The High Adventure of Discipleship

Today the blog is devoted to the Introduction to my new book–Preaching in the Soundbite Age: How a Collaborative, Image Drawn, and Skeptical Generation Can Reshape Our Sermons. It’s a case for radically changing the way we preach and teach.

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will give me your feedback, or share my email signup link with someone you think could be interested!

The Christian life is a spiritual pilgrimage. It is a not a journey to a shrine which has limitations of space and time. It is a journey into life, a life so rich no limitation of space or time is able to contain it. But is this how we perceive the Christian life? We go to church, worship, study your Bible, etc. But where do they call for the high-adventure?

Francis DuBose, God Who Sends

The people in our churches are crying for the high adventure. They’re dying for it. Especially our young people. They might not know they want it, but they do. Behind the entertainment, the adrenaline-fueled Sunday morning gatherings, and the guaranteed-no-fail discipleship programs, people in our churches hunger for something they haven’t quite defined.  

They hunger for participation, not spectatorship, in the kingdom of God. Once they’ve experienced it, they don’t want to return to the passive sidelines, watching their faith but not shaping it. They’ve found the joy of discovering what God is doing with and through them and living the process with their community. They want to know why no one has told them before that discipleship isn’t a program but an on-the-field, glove-in-hand team sport.

It’s not an easy sell.

Most worshipers are used to being fans in the stands, not players in the arena. They won’t warmly welcome a radical change in that plan. They aren’t going to be excited about taking the reins of their own spiritual growth—at first. They might be like the high school classes I taught years ago. 

Used to sitting in their seats and listening to the teacher lecture about sonnets and Steinbeck, those teens looked at me like I had asked them to teleport to Neptune the first time I said, “What do you think?” The strange new teacher asked them questions instead of feeding them information. What was this sorcery?

Yet within a few days, those same students engaged in conversation about Shakespeare, voiced their opinion on Jonathan Swift, applied Jane Austen to their daily life,. and told me that classes had never been so interesting. I even had the rare privilege of a senior coming back to thank me for teaching her to think, thus getting her into her college of choice.

Pedagogy has known for decades what churches haven’t grasped—people learn, and change, when they engage and invest.

Monologue had created a dislike of literature and a distrust for its relevance in my students. What is it doing in our churches, where the stakes are far higher? The adaptive change necessary for preaching and teaching in a completely new way will take time, finesse, and patience. Do we want to be whipped by the potential backlash? Is the difficult work, both in crafting something new and in convincing people to accept it, worth the effort? Can we afford the possibility of attrition in a church already beset by loss?

Here’s the more important question to ask:

Can we afford not to?

In a spiritual climate where we’re already losing our next generations in high double digits, can we afford not to put in the struggle to retain them—not for their butts and bucks but for their, and our, spiritual well-being? Just as in the Babylonian exile, their well-being equals ours, too (Jeremiah 29.4). The older generations’ faith is only viable as it gets passed on. It’s only fresh and flexible as we’re learning from others.

If we are not making disciples with our preaching and teaching, what are we even doing on Sunday morning?

As I wrote this last year, I sat in my home office, in isolation because of COVID-19. Racial trauma roiled our country. We feel the stirring of God doing something different in his church. We know in our hearts things will not be the same when this is over. For some of us, we’ve been feeling the need for a wave of change long before pandemic forced our hand. We’ve been looking out to sea, watching the horizon, waiting for the sails to come over the edge that signal God taking us on a different journey. Some of us have been longing for it more than we ever imagined. 

Things will not be the same. Preaching should be one of the things that changes.

We’ve realized the value of community and the preciousness of input from others in this time of uncertainty and isolation.

Interactive preaching is the perfect tool for putting teaching and community together to disciple our churches. 

Our people don’t need programs and workbooks. Why would we offer them a classroom when we could be putting them on the field? They need to be equipped, as the early Christians, to disciple themselves toward being like Jesus. They don’t need information so much as awareness of how to filter the information they’re already surrounded with 24/7. They need the skills to learn deeply, slowly, and permanently, the things of God to change their lives from the inside out. This we can give them, if we learn to change ourselves first.

Pastors, preachers, church leaders, boards, and elders—it’s time.

A Day in the Life, Lady Preacher Style

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Day in the Life posts, videos, instas, etc look like so much fun. I’ve always wanted in on it. Who wouldn’t want to wittily record their day, with all its pratfalls and pitfalls? Every one of the joys and brilliant flashes of inspiration?

When I actually try to video a day in my life, however, two things happen.

  1. I realize I do not video well. At all. I’m just better in person, guys.
  2. I discover that a day in my life isn’t all that riveting.
  3. I forget about twelve minutes after I begin and don’t ever get back to it.

So, no day in my life has been recorded for posterity. Yet.

Yet, if I practice what I preach, I also realize that “not riveting” describes mot of us, and that, too, is a valid way to spend our hours. “Not riveting” doesn’t mean pointless. Most of us, if we tell the truth, find that pursuing our dreams and passions is a fair mix of riveting and tedium, things that must be done for the rivet to happen.

JRR Tolkien

Riveting Is Overrated

The mix tends more toward reliable trudging most days. That’s what makes up the moments that earn us the ten minutes of riveting. I’m learning to be OK with that. I’m learning, with Bilbo Baggins, to celebrate a simple life, and to be grateful and ready for the adventure.

It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.

But do you have any curiosity about a day in the life of a pastor? Most likely, my day is different than other pastors’ days. I can assure you, it’s different from male pastors.

