Window One: A Specific Hunger
His neck tattoos were spectacular. I had seen him in our worship services for a few weeks but not yet had the chance to meet Tim when we ran into each other one morning in Berkeley. He explained he was a graduate student newly back to school after a number of years as a touring musician. He said he had shelved a lot of life’s big questions while on the road, but now he was dusting them off and thinking about them again. Among Tim’s big questions were issues of faith.
“I am checking out churches and wondering about something. I go to some churches and I hear a lot about Jesus but very little about the world. I go to other churches and I hear a lot about the world but little about Jesus. I’ve been going to your church lately because I hear a lot about Jesus and a lot about the world. But here’s my question. It’s easy to find people in Berkeley like me. We are a dime a dozen. What I want to know is this: if I hang out at your church, will I meet people that are like Jesus?”
Now there was a question to start the day.
Tim was hungry for spiritual reality. He suspected that the real thing would be measured by lives that imitated and portrayed the Jesus we claimed to follow. He was paying close attention to what we said and what he wanted was to meet people who lived and loved like Jesus in the world. For just a moment, I looked into his eyes for any sign this was the question of a cynic or of an accuser. What I saw instead, early one morning in the middle of Berkeley, were bright and honest eyes just atop orange and red flaming tattoos, asking a clear, serious, and unguardedly earnest question: does following Jesus show?
Expecting to Know the Mind of God through Preaching the Bible
by William Pannell
When we were children, we learned to sing choruses in Sunday school. “Jesus Loves Me” became a standard in our repertoire, and “The B-I-B-L-E” was another—with its concluding phrase, “I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.” Only later did we learn that this sentiment, or determination of commitment, was also an adult concern, a corporate commitment, and a badge of a certain kind of orthodoxy. . . .
Certainly Jesus expected it would. Hiding the light was precisely not his plan. “Let your light so shine” that other lives might shine was his theme. This had always been the anticipation and expectation of the God of Israel. The Torah was the way for God’s people to walk. By extension, this was the vision Jesus passed to his disciples who were to take up their cross and follow him in acts of unexpected love. Christians were people of the Way.
To be people of the Way is to be people who walk in wisdom. Tim was right to ask if this showed up in ordinary, visible actions.
Window Two: A Global Cry
We are in a crossroads period, a time of almost unparalleled personal and global turbulence. Nations, institutions, and habits are undergoing extraordinary redefinition and realignment. Personal expectations are imploding under the weight of economic loss and confusion. Religions are prominently on the horizon but often seen in collision with one another, adding confusion and disappointment to the scene. Where are we going? Where should we go?
We are seeking to understand a way forward, but it’s not simple. It is not so much insight that people seek as it is a broad convergence right now of people everywhere crying, to whomever might be listening, “Fix it!” In this time of turmoil, people want action that makes things better. War, economic upheaval, random violence, human trafficking, unemployment, terrorism, failed nations, emerging nations, disappointing rescues, cultural polarization, global warming, HIV/AIDS, pervasive fear—all these move from backdrop to forefront, again and again, with disappointing hope. These ominous and recurrent sirens distress and discourage us. We want them to stop. We long not so much for ideas per se as for action that relieves and renews. We want someone to do something that actually changes things!
Many who long for a fix for our macro and micro issues know this: the fix must be real, it must be transformative, and it must fit the need. No fantasy or idealism will do. No shuffling of words without action. No generic, globalized response.
In biblical terms, this is a cry for wisdom. Of course, that is not what most would say or recognize as their hunger. Even many in the Church wouldn’t see or put it that way because we too think what we need is something more pragmatic and realpolitik than we expect wisdom to be.
Performance and Truth in Preaching
by Marguerite Shuster
Making an argument for the legitimate importance of the performance aspect of preaching involves taking account of the sort of thing “preaching” is and the sort of truth it purports to convey. No one seriously denies that preaching is fundamentally an oral activity. . . .
Biblical wisdom, however, is not sage, religious advice that leaves action as an option for overachievers. Biblical wisdom is character in action in the face of life’s most real needs; no action, no wisdom. God’s wisdom is not a pathway of escape but a road of faithful engagement. Wisdom is not an insider-tip for the spiritually privileged. God’s wisdom breaks passivity and leads to action, or the house is built on sand even if we profess it is built on rock. This mix of understanding, action, and context is the blend God gives us in Jesus Christ and asks us to follow. Instincts for action are justifiable and valid, theologically as well as socially, not least if we are people of the incarnation, cross, and resurrection.
Of course, those who cry for solutions and change don’t necessarily recognize any relevance between what they seek and what the Good News offers. But the same is true for many inside the Church. The prevalent separation between form and content, between words and actions, between voice and touch is rife, in and outside the church. Biblical wisdom does not hide in private. “Wisdom cries out in the street, in the squares she raises her voice” (Proverbs 1:20).
