In Praise of…. Quick evaluation

In my day job, I teach without ever getting to administer one test, quiz, or term paper.  I preach a thirty minute (okay, sometimes I go over) sermon, laying out a variety of insights from theology, biblical studies, archaeology, psychology, and sociology, and I have to rely on body language and vague comments at the door (“Good sermon, pastor”) to try to figure out if they “got it.”

While preaching is different than the academic classroom, there are a few tips of quick evaluation that are transferable.  Here are my three favorite:

1. Poll Everywhere – This is a simpler, quicker version of the classic, “Everyone take out a sheet of paper and answer this question…” version of the pop quiz, which is cumbersome and impractical in a church anywhere.  If your goal is to find out quickly if most of the students are tracking, using Poll Everywhere is unbeatable.  Concerned about not all students having a cell phone?  I would bet that more of them have a phone than a sheet of paper when they come to class.  (As an aside, Poll Everywhere is free for classrooms up to 30 students).

The downsides of this method of evaluation are that the nature of it is multiple choice, which may or may not be useful, and that it is anonymous, meaning you don’t know who is off the mark.

2. Graphic Representations of Concepts – This is a little more complex, but it helps to know if students understand the relationships between ideas, and develop hierarchal thinking.  In preaching, this works well while exegeting a specific text, with a hierarchy based on syntax.  In a classroom, it helps students to put concepts in context.

3. The Two Column Method – Another McKeachie special, the Two Column Method gives the students a chance to advocate for two competing positions, and helps them see the strength of the opposite position.  This reduces the shame experience of being told they are wrong in front of the course (or congregation), without creating the confusion of “everyone’s right.”

In praise of…. Personalized Course Goals

The beginning of the course creation process involved the selection of goals and learning objectives for our students.  Sounds simple enough. But what do you when you’ve come up with 14 potential goals for a semester-length class.  How do you choose just 5 or so of them? 

There might be a temptation at this point to choose goals that allow you to simply keep your head down.  Vague sounding, academically respectable, and dull – the sort of goals neither your department chair nor your students will even notice.  While this may be the more vocationally safe route, there is a way to write course goals that are compelling and meaningful.

Here are four questions I use to determine course goals:

1. What are students expected to be able to know when they come out of this course? Here’s a conversation I never want to hear: “How on earth did you take Bob Wriedt’s course on _________ and not learn ________?”

2. What are the students expected to be able to do when they come out of this course? This is especially important if this course is a prerequisite for future courses.  I want to cultivate students who are well-prepared for their next step in the process.

3. How does this course fit in with the general curriculum of the school? Is this the students’ writing requirement course?  I better get ready to grade a lot of papers.  Is this their humanities elective?  Their only Bible course?  Knowing these things will help me design the course accordingly.

4. What do I love? – This may sound selfish, but the simple reality is that students will learn best the things I am most excited about.  While not every course is my dream to teach, there are always ways to accent the course in ways that reflect my passions.  When I do this, I enjoy lecture more, and the students feed on that.

Of course, this can be manipulated.  Some professors ignore questions 1-3, only lecturing on what they want to.  That is neither inspiring or helpful for the students.

Finally, it is worth asking whether we are passionate about the right things.  Don Carson recently was speaking about the importance of maintaining enthusiasm in the gospel.

“If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel….Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.”  HT: CJ Mahaney

May our classes be enthusiastic about pointing students back to the cross.

In praise of…. Conclusions

I love the Southern California pier culture.  Walking to the end of the pier is a journey with a clear finish, a satisfying conclusion.  How many of my lectures can I say the same thing about?

How do you know when you’ve reached the end of the lecture?  Is it as simple as being out of time?  In the academic context, the default way of knowing when we’re “done” is when the students start packing up to leave.  But is this the best way to enhance learning?

There is an old adage in the field of homiletics: “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, and tell ’em what you told ’em.” It’s the third part of this equation that I want to highlight today.

Reframing the content from the day’s lecture in the final five minutes can help the students answer three key questions:

1. What did the professor expect me to learn today? Though repetition of key words and concepts, the student can understand what they should have learned that day.  This will not be a replacement of the lecture, but a brief diagnostic for the student.

2. What was today about? Sometimes even the most enthusiastic students lose the forest for the trees.  Having a clear period at the end of the lecture that keeps the main thing the main thing can clarify what this lecture was about.

3. What do I think about this? A good psychotherapist will have a brief, five minute emotional wind-down at the end of each session, giving the client an opportunity to emotionally “pack-up” before leaving.  While few of our courses are as emotional as a therapy session, giving students a few minutes to pack the ideas away before being dumped back into the cacophony of a college hallway will aid in their digestion of the idea we just presented.

