Author Archives: laluchetti

Does the Holiness of the Preacher Really Matter?

There’s just something about Stephen. He possesses the most important preaching characteristics. Acts 6:10 states “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he (Stephen) spoke.” The content of Stephen’s preaching (“wisdom”) and his character (“Spirit”) became a brick wall for the enemies of the Christian movement. Stephen demonstrates that when sermonic content and the preacher’s character are congruent with Christ, preaching is hard to “withstand.” Most of us would agree, I think, that wise sermonic content is a necessity for Christian proclamation. However, I wonder if the Church has forgotten the other side of the Stephen-coin, that the Christ-congruent character of the preacher is just as important as Christ-congruent content.

Do I sound a bit like a Donatist? The Donatists of the 4th century put too much emphasis on the character of the clergy. They believed that if the priest administering the sacrament of Communion was a spiritual weakling, then the sacrament would not be efficacious for the recipient. Augustine was among the chief opponents of the Donatists. He asserted that the grace of God comes through the sacrament regardless of the spiritual state of the person serving the sacrament. This historical controversy begs some pressing contemporary questions? If we over-emphasize the person of the preacher might we become homiletic donatists? Do we really want to suggest that the preacher’s character has significant bearing on the effectiveness of the sermon? Can a preacher’s sinfulness really inhibit the power of God that comes through the preaching event?

Clearly, we need to avoid extreme homiletic donatism. But, we must be just as suspicious of homiletic docetism. Docetism was a heretical belief of the 2nd century that denied the physicality of Christ. Docetism under-emphasized the humanity, or personhood, of Christ. Homiletic docetism, then, is an extreme neglect of the person of the preacher. A homiletic docetic thinks preaching is entirely dependent on divinity and that humanity, or the preacher, doesn’t matter at all to the dynamics of preaching. As long as God shows up through the preaching, nothing else matters-not even the preacher!

It seems to me that, somehow, the Church must live between the extremes of homiletic donatism, an over-emphasis of the preacher’s character, and homiletic docetism, a complete denial of the importance of the preacher. For some reason, God has decided to do his best work through a combination, a wedding together, of divinity with humanity. The Bible is the divine word through the humanity of its authors. The Incarnation is the act of divinity coming through humanity. And the sermon, as far as I can tell, is another example of our gracious God’s willingness to come to us through us, divine truth bursting through a human agent we call preacher. Stephen proves that when a good sermon, full of divine “wisdom,” comes through a good preacher, full of the “Spirit,” that the homiletic sparks fly!

So, what do you think? Are you more prone to be a homiletic donatist who is so enamored with the holiness of the preacher that the sovereign power of God through preaching is ignored? Or, are you more likely to struggle with a homiletic docetism that ignores the role and person of the preacher in the preaching event? Does your theological tradition lead you toward one of these homiletic heresies? Most importantly, how can you avoid both extremes through your development and delivery of sermons?

You are invited to the Festival on Preaching!
The human hunger for life-giving, hope-inducing, and identity-shaping good news has never been more intense. Yet the complexities of preaching today are more significant than ever. The Festival on Preaching is designed to inspire and equip preachers to meet these challenges and maximize the opportunities of preaching today. On May 20-21, Wesley Seminary and College Wesleyan Church are co-hosting what we pray will be a significant investment in your preaching ministry. For more information and to register click on the following link: Festival on Preaching.

The $25 registration fee is waived for Wesley Seminary students!

Create Contextual Connectors

While the historical and literary contexts of a particular biblical text do not change, the context of the people to whom you preach is constantly changing. The contemporary context, then, should have significant bearing on how the biblical exegesis is shaped and delivered through the sermon. Using language that contextually connects with the specific people to whom you preach is often the difference between a mediocre sermon and a great one.

Contextual connectors are those tactile, imagistic words strategically placed in sermons that earth the values of God’s kingdom within the realities of the listener’s life. These connectors avoid conceptual generalities that can only be heard in the ear but not seen in the mind’s eye. One of the ways to discern the level of your contextual connectivity is to ask yourself regarding the last sermon you preached: Could I preach this sermon to any group, regardless of the age, ethnicity, socio-economics, and education level of that group without changing any language in the sermon? If the answer is “no,” then your sermon is contextual. If you answered “yes” then the following exercises can help you connect with the diversity of people to whom you preach.

