2016 Sermon Recap

 

As we near the end of 2016, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the past year, particularly when it comes to preaching. Every year I try to devote some time to processing how things went – what was effective, what was less than stellar, and how I can improve. Just like an artist, an actor/actress, or even a coach, there are some final products that I’m personally more pleased with than others. I think working back through what seemed to be most and least effective, along with figuring out why, is an important discipline if you are serious about your craft. This is a yearly attempt to stay disciplined as a preacher, teacher, and communicator.

In general, I would say that preaching this year has been both harder and easier than in years past. The part that has come easier is the delivery side of the message, as I am grow
ing more comfortable communicating on a stage. There were some tangible delivery goals I was able to accomplish over the past 12 months, some of which were aided by using a chair and pub table. This approach has allowed me to be more deliberate and even slow down (just a hair). The aspects that have been harder this yearhave been on the content creation side of the process. In October, I reached my six-year anniversary of being Lead Pastor at Harris Creek. The most candid way to put it is that I feel like I hit a bit of a wall this year. When you preach 40+ times a year for six straight years, it’s not always easy to keep your creative edge while also remaining rooted in Scripture. The delicate balance is to try to keep reading Scripture with a fresh perspective without getting too “cute” with it and end up butchering what the text is actually saying.

Harris Creek 8-21-16-135.jpg.jpg

The other unique challenge in 2016 was changing my approach to preparation due to the design of Elements. To begin with, the sermons in Elements are slightly different than the way I tend to teach. This was something I warmed up to because, as I said earlier, I probably needed to change something up after hitting a creative wall. The process of creating content for Elements is also much more collaborative, with five other people having a role in the development of the material. Each voice at the table is uniquely gifted and incredibly helpful. On the flip side, it feels a bit like multiple artists trying to paint a picture on the same canvas. Each person might have a slightly different style, and it’s my job to bring a singular voice to the final product (including the sermons).

All in all, I am proud of the ground we covered as a congregation in 2016 and the license our people gave me to try new things. We have an incredibly flexible, gracious, and supportive ethos amongst our congregation. There is great value in people coming together on a weekly basis, doing their best to listen to the Spirit speak through Scripture, and earnestly seeking to respond obediently to what God is saying to us. The approach I like to take in this recap is to follow this pattern: I am going to list the series from the last year, give you some “measurable stats” from my 2016 sermons, then follow that up with a list of my own commentary and reflections from my messages over the last year. I hope this gives you some helpful insight into my world and what goes into the sermons each week.

 

2016 MEASURABLE STATS
2016 Sermon Stats.jpg

 

SERMON SERIES IN 2016
– Rebuilding from Rubble
– Rediscovering Freedom
– God in the Movies
– Thriving in Exile
– Two Pictures of Discipleship
– Elements: Unit 1
– The Glorious Return

 

LEAST FAVORITE SERMON: “Stone Tablets” from The Glorious Return
WHY: This one is still fresh for me, which means I’m still not over it. The week before this sermon we were coming off of a fairly intense stretch of discussions with our bank regarding the “Our Turn” initiative, and I updated everyone on the not-so-fun surprise appraisal. The following week, I was worn out. It took me twice as long to get something semi-coherent on paper for this message.

This was one of the few times I have ever had to work on a Saturday to land a message. Some pastors love to create “Saturday Night Specials.” Not me – they stress me out. All that to say, I was not as confident in the message as I wanted to be heading into the morning. I think one of the most challenging aspects of my job is having a “project” due every weekend for people to review, no matter how I feel or what’s going on. It’s part of it, and our congregation is always extremely gracious, as I stated earlier. But I personally hate when I haven’t landed things the way I wanted to in a message, and this one stands out to me as one of those times this happened in 2016.