Why is community necessary for ministry? (Sermon notes)

“Community is Necessary for Ministry”

Luke 1:39-45

Grace Community Church – 7/25/10

I. How does community enable ministry?

  1. Mary is given a tremendous, but difficult, ministry of becoming the mother of Jesus (v. 26-38)

Story order

– Angel greets Mary à Mary tries to reason through this paranormal event

– Angel promises the birth of Jesus à Mary is skeptical

– Angel answers her question by showing how God is working in Elizabeth à Mary is humbly recipient

Why did God use one set of relatives to be the mothers of both John the Baptist and Jesus?

–         I’m convinced it was for Mary’s benefit.

–         God, in his grace, allowed Mary to have a partner in this unique ministry she was going to undertake.  No one is going to understand or believe what you are going to go through Mary.  Not just the miraculous  conception, though that is certainly going to raise the eyebrows, but the knowledge that the son you raise is not a normal boy.  He’s set apart, holy, the son of God.  And even though Elizabeth’s situation is different, there are enough similarities that she will be uniquely able to relate to Mary and support her.

How are we benefitted from seeing God’s work in the lives of others?

  1. Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, and receives encouragement and strength (v. 39-45)

Is this really what God is doing? (A question we all ask, too)

Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and speaks into Mary’s life. (v. 41-45)

–         The fact that Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit is not to be overlooked: she is speaking God’s message to Mary.

–         This is interesting, right?  Mary has already received the same message from the angel (from the word angelos, lit. “messenger.”) but now God is speaking it to her again.  What do you think her response is going to be?  Before when God spoke to her through the angel, her response was a mixture of skeptism and mellow acceptance, right?

(But look at Mary’s response now…)

  1. After this encouragement from Elizabeth, Mary bursts forth in her bold song (v. 46-56)

It is only after the words of Elizabeth (rather than the words of the angel) that Mary bursts forth into her famous Magnificat, the song that astounds readers to this day because of her boldness, wisdom, and strength.

It is a person, an old lady who will soon be using both a walker and a stroller, is the one who causes the truth to click for Mary, rather than an impressive angel.

Why?  Is it just quantity of times hearing it?  It could be, though I think it’s more likely the fact that this was a real person in front of Mary who was experiencing just a bit in front of her the same unmistakable work of God in her life.

–         This is the best of Christian community.  When we are able to point to what God has done in our own life as an encouragement and challenge to those right behind us. 

(You might think of this as an overly idyllic picture, though.  I want us to get here, and I think it’s possible, but we’re going to have to look at some barriers, too.)

II. What are barriers to experiencing this sort of life-giving community?

  1. Self-pity (1 Corinthians 12:14-17)

v. 12-13 – Paul speaks of the real, which is also the ideal.

v. 15-17 – The members of the body that disenfranchised are engaged in bitterness, and it impairs their participation in the life of the body.  It alienates them.

– Self-pity can be extraordinarily tempting in the church.  “If I were that age (older or younger), if I were that personality, or that temperament, or had that wealth, etc., then they would like me, but they don’t, and they should.”

– And in the world, that’s true, some people are lynchipns, some aren’t, so we assume that the church is the same, and sulk when we don’t feel valued.

–         Look at the result in v. 17 – We rob the rest of the people with our bitterness, and break community.

  • Self-pity happens to be a specialty of mine.  In our family, and maybe in yours too, we’d say that one was throwing a “pity party,” and my mom would ask a playful, perceptive question: “Am I invited to the pity party?” I never really understood the question as a kid (I thought she was just being difficult, as mothers are prone to be to young boys), but I think I might now.  No one was invited to my pity party, because self-pity destroys community. Self-pity = self-focus.

Why is the gospel seen in how we respond to this barrier? (v. 18-20)

You could make a strictly worldly argument against self-pity:  others have it worse than you, self-pity is damaging to the relationships you have, and it doesn’t accomplish anything, etc.

–         But that’s not the case Paul makes in v. 18-20.  Instead, he focuses on what self-pity misrepresents about God.  God is the one who has brought the church together, not any of us.  Do you ever think about the reality that it is these people, these normal, human people, that God has chosen to sew you together into a single unit with?

–         So, what’s the antidote to self-pity?

Get rid of the self-focus

  1. b. Unresolved conflict (Matthew 18:15-18)

(I want to read you the most disobeyed verse I know of in the Bible: v. 15

  1. Notice what it doesn’t say: “If you sin against your brother…” It could, and that would be good advice, but it actually talks about what to do when you are the one who has been hurt.

