classes and workshops, I will facilitate the strengthening of marriages and families within the church…and anyone else who has a care for their marriage and who wants to participate.

 

Finally, I seek to build and train disciples. Even the person who has been a Christian the longest still has room to grow in faith and service. Through my relationships with others I seek to identify their gifts and explore with them how they can best put these gifts to use in service to God and others. Another part of training disciples is making disciples or evangelism. I hope to live my life as if I am a missionary, and I encourage church members to live the same way.


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Transparent Preaching

How much should a preacher talk about himself?

On the one hand, you have David Buttrick who argues that self-disclosure has virtually no place in preaching.  On the other hand you have Fred Craddock who talks about his own experience so much that at times you think he’s preaching The Gospel According to Craddock.

I do think there is a happy medium.  I was told that Ron Allen once suggested that you should only talk about yourself once every month to six weeks.  While I don’t think we need to place such a rigorous rule on our preaching, I think there is  reason for Allen’s suggestion (I would appreciate a citation for this rule, if it is indeed from Allen).

Certainly, in some of Allen’s recent works on the listeners’ responses to a sermon, he has also argued the value of transparent self-disclosure.  Most of us would agree that some of the most effective and powerful ministry and preaching emanates out of personal experience.  Whether it is a long-term recovering addict working with those whose addictions are still insidiously intertwined in their lives or a reformed prisoner working with newly released convicts, our experiences shape who we are and give us a portion of our pathos and ethos.  Yet still there is a danger; are we making ourselves the center of our message rather than the risen Jesus, God the Father, or the Holy Spirit?

The simple point I’m trying to make is that some preachers talk about themselves too much, and that is a problem no matter how “transparent” or “authentic” or “connected” it makes you sound, because repeated appeal to self has the de facto effect of making the preaching task about the preacher and not about the message.

Out of a sense of fairness and in full-disclosure, I don’t particularly like to talk about myself from the pulpit.  There are preachers who do this very well, but I’m not one of them!  When I hear someone with this ability to make their story a powerful testament to the gospel, I can appreciate it, but I’m not very good at it.  But more often than not, when I hear a preacher talking about himself, I start to get a “rubbed the wrong way” kind of feeling–especially if the personal story is the central focus of the sermon and is not being used just to support a particular move within the sermon.

But here is my question…those of you who are hearers of sermons (and if you’re a preacher, I hope you listen to sermons), how do you feel about a sermon when the preacher talks about himself?  Feel free to discuss under my somewhat incomplete and tongue-in-cheek poll.

 

See

Ron Allen, http://www.amazon.com/Ronald-J.-Allen/e/B001IXMTT8/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1354554217&sr=1-1

David Buttrick, Homiletic Moves and Structures, Fortress Press (1987).  http://www.amazon.com/Homiletic-Moves-Structures-David-Buttrick/dp/0800620968

 


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At the urging of my wife, I’m going to post this.  We’ve been through a long journey through a wilderness season of life-and don’t know when that wilderness experience will end.  As an exercise while reading through the Psalms of Lament, I created a lament for us to pray together.

Psalm of Lament for the Hallett Family

A song of Eric to no particular tune.

Why do people give hope with their lips,

But destroy hope by what they do?

 

Where are your people?

Where are they to show us your love?

Where are they so that we might see you?

Where are your prophets?

Where are your encouragers?

 

There is no one by our side to help us;

No one cares about us.

There is no one to shelter us.

No one cares that our life withers away!

 

We wander alone in a strange desert landscape.

In our desolate state, how can we sing to you?

Yet, still we sing to enter your throne room.

 

But where are you?  We cannot find you.

It feels like you’re hiding from us!

Our hearts tell us to seek for you;

But we can’t find you.

Why have you hidden yourself,

And allowed such pain to come upon us?

 

Do you hear our prayers as we cry out?

You alone are our God;

Hear our cry for mercy!

Do not be silent, for silence places us in a pit!

You have put us in a pit, a dark place…

You have taken our friends away…

We are confined with no hope of escape…

And our eyes overflow with tears.

 

Save us!  When we call, answer quickly!

For we are poor and needy,

And our hearts are wounded.

Deliver us!

Help us out of the goodness of your love!

For your name’s sake, do something!

 

For we trust in you God;

We trust your name and your word.

Others do not trust in you;

They trust in anything but you.

But our trust is in you alone,

Yet you have forgotten us like someone long dead.

 

Do great things in us so that your greatness is seen!

Is there some reason for us to be ashamed?

You have told us we are made blameless,

So why are we being punished?

We want to do your work,

But people will laugh and mock us if we are unable!

Will they also mock you?

Do great things in us so that your greatness is seen!

 

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,

Lord who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,”

Let us not be ashamed and forgive us,

“So that we can, with reverence, serve you.”

 

We cry to you, God!

Stand with us; stand by us!

Give us shelter; provide for us now!

You are our help and will deliver us.

 

Listen to our cry, for we are in desperate need.

Be with us.  Show us your face.  Show us your love.

Guide us, and let us honor you.

Do not hide from us any longer.

Do great things in us.


1 Comment

What in the world?

I’ve started blogs before and never been consistent about it, so what in the world am I doing starting this one you might ask?

Well, I want to start a blog focusing on my love of preaching and on my ministry and life in general.  I hope it is of some benefit to you, and if nothing else, I hope it is of some benefit to me.
Grace and Peace

E

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