Window Three: A Confusing Search
Many speculate what church will mean and be as we move further and further into the twenty-first century. Of course, the New Atheists would argue that the Christian enterprise should simply shut down and cease its deceptive story. Whether there is much that is new in their arguments is moot, but their voices are prominent for some and may typify aspects of a cultural mood that is both religious and religiously disaffected all at once.
Some congregations are determined to hold on to the truth of the gospel but to do everything possible to avoid identification with anything like Christendom, with all its problematical associations and habits. Such fellowships are sometimes house-churches that seek to stay under the radar and to avoid any institutional identity. Their energy is to be Church not to go to church. They want to be communities of love in action in the name of Christ. They know their ministries must be real, transformative, and contextual.
Mainline Protestant denominations continue to decline and divide, even if some of these congregations thrive and grow. Even where things are going well, there is more and more a feeling in mainline churches that they are participating in the vestiges of an institution that is meaningful, but in ways that are more like a comfortable old sweater than a useful search engine. At least some of the missional conversation is driving congregations to ask why they exist and what they are to be about. Whether those questions will instigate transformation is unclear.
The Ministry of Lloyd John Ogilvie
Dr. Ogilvie served for over 45 years in the pastorate (28 years as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood); led a national radio and television ministry for over a decade; was Chaplain of the US Senate for 8 years; and is speaker, writer, and resource consultant. Prayer, Dr. Ogilvie says, is paramount for the preacher: “Any pastor who preaches with boldness and leads with courage will have both affirmers and detractors. Most every congregation has people who cheer and some who jeer. It comes with the territory. But the only way to survive is to receive a constant flow of strength because of the intercession of the prayer warriors in the congregation.”
For more, visit www.ogilvieinstitute.org.
Pop-churches—congregations whose pastor or ministries or both are large, renowned, and accessible 24/7 via the Internet—retain a certain draw and fascinating charisma. In their desire to be culturally relevant, however, there is an implicit shelf-life to their messaging. What is offered can seem more and more akin to a religious extension of our mortgage problems: defaulting on promises seems possible now in ways that didn’t show even five years ago.
Many congregations, old and new, have a sense that they are involved in making-it-up-as-you-go church. Many pastors and church leaders feel pressed upon internally or externally to approach leadership with an almost exclusive problem-solving mentality, trying to figure out the right model of the moment, the technique du jour. At the same time, there is a pervasive weariness about chasing the winds of church growth, or at least survival. Building better mouse-traps isn’t what most churches discern to be their call, but it can feel like the challenge they need to take up in order to stay in business.
Window Four: A Pastoral Necessity
Every day as a pastor I knew I needed one thing most. In twenty-eight years, the pastoral issues morphed. The Christmases, the Easters, the Pentecosts revolved. The debates, the decisions, the delays came and went. The individual and the global needs, endless. Yet, day-by-day, however varied or similar, what I would say I needed most was always the same: wisdom.
I mean by this that I needed an understanding of God’s vision in action that would make a Kingdom difference in peoples’ lives. God’s wisdom, of course, is not just theological insight. To talk about needing wisdom is not to talk about how to live as an arm-chair philosopher, nor about how to climb Olympus on Thursday in order to deliver wisdom on Sunday. Wisdom is not necessarily about more information, even more biblical information.
As a pastor, now professor, I can easily recall the need for wisdom in pastoral conversations where someone’s capacities for life’s challenges ran thin or where decisions were being made. At many a hospital bedside, especially when the diagnosis was threatening, it is wisdom we seek. It happens too in financial discussions, prayer gatherings, personnel meetings. It occurs when walking down the street and being overwhelmed (again) by the complexities of peoples’ lives. It happens when trying to get beyond the devouring smallness that church-life can become. It lies behind the longing to rescue the gospel from the church for the sake of the world. It also comes in those moments, just after the prayer, when I am silently absorbed in the faces of those waiting to hear the Word of God proclaimed.
Key Principles of Preaching
by Clayton Schmit
Five key principles relate the task of preaching to the mission of the church and the missional character of worship: first, preaching is textual. Preaching is biblical and derived from careful and prayerful consideration of scriptural text(s). . . .
If those of us as pastors have any measure of our own limitations as we stand before the limitlessness of our congregation’s and world’s needs, not least representing and speaking up for the Savior of the world, we know how much we need a wise hope. Specifically, we hope for the possibility of God’s wisdom shaping what we say and do, and what the people hear and do. Otherwise, we know what we offer may be just more words, more verbiage that disguises the absence of wisdom, more distraction from illumination, more of a rationalization against than a rationale for the courage of faith. Of course, God’s wisdom will almost always complicate things by intensifying our life’s meaning and enlarging our vocation. If God does speak and is heard, life will be more like it was intended to be. And that, almost surely, won’t make life easier, especially if God’s grace is clear.
