Archives For Worship

A Tale of Two Leaders

Charles Kiser —  September 27, 2018 — Leave a comment

Mega Vs. Movement

Leader #1

  • He was probably the most famous religious leader in the 18th century
  • Newspapers called him a marvel of the age; he was a golden tongue golden boy
  • He was a brilliant orator – he grew up in the theater – and in his prime famous actors publicly expressed envy at the way he captured audiences
  • People compared him to David, Moses and called him the second morning star of a second Reformation
  • He went on preaching tours in England and the American colonies; ignited the Great Awakening in the American colonies
  • During one preaching tour in America he ended up preaching the gospel to nearly half the population in the American colonies
  • He would stand on the steps outside and 20,000 people would show up to hear him preach
  • In fact, he was one of the first to do “open air” preaching – namely outside of a church building – and the reason he did was because many of the lower class members wouldn’t come into a church building
  • Hundreds of thousands came to faith through his preaching
  • It’s estimated that in his lifetime he preached more than 18,000 times to 10 million people

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I’d like to flesh out this dream we’re pursuing in Storyline to become a “red hot center of mission.”

The inspiration for the metaphor comes from a series of posts written by Mike Breen on missional communities, where he explores the red hot center of the early church, the three elements of a red hot center, and what happens when “torches” of red hot centers gather together and make a “bonfire”.


This is a powerful metaphor and a great vision for the church in North America, especially in a time when the fire of mission sometimes seems to have burned down to embers.

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Changing Names

Charles Kiser —  October 25, 2011 — 4 Comments

Julie read me a beautiful news story a few nights ago about how a health officer in Maharashtra, India, Dr. Bhagwan Pawar, set out to help girls change their names.

Dr. Pawar conducted a survey in his district and discovered that 222 girls had been named “Nakusa,” a Marathi word which means “unwanted” in English.

In an interview with India Real Time, Dr. Pawar said: “In most cases, after the birth of two or more female children, the next one would be named ‘Nakusa’ by the parents.”

Indian culture places high value on male children, so much so that hospitals are legally forbidden to reveal the sex of the child before birth in hopes of preventing gender selective abortions, according to an Associated Press article.

This same article goes on to point out that male children are preferred to females partly because it’s very expensive to give girls away in marriage. Families often go into debt to provide a dowry at their daughter’s wedding, whereas a boy brings a bride and her dowry back to the family.

So people like Dr. Pawar and his team are conducting renaming ceremonies to change girls’ names from “unwanted” to names like “Vaishali” that mean “prosperous, beautiful and good.”

Can you imagine what it would be like to be named “Unwanted” by your parents?

Imagine hearing the roll called at school, and your name came up every day as “Undesirable.” “Leftover.” “Wish-you-were-a-boy.” “Unloved.”

What an incredible act of justice to let the girls take on new names!

This story reminded me of a story in Hosea 1-2, where the prophet Hosea, under God’s instruction, names his children “Lo-Ruhama” (which means “not loved”) and “Lo-Ammi” (which means “not my people”). Their names were to be a message to the people of Israel that God was upset with them for their disobedience and idolatry. God wanted desperately for Israel to return to him.

And then, in a wonderful act of grace (because Israel, after all, deserved to be called the names given to Hosea’s children – while Hosea’s children and the Indian girls did not), God says (Hosea 2:16-23):

16 “In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.

21 “In that day I will respond,”
declares the LORD—
“I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;
22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and the olive oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
   and they will say, ‘You are my God.’

Dr. Pawar and his team reflect the love and justice of God in their renaming work.

I’ve been wrestling with this question for quite some time.

My background: I started “preaching” when I was in grade school. I competed in speech as a kid for Leadership Training for Christ. I spoke on Sunday nights occasionally for my dad, who was a preaching minister in the churches I grew up in for 20+ years. Old ladies told me I should grow up to be a preacher. I went to college and got training to be a preacher. During graduate school I was privileged to apprentice in preaching with two extremely gifted preachers.

In short, I was groomed to preach.

Yet I’ve dealt with increasing dissonance about preaching in the three years I’ve been involved in church planting (preaching, at least, as it has been framed up and defined in my lifetime) for at least 4 reasons:

1) Many of the disconnected adults I’m living among are increasingly skeptical of listening to a single individual who presumes to speak authoritatively to them – which I lump in the category of institutional suspicion that is so prevalent among emerging generations/culture. They are much more keen on communal dialogue and discernment.

2) If I’m honest, preaching in my experience does not equip people to follow Jesus at the deepest levels – in other words, it is not transformative in the way life-on-life discipleship and coaching are. Preaching functions on the level of information/cognition, no matter how funny, emotive or storied the sermon is. Discipleship, however, requires not just information but also imitation – a severe limitation of monological preaching. What bothers me is that in many churches it seems that preaching is relied on as the primary mechanism of disciple-making – yet it is inherently limited.