-Pray the sermon through the church directory: Once you have an idea of the focus (what the sermon will say), pray the focus through the church directory. As you look at the pictures or names of the people to whom you will preach, pray the sermon focus into the specific situations of their lives. This practice prevents the sermon from becoming some sort of generalized pie in the sky and grounds the real Gospel in the realities of the real people to whom we preach. As you pray for the group to whom you will preach, words and phrases will surface that connect to the specific hopes and hurts, dreams and disappointments of people in your particular preaching context.

-Ask contextual questions: With your sermon focus in mind, prayerfully reflect upon the following questions: How does this sermon intersect with my life? How does this sermon engage the hopes and hurts of the Church? How does this sermon intersect with the needs of my Community, Nation, and World? Carefully pausing to exegete your circles of context (personal, church, community, nation, and world) will only accentuate the power of your biblical exegesis.
So, let’s say you’re preaching from Genesis 3 about the fig leaves Adam and Eve used to cover their sin and shame. The fig leaves also became a barrier to the intimacy they craved with each other and with God. What are the fig leaves we use to cover our nakedness that keep us from the intimacy we crave? Well, the fig leaf should change based upon the context of the specific group to whom we preach. If you’re preaching to teens, the fig leaf might be popularity and possessions. If you’re preaching to white collar, well-educated people, the fig leaf might be accomplishments. If you’re preaching to rural farmers, the fig-leaf might be land and livestock. If you’re preaching to senior citizens, the fig-leaf might be wealth. You get the idea. The context should shape the sermon.

The best preachers are the best listeners. Learn to listen with one ear to God through the text and with the other the people to whom you preach. The listening preacher will be contextual enough to proclaim Christ with pinpoint profundity on Sunday morning.

Christians and Politics: Lord, Help Us!

Things are heating up in the 2012 Presidential Campaign between President Obama and Governor Romney. Attack ads from both candidates aimed at the other are all over the radio and television. The amount of money spent on these advertisements is enough to feed a third world country for years to come. Frankly, this over-spending sickens me. It is nearly impossible to tune into the news and get an unbiased, fact-based, spin-free take on each candidate’s social, economic, and military policies. The volatility, angst, and demonizing that fuels this campaign is, at first glance, hopelessly unredeemable. However, upon closer inspection, this emotionally charged political context is a field perfectly ripe for the Church and the optimistic hope she extends. So my advice is not to disengage from the political pessimism, but to engage it with values reflecting the kingdom of God. Here are a few things for followers of Christ to keep in mind as November nears:

  • · Be known more for your allegiance to Christ than your political affiliation. There are some Christians among us who are known in their workplace and neighborhood, even their church, more for their Democratic ideals or Republican vision than for their Christian faith. Our number one commitment is to the often counter-cultural values of Christ’s kingdom not to the politics of our particular party. Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent, certain policies of your party clearly do not always align with Christ. We gain credibility and Christ gets exalted when we admit this. If I asked someone in your office, neighborhood, or extended family to tell me what makes you tick, would they mention the Prince of Peace or your political party?
  •  · Always avoid political hate-speech. I have heard preachers from the pulpit call certain politicians the “anti-Christ.” More often, I have observed long-time Christians talking about Hillary Clinton or George Bush with venomous hatred in their voices and words. It may be okay for a reporter on Fox or CNN to use hate-speech, but when used by a Christ-follower it diminishes their witness to the world concerning the God of love. I am not at all suggesting that in the name of love we never speak out against the social and economic injustices of a politician or a party. I am suggesting that our naming of injustice should never turn into childish name-calling.
  • · Don’t be a lemming. A lemming is defined as “a person who unthinkingly joins a mass movement.” Forgive me for the potential offensiveness of this imagery, but I tire of watching Christians simply take their political cues from others without prayerfully, biblically and critically thinking through the issues. While I sometimes appreciate the political commentary of people like James Dobson, the late Chuck Colson, Tony Campolo, and Shane Claiborne, it would be inauthentic and perhaps foolish to buy into their political convictions cart blanche without thinking through and developing our own. Perhaps your wrestling through the political issues with the help of Scripture and prayer will lead you to some different, and maybe even better convictions.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. I promise that if your views conflict with my own, I will resist the temptation to develop a smear campaign against you.

Sincerely,

Lenny

Architecting the Cultural DNA of the Local Church (Dr. Lenny Luchetti)

Pastors are not merely called to grow a church. They are, instead, primarily called to architect a church culture that aligns with the values of Christ the King. Working in collaboration with God and the leaders of the local church to architect a culture is pain-staking and time-consuming. Usually the fruit of cultural architecting doesn’t bloom through the ground for 3-5 years, the average tenure of pastors in America. If this is true, too many pastors resign from their local church too soon.

