Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

More Power Than You Can Imagine

Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:15-21
July 29, 2012
© 2012

Jesus Walking on the Water
Lewis Bowman

I.                Sally Brown teaches worship and preaching at Princeton Seminary. She recently wrote:

I remember as a child tiptoeing past the living room where my parents, faithful in morning devotions, were praying. Sometimes I heard them praying for my older brother and me. It can be faintly embarrassing to eavesdrop on prayer -- a little like listening in on someone's personal phone conversation. But prayer on our behalf can be a revelation -- about ourselves, and about God.

Hearing my parent's prayers, I learned that to them, the two of us were a sacred trust, worth praying for. The simple fact of their daily praying let me know they recognized their limits as parents. There was so much they could not do for us, so much from which they couldn't shield us. Their praying also told me what they believed about God. They believed they could entrust us to hands stronger than their own, a Love wiser than their own. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=7/29/2012&tab=3

A.           Our son Jon has often told of listening to my parents praying when he visited them. Often it was after breakfast or supper, but occasionally he’d overhear them praying in the bedroom. He recalls listening for his name as they prayed for their grandchildren, and even for his children’s names in the prayers for their great grandchildren.

B.            Have you ever overheard someone praying for you when they didn’t know you were listening? You might feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed. You may feel loved and honored. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed or inspired.

C.            In Ephesians 3:14-21, we are eavesdropping on one of the greatest prayers in the New Testament, and it is for us! The Church is the focus of Ephesians. The word “church” occurs 9 times, but never as a reference to a specific congregation. Each time it is about the whole Church. Christ’s community of faith in all places and all times. I am astounded that the majesty and magnitude of this prayer is as much for us as it was for the Church in the first century.

II.            By this time I hope you all know that I believe the most important thing I have done for you this year is to pray for you. Besides my public prayers, I know I have shared private moments of prayer with some of you as well. At the risk of bragging or having some of you think I am bragging, I’m going to let you peek in on some of my prayer rhythm this morning.

A.           A few of you who are extra alert and remember details may recall that a few weeks ago I said we’d be looking at the life of King David through the summer. We did last Sunday, but I’m shifting gears to Ephesians for my last three Sundays with you. My first step in preparing each week’s sermon is to read the passages and pray about what God is saying to me. When I got to the passages about David for these three weeks, I discovered they were about the darkest days of David’s life: his adultery with Bathsheba and the fallout with his son Absalom. My prayer was something like this, “Look God, I don’t think I want to end my time with this church on such a downer. What should I do?” I don’t think I could actually say that God told me to look at the Ephesians passages in the lectionary, but that’s what I did. As I read them, I do believe the Holy Spirit was whispering to me, “This is what you need to leave with these people.” Of course, I had studied and preached on them before, but they were alive with what God has waiting for you with Pastor David.

B.            When I’m cooling down after my morning workout on our patio, I pray facing the four directions of the compass. East is the Lord’s Prayer and offering God a new day and concerns for friends and family in that direction. South is the Prayer of St. Francis and concerns for people and the world south of me, including 1st Christian Church, Duncanville. When we are in Oklahoma, you’ll still get the prayer when facing south. West is the L’Arche Prayer and especially the troubled places on the other side of the world. North are the prayers I usually use in funerals, and I chat with God about our parents and others. After showering and dressing, I pray through 5 Psalms during breakfast. Every day, God prompts me to pray for something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. Every day, at least a couple of things inspires me to pray for you as individuals and as a congregation.

C.            Those of you who have been in the Thursday Bible study group or who were in a prayer triad or who have been at Board or Elders’ meetings know how I try to pray the Scriptures as a way to let God direct and tune my prayers. Ephesians 3:14-21 sent my prayers for you soaring. As you anticipate your new pastor coming, I am praying for God to accomplish more with 1st Christian Church, Duncanville than you can imagine, and that you will have the power to grasp it all.

III.       The prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 soars. It is art, hymn, poetry – not an essay to be analyzed. The danger of pulling it apart is destroying its beauty and power. So I want to read it again so we can just soak it in, so we can be carried by its lyric.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

A.           As the risk of spoiling the experience, I do want to shine a light on the themes that are the facets of this jewel. I want to illuminate this prayer with how it is shaping my praying for you.

1.              I have experienced the presence of Christ dwelling with you as we have worshipped, served, learned, grieved and rejoiced together. I am asking God to keep filling you with God’s complete presence so you’re bursting at the seams with God and Christ is oozing out all over.

2.              I am praying that as far as you can see in every direction, Christ’s love stretches to the extremity of your reach and into the depth of your core.

