One of my favorite preachers on the art of storytelling in preaching:

Church of the Week: Prayer Room at the Cove, Asheville, NC

I passed it at least a dozen times before a friend pointed out to me that there was a prayer room on the second floor of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, in Asheville, North Carolina.
I was there for the Writers Advance Boot Camp in February (a wonderful event which you should plan to attend next year), dashing between teaching sessions and critiquing and coaching appointments with writers, when she asked me if I had seen the prayer room.
It is a beautiful room, sensitively furnished and perfectly oriented, with a scenic view from the kneeling bench. What a wonderful setting for prayer--albeit open-eyed prayer, because who could close his or her eyes to pray when such a view is available?

The Cost of Creativity?

Like many people, I'm dismayed by a lot of what passes for worship music these days. Not because some of it is repetitive (ever read Psalm 136?). Not because some of it is theologically questionable (ever sing "I Come to the Garden Alone?"). Not because some of it is just overly sentimental ("Away in a Manger?" Hello?).

But I'm also tired of the clockwork criticism--even ridicule--of what some call contemporary worship music. Because the wild swings in quality from vapid to profound, from questionable to rock solid, seem to me to be simply the cost of creativity.

What, should the church sing only music that has been around since the 1950s? Should musicians and songwriters have stopped creating? Or should they confine themselves to certain time signatures or poetic forms?

Sure, Charles Wesley wrote timeless hymns such as "A Charge to Keep I Have" and "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" and "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing." But he wrote hundreds of others that are never sung today. We forget (if we ever knew) that the same decade that produced Handel's Messiah also produced--well, we don't even know, because the majority of the music written in the 1740s is lost or forgotten today, isn't it? And, more recently, Bill and Gloria Gaither earned well-deserved accolades for their contribution to Christian music in the late twentieth century, but they also wrote a few I hope never to sing, ever again.

If the church is going to continue creating--and encouraging creativity--in music and more, then we probably shouldn't tar and feather those who don't bat 1.000 (to mix metaphors shamelessly). Bad art often accompanies good--even great--art. If we expect perfection from songwriters and worship leaders, we will discourage or drive away the next Wesley...or Gaither.

So let's take it easy on the creatives who are trying to give the church new songs to sing, and let the cream rise to the top and endure the test of time, as has happened with those whose works we applaud today (primarily because their "clunkers" have been deservedly forgotten).

(photo by Charles Taylor via

Church of the Week: Chatlos Memorial Chapel, Asheville, NC

This past weekend I paid a short but happy visit to Chatlos Memorial Chapel, on the grounds of the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina. It was given to the training center in memory of William F. Chatlos by the foundation that bears his name. 
This beautiful chapel (in a wooded setting) is constructed out of blue granite stone, hand-hewn by local craftsmen. Its steeple reaches eighty-seven feet above the chapel's roofline.
Its antique pews are imported, from the Royal London Society for the Blind. The chandeliers are handcrafted wrought iron.
A balcony anteroom offers worship participants a place to pray before entering the chapel. Such a gorgeous structure, clearly designed and constructed with loving, attentive, thoughtful care.

7 Ways to Make Your Preaching Sound Pretentious

My erudite and perspicacious agent, Steve Laube, tweeted an article today from titled, "7 Ways to Make Your Writing Sound Pretentious." It's a good piece; you should read it.

Of course, it got me thinking--a rare experience in itself--and suggested a few ways to make your preaching sound pretentious:

1. Preach about things that aren't an issue for you.

Tell your listeners how simple it is to overcome things you know little or nothing about--or areas in which you long ago experienced victory. Don't let it be known that you have current struggles of any kind.

2. Preach against people who can't defend themselves.

Go ahead and tell your listeners who's got it all wrong--who's a heretic, who's headed for hell, who's worthy of ridicule--because they're not present and can't answer your criticism.

3. Use big words and fancy phrases.

Like "as it were" and "if you will." And "erudite" and "perspicacious." Not to mention frequent references to Hebrew and Greek words.

4. Name drop.

Both my agent and my buddy Rick Warren correctly identify this as a sure-fire way to make your preaching sound pretentious.

5. Don't use self-deprecating humor.

I touched on this recently in a post on using humor in preaching (here), but self-deprecating humor can keep a preacher from taking himself or herself too seriously.

6. Quote yourself.

As I say often, use phrases such as "as I was saying" or "as I like to say." And quote your own book, blog, or previous sermon, as I did in #5, above. See how easy it is?

7. Preach too long.

Some preachers seem to think themselves to be so wise that their listeners should be grateful for an extra, unscheduled fifteen minutes more! But it's not just a matter of "the roast in the oven" (to which preachers still refer with disdain); some people actually bear heavy burdens, juggle busy schedules, and might appreciate a preacher who--believe it or not--respects their time.

So there are seven ways to make your preaching sound pretentious. And I feel like I'm just scratching the surface. What do you say? What are some other ways to be pretentious in the pulpit?

Leader, Pray to Be Led

When Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread,” he and his listeners probably couldn’t have helped but remember the experience of their ancestors in the wilderness, when they complained of hunger and God answered with manna, saying, “In the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”

When Jesus told them next to pray, “Forgive us,” those words may have evoked their collective memory of Israel’s impatience and complaining—still, after having been provided manna day by day—that prompted a scourge of “fiery serpents” in the camp that prompted grief, sorrow, repentance, and prayers for forgiveness and healing…which were answered when Moses lifted up in their midst a “bronze serpent” on a pole.

Similarly, when Jesus said to pray, “And lead us,” he and his hearers may have recalled the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night—the GPS system by which God led his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, step by step, turn by turn, until they crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land.

So pray to be led like that, and pray also for the grace, wisdom, and courage to follow. Pray, “lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Pray, “Lead me in the right path.” Pray, “Lead me in your truth and teach me.” Pray, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Pray, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!”

(an excerpt from the upcoming book, The Red Letter Prayer Life, pp. 152-153)