Q&A with Pastor Jonathan
What are the types of things you think about when considering a topic or theme for a sermon series?
We want to be a church that is committed to the “whole counsel of God.” That is the phrase that Paul used in Acts 20 when he described his ministry in Ephesus. He said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26–27). Paul’s innocence, or faithfulness as a gospel minister, was because he preached all of God’s word. (Could you imagine what he would have said if that wasn’t the case? “Uh, hey guys, uh . . . I might be guilty of leading some of you astray because, well, I, uh . . . I didn’t tell you the whole truth.”)
We translate Paul’s words into the preaching ministry of Cities to mean, first, that we are preaching a blend of Old and New Testament books and genres in our expositional series. We are aiming at alternating between a New Testament book series and an Old Testament book series. Secondly, we want to keep our ear to the ground about the needs of our congregation, and use shorter, topical series to address these more relevant concerns. For example, the series in September 2015 came from the pastors’ collective sense that we needed to hold out a vision for how our church can grow in mutual support as newly marrieds, unmarrieds, and marrieds with children.
Regardless of whether we are doing an expositional series in the Old or New Testaments, or a topical series, the common thread in all of our sermons is the gospel of Jesus. Whatever we say and from wherever we say it, we want to be really clear about who Jesus is and what he has done. That is what the Bible is mainly about, from Genesis to Revelation. We are thrilled to hold him up in this January series.
What led you to the theme “We Believe in Jesus” for the next sermon series?
This actually carries over from our first series in Acts, “Bold for the Cities.” During that series we called our church to live boldly in the Cities, and we defined boldness as telling about Jesus with clarity and conviction. Boldness doesn’t mean red-faced bravery. It means speaking clearly about who Jesus is, and doing it in the face of opposition.
Well, think about that for a minute. We cannot speak clearly about who Jesus unless we know who Jesus is. This five-week series is almost like a reprise to the Acts series then. We want to really grasp the identity of Jesus as he is expressed in the Bible and summarized in the church’s ancient creeds.
He is, eternal
He will come again
He is, forever
I want us to know Jesus better than we know ourselves. That is no joke (see 1 John 3:20).
And the more we know him, the more real he is to us.
And the more real he is to us, the more we will talk about him.
And the more we talk about him, the more people will hear about him.
And the more people hear about him, the more people will believe.
And the more who believe, the more the gospel spreads.
And that means he is going to come back, sooner or later.
So that’s why we are doing this series.
What is your goal with these sermons?
Our goal is to hold up Jesus. As pastors, we just want to get out of the way and make him clear. Look at him, church. See him. Hear him. Love him.
Fred Buechner, one of my favorite writers, says of preachers:
The man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The one with the cauliflower ear and the split lip. By whose swollen eye and ruptured spleen we are somehow healed. Who can put a word to him and who needs to? They simply hold him up to our gaze. At their most poetic and powerful they do not say something as much as they make something happen.
We won’t say anything that hasn’t been said before. But we will say it again, and when we do, when his Spirit is among us, he will do things. Whatever that is, whatever he wants — that’s our goal.
It seems like the preaching rotation is quite random. How does the pastoral team go about deciding who will preach on what?
We believe in team preaching. One of the qualifications for a pastor is the gift to teach. So we all want to do that, though the number of times vary. We are committed to team leadership in the preaching ministry, trying to find a good balance between consistency among diversity. Last year was sweet for all of us.
For who is preaching the particular messages in a series, we look at a few things. What do our calendars already look like? Who is passionate about what? Who has already written or done work in relevant areas? (i.e., any wheelhouse passages?) Then we sit around a table and have a draft.
So who is preaching what and how did you land on the current plan?
For this particular series, it went something like this. . . .
Me: “Mathis has written so much on the Incarnation. David, you want that one?”
Joe: “I won’t be here in early January. I’d like to do the resurrection.”
Michael: “Jonathan, why don’t you do the life of Jesus?”
Me: “Sure. And I really want to do the return of Jesus.”
Me: “Michael, you good with preaching on the cross.”
Michael: “I would love to!”
And there you have it. High-fives all around.