WHY I DON'T PREACH IN JULY & AUGUST
Since coming to LMCC eight years ago, I have made it my practice not to preach during the months of July and August. This is a decision that the pastoral team has made for the following two reasons.
1. It's healthy for the congregation. When I preach, I try to speak the words I believe God would want to speak to our church -- but it goes without saying that this is a messy process. Inevitably, my own flawed (and even false) words get mixed in with the word of God. This happens, to some degree or another, in each and every sermon.
That means that there's a substantial benefit to the congregation in taking a break from my voice for a sustained period each year. This gives everyone a chance to distance themselves from all the various "Ryan-isms" that can have a tendency to color our community's interpretation of Scripture, without us even realizing it. The summer serves as a good reminder that God is infinitely bigger than any one person's knowledge of Him.
It's not just about my flaws, but also about others' strengths. The pastors who preach during the summer bring a perspective that I could never bring, and our collective understanding becomes vastly richer as a result.
2. It's healthy for me. I find preaching extremely taxing. That may be because I'm especially weak -- I'm not sure. What makes it difficult isn't so much the studying or the writing or the nerves involved in getting up in front of people, but rather the spiritual drain that occurs from taking some measure of responsibility for other people's souls and speaking on God's behalf. This is a sobering and frightening task, and for me at least, it actually results in a fair amount of mental and emotional anguish each week. It is a privilege, but it is also a heavy burden.
Because of the pain that's involved, there's always a temptation to take some sort of shortcut to alleviate it -- to turn the sermon into something less demanding -- a lecture or a performance of some sort. One strategy for avoiding this temptation is to take a prolonged break from preaching each year. The knowledge that there will be a reprieve makes it easier to stay fully engaged throughout the other months of the year. And during the break, I can spiritually prepare for the year of preaching ahead.
WHERE I'LL BE AND WHAT I'LL BE WORKING ON THIS SUMMER
From July 16 to August 10, I'll be in Greenwich, NY (near Albany) where I'll be staying for three-and-a-half weeks at a convent — the Community of St. Mary. I'll be without email or phone this whole time.
The purpose of this extended time of solitude is two fold:
1) Pray and listen. I want to lead our church where God wants it to go; it's crucial that the vision and direction for LMCC comes from him, not me. As we've talked about many times before, hearing from God requires a lot of time and silence — empty space that he can fill.
2) Write. I'll be working on completing a book manuscript which is based on the "Selfish Faith" sermon series that we did last fall. The manuscript is due at the end of the summer, and will be released by Baker Books in April of 2018.
I would love it if you'd pray for me during this time. Pray that God would speak to me, and that I would be able to listen. And thanks again to the LMCC staff and leadership team who are stepping up in a huge way. Without them this time away wouldn't be possible.