3.              I am praying that your faith and knowledge will grasp all that God has for you, to both understand it and to hold onto it.

4.              I am praying for God’s power to be released among you so you have the strength of faith to appropriate the love of Christ with such magnetic force you will be inseparable from each other and irresistibly attract spiritually hungry and hurting people to Jesus.

5.              I am praying that your accomplishments will be so abundant they will outstrip your wildest imagination. I am praying you will recognize and embrace God’s ambition for this congregation, so you are not content with too little but embrace God’s expansive future.

6.              I am praying that the riches of God’s glory will shine through 1st Christian Church, Duncanville so anyone who worships with you, anyone you touch in ministry, anyone whom God brings across you path will say, “God is really among you!”

B.            This prayer is packed with strength and power. I told the Thursday Bible study group this week about being overwhelmed with an awareness of God’s power when we visited Niagara Falls and took the tour in the tunnels behind the falls. As I stood just a couple of feet from the torrent of water, I had a great urge to fall face down on the floor and weep. I know this can all be explained by physics, but for me it was an epiphany of God’s power. This prayer is not about human force but spiritual strength. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ spiritual strength trumps all forms of human and natural power. In John 6:15-21, Jesus has just fed 5,000+ people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. His power is not limited by scope or scale.

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

1.              The crowd wants to take Jesus by force and make him king. With stealth he withdraws alone to the mountain, evading the popular power of the crowd and the political power they want for him.

2.              The public feeding of the 5,000 and the private walking across the sea to the disciples’ boat are not just demonstrations of his unlimited power over the natural order, they are spiritual epiphanies of his presence.

C.            The prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 is not a prayer for successful programs or for God’s blessing on your efforts. It is a prayer that seeks to submerge you in God’s spiritual strength. As you anticipate your new pastor coming, I am praying for God to accomplish more with 1st Christian Church, Duncanville than you can imagine, and that you will have the power to grasp it all.

IV.      If the Lord’s Prayer is the simplicity of teaching us beginners how to start praying, the prayers of Ephesians are the pinnacle of mature prayer in the New Testament. They take us way beyond ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication – not that anything is wrong with ACTS, but it’s still a learning tool). In Ephesians we are invited to plunge our prayers into the Niagara River, not safely observing from behind a rail in a tunnel but abandoning ourselves to the torrent that will sweep us over the brink. Like the disciples in the storm, we do well to be terrified, but Jesus comes to us and says, “It is I. Do not be afraid! I’ll walk on even this water with you.”

A.            I dare you to pray Ephesians 3:14-21 for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville.

1.              For Pastor David, Sheila and Chris

2.              For Pastors Glenn and Emily

3.              For your Elders

4.              For your Board and ministry leaders

5.              For each other

6.              For spiritually hungry and hurting people

B.            I don’t want to you to stop praying for health, guidance, employment, harmonious relationships or any of our daily concerns. Rather, let the prayers of Scripture take us into unexplored frontiers of prayer.

1.              Christ dwells – God fills

2.              Know Christ’s Love

3.              Faith and Knowledge

4.              Strength and Power

5.              Abundant Accomplishment

6.              God’s Riches of Glory

C.            As you anticipate your new pastor coming, I am praying for God to accomplish more with 1st Christian Church, Duncanville than you can imagine, and that you will have the power to grasp it all.

D.           After praying the compass points Thursday, I sang “My Life Flows On” which seemed to pull my thoughts about this prayer together. We’ll sing it now (CH 619), and any who want to join the church will be welcomed.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Holy Ground for Seeking God

2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Mark 6:30-34
July 22, 2012
© 2012

I.                 Wayne Muller is a therapist, minister, consultant, speaker and author who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Roger is a thoughtful physician and one of Wayne’s clients. Physicians are trained to work when they're exhausted, required to perform when they are sleep-deprived, hurried and overloaded. Roger told Wayne, “I discovered in medical school, that the more exhausted I was, the more tests I would order. I was too tired to see precisely what was going on with my patients. I could recognize their symptoms and formulate possible diagnoses, but I couldn't hear precisely how it fit together. So I would order tests to give me what I was missing. But when I was rested--if I had an opportunity to get some sleep, or meditate, or go for a quiet walk --I could rely on my intuition and experience to tell me what was needed. If there was any uncertainty, I would order a specific test to confirm my diagnosis. But when I was rested and could listen and be present, I was almost always right.”

