Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Art of Preaching

I think preaching is an art in many ways. Today I'm thinking of the art of persuading people without manipulating or intimidating them.

Everyone knows when they are being "sold". We've all been in that uncomfortable position with a slick salesperson - it sounds good. You are reaching for your wallet but there's a small voice inside that says "He's not sincere. Don't do this. You'll regret it!" I don't want my listeners to have the same feeling when they hear me speak. So I try to show them that I respect their intellect.

I always speak with my listener in mind. I'm a cautious listener myself. I don't buy everything I'm being told in a speech (or a sales pitch). So I try to ask myself the critical question that I think my listener is asking at the time. I want to speak the answer to the natural question in their head so they say, "Hey, he anticipated that I appreciate that."

I do that to show that I respect my audience. I don't think they are simple minded. They've got good questions and concerns that I need to address if I'm going to win them over. I never want to imply that they should simply check their brains at the door and believe everything that I say. That's insulting. If I want to help them see that God loves them and accepts them I need to start by showing them love and acceptance in how I speak.

So, even though I want to persuade people to what I consider is God's view (based on the Bible), I never want them to feel like I'm cramming "truth" down their throat. They have to buy every word and thought so they truly own it for themselves. I want them to not merely agree with me but be convinced that God has added to my words and spoken to them personally through his Spirit.

If that happens, that's the ultimate satisfaction - to have people sense that they heard from God somewhere in or around my speaking. But the quickest way to invalidate that experience is to cheapen it through manipulation or intimidation.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Privilege of Pastoring

Someone asked me today if it wasn't wearing to counsel people all the time. I thought I should address that here because it's a common misperception.

Actually, counseling, and any pastoral "work" that brings me into the life of another person, is an honor. I really mean that. It's a privilege to be invited into the most personal part or time in someone's life. I'm invited into a person's most holy place - their "inner sanctum" so to speak. It's truly a holy moment to know that someone has trusted me (and trusted God by trusting me) to be that deep inside their life.

The other reason I like pastoring - specifically counseling - is that it is real. I don't deal with superficiality well. I know when people are giving me the fake smile and phony "happy" answers. I like hearing the truth and that's what I hear in counseling. I enjoy giving people permission to be honest without having to be "nice" or "spiritual" or anything like that. They can share all their thoughts and emotions without feeling like I'm going to tell them they are wrong or "unspiritual". There are few places you can be so honest. It's very rewarding to know that I serve that purpose in the lives of others.

The realness of counseling also helps me in my writing and speaking. When I write/speak, I'm not addressing lofty ideals. I'm addressing real life situations that I've helped people through at some time in the past. Or I'm relating how I suceeded or, more often, failed in life. That kind of reality makes my ministry that much more helpful.

I suppose some people would be bored or overwhelmed by such intimacy with people in these moments. But not me. I thank God all the time for the ministry he's given me.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Creating a Culture not a Program

I've been an observer of church life for about 30 years now. I haven't always been pleased with what I see. Church communities are often forced. People know how to talk about building community and take efforts to build community but I haven't seen a lot of church communities that strike me as authentic - that is - real people, expressing real joy and pain and finding true friendship with one another as well as God.

I guess that shouldn't surprise me. That's just the human condition. We are broken at a very deep level and intimacy is at the heart of our brokenness. But if God has come into our lives then I think we should be able to transcend this dilemma. We don't have to "fake it". We don't have to just have a shell that "looks" or sounds like community. I think we have the potential to experience the real deal.

Because of that I often resist trends to develop community out of a box. You can find lots of adult small group curriculum that promise that. But no program will create authenticity or intimacy. It has to be inspired by God, directed by God and given by God. And we have to be willing to long for it and wait for it without forcing it prematurely.

I long for that sense of authenticity and intimacy at Cedarbrook. I see glimpses of it and that excites me. Andre (youth pastor) has been thinking recently about the importance of "being" over "doing" and I think this is a big part of what I'm talking about. I much prefer to be a part of a group that longs for intimacy and authenticity (being) but has no idea how to achieve it than to be a part of a group that has the latest program that "looks" good (doing) but only goes through the motions of community and never achieves it.

As a leader, I think that it's more important for me to cast a vision for this kind of community - to stir our hearts - than to offer quick and easy solutions. Instead of developing programs we need to develop a culture that values authenticity and intimacy. If that is where our hearts are, it will happen. It's in the waiting and longing that causes the depth of our character and prepares us to embrace community when it develops.

How do we create a culture that breeds community? Boundaries play a role. Healthy boundaries have a lot to do with accepting people where they are and respecting them for who they are - not trying to force them to be like us. When boundaries are respected, then community is free to take root. We can relax and enjoy each other because we no longer have to fear being judged or rejected. We know that people accept us because of our inherant God-given value, not because we look or think like the crowd.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. I have the quietest readers in blogging history! What's up with that?????? : ) Click and share your thoughts. Thanks!

Jane Fonda, Insecurity & Faith

TIME magazine has an interesting article about Jane Fonda this past week. It's always interesting to me to see the common thread in everyone's life. The "verses" may be different in our lives but the song is the same. We all need to be affirmed and when we aren't, we malfunction.

Fonda said that she had "the disease to please" her father and every man in her life. Like a chameleon she became whatever she thought these men wanted her to become. When she failed at pleasing them she turned to an eating disorder to satisfy her insecurity - provoking a 30 year struggle with bulimia.

Yesterday I spoke in church about the three types of boundary disorders that people have. Either we enter people's space without their permission (The Space Invader) - we keep people out who should be in our space (The Wall) or we allow people into our space who shouldn't be there (The Sieve). ( You can download this here.)

Every one of us has a tendency to do at least one of these and they can all be boiled down to our insecurity and need to be affirmed. But if we were content in ourselves and confident of our value, we wouldn't have the need to do any of the above. And Jane Fonda wouldn't have had to live her life of pain either.

Is it too simple to think that we can find our sense of worth/value in God? It makes a lot of sense. If God says that we are valuable (not perfect, but valuable) then I don't have to jump through hoops to prove myself and win your approval. Just like the government determines the worth of the paper in our wallet, not me, God determines my value. Once I can grasp that then my performance in life flows out of my confidence rather than my fear of rejection.

The fact is - God has stated that we are valuable that he manifested himself as a person (Jesus) and died for us. There is no stronger statement of our worth than that.

If you struggle in life finding acceptance and worth I want to point you to God - specifically Jesus. Ask him to reveal your worth to you from His perspective. If God says you are valuable, it really doesn't matter what you feel or others say. Let that truth permeate your being. Then take a deep breath and enjoy your life!