{Many Questions and Few Answers Along the Never-Finished Journey of Faith}

Liturgy for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (2 directions)

[Just a quick note of apology: We had our big music Sunday on the 2nd Sunday of Advent and I didn't do any original liturgy because the music was the bulk of our service. Sorry about that!]

To make up for that mistake, I want to offer 2 possible liturgical routes for this coming Sunday with a little rationale.

On the 2nd Sunday of Advent we were offered two choices from Luke’s gospel. One was introducing John the Baptist and his role as the “voice crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord.” The second choice was from Luke 1:68-79 — the Canticle of Zechariah. If you chose the Luke 3 John the Baptist text, I think you have an interesting opportunity this week in worship.

Is Advent a Season for Lament?

A growing trend is churches who observe a Service of the Longest Night around the date of the Winter Solstice. The Christmas season can be a tough time for lots of people. The previous year could have been wrought with loss and heartache. So the holiday season only reminds them of that loss when placed in context with the joy of the season. It’s vitally important that churches remember how important pastoral care is in Advent because it can be all too easy to get caught up in Christmas parties, traditions, and celebrations.

I think worship is a perfect place to bring the baggage of a tough year. If we Christians want to be faithful, then we must remember we are a people formed by good times and bad times. It’s a holy act to allow people time and space to grieve and mourn at the holidays.

So what if the 3rd Sunday of Advent were a Sunday to highlight these needs for pastoral care?

My friend, Taylor Watson Burton-Edwards makes a great case for why we should not create a new service to address pastoral care needs during the holidays when the season of Advent makes room for this in our regular Sunday morning worship time. Read his article here

Here’s my 2 cents worth on why the 3rd Sunday of Advent is a great time to address these needs:

The 4th Sunday of Advent is the day before Christmas Eve and if you’re like us, that will be the Sunday when people decide they can no longer stand Advent hymns and insist on a carol or two. Maybe that’s the Sunday where other Christmas traditions become front and center as well. Like it or not, December 23rd is close enough to Christmas that Advent will probably be a fading memory for many on that day.

The 3rd Sunday of Advent, Dec. 16, is far enough away from Christmas that Advent is still a reality. It’s also far enough into the season that early pomp and circumstance can give way to a much-needed change in tone.

So without further adieu, below is some liturgy and hymn selections for a Sunday worship service geared around themes of light/darkness as well as care/hope in the midst of despair:

Advent Wreath Liturgy

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming Messiah. When darkness surrounds us, we are reminded that God’s Messiah is the Light of the world. This Light is the light of hope, and darkness does not overcome it. We light the third Advent candle in preparation for the coming of God’s Messiah. We stand in solidarity with those for whom this is a difficult season. And we boldly proclaim that salvation for all is at hand.

               Light the candle

Come, Lord Jesus. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

Opening Prayer

Holy God, we gather with expectation and hope as we approach the advent of your Son, Jesus of Nazareth, whose coming was foretold by prophets of old. Grant that through the singing of your praise, and hearing of your Word, we may be prepared for another encounter with the Living Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

[from "Prayers for the Seasons of God's People Year C" p. 16]

Litany For Those In Need This Season

O God, we come to you in prayer this day:

For all who have a song they cannot sing,

For all who have a burden they cannot bear,

For all who live in chains they cannot break,

For all who wander homeless and cannot return,

For those who are sick, and for those who supply care to them,

For those who wait for loved ones, and wait in vain,

For those who live in hunger, and for those who will not share their bread,

For those who are misunderstood, and for those who misunderstand,

For those whose words of love are locked within their hearts, and for those who yearn to hear those words.

Show us the Way, O God, for we your people walk in darkness. Amen.

Suggested Additional Items:

Canticle of Light and Darkness (UMH #205)

Hymn No. 218 “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”   **sing verse 3**

Hymn No. 211 “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”   **sing verses 1, 5, 6, and 7**

Hymn No. 209 “Blessed Be the God of Israel”

 

If you do not want to go this route, I suggest the following pieces of liturgy keeping with the lectionary for the 3rd Sunday of Advent:

Advent Wreath Liturgy

The prophet reminds us that we are to bear fruit worthy of repentance.
The Messiah is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire
and all flesh shall see his glory.

