Archive for the ‘Cutting Edge’ Category

I preached an experimental sermon this past Sunday. And I got some amazing results. In fact, they were results that I never thought to anticipate.

Inspired by a book I had read (The Art of Curating Worship), a friend of mine who is a gifted leader of creative worship, and by a conversation with the staff member at our church who is responsible for crafting a new kind of worship service, I set out to experiment with a participatory sermon. I had my fair share of time to talk, but I involved the congregation in several ways.

The text was Mark 6:30–34, 53–56, the story of the disciples and Jesus responding to the needs of the crowds swarming around them. Inspired by another friend’s exploration of the Greek, I called attention to the different pronouns that Mark uses in the two halves of the reading. In fact, this was the first bit of participation (more…)


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It has a chance of becoming one of the defining characteristics of the present age. It even has an acronym: SBNR. And, of course, it has a web page and a Facebook page. Being “spiritual but not religious” is often an explanation, sometimes an excuse, but mostly it seems to be an attempt at self-definition meant to set a good many people apart from what I’m guessing are perceived societal norms.

Unlike a lot of what I’ve read about this trend, I suggest that 1) we can learn a lot from the SBNR trend, 2) the discussion of this topic has largely been limited by a false dichotomy, 3) there is a better way to talk about what is at stake, and 4) the church can and should respond. (more…)

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The Barna Group recently published results of a study they did on young adults and faith. One of the articles about their research was entitled, “Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts.” It is a worthy and helpful read that examines young adult dropouts from several perspectives. Three comments caught my attention—riveted me, actually, to the point where I had a hard time catching my breath. In three different places the article said: (more…)

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It started out as a simple request: a nearby pastor suggested that we find a few pastors who would be interested in gathering for a book study on what it means to be “an equipping pastor,” that is, what it means to be a pastor who sees her or his job to be that of equipping members for ministry in daily life. It’s been a buzzword in the church for a good many years, so I was immediately interested and started looking for a book that would serve as the centerpiece for a study group.

I was amazed that—as popular as the topic is—I couldn’t find a definitive book on the subject. I found books aimed at helping laity understand their ministry (William Diehl’s Thank God It’s Monday comes to mind). I found books that were approaching 30 years old. I found newer books that focus on particular pieces of the puzzle (Chris Scharen’s excellent Faith As a Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership is a good example). But I did not find a comprehensive book that is designed to help pastors understand and live out their role in this way.

What does it mean to be an equipping pastor? How is that different from what most pastors were trained to be and do? What implications does this hold for program, staff, structure, and day-to-day ministry? (more…)

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The Center for Renewal had the opportunity to bring The Rev. Dr. Duane Larson, president of Wartburg Theological Seminary (ELCA) in Dubuque, to town for two days. We invited him to talk with area members and pastors about the state of the seminary in our rapidly changing social, economic and religious landscapes.

Dr. Larson spent the first part of his time talking about the spectrum of approaches that various theologians (and regular church members) have taken over the years, from a literal understanding of Scripture to the Bible as one of many “helpful books,” and from individualistic approaches to what he called communitarian approaches. We talked about the reality that our culture reduces this richly textured spectrum to two polarized views, and tends to stereotype seminaries at one of the two ends of the spectrum. While seminaries need to know their place on the spectrum (and the ‘market’ which they intend to serve), they also need  to be able to train pastors to speak from and to the many places that people (in reality) find themselves on the spectrum.

Economic changes are making it difficult for seminaries to maintain traditional brick-and-mortar facilities.

In the second half of his time, he talked about the current realities facing seminaries. He didn’t just speak about our denomination’s eight seminaries, but about all 240 Catholic and protestant seminaries in North America. (more…)

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It only takes the end of a year—and especially the end of a decade—for individuals and institutions to take a look back at what has happened and what has been learned. Wrapping up another year at the Center for Renewal, as well as the first five years of our work, it seems beneficial to look back, not at “the best of” or the “most influential” but at what we’ve done and what we’ve learned.

What we have learned from our work

Over the first five years of the Center’s existence, a wide variety of programs and resources have been developed in order to meet our vison of “renewing the saints and the church so that the light of Christ can be more brightly reflected in the world.” Our events, resources, and services, have shown us that: (more…)

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In my work, I’ve discovered that most congregational leaders are paying attention to the latest business practices. I’m being told that we’re not necessarily very good at those practices, but at the least, people are paying attention to them. Marketing, web presence, surveys, democratic decision making, time management and mission statements all have come to us from the business world.

But in my work I’ve found something that’s troubling: In our rush to adopt the latest and greatest business practices, we’ve lost touch with the ancient sacred practices of the church. (more…)

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