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By In Theology, Worship

10 Questions Preachers Should Ask Before Sunday Morning

I have been a pastor for almost a decade. I spend between 12-15 hours each week thinking, researching, and writing before I deliver the first words in my Sunday sermon.a The process of writing my sermon goes through a lengthy journey each week. I contemplate several questions from Monday to Friday which force me to edit and re-edit my manuscript. There is no perfect sermon, but a sermon that goes through revisions and asks import questions has a much better chance of communicating with clarity than the self-assured preacher who engages the sermonic task with nothing more than academic lenses.

I have compiled a list of ten questions I ask myself each week at some point or another.

Question #1: Is this language clear? When you write a manuscript ( as I do) you have an opportunity to carefully consider the language you use. I make a habit of reading my sermon out loud which leads me to realize that certain phrases do not convey the idea clearly. A well-written sermon does not necessarily mean a well-delivered sermon. Reading my sermons out loud causes me to re-write and look for other ways to explain a concept or application more clearly.

Question #2: Is there a need to use high theological language in this sermon? Seminary graduates are often tempted to use the best of their training in the wrong environment. People are not listening to you to hear your theological acumen. I am well aware that some in the congregation would be entirely comfortable with words like perichoresis and Arianism. I am not opposed to using high theological discourse. Words like atonement, justification, sanctification are biblical and need to be defined. But extra-biblical terms and ideologies should be employed sparingly. Much of this can be dealt in a Sunday School class or other environments. High theological language needs to be used with great care, and I think it needs to be avoided as much as possible in the Sunday sermon.

Question #3: Can I make this sermon even shorter? As I read my sermons each week, I find that I can cut a paragraph or two easily, or depending on how long you preach, perhaps an entire page. This is an important lesson for new preachers: not everything needs to be said. Shorter sermons–which I strongly advocateb–force you to say what’s important and keep some of your research in the footnotes where it belongs. Preachers need to learn what to prioritize in a sermon so as not to unload unnecessary information on their parishioners. (more…)

  1. Thankful for great interactions before this article was published. It helped sharpen my points  (back)
  2. By this I mean sermons no longer than 30 minutes  (back)

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By In Culture, Music, Worship

A Mighty Fortress: Then & Now

A Mighty Fortress: Then & Now

Unless you grew up in a Lutheran church, chances are that you’re singing quite a bit different version of that great hymn of the Reformation, Ein feste burg ist unser Gott or A Mighty Fortress is Our God. This great hymn based on Psalm 46 has a story that the average evangelical Christian has not heard. Here’s an audio post with sound clips explaining how this hymn has changed over the years. There is more that could be said and those who could say it more eloquently, but my hope is that we can begin to better appreciate this hymn in ways we hadn’t before.

Here’s the direct link to the audio file:

-Jarrod Richey

P.S. – Here’s a link to the PDF of the Lutheran version closest to what Martin Luther penned:

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By In Politics, Theology

Andy Stanley’s Big Frustration with Little Churches

Post by Uri Brito and Dustin Messer

In a recent sermon, Andy Stanley made the staggering observation:

When I hear adults say, ‘Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,’ I say, ‘You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids…anybody else’s kids.’ You’re like, ‘What’s up?’ I’m saying if you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.

Stanley has since apologized in the way modern preachers apologize: via twitter. 

While we take him at his word (or tweet, as the case may be), this was not simply a slip of the tongue. While he may be sorry for the way in which he communicated the message—even sorry for a specific sentiment in the message—one can’t fake the sort of passion exhibited by Stanley as he described his antipathy for small churches. Again, we believe he’s genuinely sorry we’re offended, but Stanley clearly has heartfelt feelings about non-megachurches (microchurches?) that didn’t begin or end with the sermon in question. Below are three reasons we feel such a sentiment is harmful: (more…)

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By In Music, Worship

Pipes Worth Playing: Four Lost Lessons from the Pipe Organ

PipesWorthPlaying-FeaturedImageI know what you’re thinking. Organ: funeral, ball game, grand dusty cathedral. Why should modern Christians of such a technological age revisit a thousand year-old instrument? Don’t worry, I will not be trying to punch another hole in my Weird Music Preferences and Opinions card here. The truth is, our Christian culture is missing out on one of the great blessings to the Christian church, an instrument with capabilities that lend both strength and maturity to how we worship. Only a caricature of what it once was, the pipe organ has endured a history that has left it unloved or at best uninteresting to most Evangelical Christians in America today. By remembering its origin and the theology connected to its design, we can push air once again through the pipes with joy!

First, the pipe organ was built for the Christian church.

It was installed into the actual walls and framework of protestant and catholic churches and cathedrals throughout western civilization. No other instrument is installed with such permanence. This is not an argument of who had it first, rather this is a call for Christians to revisit the value of this instrument not in the narrow light of its present-day uses, but in the broader light of history. The pipe organ’s design was intentional, purposeful in church worship, and ever pointing to God as no other instrument was made to do.

Second, the pipe organ highlights God’s diligent sovereignty in creation.