Wayne writes, “I speak with people in business and education, doctors and day-care workers, shopkeepers and social workers, parents and teachers, nurses and lawyers, students and therapists, community activists and cooks. Remarkably, within this mosaic there is a universal refrain: ‘I am so busy.’ We say this to one another with no small degree of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character. Because we do not rest, we lose our way.” http://www.waynemuller.com/cool_stuff/articles_and_excerpts/whatever_happened_to_sunday

A.           I had the opportunity to hear Wayne Muller speak at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas a few years ago. What he said stuck with me, confirming and expanding the rhythm of my spiritual disciplines. He recommended 1 minute of Sabbath every hour, 1 hour of Sabbath every day, 1 day of Sabbath every week, and 1 week of Sabbath every year.

B.            When I was in junior high our family’s vacation took us through Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday. We could not find a gas station or restaurant open in town. Later in life I did some Christian education seminars, consulting and curriculum writing for the Christian Reformed Church based in Grand Rapids. I learned from these folk, who had a healthy self-deprecating humor, the debates within the Dutch Reformed tradition about what activities were and were not acceptable on Sunday. You could read the Sunday paper if you bought it Saturday evening but you could not have it delivered Sunday morning. Any outdoor chores that might be observed by your neighbors were verboten: washing the car, mowing the lawn. Of course, a Saturday night snowfall was shoveled Sunday morning so you could drive to church. With the advent of transistor radios with ear phones, men and boys listened to sports they would never dare to watch on TV. We may bemoan that Sunday has become as commercial and busy as every other day, but we wouldn’t want to go back to blue laws or the harsh Sabbath enforcements of colonial Massachusetts. We can find great freedom in the practice of Sabbath if we do not think of it in terms of what we can’t do but what we don’t have to do.

C.            In the Gospels Jesus is constantly in trouble for his refusal to follow all the Sabbath rules, but he was not anti-Sabbath. In Mark 2:27 he said, “The Sabbath was made for mankind, and not mankind for the Sabbath.” When the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5:15, the people are told, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Sabbath was a sign of freedom and liberation. The Israelites were no longer slaves. They could rest one day a week and no task master could force them to work.

D.           If you put rest in your rhythm, God will catch up to you for a chat.

II.            Mark’s Gospel frequently tells stories in sandwiches. After starting the action, a contrasting narrative in inserted, and then the story climaxes. Mark 6:30-34 is the conclusion of the story of Jesus sending his 12 disciples out in pairs to preach and heal. It is interrupted by the death of John the Baptist we talked about last week. Now we get the rest of the story.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

A.           In this Gospel sandwich, we get a snapshot of a rhythm Jesus repeats many times with his disciples. Learn by watching and listening to me. Go out and serve in my name. Take a rest and refresh your relationship with me. Then learn some more as you repeat the cycle.

B.            Jesus was not at all hesitant for the disciples to get away for some solitude and rest. Yes, when he went ashore and saw the great crowd he had compassion for them. But notice that he taught them; he didn’t give the disciples an assignment until evening came and they were hungry. Neither we nor the disciples are Jesus. We are not obligated to respond to every need we encounter. As guilty as they may feel, famine relief workers know they must eat better food than they are distributing or they won’t have the strength to help anyone. If you fail to rest, eventually you will fail to serve.

C.            All through the Gospels Jesus gets away for rest and prayer, and he lead the disciples to rest and pray as well, even if something urgent interrupts the rhythm. If you kept reading to Mark 6:46, you’d see Jesus go up the mountain alone to pray.

D.           If you put rest in your rhythm, God will catch up to you for a chat.

III.       When King David wanted to build a Temple for God, he was looking to provide holy ground for meeting God. He desired a place where he and the people of Israel could get away from the pressures of live to rest and refresh their relationship with God. Unfortunately, this was contaminated by his ambition to accomplish something important for God.

A.           At first the prophet Nathan gave David the go ahead to do what was in his mind, for God was with him. But what was in David’s mind was not what was in God’s mind. God wasn’t interested in a cedar palace. God was mobile, not confined to any one place, certainly not controlled by David or anyone else.

B.            David’s desire to build a Temple is certainly understandable, but much as Wayne Muller wrote about how we inflate our self-importance with busyness, David had his perspective, not Gods. A careful reading of 2 Samuel 7 reveals that David is not the main character in the story, God is!

C.            If you put rest in your rhythm, God will catch up to you for a chat.

IV.      The interim period for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville is coming to a conclusion. I don’t know if you’d describe it as a time of rest, but I do hope you think of this year we’ve spent together as a time of learning. Pastor David will be with you in September, and you will head into a new season of service.

A.           The only places in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus’ disciples are called apostles are 6:30 and 3:14. In both instances, Jesus is sending them on a mission. The word apostle means someone who is sent with a message or mission. Sometimes you will hear people speak about the Church’s apostolic tradition as though it refers to the authentic, approved teaching that came from the apostles. The way the New Testament uses apostle has more to do with the tradition of being sent by Jesus.

