If you’ve ever visited Cleveland, Ohio then you have likely driven past a sign which reads Cleveland Clinic. Consisting of 41 buildings on 140 acres of land, it is safe to say they are a major entrepreneurial enterprise and greatly impact the economic stability of the area. As a native of Cleveland, I am proud to say they hold the title as the fourth best hospital in the country.
Over the years I have had to make several trips to one of the campuses to visit and support friends, family and church members. In addition to their overall hospital rating, they strive to be a five star institution in their customer service. If customer service is about providing individuals with the best and most positive experience while receiving a service, then I would reason that all of life is about customer service.
When you arrive to a Cleveland Clinic location you are greeted by people in red jackets and smiling faces. They take the time to look up from their task and acknowledge your presence. They are there to point you in the right direction to find your loved one or get you to your appointment on time. They will walk with you or do what is needed to make your visit as pleasant as possible given your circumstances.
Sometimes it is the friendly smile, sometimes it’s a Kleenex to wipe your tears and other times it is bringing you a cup of coffee after you’ve sat in the same chair waiting for the surgical update. Now while these may not sound like major things I can recount several encounters at restaurants, hotels and stores where the customer service was less than what I had hoped for.
Considering that entrepreneurs strive to be the best at what they offer, I pause and think about what it would mean if our churches and its leaders strived for the same mark. As one who seeks to lead a congregation I think about what “customer service” should look like. Rather than letting first time visitors wander around aimlessly looking for restrooms or the sanctuary, what if we had greeters who actually lived up to their name and title? Instead of being an exclusive and elitist country club, what if we took time to learn what people are really “shopping” for instead of offering a one size fits all gospel. In striving to be a five star church we can no longer be keepers of the status quo but must remember the same Jesus who cleared the temple of its unclean practices.
While turning to my call as a gospel preacher I also strive for five stars. Five stars doesn’t mean preaching for a certain length of time, the audio response of the hearers or if people joined the church that particular day.
I remember a line from my AOP sermon this year, “I’m looking for preachers who will do the hard work of finding the good news, and not for ones who are interested in making people shout based on clichés and emotions”. Five star preaching demands a response from hearers, but it is the transformation of their lives and their walk with their Savior.
I am crazy enough to believe that although the church is made up of imperfect people we can still earn five star ratings. Certainly if the world and its institutions can do it, we can as well.
“Do not dare not to dare.” C. S. Lewis
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” -Helen Keller
“Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, ‘I'm with you kid. Let's go!’” -Maya Angelou
On August 19, 2010 I situated myself in a Honda Civic with three other women as we began a road trip across the United States. Our final destination was Anderson, IN. What was our purpose? To move my friend and me into our apartment to begin our studies at Anderson University School of Theology, the Seminary of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) Movement.
I was born and raised in the Portland metro region. Leaving God’s green, coastal-lined, mountain range protected, river-filled and tranquil land was unfathomable, terrifying and seemed insane. It was also what I was called to do to further my education and become a better equipped preacher, teacher and minister of the Gospel. Making the decision to move from everything and everyone I knew was challenging to say the least, yet never before had I experienced as much peace.
Living in Indiana the past three years has been a blessing. God has provided for more than what I needed or wanted through community at the seminary, congregational life, finances, housing, networking and personal spiritual growth that would not have occurred if I ignored the opportunity for this adventure.
I believe that God calls us as preachers to be entrepreneurs; that is, God calls us to join God on an adventure of a lifetime, to seek adventure, never knowing where our call or our sermons may lead us, who we may meet, and how we will be stretched. Entrepreneurs are individuals who could make an obvious, comfortable decision in life, but instead lean into the discomfort of the unknown and embrace adventure wholeheartedly, so that others may be inspired to accompany God on life’s journey. Entrepreneurs proclaim a message from the Lord that may be uncomfortable to hear. We are willing to befriend those who are ignored by society, set aside time to be present and meet the needs of others. Entrepreneurs are individuals who do not listen to the discouraging voices that tell us what we cannot do; rather we listen to the encouraging voices telling us what we are capable of doing to proclaim the Gospel message.