I was privileged to be a part of a local church that turned a significant corner toward becoming a vibrant movement. This church which was, for a long time, known as an insular holy huddle became a part of the 1% of churches whose growth came from conversion. In fact, as the church tripled in size more than 50% of its growth came by way of conversion not transfer. Energy once devoted to pot-lucks and hymn-sings was re-assigned toward feeding the hungry, housing the poor and helping the addicted. This church, once known nationally for its racist leanings, became one of the most multi-ethnic churches in its community.

Programs didn’t change the cultural DNA of this church. So, how can a pastor partner with God and lay leaders in architecting a kingdom-aligned culture? Glad you asked. Here’s the journey one local church made in the quest to become a culture congruent with Christ:

-Pray it: When a ship gets off course for many years, it takes a miraculous act of God to redirect it. Significant change in the cultural DNA of a local church will not happen unless the people fast and pray, not just for the healing of Aunt Sally’s bunion, but for the empowering of the Spirit upon the church. Frequent prayer gatherings (concerts of prayer, vigils, 40 days of prayer, retreats) can cultivate the soil of the church for the rain (and reign) of Christ which brings cultural change.

-Communicate it: The local church I reference above focused significant time on preaching and teaching from Luke 4:18-22, where Jesus describes the anointing of the Spirit for the sake of the marginalized. Communicating cultural values through preaching, teaching, testimony, and small group curriculum is imperative. This allows the church to wrestle with the biblical and theological foundations that undergird their cultural transition.

-Embody it: What the leadership team embodies and values, in word and deed, will determine the cultural DNA of a local church. It doesn’t matter what the vision plaque on the wall states, if the elected, appointed, and hired leaders in the church do not embody the values of a culture congruent with the character of Christ, positive cultural change will not happen. For example, if you want to become a church that cares for the poor and addicted but the leaders never spend time sharing life with the poor and addicted, cultural change will be unlikely.

-Budget it: Cultural change in the local church happens when the church puts its money where its mouth is. So, if the church says it values the poor but it quickly decides to upgrade music equipment instead of helping a single mom with four kids pay her electric bill, does the church really value the poor? If the church wants to become a culture of global generosity but decides on a new, and unnecessary, projector while postponing the adoption of a village in Africa, the cultural change it longs for will not happen.

-Schedule it: The church calendar says a lot about the culture of a congregation. Lots of churches want a culture of care for the “lost,” (a term they should not put on their signage and literature if they want to actually reach the lostJ), yet their calendar is void of any intentional contact with people who are disconnected from God. They reserve space on the church campus for the Christian Business Men’s Association and the Senior Women’s Bible Study, but don’t allow groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous to corrode the church carpets. Make room in the calendar and on the campus for the culture God seeks.

-Recruit it: Take your time hiring, recruiting, electing, equipping, encouraging and empowering the kind of people who value the kind of culture you believe God is calling the church to embody. That culture-transitioning congregation described earlier hired an ex-convict to be one of her pastors. It made complete sense for a church that wanted to foster a culture where “captives were set free.” As you fill positions in your church, avoid the warm body syndrome that simply seeks to find someone, anyone to fill the gap. Instead, take your time and prayerfully select people whose values align with the culture God is calling the church to embrace.

When the power of God invades a local church where all of the dots above connect consistently for 3-5 years, cultural transition happens. Connecting these dots demonstrates to God that we are serious about becoming the church he is calling us to be for the sake of the world. And, when we do our part God will show up for “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron.16:9).

Consider sharing this with your leadership team and discussing the following questions:-In which areas above are we hitting a homerun?
-In which areas above are we striking out?
-How can we maximize our strengths and address our weaknesses to foster the kind of culture that is congruent with the Christ’s values?

Wesley Seminary and the Pacific Church

On May 21-25 I had the privilege of teaching the Pastor, Church, and World course to Wesley Seminary’s first Pacific cohort. This cohort consisted of pastors from Australia, America, Fiji, New Zealand and Tonga. This intensive course allowed us plenty of time to dialogue in-depth about the joys and challenges of pastoral ministry to the church for the sake of the world. In addition to teaching our new students, I was invited to preach at two churches in Auckland, New Zealand. Preaching among a diversity of ethnic groups on Pentecost Sunday, the day the Church remembers and celebrates the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to make the gospel intelligible to a diversity of people, was a special treat. I have been reflecting on my experience with ministers in the Pacific since my return. There are several takeaways from the trip that will enhance my ministry and, I pray, your own as well.