Just a Liiiiittle Different

I remember sitting in my spiritual formation class in seminary, where the professor had just handed out a worksheet on time management. Next to each blank, we future/current pastors were supposed to record how much time we spent on each item.

Study. Check.

Sermon prep. Check.

Administrative duties. Check.

. . . .

I looked all the way down the sheet and raised my hand.

“Where are the blanks for child care? Housekeeping? Running errands? Cooking dinner? I don’t see any of those.”

My prof looked confused for a moment. Uncomfortable. Then slightly rebuked. “I guess it’s an old worksheet. Maybe it’s time I get a new one.” (I liked that man.)

I think times have changed somewhat, and I want to give male pastors their due when they share the household load equally. Still, I wonder how much has changed.

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I searched my usual site for photos of female pastors. There were none. So here I am, in protest mode, because that’s wrong, too.

So, instead of a video, here are a few random moments in the life of a (female) pastor.

A Day in the Life, Sort of

6am— Wake up. Shower. Write in gratitude journal, pray, ice my pain-filled feet, and color pictures on my phone. Whatever it takes to stay awake.

7am—Take middle child to train station to catch her train to work. Find Pokemon Go stops on the way home because, hey, life is short.

8am—Breakfast, facebook, email, grocery order. All the administrative things.

9am—Chores for the day: laundry, dishes, bathroom. Pick up endless errant stuff lying around like some really nerdy people had a rager. Feed cats before they eat my face. The usual.

9:23—Remember the three administrative tasks I forgot to do, pledge to do them as soon as I sit down again, and promptly forget them seconds later. (This is what Flylady calls mental clutter. I have a LOT of it.)

9:30—Start work for real. Sermon prep. Blog posts. Article writing.

9:35—Get distracted by birds at the feeder. The blue jays are bullying. The Orioles are gorging. The grey catbird is also eating jelly—who knew? And I’m afraid my beloved Grosbeaks have flown farther north after their usual May stay.

9:45—Get back to work. Get lost in a rabbit hole while researching marathon racing. Don’t return to task for twenty minutes.

Speaking of rabbit holes . . . 

I bet you think pastors know/learn about the Bible and not much else. Ah, how much you don’t know. How much I didn’t know until I started doing research for sermons. In just the past sermon series I have learned:

  • What a Mercalli Intensity Scale is and that earthquake shocks can travel at 8300 miles per hour. This is way faster than my new car, even when I push the “Sports mode” button.
  • That the Battle of Bunker Hill did not take place on Bunker Hill. I feel greatly deceived and will check this out on my next visit to the Freedom Trail.
  • That there are people who have nothing better to do with their time than to rank angels in order and determine all their possible permutations, even though to say that is extra-biblical knowledge is to greatly understate things.
  • That there were still people living in the South believing they were slaves in 1963. Actually, I already knew that, but now I have a name and a story to put to it.
  • That 12 million Americans believe there are reptilian beings taking over human bodies, intent on dominating the world. I, too, find it hard to believe that 12 million Americans are that stupid imaginative, but there it is.

This is merely in the past month. It says nothing of my research into building skyscrapers, ancient shepherding practices, Greek oratory, or the lost head of King Henry the 4th. For a person whose highest Strengthsfinders indicator is Input, this is the Best. Job. Ever.

Also, in church during this series, we have built gingerbread houses, simulated earthquakes, blown bubbles, and other shenanigans, so it’s safe to say some other people are having as much fun as I am.

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Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Afternoon

12:00—Lunch, which I might be blessed to have with friends, colleagues, or church members, but which usually happens at home. If it’s at home, it’s highly likely to be cheese on top of some starch item consumed in my chair while I keep working.

Yes, I need healthier options. Feel free to bring lunch.

Btw, said work chair, next to the bird feeder, is a chair bought specifically for my back issues, which was a great green leather until Pippin the furniture shredder got hold of it. It needs a little TLC. And reupholstery.

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12:30—Sit and stare at social media wondering if I’ll ever concentrate on my work again and also if I have any idea what’s for dinner.

1:00—Maybe I’ll putter in the garden; maybe I’ll do housework. Maybe I’ll look over the 123 things I have to get done before my daughter’s wedding and do, or contemplate doing, one or two of them. It’s a toss up, Maybe I’ll keep staring at Facebook. Post-lunch concentration is hard, people.

2:00—Back to work. Very possibly this will take place in a local library, because said concentration level at home is just done. I am acquainted with every library, and every Starbucks, within fifteen miles. If anyone needs to know the comfiest chairs in DuPage, Kendall, or Kane County, I can tell you. (Actually, my favorites are in Cook County, because the Elgin Library reading area is AWESOME.)

Possibly this means:

Monday:

  • Complete outline of sermon.
  • Write blog post or two or three for me or one of the outlets I work with.
  • Read articles I left from the morning’s email because ain’t nobody got time for that in the morning.
  • Work on church programs that need to be finished this month.

Tuesday:

  • Finish sermons details.
  • Create graphics for the main points.
  • Create graphics and choose pictures for blogs and social media. These are fun. They aren’t work.

Wednesday:

  • Research next week’s sermon.
  • Work on an article.

Thursday:

  • Plot out next week’s sermon.
  • Work on a speaking engagement.

Friday: Go to the zoo. Scrapbook. Read. Work on some of those 123 things to do for the wedding. Garden. Fly to Paris. Whatever I want. It’s my day off.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

5:30—Finish any social media posting/marketing that needs to be done.

6:20—Return to train station to pick up child. Remember I never got anything out for dinner. Or folded the last load of laundry. Finish above. Binge watch Great British Baking Show or Dr. Who. Sleep. Repeat.

What’s your day look like?