B.            Jesus is sending Pastor David to 1st Christian Church, Duncanville to lead you on new apostolic mission. All around you are people who are like sheep without a shepherd. Yes, the time is fast approaching to mobilize for action, but busyness engulfs people. Compassion for them does not mean getting overwhelmed yourselves, but practicing the rhythm of learn, serve and rest. Exhausted people will flock to Jesus for rest.

C.            When God declines King David’s offer to build a Temple, God promises to build the household of David. The real Temple is not this building or the institution of this congregation. You as a community of faith are the real temple, as Ephesians 2:19b-22 says so eloquently.

You are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

D.           If you put rest in your rhythm, God will catch up to you for a chat.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Two Dances – Two Kings

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19; Mark 6:14-29 July 15, 2012
© 2012

I.                Last fall when I began to journey with you, I explained that my approach to preaching would be to listen together for the voice of God in the Scripture selections suggested by the Lectionary. What did you hear from God as you listened to the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem? I’m not going to read it again, but you may want to open a Bible to 2 Samuel 6 so you can look at it this morning.
A.           After the death of King Saul, David became King of Judah but the other tribes continued to follow some of Saul’s family and military leaders. (2 Samuel 2-4) After Saul’s dynasty collapsed, the rest of Israel came to David and asked him to be their king as well. For 7 years Hebron was David’s capital. David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, then in a shrewd political move, he moved his capital there. Since Jerusalem had not belonged to either Judah or Israel, it became the ideal place from which to reign over all Israel.
B.            By bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, as we read today, David made Jerusalem the worship center of Israel. This solidified his royal power and demonstrated his priority on having God at the center of his kingdom.
C.            In this past week 1st Christian Church, Duncanville called David Bondurant to be your next pastor, and I accepted a call to become the interim pastor for 1st Christian Church of Midwest City, OK. This is a pivotal week. Our paths have taken definitive turns into God’s new future. As I have read about David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, I believe I have heard God saying to you and to me, “Dance with all your might to celebrate the new ministry God is opening ahead of you.”
II.            Mark 6:14-29 tells the colorful story of another dance and another king who is a macabre contrast with David dancing before the Lord. In this story, I hear God’s cautionary voice for leaders in times of transition. What do you hear God saying? Jesus had sent his 12 disciples out to preach and heal.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
A.           David’s dance was an expression of humble joy. Herod Antipas personified arrogant anxiety. He was not actually a king, but he wanted to be. By referring to him as a king, Mark may be sarcastically making fun of Herod Antipas’ ambition. He wanted to be the hot-shot ruler, but when he regrets his rash, precipitous vow, his pride won’t let him back down. By being afraid his guest would think he was weak, he surrendered the strength of character required to admit his poor judgment and refuse Herodias’ request.
B.            Since at least Watergate, we have heard that regardless of the severity of the original crime, the cover-up is what gets leaders in trouble. We’re seeing that played out in the Penn State scandal this week. In an apparently fearful desire to protect their prestigious football program, the university’s leaders have shattered the whole school’s reputation and sullied their own character.
C.            As these past two weeks have unfolded with this church calling David Bondurant to be your next pastor and the church in Oklahoma calling me as their interim pastor, this story has prompted me to think a lot about the ministry of John the Baptizer. He was like an interim pastor between the Hebrew prophets and Jesus. His job was to point people to the coming Messiah. In John 3:26 some people apparently wanted to make John jealous and told him about all the people flocking to Jesus. In verse 30 he responds, “He must increase but I must decrease.” We have come to a turn in the road. In the four weeks ahead of us, my job is to encourage you to release me and embrace David. Pastor David must increase, and Norm must decrease. I, too, must release you to David so I can embrace the people in Oklahoma.
III.       As he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, King David continues to teach us how to navigate the twists and turns of our journeys. Dance with all your might to celebrate the new ministry God is opening ahead of you.
A.           Just because bringing the Ark to Jerusalem was a shrewd political move for David, we should not cynically discount David’s spiritual sincerity. The Ark had been neglected and moved around some after Joshua brought Israel into the Promised Land. Though Shiloh was the worship center during the time of Samuel, the Ark does not seem to have been brought there. By bringing it to Jerusalem David symbolically united Israel under God and made God the center of political unity as well. King David wanted God to be at the center of his reign. As Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” A church does not move into a new future with publicity, programming or personalities. They may bring institutional success, but unless the Lord builds the future, everything else is hollow.