The Pacific Church seeks kingdom-building partnerships. The Christian movement in the Pacific is so small and under-resourced that local churches are willing to come together to build the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” All too often, local churches in North America are competing with each other or are too busy doing their own thing to partner with other congregations. I sensed a healthy partnership between pastors and members of different churches in the Pacific that challenges the arrogant rugged individualism infiltrating many North American churches.

The Pacific Church persists in a post-Christian context. The Pacific Church, particularly in New Zealand and Australia, has been wrestling with the challenges of embodying the Gospel in a Post-Christian context for centuries. As the North American Church seeks to navigate the Post-Christian waves we find ourselves riding over the past few decades, the Pacific Church can be an extremely helpful guide to us.

The Pacific Church intentionally builds multi-ethnic churches. Many North American Church leaders, including myself, long for more local churches that reflect that multiple ethnic groups represented in their communities. There seems to be more multi-ethnic congregations in New Zealand and Australia than there are per capita in America. One of the ways that East City Wesleyan Church in Auckland, NZ, has built a multi-ethnic church is by building a multi-ethnic pastoral staff consisting of a kiwi, an Asian, a Canadian, and a South African., For many years the North American Church has been resourcing and educating the Pacific Church. Perhaps we need the Pacific Church at least as much as than they need us.

The Pacific Church leaders are committed. I met leaders in the Pacific Wesleyan movement who were Fijian, Tongan, Kiwi, Aussie, and American, men and women in their twenties and sixties and everything in between. There is a keen sense of urgency that leads these leaders to a deep level of commitment. Some of these ministers have left lucrative and comfortable careers to plant a new church or bring health and vitality to an existing one. As I talked with pastoral leaders about their vision for the local church, I perceived a fire in their belly for lost people and hope in their heart concerning the potential of the local church to redeem and restore the world.

Thank you, my Pacific Church sisters and brothers, for re-igniting my passion for Christ and for ministry in his name through the local church for the sake of the world. Lenny Luchetti

Pastor, How Do You Rate on the Authenticity Scale?

The overuse of the word “authenticity” seems, ironically, inauthentic. The term is in desperate need of definition to preserve its value and to promote its practice. As far as I can tell, those pastors who preach and lead with power are not only anointed; they are authentic. I still haven’t quite figured out whether divine anointing fosters or follows human authenticity. What I can say, with some degree of certainty, is that the most effective pastoral leaders are authentic. Although authenticity is more easily discerned than defined, the virtue surfaces in the following ways:

Authentic pastors laugh at themselves but take their role seriously. Pastors who take themselves too seriously are usually surrounded by people who don’t. The opposite is also true. Christian leaders who don’t take themselves too seriously are typically followed by people who do. Of course, pastors can laugh so much at themselves that it becomes a sign of insecurity instead of security. Also, though authentic pastors may laugh at themselves from time to time, make no mistake- they are serious about faithfully fulfilling their kingdom role. They are, like the Christ they follow, dead serious about their mission but humble about their self.

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

Authentic pastors value people so much it hurts. There is a world of difference between a pastor who values people as pawns for self-glory and those who value people with no strings attached. Authentic pastors, no matter how many times they are disappointed and hurt by people, keep loving and taking risks on people. The inauthentic pastor, likely due to past pain, keeps people at arm’s length unless there is a chance the person can be a pawn in the pastor’s plan for power and prestige. In other words, the authenticity of pastors can be discerned by how well they love and how highly they value people who cannot help them in any conceivable way.

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

Authentic pastors welcome constructive criticism. Criticism stings. However, authentic pastors welcome critique, especially from the people they lovingly lead. Some congregations have had a long line of ultra-defensive, hyper-sensitive pastors which make the flock gun-shy about offering any constructive feedback at all. The authentic pastor will initiate a loop that welcomes constructive critique and safety for the lay people who offer it. This is one of the reasons why the authentic pastor gets better and not bitter over time, while the inauthentic pastor coasts bitterly and, most of the time, fruitlessly toward resignation or retirement.

