Preaching as War
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Michael Greiner

Preacher man from Eastern United States, Western Pa, and all over the USA

Posted 8/22/12 at 12:57 PM | Michael Greiner

Why Did the Kids Leave the Church?

Over ten years ago, myself and a pastor-in-training attended an event that included a Q & A with two Seminary Presidents. My friend asked, “Why do kids who grow up in the church tend to leave the church? And what can we do about it?”

Great question! As a young pastor, I was excited to hear some wisdom on this subject. Drum roll please.... the answer ..... are you waiting for it?.... A: “Because young adults tend to leave the church for a while.” Of course, this man used a few more words than that, but said nothing.

Why would this man, who had been spilling wisdom to us all morning, suddenly become unhelpful on this question? Probably because anyone who has worked with, in, and around established churches for any period of time knows that this problem is almost universal.

Years later, I am ready to revisit the issue; having observed and thought about it a great deal, I have several ideas as to the “why” they leave. I only have a couple of ideas of what to do about it. I have no quick fixes. Why do young adults leave the church? (By the way, by “church” I am referring only to those evangelical, Bible centered, “good” churches --generally healthy churches, growing churches. I am not talking about sick churches or mainline churches, etc). I have seen several reasons. FULL POST

Posted 8/7/12 at 2:20 AM | Michael Greiner

Black, White, Politics, & Unity

This past Sunday, I was honored to visit Lovely Mountain Baptist Church, in Charleston, South Carolina. As a visiting pastor, I was treated with great respect by Pastor Curtis and the entire church. Invited to give the prayer before the sermon, I stood at the pulpit and looked out at all the black faces (except one, my son’s), rejoicing to be in the family of God on a Sunday morning. Then the choir sang, and the pastor preached, and the Spirit of God poured joy out on all of us. I was reminded of how much happiness I have received over the years in the unity of the body of Christ.

However, I was also reminded of the cultural divide that remains. I became a Christian as a young man, with very little experience with evangelicals. From the start, I was bothered by the separation of the black and white Christians in America. The Bible I read says that we are family, all believers. However, in many ways, we are a dysfunctional family. For this reason, I determined early on to do what I could to “cross the color barrier.” After 28 years, I have learned many of the cultural and historical reasons that have caused us to inherit the division we see on Sundays throughout the land. However, I have never lost hope that God is healing and will continue to heal this divide. FULL POST

Posted 7/25/12 at 2:05 PM | Michael Greiner

Fixing Boring Preaching, III: Study the art of public speaking, then preach long, emotional, loud, coherent, fearless messages (with shorter titles than this!)

Okay, that’s a really long title for a blog, huh? Let’s see if I can make the post disproportionately brief! Let’s take it in parts.

1. Study public speaking: Years ago, my wife desired to sell Mary Kay Cosmetics. However, she was afraid to speak to groups. That’s a problem. So she went to Toast Masters and learned how to give a speech. Her first night, she brought home a trophy! She never became much of a Mary Kay consultant, but developing her skill as a speaker has made her an effective and able teacher and speaker at ladies events, retreats, and classes. My suggestion to men training to be preachers, young preachers (or boring ones), is to take every chance possible to speak in front of a group of people no matter how large nor how small. Also, read books on “How do speak in public.” Go to Toast Masters if you can. Take a class on public speaking. Seminary will not prepare you well for this (nor should they). The seminary, if it is good, will teach you how to study the Bible and form the message. But you must work on your mechanics for as long as you are a preacher. Some might think that this is somehow unspiritual, that if one is called then the power of the word plus natural gifting will be all that is needed. However, most of us are not so naturally gifted –and even if we are, we can improve. To preach involves a craft that we should seek constantly to improve and master. FULL POST

Posted 7/20/12 at 10:17 AM | Michael Greiner

James Holmes, Average Man, Killer

As everyone knows by now, James Holmes, 24, went to the opening of Batman, and shot 12 people dead in the theater. This event will dominate the news for a long time, no doubt. We will be treated to biographies of the dead and their families. There will be funerals. There will be Christian reactions. There will be political reactions. We will be told that violence in our movies is the cause, or that gun laws need to be stricter. We will be treated to a dozen theories of why James did this awful thing.

James Holmes did this because he is a normal man. We will say that he went nuts, and of course he did. But nuts in a very human manner. James Holmes killed those people because humans kill people. That’s what we do. We are murderers. We kill.

