While in divinity school, my roommate and I gave up meat for Lent. It was going great until we both caught ourselves eating chicken wings at a party. We repented and moved on to the chips and dip. Other Lenten seasons I have attempted to add things to my life like following the Rethink Church’s photo “Picture a Day.”
In our world of alternative facts and truth being relatives, I thought I would tell the truth this Lenten Season. For the forty-six days of Lent (Lent is a season of forty days and Sundays aren’t counted because they are “little Easters”), I will tweet a truth about my life as a preacher, minister, and pastor of a local church.
I hope some will be seen as funny, maybe some as profound. Others I hope to shine a light on the humanness of being called into ministry and the real emotions, struggles, and pains preaching weekly, praying with families and printing/folding bulletins can hold.
Through this task, I pray my eyes will be opened to how much God surrounds the work I do in the local church. Sometimes ministry can get the minister bogged down, worn down and we put blinders up to the how God is at work even in the mundane.
Here is to opening my eyes, heart, and soul this Lenten Season!
Lent is fast approaching, a season of unrest for a culture of immediate satisfaction. We are desperate for immediacy. It is a task to learn how to be patient.
The word patient is funny. We use it to describe a trait on people good at waiting. We also use it to describe someone who is receiving medical care. The definition is “able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” There is nothing in our culture, which teaches us to tolerate suffering without becoming anxious. We only have drugs for that.
As I was discussing this aspect of life with a group I had a realization we, as in humanity…which means “my experience,” has a very hard time with being patient. Sure we can point to drive-thru windows, express checkout lines, and two-day delivery but if we peel all of that back there is something deeper.
I enjoy looking back in hindsight and pointing out where I see all of God’s fingerprints. As a Wesleyan, I am a firm believer and experienced Prevenient Grace receiver. This grace is found all over my life however it is really seen in hindsight, looking back after you go through a season of life. It is seen in reflection, playing back life moments, like a movie montage.
When I look back for grace, God’s presence, and how the Holy Spirit has led me through troubling times, it makes me want to hurry to a place where I can do this kind of reflection. It makes me want to get to the end of the journey faster. I find myself wishing the present away so I can look back in the past. Patience is not my virtue.
If patience is to tolerate delays without annoyance, then why do I want to rush through? Why can’t I find the grace in the present? Why can I not feel God’s hands on my life in the moment when the fingerprints are being placed on my soul? Why do I have to wait until the journey is over to see them?
My problem is my inability to recognize God in the present. To do this means to slow down, to pay attention, to be comfortable in the midst of waiting. It is whole patience thing. I would love to know all the answers now in order for me to settle into the present, but those aren’t promised. I would love God to move me to Easter, at the resurrection, because it makes the crucifixion less of a taxing event.
God doesn’t promise us a window into the future to calm the present and allow ourselves to recognize God at work in the now. Instead, what I should continue to cling too is Jesus’ last words to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel. “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Mt. 28:20)
God is here in the now and walks with us through the present. As we (by which I mean I) go into Lent, instead of looking forward to Easter or looking back for examples of God’s grace, let us pay attention to God’s fingerprints pressing our on flesh right now. May our eyes, my eyes, be open in the midst of our waiting to the reality God is with us.
I am sulking this morning and disappointed. The New England Patriots will go to the Super Bowl again this year. This makes my brother-in-law happy, many in my congregation thrilled and other friends elated. For the rest of the world, we simply roll our eyes.
The NFL has been complaining about the lack of viewership this year. Apparently, it is down around 10% from last year. The way we watch TV when we watch and what we watch has changed over the last few years and so it is easy to see the NFL hit by viewers changing the channel or streaming something different. I suggest it is something else. It has become too predictable.
Somehow and in some fashion, the Patriots win with Tom Brady doing something spectacular. I think people are getting tired of it. I was happy for the Pats first Super Bowl win. Good for them. I could care less about Brady’s sixth ring. It isn’t fun for other fans to watch any more. So we change the channel. I’ll still watch the Super Bowl…at least until the second half. Then it might be time to binge on something, which will keep my attention.
Predictability is comforting but it can be boring. I use to know an associate minister who would tell him how each one of the sermons of the senior minister went. Starts by reading the Bible, moves into a story, talks about the scriptures, moves down out of the pulpit for a personal and touching story, then back into the pulpit to conclude and wrap things up. As a new preacher in that congregation, this was a fresh and energetic approach because it was different than the last preacher. Years later it was predictable. You could play “sermon bingo” knowing the ebb and flow of each week.