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

Authentic pastors commend and empower others. One of the occupational hazards that pastors face is the need to be appreciated and affirmed. On most days this hazard is a sleeping dragon that doesn’t awake until someone else on the pastor’s team begins to shine and receives affirmation. Inauthentic pastors feel threatened and become jealous. What is more, they begin to wage a secret war designed to hold others on the team back from fulfilling their potential. Authentic pastors are so consumed by the joyful work of commending and empowering others, they don’t have time to worry about being noticed. Authentic pastors are not threatened by other gifted leaders on the team because they are too focused on valuing, commending, and empowering those leaders.

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

Authentic pastors are acutely self-aware. I have been a pastor for more than 15 years and have had the privilege of developing pastors for nearly a decade. Most of my closest friends are pastors. In my estimation, self-awareness is one of the biggest challenges pastors face. Some of us try to be what we think people want us to be. Or, perhaps we try to be the type of pastor we always hoped to be. The authentic pastor is fully aware of her strengths and weaknesses. No one needs to guide her on a walk from the la-la land of her dream world toward the real world. She is fully aware of her abilities and honest about her deficiencies. This self-awareness prevents her from portraying what she is not and pushes her to embody who she deep down knows herself to be.

(Low)       1                      2                      3                      4                      5          (High)

So, how do you rate yourself on the authenticity scale? Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each of the evidences of authenticity described above. I have yet to meet an inauthentic leader who has developed a healthy, vibrant congregation. Anointed, authentic pastors, on the other hand, tend to cultivate a congregational culture of authenticity that sends transformational ripples into the world. Could it be that the starting point for the pastor who wants to build an authentic Christian community is to first become an authentic person?

Lenny Luchetti

What Does Wesleyan-Methodist Preaching Do? (Lenny Luchetti)

While there are many preaching streams that feed into the river of the Christian movement, we will investigate here the unique impact of the Wesleyan-Methodist tributary. We will navigate this body of water with the help of prominent theologian Albert Outler. He locates four lenses through which John Wesley developed his theology: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. These lenses will guide us in exploring the impact of Wesleyan-Methodist preaching.

Scripture: Let’s start where Wesley starts- with Scripture. When I think about the biblical base for Wesleyan-Methodist preaching, I am drawn to a phrase that comes out of the Exodus Event. When God decided to pick a people to be his very own, a group through whom he would bless all the nations of the world, he chose oppressed Hebrew slaves who had been in bondage for more than 400 years. And God used a prophetic preacher named Moses to get the exodus ball rolling. Once the people are liberated, God says to them through Moses, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Lev. 26:13). God did some chiropractic work by breaking bars and lifting heads, giving an undignified people the dignity that comes from right relationship with him.

In the New Testament, those Hebrews found themselves in a familiar kind of mess. This time they were in bondage, not in Egypt, but on their own Palestinian turf to the Romans. And God raised up another emancipator, a prophet-preacher like Moses, named Jesus. In his inaugural sermon, Jesus shows his preaching cards by quoting Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus had a chiropractic mission just like Moses. The preaching of Jesus, according to Jesus, was focused on breaking bars and lifting heads, giving oppressed, down-trodden people a new dignity that would come not from the political policies of Rome, and certainly not from the Jewish aristocracy, but from participation in the Kingdom of God through relationship with Christ.

Through the preaching ministry of Moses and Jesus, people whose heads hung low in disgrace, defeat, discouragement, and despair start walking with their chin up, with heads held high in hopeful belief that they could by God’s grace become something- a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a blessed nation through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, a church that partners with God in the missio Dei. The preaching of Moses and Jesus caused these kicked-to-the-curb Jews, oppressed by mighty Egypt and Rome, to view themselves and their world through the lens of the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which the first are last and the last first, where the poor have a place, and those with regrets can start over. And that’s what Wesleyan-Methodist preaching does!

Tradition: As we move from Scripture to Tradition in our exploration of the distinct impact of Wesleyan-Methodist preaching, it makes sense to focus on the ministry of John Wesley. Wesley, like Moses and Jesus before him, was a bar breaker and head lifter. He was a member of the Anglican Church, a social club for the English elite at the time. The Church was not a welcome place for underdogs like the poor peasants losing their jobs to machines during the Industrial Revolution and washing away their troubles with alcohol.  They had no hope and no help, especially from the church. So Wesley, this well-educated Oxford don and high churchman, senses with Moses and Jesus a burning call toward his people in order to “break the bars” of their yoke and cause them to “walk with heads held high.” All of a sudden, jobless and hopeless alcoholics are being liberated and sanctified to serve the purposes of God. Black women are leading class meetings. Wilberforce is seeking the abolition of slavery. Slave-born Richard Allen is set free and sets others free through Gospel preaching. Phoebe Palmer, a woman, gets up the nerve to travel as an evangelist and proclaim good news.  All of this because a guy named John Wesley, anointed by God’s Spirit, had the compassionate courage to preach in a way that broke bars and lifted heads. And they walked with heads held high, their spine straightened by Jesus the Chiropractor, the glory and the lifter of our heads! Preaching got that ball rolling, and justice rolling with it like a river! Because that’s what Wesleyan-Methodist preaching does!