Being human, we naturally think too highly of ourselves to imagine that we are all killers. We think ourselves good. But we are killers, all of us. Do you need to be convinced? Let’s look at a few pieces of evidence. 12 people dead in a Colorado movie theater. “Wait, that’s just a freak thing. That doesn’t represent humanity.” Really? How about 7 Jews killed on a bus in Bulgaria a few days before that? “Islamic terrorists. Not many people do that. Doesn’t count!” FULL POST

Posted 7/13/12 at 1:00 PM | Michael Greiner

Fixing Boring Preaching, 2. Get High (Quit trying to be so practical!)

Two times in my life I have listened to sermons on time management. Each time I was in my car and each time I was listening to a sermon from a church in my area. Each time I almost fell out of my car. Why on earth would any pastor waste a Sunday sermon instructing people on the finer points of time management? Sure, God wants us to steward our time –so say that! But an entire sermon on time management?

Yes, I sound like a grumpy old preacher. I’m not that old and not usually that grumpy. But the last thing we should do as preachers is belittle the greatness of Christ by using our main chance to declare Him to His people on a weekly basis giving them tips on wise living.

I know, I know, the Bible is filled with tips on wise living. I celebrate that! But our weekly opportunity to declare the “apostles’ teachings,” the precious good news of Christ, should not be reduced to “the 5 ways to have a more intimate marriage!” Or “10 ways to improve your prayer life.” Or “7 things that effective Christians do.” No one will remember all those things anyway!

Why do I seem so grumpy about this issue? Because God’s commission to us was “Feed my sheep,” not “burden them with tons of practical tips on how to live well.”

When people who know God come to worship, they want to be blown away by God. We have to declare the God who blows them away. Often a person endures a week of desiring more God, rightly hoping that when the church meets together, this “felt need” will be met. Many come after a long week surrounded by discouragement, stress, temptation, fear, anger, envy, difficulty, strife and trouble. It is tempting then, to try to figure out what their burdens might be and give them good advice on how to fix those issues. However, this temptation will not yield a God-loving joyous worshipful time for the church. Or we might be tempted to show visitors how helpful and practical ours sermons can be in their lives. But our concern should be to invite them to be intoxicated by the goodness of our God and His great Son.

A sermon on "7 ways to maintain your witness at school and work," might seem like it will fit the bill, but more likely, it will only increase the burden. “Now that the pastor has told me how to be a good witness at school, I can see I have a long way to go! I need to apply myself so that I am a good Christian.” Or “Man, I had 6 of those 7 things down! I am a great witness.” Or “I know I fail at work, I’ve tried. I’m such a loser.” or “I am not worried about being a good witness at work. I’m just plain worried and worrying all the time!” What they are not thinking about is, “Wow! How great my God is! How great His Salvation! He rocks!”

I am not saying that during a sermon, subjects like time-management or how-to-be-a-good-witness or how-to-live-properly-in-marriage should be avoided. On the contrary, the Bible touches on all areas of life. But the goal of the sermon is to put all of these issues in light of heaven and not earth –to show how each relates to the greatness of Jesus –and to show the great joy and treasure that Jesus is at this very moment. Declaring God is about heaven, it is about transcendence, it is about lifting people out of this world and into heaven. It is not about keeping people’s eyes on the world, their troubles, and how to make life smooth in Jesus’ name.

A Christian listening to a sermon, weighed down with the burdens of his life, will not find relief in advice on how to remove the burdens of life; that Christian will find relief in seeing the greatness and grace of God. FULL POST

Posted 7/10/12 at 1:20 PM | Michael Greiner

How to Fix Boring Preaching-- 1. Look for a Fight

Preaching is conflict, war. It can be nothing else until the Lord returns. Why is this? Because preaching is the bold and confident proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven to residents of the earth. This world is not in agreement with the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, all preaching is confrontational, corrective, abrasive, and destructive to the status quo. To be precise, I am not saying that a preacher's delivery is necessarily to be confrontational, corrective, abrasive, and destructive --but his content needs to be, by necessity.

