A Sermon for Every Sunday


Well, here’s something you may not have known:

For several months now I have been working on a project called “A Sermon for Every Sunday,” which was conceived as a way to help small, struggling churches that don’t have preachers, but has evolved to include churches in the interim, house churches, Bible studies, small groups, Wednesday night programs, and Sunday school classes.

The idea is simple enough: with some help from my friend David Powers I have been recording sermons by some of America’s best preachers for every Sunday of the liturgical year, so that when those small, preacherless churches get to the Third Sunday of Advent (for example) they can simply push a button and hear a sermon from Bishop Michael Curry (above).  Other “Every Sunday” preachers are William Willimon, Brian McLaren, Lauren Winner, David Lose, Brian Blount, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Andrew Foster Connors, Grace Imathiu, Rolf Jacobson, Gary Charles, and Karoline Lewis.

How does it work? Here’s a possible scenario, straight from the website:

Imagine that the bright young pastor of a country church is called to a church in the big city…

The congregation is faced with a decision: do we call another pastor?  Can we afford to?  They hear about “A Sermon for Every Sunday,” a way to get America’s best preachers into America’s small churches, house churches, Bible studies and small groups–on video.  They decide to give it a try, at least in the interim.

With the money they save they buy a big, flat-screen TV and a quality DVD player.  They put the lectern on one side of the chancel and the TV on the other until the two are nicely balanced.  Some of the older members shake their heads.  They never thought they’d see such a thing in church, but again, it’s only for the interim.

On that first Sunday the English teacher at the local high school–a member of the church–leads the service.  She opens with the call to worship, announces the hymns, invites members of the congregation to read scripture and say prayers.  When it’s time for the sermon she reads the Gospel lesson and then nods to the high school student who has downloaded the video from the web site.  He pushes a button, and the congregation waits, breathlessly.

What they see is high-definition video of one of America’s best preachers, looking straight into the camera and preaching the Good News.  It’s as if he is talking only to them.  The sermon lasts 12-15 minutes, and when it’s over the congregation responds with a murmur of approval.  The English teacher steps back to the lectern and says, “I had a chance to watch the sermon last week, and I was thinking about how it applies to our context…”  She takes a few minutes to make some connections between what the church has just heard and what they live with every day, and then she moves on with the service.

When she greets them at the back door later even those older members have to admit, it’s been a good day in church.  And they want to know:

“Who’s preaching next week?”

Click on the link below to visit the website, and then, if you feel inclined, share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or simply by word of mouth.  I’d like to make sure that the people who could benefit from such a service would have access to it before the launch date on November 28.

It may seem a little crazy—but in times like these, when churches are struggling and technology is everywhere—maybe not so crazy after all.

Click HERE to find out more.

 

KOH2RVA: Day 203

Happy Easter, everyone! Here’s one of my favorite sermons, preached on the first Easter after September 11, 2001, and re-recorded in our studios here in Richmond just a few weeks ago.

I’ll be away for the next few days, helping to lead a national retreat for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but I’ll be back and blogging on Friday, April 5. Until then, keep on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, or wherever you are.

Christ is risen!

KOH2RVA: Day 118

like-meI spent at least part of the day yesterday feeling guilty because I never did get back to my blog, even though I  promised you I would.

This is something you need to know about ministers: they are inveterate “pleasers.” They want people to like them, and this is at least part of what’s going on in their heads as they prepare their sermons, or visit the sick, or show up at parties, or post on their blogs.

So what did I do yesterday? I posted an end-of-the-year report showing that more people visited my blog in 2012 than came to a Jay-Z concert, and then I promised that I would bring you an update on KOH2RVA, and then I didn’t.

And I spent part of the day feeling guilty about that.

But I also spent a few minutes in prayer as I was driving to a meeting yesterday morning, and this is what I said: “Lord, we ministers are inveterate pleasers. We want to please everybody. But what if I focused most of my time and energy on pleasing you? What would that be like?”

There’s a story in Luke’s Gospel about the time Jesus sent out the Seventy (or seventy-two, depending on which ancient manuscript you follow). He tells them to carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, but when they come into a town to cure the sick who are there and tell them, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you!” (in Matthew’s Gospel he adds, “cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons”).

The Seventy returned with joy saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (vs. 17). And then Jesus rejoiced and thanked the Father for these who had done what he told them to do.

They pleased him, in other words, and it gave them joy.

Suppose we do, one day, stand before the Lord. What will we say to him? That we did everything we could to please others, or that we did everything we could to please him?

As an inveterate “pleaser” it helps me to think there’s only one person I have to please today.  I’m going to try to do that.  I don’t know how many demons I will cast out or how many sick I will cure.  Probably not many.  But I’m going to try to bring the Kingdom of Heaven an inch closer to Richmond, Virginia today.  In other words, I’m going to try to do the things that will please Jesus.

And not worry so much about everybody else.

When the Church Itself Needs Saving

My Facebook friends Don Flowers and Erin Spengemen directed me to this Michelle Boorstein article from last Saturday’s Washington Post, which is well worth reading in its entirety.  It paints a vivid picture of how the church in America is struggling, and the radical measures some consultants are prescribing to save it.  One asks, “Are you willing to unscrew the pews?”

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St. Augustine’s was facing a death sentence.

The little Episcopal church on the Southwest Washington waterfront had seen the signs. Since its founders proudly founded St. Augustine’s as a racially integrated church in 1961, membership had wilted from 180 to 28. Key members passed away or moved. Paint peeled off the ceiling. Mold grew in the basement. The church couldn’t pay its bills.

“It was literally dying,” the Rev. Martha Clark said of her parish’s state in 2007, when the regional bishop gave St. Augustine’s three years to become self-sustaining or be shut down.

That’s where Bob Gallagher came in. A former Episcopal priest, the gentle 60-year-old is a professional church-savior, a consultant who travels the country trying to resuscitate houses of worship that are losing people and passion.  With large swaths of organized religion in decline across the nation, Gallagher’s dance card is full.

His initial meetings at St. Augustine’s were emotional. He confronted people who had been focused on paying the mortgage with more wrenching questions: Do you really have a reason to be in this neighborhood, or could you move somewhere cheaper? What does it mean to be an Episcopalian? Could you merge with a church from another denomination? Do you agree on worship styles? Who are you?

“I remember being in tears,” said Virginia Mathis, 64, a St. Augustine regular for 30 years. “He’s pushy in a gentle way.”

Wrestling with dramatic changes in how Americans practice their faith, many clergy members are willing to wait months to get guidance from Gallagher or someone like him. These consultants have become a small industry, roaming the country to challenge the definition of “church.”

When they work with congregations, they put everything on the table—including whether the pastor and the church building are even necessary. Perhaps worshippers could meet in a movie theater instead. Or consider sharing a pastor with some other church. Or ditch their Sunday morning services for a time more people would find convenient.

Consultants routinely press their clients to stop being so fixated on their real estate, routines and rules. They argue that there are plenty of people who don’t have any interest in sitting in pews and listening to sermons. The challenge is to come up with a way to engage them.

“The role of the church and the clergy is dying, but I think it needs to,” says Tom Brackett, another minister-consultant who works on church development for the Episcopal Church. “The church doesn’t have a mission. We are part of God’s mission.”

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Read the rest of the article by clicking HERE