Sermon Survival 2: Mining for Stories

In finding stories for messages, I’ve never found success using canned story resources (illustration books, sermon websites) so instead, I “go retail” when mining for stories – I find them one  at a time.

Here’s where I find them:

— My own life.  I don’t think odd/fun/powerful things happen to me any more than someone else, but I think as a preacher, I’m more apt to notice them.  This can get pretty crazy at times, for example, two weeks ago I found out I had missed a court date on a driving ticket (driving with a broken headlight, in case you’re wondering.)  I called two days after realizing I had missed the date.  Missed court = bench warrant.  Woah!  As I’m driving to the court house, under the speed limit with hands in the “10 and 2 position,” I’m not going to lie, there was a part of me hoping to get arrested so I could preach about it.

— by far my favorite resource for stories outside my own life is podcasts.  My current favorites:  This American Life, The Moth, Naked Scientist, Stuff You Should Know, NPR’s Fresh Air. I subscribe to 40+ podcasts, but these 5 consistently provide great stories for me.

— podcasts have turned my commute time into sermon research or devotional time.  Any drive that lasts longer than 3 minutes and I’m listening to a podcast.  For the record:  kids in the car=no podcast.  family trumps research.

Here’s how I capture stories:

— I used to have a few tools to capture stories, now I’ve fallen deep for evernote.  Its free, easy to use, captures in various formats (voice, photo, text etc) and best of all it syncs across all your devices.

— sometimes I hear a story and I tell it into the evernote voice recorder in my own words, which gives me a way to already shape it for a sermon

sometimes I look like a crazy man in my car, one hand on the steering wheel, the other reaching down to record a podcast clip direct from my car speakers.

— Evernote can recognize text in photos, so I can capture a page of a book and evernote will transcribe it for me.  Yep, pretty amazing.

— I keep everything categorized in evernote, so each sermon series has its own file folder to capture ideas and stories.

 

how about you?  care to share resources or techniques that keep you ahead of the weekly deadline grind?

Soul Health Triggers

Most pastors I know dangerously blur the lines between their identity as God’s child and their calling as a pastor.  Consistently blurring these lines can be deadly to the soul.  For the record, I am one of the “most pastors I know.”

Here is a litmus test that my soul is on a unhealthy trajectory and I need to either take a break, work harder on my day off or reset my approach to ministry:

1) When church matters are the last thing on my mind before falling asleep and the first thing when I wake up.

2) When I fail the Dallas Willard litmus test, “Are you more irritable than usual?  Are you more impatient than usual?”  If I ask myself these questions and find myself getting angry at Dallas Willard, that’s a sign.

3) When for several weeks in a row, I’ve said to my wife, “wow, that was a big week!”   And by “big week” I mean: intense issues, or several nights of work.  Its amazing how easily I can forget that I’ve had 6 or 7 “big weeks” in a row.

4) When I cultivate a growing indifference to people’s problems and pain as a defense mechanism for my own heart.

5) When I can’t seem to read my Bible without thinking of a sermon thread, or talk to God without only talking about church matters and church people.  Whatever happened to enjoying God and His word instead of using both as a work tool?

6) When I fail the question, “Do I relate to God more as his employee or his adopted child?”

Care to share your litmus list?

I’d love to post more, but this week I’ve failed too many of these, so I’m heading outside to walk the dog and enjoy the gift of being alive.

Multi Hat Relationships for the MHP

In grad school counseling class, we took a session on the ethics of relationships and counseling.  The bottom line: never have more than one relationship with a person at a time. The professor wasn’t talking about boundaries and inappropriate behavior, he meant, “don’t be someone’s counselor AND friend, or counselor AND family member.”  He was talking about how to refer people who are close to you (friends, family etc) to another counselor so you can maintain just one relationship.

Meanwhile, as an MHP in a church of my peers, I find myself in multiple relationships with many people.  I’m pastor, friend, taskmaster, leader, counselor, employee.  Some of this is easy to manage (I never counsel my close friends), but the rest is unavoidable if you choose to be friends with your church members.

For the record, I don’t know how some pastors choose NOT to be friends with their church members. Lisa and I would have burned out long ago if not for the amazing friendships and love in our church.  If you cannot find those friendships at your church, could that be a sign of a bigger problem?

Here are 10 9 lessons my friends and I have learned about growing a friendship in the midst of multiple relationships:

1) I’m the only friend in my circle of friends who’s job gets critiqued on a regular basis by his friends.  No one sits around talking about a friend’s business ability, what is wrong with his company, what he could do to work on it, but it happens to MHPs all the time.

2) Conversely, I’m the only friend who monologues at his friends for 30+ minutes every Sunday.  How weird must it be for my friends to hear me preach at them?  No one else does that to them.

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Sermon Survival 1: Pre Preparation

For most MHPs, “preacher” is a significant hat we wear, and Sunday comes every 7 days whether we’re ready for it or not!

Now that I’m about 250 sermons into my role as preacher, I’m looking afresh at all aspects of sermon preparation and delivery as well as sustainable ways to keep fresh in the “pulpit.”  In upcoming posts, I hope to create a conversation of shared resources and ideas on sustaining health in “the weekly preaching mill.”

Please take a moment to share a comment on your process and/or an aspect of sermon preparation and delivery you’d like to discuss!

