This week we asked the Outlook bloggers to share a “ministry hack” they’ve learned. Here’s what they shared. Given the nature of this blog, multiple voices enrich the explanation of our ministry hack. So, parenthetical comments come from my colleagues, Ben Beres and Jake Clawson.
Monday at 1:30 p.m. is sacred ground.
Nearly every Monday, I get together with two pastor-friends (JAKE: “colleagues” makes us sound more professional) to prepare for the next Sunday’s worship. Ben, a friend from my undergraduate years who has also been called to pastoral ministry, lives in Huntsville, a few towns and 30 minutes away. We get together in person. Then we fire up FaceTime and await Jake, a friend from seminary who serves in Flower Mound, Texas, to join us.
Over the next two-and-a-half hours, we’ll unload that week’s life stuff. Wives, children, congregants, health concerns — whatever has been important in the last 166 hours since we last logged off with one another. We unburden our hearts and pick up one another’s burdens. We laugh. We come close to tears (JAKE: of both kinds). Then we get down to business.
Each of us plans our sermons in advance. Okay, admittedly, Ben didn’t do this initially, but Jake and I have browbeat him into the practice. So we have – at the very least – Scripture, a sermon title and a basic focus for the sermon (BEN: or at the very least a portal into the text) when we sit down together. That’s it. We then turn these basics over to one another and let each other speak into them — just like the parentheses in this blog are doing.
Since we’re all, generally, lectionary preachers, we scour our own past sermon files to see if we’ve preached certain passages before with the hopes that we have some Good News to share with one another. We discuss and debate. We encourage certain paths for each other’s sermons. We pass out good turns of phrase for free. We give each other A LOT of room to speak into one another’s work.
Theologically, we are not always on the same page. I’m likely more progressive than either of them. Ben is likely the most conservative. Jake often holds the center for us. But our different theological leanings are neither why we get together – this isn’t some diversity project – nor are they a hindrance. We love each other too much to let theology break us apart.
After we part ways, though, the relationship is not over. Once our sermons are complete, they get sent to one another. We read, edit and comment. We’ll add debates or just snarky comments. (JAKE: And jokes, we add jokes. Ben needs our help) (BEN: Hey now! I’m just a dry wit!). We make each other think through the Good News for our people again and again, aiming to make sure it lands well in their souls. (JAKE: And for what it is worth, this editing practice gives this preacher an added sense of comfort as I rise to the pulpit each week. A week without four extra eyes upon that week’s work is a week with a little extra “Is this any good?” anxiety.)
An interesting thing has developed over the couple of years we’ve been doing this. We know each others’ voices as well as we know our own. I can tell you that a Ben Beres Sermon™ is going to start with an engaging illustration, will then transition into rich biblical interpretation and will conclude with a sly, rhetorically-smart return to the beginning. It’s a perfect circle, meant to leave its recipients with a sense of completeness and continuity, with a feeling of security. (BEN: Disclaimer: I did not pay for this glowing commendation). (JAKE: But he probably should’ve!)
Meanwhile, a Jake Clawson Sermon™ is basically a walk-about. It starts in the passage, veers over to a cultural reflection, sways into a humorous aside, rumbles back into the Scripture and leaps over to the life of the congregation. This is about as opposite a sermon style as one can get from a Ben Beres Sermon™. It’s helter-skelter, a reflection of the large, always-interested-in-everything-and-everyone personality of Jake. (JAKE: I’m never sure whether I should be offended or feel well-praised at Jeff’s description of my preaching. Ben, any thoughts?). (BEN: I just always assume that he’s more or less taking the mickey out of you all the time, Jake).
Finally, a Jeff Schooley Sermon™ is just as richly bound up in who I am. These sermons are provocative, culturally critical. They are as grounded in biblical truth as they are an antithetical approach to the culture. They take John 1:10 as their basic presupposition: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” They assume that the Good News is, indeed, good, but that it takes training, a rejection of cultural norms to hear this goodness (JAKE: and a Last Week Tonight-style slideshow!). They like to clear the brush before any seeds are planted.
Three different theological approaches. Three different preaching styles. In an increasingly polarized and tribal society, we are not supposed to be able to work together this well. Yet friendship, love, trust and time together overcome every obstacle. (BEN: Each of us is keenly aware that we have a responsibility to deliver the Word to our context, even as we are also deeply accountable to the broader Christian tradition in which we are bonded and committed). (JAKE: It is precisely because we are different and respect those differences that we trust one another to see the blind spots and missed opportunities in our proclamations of the Good News for the varied, gathered people we call “the church”).
Each of us are generally regarded as good (JAKE: C’mon man, just say it, “great!” HAHA!) preachers by our congregations. Whether any of us will ever rise to the level of a Festival for Homiletics speaker remains to be seen. But I have every confidence that none of us would be near as good without all of us. (BEN: We can’t commend the practice enough! I think we each would acknowledge that it doesn’t “just happen” though. As Jeff has noted, it takes intentionality and trust, which can be grown where it doesn’t already exist. Before we began this “hack,” I partnered with another pastor in my presbytery and teamed up just to write a short sermon series together. One led to another, and while we didn’t meet and engage on the level I do with these gentlemen, David and I wrote at least four solid series together before he took a call in Florida. Go ahead and start small yourself. Find a partner and commit to just one series together). Indeed, the ministry of biblical preaching may well be impossible without this essential, connection “hack.”
JEFF SCHOOLEY is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Marysville, Ohio, but would not be so if it weren’t for Ben and Jake. BEN BERES is pastor at Huntsville Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Ohio, and JAKE CLAWSON recently became the pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Flower Mound, Texas. You can reach all three of them at the following email addresses: [email protected](Jeff), [email protected] (Ben), and [email protected] (Jake). Or email all three of them and watch the fun happen as they all respond to you and one another.