Posts Tagged With: preaching

A Week with President Jimmy and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter

Last Saturday, April 29, when I arrived in Plains, Georgia, I assumed I would have a chance to meet the Carters. After all, he was teaching Sunday school in the sanctuary and I was preaching there immediately after—for two Sundays.

I’ve never been to this section of Georgia, so I had a couple of places on my “to do” list for the week—Koinonia Farm, the Habitat for Humanity Global Village, and the Andersonville Prison. All three of these were pilgrimages. Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament, was a huge influence on my young life. Greenlawn Baptist Church and I built the first Habitat for Humanity House in Columbia, SC. I said the first cuss word on a South Carolina Habitat site when a nail punctured my flesh in an inconvenient place. Andersonville prison, as someone posted on Facebook, is the saddest place in America and its story needs to be told.

The President Carter component of the week many of you have seen on Facebook was pure serendipity. My boarding house hostess is, it appears to me, the primary source of orientation for the guests at Maranatha Baptist Church, where the former Leader of the Free World teaches Sunday school. She talks to the gathered congregation before Sunday school about protocol. She makes sure the Carters’ needs are met and is very protective of their privacy. Between Sunday school and worship, in the seclusion of a church office, she (Jill Stuckey) asked if the Carters might be interested in having a meal with the guest preacher (me) sometime during the week. President Carter answered, “Let’s see how he preaches first.”

That’s an honest man. (I didn’t know this story until later.)

Of course, the Carters and I spoke to one another briefly after worship and after pictures had been taken with everyone else. That was a pleasure and an honor, and I was a happy camper.

President and Mrs. Carter returned to Sunday evening church. That was a surprise. They were good listeners. They seemed to like what I had to say.

Later, Jill told me we’d been invited to dinner at the Carter’s on Monday night. I actually prepared some questions in case we had time for serious conversation. I don’t intend to share details of a private evening, but this is worth repeating:

In response to one question, he said, “Be flexible for changing times, but cling to enduring principles.”

Two Mrs. Carters were at dinner. Billy Carter’s wife, Sybil, joined us for dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed her part in table conversation. After dinner, we admired the audacity of a raccoon eating his supper from a bird feeder. He did not seem particularly threatened by the 39th President, but he eventually ambled away.

On Tuesday, I played the tourist, visiting President Carter’s boyhood home and other attractions around Plains. I understand the President was turkey hunting. Sunday school teacher, author, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, hunter, fisherman, peacekeeper, humanitarian, husband, father, artist, furniture-maker, eradicator of diseases (through the Carter Center in Atlanta) and who-knows-what-else? The former President stays busy.

On Wednesday, I visited the POW Museum and the Andersonville Prison about which I blogged earlier this week.

Meanwhile, I discovered the Carters were coming over for Thursday supper as long as I cooked. Landlady Jill claims she’s not a chef, but my Mom taught me how to prepare a meal long ago. Everybody in my family loves breakfast for supper, so I bought sausage, bacon, berries, milk, eggs, coffee and pancake mix and prepared a meal. Folks have asked if I fed the Secret Service. Yes. Sybil Carter and one of the other boarders here also joined us.

Today, Friday, Nelle Ariail, wife of the former pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church, escorted me to Americus and sites of interest there.

There’s a big front porch on the boarding house, and I’ve spent a good hunk of my free time there reading.

Sunday will roll around again, and my plan is simple: Go to Sunday school and hear a good lesson and then preach. After lunch and a nap, I’ll preach again on Sunday night.

“The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Psalm 16: 6

 

 

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Problems and Challenges of Preaching in a Politicized Environment

The Problems and Challenges of Preaching in a Politicized Environment

Marion D. Aldridge

mariondaldridge@gmail.com

 

The Bible, in spite of its age, speaks to issues on today’s front pages: life, health, pain, suffering and death, war and peace, walls (pro and con), creation and environment, money (always an important spiritual issue). Can a preacher speak to these matters without alienating half of his or her congregation?

Yes. With one important exception: If someone (either the preacher or the layperson) is looking for a fight, they will find one. Some people can’t get along with their spouse or their children. They simply don’t know how to live with complexity and differences of opinion.

A pastor can’t make an unhappy person happy.

