Sermons 101 —Introduction.

A letter to the editor from Carl Popkey

Sermons 101 —Introduction.
Why do so many seminarians/vicars have no idea how to prepare/deliver a sermon? The article by Pastor Teuscher was outstanding (Where’s Walther, The Canadian Lutheran, May/June 2010). I have had my ears assaulted by many a so-called sermons that left me wondering what did I hear? They left me cold. Now, Pastor Teuscher has outlined the essence of a good sermon. Seminarians/vicars and also pastors, please take note. This must be the introduction to a course on sermons.

Sermons 102— Length/Delivery.
What gives? A ten minute platitude? This seems to be the norm lately. How can you do justice to Sermons 101 if you limit the length of the sermon to 10/15 minutes? As a pew sitter, I am not pleased with such. To me the sermon is the one thing I look forward to each Sunday. I don’t expect something I could have read by myself from the Bible, or listened to on the radio, or watched on the tube—a “pat on the back” sermon. Why should I waste my time to attend church for a 10-minute nice-that-you’re-here message. Please don’t insult me! No sermon worth its salt is less than 20 minutes. With five minutes for the introduction, five minutes to windup, leaves ten minutes to deliver a good LAW/GOSPEL sermon. Enlighten me, uplift me!
Of course some preachers may go overboard. Remember, pew sitters have to commit what is said to memory. How much can they retain? At times a provocative statement is made. One ponders it; the sermon goes on, now what did I miss that was important? And if your memory is like mine, aging fast, I find I retain less and less as time goes on. Pewsitters don’t have the script in their mitts like the preacher has in his; so how much can the pew sitter absorb to memory? What is the max? My rule of thumb is a maximum of 30 minutes, anything more you are pushing it.

Sermons 103 — Research.
Background is important. Quotes at times are necessary and need explanation at times. Too many quotes do not a sermon make. A little fire and brimstone at times helps. To drone on is boredom. Verbal punctuation is essential sometimes. Preacher, be convinced yourself, now convince me. I’ll love you for it!

Sermons 104 — Pew Sitter Expectations.
Why am I sitting here, in a pew? What are my expectations? Start on time! Assault me with a wonderful sermon! Don’t make it something to endure! Don’t make it something too short and too sweet, though a pat on the back at times is kinda soothing. It is not an easy task to keep one’s mind on the whole service: crying babies, disruptive behaviour, hard seats, unfamiliar hymns, long prayers. One needs God’s help to concentrate. Love Him!
Now, here you have it — a course about sermons. There can be a lot more. I’ll let you expand it and fill in the details.

Carl Popkey
Windsor, Ontario

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Re: In our Pulpits?

A Letter to the Editor from Rev. Andrew Craig
After reading In Our Pulpits? (Where’s Walther? The Canadian Lutheran, May/June 2010) I feel inclined to respond to the article as a pastor who is passionate about the preaching task and as a theologian who holds in high regard the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. I have read Walther, I have read Luther and like Rev. Teuscher I believe that God’s Word must stand clearly in our sermons. As to how that is achieved the author and I could not disagree more. In an effort to shed more light than heat, as it were, I would like to respond directly to the article quote by quote so as to appropriately represent the author.
“There are many gifted public speakers in our synod yet many sermons these days tend to be rather shallow messages on practical living and other “relevant” topics. In some churches the pulpit is a soapbox from which the preacher delivers his religious pep-talk of the week and tells a few stories which supposedly illustrate some spiritual truth.”

For me the key issue here is “relevancy” a term that is coined with much zeal in some denominations and which we tend to cringe at. To me, relevancy means simply to help a person understand what the text means for them, how it connects in their lives and why both Law and Gospel matter. With every passing day both are becoming increasingly irrelevant to people. Just ask the unmarried couple who is living together and yet attends worship every Sunday and they will tell you that they understand how that made sense then but doesn’t really in today’s world where we are more moderate. I could choose to simply lambaste them, or I can make the effort to illustrate exactly why God’s Word is unchangeable and His Law is eternal in a way that actually affects them instead of simply alienating them from the church. While I would agree that the pulpit is not a soapbox for personal matters or political views and the like, it IS a soapbox for the Gospel so that it can be held high and preached in a way that people hear it.
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Developing LCC’s National Youth Gathering theme

By Michael Gillingham

We’ve done some different things with the planning of this Gathering and I’ll be interested to see how things come together. When we were planning the theme, we gathered the Committee and the presenters who’d be helping us with the event. We decided to try to build these ideas and images together with the presenters, trusting that God might inspire them to flesh out our basic thoughts in some unique and creative ways.

We started by thinking and talking about specific teenagers we know. As we listed things about them (age, gender, family composition, interests, struggles, etc) we began sensing anew the massive challenge of trying to share God’s love and Word with such a diverse group of people.