We light the third Advent candle in preparation
for the coming of God’s Messiah.
We prepare by repenting of our sins,
and living lives devoted to loving God and serving our neighbor.

                Light the candle.

Come, Lord Jesus. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

Opening Prayer

             **same as above**

Prayer of Confession/Assurance of Pardon

   **Use UMH #366 as a unison prayer of confession**

Hear the Good News: Our Advent hope is that God’s Messiah will come to baptize us with fire and the Holy Spirit. By the power of God, we will bear fruits of transformation. All of this proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Liturgy for the 1st Sunday of Advent

This Advent I’ve decided to post our seasonal prayers and  liturgy on a weekly basis. It’s a special time of the year and liturgy plays a very important part in making the season meaningful. So I’ll be posting our weekly liturgy and readers can feel free to borrow and/or edit as you please. I will note where I have borrowed prayers. If there is not a note of citation, you can assume it’s mine and feel free to use it in your context. When I write liturgy, I do so for the Church — so feel free not to cite me as an author. The important part is to make this liturgy contextually appropriate so that it may add the meaning of this very special season of the Christian year.

First Sunday of Advent

Lectionary Readings:

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Psalm 25:1-10

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

Lighting of the Advent Wreath

Keep awake! Be watchful! The Son of Man is coming with great power and glory. Hold your heads high, for your salvation is near.

We light the first Advent candle reminding us how God’s promised Messiah will break into our time and space to show us the way of salvation. May we stay alert for his coming.

            Light the candle

Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

 

Opening Prayer

Ever present God, you taught us that the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Grant that we may ever be found watching for the coming of your Son. Save us from undue love of the world, give us eyes to look and wait with patient hope for the day of the Lord, that when he shall appear, we may not be ashamed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(United Methodist Book of Worship #254)

 

Invtitation to Holy Communion

Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Let us prepare our hearts for his coming by confessing our sins together.

Confession and Pardon

Lord Jesus Christ, you have promised to come again as one breaking through the clouds with great power and glory. We confess that we hide our heads in trivial matters. We do not love our neighbors because our ambitions are more important. We do not hear the cry of the needy because we are busy accumulating wealth. We have become drunk with the pursuit of power because we fail to put our trust in your power. Forgive us, we pray. Free us that we may have eyes to see your glory, ears to hear your liberating gospel, and lives to devote to the service of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

            Silence

Hear the Good News:

Emmanuel, God with us, is coming that we might live our lives in the grace that frees us from the bondage of sin.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

 

Prayer After Communion

Holy God, we thank you for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world as a people with eyes to see your presence as we serve one another; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sabermetrics: If It’s Worth Counting in the Church, It’s Worth Counting Right

There’s a growing discussion in the church these days over whether or not we should use statistics as a tool to evaluate ministry. One side says “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth counting” (to paraphrase Will Willimon) while the other side argues that we should prioritize the subjective over the objective — after all, how can you measure spiritual transformation.

Honestly, I can sympathize with both sides of the debate. Statistical data does help monitor health whether it’s taking one’s blood pressure or measuring the bottom line of an organization. Numbers may not give a complete story, but they can give indicators that help tell a larger story. On the other hand, numbers fail to tell certain parts of a story. My blood pressure say nothing about my personal character. Likewise, bottom-line numbers like profit margin say very little about overall working conditions and employee morale. We have to admit that while numbers do help us evaluate, they cannot be the sole tool for evaluation.

All of this begs the question: If we are moving to a culture where numbers are used more, can we figure out a way to use the right numbers in the right ways? In other words, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth counting — and if it’s worth counting, it’s worth counting right.

How Could We Count the Right Things the Right Way?

Sabermetrics is a new phenomenon in Major League Baseball. If you’re not a baseball fan, maybe you’ve seen the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill? That movie was the story of how the Oakland A’s used sabermetrics to field a playoff quality team full of relatively unknown players. The basic premise of sabermetrics says we can make better evaluations through the use of objective data. What makes sabermetrics unique is its use of complex formulas that offer a more complete composite report. For example, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic. This is an example of how sabermetrics thrives on using more than one metric at a time to make an evaluation.

