Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for a Preacher

For years, I glibly joked that as a fan of both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals, I never bothered with New Year's resolutions because I already had enough endless cycles of failure in my life.  It was a humorous and effective way of deflecting any inquiries--whether genuine or half-assed--into my own aimless quest for self-improvement, because frankly, improving myself is an intensely private enterprise for me.

But now that the Royals have won the World Series (after losing to Madison freaking Bumgarner the first time around in 2014) and now that the Chiefs are back in the playoffs despite losing Jamaal Charles to a midseason ACL tear, well, I need a new excuse.

So for the sake of accountability, here are three different ways I will be striving to improve myself--and especially my public work-- in 2016:

1. Continue expanding my preaching versatility

Going into seminary, I tried being a lectionary preacher--that is, a preacher who follows the Revised Common Lectionary of Scripture readings.  That lasted a year, two at most, as I quickly realized that I am in fact terrible at preaching on more than one text in the same message.  I instead learned from Russ, my senior pastor at Concord FCC, the art of preaching in sermon series, which I have carried over into my work here at Longview FCC.

Those series, though, take a variety of forms: they can be based on the season of the year (like my recent sermon series on the nativity scene for the season of Advent), they can be based on a book outside the Bible (like my Tribal Church series from a few years back on Carol Howard Merritt's book of the same name), or, increasingly, they can be a verse-by-verse series, like 2016's upcoming Lenten sermon series, when I'll be going verse-by-verse through Habakkuk from the first to last Sunday of the season of Lent (so, actually, I guess it fits in that first one too, being based on a particular season).

I'm still not at my best when preaching verse-by-verse, though, I think, and I want to become as comfortable with expository preaching (another name for verse-by-verse) as I already am with thematic series preaching.

2. Be more deliberate in how I use this blog

Unlike my sermon series, which are crafted months in advance and thus are always ready to go Sundays at 11 because even when I'm having an awful writing week, I already have a foundation to springboard off of, my writing here is much more spur-of-the-moment and extemporaneous--thought-out, but still rather impromptu.

This year, though, I joined the Christian Century network of bloggers, and the Century, having been founded, in fact, as a Disciples of Christ publication all the way back in the 1880s, has a long and storied tradition that I would like to live up to.  Additionally, I have spoken with some of my doctoral professors about the role my blog plays in my public advocacy and prophetic work, especially since my project/thesis work will likely deal with public advocacy in the area of worker's rights here in Longview.

I'd like to be able to use my modest platform here to facilitate as many of these sorts of important conversations as possible around issues of economic justice and the role of the church, in addition to my usual array of sermons, newsletter columns, and the like.  Sometimes I still end up popping off at some ridiculous inanity committed by my more close-minded brethren, but even that I would like to be more polished and elegant in nature going forward.

3. Reflect on how I teach Scripture and theology

Outside of the pulpit (that I actually never use to preach in...) my teaching style tends to be very informal and conversational, simply because that is how I am by nature.  I am more than happy to take digressions and tangents in order to answer questions that may or may not have to actually do with the lesson I had originally planned, and to make that the focus of the class and shelve the actual prepared lesson for another time.

Personally, I think that works for me.  But as I consider what I can do to expand the scope and setting of my teaching, to try to reach as many people as possible, I also have to realize that my style is far from universal and does not work for everyone.  Similarly, I am an *extremely* verbal thinker--I write, write, write.  I'm not so much a visual thinker; in fact, my spatial reasoning has always lagged far behind the rest of me to the point that when I was first tested for gifted programs in elementary school, the psychologist basically said, "Yeah, he's smart, but he's so bad at this that we're not going to let him in."

The flip side of that coin, of course, is to still be accessible to people for whom my verbal processing is their spatial reasoning.  If you aren't a verbal person (and I recognize the hubris of working through all this in the form of a blog post), how do I reach you?  How do I offer you whatever understanding of God I may have?  And how can I be better at doing that?

These are just a few of the questions on my mind as 2015 turns to 2016 at midnight tonight.  It will mark over a decade of me devoting myself entirely to the study and practice of religion and ministry, from declaring my religious studies major to seminary to professional parish ministry.

And over decade later, I still wouldn't have it any other way.

Happy New Year, y'all.  May you and yours celebrate safely and joyously tonight.

Vancouver, Washington
December 31, 2015

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