Experience: Our personal experiences can also help us get a grip on the distinct impact of our preaching tradition. Therefore, I’m going to get a bit testimonial-it’s a Wesleyan-Methodist thing! Here is how God stirred in me this notion of preaching as a ministry of breaking bars and lifting heads. By the time I turned 16 years of age, I was pretty down and out. I found myself burdened with the bars of a yoke that kept my head hung low. My parents were battling an addiction to heroin and cocaine. Drug addiction swallowed them up. We lost our house, car, and, worst of all, our dignity. I was labeled the son of drug addicts who would never amount to much. So, I lived into this shame and inferiority. I became, at the age of 16, a high school drop-out alcoholic. The bars of my yoke were suffocating me.

Through a variety of circumstances and people, too detailed to chronicle here, God got a hold of my life when I was 18 years of age. I experienced the words of Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be, “long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night, thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell of my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee.” God broke the bars of my yoke and caused me to walk with my head held high primarily through the preaching of others. Though the details of your experience are surely different, God broke the bars of your yoke and he caused you to walk with your head held high. He did this to us so that he, through us, can do it for others. That’s what Wesleyan-Methodist preaching does!

Reason: Finally, we explore the impact of Wesleyan-Methodist preaching through the lens of Reason. I’m not sure any of this is real reasonable; it doesn’t make sense that God would choose to come alongside of underdogs like Egyptian-oppressed Hebrews, or Roman-oppressed Jews, or English peasants, or a down and out teenager. I’m not sure any of this is reasonable, until we realize that this is exactly how God works over and over again; it is his MO! Once we get to know God we realize “his ways are higher than our ways,” his reason beyond our reason. But we can begin to see a pattern emerging with God. He empowers a mouthpiece – a Moses, a Jesus, a Wesley, and you! And through the proclamation of good news to people starving for good news, people are raised to a whole new level of living according to God’s economy of scale. God has called the likes of us to preach in a manner that breaks the bars and lifts the heads of people by connecting them to Christ. Could there be a more reasonable reason to give our very lives to this task!

Faithfully proclaimed messages by preachers whose lives embody the good news they preach is chiropractic. It is not some American dream, political ideal, or ecclesiological well-wishing, but Jesus Christ unleashed and untamed who breaks bars and lifts heads! That’s what Wesleyan-Methodist preaching does!

Martin Luther King Jr. and My House of Representatives Prayer

Today we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although I have not endured the intense suffering of African Americans, I resonate deeply with King as a pastoral theologian. His vision for the human race, I am realizing, has shaped my vision for the church and world in significant ways. I realized his influence upon my life when several years ago I was invited to open the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Meeting with prayer. Here I was in the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, PA with the opportunity to offer a bipartisan prayer in the name of the bipartisan Christ. As you read below the prayer I offered at the Pennsylvania State Capitol, you will note the prominence of themes such as liberation and selfless service, themes that intersect the Gospel and the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

“Almighty and loving Lord, we thank you for the freedom we so thoroughly enjoy, the freedom that crosses party lines and is the foundation of this great country we live in.  We thank you for the pursuit of freedom that drove our mothers and fathers to this land, a pursuit that even hundreds of years later sustains us still.  We thank you for the ultimate liberation that you, according to your Word, offer to every person regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, and political party.  There, in Your word, we read that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” and “the one who the Son of God sets free is free indeed” and the words from Jesus that are written on the ceiling above us “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Lord, from every mountainside let your freedom ring in our hearts; and may freedom ring in this place as these representatives seek to make decisions that will preserve and prolong the freedom we so deeply crave and appreciate.  Lord, would you ignite a fire in the hearts of these public servants so that they remember why they began to serve in the first place and so they continue to serve the public called the great state ofPennsylvania.  As our State Representatives meet would You give them the wisdom they need to discern your good, pleasing and perfect will and then would You give them the courage and fortitude to pursue your will with passionate persistence for the good of all the people who live in this keystone state.

