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Students at commencement

Biblical Preaching

First Baptist Church Edmonton

Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Denomination: Canadian Baptists of Western Canada
Size: 200 on membership role, 200 attendees (mixture of members and adherents)

Download First Baptist's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context

Edmonton is a government city. An oil city close to the oil sands of Ft. McMurray. Some words that might describe the city and “feel” of Edmonton: Earthy. Professional. Educated. Environmentalists. Rednecks. Friendly. Artsy.

Unique things about FBC Edmonton: Destination church. Downtown church. 1 of 13 Canadian Baptist Churches in the city but the only one with a traditional liturgical approach to Sunday morning worship services (i.e. organ, piano, choir, hymnbooks, no screen on the wall).

Pre-existing practices

1. Preach Biblical Sermons Based on the Lectionary Readings vs. Topical Sermons Proof-Texted by Bible Passages

Using the lectionary has been the tradition for decades, preaching biblical sermons is what this congregation is used to.

I sometimes wonder how discerning our hearers are. . . do they recognize how great it is that we don’t do topical, “how to be a better person” preaching here at FBC!?!

2. Spiritual Disciplines Teaching  

During our pre-church “education hour” we have been trying to model and teach spiritual disciplines i.e., group lectio divina, guided mediation, spiritual listening, group spiritual direction, prayer labyrinth. A very small portion of our congregation is interested in these practices.

3. Learning the Language of Spiritual Formation  

We’ve developed a “5 year identity plan” that focuses on the journey inward and outward of Spiritual Formation.

If the Word of the God is forming us in our Christian journey, then how do we “do” what the Word tells us from a place of “being” in/with the Word, rather than a place of obligation/guilt.

Discoveries from listening process

1. Satisfaction of Preaching Ministry

There is a strong level of satisfaction to the current preaching ministry at FBC Edmonton. People genuinely enjoy the preaching style/content from the preachers at FBC. They find it encouraging, thoughtful and sometimes challenging. This has been an encouraging and vital word for the FBC preachers!

2. Cumulative Transformative Effect

While people can’t easily recall particular sermons, they report a cumulative transformative effect that is life-changing. It’s important that the preachers don’t try to go for “wow!” moments every Sunday. As Dr. Lose put it: This is bread for the journey, not the FULL MEAL DEAL every sermon!

3. Congregational Interest

The process of asking the questions has heightened the congregational interest in Biblical narrative. By putting the term “biblical preaching project” in front of our congregants, there has been a slightly higher interest in the biblical story of God.

Opportunities for growth

1. Language Connection  

Connect the language of Spiritual Formation to the idea of Biblical Preaching.

2. Biblical Imagination

Help the congregation learn what it means to “dwell in the world of the text” so that our biblical imagination “out-imagines” the dominant imagination of our north American culture (see W. Brueggemann’s ideas on this: “The work of subversive imagination is fully embodied in Jesus of Nazareth and that became the propelling force of the early church”).

3. "Willimon" Challenge

Take on the “Will Willimon” challenge. . . he suggests that we preach the good news and the living Jesus so that this living Jesus moves through the pews and encounters/challenges our hearers (a quote based on Karl Barth’s teaching).

Experiments undertaken

1. Promoting Spiritual Disciplines as a Way of Making Space for the Word of God

Focus on 1-2 spiritual disciplines that are “word-based” and allow for the participant to encounter the living Christ in the text. We will start with guided meditation. Another practice to try is Lectio Divina.

In the past in our context, spiritual disciplines have been a way of making space for God. But how might we use a spiritual discipline to make space for the WORD of God? I believe there is a difference! We will know we are on the right path if. . . we hear our people feeling like the Bible is not just a rule book but a story where they find themselves truly believing that they are a present character in the unfolding story of God.

The podcast “pray-as-you-go” provides some good ideas of how this might be structured. I’d also suggest using Thomas Keating’s book on Lectio.

2. Learning to Dwell in the World of Our Sacred Scriptures

We will promote a Bible Study that is not traditional in the sense that it will always push the participant to find herself in God’s story and then live out of the God story.

Bible studies that simply pass on more bible knowledge are not enough! We don’t need 200 bible students strutting around in our congregation. We need 200 people who regardless of age/stage of life, they find themselves living INTO and OUT of the world of our sacred scriptures.

We are going to need to work hard at helping our congregants believe that the Bible is God story vs. snippets of moral advice. Along with a Fall 2012 Bible Study, we started preaching the Narrative Lectionary from September 2012 – June 2013.

3. Learning to Preach the Gospel where Jesus “Moves amongst the Pews”

We will work harder at helping each preacher find the gospel message in the midst of their assigned text for preaching on any given Sunday. This means that we staff preachers need to meet once every 6 weeks to talk about our text and challenge and chide each other as we prepare for our given Sunday.