Our best example of this quality of preaching is the Sermon on the Mount. The tone running through the entire sermon is one of war with conventional and religious thought. Jesus is an iconoclast of the first order. His Words destroy the zeitgeist, the world spirit, and the vogue and chic philosophy of the day. "Are you mourning the loss of a loved one? You are blessed by God!" What? How can I accept this as true without destroying all that I think about what is important in life? "Do you think yourself righteous because you do not kill? I say your anger is murder." How can that be? I am often angry, as are all people. This redefines all of my social ethics. FULL POST

Posted 6/30/12 at 9:08 PM | Michael Greiner

Boring Preaching, part I

 Let's face it: most preaching is boring. It took me years to admit that out loud, but it did not take me years to notice. I came to Jesus as a young adult, around 20. As a new Christian and very much a novice at evangelical culture, I searched around quite a bit. Most disheartening, I found non-boring preaching to be one of the rarest of events. At first, I felt sinful and unholy for thinking this. "After all, these were holy men of God preaching the holy word of God. Who was I to be bored? If only I were a better Christian, perhaps I would be more profoundly impacted by the sermons. None of the other Christians I see complain. They don't say that they are bored. There must be something wrong with me."

That's how I thought. But then, I noticed something equivalent to noticing that the Emperor had no clothes on: all the ministry aimed at teenagers (at the time, the age just younger than I was), worked very hard at not being boring. Youth events aimed at getting dynamic speakers, attractive music, edgy and interesting dialogue. The light came on for me then. I realized that teenagers wouldn't put up with boring teaching and boring services. They would stop showing up. But the fully grown adults would continue to attend and not complain, no matter how dreadful the services were. FULL POST

Posted 6/20/12 at 12:56 PM | Michael Greiner

Why I am not a Catholic, Part 4 (final part, and why it matters)

My youngest daughter, Michal, knows the rule: no dating before the age of 16. However, unlike her older siblings, her romantic heart could not bear to wait so long to fall in love. So, when she was 14, a young man became her “favorite” fellow student. Of course, there was no dating, but the two of them seemed to find events where both attended, and each spoke to each other electronically whenever possible. It became inevitable that this young man would be her first official suitor. But they would both need wait to turn 16, and then he would have to go through the “interview with her father” step. Then, approval could be granted.

He was a nice young man, polite, kind, and a fellow student at her little Christian high school. He was also a Catholic from a devout Catholic family. As the non-dating stage of their relationship went on, it became apparent that he was “really” a Catholic, even though he attended a non-Catholic Christian school. My daughter assured me that his faith was genuine and that their religious difference would mean little. I told her I did not question his relationship with Jesus, but I suggested she was underestimating the differences in the faiths. I pointed out that if marriage were to ever come into the picture (and that is the ultimate purpose for dating, isn’t it? To find a candidate for marriage?), that there would be real problems. She, like him, was so lost in love that she knew that all obstacles could be overcome, including this. FULL POST

Posted 6/13/12 at 10:34 AM | Michael Greiner

Why I am not a Catholic, Part 3 (The heart of the matter)

Jesus was eating with His disciples once, and the Pharisees and scribes came up to Him and asked, “Why are your disciples breaking the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash before they eat.” Overlooking the reality that washing one’s hands before eating isn’t a bad idea from a health standpoint, the issue here is authority.

The Judaism of Jesus’ day did many things correctly in the eyes of God, for they had the Bible and followed it in many ways. But they had one large error that blinded their priests. Over the years, authoritative Rabbis had written their interpretations of the Bible. These interpretations became known as the “Mishnah.” In itself the Mishnah, or the traditions of the Rabbis, was like a commentary on the Bible. But the Jewish leaders of the day considered the traditions of the Rabbis equal in their authority to the teachings of the Bible. Why? Because authoritative teachers, interpreting the Bible, were assumed to have been correct in their applications; therefore, to disobey the Rabbis teachings was to disobey the Bible. FULL POST

Posted 6/8/12 at 12:47 PM | Michael Greiner

Why I am not a Catholic, Part 2 (wafer worship)

So, I’m sitting at the DMV in Union County, NJ, several years ago. And, as much as I could complain about the DMV, the one in Union County was always good to me. Nevertheless, I always brought a book just in case they got backed up. I don’t remember what book I was reading, but it was something “Christian.” A guy sits down next to me and asks what I’m reading. When a stranger asks a Christian reading a Christian book what he is reading, it is like a hungry fat man being asked if he’d like a piece of pie. Something beautiful is about to happen.

I told him and determined that this was my chance to tell this man about Jesus, which I love to do. However, this guy had another plan. He was the evangelist! He asked about my faith enough to discern that I was one of those “born-agin’ types.” Then he invited me to hear the glories of the Roman church. I politely let him know that I respected his zeal, since I myself was once part of the Roman church, but was no longer. I thought that would slow him down. Not a chance. He drilled in deeper. FULL POST

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