 

FAVORITE SERMON: From the Ground Up” from Rediscovering Freedom
WHY: This sermon was my message for Easter in 2016, and I felt like it struck the best balance of all my Easter sermons to date. The typical rhythm is for Easter to conclude our sermon series during the Season of Lent. This means people who haven’t been with us previously are hearing the final message that we’ve been building up to for six weeks. Easter also presents some distinct challenges because the demographics on Easter Sunday tend to be different than the typical makeup of our congregation the rest of the year. Finally, the congregation seems to be a little “stiff” (from my perspective) every year on Easter Sunday. This is probably due to the fact that we have more guests, we have church members who have invited friends, and people are even a little more formal in how they dress compared to your average Sunday.

My first few years, I was not exactly prepared for these shifts and the different dynamic in the room on Easter. This year, I felt like I was able to anticipate what was coming and speak to the people in the room. That meant speaking to our congregation and wrapping up our series in a satisfying way. It also meant speaking to newcomers in such a way that they could join the conversation without feeling lost. Finally, it meant speaking to anyone who might be a skeptic in such a way that might make them more open them to the revolutionary power of the resurrection. With all that is on the line every Easter, it’s easy to get disappointed with yourself as a communicator and feel as though you didn’t do it justice. This year, I was pleased and content with how things landed.

 

LEAST FAVORITE SERIES: God in the Movies
WHY: This is typically an annual series that I really look forward to every spring. This year, I felt a little more constrained based on feeling conflicted over a particular movie I considered reviewing. The film had an “R” rating, but it was not for the reasons that seem to be more gratuitous which sometimes draw this rating. The violence and disturbing images that caused it to be restricted carried an important message in the film, and it was a message I believed was worthy of discussion. However, after getting some wise feedback from our leadership (elders and staff), I ultimately decided to go a different direction. It was also a conversation with another local pastor who I trust and respect that helped me make this decision. But the whole conversation had (and still has) me questioning if this series can accomplish its intended purpose of engaging the culture around us.

If there are films that seem to be shaping our culture and they aren’t overly perverse “just to be perverse,” I think those are movies we need to be aware of as Christians. Yet, I also recognize that there is a line here, and there are some conversations that can’t be had with the entire church family due to the broad range of both age and maturity levels within our congregation. The line on this whole discussion tends to be a bit of a moving target. I do know that if we simply talk about the parts of culture that we’re comfortable with or “family friendly,” then we need to probably call it for what it is – “God in the Disney Movies.” I’m still praying through which direction this needs to go in the future, but I’m thinking this series may have run its course.

 

FAVORITE SERIES: Thriving in Exile
WHY: For years, we’ve talked about “planning in pencil” around Harris Creek as part of what it means to be a leader on our team. This approach has two sides to it: (1) doing the hard work of actually charting the direction we are heading, and (2) being flexible enough to call an audible when the situation demands it. This series was one of the bigger “audibles” I’ve called when it comes to planning a sermon series. The original plan was to preach through the Book of Ecclesiastes last summer, but it just didn’t seem to fit where we were as a congregation. The next plan was to preach through the second half of the Book of Acts, the part that tends to get ignored. This, too, felt like it wasn’t exactly what was needed at the time.

Ultimately, we ended up studying the narrative portion of the Book of Daniel, and it was a series that seemed to be timely for where we are as a culture. “Upheaval” would be one word that I think accurately describes 2016 for many people. With an unconventional election on the national front and a lot of turmoil surrounding the highly visible Baylor football program at a local level, the past year was disorienting for many of our people. The story of Daniel was one that came to me as the summer was approaching, and it turned out to be a fascinating study. I personally learned a lot from Daniel’s story and the faithfulness of the Israelites in Exile. For something that wasn’t planned on my end of things, this series became a great encouragement to my own faith and hopefully the faith of many others.

 

Our Turn Update #3

Church Family,

On Sunday, we had a quarterly update on the “Our Turn” initiative to help keep you aware of the progress. This update is unique because we are nearing the one-year anniversary of the “Our Turn” campaign and have some significant updates across the board to share with you. In this update, I will share an update on giving and the construction timeline regarding the Sunwest Campus expansion project. I also want to share some news concerning our Training Institute: United Kingdom.

