Monday, December 31, 2007

As a year comes to a close. . .

Just a few thoughts as a year comes to a close.

1. You will only see improvement (in yourself, in your congregation) when you despair of there being improvement and simply preach.
2. Sometimes the best growth is seen when attendance numbers dwindle.
3. It is a wonderful thing when the people in your congregation like your new wife more than they like you.
4. A little hardship is good for your parishioners' souls.
5. You are never in the same place you were a year ago, so the 1 year series will always be fresh.

Now, to discuss. First, if you have major hopes, design major thrusts to improve some aspect of life - these generally fail in the Christian. Why? Well, socially one might say that having a focus puts too much pressure on and builds stress - or theologically one might say this can easily turn into a focus on yourself and your efforts, which tend to fail. The best way to see improvement in X is to worry less about X and preach the whole counsel of God. As one grows, one improves - even on the hard, stubborn patches. And when you focus on the whole Word, everything gets covered - and it doesn't seem like you are hammering an already sore thumb.

Second, numbers have been dropping here - well, since before I came. Brief spike of interest in my predecessor's last half year (he was retiring, we must be polite) and my first half (oooo, see the new guy) - but that blip has gone away. Attendance is in a downward trend. Many might note this as a great failure. It's not good in the abstract - but why it is downward? Well, quite a few have died or gotten older so they don't get out as much (night services, slightly bad weather - that whole discretion being the better part of valor). A few people have stopped coming for silly reasons. One could see a negative. However, with those who do come, I see great growth - I see a fuller understanding of the Christian faith - I see more love and gentleness being shown. Because the "numbers" might be viewed as depressing, I am forced to look at the people, and with that, I am pleased. Maybe dwindling numbers actually makes you pay more attention.

Third, they like my wife. They really do. That is so, so, so nice. It relaxes me - and it protects me, because no one wants to upset her, and wontonly annoying me probably would do so. Although heaven help me if I ever upset my wife and it got out - my little old ladies would beat me with sticks! (although, that is part of the reason why I love our little old ladies)

Fourth, it was a rough, rough year for the farmers. Bad Weather. It was an expensive year for most folks - gas and inflation and the like. And you know what - it was good for us. It made us focus on what is actually important, and it also reemphasized our reliance upon God - something that is all to easily an idea that can become sheer lip service to Americans. Dr. Fickensher would speak of one aspect of the Law being the mirror of existence - look around and see the world in chaos - that is law. Man, when the world is pumping in the Law, people sure are primed to hear the Gospel, even from a poor sack like me!

Finally, one of the complaints that I will hear about the 1 year series is how hard it is to preach the same text over and over and over again. Really? Are you the same as you were a year ago? I know I'm not. Are your people facing the same fears and difficulties as they were a year ago? Mine aren't. So then, I have different experiences whereby to write a sermon to people who are in need of different things than a year ago. Why should a text be hard - I'm not going to emphasize the same things as I did a year ago. The problem isn't that the text is repetative, it is that you are and you don't put the actually effort into thinking about what your people need to hear from the text, what makes it apply to them.

I think that is the part of preaching that the Seminaries skirt over the most - what do your people need to hear. Of course, this is because when we all work on Hom classes at the Sem, they are abstract, they are in a classroom with no real congregation. But our congregations are really, and they are the ones you are called to preach to, they are the ones who need the Word - and so your sermon ought to be tailored to their needs. Yes, preach the text, but preach the text to your people.

More over, if you find no new insights in a text that you probably haven't looked at in a year, your study of scripture is shoddy, and your personal reflection on life is lacking. We are to take out the old and make it new - that is a Pastor's task - and given the depths of the riches of the wisdom of God, it ain't impossible.

So there they are, a few thoughts to close the year. Okay, they were thoughts so I could kill time until Colin Cowherd comes on ESPN Radio so I can listen to the start of his show when I shower, but still, even though brought around for the silliest of reasons, they still are valid.

Blessed Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus to you all.

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