Might our eyes see your glory today as these public servants follow the ultimate example of public service- Jesus Christ.  Christ is the epitome of selfless service for, in his own words, he came “not to be served but to serve” by laying down His life for all.  Lord, your son’s selfless service was fueled by his deep down desire to see people set free from the things in life that bind us.  May these servants of the people be driven by the same compassion that was in Christ, so that decisions about finances and policies today will enable people to be even more free tomorrow.  We know it’s a tall order, a sobering responsibility, but to borrow from the Battle Hymn we pray that “As Christ died to make people holy, let these [Representatives] live to make people free, while God is marching on. Glory, glory, hallelujah.” Amen.”

Pastoral Ministry Shifts (Lenny Luchetti)

I began pastoring a local church as a senior in college at the age of 23. For the next 15 years I served consecutively as a solo pastor, youth pastor, assistant pastor, and lead pastor in a variety of contexts before joining the faculty of Wesley Seminary last year. As I reflect upon my years of pastoral ministry, it seems there are a few God-initiated, ministry-enhancing shifts I stumbled upon along the way. My perspective on pastoral ministry changed significantly since I was a 23 year old “wet behind the ears” pastor in that rural and loving congregation who gathered in a fly-infested, mildew-scented sanctuary. The following shifts fostered the kind of faithfulness that facilitated fruitfulness (alliteration almost always appears arrogantJ):

Methodology to Spirituality: The best way for parents to produce healthy kids is to cultivate a healthy marriage. The same principle applies to the pastor; the best way to produce healthy Christians is for pastoral leaders to cultivate a healthy, intimate relationship with God. Most pastors will respond to this with, “thanks Einstein!” However, many pastors seem more enamored with the work of the Lord than the Lord of the work. We can easily become more infatuated with ministry methodology than authentic spirituality. The people who have had the most positive and profound impact upon my development in Christ were not methodological storm-chasers, but spiritual God-chasers. Don’t get me wrong, we must explore and incorporate best ministry practices and methods into the life of the churches we lead. However, method-rich but Spirit-poor leaders don’t seem to build churches that build God’s kingdom. At some point I began reading more books to enhance my soul than I was reading to increase my effectiveness. Oddly enough, this made me more effective. Go figure!

Programmer to Architect: I used to focus entirely on programming the church. “Get the right programs for children, youth, and adults and you get the right church,” I assumed. The pastor is the programmer who picks from a menu of programming options that are working in other churches and incorporates them into his or her particular church. A good program may provide an immediate boost but rarely any lasting change. A decade into ministry I came to the conclusion that lasting change comes not from programming the church but architecting the culture of the church. I shifted from a focus on finding programs to facilitating a culture that aligns with the values of Christ. Once the church discerned and developed a Christ-aligned culture, which for us entailed significant ministry to the poor and addicted, we sought programs that reinforced that kind of culture. Pastors are called first to architect the culture before they program the church, or we end up putting the cart before the horse.

Church to Community: I used to think that God called me to pastor the people who attended the church. Most of my time, therefore, was spent on the church campus developing campus-based ministries that would bring people to our campus. Then, the incarnation of Christ began to “get under my skin” a bit. God didn’t sit back and wait for us to come to him. Instead, he came to us as one of us. He came to our campus, onto our turf. INCARNATION! I also began to dig into Wesleyan Christianity and discovered John Wesley left the “campus” of the Anglican Church to go onto the turf of the poor, drunk masses of England. He insisted “the world is my parish” and “there is no holiness but social holiness.” It suddenly clicked for me. So, the amount of time I spent outside of the church increased. I began meeting with community leaders on their turf to explore ways to “do good” together. We participated in community service projects. Our budget began to reflect care, not just for our campus, but for our community as we invested more money in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and helping the addicted. In time, some of our most persistent evangelists were unchurched people in the community who said “go to that church, they care about people, they will help you.”

Powerful to Empowering: For some reason I assumed that if anything good happened in the church I led, it would be because of my insight, giftedness, or power. Although I quoted Ephesians 4:12-13 annoyingly, usually arm-twisting people to serve in ministries I decided should be important to them, I wasn’t empowering “the saints” to do what God was calling and equipping them to do; I wasn’t giving them a “voice.” About a decade into ministry I became captivated by the concept of Trinitarian ministry, pastoral ministry that flows out of the implications of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What does it look like for me as a pastor to relate to my people like the Father who honors and elevates the Son, and the Son who submits to the Father, and the Spirit who reminds us of the Son? My role as a pastor is to elevate, honor, and submit to the members of my team. I got the impression that the church is at its best when all the people of God are empowered to do what God has designed and called us to do. And, it made my job a lot less stressful.

