Why not study the Bible with Brian Blount…in your kitchen?

news_faith_house_churchLast Sunday we tried a “secret” vesper service at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, depending on word-of-mouth and social media to draw a crowd. Some forty people showed up in the chapel at 5:00 for a half-hour service that included music by George Winston and Joshua Bell, and a video sermon by Amy Butler, Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in New York City. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive: “Perfect!” “Wonderful!” “Amazing!” and “When can we do this again?” Well, not this week, because the chapel is already reserved for the Prayers for Healing service.

But here’s another idea: What about using this week’s “Sermon for Every Sunday” in a small group Bible study?

You could do it like this: invite two or three friends to join you at the time and place of your choosing. For example, you could do it in your home or apartment at 8:00 on a Thursday night. You could sit at the kitchen table and offer some simple snacks. You could start by looking at the Gospel lesson for this Sunday from Mark 1:4-11 and talking about it among yourselves. And then, after twenty minutes or so, you could watch Brian Blount’s sermon for this Sunday on your laptop, set up at one end of the table.

blount-brian_200x240Brian is president and professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary here in Richmond.  His sermon for this Sunday is powerful, and brings together all his skills as a teacher, preacher, and scholar. I’m imagining how much better you and your friends would be prepared for worship on the following Sunday, when your own preacher announces his text for the day from Mark 1:4-11 and begins to preach on that passage. Worship would be far richer because of it, and your own faith and understanding deeper.

You can “rent” Brian’s sermon for $4.99 at http://www.asermonforeverysunday.com. You can pick up some simple, healthy snacks for about the same price. That’s less than $10 for an evening of soul-strengthening Bible study and you don’t have to teach! Ask everybody to chip in a dollar or two and you’re done!

I don’t know if this suggestion will change your life, but it’s a new year, and a good time to think about what kind of changes your life needs. Spending more time studying the Bible with friends sounds like a resolution worth making.

Preacher Camp

For six years now I’ve been getting together with a group of colleagues so we can plan our preaching for the year.  It was Amy Butler’s idea.  When I was at First Baptist, DC, she was at Calvary Baptist, just a few blocks away.  We would get together at Starbucks on Monday mornings with a few other preachers to talk about what we were going to do the following Sunday and one day she said, “You know what we ought to do?  We ought to do this for the whole year!”

And so we sent out some invitations, and a few months later six of us spent several days at a big house in the mountains of West Virginia, looking over the lectionary texts for the following year.

Each of us had an assignment.  I was supposed to bring some good ideas for preaching through those Sundays after Christmas and before Ash Wednesday.  Others in our group had the seasons of Lent, Easter, Advent, and that long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost, often called “Ordinary Time,” which we divided into two parts.

We talked about a lot of things in those days.  We talked about our lives and churches and ministry, but we also ended the week with a pretty good sense of what we would be preaching in the year ahead, and that felt good.

We’ve been doing it ever since.

Last year we had the idea to do it in the summer instead of the fall, and to bring our families along.  We got the use of a big house on Lake James in North Carolina, and Russ Dean brought his ski boat.  So, we planned our preaching each morning and then, each afternoon (sometimes after naps), we went down to the dock for swimming and sunbathing, skiing and tubing.   In the evenings we would sometimes share our favorite sermons with each other.  One night we sat on the front porch telling the stories of how we met our spouses.  Another night we ended up in a free-spirited dance party in the living room.  The kids loved that.  And so did the grownups.

On the last night we gathered around the campfire to sing songs and make S’mores and it really did feel like we had been at camp for a week.  We all felt a little closer to God and a little closer to each other.  Plus, I had some idea of what I will be preaching each Sunday from now through Advent 2012.

You don’t have many weeks like that in a year, and when you have one you just want to thank somebody for it.  So, thanks to the family who loaned us their lake house, and thanks to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which gave us some funding for the event, and thanks be to God for colleagues who have become such close friends: for Russ Dean, and Amy Butler, and Don Flowers, and Dorisanne Cooper, and John Ballenger, and for our time together at…

…Preacher Camp.