I just sent this email to the students in my ministry. If you find it helpful, feel free to adapt it for your own church/ministry.
Hope you’re doing well in the aftermath of finals.
Quick suggestion: take a bit of your free time over spring break to do a very simple task that will help strengthen our community.
If you use Facebook, make a friend list for Chi Alpha.
- Go to http://www.facebook.com/friends/?ref=tn
- Click the blue “Make A New List” button on the left side of the screen and call the new list “Chi Alpha”.
- On the next screen, add everyone in Chi Alpha. Use the phone list as a guide (I’ve enclosed the list of names below — just cut and paste them one at a time into the “add to list” box).
- Now every time you log in, you’ve got a simple way to quickly check in with our community. There will be a “Chi Alpha” link on the left sidebar of the main Facebook page that will show you the most recent status updates/shared links/whatever from the people in our group.
- Now add two or three people you are sharing your faith with to the list. Whenever you see their status updates pop up on the XA list you just made, remember to pray for them and invite them to join us the next time you see them.
It’s hardly going to revolutionize your life, but if all or even a lot of us do it then it will make our community that much tighter. Facebook is a great tool for enhancing real life friendships — maximize it for the Kingdom!
Hope it helps. We’re all in this together.
One of my favorite subjects to talk about is the strategic nature of campus ministry. As I was reading the most recent issue of Books & Culture
, one passage from a book review popped out at me:
I saw a striking pattern in these books [Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in the Global South: Africa /Latin America/Asia] that the editors and authors did not mention: a distinct source for much of the more principled evangelical social and political engagement across the regions. Repeatedly, the leaders of parachurch ministries and reform‐minded NGOs that worked on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable, who spoke up for human rights and electoral reform and against corruption and autocratic rule came from two sources: student Christian movements and the worldwide network of evangelical leaders affiliated with the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Inter‐Varsity Christian Fellowship joined the People Power movement in the Philippines, while Campus Crusade played a central role in the formation of the Citizens Committee for Economic Justice in South Korea. Likewise in South Africa, it was the members of Youth Alive, the evangelical student fellowship started in Soweto by Caesar Molebatsi, who drove the Concerned Evangelicals movement to resist apartheid in the 1980s. The Latin American Theological Fraternity, an evangelical network with strong ties to both the Lausanne Committee and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, figures prominently in pro‐democratic evangelical work across Latin America.
INFEMIT [the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians] itself is a product of this network, which might help explain these authors’ interest in highlighting this strain of evangelical social thought and action. But it is indeed significant. Little could the Anglo‐American founders of the Lausanne and campus ministry movements have imagined that their emphasis on thoughtful Bible study and a “whole gospel for the whole world” would help animate democratic movements around the globe.
source: “Now What? Revivalist Christianity and Global South Politics” by Joel Carpenter. Books & Culture March/April 2009, page 36.
If you want to change a culture, change its campuses. They are the steering wheels of society.
Listening to a bad sermon is like eating crab legs. It’s a lot more trouble than it should be, but you can still get a lot of meat if you are diligent.
So how do you do it?
Here are some tips that I sometimes find helpful, in order of preference. I don’t want to make you too excited: nothing is going to make a bad sermon good. But these might help mitigate your suffering.
- Be merciful. Preaching consistently good sermons is a lot harder than it seems. Think about your worst day on the job and how you would like your coworkers and customers to respond with compassion and understanding. Now extend that same compassion to the preacher.
- Overlook the stupid stuff. Every once in a while even solid and reliable preachers will say something that’s completely ridiculous — usually when they venture outside their area of expertise. This is particularly true when preachers begin using stories to illustrate a point they are trying to make. It can really throw you for a loop. Tune it out the same way you tune out that one cousin at family reunions. Even your favorite book has some boring passages, but you judge the book on its highlights. Judge sermons likewise.
- Be randomly inspired. I learned this from Dary Northrop in a seminar: you should bring a notebook to sermons not because of how insightful and magnificent the preacher is going to be, but because the Holy Spirit will spark new and amazing insights in you which are only tangentially related to what is in the speaker’s notes. Few sermons are so bad that there is no goodness in them — even a three‐year‐old will say something profound and/or hilarious if you listen to them long enough. So wait for a clever turn of phrase, an obscure or unexpected Bible reference, or a fact that you were hitherto unaware of and begin writing furiously. Doodle as well. Repeat as necessary.
- Pretend it’s opposites day.
had a tradition in his Chi Alpha ministry. Once a year he would preach opposite: “Why You Should Not Pray”, “Why God Is Untrustworthy”, etc. He did it deadpan (well — as deadpan as Harlow ever gets). The first time he did it he was worried his students wouldn’t catch on that he was merely exaggerating and then repeating their own doubts back to them in order to demonstrate how ridiculous their doubts were, but it was a huge success. Even the guests got it. It became an institution. Ever since he told me that story, I gamely pretend that a really bad sermon is merely the results of “opposites day”.
- Improve the sermon.
This is risky because it can lead to pride and also can be disruptive if people around you notice what you’re doing, but there are times when it’s your only possible psychological defense. There are two fundamental kinds of badness. There’s bad delivery. That’s the best kind. The preacher has good things to say, but the inability to say them well. The whole sermon can be spent fruitfully paraphrasing and improving the solid content of the sermon. For example, you might reorder and reword the outline for greater impact or logical flow. There’s bad content. The preacher is distorting the text or not thinking things through. That’s harder, but can be even more diverting. You can compose your own outline from scratch on the same passage or topic that the preacher is endeavoring to address. One or two of my best sermons has come about this way.
Finally, my apologies to those who have had to endure a stinker from me. I know it has happened before and have no doubt it will happen again. It’s my job to be the best speaker I can be and it is your job to be the best listener that you can be. I’ll do my job whether or not you do yours, but if we work together this whole thing will go much more smoothly.
And a note to my pastor — relax, this was not inspired by your sermon this week. You didn’t even preach. We watched a movie, remember? 🙂