Each of these four windows exposes need. Wisdom may or may not be the name used to describe what is sought, but the questions, the instincts are for something that is real, active, contextual. Here are some guiding assumptions:
- Wisdom is God’s truth and character lived in context. Wisdom is all this. Jesus is God’s wisdom. That’s who and what wisdom looks like.
- Our world needs wise disciples who form wise communities who live wisely in the world. That is, in all the local and global dimensions of life and society, our world needs disciples who show up in every aspect and place of life and ministry not with a fix-it mentality but with the humble and courageous vocation to listen, to see, to engage, to act, and to love.
- Wise preachers can help form wise disciples. So wisdom is needed by the preacher because wisdom is needed everywhere those who hear the preacher are going to live, work, travel, play, and serve.
Wisdom means living the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural life of Jesus in the midst of all the lives, relationships, and places God loves. To name wisdom this way places it in real time and does so with life-altering implications. It means the Church doesn’t just celebrate the Good News of eternal salvation but the Good News that the same God who died for the world’s redemption also showed what life-giving love means on ordinary days, in places of comfort and of desperation.
When Christians affirm that wisdom is who God is and how God acts, we affirm that wisdom is what makes, explains, and redeems the world. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him should not die but should have eternal life” is not a mere religious claim but a reality claim. To stake your trust on this affirmation means living wisely, i.e., living in ways that correspond with reality. Or, if “God is love,” then to love is to embody reality. Talk of love may be true, but actually loving is wise: God’s truth and character lived.
Wise Preachers, Sound Wise
by Carolyn Gordon
As preachers of the gospel, we must realize that at all times, we carry with us the one instrument that helps us effectively live out our clarion call: our voices. Sound wise, the voice as an instrument can do amazingly incredible things. It can produce high and low pitches with electrifying, symphonic rifts . . .
When Jesus names, touches, and heals the leper, Jesus enacts wisdom that does not look and walk away. That can often be more wisdom and more reality than we want. The “insight” qualities of any claim to wisdom are only as valuable as their correspondence to reality. Brilliance can easily and frequently lack wisdom if it fails to grasp and live into reality. It’s what causes Jesus to say that we must become like a child. It’s the wisdom of life in the Kingdom of God.
In biblical terms, wisdom leads people to acts of courage in places of need. Wisdom moves into a neighborhood school and serves with humility. Wisdom does business with honesty and humility even when it loses you clients. Wisdom pursues the rescue of victims of sex-trafficking, even when it is slow, invisible, and dangerous. Wisdom seeks the shalom of your city or town, especially with your enemies. Wisdom gives money away with joy. Wisdom confesses and lives out of weakness.
It must quickly be admitted though that when wisdom is named this way, it is not wisdom then that we seek really. In our pragmatic culture, we would fix what we call wise because it (at least temporarily) reduces pain. We may put our trust in Christ, and say we seek wisdom, but if that means embracing the road of following Jesus with our whole lives, the church more often decides to offer a program instead. We can do that, of course, but it is not the salvation of the world.
A Continuation and a Beginning
These are some of the observations and assumptions that were of concern when Fuller Seminary was founded sixty years ago. Pursuit of God’s wisdom was key to my own experience as an MDiv student here at a time when Fuller was under attack from many quadrants, not least those who accused it of taking the path of folly in its understanding of the Bible’s authority, in its affirmations of women in leadership, in its pursuit of integration between psychology and theology, and in its engagement with culture. Those same commitments have continued and extended to people and places all around the world, changing while also responding to changes decade by decade.
The Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching
The Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching is catalyzing a movement of wise preachers by providing a vast array of resources, helping, as [former] director Mark Labberton puts it, “to connect God’s voice with God’s touch in the world.” Its goal is to empower preachers who seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and to encourage preaching that creates congregations who connect the voice and touch of Jesus Christ in the world.
For more, see www.ogilvieinstitute.org.
I was confident that coming to Fuller to lead the Ogilvie Institute of Preaching was a creative, entrepreneurial step to see how the resources of Fuller and beyond could be marshaled to affect the cause and practice of preaching in this generation. God’s wisdom and power must be at the core of this effort. How do we come to grasp and be grasped by the truth and character of God so that our lives are an enactment of God’s life in the world, expressed and embodied in all the varying contexts around us? Only if we are seeking to address these issues does it seem we will be doing something that actually matters for the preacher, and, even more importantly, for the Church and for the world to which the Church is sent as light and salt.
When worship, preaching, and justice converge, when the voice and touch of the preacher and of God’s people say the same things, when what we say and what we do more nearly bears the marks of Jesus, then God’s wisdom and power are present.
This is why the vision of the institute—and my own vision as well—is to proclaim Jesus Christ, and to catalyze a movement of empowered, wise preachers who seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, leading others to join God’s mission in the world.
This article was published in Theology, News & Notes, Spring 2011, “Empowering Wise Preachers: For a Vigorous Church in a Volatile World.”