As followers of Christ, we can be entrepreneurs with faith believing that it is God who will strengthen, guide, provide and comfort us in the times of uncertainty. There is no need to fear when we are on an adventure with God.
As I look at scripture, I have a challenging time finding examples of individuals who did not seek or walk with God on an adventure. I look at numerous stories including those of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Ruth, Deborah, Paul, the disciples, and God in human flesh, Christ. It is because of these entrepreneurs who went on adventures before us that we are encouraged, refreshed, and given hope to persevere. Centuries have passed and yet their faithfulness to God inspires us to be modern-day entrepreneurs, passing on the stories of God’s faithfulness to future generations.
Three years ago I left Oregon on an adventure for Indiana. Two months from now, I will graduate with my Master of Divinity degree as a changed individual with new relationships, a greater perspective, an increased faith in God, an increased love for people, and the yearning to go on my next adventure in ministry.
Although we do not know what tomorrow may bring or what adventure God will take us on next, as ministers and preachers, we can say “Yes” to God throughout our lives on this earth. We are entrepreneurs who can trust in God’s companionship on every step of the journey as we proclaim the message of the Gospel to a world in need.
Though I have never been a huge sports fan, I have always enjoyed supporting my high school sports teams, even since I have graduated. During spring break, my high school’s boys’ basketball team played in the sectional championship game against a local rival team. Unfortunately, our team lost, but one thing sticks out greater than the loss itself… the cheer section. Whether it was the wave, roller coaster, or a rendition of the Harlem Shake, the cheer section had so much energy and was there to encourage the team even when they weren’t doing so well.
As preachers, we may wish that a cheer section would randomly appear as we are preparing for our next sermon so that we feel encouraged to write down what we feel the Holy Spirit has led us to preach. During delivery of that same sermon, we often rely on those in the congregation to give us nonverbal or verbal cues during the sermon so that we can be encouraged and know that everyone is paying attention. Many times we also frequently rely on the encouragement and advice of our advisor as we head into a different season of our lives.
One great source of encouragement for me as a young preacher has been the network of fellow young preachers that I have connected with through both National Festivals I have attended in the past two years. This network of people provides an instant connection with people who have gone through similar experiences that I may be going through. It also allows one the opportunity to encourage preachers that they would have never met if it weren’t for the National Festival of Young Preachers.
How have these networks been established? Beyond intentional conversation, a great source of networking in my experience was the preaching circles. Preaching circles are one of the most unique features of the National Festival of Young Preachers. Young preachers who have never met people their age with the same call to preach are astounded by stories they hear and the encouragement they receive from this group. My most recent preaching circle experience is one that I can vividly remember. It still encourages me today and gives me hope for my future in ministry. Molly Shoulta, Alejandra Herreras, Corey Holmes, Dane Jones, Mitchell Monroe, Robert Woods, and Kathryn Garelli, along with our leader, Charmaine Webster, made up one of the most inspiring groups of people I have met thus far. We lifted each other up in prayer, we were a presence during each other’s preaching sessions, we encouraged each other after each of us preached, and we took the time to become acquainted.
This group reminded me of all the people that the Holy Spirit has used to encourage me in my call to Gospel preaching – my family, close friends, church family at Pfrimmer’s Chapel and the United Methodist Church, and the staff and faculty at University of Evansville. Without this “cheer section” of encouragers, I may have honestly jumped off the preaching boat long ago. I can now add the Academy of Preachers to this list of inspiring encouragers in my life. God has used the National Festival of Young Preachers to rejuvenate me and realign my focus to what I am called to do through all the incredible people that attend the event.
I challenge you to find young preachers that have potential and give them the encouragement they need to become confident in what God has called them to do. Begin encouraging others that have not experienced a flood of encouragement to attend the National Festival of Young Preachers in Indianapolis! Connect them with a “cheer section” of people they can relate to and an event that is sure to give them encouragement for their future in ministry. Allow God to use you in this way!