  All is lifeless without His hand as the organ does not spontaneously create music without a master’s hands. The hundreds of pipes and sound combinations require the fingers of a master musician on the keyboard manual and the subsequent inspiration of air through the bellows and pipes. The hollow tubes of metal and wood stand dormant until this inspiration gives way to sound. The pipes of various lengths and sizes remind us that through the multitude of layers in God’s created order, all come under submission to the composer and chief musician who gives them life and purpose. The pipe organ’s bellows moving air through flue and reed pipes much like the human lungs moving air through larynx and vocal reeds is a creational model of the Holy Spirit breathing life and transforming cacophony into a symphony of sound that proclaims his goodness and glory. (more…)

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By In Culture, Music, Worship

Project Aims to Make Liturgical Music More Accessible

A new set of worship songs rooted in the ancient praise of God

This week, Santa Cruz, Calif. church planter Rob Patterson launched a Kickstarter to create a new liturgical music project to serve the Church—particularly church plants like his.

In an interview with Andrea Bailey Willits (The Diocese of Churches for Sake of Others) he explained his the motivation behind the project.

“My journey into Anglicanism, with its liturgies, seasons and rhythms, has given birth to some new worship songs,” Patterson says. “These songs are meant to serve the church, particularly liturgical church plants where big rock worship can feel too big, and where some of the tradition’s older music can feel a bit inaccessible.”

Folksy Liturgical Style

In a folksy acoustic style, Patterson has taken some older texts and set them to singable melodies that embrace both the tradition and modern expression. He has also written some new songs specifically to serve the modern liturgical context.

“The songs I’ve written for this project are pieces of my journey into Anglicanism, bits of theology and heart set to music, meant to bless the Church and honor the Lord,” he says.

The Kickstarter Campaign

Over the next month, Patterson hopes to raise the money he needs to make this music a reality. He plans to record in Austin, Texas, the Live Music Capital of the World, with a stellar group of musicians, including producer Ramy Antoun. 

“I don’t think you can find a cooler guy around. Ramy grew up in Egypt and has a deep love for the Lord,” Patterson says. “I first met Ramy when he played drums on a project I recorded in L.A. some years ago. He went on to play with folks like Black Eyed Peas and Seal. Ramy’s now producing worship records, and I’m super excited to team up with him to make this new project.”

Please consider helping fund this new liturgical music to serve the Church. Make a donation.

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By In Culture

How the Julie Andrews Oscar Tribute Identified the Biggest Problem with “Christian” Movies

Lady Gaga Tribute to Julie Andrews & “The Sound of Music”


In likely one of her most beautiful and memorable performances, pop-star Lady Gaga revisited the 1965 Classic, “The Sound of Music” with an outstanding tribute to Julie Andrews and her musical contributions to the film.

Lady Gaga Tribute to Julie Andrews & “The Sound of Music”

It is worth noting that Gaga is not known for being a ‘lady’ and a great deal of her notoriety is based upon some of the most un-lady-like behavior. Yet here, Lady Gaga offers an elegant and skillful performance that may exceed the artist whom she was paying tribute to. There is nothing in Gaga’s Billboard hit collection that would suggest that she was capable of such a performance and her peculiar stage personality has been eclipsed by the beauty of the original music. Despite a five decade span between the theatrical release and now, this performance refused to enjoin the modern progress of musical artistry.

Can we think of many styles from 1965 that would enjoy such a powerful reception? How is it possible that the “Sound of Music” can remain ‘good art’ even today without adapting to the changing ethos of American artistic expression?

Julie Andrews on Great Music

Following Lady Gaga’s performance she was joined on stage by the original Maria. Julie Andrews thanked Gaga for her beautiful tribute and gave the most eloquent and poignant remarks of the entire night. In her short speech, I believe that Andrews also identified the fundamental problem plaguing a Christian view of the arts.

“Great music does more than enhance a film,” says Andrews “it cements our memories in the film-going experience. I mean, imagine the “Godfather” without its iconic theme… or the wondrous themes in the music of John Williams in “Star Wars.”

The Imagination and Christian Movies

675116-a9f9182e-a8c8-11e4-b4a3-9d4f296075c1I would posit that while classics like the, “Sound of Music” will be respected as time-tested art, much of the Christian material today will be remembered as well as Julie Andrew’s contemporaries like the Brady Bunch. Our dated, irrelevant, and artistically flat modern “chick tract” style Christian movies are destined for the same shelf as the story of a lovely lady and her family in a nine-frame box.

As Christians, we are called to embrace the majesty of God’s creation in its fullness and to use the arts in our attempt to express what is truly great and beautiful. All of art, and especially the cinema for our age, is a call to experience the pleasure of Christ’s goodness and to stretch and renew our mind’s imagination. Art in this sense is not merely an extra, but essential to what it means to give glory to God.

I want to see a generation of filmmakers less concerned about how actors dress, and passionate about how a film’s score is as powerful a testimony of the greatness of God as the script.

As Martin Luther said, “I feel strongly that all the arts, and particularly music, should be placed in the service of Him who has created and given them.”

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By In Theology, Worship

The Sacrament of Music: Why Your Church Worship Should Be Pagan

Todd Pruitt writes that worship music is often viewed as “a means to facilitate an encounter with God,” or as a means of drawing close to God. He believes this to be a great theological error and that it resembles “ecstatic pagan practices,” though he provides no evidence for this assertion. Quite profoundly, Pruitt critiques non-sacramental Christians for attributing a sacramental status to music. He then presents several problems with emotionally-driven worship.

There ought to be no disagreement with Pruitt on the dangers of emotionally-driven worship. When edible bread and wine are replaced by audible beats and melodies, God’s people will become malnourished. Yet, at the same time, the error is an imbalance of sensory stimulation, not the idea that music facilitates an encounter with God. (more…)

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