We looked for themes that might speak to the youth and leaders at the event. We came up with several ideas and angles. I shared with the group that The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering had chosen the theme We Believe. I also shared with the group my work on songs for Concordia Publishing House’s VBS this upcoming summer and how they’d gone for the theme Believe and Belong. While we didn’t want to steal anybody’s ideas, we appreciated both thematic ideas. As we unpacked our thoughts about the young people we were hoping to serve, we noted a common need that so many young people have to belong. We wanted to focus on how we belong in God’s family, in the church, in our families and among our friends. We wanted to say clearly to the youth “You belong to God!”

We also wanted to talk about faith in Christ and what it means to believe. Many youth are surrounded by confusing spiritual messages. We felt it would be important to point the youth to a specific expression of the Biblical and historic Christian faith. We saw both the belonging and the believing as gifts that God presents to us in His mercy and grace.

We saw huge connections for talking about Baptism and Holy Communion as means of God helping us to belong and believe. We also saw huge connections for talking about God’s Word and its power in our lives as God’s people.

We also want to remind the kids that they belong in the Church. God has called the Church into being to be His people and share His love and mercy with all people. We want the kids to think about belonging to their own congregation as well as the larger Church (LCC and also the larger Christian church around the world and throughout time).

On a related note, I shared some insights from conversations I’d had with Pastor Matt Ziprick (Bethel, Sherwood Park, Alta.) on the relationship between believing and belonging. We noted that we’ve seen many people at Bethel who come first to our church looking for a place to belong. It’s later that God, working through His Word and Spirit, gives them the faith to believe. Sometimes for some people, including our youth, a sense of belonging is an important step in the journey to believing.

The reverse is also true. I’ve seen so often those who truly believe but feel little or no sense of connection to their local congregation, youth group or church body. We believe that both believing and belonging are important.

In our logo, we’ve tried to note that the relationship between “believing” and “belonging” can go both ways… belong and believe + believe and belong. During the Gathering, we’ll be making it clear that ultimately belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour is the only way to experience the gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life even as we talk about belonging to God, our families and the church.

Since this initial thematic development, the presenters have continued to meet and flesh out the sessions. I sat in on these sessions on the Gathering Committee’s behalf and it’s been really neat to see how they have developed the themes. I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works to have our presenters speaking in different ways to common themes and ideas as they complement each other.

Michael Gillingham is chairman of the National Youth Gathering Planning Committee and serves as director of Youth Ministry at Bethel Lutheran Church in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

Deacon Don Hindle reflects on Olympic outreach in Vancouver

TCL: How many people participated? For example, how many people actually walked through the doors?
DH: I tried to do some rough math and I believe we met an average of 500 people per day (who used our parking). So I’m guessing we met approximately 8,000 people by the final Sunday. Out of those, 4000 came into our building and used our washrooms and took advantage of the free coffee and goodies. About 2000 stayed around for more than 10 minutes.

TCL: Where did they come from?
DH: We had visitors from all over. Our map set up in the narthex where people put flags from where they came has about 150 different areas marked. We had visitors from all over the world, including places like Fiji, Uganda and Hawaii. We also had many people from the community and outside areas of the Lower Mainland. There was a great mix of people; lots of families, seniors and younger teens.

TCL: How did visitors and guests react?
DH: Most asked the same question “Why are you doing this?” especially when we gave away parking. We could easily have charged $15 for parking, but since it was free, people really felt that was wonderful. As a result, many came in and visited our building and took the free handouts, Bibles, pins and DVDs we distributed. It was also a great time for our members to simply connect with the people. Those who visited were relaxed and realized that Christians are nice people, not judgmental as they’ve heard in the past.

Some people were still skeptical. One person passed us by and parked two blocks further away. I was on the corner and as he passed by he said, “It is free parking!” He was surprised and couldn’t believe it. Others would drive up, slow down, see that it was a church and would drive on, but those who came in were pleasantly surprised at the radical hospitality they received.

TCL: How many volunteers did you have?
DH: We had hundreds of volunteers from all over. The first week was great! We had mission teams from different churches in Mississippi, Texas, Las Vegas, Winnipeg and Georgia join us. We also had biblically conservative churches from all over the Richmond area help us, so it was a great time to work with these fellow Christians towards one goal: telling people about Jesus. Unfortunately, we had challenges the second week when we had shortfalls on many of the days, but God was faithful and helped us to get through them.

TCL: What kind of jobs did the volunteers perform?
DH: We had parking lot attendants who were very important people because they were our first contact people. They informed our visitors what was going on inside the church and had to be very warm and welcoming—as were all our volunteers.

Then, we had greeters in each of the areas. In our narthex, people would greet those who would come in and let them know where everything was. They would also man the pin trading booth where we had the More Than Gold pins and the “We Remember” RCMP Fallen Four pins (which were very popular).

In the Internet café, the volunteer would watch over the computers and greet anyone who would come in.

At the Big screen, the person there would greet people and let them know about the coffee and baked goods.