SUNWEST CAMPUS EXPANSION (GIVING UPDATE)

We are nearing 10 months of giving data when it comes to how we are trending on the giving front. If you read our monthly publication called “Keeping You Current,” you already know that our monthly finances are doing well right now. This means we are covering our operating budget on a monthly basis and managing costs really well. To put it another way, our proportional giving seems to be on track and healthy.

When it comes to expanded, or sacrificial, giving, we are seeing a little lag with a sizeable number of people. There are 105 “giving units” (families or individuals) who have fulfilled less than 35% of their pledged amount. As we near the halfway point in this two-year process, we really need everyone to revisit your commitments to see how you can stay on track. We are approaching the time to close with the bank on the construction loan and needing to make some significant financial decisions based on the pledges that were made. If you can revisit your commitment and let us know if anything has changed, this will help us update our records and make fiscally sound decisions. The easiest way to update your commitment is to email Kelly Merritt (finance@harriscreek.org) and let her know of any changes in your circumstances.

SUNWEST CAMPUS EXPANSION (CONSTRUCTION UPDATE)

On the construction front, you will see a new rendering of the expansion project at the entrance of the Sunwest Campus. We have received 100% of our construction documents from our architects and are now getting final bids from our general contractor. The goal is to break ground on the project within the next two months, sometime in November.

On a related note, we will have an opportunity to revisit the vision behind this campaign and celebrate all that God has accomplished over the past year during our morning worship services on Sunday, October 16. We will also host a special gathering that evening for everyone in our congregation from 5-7p at our Sunwest Campus. This event will provide some unique ways to envision the future and spend some time in prayer as the beginning of the construction phase gets closer on our Sunwest Campus expansion project. It’s going to be a great weekend and an important moment for our congregation that you won’t want to miss!

Finally, the last quarterly update included a request for prayer regarding the outdoor baptistery. I wanted to let you know that we got approval from the City of Waco to move forward with the design, and we are thrilled! We have some amazing people helping us with this portion of the project, which we see as a gift from God. We also knew that it would take a certain amount of divine favor to make this happen, so we are grateful for your prayers and for the good news.

TRAINING INSTITUTE: UNITED KINGDOM

The “Our Turn” campaign has been about far more than a building from the outset, and part of our expansion strategy included starting a cross-cultural equipping opportunity in the United Kingdom. Our first team from Harris Creek returned from the Training Institute in the UK in August, and they had an incredible experience. The team worked with a church in Brighton, England, for the summer. The experience was extremely fruitful, and we’re looking forward to expanding the Training Institute in the coming year by sending more people and adding more partner churches/para-church organizations. Our entire congregation will also have a unique opportunity in the coming months to connect with the work going on in the Training Institute: United Kingdom when Dave Steel, the pastor of One Church Brighton, preaches at Harris Creek on Sunday, November 6.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In closing, I would say there is a ton of positive momentum and groundwork being laid across the board right now, so be encouraged! I hope you will continue to pray about how you can take more steps to contribute to all that is happening through the “Our Turn” initiative. It’s clear there is a fresh movement of God in our city, and the work He is doing through Harris Creek is part of this new chapter being written. Exciting days are right around the corner!

In Christ,

Brady Herbert

 

If you missed the update on Sunday, check out the video below.

Choosing a Name (Round 3)

Yesterday, I witnessed our third child, Warren Kyle Herbert, enter the world. It was every bit as exciting, nerve-racking, and wonderful as the other two times I’ve witnessed one of my children take their very first breath. Witnessing new life come into the world for the first time is one of God’s best gifts that He can give us. “Gift” is the word that comes to mind because there are so many aspects about the growth and development of a baby that are outside of our control. Yet, by the grace of God, a fully formed tiny human enters a world waiting for him to arrive. I wrote about the significance of both Camden and June’s names after they were born, so I wanted to keep up the tradition.
Continue reading “Choosing a Name (Round 3)”

Our Turn Update #2

Church Family,

This past Sunday, I started my message with a quarterly update on our progress regarding the “Our Turn” initiative. Like last time, if you want to watch the video of what was said, we have that available online as a resource for you to use in order to stay informed. As I said during our first update in March, we will include a quarterly statement with these updates so you can track your progress based on your commitment made last year. Each update will continue to focus on two key areas of interest: giving progress and how things are developing on the construction timeline. There have been some exciting and important developments that we’ve been waiting to share with you.