How can we practically help each other become better preachers? By speaking into one another’s ideas with kindness but also with a bit of healthy “pushiness”!

Each preacher comes to the meeting with their text, a working title, some ideas of where they are going with the sermon and a 1 or 2 liner that boils down their “gospel message focus” for their sermon.

4. Prompting our People to Share “Encountering God” Stories

During the season of Easter, for 6 Sundays, we will find people to share STL (Seen The Lord) stories. In John 20:18, Mary says she has “seen the Lord.” Now, how about us?

If Jesus is alive, in this season of resurrection it would be good to hear stories of how he is alive in the midst of our real, everyday lives!

People need to be encouraged to share however feels best for them. If they’re not comfortable sharing their story, perhaps they’ll write it out and let someone else read it on their behalf. Or perhaps someone could do a video interview and then edit it. . . this will help.

Discoveries from experiments (July 2014)

Update filed in July 2014 by Ryan Sato and Ken Bellous

1. On Congregational Vibrancy

  • Leadership matters. Vibrant churches seems to thrive as their leaders thrive. Much of a congregation’s identity is influenced by leadership identity.
  • You’ve gotta play to your strengths. You can’t be who you are not. Pastors, be who God gifted you to be. Congregations, be who God gifted you to be.
  • Pray for miracles. The fact that we exist from week to week as local churches is nothing short of a miracle. A living God resurrects dead things. Lord have your way!
  • Don’t fight the culture war. Be the church. Do the stuff only the church can do and see if you make your existence out of that. By the way … the stuff that the church is really good at is things like Eucharist, forgiveness/confession, proclamation of the gospel and baptism. Leave the “Show and Shine Car Shows” to the professionals!

2. On Biblical Preaching

  • The biblical story ought to be enough. But we do need to learn to be better story-tellers.
  • Don’t prop up your preaching with YouTube videos or Vimeo videos. The under-30 generation doesn’t give a rip about your relevant video!
  • If biblical preaching is going to bear fruit, our congregants need to learn “storying” too. They need to recognize that they are implicated in the GodStory and how they join God’s storying work in the world every day.
  • Participating is an important word. How do we preachers help our hearers hear better? How do I allow the hearers to share their own stories? It takes a lot of work to connect the dots for our congregants...Do they even know the 5 acts of the story of God (Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, the New People of God)? And why should they care?
  • Imagination is an important word. For biblical preaching to “work,” there’s got to be a connection to helping our congregants cultivate a biblical imagination.
  • The Narrative Lectionary has been an awesome lectionary for us to use. We’ve just finished our second year of the Narrative Lectionary and for the 2014-2015 season (Sept. - June) we are going to do an experiment with the “Echo the Story” curriculum. This is a youth curriculum put out by Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse. We are going to use this 36-week curriculum at every level in the church. For 36 weeks, we will preach and teach every generation on the same topic in the GodStory. Rev. Ryan is also trying to make it stay “in step” with the church calendar and liturgical seasons. This takes a little bit of tweaking and adjusting but we think it’s going to work! For more info on Echo the Story (36 week version), go to:

3. On Learning about Learning

  • Our congregations don’t learn easily or quickly...this is a “long obedience in the same direction.”
  • This project with Luther Seminary has been awesome! But like any great experience, it’s tough to keep motivated to keep on learning together and experimenting. Interviewing our congregants was a really good exercise and we should do it again...but it takes so much darn work to get it done!
  • Don’t be afraid to fail ... failing is part of the journey (even if the mega-church people never seem to say that!).

4. One More Significant Story to Share…

  • At FBC Edmonton, we changed our vision statement because of this project!
  • It’s now three-fold: Listening to God’s Heart, Moved by the GodStory, Seeking the Peace and Well-being of the City.
  • The “Moved by the Story” piece was inspired by this project. Congregants are to look at their lives in light of the GodStory. For example: “Where is God?” “How is God at work?” “How am I joining God’s restoring work as God makes all things new?”

We’re encouraging our congregants to move through their lives as a people who think biblically and reflect on life biblically. Another way to put it is:

  • “How will my life be animated by the GodStory?”
  • If God is always tipping the scales towards grace in the GodStory, how can I be gracious?
  • If God so loves the world, how can I not be a lover?
  • If sin = chaos, then how can I join God in God’s work to bind up chaos with acts of love, mercy and forgiveness?
  • If the Bible is a storybook versus a rulebook, how can I be a person who desires to be a “people keeper” versus a “rule keeper”?
  • If the Bible is a living story that breathes life, how can I bring life and resurrection to the places where I am sent week after week?