Crush It!

It was like watching a minor league batter facing a big league pitcher. The excitement for the opportunity and the fear of being sent back down to the minors made me step up into the batters box and swing for the fences. Hitting a home run was the only thing on my mind. It was tempting to think that the only thing that mattered was what happened in those at bats in front of the fans. No, I'm not talking about baseball, but preaching and some of the lessons the Lord has taught me over the years.

Overnight, it seems, one year turned into five, ten and now seventeen years of full-time ministry. The last 11 years have been in the role of the Lead Pastor, regularly preaching, communicating, leading a church family. A lot has changed for me over time, particularly in the role of preaching. When I started, I spent hours searching for illustrations to make the points bigger. The points needed to be perfect, memorable. I spent hours trying to pack every detail in the time frame I was given to teach. If I learned it they needed to hear it.

As the years have gone by it is humbling to recognize the mercy shown to me by this church family.
In consideration of the messiness of the world in which we live and as a continuation of the Incarnational ministry and example of Jesus Christ, we must find ways to be present among our communities, not isolated behind our pulpits. We can be tempted to think that it’s easier to communicate effectively and creatively if we take more time isolated in preparation. However, there needs to be a move toward and in among the rhythm of our community, allowing ourselves to be known and getting messy ourselves with the challenges of community life. In view of these thoughts and in relation to the experiences mentioned above, I have tried to summarize my analysis in the following points:

· We cannot accomplish everything in one sitting, or one message, which calls for taking a long view. Instead of trying to have an ‘amazing’ message every week, the heart of the preacher should be humble enough to allow the word of God to speak consistently over time.  It's a small ball approach: fundamentally sound, consistent, dependable, effective for every circumstance. “Longevity is a hidden secret for those who truly want incarnational fruit. If Jesus spent thirty years becoming known, building a reputation, becoming a man of the people, maybe we should reconsider the transient nature of our lives.” [1]

That long view does not necessarily mean a long commitment on behalf of one preacher, but could also mean developing an appetite for the revealed Word of God, in the life of the congregation, that will be continued, either in a preacher’s absence or by a subsequent tenure. The preacher should not be central, rather Jesus Christ should be central. In that manner, should a change in preacher be necessary, there will be a greater chance that the congregation will not be satisfied with anything less than incarnational preaching.

· In order to address the questions that are embedded in the minds of people, we must take the time to understand the culture within which our people dwell. If our preaching fails to bridge their world with the eternal world of God, then we’ve become irrelevant as preachers. There must be a hermeneutic of the people. This requires a nearness of the preacher with the people among whom he ministers. “To be incarnational means you must take the vertigo seriously. You must learn to respect people’s lostness; you must become a deep listener and learn to dignify people’s spiritual journeys.” [2] Trust and authenticity is vital in order to be a vessel through which the Word of God can be heard and the presence of Jesus can be revealed in the lives of people.

· To be effective as incarnational preachers, we must embody and communicate both grace and truth to those who gather each week. We must also equip them to be incarnational. It’s the discipleship task.

“A sermon is faithful only as it is performed, embodied, and made incarnate in the lives of Christians, not as it is spoken by me. Jesus didn’t just speak truth to us; he performed truth, enfleshed the word. What is more, he commanded us to do the same. The faith of Christ is not a set of spiritual propositions but rather an embodied, enacted relationship with a crucified Jew who is also “the way” that we are commanded to walk, “the truth” that we are meant to embody, and “the life” that we are meant to live.” [3]
Our focus should not be on how many people we can get into our buildings for our services, but how effective are we at helping our people see themselves as capable of engaging decisions and other relationships through the empowerment that comes with the grace and truth of God. In this way we are then equipping the Church, as the Body of Christ, to be incarnational in the community in which they live and move. “We preach in the awesome awareness that the church is, for better or worse, the physical form that the Risen Christ has chosen to take in the world.” [4]

[1] Halter, Hugh. Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishing, 2014), 105
[2] Ibid., 45.
[3] Willimon. William. Incarnation: The Surprising Overlap of Heaven and Earth, (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 2013), Loc 764-767.
[4] Ibid., Loc. 895-896.

The virtue of justice speaks to the zeal for God’s holiness to be mediated by those who serve in Christian leadership. The implication for this virtue is that it should influence the manner in which those in leadership facilitate the worship space when a body of believers gathers. It should also provide the motivation to extend the holiness of God toward those who have yet to enter into a faith relationship with God. This dual purpose will undoubtedly produce tension and conflict. However, conflict within a complex adaptive system need not be feared, rather embraced in as much as the clear purposes, and in the case of the church, the virtues are not sacrificed or compromised.

Here are a few observations about the transition from the clean, streamlined institutional view of the church to one that embraces the complexity of messiness:

1. A traditional model seeks to have very clean organized systematic way of doing things. Our Sunday services are a great example of that.

2. A clear understanding of grace should deepen the capacity to help those caught in the messiness of life.

3. A clear understanding of truth should hasten the motivation to direct people away from sinful characteristics, knowing that sin will need to be accounted for. However, it is important to note that we need to allow time and space for people to respond to God’s prompting for change.

4. God can take the broken pieces of our lives and make something beautiful out of them.

5. It allows for failure and commends the courage to take steps in a God-honouring direction, knowing that it is often through the liminal space of failure that success or improvement take place.

Liminality, is defined as a place in between. To some it’s a place of uncertainty and incompleteness. For others it’s a place of discovery and possibilities. Liminal space is a place of the no longer, the not yet, and the might be. It’s a fascinating place especially as it relates to the church. Liminal space is where development of virtue resides in the life of a leader. It is also the place where new forms and functions are discovered as a result of allowing virtue to develop.