79. Already Preached on the Five Practices?

Among the frequently asked questions I receive about the new resource, Focus on the Five Practices: A Congregation-Wide Initiative are, “What if we already had a sermon series on the Five Practices?” and “What if our congregation has already used Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations for a book study or leadership training?”  Are the new materials helpful if we’ve already done these things?

Remember that the goal of presenting the Five Practices is to develop a unifying common language that stimulates action toward greater fruitfulness, to experience a shift in culture and attitude from maintenance to mission, from “What’s in it for me?” to “How can I help?”   The purpose is to reinvigorate the congregation with a sense of purpose and connection to God and the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Through focusing on the Five Practices, people grow in their understanding of the “why” of church life, increasing their motivation and passion for ministry. 

These are practices.  They are not a program or package or one-time “how-to” quick fix.   Just as we watch major league baseball players repeat, improve, and deepen the same essential tasks of batting, catching, and running as we see little leaguers do, so also a congregation at every stage and size becomes more fruitful by repeating and deepening and improving the practices.  No pro baseball player says, “I don’t practice batting anymore…I’ve got that down!”  No congregation can say, “We’re already done Risk-taking Mission and Service so we’re beyond that now!”

So, what if our congregation has already used Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations for a book study or leadership training?

Great! This means that your leadership or some part of the congregation is already acquainted with the power of these practices to stimulate greater excellence and fruitfulness. However, the full effectiveness of these practices to shape congregational culture is limited when only the church staff or leaders or one small group are familiar with the concepts. The Focus on the Five Practices initiative moves the language deeper into the awareness and practice of the congregation, beyond the leaders to the volunteers and teachers and into the daily lives of members and guests. If you have already studied Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, you are one step ahead.  Establish the teams, organize the congregation-wide initiative, preach the sermon series, use the videos, and distribute the daily devotional book, Cultivating Fruitfulness, and the whole church will come alive with a renewed and unifying sense of purpose.

What if we have already had a sermon series on the Five Practices?

Hundreds of pastors have already preached sermons on the Five Practices, and this should not limit a congregation from participating in a more in-depth, congregation-wide consideration of the practices. Because of the infinitely possible examples, stories, scriptural foundations, and personal applications of the Five Practices, the pastor could develop another series on the Five Practices with new sermon material. In fact, the new Leader Manual includes sample sermons and DVD videos that can help stimulate new ideas.  Or the pastor may wish to slightly alter the focus to add new depth to what she or he previously preached. For instance, instead of a sermon entitled “Radical Hospitality,” the pastor could develop a sermon on “Radical Hospitality and the Fruitful Christian Life” to make the topic more focused on personal discipleship, or “Radical Hospitality and Engaging the Stranger” to give a greater focus to our social witness of reaching the poor. The possibilities are unlimited. Or the congregation may wish to invite laypersons, guest speakers, or youth to lead the sermon series.  

When I served as pastor, our church staff made it an annual habit to use a few weeks in late August and early September to preach a sermon series that reviewed and renewed the basic understandings and expectations of church membership and Christian discipleship and to focus on our mission as a congregation. We chose this time for the series because late August and early September was when people returned from summer vacations, new fall programs and classes began, attendance increased after the summer slump, and new people visited as school started. We varied the titles somewhat, but each year we would repeat the basic commitments and common understandings of our mission. Other churches do something similar in January, and some would do it in preparation each year for their stewardship emphasis.  If I were serving a congregation now, I’d make some sort of review of the five practices a regular feature of the annual schedule.  The more deeply the language of Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity are embedded in the hearts and minds of our members and friends, the more alive and responsive our churches will become in our mission.

Yours in Christ,
rs