The Key to Deeper Insight & Broader Perspective (+ 3 Recommendations)

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Collaboration between members of the Church.

Does that sound like a contradiction in terms?

Unfortunately, it often is.

In recent memory, and still in many places across the Church, preachers act like we're in competition with one another to be the best, brightest, or biggest.

And yet, in my own ministry as well as other contexts, I've seen collaboration in action—and the fruit it bears, both in the lives of participating clergy and the lives of those to whom they preach and minister.

Collaboration invites us beyond our own limited understanding to gain new insights and consider other perspectives. It refines our ideas and helps us solve problems that seem insurmountable alone.

When we collaborate in preaching, not only is the burden of sermon prep lightened, our authentic connection to our listeners is expanded. We are simply better when we are working together.

With the Gospel at stake, how can we push, encourage, and challenge each other, collaborating to spread Good News deeper and farther?

In this spirit of collaboration, I want to offer two preaching websites whose collaborative nature can broaden our understanding week-to-week. I've found them both invaluable and recommend them for weekly reference to enhance your preaching.

And I want to offer an opportunity here at BsP to experience the benefits of collaboration personally.

Working Preacher

Working Preacher is a ministry for preachers founded and operated out of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Quoting from their website:

Working Preacher is a ministry brought to you by Luther Seminary. The Working Preacher team believes that God uses good biblical preaching to change lives.

We have enlisted hundreds of friends—biblical scholars, theologians, homileticians and pastors dedicated to the craft of biblical preaching—to provide you timely, compelling and trustworthy content.

On the site you'll find:

What I like about Working Preacher is the fresh analysis they offer every week on the biblical texts (both RCL and Narrative). Not only can you find new articles about each of the readings, but it's easy to search past entries to do a deeper dive.

Commentators include preaching professors and preachers from all over the world. While most are ELCA, the perspectives are diverse enough that the reader still receives a variety of insights. After I do my exegesis and finish with my standard commentaries, Working Preacher is my next stop.

They also do a terrific podcast every week: "Sermon Brainwave." Three preaching professors hash out the week's texts for about forty-five minutes. It's fun, informative, and always stimulates new ideas.

I'm also excited about a new collaboration between Working Preacher and Fortress Press to launch a new series of short, practical preaching books called, aptly enough, "Working Preacher Books." The first books in the series will be available in late 2019. Collaboration is indeed a very good thing!

Faith from the Margins to the Web

I've had times in life when cash was in short enough supply to lose sleep over, but I don't know what it's like to live in true poverty.

Even when I didn't know how bills were going to get paid, I had cushions: a flexible and solid education and family I could turn to if things got desperate enough.

Even the times I've had an empty belly have been by choice as a spiritual discipline. Never knowing when or if a next morsel of food will find its way to me or those I love—I don't know what that's like, and the honest truth is, odds are I never will.

That I don't really know how those living in dire straits manage day-to-day is hard for me to admit given Jesus' unrelenting emphasis on assisting the poor, so I'm particularly grateful for "Faith from the Margins to the Web."

Curated by Episcopal seminarian Sarah Kye Price and started with a grant from the Episcopal Evangelism Society, the purpose of the site is to foster a collaborative dialogue, to offer "Gospel commentary written through the eyes and experiences of people living with homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity."

From the website:

Each weekly Gospel reflection emerges from shared conversation between at least two people from very different backgrounds.  Each week, a college student or member of a parish community has been paired with someone living in poverty, often someone who is homeless or experiencing housing and food insecurity.  Both people choose to participate in a shared experience of reading the Gospel lesson together, prayer, and responding to questions and reflections about how the the scripture has meaning and relevance in their lives.

Each week’s blog post for Faith from the Margins to the Web is a result of their shared conversation.  Fair compensation is offered, equally, to all contributors and interviewers who participate in the project in order for their contributions to be fairly and equitably shared with those who read their reflections.

One of their recent posts about Jesus' longing for rest opened my eyes (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, Proper 11B).

Jesus wanted—needed!—rest.

And so do I. In fact, I'm writing this blog in advance before I go on two weeks' vacation. The last six months have been the busiest I've ever had, so I'm desperate for real R&R.

Fortunately, when I have the the need to slow down and get away, I also have the means to do so. So do the people I am most likely to preach to.

But what about those who don't?

When interviewed for "Faith from the Margins to the Web" about this Gospel lesson, Carlos, a man who lives without shelter "all around Texas," said:

“Rest is hard. You have to know where its safe to rest, and sometimes it's not safe at all.”

Thanks to Carlos and this website, the next sermon I preach on this text is likely to be very different as I consider those for whom rest is both necessary and dangerous.

This website offers perspectives often missed in our church contexts. I hope you'll bookmark, follow, and donate to "Faith from the Margins to the Web" too.

Backstory Preaching's Sermon Camp

Last but not least on my list of recommendations, in the spirit of collaboration (self-serving though this may sound), I encourage you to join Backstory Preaching's Sermon Camp.

Our camps are centered on collaboration with a mentor (me!) and other preachers—in real time while developing real sermons.

In addition to the new perspectives and skill our participants gain, many come away saying how much they valued the opportunity to work with colleagues and be inspired by their perspectives. The collaborative nature of camp seems like a peripheral detail at first but becomes an integral aspect of the experience.

A founding principle of Backstory Preaching is to foster collaboration, and Sermon Camp is one chance we offer to do so.

Space is limited and filling up, so enroll now to collaborate with me and other preachers to renew your preaching life for the program year.