(When you are hurt, who do you want to talk to?)

  1. Go and tell him his fault

–         I don’t want to tell him, he’s not going to tell me what I want to hear.

  1. Between you and him alone

–         This gets you out of the realm of the honor/shame.

Why is the gospel seen in how we respond to this barrier? (v. 21-35)

–         It is a wicked thing to be forgiven much and not forgive others.

Conclusion:

Systemic community

–         We can’t program Christian community, but we can help you take a step to put yourself in these relationships.

“Community is Necessary for Ministry”

Luke 1:39-45

Intro:

I. How does community enable ministry?

a. Mary is given a tremendous, but difficult, ministry of becoming the mother of Jesus (v. 26-38)

Story order

– Angel greets Mary à Mary tries to reason through this paranormal event

– Angel promises the birth of Jesus à Mary is skeptical

– Angel answers her question by showing how God is working in Elizabeth à Mary is humbly recipient

Why did God use one set of relatives to be the mothers of both John the Baptist and Jesus?

I’m convinced it was for Mary’s benefit.

God, in his grace, allowed Mary to have a partner in this unique ministry she was going to undertake.  No one is going to understand or believe what you are going to go through Mary.  Not just the miraculous  conception, though that is certainly going to raise the eyebrows, but the knowledge that the son you raise is not a normal boy.  He’s set apart, holy, the son of God.  And even though Elizabeth’s situation is different, there are enough similarities that she will be uniquely able to relate to Mary and support her.

How are we benefitted from seeing God’s work in the lives of others?

b. Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, and receives encouragement and strength (v. 39-45)

Is this really what God is doing? (A question we all ask, too)

Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and speaks into Mary’s life. (v. 41-45)

The fact that Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit is not to be overlooked: she is speaking God’s message to Mary.

This is interesting, right?  Mary has already received the same message from the angel (from the word angelos, lit. “messenger.”) but now God is speaking it to her again.  What do you think her response is going to be?  Before when God spoke to her through the angel, her response was a mixture of skeptism and mellow acceptance, right?

(But look at Mary’s response now…)

c. After this encouragement from Elizabeth, Mary bursts forth in her bold song (v. 46-56)

It is only after the words of Elizabeth (rather than the words of the angel) that Mary bursts forth into her famous Magnificat, the song that astounds readers to this day because of her boldness, wisdom, and strength.

It is a person, an old lady who will soon be using both a walker and a stroller, is the one who causes the truth to click for Mary, rather than an impressive angel.

Why?  Is it just quantity of times hearing it?  It could be, though I think it’s more likely the fact that this was a real person in front of Mary who was experiencing just a bit in front of her the same unmistakable work of God in her life.

This is the best of Christian community.  When we are able to point to what God has done in our own life as an encouragement and challenge to those right behind us.

(You might think of this as an overly idyllic picture, though.  I want us to get here, and I think it’s possible, but we’re going to have to look at some barriers, too.)

II. What are barriers to experiencing this sort of life-giving community?

a. Self-pity (1 Corinthians 12:14-17)

v. 12-13 – Paul speaks of the real, which is also the ideal.

v. 15-17 – The members of the body that disenfranchised are engaged in bitterness, and it impairs their participation in the life of the body.  It alienates them.

– Self-pity can be extraordinarily tempting in the church.  “If I were that age (older or younger), if I were that personality, or that temperament, or had that wealth, etc., then they would like me, but they don’t, and they should.”

– And in the world, that’s true, some people are lynchipns, some aren’t, so we assume that the church is the same, and sulk when we don’t feel valued.

Look at the result in v. 17 – We rob the rest of the people with our bitterness, and break community.

o Self-pity happens to be a specialty of mine.  In our family, and maybe in yours too, we’d say that one was throwing a “pity party,” and my mom would ask a playful, perceptive question: “Am I invited to the pity party?” I never really understood the question as a kid (I thought she was just being difficult, as mothers are prone to be to young boys), but I think I might now.  No one was invited to my pity party, because self-pity destroys community. Self-pity = self-focus.

Why is the gospel seen in how we respond to this barrier? (v. 18-20)

You could make a strictly worldly argument against self-pity:  others have it worse than you, self-pity is damaging to the relationships you have, and it doesn’t accomplish anything, etc.

But that’s not the case Paul makes in v. 18-20.  Instead, he focuses on what self-pity misrepresents about God.  God is the one who has brought the church together, not any of us.  Do you ever think about the reality that it is these people, these normal, human people, that God has chosen to sew you together into a single unit with?

So, what’s the antidote to self-pity?