GIVING PROGRESS

Continue reading “Our Turn Update #2”

Our Turn Update #1

Church Family,

If you weren’t with us in corporate worship on Sunday, I began by spending a few minutes giving a quarterly update on the progress of the “Our Turn” initiative. If you want to watch the video version of the update, we have that available for you online to watch when you get time. We are going to build quarterly updates into our natural rhythm and routine as a way for you to stay informed and track the progress of the campaign. Every update will be accompanied by a quarterly statement, which is included in this letter, for anyone who made a commitment to the campaign (some of you have likely received this before the update on Sunday, which is great). Each update will focus on two key areas of interest: giving progress and how things are developing on the construction timeline (we will also include any other noteworthy developments in these updates, so please make sure to stay informed and aware of how things are trending).

Continue reading “Our Turn Update #1”

2015 Sermon Recap

Every year I take time to reflect on my sermons from the last year as a way to think through what worked, what didn’t, and how I need to proceed moving forward. It might seem odd to have me talk about this process (for a variety of reasons), but I think it’s important for people to peek “behind the scenes” when it comes to how sermons are prepared. Often times, people think they are either (a) hand delivered on a golden tablet every Saturday evening by an angel, or (b) half-cocked ideas from someone who is just talking off the cuff. The truth is, preaching is a serious task that requires a lot of prayer, work, and effort.[1]

The other thing people rarely think about is the fact that I don’t love the way every sermon turns out. I strive hard to, first, be a listener of the Word before preaching it. That means preaching is born out of what has convicted me first, not on the annoying things everyone around me needs to get better at to be more spiritual. The other thing that I naturally do is critique my own work. In fact, I tend to be harsher than (or at least as harsh as) many of the skeptical or cynical types listening to my sermons.[2] In the same breath, I also know I am anything but unbiased. Sermons are a little like your kids: you can be frustrated with your own children, but you naturally get a little defensive if someone else gets upset with your child. I’m not sure if it’s possible to avoid this dynamic. It just kind of is what it is.

That being said, this blog is the one chance I get to publicly do what many people do on a regular basis, which is armchair quarterback the sermon. I realize critiquing the worship service is simply Sunday lunch ritual for a lot of people. I get it. It comes with the territory. Rather than telling you to change your ways, I’m going to weigh-in myself. The approach is going to be this: I am going to list the series from the last year, give you some “measurable” stats from my 2015 sermons, then follow that up with a list of my own commentary and reflections from my messages over the last year.


SERMON SERIES IN 2015

  • Ethos
  • The Great “I Am”
  • God in the Movies
  • The Dreamer
  • #blessed
  • Life After Life
  • Our Turn
  • Joy to the World

 

SERMON STATS FROM 2015

2015 Sermon Stats
FAVORITE SERMON: “Interstellar” from God in the Movies
WHY: There were a few sermons that were really fun for me to preach on a personal level, so it was hard to pick my absolute favorite. It was a year in which I got to share the stage with my dad, which was a huge highlight for me. I also had a few moments of personal insight[3] that led to the message scratching the creative itch for me. These were messages like “The Colors God Uses” in the series on Joseph called The Dreamer and even a few of the recent messages in our Advent series called Joy to the World.

With that being said, “Interstellar” was the way I would preach on a regular basis if context weren’t something you have to take into account. It combined elements from recent culture, science, philosophy, and was a sermon that was a form of what I would call “micro-apologetics.”[4] There was a mountain of information to cover, so this was a rewarding process in whittling it down as much as possible to what was essential. It was also challenging to work in ways to keep people engaged, which was part of the idea behind using the chalkboard and throwing the ball into the congregation how I did in this message. All in all, it was the message I was most proud of in 2015.