I wonder if my sermons are predictable. I attempt to change the format every so often. I read the scripture in different places. I attempt to work from illustration to scripture or from scripture to illustrations. I know my approach and style are similar but I continue to attempt to stretch in those areas as well.
In this world, when people can listen to dynamic preachers from podcasts or YouTube, how does the local church, every week, ‘normal’ preacher keep things fresh and new? How do I stop my congregation from playing “sermon bingo” because what I am going to preach has turned predictable?
Here is my “Super Bowl Bingo.” The Eagles will go up by a little. Tom Brady will complain to the refs. Some calls will go the Patriots way, which keep them in the game. In the end, a miraculous play wins the game for the Patriots and Tom Brady gets his 6th ring. I don’t have to watch the game to know how it is going to play out…this is the way it has always happened.
I pray I can be willing to change myself, my approach, my preaching in order that I don’t become predictable and people will sit in the pews excited to hear what happens next. I don’t want my congregation to approach their worship the same way I am approaching Super Bowl LII…with a lack of enthusiasm and expected predictability.
There is probably no scary room in the world, then walking into a room with people who have just experienced a tragic death or into a room where death is about to happen. The people of Hospice know this space more than anyone. In my experience, there are no better people than those who walk families through this tender and thin space. What ramps up the horribleness is when children or youth are involved. This is the space that Shea Collins works in. She has had 15 years of experience working with children, youth and their families in the Hospice setting. She is an ordained Elder within the United Methodist Church and is now working at Hospice of Cabarrus County in North Carolina. In our conversation, we talk about how to deal with these situations and places of grief. She gives amazing insights and recommendations to clergy and laypeople alike.
One of the things she talks about is a week-long summer camp to help connect youth who are dealing with tragedies. Grief can be a lonely place but here at this Grief Camp these youth learn they are not alone. CLICK HERE for more information.
As I wrap up Season 2, I want to say a special thank you to all my guests and for the wonderful conversations we have had this season. I am looking forward to what Season 3 might hold. For Season 3 I would love to talk to more non-clergy people about their work to build up the kingdom of God. If you know someone I should have a conversation with, please leave a comment below.
Until next season, enjoy your adventure and peace be with you.
Donna is the pastor of Mount Vernon Place UMC in Washington, DC. When she arrived in 2005 it was a completely different church than it is now. It was a dying congregation. However, through Donna’s leadership, a ton of time, and even more prayers, they have turned this congregation around. Along with Roger Owens, she has now authored a new book about this journey, “A New Day in the City.” It is a powerful testimony to urban church renewal and the work God has done in and through them.
If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, CLICK HERE.
To learn more about Mount Vernon Place UMC, CLICK HERE.
Remember to please leave a rating and review over at Apple Podcast. Also if you have a suggestion for lay people who are doing amazing things for the kingdom of God, please let me know so I can work on Season 3.
The last episode of Season 2 will be up on the third Monday of December.
Today I have a conversation with Christine Burkett, a speech-pathologist by trade and a pew sitter by profession. She teaches guides and coaches young preachers on this art form they have been called by God to do. She has incredible insights into language, crafting sermons and how to make them stick. She has taught at Duke Divinity School for over 20 years, helps lead the Institute of Preaching, and is a sought-after speaker for preachers. She is one of the teachers and professors whose voice is still in my head as I write, preach and lead worship.
If you are in the Western North Carolina or Florida conference of the United Methodist Church, please check out the Institute of Preaching. It is a wonderful year journey through the art of preaching.
If you have laity who are doing amazing things for the Kingdom of God I can have a conversation with for season three, please let me know via a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the first Monday of December, I will be sitting down with Donna Claycomb Sokol, the pastor of Mount Veron Place UMC in Washington, DC. We will talk about her new book and the journey MVPUMC has been on since her arrival there.
Until then, enjoy your adventure and peace be with you.
Steve Cheyney is the Executive Director of the Cooperative Christian Ministries at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), Central Piedmont Community College and Johnson and Wales. His main focus is as the Campus Minister at UNCC. There, with the help of students, he runs Niners United. We talk about his ministry with the next generation and how college years can be extremely formative.
In two weeks, episode 18 will go live, the 8th in season 2. I will be talking with Christine Burkett, a speech pathologist who teaches and coaches preachers at Duke Divinity School. Christine is an example of what I hope to do more of in season 3. If you know of non-clergy people who are doing amazing things for the Kingdom of God, please email me.
Please leave a rating and review on Apple Podcast and don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast.