As a preacher of the good news of Jesus Christ, what does it mean to start the year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision? If I may be so bold to offer some advice at the beginning of this year.
Preach like you know they almost didn’t come. That is what Bill Muehl said to his students when he was a professor of preaching at Yale. “Remember, about half of your congregation almost didn’t come this morning.”
The trend seems to be that our most committed people are attending worship less frequently. Yet, if we look carefully, we will see many who could have chosen to be elsewhere have come back early from a meeting or vacation. There are others who are so sad, lonely, or distraught that the emotional toll of coming to church is huge.
Don’t take them for granted. The preaching task is too important. There is never a good excuse not to handle the proclamation of God’s word with great thought, preparation, and integrity.
Several years ago, Fred Craddock told the story of a young woman who attended a service at which he was a guest preacher. She told him that when she anticipated that a sermon might make her feel uncomfortable or call her to change something about her living, she brought her three small children into the sanctuary with her. She said the distraction usually worked.
On another occasion, he asked a young visitor, a 20 something, about his first visit to a church.
He asked, “Do you remember ever being in church before today?”
The young man replied, “I’m sure this is my very first time.”
“Well, how was it?”
“A bit scary.”
“Yes, I found it a bit frightening.”
“The whole service seemed so important. I try to avoid events that are important; they get inside my head and stay with me. I don’t like that. To be honest I prefer parties.”
“Then will you come back?”
After a long pause, the young man answered, “Yes.”
A Day Ruined by Jesus
As a preacher, to start the year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision is to remember that the subject matter is so important that it is life changing. It is possible that the one who listens can be radically affected in relationships, in ethical standards, and in moral decisions.
As you step into this new year, preach like you know that they almost didn’t come. There will always be resistance. Who wants to be disturbed by the truth?
- There are 1300 children killed and 6000 children wounded by gunfire every year.
- Twelve million children go to school every day in clothes given to them and thirteen million children go to bed hungry every night.
Who wants to have a nice day ruined by Jesus?
Listen to him:
If you have two coats;
go the second mile;
turn the other cheek;
if you love only those who love you;
forgive seventy times seven;
love your enemies;
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven;
I was hungry, naked, a stranger, in prison;
you fool, where is all your stuff now;
God is kind even to the ungrateful and wicked;
do not be anxious about tomorrow.
New Resolve, New Hope, New Vision
As difficult as it is to hear, it is extremely important to listen. Preach the good news. Sometimes, Jesus gets into your head and your heart and stays with you. I think that is what Paul is referring to in his letter to the Romans. “So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher?”
Step into this new year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision. Remember that the subject matter is so important that it is life changing.
Since I’m handing out advice, what does it mean to start a new year as a leader of a church, a congregation, a community of faith with new resolve, new hope, and new vision? Again, it is Paul in his letter to the Romans, “Welcome one other, in the same way that Christ has welcomed you. All for God’s glory.”
Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk
It is my opinion that we have told ourselves that we must walk the walk and that our living is our witness, to the detriment of telling people who we are and why we do what we do. Without giving testimony with our words, we are telling only half the truth. It’s not enough to walk the walk. Someone has to talk the talk.
What would happen if you and I began to tell how God, in Jesus, has made a difference in our lives? What would happen if we came alongside of persons, in the community as well as the church, created a space for conversations, developed meaningful relationships, practiced our faith of loving as we have been loved, inviting people to engage in developing their faith, not with easy answers, but to become who God created them to be?
I believe people would begin to discover how they could make a difference in their families, in their employment, and in their communities.
Improve the Acoustics
As we step into this new year, let’s improve the acoustics. Let’s speak more boldly and clearly the truth of God’s love. Let’s preach like we know they almost didn’t come. And let’s tell how God, in Jesus, has made a difference in our lives. That is my resolve, hope, and vision for this new year.
O God, give us the words that give witness to your Word in our speaking and in our living. Amen