3) The approach to preaching in the scriptures seems significantly different than the way we practice it now. For instance, preaching in the early church seems much more dialogical than today’s monological preaching. Someone was able to ask a question of Peter in his great Pentecost sermon in Acts 2. Jesus’ best teaching moments were either in response to a question someone else asked, or a question he asked someone else.

4) The contemporary practice of preaching has contributed to an unhealthy consumer orientation and celebrity culture in American Christianity. When people don’t come to a Sunday service because their favorite preacher isn’t speaking that day, there’s a problem. And so the favorite preacher doesn’t take a break very often, which is also a problem on a few levels: a) the celebrity/icon status that preachers receive can erode their souls; b) no other preachers are able to be trained up within the congregation because inevitably few are as good initially as the celebrity preacher; c) all this panders to the idea of church as “vendor of religious goods and services” that subverts the influence of the gospel in North America.

Hugh Halter, in his book AND, makes some challenging comments about preaching that really resonate with me:

This may sound a bit crass, but here’s the real deal: most churches spend the majority of their staff time and financial resources paying for and preparing to deliver a sixty-minute program, which prioritizes preaching. All of this, even though within twenty minutes, most adults have forgotten 95 percent of what they just heard. If the church were like a business, that would be like putting 90 percent of your investment portfolio into a product that has not produced growth for the last forty years. It’s like the Houston Rockets giving Yao Ming 90 percent of the team’s salary budget and running 90 percent of the plays through him, making him responsible for shooting 90 percent of the shots and still expecting the team to win. Or it’s like trying to get your car to drive nicely when you only have one of the four wheels with an actual tire on it.

I think you get the point. We need to make intentional investment choices, and yes, you still need a 7 ft. 6 in. Chinese center on your basketball team, and you’ll certainly need that one good tire on your car. These are all important, but you’ll need a lot more than just those things. None of them can carry the load by themselves. The church service with a sermon has and always will be necessary and helpful, but if used as the main way of making missional disciples, it falls far short.

Let me be clear to say that I think preaching is important. Young adults need to hear the scriptures preached and learn to hear the voice of God through it. Preaching does equip people with important information they need to follow Jesus. And even if our approach is a bit different than early church preaching, that’s not to say that God has not used preachers powerfully – because God has.

My question is not whether or not preaching is important, but whether or not we have put too much emphasis on preaching; caused it to bear a weight it was never intended to bear; put all our discipleship eggs in the preaching basket when it was only made to hold a couple of them.

The four reasons above are part of what has caused me to revision my preaching/teaching life in the Storyline Community. For instance:

  • We have a large gathering with preaching a lot less often (monthly) than we do smaller, more conversational gatherings (weekly).
  • Others in the community have been equipped to share teaching, facilitating and preaching roles in our gatherings besides myself.
  • The preaching style has shifted from monological to dialogical. I’m learning how to ask questions and have a (literal, not just figurative) conversation with listeners in the midst of my preaching instead of plowing right through and hoping something sticks.
  • I’m learning to spend more of my time as a coach (or disciple maker) in life-on-life relationships and contexts instead of spending way too much time in sermon/teaching preparation.

Dialogue with me about this! How do these thoughts resonate with or rub against you? What reactions do you have?

Made in the Streets

Charles Kiser —  January 7, 2010 — 1 Comment

In 2008, we started a Storyline Christmas tradition as part of the Advent Conspiracy: taking up an offering for a global service organization that serves the cause of justice. In 2008 we gave to Touch A Life, an organization that helps liberate children from slavery in Ghana, West Africa.

This Christmas we decided to continue the Advent Conspiracy tradition by making a donation to Made in the Streets. Made in the Streets serves streets kids in Nairobi, Kenya. They provide shelter, food and education to kids who would otherwise be left to roam the streets.

Watch this video to hear a story about Laurent, a young teenager whose life was changed by the ministry of Made in the Streets. Charles and Darlene Coulston, founders of the organization, tell the story.

A special connection is that South MacArthur Church of Christ, one of our partnering churches, is heavily involved in supporting Made in the Streets. It’s exciting to me the way Storyline is now able to come alongside South Mac in mission in this small way.

All are welcome to make a donation to help God’s work through Made in the Streets.

Storyline is accepting tax-deductible donations until Friday, January 8, here. If you’d like to make a donation directly to Made in the Streets after January 8, you can do so here.

We have the special opportunity to present Storyline’s gift to Charles and Darlene Coulton this weekend at our January worship gathering.