LEAST FAVORITE SERMON:
“LOCAL/GLOBAL” from Ethos
WHY: There are certainly messages I personally liked less, and there were messages that were less effective than this one, as well. I will also say that the most stressful sermon was sharing the stage with my dad. He did a fantastic job answering some incredibly difficult questions. On the flip side, the dialogue or “interview with commentary” style as a form of communicating is drastically different than preaching.

But the reason “LOCAL/GLOBAL” was my least favorite message is because there were way too many people who walked away thinking I am against global missions (as if that’s even something that is optional for a church or an individual disciple of Jesus).[5] Part of this may have been due to the fact that this was the first message in the series. I think it took a while to understand that we’re not opposed to doctrine, nor do we believe the Church should ignore the needs of “insiders.” For whatever reason, though, this message was received a lot of different ways, which is, first and foremost, on me as the communicator.


FAVORITE SERIES:
The Dreamer
WHY: The best reason I can give you for this being my favorite series is I got really enthralled with the details of Joseph’s story. It stands out in Scripture for a reason and is an amazing story of faith. Joseph is someone that I felt like I could relate to in many ways, yet he is simultaneously one of those people in the Bible that is in rarified air when you look at all he endured. All I can say is that means the author recounted Joseph’s story in the most captivating way possible. To tell a story in such a way that you can relate to someone who is nearly “untouchable” is unique. I’ve already thought back on Joseph’s life and his example of faith countless times since this series.


LEAST FAVORITE SERIES:
#blessed
WHY: Starting a new semester in a “college town” is always a difficult task because of the mixture of listeners you are going to encounter the first few weeks of the semester. Inevitably, we are going to have young people trying us out for the first time and making snap judgments on what we’re all about as a church. You also have families looking to get connected to a new church during this time of year, which is a completely different “audience” than college students. On top of all of this, you have the core of our church who also needs to grow and be challenged in their faith, and hearing some of the most fundamental aspects of our church get repeated too often can cause the vision to become stale for this group over time. And just for fun, you get to do all of the legwork of starting a new series with this complicated concoction of listeners. I’ll just say it’s not my favorite time of year to preach.

On top of all of the normal fun during that time of year, I was not pleased with how I executed as a communicator within this series. I felt as though I was extremely faithful to the text in the messages, but I didn’t do a great job of connecting the text (usually one or two verses) to the chapter it is in, the primary themes in Luke’s gospel, the message of the New Testament, and the major theological strands throughout the entire Bible.[6] All in all, the stakes were high and I felt as though it was important to set the stage for what was around the corner for our congregation. In doing so, I missed some key opportunities to be as clear as I needed to be with certain aspects of the Gospel message for those who were dropping in for the first time. I have to trust that the Spirit connected the dots for people despite my ineffectiveness.


CLOSING THOUGHTS
Overall, 2015 is a year that I am really proud of when I look back on all that we covered. I love being able to teach Scripture on a regular basis and realize that it’s a privilege, not a right. I believe preaching changes things and carries an inherent eternal value and weight. That’s probably one reason why it’s not always easy or “fun.” However, it is something I thoroughly enjoy doing and is something I want to keep getting better at over time.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what stood out to you over the last 12 months. What was something you learned over the last year? In what new ways did God shape you as a disciple? What books of the Bible or topics would you personally like to see covered in 2016? Go ahead and share those lunch conversations you’ve already had in the comment section below.


[1] For those “purists” that think the Holy Spirit can only work in the moment, I think that is a fundamentally flawed idea. Spontaneity is not a pre-requisite for the Spirit to work. If that’s the case, then the Incarnation wasn’t a true work of the Spirit of God because it was prophesied thousands of years before the birth of Christ. What I find to be more inspiring and humbling is when the Spirit works in my sermon planning months in advance to reach someone in a unique way down the road.
[2] What is really fun is preaching a message that I know is falling flat a second time in our multiple service/multiple campus model!
[3] Call it “revelation,” if you will.
[4] This is when I begin by asking how this Scripture can be true because it sounds crazy on an initial, surface reading of it, and then we work to unveil the truth that your average person, no matter their worldview, agrees upon behind the text.
[5] The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is not optional or “a piece of good advice” for followers of Jesus.
[6] This method of biblical interpretation is a skill I plan on teaching in the spring of 2016.