Which shifts have you already made? Which shifts do you need to make to more faithfully and fruitfully serve the purposes of God as pastor?

Wedding and Funeral Messages

The Apostle Paul writes, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). Special occasion sermons are one of the ways we preachers “make the most of every opportunity” to proclaim good news to “outsiders.” Weddings and funerals are worthy of the preacher’s time and energy because inevitably non-Christian family members and friends of the couple or the deceased will show up for such events. There will be people present who don’t know or accept that Christ loves them. Some of these may never attend a Sunday morning church service. So, as often as I can, I say yes to these special occasion preaching opportunities.  And I pray and work harder than usual in developing these sermons because they have the potential to reveal the power and love of Christ to those who may have never experienced or embraced this love. While every wedding and funeral sermon is different due to the situational factors surrounding the marriage or death, there are a few guidelines for these special occasion sermons that can be generalized to most contexts.

Simple but Profound

The special occasion sermon should be accessible to all kinds of people, since all kinds of people will likely be in attendance. A 10 point doctrinal treatise on the meaning of “original sin” will lose people. “Simple” does not mean simplistic or trite. Some of us have heard and maybe even preached funeral messages that overly simplified the pain and angst of death and grief. This is
not what I mean by “simple.” By simple, I mean presenting a clear and focused message about marriage or death in light of the love and hope we find in Christ.

The simple message should be profound as well. Since most people in attendance will have been to many weddings and funerals over the course of their lives, I want what I say and how I say it to be creative not typical. One way to do this is by using biblical texts that are not usually included during these special occasions and by pointing out realities of marriage and death that are often
overlooked or ignored.

Short and Sweet

Unless you are officiating the funeral of a long-time saint of the church, keep the special occasion sermon short. “Short” means different things to different people, so I should probably explore the parameters. A special occasion sermon should, in most cases, last no more than 15 minutes. The rationale is that many people in attendance are unchurched and, therefore, not used to listening to a talking head for any length of time without channel surfing. Even a 15 minute message might be a stretch for some. You want “outsiders” to hear your message and seriously consider attending the church you serve. Keep it short or they may never step foot in your church.

Keep it sweet too. By “sweet” I am not suggesting that you sugar-coat the challenges of marriage and death. A message is sweet when it is appealing, interesting, and engaging without being so clever that you show-off and overshadow the couple, the deceased, or, worse, God. The special occasion sermon is not the time to preach your favorite hellfire and brimstone in-your-face-kind of
message. One of the premier goals of the special occasion sermon is to not only guide the couple or honor the deceased, but to move people in attendance at least one step closer to the God who made, knows, and loves them.

Christian not Clinical

The special occasion sermon should incarnate Christ. The love of Christ flowing into and through the couple is the necessary ingredient for a love-filled and lasting marriage. The hope found in Christ can do more for those experiencing the grief of death than hours of expensive therapy. To the point, when it comes to the special occasion sermon the preacher should present Christ and not a therapy session. This is not to say that counseling does not have value, indeed it does. Therapy can help married couples overcome obstacles and the grieving get over their grief. People can get therapy from a therapist, but from the preacher they must get Christ. In our efforts to guide people in their marriage and grief recovery, we must present sermons that present Christ.

Something happens to people when they encounter Christ through the words of the preacher. Let’s not allow our message to deteriorate into a self-help speech that is less than a proclamation of Christ.Simply put, weddings and funerals are special opportunities that allow a pastor to address the deepest needs of people by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Most pastors would agree. These occasions bring many people to a Christian service who would normally never step foot in church or who haven’t been in church in many years. You have a God-sized opportunity to share the reason for the hope you have in Christ
with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

EXERCISES

1.Let’s develop a well of biblical texts from which to draw for special occasion sermons. List five themes of a wedding homily that can address the couple getting married and proclaim the good news of Christ to those in attendance (i.e., love, forgiveness, commitment). Now, list at least one biblical text that might guide, inform, or inspire each of the wedding homily themes.

2. List five themes of a funeral homily that can address the grief of a loved one’s passing and proclaim the good news of Christ to those in attendance (i.e., hope, heaven, grief). Now, list at least one biblical text that might guide, inform, or inspire each of the funeral homily themes.

Lenny Luchetti