So what does this have to do with the church?

What if we could create a sabermetrics system to aid in evaluating churches and clergy? 

The complaint over the current proposed set of metrics annual conferences and denominational leaders are using is that it’s too simplistic and doesn’t give a thorough enough analysis. I would agree. New members added cannot tell the whole story of growth in a congregation. Further, membership says very little about discipleship because membership and discipleship are often two very different tasks.

But what if we could employ a formula that could track new members for 3, 5, or even 10 years as they get plugged into the life of a local congregation? What if there was a composite formula for scoring local congregations on adding people to meaningful ministries after they join in membership? 

How could we measure missional activity? Is there a way to use the numbers provided in charge conference reports in such way as to score the overall missional activity of a congregation? Could baptisms play into the missional activity of a congregation instead of just growth numbers?

Could small groups be divided based on content so bible studies and practical theology affect different areas of analysis? What about Sunday School? How would long-term studies like Disciple be scored with multiple short-term studies?

How could average worship attendance be viewed as something more than just a means to track how many butts are in seats every Sunday?

The Big Question: How would these numbers be used?

In his book, The Sabermetric Manifesto, David Grabiner writes:

Bill James defined sabermetrics as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” Thus, sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as “which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many home runs will Ken Griffey hit next year?” It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as “Who is your favorite player?” or “That was a great game.”

Therefore, sabermetrics cannot be expected to give subjective analysis. It is a means to put objective data up against a subjective story in the hopes of giving a more full narrative account. Obviously disciples of Jesus Christ cannot be mass-produced which is why sabermetrics could offer a more faithful way of monitoring growth and progress that is slow and very detailed in nature.

But what if sabermetrics can aid Bishops and Cabinets in appointment-making. Instead of using salary and tenure as the primary drivers for making appointments, what if complex data was available so that clergy strengths and church needs could be better matched up? How would our culture of salaries and entitlement need to change to allow this to happen?

Could sabermetrics offer a means to address missional concerns in appointment making? How would Bishops and Cabinets need to work with local churches so as to make room for longer pastoral appointments if that means missional needs are being met?

Likewise, could sabermetrics offer a more objective approach at defining ineffectiveness that takes into account a variety of concerns and does not favor unfair data like number of new members, avg. worship attendance, etc.? If sabermetrics could tell a more full story of ministry, surely it can also track ineffective ministry in a way that is less biased and more faithful to the overall health of the church.

I don’t know the answer to many of these questions — they’re above my pay grade and experience level. However I do think we should be asking tougher questions. If we’re in fact moving to a culture of more counting, then let’s count the right things the right way and use the data in a faithful way for the betterment of the Church and God’s mission.

Otherwise, we’re just creating ways to prop up a dying institution. Who wants to get excited about that?

What are your thoughts? Is there hope for using data in a healthy way that better tells the full story of ministry? 

Relevance or Faithfulness: An All Saints Day Reflection

“The Church needs to be more relevant!” “If you want to attract a new generation, you’ve got to be relevant!” “The Church has lost touch with people, it needs to be more relevant!”

These are some of the generic statements one might hear at most any leadership training, group forum, or casual conversation among clergy. The consensus seems to be that church decline is largely due to an “out of touchness” that marks the Church these days. And the solution seems to be that if we have any hope of be in ministry with those currently outside of church, then we’d better get cracking on finding ways to be more relevant.

If the church is going to survive, then we better stop looking so much like church, and start being something more relevant.

So what are some possible solutions?

What about music? Yes, we need more relevant music. People don’t want to hear boring hymns played on pipe organs anymore. And make it happy music. No depressing stuff. That’s a good place to start!

What about church structure? Yes, we need a church structure that understands people lead very busy and mobile lives. You can’t expect people to be at worship every Sunday anymore. We need services on days other than Sundays. And we need to be able to reach people where they are even if that’s not in person on a Sunday morning. Good idea!

