When A Sermon Series Become More Than A Series Of Semrons

Good Shepherd Church has been involved in the battle against human trafficking, and in particular what we called the rape-for-profit industry, since 2007.  Motivated by what we had heard at a recent conference, we organized a single, stand alone Sunday called Not For Sale, in which the entire Sunday offering (no, NOT a special offering; the kit and the caboodle) went to the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org).  At that time the church’s typically Sunday offering was just under $40,000 a week.  The people of the church responded to Not For Sale with $84,000 of loving generosity – all of which went immediately to IJM.

Fast forward to 2010.  We well remembered the catalyzing impact of Not For Sale, we knew that girls in Thailand, Cambodia, and India were still being raped for profit, and so we decided to dedicate the Advent season to raising awareness and awakening generosity for the benefit of the victims.  We called our Christmas series that year What Child Is This and each sermon came from Jesus’ self-description in Luke 4 (where he retweets Isaiah 61).  Each week we talked about modern day slavery, the privilege of generosity, and the empowerment of Jesus himself as one who proclaimed release to the captives.

What did we NOT talk about?  Mangers, shepherds, stars, and wise men.  That’s right.  We celebrated Christmas by depriving the people of the church the annual, comforting nativity narratives.  We believed the rescuing the vulnerable and restoring the broken was more important.  The plan was that the entire offering – see the pattern? No nickel-and-diming with special offerings – on both the Sunday BEFORE Christmas Eve and then on Christmas Eve itself would again go to IJM.  On Christmas Eve I committed a cardinal sin of preaching: on one of the most guest-heavy occasions of the year, I preached about money.  Without apology and with clarity.  This time, the people of the church were more prepared than they had been in 2007 and responded to the church and the ministry that “stole” Christmas from them with an astounding $207,000 in loving generosity to the International Justice Mission.  I subsequently learned first hand that when you send a check for more than $200,000 to a non-profit, the WILL pay attention!

What Child Is This?, then, showed how a sermon series becomes much, much more than a series of sermons.

By the 2013, Good Shepherd had had good growth since 2007, had sharpened its mission statement into inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ, and came to the sad awareness that sex trafficking is not simply an international plague; it happens in the Carolinas as well.  So we located a Carolinas-based ministry who provides after-care for rescued girls yet needed a permanent housing solution for their victims.  I said to that ministry’s leadership:  “Oh I know a church that has a good record of responding to this issue and these victims with generosity.”

            That’s how the January, 2013 series Home was born.  Subtitled Healing Our Homes While Building A Home That Heals, the series dealt with both issues that occur within the homes of the people of Good Shepherd and the Christian privilege of giving to enable our partner ministry to buy and remodel a safe house.  The sermon series also pointed out the unnerving reality that Christian men – church men! – are part of the sickening demand that contributes to the traumatized supply.  We spoke openly about porn, addiction, healing, and redemption.  And the victims.  We wanted to break people’s heart so they would then open their wallets.

The Challenge Goal for that final Sunday in January of 2013 was $125,000 (by that time we were averaging just over $50,000 a week in giving).  The Miracle Goal was $150,000.

It turned out God had a much different definition of a miracle than we did.

The people of the church gave $400,000 in one day to help rescue and restore young women had been repeatedly raped-for-profit.  When we announced the total on the following Sunday, there was an audible gasp at all of our worship gatherings.

Home was a sermon series that became much, much more than a series of sermons.  It was a galvanizing force that resulted to liberated young women leading productive lives in the Carolinas.

The influence of series like What Child Is This and Home led our church’s leadership actually to name such efforts as part of our strategy.  We call them Radical Impact Projects, and they are a vital part of implementing our larger strategy of inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

In addition to our efforts against human trafficking, other Radical Impact Projects have dealt with hunger.  In three different series, Fashion Statement, Food For Thought, and Value Of A Soul, we dedicated our Sunday morning worship hour and worship space into a meal packing assembly line.  Not as a special, come-on-a-Saturday and help us pack meals.  Instead, as Sunday worship.  People on those days didn’t heart a sermon; they were the sermon.  Instead of a bulletin, they received a hair net.  And instead of starvation, we provided nutrition through our partners at Stop Hunger Now (today called Rise Against Hunger.)  With those Sunday gatherings, our church has packed over one million meals to be distributed around the globe.  Again, our sermon series become much, much more than a series of sermon.  They become a way of life.

My hope and my prayer for you and your church is that you will discover your church’s unique motivations.  What battle do they want to fight?  What problem do they want to solve?  What breaks their heart?  How can that open their wallet?  Once you do that, you can design sermon series that lead up to events much larger and even more impactful than the sermons themselves.

Now: if every sermons series led to a Radical Impact Project at Good Shepherd, we would very quickly have congregational exhaustion.  And likely pastoral malpractice as well!  So: how do we design and built sermon series that are series of sermons?  And what is my particular role in that process?  And how can my experience inform and shape yours? Those are subjects … for the next section of the book.


The above is an excerpt from Simplify The Message; Multiply The Impact, released by Abingdon Press and available wherever books are sold online.