“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NRSV)
It’s been over a month since we all gathered in Atlanta, and I have to confess that I’m having a hard time reflecting on my experiences at that grace-filled gathering. At first, I thought the haze of time was keeping my thoughts from cohering into anything resembling an article. Or else it was surely the bustle of a new semester – new class, new professors, new obligations – that prevented my sitting down with my thoughts. But I think the reason I have been unable to reflect on the 2013 National Festival of Young Preachers runs deeper than any of these cursory reasons.
Largely, I think I have been unable to really reflect on this past festival for issues of geography. Allow me to explain. I moved to Atlanta in July, and unlike a number of “Atlantans,” I have an actual Atlanta address and I’m developing an abiding love for the things that happen inside the I-285 perimeter. The neighborhoods, parishes, restaurants, thrift stores, pubs, community centers, and coffee shops of Intown, Downtown, and Midtown mean more to me than they ever did when I was a suburbanite who only ventured into the big city for shows at the Fox or a Falcons game. Atlanta is rapidly becoming my city.
I know I’m not the only person in the world who loves this city, nor was I the only one at the Festival who loves this city, but I have a confession to make: I don’t think Buckhead is really a part of this city. Historically, the neighborhood was always a vacation spot for wealthy Atlantans. The few black areas that managed to spring up were razed in the 1940s. Nowadays, Buckhead is America’s ninth-wealthiest zip-code and houses the priciest real estate in the city, including the Georgia governor’s mansion. Its retail industry grosses over $1 billion annually – more than the GDP of a number of developing nations. Buckhead boasts not one but two Mobil 5-star restaurants. And its citizens are currently trying to secede from the city, ensuring that their tax revenue would continue to benefit only the wealthiest of Georgians.
And there we were, in the middle of all of it, living large in the Grand Hyatt and rubbing elbows with Tim Tebow (yup, he was staying with us while attending Passion). We preached from texts like Jeremiah 7, which proclaims that God will only dwell in Israel if Israel does not “oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” Or Isaiah 6, a declaration of “good news to the oppressed…liberty to the captives.” Or Luke 19, wherein Zacchaeus promises to sell half of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, and to pay back four-fold those he has defrauded. Or Nehemiah 2, the story of Nehemiah’s construction of the walls of Jerusalem for the common good of the whole city.
Proclaiming the theme of “Gospel in the City,” we came into the Atlanta neighborhood that perhaps least signifies this city. We held forth at length on topics like “doing justice in the city” and “dwelling in the city,” while doing neither of those things. When 130+ preachers come to the city, the city should be different when they leave, and the only net change should not be an increase in the profits of already wealthy innkeepers. The poor, the widows and orphans, the captive, the oppressed, these should be the recipients of our work.
Of course, the mission of the Academy of Preachers is not the working of justice. Its mission is to “identify, network, encourage, and support young preachers.” This organization is not a social service but a training ground, a kind of laboratory that facilitates good preaching in the people that I am often blessed to call my peers. And I believe in this mission. Otherwise, I wouldn’t invest nearly as much time with the Academy as I do.
But good preaching – the kind of preaching I believe the AoP is called to teach – must facilitate a good and just response. It is not enough to sit in a ballroom and loudly “amen!” a pointed critique of the systemic injustices of our society. It is not enough to whoop at the top of our lungs if we don’t cry for justice with equal measure. It is not enough to spend hours laboring over a rhetorically brilliant manuscript. We must labor for the kingdom in ways that realize the kingdom in the lives of those who live outside the boundaries of Buckhead.
I suppose I wouldn’t feel this way if the Festival hadn’t been in my city this year. I certainly didn’t feel this way after Louisville last year. But it is my city, and it is the city of millions of others, others who desperately need the kind of work that should be inspired (yes, even the lives of the preachers) by the words we were saying. Our actions – including the ways and the places we spend our money – should reflect the moves of our homilies.
Thus, as we reflect on our time in Atlanta and look forward to another (wonderful, inspiring) National Festival in Indianapolis, I have but one simple message: we have to practice what we preach.