What about trying to meet the needs of modern people? Yes, we need to give people biblical principles for the issues they face everyday. Tell them what the Bible says about a topic. We don’t need to worry with teaching people how to read the Bible in such a way that might change them — no time for that; too many other tasks to accomplish. Excellent idea!

Now I’m writing a little tongue-in-cheek here. Believe me, on our very best days we can be the Church in very relevant ways for all people — those inside and outside of our walls. But some days it’s a good thing to be the Church in such a ways that appear odd. 

Yesterday we celebrated All Saints Day. It’s an annual occasion for the Church that is observed on the 1st Sunday in November. And maybe it was somewhere between the singing of For All the Saints and the reading of the names of those in our congregation who died this past year that it occurred to me just how odd our worship service was. For church people it might have felt normal. But for those worried about being “relevant,” it was very strange.

You see, the “relevant” thing to do is live for today. It’s relevant to live by the motto Carpe Diem (“Seize the Day”). We’re not guaranteed tomorrow so today is all we have. It’s also relevant to put the past behind us. No one likes to live in the past. It’s good to move on with life. Remembering the past has a way of sucking the fun out of the present. It’s also relevant to think we can avoid death at any cost. Surely there’s a pill we can take, a diet we can try, a deal we can make to ensure we’ll live forever. Death is definitely not a relevant topic.

And yet on this day every year the Church gathers to be as irrelevant as we can be. We claim that remembering the past is a major part of what it means to be Christian. We talk about today, but only in terms of how our past and futures informs it. No one is “seizing the day” because Christ did that in his death and resurrection. On All Saints Day we remember we are powerless in the face of death but for the grace and resurrection power of God. And we sing sad songs that remind us of our loss but also affirm us of a hope that’s greater than our loss. Once a year we gather as a community, open old wounds, remember the past, and sing about a triumphant future when God will wipe away all tears and we feast at heavenly banquets together. Surely none of these would be classified as “relevant.”

To be this irrelevant, you have to get up early on Sunday mornings, get dressed, and go find a place that dares to occasionally be irrelevant by singing strange songs, doing weird actions like sitting and standing and bowing, and hear strange messages about death and life that you can’t find anywhere else in the “relevant” world.

To be this irrelevant, you’ve got to go find, well, a church.

For All the Saints

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!  

 

Is Change a Comin’? And Did We Overlook It?

Judicial Council upheld the guaranteed appointment for United Methodist clergy. Like it or not, the legal body of our church has upheld that elders in good standing shall receive and appointment for ministry.

It’s been a very interesting 72 hours since this decision became public. Some have lauded the council for its faithfulness to church polity and the protection of those who might be harmed by a system that could arbitrarily take away job security. Others have bemoaned the system, saying that upholding guaranteed job status for all clergy is simply perpetuating a status quo that has helped lead us to decline.

No matter your opinion, I think we can all agree people feel strongly one way or another about this sacred cow of our tradition.

This leads me to an interesting discovery. In light of the recent debate in columns and social media, has anyone else found the petition that passed General Conference allowing clergy to be assigned to less than full-time status without consent?

Study of Ministry (20304-MH-¶338)

Amend
¶ 338. The Itinerant System—-The itinerant system is the accepted method of The United Methodist Church by which ordained elders are appointed by the bishop to fields of labor.20 All ordained elders shall accept and abide by these appointments. Bishops and cabinets shall commit to and support open itineracy and the protection of the prophetic pulpit and diversity. Persons appointed to multiple-staff ministries, ….
…2. At the initiative of the bishop and cabinet or at his or her request, an elder may receive a less than full-time appointment Less than full-time service may be rendered by a clergy member under the conditions stipulated in this paragraph.21 Less than full-time service shall mean that a specified amount of time less than full-time agreed upon by the bishop and the cabinet, the clergy member, and the annual conference Board of Ordained Ministry is devoted to the work of ministry in the field of labor to which the person is appointed by the bishop. At the initiative of the bishop and cabinet or at At his or her own initiative, a clergy member may request and may be appointed in one-quarter, one-half, or three-quarter time increments by the bishop to less than full-time service without loss of essential rights or membership in the annual conference. Division Ordained Ministry-endorsed appointments beyond the local church may be for less than full-time service. Appointment to less than full-time service is not a guarantee, but may be made by the bishop, provided that the following conditions are met:
a) The ordained elder seeking less than full-time service should present a written request to the bishop and the chairperson of the Board of Ordained Ministry at least three months 90 days prior to the annual conference session at which the appointment is made. Exceptions to the three-month 90 day deadline shall be approved by the cabinet and the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry.
b) The bishop may appoint an ordained elder, provisional member elder, or an associate member to less than full-time service. The clergyperson shall be notified at least 90 days prior to the annual conference at which the appointment shall be made. Special attention shall be given to ensure that the values of open itineracy are preserved…..