The Recycling Sermon?

“What does Joseph’s story have to do with recycling?” This is a question that was asked after my message this weekend, and it’s something I’m sure other people were wondering. I wanted to take a minute to address this question because I think it’s an important one.

First, I will reiterate what I said on Sunday at the 10:00 am service: this was not a sermon about recycling. It was a sermon about the idolatry of self, which manifests itself by making humans self-absorbed and creating an insatiable appetite for more. Recycling, or our lack thereof, was one out of six examples I used to speak to our culture’s appetite and self-absorption.[1]

But to answer the question actually being asked—which is the connection between Joseph’s story in Genesis 47 and the conclusions I drew from the text—here are three connections stated as plainly as possible:

  • CONNECTION #1: A big part of the message focused on over-indulgence and consumption habits in our culture. This was about how wasteful the average American is, myself included. And what makes this a spiritual issue is the root issue behind these habits, which is idolatry of self. I firmly believe that Joseph struggled with putting himself in the position of God and idolizing himself in Genesis 47. Once again, two telltale signs of this form of idolatry are an insatiable appetite for more and a person becoming self-absorbed, which Joseph displays throughout chapter 47.
  • CONNECTION #2: Joseph exploited people in a vulnerable position because he could get away with it. Genesis 47:21 says, “As for the people, he made slaves of them, from one end of Egypt to the other.”[2] When it comes to applying a passage like this to our culture, it is a story that can serve as a startling picture of how we treat other countries around the world. Like Joseph, we tend to justify the decisions we make by saying, “But we are actually saving their lives! They would have nothing without us.” While this may be partially true, a Christian should never willingly participate in a system of injustice, especially when the injustices are happening to those without a voice in the world around us.
  • CONNECTION #3: The decisions Joseph made in Genesis 47 had devastating consequences on his own family members just a few generations later, which was the ripple effect I talked about. We, too, are making important decisions today that will impact future generations—our own children and grandchildren—for better or worse. To make decisions based solely on a desire for comfort is foolish and selfish. Plain and simple. You don’t have to like that statement. You don’t have to agree with it. But that alone doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

I will leave you with a quote from Playing God by Andy Crouch, who states this idea more eloquently than I am able to do myself. He says, “When we think about distorted and damaging power, we quickly think of the starkest forms of power’s abuse. What comes to mind, all too often through painful personal experience, is the strong imposing their will upon the weak, resorting deliberately or casually to acts of violence and exploitation. […] Ultimately, violence and domination, which we tend to think of as the worst abuses of power, are actually symptoms of its abuse. They are signs of a deeper sickness, a sickness that strikes at the heart of our deepest created goodness. And the biblical words for that sickness are idolatry and injustice.”[3]

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I would add that in Genesis 47, Joseph shows us clearly that God’s children can actually be the ones who institute and promote cultures of idolatry and injustice. That’s terrifying and worth reading again. And if this is the case, then we must address issues of idolatry and injustice within the Church before we address the ones outside of it. As I said on Sunday, my hope really is that the Church in America will be full of people who deal with the deeper issues of our hearts so that we can use the power God has entrusted us with for good.


[1] To recap, I talked about: (1) The waste the U.S. produces/recycling (2) The number of privately used cars in the U.S. (3) Obesity stats in the U.S. versus undernourishment stats in Africa (4) The connection between coffee and water (5) Water conservation in general (6) Disregarding human life when it’s someone who is voiceless, from abortion to trampling on innocent people in foreign countries.
[2] The Voice
[3] Andy Crouch, Playing God, Pg. 54-55