In the narrative, sin results in relational fragmentation. But the prophet Ezekiel speaks of God's restorative grace to exiled Israel as a wasteland becoming "like the Garden of Eden." (Ezek. 36:35) The Bible ends with a city, a tree, and a garden with leaves healing the nations: Eden restored.
The Gospel is God's incredible plan to heal and restore a broken and fragmented world. Our name captures what we see as the invitation to live life in a community that reflects God's intention for the world. Restored relationships: with God, each other, and with God's world.
CPL: Portland and the NW are perhaps the least religious section of our country. How has/is your church finding connection points with secular, non-religious persons?
The Northwest is a region that was never dominated by Christianity and so is a unique and varied context in which to live and minister. We very much see ourselves as missionaries. We also take seriously the doctrine of prevenient grace, believing that God is always at work in the world and in the lives of people. Therefore, we have tried to ask ourselves, "Where do we see God at work around us?" and then, "How can we join in?"
We have found that it has looked like joining together to work with partner churches to collect shoes for needy families, partnering with a non-profit that is doing good in our city, or participating in the arts. We've tended community gardens and painted human trafficking prevention centers and held Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday services in a cafe owned by a Muslim friend. Each of these opportunities have been ways to proclaim and live out the love of Christ.
We also seek to shape the worldview of the people in our congregation to see themselves as bearers of good news to the world around them. For us, it's not primarily about strategizing ways to "infiltrate" the culture and it certainly isn't about trying to win any so-called culture wars. Instead, it is seeking to take a posture of love and service to the world. The witness of the Gospel then speaks for itself.
CPL: How does your demographic both inside and outside the church impact how you preach?
The demographics of the audience (or potential audience) definitely shapes how I approach preaching. I try to speak as though there is always someone listening who doesn't know the story of the Bible. I try to include both narrative and more didactic approaches, knowing that different people will respond to different forms.
One of the greatest factors for my context is trying to speak from a place of personal witness and vulnerability. I believe a preacher must be able to voice the questions and doubts that listeners are experiencing but perhaps have never heard articulated in church. I sometimes take the perspective of a faithful skeptic as many in my community are highly educated and are wrestling with deep questions. Voicing the questions helps open up the listener and the congregation as a whole to encounter God's truth in fresh and transforming ways. It also opens up the preacher.
Demographics also affect my delivery. Younger generations in particular appreciate a more communal approach to seeking and experiencing truth. Therefore, I will occasionally include discussion and dialogue as part of the preaching event. I sometimes include interviews and regularly invite others to preach, taking care to include men and women, so that our community hears a variety of voices. On occasion, I also encourage interaction with technology during a sermon by placing notes, images, quotes, video clips, etc. online so that listeners can see and interact with the message in real-time from their smartphones.
Finally, I make use of the lectionary and the Christian year to guide my preaching. This helps keep our worship centered on Jesus Christ and God's story of redemption. Within the seasons of the Church year, there are innumerable ways to see how God's story can speak into and shape our stories, both individually and collectively.
CPL: Can you give us some examples of sermons or sermon series that you felt have been particularly impactful in this challenging environment?
God-Breathed: A teaching series on the nature and purpose of Scripture, reading and studying it in community, and interpreting it with a Wesleyan hermeneutic
Living on Mission: A series from the book of Acts, exploring intersections between the missional life of the Early Church and how we might be faithful today in our context
Renovate: A series on holiness as restoration during the season of Lent
Faith+Questions: A series that voiced and addressed tough issues like theodicy, Christianity and its interactions with other religions, heaven and hell, faith and politics, etc.
I Believe: A series on the Apostles' Creed, exploring the content of the creed and its use in worship as a pledge and confession of trust
After the Orlando Shooting, I delivered a sermon on lament called Prayer in the Minor Key. After the spate of police-related shootings in July, I did a sermon on the Gospel's call to racial reconciliation. These were Gospel-centered ways of responding to the challenges of our world.
CPL: Can you walk us thru a typical week? How do you prepare for your sermons and what activities do you engage to help you write it?
I have usually developed a worship and preaching calendar ahead of time so my week typically looks like:
Early in the week - Carefully reading the biblical text in several translations, noting variant readings, and writing observations and questions to ask; Seeking to read the text devotionally, for personal transformation
Mid-week: Research, consulting journals, commentaries, etc.; starting to choose a direction for the sermon form and forming a basic outline
End of the week: Forming an outline into a manuscript and developing any visuals that will serve the sermon
For me, sermon planning is intrinsically tied to worship planning so I am working at least a week ahead (usually) with our pastor of worship and arts to create a worship gathering in which the sermon will speak and the various parts of the service will be complementary. This is also helpful in asking how God would call us to respond to the message.
I have an online sermon group made up of different people in the congregation from which I get input and insight. This team is a valuable voice in helping me keep a pulse on the church's needs, questions, concerns, hopes, etc.
As it is with most preachers, the sermon, both for the immediate week and those for the future, is always on my mind. When something strikes me (stories, incidents, articles, art, music, film, etc,), I file it away!