Otherwise, here are ten suggestions for preaching about hard subjects in politically charged times.

  • Possibly the most patriotic thing any of us can do is to pray for our leaders in government. That’s biblical. This week in worship, I prayed for our President, our Senators, our Legislators, our Supreme Court Justices and others who are in positions of responsibility in our nation and state.
  • Remember: in America, Church and State are constitutionally separated. The government cannot tell churches (or mosques or synagogues) what to do and our churches have no authority over the government. People can say almost anything they want to, but this safeguard is writ large in our First Amendment. Every year, not just this year, there are challenges, but for two hundred years, the wall of separation has stood.
  • Separate your rights as a private citizen from your responsibilities as a priest and/or prophet. Teach your congregants to do the same. As taxpayers, pastors and laity are entitled to vote, to petition, to march, to write their legislators, to serve on juries, to be involved in local, state, and national political activities. Sometimes, like husbands and wives, they will cancel each other’s votes!
  • Try to pay attention to what others are saying. No individual has the whole truth, the entire word of God. The Bible is a big book. The world is a big world. Humility about the limits of our knowledge is a good thing.
  • Be stingy with the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord.” Nobody wants to be beat up in church. There should be safety in the sanctuary. It helps me, during sermon preparation, to consider what my best critics would say. Sometimes, nuance is needed. If you are truly biblical, you may need to acknowledge, “On the one hand… On the other hand.” Don’t use the pulpit, often called a “sacred desk,” for every issue. Protect it from glib or careless comments. Some themes need a Sunday night discussion, not a Sunday morning proclamation. Note: The prophet spoke hard words to King David, but he did so privately, not in a sermon.
  • Remind the congregation of the enduring principles of scripture and the eternal reign of God. Preach these boldly. Pepper your preaching with phrases such as, “Thirty years ago, our parents and Sunday school teachers taught us…” or “During the era of Martin Luther…” to make the point that you didn’t choose to preach on an issue because of someone just elected or merely because you read a rant on Facebook. The timeless themes of scripture have been around a long time and people need to know them.
  • Balance the painful with the hopeful. If a pastor preaches a challenging and confrontational sermon one week, and sometimes that is necessary, maybe the lessons the next few Sundays ought to be grace, hope, faith, peace, love and joy.
  • Preach (and act) with love. Pay attention to your own heart. Be careful with your own spirit.  Be self-aware. Don’t let fear drive you. Don’t be reactionary, sucked into another’s anger. We bring the deficiencies of our own personality to the pulpit. Are you passive-aggressive, not missing the chance to dig at people with whom you disagree? Are you easily seduced by hysteria on social media? Are you too often angry? Beware.
  • Sometimes, prophetic words and actions are required. Dietrich Bonheoffer, Christian ethicist during the reign of Hitler, understood the landscape had been altered. Hitler was not an inconvenience. He slaughtered millions of human beings—Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and Jews. Different circumstances require different strategies. Christians need to remember, also, the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, Jr. There is a time to break an unjust law. When we do, we don’t whine but we suffer the consequences with dignity.
  • Model a full, happy, and contented life. Take advantage of our magnificent American freedoms. Turn off the television news and the social media and take a walk in the woods. Go to a baseball game. Read a novel. Visit the Grand Canyon or New York City. Invite strangers into your home for a meal. Volunteer at the local food bank. It’s a big, beautiful country. Beyond our borders, the earth is a big, beautiful creation. Embrace and enjoy.
Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Health, Lists/Top Ten | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

In Over My Head

Disoriented is the word that best describes my first few days in Connecticut as the Interim Pastor of Wilton Baptist Church. I feel strangely clueless. It’s been a weird few days. It’s already snowed. I purchased an electric blanket. My printer’s not working. I’ve already been to an Urgent Care “Doc in a Box” to follow up a complication from hand surgery. They’re painting the inside of the house where I’m living. The shower downstairs doesn’t produce hot water but the shower upstairs does. I live downstairs.

Welcome to Life! I love it.