I’ve been told by a songwriter friend that sermon preparation sounds a lot like song writing – the process is personal, unique to each individual and hard to collaborate. Nevertheless, here’s my pre preparation schedule – what I do to prepare for the Tuesday when I open my mac to start the upcoming sermon:

1)  I keep a running document of sermon series ideas that are floating around in my empty head. Currently I have enough ideas for about 2 years of series.  NOTE:  SOME OF THESE IDEAS ARE TERRIBLE and have been sitting on my idea folder for over year, but hey, enough ideas should generate enough good ideas.

2)  Once per year, I send a portion of the series idea list to a group of trusted friends (leadership team, staff, select volunteers) within the church to seek feedback and other topic suggestions.

3) Two or three times per year I get away on retreat.  Among other things, I pray over my sermon calendar, look at the feedback from friends and build and refine a 9 – 12 month sermon calendar. NOTE, I don’t have the sermons outlines, but I have a series laid out – name, overall theme, scriptures, length of series.

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Recovering Legalists?

I started going to church when I was 13 in the 1980s and the church was, you guessed it, a legalistic church.  I’ve had to shed a lot of baggage on the road of following Jesus.

Now, I’m a card carrying member of the POTSC movement and I pastor a church that celebrates and runs on grace.   Many of our folks self identify as recovering legalists.

So it begs the question:

was legalism an era in church or will it be ever present in church?

OR, as I’m now wondering:

Is legalism just a fundamental part of human nature?  Is it simply in our DNA, that no matter what kind of church we are part of, we’ll always be trying to move away from legalism?

To put it another way:  Is legalism an external force found in certain churches or an internal force found in human DNA?

I shudder to think about kids being raised in our church, going off to school, marrying, starting a family, going to a church and telling their pastor, “Yep, I was raised in a legalistic church.”

What do you think?

Spiritual Rhythm – Sabbath Keeping

At our first local MHP gathering, we discussed spiritual health and soul filling practices for the lead pastor.  I asked Kevin Colon, pastor of Cool River Church in Superior, CO to share his spiritual practices calendar.  He talked extensively about his weekly Sabbath – Sunday night until Monday night and what struck me was not that he took a Sabbath, but how much effort and planning he put into his sabbath.

In short, he worked hard on his day off.

By that I mean, he planned in advance to make sure he could really Sabbath.  Aside from the obvious “no email, no phone” approach, Kevin and his wife had figured out what refreshed them:  practices, places and people and then they booked the 24 hours to gain that refreshment.

I take a Sabbath, but have often found myself a bit aimless and distracted on my Sabbaths.  Listening to Kevin was a needed reminder of how much I must work to really rest.  Paradoxical, but true.

Do you Sabbath?  When and what do you do or NOT do to gain spiritual refreshment?

Benedictine Spirituality

In January, I did a two day spiritual retreat at a Benedictine Monastery and came back invigorated for the coming season.

I’ve done many spiritual retreats before, but never one so structured and “other” than what I was used to.  The Benedictines practice the daily office – a rhythm of 7 worship gatherings a day (starting at 4:50am!  Youzers) and they sing Gregorian chant style.

A few observations:

– Monastic life has no parallel in the protestant tradition.  It is distinctly Catholic and was a reminder of just how wide and diverse God’s Kingdom is.

– 4:50am.  Are you kidding me?  It felt crazy, until I came into a beautiful candlelit chapel, chanted 3 psalms in a row and sang inviting God’s guidance, protection and presence this day.  It was the right start to avoid the usual mental “to do” list.

– Benedictine spirituality incorporates repetition and physicality that protestants lack.  3 or 4 times per service, 7 times per day, we bowed and sang, “Glory be to the Father, to his Son Jesus and to the Spirit who resides in our hearts. Amen.”  We sang this at the end of every Psalm and every Hymn.  We sang it in a bowing position to show our subservience to God.  A powerful experience, proclaiming allegience well over a dozen times a day, while bowing down.

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Exactly Human Sized Stories

Last year I went to a story telling workshop by Ira Glass, host of “This American Life” and in my opinion, the finest story teller alive today.

His goal:  find stories that are exactly human sized.

I think this is exactly the challenge for modern preachers.

Our media thrives on sensationalizing and caricaturing, (The recent Charlie Sheen spectacle being an obvious example.)

Ira Glass challenges us to not fall into the media trap, which produces cynicism in its viewers, but rather to find stories that are exactly human sized.

every day people.  extraordinary stories.

I love that.

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Top 5 challenges of a MHP

I polled 12 local MHPs to hear of their top challenges and I’d sure love to hear yours.

We listed our challenges so we could meet frequently to tackle them together – receive some outside input and then discuss our way to some concrete solutions.

I’ve noticed that most guys in smaller churches are sharp, they’re just stretched thin and really benefit from collective wisdom.  So here are our identified top challenges.  What are yours?

1) Spiritual rhythm. Spiritual practices: approach and freqency.  Sabbaths, retreats, daily practices etc.  Soul health/refreshment type conversation based on spiritual refreshment and recreation.

2) Working through discouragement when people don’t like you, get mad at you, or leave your church.  Or when numbers and momentum seem to be going in the wrong direction.
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The multi hat pastor

2011:  I’m 5 1/2 years into leading a local church.

I (mostly) love it 🙂

In the past 17 years, I’ve been a chaplain in a level 1 trauma hospital, served at a ranch for teens in trouble,  worked in crisis intervention in a highly under resourced city.

But nothing has been as difficult as my role as lead pastor

I’ve looked around for resources that mostly come in the form of conferences and podcasts.  I hear those guys (who, for the record, have excellent teaching), but I wish I could get them in a room to ask a bunch of questions.

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