Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Picking a launching-point in a new church

The first sermon I preached as pastor of Copperfield Bible Church was a (relatively!) short sermon on 1 Timothy 4:1-5, preached on March 18, 2012.

What next?

I knew I didn't have a straight run. There would be two sermons, and then Easter. Then I already had plans in place to go to T4G 2012, followed by a few days with my friend Pastor Ted Steen, and an opportunity to bring the Word to his flock in Alcoa, Tennessee.

Then I'd have the opportunity to launch an uninterrupted (God willing) series.  But what to do?

I had had one idea for the two pre-Easter sermons; then I had another one push the first out of the way. However, when I got here and just began to know our flock, I concluded that it would best serve them to preach two sermons on the church: one on the church in general as revealed in Scripture, and then a second on God's specific revealed priorities for the local church. Those seemed to combine well with the first sermon (as well as my candidating sermons on the church's focal person, and on the church's focal message) for a programmatic start to our ministry together. Then Easter of course would focus on the resurrection of Christ.

But what next?

As I told someone, I felt like a fisherman who'd just broken through to a jewel of a lake in the Sierra, trout rising everywhere, and not another fisherman on the shore.* Left, or right? Lures, flies, or bait? Where to start?

Here was a dear bunch of God's people, obviously well-taught in the past and looking for the Word, simply eager for the Word to be opened. And there's that Bible, brimming with revelation, each verse and each theme calling out "Preach me!" "Me first" "No no, start here!"

I finally decided to do as I've done before: begin with a sweeping overview of Biblical doctrine. In this, I would be able to use the church's doctrinal statement for the series' basic structure. I won't be preaching the statement of faith, per se; but I do plan generally to follow its structure, and will reflect its affirmations of Scriptural truths.

I picked this for several benefits:
  1. It's important, period. Jude wants every last living believer to be committed to contending earnestly for "the faith" (Jude 3), which makes for pretty rough sledding if you don't have a clue as to what "the faith" includes and excludes.
  2. It's Biblical in a bunch of ways, as I tried to lay out in the first sermon ("Doctrine — Why Bother?").
  3. It will serve to help the congregation and me to start out on the same page, in spelling out the fundamentals (plus) of Biblical faith as I see them.
  4. It will serve new attenders, and longtime attenders who haven't yet become members, to see what CBC's teaching position is.
  5. It will serve future new attenders in providing a series to which we can always refer for instruction in the areas covered by our doctrinal statement.
  6. The time invested in this series will help me discern and be able to make a wiser choice as to which book then to "camp out" in once the series is completed.
As I remarked in the sermon, it's conceivable that I'll never preach another series, though I may. I mainly have always expounded books, and expect to return to that next.

But in thinking this over, it once again occurred to me that the prophets, the apostles, and the Lord virtually always preached "topically." That is, they seldom took one text or passage and focused exclusively on it. What was the "text" for the church's birthday sermon, in Acts 2? Joel 2. Well, and Psalm 16. Oh, and Psalm 110. And 2 Samuel 7. See? Then just think about that "word of exhortation" known as Hebrews.

What is non-negotiable about a Christian sermon is that it must be Biblical. But the form can vary. That is, an attentive hearer should be able to walk away saying, "This is what the Bible says about X [subject]," or "This is what the Bible says in X [passage]."

That's my aim.

*I refer to the regular use of the pulpit specifically, not to teaching in general. We're blessed with a number of very good teachers.


David Regier said...

Excellent. I'll try to keep up with the podcasts.

My pastor is in the middle of an excellent 66-week series called "Jesus in Every Book of the Bible", which after spending the last two years in Romans, is refreshing for getting the big picture.

May God bless you in your ministry there. Too bad it's not in California.

Pony and Petey said...

I wish you could know how happy Petey and I are to have you as our pastor and teacher!!! Every day we mention something we've learned from you already... soooo excited for all that we'll learn in the future!!!!!

We pray for you and thank God for you = ))

Stephen said...

This is an excellent model, I think. I appreciate that in my current church, my pastor typically alternates between an expositional-topical series and walking through a particular book or selected text. Since I've been there, the series we have had are (in order): 1 Peter, prayer (specifically Jesus' instructions and model in the Gospels), 10 Commandments, suffering, and now Colossians.

When you do a series on doctrine, are you planning on landing in a single text for every week? Ie, expositing John 16 for notes about the Holy Spirit, or Jeremiah 31 for covenant, etc. It sounds more like from your example of NT sermons that you will be more free in selecting various texts and tying them together into a systematic treatise on a particular topic, even in a single sermon.

Nick Rolland said...

Well said, pastor. We preached through doctrinal statement at our church when our pastor started. Very edifying. We now preach through a book (currently Matthew) with many other scripture references weekly (10-30ish) that allows God's word to illuminate God's word. The bibles get a workout every week.

Tom said...

Good idear. Our pastor did the exact same thing when he began his first "series."

JG said...

Makes sense to me. I used to teach a Bible study back home and the first thing I decided we should do was go over a general statement of beliefs for the group, since it was an interdenominational group. Gets everyone is on the same page, defines terms for later use, and generally makes sure we're all there for the same purpose - to study God's Word and know Him more.

Tom Chantry said...

Interesting inside look. Most pastors have a few times a week in which they may preach, but one service in which they can be assured of a church-wide audience. Determining the direction of that service is one of the most important decisions a preacher makes.

When I came to Milwaukee it was for a summer and I was not committed long-term, so I preached an available short-series (on Genesis 1-3) essentially to fill the time. Once I had committed to move here full time, I preached through I Timothy. The reason was that the congregation was still in the "mission" stage. Not only did we need to adopt our own constitution and set it on a biblical footing, we also needed everyone to commit to the New Testament ideal of a church. After that, I wound up doing what you are planning: 20 messages (in my case) on "Key Doctrines." After that I began a series on John, because I don't believe that the church should go long without studying through either one of the gospels or one of the gospel-heavy epistles.

Sonja said...

Looking at this post from the other side -- as a hearer -- how encouraging for me to know the hearts of men pastoring just as they should. The search for a new home can be discouraging, but you're in your church so I know the Lord continually raises up His faithful shepherds.

I take it you're not planning on going multi-site anytime soon. ;-)