Two days ago, on the second Sunday of Advent, the church gathered for worship and I preached my first sermon here. Oddly enough, the sermon was about Peace, but I wasn’t feeling very tranquil. Pastor friends and I have joked about praying that something should happen in a worship service that isn’t in the bulletin. But it’s not a joke. God’s Spirit is not, after all, predictable. We can organize the deck chairs on the Titanic, but it’s better if someone (or Someone) comes up with a strategy to keep the ship from sinking.

Wilton Baptist was to celebrate Communion, but the Lord’s Supper wasn’t mentioned in the bulletin. We had Communion anyway. Throughout the service, I think I was standing when I should have been sitting, and vice versa. I forgot to turn the microphone on; then, I forgot to turn it off. During the Lord’s Prayer, the congregation asked God to forgive us our trespasses and my prayer asked God to forgive us our debts. Oops.

It was that kind of Sunday.

As a pastor, I’ve discovered I’m only a small part of the process. I enjoy the shade of trees I didn’t plant. I put one foot in front of the other in the ordinary way, but, amazingly, extraordinary things happen. I like that. It takes some of the pressure off a single individual. None of us are doing anything, as our preschool children say, “All by myself.”

I’ll prepare sermons. I’ll meet with the Pastor Search Committee. Still, I’m absolutely certain that I’m part of Some Thing Bigger than I am. That’s good to remember.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Advice for a Young Pastor

Advice for a Young Pastor

(First of two parts. Part two: Advice to a Congregation with a Young Pastor)

Marion D. Aldridge

  1. It won’t be like they taught you at seminary. That’s not always the seminary’s fault. They can’t predict the random realities of your life or our culture for the next thirty years. The past two weeks of my ministry have been dominated by trying to get the musty smell of mildew and mold out of our church building in the least expensive way. I am highly motivated because recently a couple visited our church and the wife told me she has allergies that respond badly to mold. De-humidifying a sanctuary was never mentioned in any seminary course.
  2. It’s a real job. Recently, I talked with a 26-year-old Dartmouth grad who wasn’t particularly thrilled with the nitty-gritty, unfulfilling duties of the entry-level job in her chosen career. But, she had been humbled by initially having to work as a maid—even with her Ivy League education. Every job involves grunt work. Nobody gets to do only things they enjoy. That’s why we call it “work” and why we are paid to do it.
  3. You are a meeting planner. You have pious thoughts about introducing people to God and counseling people in crisis, but what ministers spend much of their week doing is preparing for events—the big ones such as Sunday morning worship and the little ones such as the finance committee. You must become expert at convening groups. Some young pastors (like many laity) assume events magically happen and have no clue that hours are spent each week in coordinating schedules and planning activities.
  4. You are a fundraiser. No matter how big or small your congregation is, bills must be paid. Budgets and projects must be created that people will support. Call it stewardship, but the money must be raised. Emergencies happen. Heating systems fail. Your church’s best contributor dies. An unbudgeted summer mission opportunity needs to be financed or twenty teenagers will miss out on the experience of a lifetime. Jesus didn’t hesitate to think and talk about money.
  5. Preaching is the silver bullet. Your congregation will want your sermons to be lightening in a bottle. Every now and then a pastor is charismatic, charming and dynamic (one in fifty?). Have something to communicate, say it well, with humor, with drama, with clarity. Inspiring preaching will fill pews faster than excellent hospital visits. That may not be fair, but it’s reality.
  6. Your calling is crucial. There will be times when people criticize you. Sometimes you’ll doubt yourself. I never self-appointed myself to a pastorate. A congregation asked me to shepherd them. You’re not a pastor-in-waiting. This is your calling, your vocation. You could be led to a different vocation or the church could vote to rescind their call. But individuals or small groups of unhappy members do not have the right or the authority to alter what the church and the pastor have previously agreed to be God’s call.
  7. Take care of your own spirit, mind and body. Pastors who read scripture and pray only when desperate to prepare a sermon are sad, lost souls. Study. Listen. Learn. Exercise. Grow. Don’t get stuck in the theology or habits of youth. Change. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Pay attention to your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Pastors who are more-or-less friendless (and there are thousands) with no systems in place (outside their congregation) for encouragement and accountability are not modeling relationships of love. You need to have a life outside the church. Find faithful friends. Pastors who aren’t working to maintain their own family ties are to be pitied. First things first.
Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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