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Students at commencement

Biblical Preaching

Luther Place Memorial Church

Location: Washington, D.C.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Size: 170 average Sunday attendance

Download Luther Place Memorial's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context
We are a downtown church in a major city. We are a metropolitan congregation with people coming from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. Our neighborhood is in a process of gentrification. The congregation is in a discernment process around vision and is creating a strategic missional plan.
Pre-existing practices

1. Listening to What the Holy Spirit is Rising among Us

We are a congregation whose Pastors are engaged in prayer and listening on a regular basis. We started doing this particular around the process of our Vision Coalition which has used the Dave Daubert book, Renewing Your Congregation.

This listening comes mainly through the rostered leaders and emerges through regular reflection and conversation about what God is doing. It also involves linking or connecting this emerging sense of what God is doing back to the Sunday lectionary texts and sermons.

2. Experiential and Participatory

We have been aware of trying to connect people to the biblical story as well as the events of the world. So for example, one of our congregation members who is a former member of the military lifted up to us that New Year's Day we mark the official end of the war in Iraq. He said his boots still had dust form Iraq on them, so we asked to use the boots in worship as part of the sermon. Another practice has been to write things down and hold or share them. This writing is either on a paper or a smart phone as a text.
Discoveries from listening process

1. Biblical Literacy

The congregation is not that familiar with the bible in terms of being able to connect a Sunday scripture with their lives thru the week. People do not remember the scriptures; however, people find that through experiential acts like singing, or texting or taking off their shoes, there is a hook that is memorable. This matters because God is present in people's daily lives, and if the sermon is not giving tools to make connection, there is lost value to one's discipleship journey.

2. Engagement Varies

Whether it's in offering an Amen as in call and response, or in using technology in a sermon -- engagement is a mixed bag. It is welcome for some and tough for others. Some people do not like anything new, and some are seeking the new. This matters because this range of preference and openness makes it difficult for a preacher speaking to the wide range of people who gather in the pews. It also makes a wide variety in the level of openness with diverse folks.

3. Individualistic Assessments

There is not a communal sense of the word across the variety of people in the pews. This seems to mean that an individual wants to be fed, but may be unaware that what does not feed me may feed another member of the congregation. This is especially important as the congregation seeks to grow in its diversity.

Opportunities for growth

1. Daily Life Connection  

How does preaching become relevant to people's daily lives on a more constant basis?

2. Sermon Crafting

How do we engage people with the sermon prior to the preaching of it, while preaching it and post preaching?

3. The Vision Thing

How can preaching play a role in being part of a congregations' moving towards living out God's vision for the congregation?

Experiments undertaken

1. Sermon Roundtable Group

This group of people gathers monthly to talk face-to-face about sermon topics and engagement (what could participation look like?) before the sermon is created. The clergy facilitates this discussion. And, the clergy will train these leaders to also hold 3-4 sermon feedback sessions after worship throughout the year. This is getting the sermon prep process out of the clergy's head alone and sharing with interested lay persons. We will hope that the feedback sessions will give us information about engagement from across the congregation. In part fruit will be the level of participation in feedback. This is about opening of the sermon process to lay persons, introducing both the intentional and concrete steps of sermon prep along with the prayer filled mystery!

2. Sermon Series -- A Community Bound Together in our Diversity

A set of sermon series that are directed at just one segment of the congregation exploring specific daily life experiences -- i.e., raising Christian children, facing issues of aging, discipleship and work life. Why? We want to try and deepen connection with the different questions that diverse groups have within one congregation, and to find out how we build intergenerational Christian community through preaching. This will take the liberty of moving out of the lectionary, so planning should be done in advance for the other parts of worship ministry like the musicians.

3. Vision 2017

Sermon Series in the month of September, using the preaching to link with our congregational discernment process around Vision and the proposed vision statement and strategic missional plan. We are trying to find out how God is lining us to God's vision and in turn both educating and engaging the congregation in the emerging 2017 Vision. We will know if this bears fruit if our fall congregational meeting has the congregation voting a big YES, to the proposed vision. We will be talking about the proposed vision in multiple places, and the pulpit has to be one of those places. This means the preachers and the Vision Coalition have to be in sync on what God is doing in, with and through the congregation!
Discoveries from experiments (July 2014)

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.

Conclusions

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.

Video: Engaging community in week leading up to sermon