Our bakers kept busy 12 hours a day baking up a storm, making sandwiches for volunteers, and continually making coffee.

Finally, the janitorial staff kept our bathrooms clean. Next to our parking lot, our clean bathrooms were the second biggest draw (they had mostly port-a-potties at the O-Zone across the street. When we let people use our bathrooms, they were very appreciative.

TCL: How has the congregation benefited from the outreach programs? Will you get more new members?
DH: All too often the evangelism desires in our congregations focus too much on getting “new members”—people to fill the pews on Sunday morning (and fill the offering plate). I think this really takes away the focus from what we are doing. It also changes how we deal with people who are spiritually lost. Instead of seeing them as people in need of a loving Saviour, we see them as numbers. When we do that, we don’t show them the sincere love of Jesus.

My father-in-law once said something profound (he was a member of a church, but stopped going). “All that people at church want is for me to go to back to church. They don’t care about what I’m going through or what’s happening in my life…I get that from my friends at the pub.”

With this event, our volunteers weren’t focused on making our visitors “members of a church,” rather they were focused on showing them the love Jesus has for them through our hospitality. As a result, something very interesting happened.

At first, no one was taking our evangelism materials, but by the next week I noticed we were going through a lot of the literature at a much faster rate. I can only speculate why, but my guess is that people wanted to see why we were showing such radical hospitality and felt they should learn more about Jesus. So, they took the free booklets, DVD’s and New Testaments. The Gideon’s gave out about 300 New Testaments and we also handed out many of the More Than Gold Gospel’s of Mark

TCL: How will this experience help the church prepare for future outreach?
DH: As far as Trinity goes, a lot more people now know we exist, and they will remember the hospitality they received when they got here. They may come back to check us out or they may just use our parking lot again. But at least Trinity has made its presence known in the community.

Now it will be a question of where to go from here. How will we keep our hospitality focus and continue serving the community around us? How do we get out of our church and meet those who are spiritually lost.

On another note, we have been working with other Richmond churches, and it has been a blessing. We discovered that we can do a lot more together for our community than we can apart. As a result, we will continue to look for alternative ways to serve our community together.

TCL: Any other comments?
DH: We definitely found ourselves being stretched with this event. There were many times that our comfort zones were stretched, but this was a good thing. Reaching out to people involves stretching our comfort zones a little and stepping out in faith, trusting that God will work through us.

The other thing I discovered is the difference between God’s success and my own success. In my mind, I wanted to see our big screen packed to capacity every day and our concerts as well. But, they weren’t. However, I think the smaller setting was much better. It allowed us more time to connect with people and get to know them, something that wouldn’t have happened if we were at maximum capacity.

To read more about LCC’s Vancouver Olympic Outreach see http://aliveat2010.lccabc.ca

Freelance writer and editor Keven Drews conducted the interview with Deacon Don Hindle.

There is great value in connecting our worldly experience to our spiritual experience

Deacon Lori Schultz reviews the book Already Gone by Ken Ham (Master Books, 2009, http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/Already-Gone-Book,6131,224.aspx)

 “If you look around in your church today, two-thirds of the young people who are sitting among us have already left in their hearts; soon they will be gone for good.”

Ken Ham (founder and president of Answers in Genesis) and Britt Beemer (founder of America’s Research Group, a behavioural research and strategic marketing firm), along with Todd Hillard (published author of young-adult books), teamed up to do some specific, critical research that has led them to make such an emotionally charged statement. Beemer surveyed 1000 twenty-something young adults who, as children, regularly attended Bible-based, Bible-preaching congregations, but who are no longer attending church. In their book, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It, Ham examines the research and makes some startling conclusions as to why these young people have left the church. He also draws some interesting inferences on how to stop the mass exodus that we, the Church, are experiencing in North America and deduces what might be done to bring them back into the fold.
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This may be one of the most important books we read on the subject of youth in our churches

Judith Burns reviews the book Already Gone by Ken Ham (Master Books, 2009, http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/Already-Gone-Book,6131,224.aspx)

One of the more challenging books I have read this year concerns one of our grand traditions—Sunday school.  Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It, by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard, asserts that two-thirds of youth in our churches will be gone from the pews by the time they hit 20.
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Take shared responsibility for finding solutions

Rev. Terry Defoe reviews the book Already Gone by Ken Ham (Master Books, 2009, http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/product/Already-Gone-Book,6131,224.aspx)

Already Gone, by well-known Christian leader Ken Ham, argues that the next generation of church members—that is, our children and young people—is already calling it quits on the church. Two- thirds of the young people who are sitting in the pews have already left—in their hearts—and soon, says Ham, they’ll be gone for good. Already Gone is based on the responses of 1000 twenty-somethings, young people raised in the church but no longer attending. The research sought to determine reasons for their inactivity. Based on the findings, Ham argues that Christian churches are losing their kids in elementary, middle school and high school rather than in college, and something he calls the “Sunday school syndrome” is contributing to the problem.
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