Get rid of the self-focus

b. Unresolved conflict (Matthew 18:15-18)

(I want to read you the most disobeyed verse I know of in the Bible: v. 15

i. Notice what it doesn’t say: “If you sin against your brother…” It could, and that would be good advice, but it actually talks about what to do when you are the one who has been hurt.

(When you are hurt, who do you want to talk to?)

ii. Go and tell him his fault

I don’t want to tell him, he’s not going to tell me what I want to hear.

iii. Between you and him alone

This gets you out of the realm of the honor/shame.

Why is the gospel seen in how we respond to this barrier? (v. 21-35)

It is a wicked thing to be forgiven much and not forgive others.

Conclusion:

Systemic community

We can’t program Christian community, but we can help you take a step to put yourself in these relationships.

Why become a member of a local church?

I’m working on a new project at Grace (oh, secrecy, how fun), and spent a couple hours yesterday reading through membership applications from the past five years or so to find some people who might be good candidates to participate.  It was amazing to read the diversity of life experiences people had had before coming to Grace, and why they had chosen to stick.  Some of the people I knew well, and others less so.

Reading these applications gave me an increased understanding and affection for members of our church.  It also made me think of Hebrews 13:17, which says that the leaders of the church  “are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”  It’s a sobering verse, a reminder that success or failure at my job is based on much more than attendance or offerings.

What’s even more frightening (to me, at least) is that there a lot of people who would consider themselves a part of our church, and consider me to be one of their pastors, whom I have never met.  Am I accountable for people who come once a month?  Christmas and Easter?  It would help me a great deal if there was some clarity on how was (and was not) part of our church.  I don’t mean who is or is not a Christian, just who are the people that we are accountable to God for here at Grace Seal Beach.

Maybe “member” is a dumb name for that.  Okay.  We can call them “partners,” “owners,” “stakeholders,” “brothers and sisters,” or any other name.  (BTW, all those come from actual churches).  The important thing is the idea: I am a part of this church.  I am committed to them, they are committed to me, and we are going to pursue God together.  I am not here simply to consume religious services, but participate together in bringing God’s kingdom to Seal Beach.

That’s why I’m a member/partner/owner/stakeholder/brother at Grace.  I hope you are, too.

What is a Christian? (Sermon notes)

Last Sunday I gave the sermon at Grace @ Night as part of our Ephesians series.  I had to jump out of the baptism, change clothes, and jump up front, but I forgot to grab the jawbone mic we use to record the podcast, so I thought I’d at least post the notes.  Here they are, after the jump.

Continue reading “What is a Christian? (Sermon notes)”

What is sex?

I’m getting ready to a give a talk with the above title as part of the Bridge’s “Dating and Mating” series, and I came across this quote from Peter Kreeft:

“No animal falls in love, writes profound romantic poetry, or sees sex as a symbol of the ultimate meaning of life because no animal is made in the image of God.  Human sexuality is that image, and human sexuality is a foretaste of that self-giving…that is the heart of the life and joy of the Trinity.” (p75, The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life, by Dennis Hollinger)

I don’t buy that human sexuality (what is sometimes called gender) is the complete essence of the image of God, but I like Kreeft’s point.  More on Sunday at 11.

What are the best resources for developing small groups in a church?

Steve and I have been talking a lot lately about how to improve our small group structure at our church, so I grabbed a bunch of small group books off my shelf and from Biola’s library.

My Favorites, with notes on what I got out of them:

1. The Connecting Church, by Randy Frazee – Small groups are geographically based (to the point of a few block radius), and demographically diverse (children to the elderly, and everyone in between, are in the same group).  Small groups all meet on Sunday evening as a part of making room for life the rest of the week, and a reflection of a meaningful Sabbath.  Small groups are the epicenter of missional activity for their church, so each group is expected to serve locally and/or around the world together.

2. Creating Community, by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits – The manual on how North Point Church does small groups.  Since it’s North Point, things are very planned and strategic, which is both a plus and minus.

3. Connecting, by Larry Crabb – A Christian psychologist explains how people connect through small group environments (and what prevents that, as well).

Books I’m planning to read as part of our planning and study (and why):

1. Activate, by Nelson Searcy – Curious about the idea of a semester based small group system.

2. Making Small Groups Work, by Henry Cloud – I’ve really enjoyed what Cloud, Townsend, and Donahue did in their DVD series ReGroup on small groups.

3. The 7 Deadly Sins of Small Groups, by Bill Donahue – Willow Creek’s small group czar’s talk about what not to do.

4. The Big Book on Small Groups, by Jeffrey Arnold – Not sure why I’m so intrigued by this one, but I’m giving it a shot, too.

What books on developing our small group ministry would you recommend?