Rationale

This adds language to emphasize cabinets’ commitments to open, inclusive itinerancy; and adds language to allow for less than full-time appointments for elders at the initiative of the bishop and cabinet. It complies with Study of Ministry recommendation #5, Missional Appointment Making.

Yes, whereas clergy used to be required to give consent and Boards of Ordained Ministry were required to vote on such a status change, it is now at the Bishop and Cabinet’s discretion to appoint clergy at less than full-time status. This means that while elders are guaranteed a placement for ministry, they are no longer guaranteed full-time placement, minimum salary, or benefits that come with full-time status.

Missional appointment making is a principle introduced by the Study of Ministry Commission through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM). Their full report can be found here. The report lends the theological and practical foundation to make this petition viable. This is a major shift in culture when it comes to making appointments. Bishops and Cabinets now have the power to change the status of a clergyperson at their discretion.

But there’s a major plus for those who think we need more evaluative metrics in place: If you’re serving a 1/4-time appointment and that church grows, you can (in theory) work yourself into a full-time appointment. If this happens, appointments can shift and clergy can have a different status based on changes happening in their local church.

In all of the celebrating and whining about guaranteed appointments being upheld, why are we not talking more about this petition? Is there change a comin’ in The United Methodist Church? If this petition is used the way it reads, we could see appointments dramatically change and the lives of clergy will change along with them.

Our hope and prayer should be that all of this change is for the good of the Church and God’s mission — otherwise known as the original goals we clergy were called to serve.

 

Liturgy for Day of Prayer and Unity

We’re doing a Day of Prayer and Unity on Wednesday, Nov. 7th — aka the day AFTER Election Day. The purpose of this day is to offer a space for Christians to come and pray for the nation and also to pray for unity after a divisive Election Season. Our plan is to open our sanctuary for drop-in prayer guided by liturgy we’re providing and then celebrate Holy Communion as a congregation at 5:15 that evening.  

Below is the liturgy we’ll provide to guide the prayer time for people who drop in. Please feel free to borrow this for your congregation or alter it accordingly to better fit your context. May we all have grace and seek peace in the coming days…

Day of Prayer and Unity

Mulberry Street United Methodist Church

Macon, GA

November 7th 2012

Centering Prayer

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires, known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

[Silence]

Psalter Reading

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall bow before him. For kingship belongs to the Lord he rules over the nations. To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship all who go down to the dust fall before him. My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him they shall be known as the Lord’s forever. They shall come and make known to a -people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done. Take my voice and let me sing always only for my king!

            (Based on Psalm 22:27-30)

Prayer for Our Nation

Eternal God, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our nation a zeal for justice and the strength of patience and mercy, that we may use our freedom in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

[Silence]

Prayer for Unity

Holy Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have called us to be united together as your Body as a witness to a divided world. Remind us that your ways are not our ways. Let those who follow your Son Jesus Christ be a peaceable people in the midst of conflict and division. Send your Spirit of peace, justice and freedom upon us, break down the walls of political partisanship, and make us one; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Silence]

Gospel Reading

John 15:9-14

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

[Silence]

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Sending Forth

Go forth in the grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ; go forth in the strength and love of God the Father; and go forth in the sustaining and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit – today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.