B.            Did you notice in verses 1-5 the Ark was carried on a new cart and in verses 12-19 is was carried on poles? David knew the Ark was holy. They didn’t load it on an old hay wagon. They made a new cart for this one time use only. What we didn’t read in verses 6-11 was that Uzzah died when he reached out to steady the Ark. The usual understanding of this incident is that the instructions God gave Moses for the Ark warned that it was not to be touched and was to be carried on poles by priests. Whether they were ignorant of these instructions or chose to ignore them, they got it right for the second part of the Ark’s journey to Jerusalem. While other lessons may be drawn from this, one that I think is important in a time of transition is not to let even serious blunders prevent us from pursuing God’s call to ministry.
C.            Verses 5 and 14 report that David danced with all his might on both stages of the Ark’s journey to Jerusalem. He did not let the intervening tragedy inhibit his exuberance. Both David and the people were putting the same energy into celebrating the new era of a united Israel that they had put into bringing it about. You can’t coast through a transition from one era of ministry to another. Turning the corner takes exertion, energy, enthusiasm. And it can’t be just the new pastor’s labor. King David danced with a huge crowd who also danced with all their might. Everybody has to work.
D.           Especially if we compare what we read today with the more detailed account in 1 Chronicles 15 we see that David’s dance was a dramatic demonstration of humility. No royal robes, only the most basic tunic. No regal dignity, only vulnerable emotion. No pretense of power, only childlike delight. Perhaps you’ve heard an expression to the effect that there is no limit to what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit. Humility is the path to spiritual maturity and the path to effective ministry together.
IV.      The contrast between King David and would-be-king Herod Antipas should not limit our thinking to the qualities of spiritual leadership but also point us to the kind of spiritual followership needed for the transition between eras of ministry. Dance with all your might to celebrate the new ministry opening before you. If you were not already convinced, I hope that the events of the last two weeks have confirmed that God has called David Bondurant to be the next pastor of 1st Christian Church, Duncanville. Nevertheless, I can tell you he is not magic; no pastor is. He is totally incapable of bringing this church into a new era of fruitful ministry by himself. All of you must follow with faithful prayer and diligent work. I did not make any effort to find out what happened in the Search and Call Committee, and they were very careful to respect confidentially, though that is not easy. But I did pick up a hint of something I think is important. Usually a committee will ask candidates why they think they are right for the church. At some point, David asked the committee why they thought he was right for this church. The answer boiled down to, “We believe we can follow you.” Spiritual leadership and spiritual followership are a matched set. Both are needed together.
A.           As you follow Pastor David, remember you are following him to Jesus. Listen for the voice of God as he preaches and teaches. Pray for him and his family. Pray for all the leaders that together they may discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.
B.            I know Pastor David is going to suggest new things for worship, new things for evangelism and outreach, new things for ministry with children and youth, new ways to grow spiritually. Just because you want to be following the lead of the Holy Spirit does not exempt you from blunders. Amazing as it sounds, the Holy Spirit works through our broken humanity and through the varieties of sometimes conflicting opinions in the congregation. Not everything is going to work. Don’t give up. Be persistent and give new ideas enough time to have a chance to work. Don’t give up. Be ready to make adjustments as you go. Don’t give up. When something crashes, catch your breath and try something different. Don’t give up. If someone gets tired and burns out, invite someone new to give it a try.
C.            Tackle the challenges and opportunities of your new era of ministry with all your might. Nothing is automatic. Everything takes effort. All the publicity in the world will not make the church grow. It may make people aware of the church, but you still have to invite your friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives. A new pastor and new programs give you the opportunity to do that. You can say, “Our church just got a new pastor, and I am enjoying his sermons. I’d like to invite you to come with me to hear him.” But people will not come just because David preaches dynamite sermons or because of a new outreach program. You have to invite them. Nothing can substitute for word of mouth!
D.           When I was in graduate school forty years ago (can it really be that long?) I took a course called youth culture. Each of us was assigned one high school young person to get to know and follow around for a semester. We went to their homes and ate with their families. We went to their schools and met their friends and teachers. We attended church and youth group with them. The young man assigned to me lived in the extremely upscale community of Oak Brook, IL and attended a large church with a high energy, high quality youth group led by a fully professional staff. Others were paired with urban kids with single parents who had minimum wage jobs and attended small storefront churches and everything in between. In our class seminars we compared notes about what was similar and what was different in the lives of our students. One think that stuck out was that the most successful youth groups were not necessarily those with the highest quality of programming or even the best qualified leaders. The most successful youth groups were the ones the kids were most excited and enthusiastic about. Some were done with excellence, but others seemed poorly done but the kids loved the group, their friends and leaders. I think the same is true of congregations. Enthusiastic commitment is the essential ingredient for ministry effectiveness and for growth.