Update filed in July 2014 by Shelley Cunningham
The Text Message (a devotional piece written by the preaching pastor that gives the text, some context, a brief reflection, and questions for discussion) remains the cornerstone of our congregation’s devotional life – though, like many new things that often receive a big push and then settle into the background, it would behoove us to find ways to keep it at the front of the congregation’s consciousness.
Our 40-Day spiritual adventures have continued to breathe life into the congregation, and pushed our pastoral team to use great biblical imagination. The six weeks that we have followed those adventures – which have lead us through the books of Acts, Ephesians, Ecclesiastes, Genesis, and Revelation – have by far been the most energetic and cohesive of the whole year. It’s a reminder that the sermon alone only goes so far in building faith – but when combined with dynamic worship, devotions, small group conversation and service projects, amazing things can happen.
The biggest change at Zumbro has come with the creation of a non-traditional Wednesday night worship service. We are trying hard to make the preaching event more experiential and engaging. It’s been a toss-up in terms of measuring success.
There’s been a much smaller crowd in the summer, but that group tends to be more willing to try out whatever is thrown at them -- moving around, dialogical preaching, small-group reflection. Sermons on those days always feel like a shared journey, and something that creates a stronger community.
During the school year, Wednesday worship has included many of our confirmation students (and some of their families, a welcome and hoped-for addition). They bring their own energy to worship. We’ve found kids to be much more engaged by video – whereas often, adults are checking out during video presentations. And although we have finally added a screen to our sanctuary for Wednesday night services, we don’t have added staff or technical expertise to really make the most of it. The conclusion of our pastoral team seems to be that we’ll make use of the screen during the sermon if it really adds value to the message, but that’s still the exception rather than the rule.
This project has been extremely helpful in encouraging us to take risks as preachers. Now that our team is four years into our calls, there is more trust by the congregation, and more freedom to try new things. It has been fun to experiment with biblical storytelling, story stitching (interweaving Biblical texts to present familiar parables in a new way), two-preacher dialogue sermons, panel conversations with members of the congregation, and more. If nothing else, it reminds us as preachers the presentation of God’s word can and should be as creative and engaging as the author of that word is.