Learning to Preach On Money

Every young preacher has their firsts. Today was one for me. We’re in the middle of our annual Stewardship Campaign at the church I serve. In the mix of themes, I drew a theme to preach that I’ve never preached on before — money. You should know that I don’t have a single memory of money being preached on in the church I grew up in. Frankly it was sort of treated like politics or sex — you never talk about it in mixed company. So yesterday I preached on the lectionary text for the day (Mark 10:17-31) and geared toward a message on the importance of financial giving.

In preparing for this sermon, I decided to call a couple of friends. I was really having a hard time with what direction to take with the sermon. The truth is, I was struggling with my own personal discomfort in talking about money. Since this is a growing edge for me as a young pastor, I decided it would be a good idea to seek the counsel of 2 friends who are more seasoned than I am and who also serve larger, more wealthy churches (their contexts mirror the one I preach to in this regard). The advice they gave was invaluable.

Here are a couple of big points of advice I used to guide the construction of the sermon:

  • Don’t be too creative. I know this sounds a little counter-intuitive at first, but hear me out. The texts we use to preach on money are penetrating enough. Let the text speak for itself. Money also has very tangible dimensions. But preachers are notorious for “over-fluffing” sermons on money by trying to redefine it as something spiritual, and therefore less physical and more abstract. We say sermons on money aren’t really sermons on money but are actually sermons on other things. As preachers, we run the risk of beating around the bush and never talking about the reality of money itself when we fail to be simple and direct about the place of money in the life of the church and its members. There’s a reason Jesus quite often put a price tag on a person’s generosity. Sure, those encounters had a lot to do with abstract spiritual things. But make no mistake, Jesus put money in simple, physical, and demanding terms.
  • Be honest. We live in tough economic times right now in America. Now look, I know that by virtue of being American, we’re largely better off than many in other parts of the world. And as preachers we can harp on that all day to remind our congregations to be grateful for what they have. But I’m a United Methodist preacher which means I have a certain job security and guaranteed benefits. Frankly I have a hard time with my UM colleagues making this point when people in their churches have lost jobs, homes, and retirement savings and we’re sitting pretty comfortable with those things provided for us. A better approach is to simply be honest about the economic constraints. Times are tough for families and they’re tough for churches too. Churches need to do the work of analyzing their financial realities and they ought to be making tough decisions on what they can do without. Likewise, families and individuals should do the same and preachers shouldn’t shy away from making that clear. But be honest. Don’t assume they get your point — come right out and say it.
  • Be bold. Financial giving is a statement of generosity on the part of individuals and families. Generosity is as much an expression of our faith as our prayers, presence, service, and witness. And filling out a pledge card is a spiritual act because they’re most often turned in during a worship service. The best line I borrowed from one of my pastor friends was this: Saying “yes” to generosity means saying “no” to something else. The essence of generosity is twofold: 1)Giving must come with a cost; and 2)We give largely for the sake of others. In tough economic times, could we give something up in order to be generous? Are we willing to give so that someone else might be the beneficiary? These are tough but necessary questions to ask in the church. Our faith does not belong to us alone, but it belongs to the community as well. We have a responsibility (note I didn’t say “option”) to give so that others might benefit. And we give to the church because we believe what we can do together is greater than what we can do as individuals. There is a refreshing honesty when a preacher says that.

This sermon was a true learning experience for me. I’m very much a narrative-style preacher who loves stories and creative twists and turns to make a point. But this sermon turned out to be much more practical and straightforward. No stories — just practical talk about money and generosity. It also took a lot of discipline for me because I always want my sermons to be loved by people. The risk you run in this sort of sermon is the “hard truth” might offend someone. However if you’re being true to the text, Jesus is very offensive to our realities. As preachers we spend a good deal of time wanting to be liked, so sermons on money are great opportunities to set that desire aside for a Sunday. The timing also worked well because pledge cards went out in the mail this past week so they were fresh on the minds of the congregation. They also have 2 weeks to consider what that pledge will be before Commitment Sunday. In the future I think I’ll always design a sermon on money a couple weeks before pledge cards are due that way people have some time to think about their pledge before they turn them in. All in all, it was a great learning experience and one I’ll come back to for years to come.

How do you preach on money? What are your “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to preaching on giving? 

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