Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Preaching Changes

You may have noticed that my blog has been quiet of late.  For some reason (don't know why) I just have not posted the Monday Morning Church emails.  And Sermons have been absent.  Well I can explain the sermons more - I haven't been writing anything for them.

Of late I have been not using manuscripts at all for my preaching.  This has lead to a more natural conversation in our sermons that Bethlehem creates together as we reflect on the readings.  Therefore I don't quite feel right taking not just my thoughts but the congregations and posting their reflections on my blog on Sunday afternoon or Monday.

I did want to tell you about this past Sunday.  To me worship felt joyless - I just wasn't feeling it and I know I was grumbling throughout the later half of worship.  The sermon was on John 3:14-21 and I asked "Are you saved?" and "What does it mean to be saved?" And while the sermon overall went okay, I thought I wasn't truly able to express what I wanted to express (maybe if I had written a manuscript that could have been done better).  And for some reason I left worship in a bad mood.

But after worship one teenager posted John 3:16 (the full verse not just the "address") on his facebook wall.  And then on Sunday one member emailed me with some further thoughts and questions about the sermon including wondering if baptism, an act of salvation, therefore counts as salvation through works since it is a work that we do in order to receive salvation.  Then I emailed another member to answer a question he asked towards the end of the sermon that I did not have time to answer adequately so I left it hanging: "Do you have to believe in order to go to heaven?"  That lead to a great email exchange as well.

So here I was Sunday afternoon feeling horrible about how worship and my sermon went and by Monday afternoon I had done a 180 on that experience after having some follow through conversations.

I know conversational sermons are not for everyone.  Some people have expressed to me that they want to hear from me and not have a discussion.  And I'm trying to find that balance of allowing people to express their thoughts and opinions on the texts and topic without the conversation veering way off or my voice, as someone who has spent part of the week reading about and reflecting on these texts, getting lost.  However I do strongly believe that when given the chance to participate, people are more likely to internalize the sermon and related it to their everyday life so I want to honor that people have the need and longing to participate in their faith.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Searching For Feedback

For me the biggest downside of being primarily solo staff (for the most part I only see our music director on Sundays), is that I really enjoy and appreciate brainstorming and feedback and I feel like I don't get them as much as I should or I'm used to.  

At my internship and the year following when I worked as a youth minister, the music director and the Children's Ed director and I worked together really well and were able to come up with some wonderful ministry ideas through brainstorming and give each other honest feedback that was both critical and helpful.  And I really miss having a built in network for brainstorming ministry and receiving feedback.

I have found some ways to brainstorm in my current call: I have a few people in the congregation I can get together with for a cup of coffee on occasion and think out loud on different ideas; I often come to the worship committee with ideas and from there we are able to expand upon those ideas; in person and through Facebook and the internet I have connected to other clergy to learn and share ideas with (which the good ideas I promptly steal and adapt for Bethlehem). 

However I'm still missing good feedback.  

Now I often received feedback, but it is not good feedback and by that I don't mean that I don't like what the person has to say.  Instead the feedback is vague, and non-specific: "That was such a lovely worship service." - well that is great, but what can I do to make you experience this feeling again?  "Loved the sermon." - did you like the topic, the delivery or were you just listening more today than most days.  (To be fair, I do love those comments and they do make my heart sing, but they are not helpful a few days later when I preparing for the next week's worship or sermon.)  To me good feedback is prompt, critical and detailed. 

Prompt does not mean immediate.  I don't need to know the person's thoughts or opinions on a worship service, sermon or event before they leave the building - in fact in many ways, waiting a few days is better because it allows you to formulate your thoughts and reflect on things better.  But waiting a few weeks to bring up something that I said doing worship is not helpful because well often by then I have forgotten what I have said or done (not that I remember every word I've said during worship by the time worship is over).  

It is also critical.  I really want to hear "I didn't like it when..." because if I only hear positive thought it makes me keep doing what I'm doing.  That doesn't mean tear my heart out by telling me that I can't do anything right, but be honest about what you don't like.  2 Christmases ago when we ordered white poinsettias to go with all the white Christmas decorations we (the worship committee) heard for multiple people that while they liked the white decorations more, they prefer the red poinsettias, we got red ones this past Christmas. Had we just heard about how much people loved the white decorations, we would have ordered white poinsettias again. People can be critical but nice about and I promise I will try to respond to those criticisms nicely as well - often for the betterment of everyone.

Thirdly feedback is also detailed.  As I stated earlier, while the comment "it was a wonderful worship service" is great to hear as you people are leaving worship, it is not helpful when it comes to planning the next worship service.  Saying things like "I really enjoyed how we did the prayers today." or "I'm not sure how I feel about moving the sharing of the peace." are specific that I know which elements to keep, change, switch back to the way they were, or at least what others are struggling with so I can be sensitive to those changes in the future.  

So why am I writing all this?  Well there have been a lot of changes are Bethlehem lately and I often feel like I don't get feedback even when I specifically ask for it.  

For the past few months we have been having more conversational sermons and for the most part I love them and the feedback I have received has been positive.  But it has also been vague and has mainly come from the more extroverted (and therefore  more likely to talk during the sermons) parishioners.  Then there are sermon conversations like this pass week where I felt like I was pulling teeth and I when I asked in my Monday Morning Church email what would make this better, I have received no response - so now I'm fearful that this week we will have yet another pulling teeth sermon conversation but I will not be able to tell you what I did differently to make this happen. 

We have also changed the prayers.  A few weeks ago the sermon was about prayer and I asked people to write their prayers on note cards that were in the bulletins and those were our prayers that day.  It went wonderfully and I heard great feedback about that.  Well now we have adapted our prayers so we still ask for those prayer cards and have the written petitions, but I have not gotten any response if people like that or now.  So I'm just continuing doing what we are are doing, unaware if people love it, hate it, or are indifferent. 

And more changes are coming.  In the fall we will be moving to the Narrative Lectionary.  This means there will only be one slightly longer reading each week, instead of 4.  We will also no longer have the scripture readings printed in a bulletin insert each week but encourage people to bring their bibles with them. I know there are some concerns and worries about this transition but for the most part those concerns are not coming to me so I really don't know if it is about having 1 reading instead of 4, of not having things easily printed in front of them, or are there deeper concerns about looking like a fool because the person doesn't know how to look things up in the bible. 

So I'm searching for feedback, I'm longing for feedback.  What are your thoughts? What are your concerns?  What do you like? What do you dislike? What made your heart sing? What fills you with dread? If you were in charge what would you change?