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The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish, Executive Director

She preached a sermon she thought HAD to be preached. So much was going on in the world around her with the presidential election, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the pandemic that she couldn’t stay silent.

Several weeks later we talked about the congregation’s response: “I don’t get it. I really didn’t expect the backlash I got. A few emails told me how brave I was, but man… the nasty ones were nasty! One member just left a note on the church door that said, ‘I don’t come to church to hear that stuff. I’ll be looking for a new church.’”

I asked her a question I’ve been asking a lot of pastors who’ve had similar experiences: “Was that a prophetic sermon?” “Yep,” they all reply. Then I follow up: “So why are you then so surprised to suffer a prophet’s fate? I mean, there’s a reason they usually lived in or ran to the desert. Why is it surprising to be treated like a prophet after preaching prophetically?”

They always push back: “Aren’t we supposed to preach prophetically?” “No,” I answer. “I think we’re called to preach apostolically.”

What’s the difference? Ever since Walter Breuggemann published his great book, The Prophetic Imagination, forty years ago, pastors have been trying to preach prophetically. I completely believe there are times when prophetic preaching is necessary, but even in the Bible it was a mostly an ineffective form of preaching. The sermons are remembered fondly but were received harshly. Jesus and the apostles offered a different kind of preaching that was more effective and transformational than the prophets’ preaching.

Apostolic preaching is the kind of preaching you find the Book of Acts. It’s not radically different from prophetic preaching. There’s definitely a “truth-telling” aspect of apostolic preaching, but there are also significant differences. Apostolic preaching is grounded first in trusting relationships so that the truth is said among those who feel like friends and family, rather than being like truth bombs dropped amidst a congress of foes. The apostles built up community and compassion first, and then encouraged change and transformation. They shared together, ate together, sacrificed together, prayed together, discerned together, and were healed together. Their preaching reflected those relationships.

Second, apostolic preaching is grounded in shared stories and shared experiences. Peter, for example, shares his message about Jesus after the amazing experience of Pentecost. He grounds his sermon in their shared history, showing them how it is a natural outgrowth of the Jewish story. Phillip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch by sitting beside him and talking as a friend, showing how faith in Christ is rooted in the Hebrew story.

A third aspect of apostolic preaching is that it is tailored to the community. Paul talks about this specifically when he says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22). In other words, Paul preached in a way that reduced resistance and nurtured connection. Paul had no problem dropping truth bombs, but he tried to do so in a way that brought people together.

Fourth, apostolic preaching is grounded in prayerful experience that leads to personal and communal transformation. Philip is told by an angel to preach to the eunuch. Peter preaches about what to eat after a spiritual experience, and he preaches to Cornelius after seeing an angel in a vision. Paul is invited in a vision to go to Macedonia and preach. I’m not suggesting that we can’t preach until we experience the Holy Spirit or speak with angels, nor that the prophets didn’t preach what God told them to preach. I am suggesting that apostolic preaching is grounded in our prayerfulness rather than our busyness. It means making and taking time for a prayerful seeking of what and how God is calling us to preach. My simple way of doing this is reading passages spiritually and prayerfully early in the week, and then waiting for God to guide me in building the sermon. I’ve found that when I’ve done that, it’s unleashed a creativity that wasn’t there when I tried to craft rational, logical sermons on my own.

As a final example of the difference between apostolic and prophetic preaching, I’ll remind you that the only one who preached prophetically, Stephen, ended up suffering a prophet’s fate.

I’m in the process of writing about this kind of preaching in more detail for a book to be published in 2021, with a working title of Preaching to Those Walking Away. Until then, I’m inviting you to start thinking and reflecting on how to be more apostolic in your preaching—how to preach in a way that engages people in a relationship that makes them more available to being transformed.

The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish, is executive director of Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting in Sewickley, PA, and directs their Caring for Clergy and Congregations program, including their weekly worship services for pastors at He is the author of eight books on spirituality and congregational transformation, including his latest one, …And the Church Actually Changed.

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By Carol Stenger, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Spiritual Director at Samaritan

#Covid #counseling #spirituality

Covid-19 may not be what kills you, but some folks may die because of it. What do I mean by this? I have several elderly clients who live alone or are in a high rise where no one is permitted to visit them – not family members or neighbors. The lifeline I offer them is my weekly counseling session to make sure that they are still eating, caring for themselves, are emotionally stable, and are safe within their immediate surroundings.

In addition to physical needs, these seniors need to know that they “count,” that they are loved and valued. Initially folks were able to manage a few months of isolation. But when things were not improving, or hope weaned for them because they could not return to their former social events – like card club, meeting family and friends at a restaurant, or just being allowed to sit in the lobby of their high rise – it took a toll on their mental health. My clients' church services were cancelled, and although some services were lived streamed, these elderly people don’t have computers or tablets. Thus, they become even more spiritually isolated.

I continue to offer my services, bringing them hope in the midst these long days, weeks and months. I pray with them and for them, and encourage them to believe that God lives in their hearts. I remind them that they do matter and are important, and that together we will live beyond Covid-19 and not die due to isolation and loneliness.

We can and must be there for one another, especially those most vulnerable, like our elderly clients.

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The coronavirus was something that I never knew would happen in my lifetime. We all remember 911 and its devastating impact on our country

and humankind. That event was life changing in both positive and negative ways. Homeland security and the manner in which we conduct our everyday lives would never be the same.

However, it was a blessing to witness Americans banning together putting our differences aside. Random acts of kindness increased in this time period. I also recognized how precious life is and the importance of strengthening my faith in God.

The coronavirus pandemic sparked a similar reaction in us. In turn, it has significantly affected how clients cope with crisis and our therapeutic approach in treatment services. The first adjustment I remember when setting up my home office in March was how telehealth would affect my work as a mental health therapist. At this time, everyone was new to the coronavirus and how serious this pandemic would become in our daily lives. My clients were explaining their fears in great detail during these sessions. The biggest one, the fear of the unknown, was voiced as we were all just getting information about the virus and the safety measures to protect our health.

When the “at home” orders were put in place, I noticed a great increase in anxiety, depression, addiction, domestic violence, aggression and other mental health challenges. Simply put, being with loved ones 24/7 was taking a toll. The issues that existed before the pandemic were magnified. It was difficult for us to manage our fear in positive ways. My clients were gaining weight, self-medicating, and “taking it out” on their family.

I then noticed a turn of perspective from May into June when summer started this year. My treatment still focused on processing my client’s anxiety/fears and developing positive coping skills to avoid regression. It also deepened into a discussion about why this pandemic happened in the first place. Many Christian clients felt that it was God’s way of “slowing us down and making us re-prioritize our lives.” Others felt that it was “the end of the world” and a time for self-reflection.

Overall, my clients (and myself) began to self-evaluate. Clients were encouraged to put their energy into completing neglected household projects, re-discover their personal interests/talents, and create a sanctuary in their home to reduce stress. I was pleased to hear that people were also reconnecting with loved ones, recognizing that life is too short to hold grudges. In quarantine, families spent quality time together and regained a newfound appreciation for each other. I hope that telehealth is here to stay. Many clients enjoy the convenience of this mode of service.

As therapists, we have to be open to change to accommodate such events. Our self-care is important in being a healthy support to our clients. This also prevents compassionate fatigue. Personally, I am grateful for the community of therapists that surround me for encouragement and guidance. In my self-reflection, I have re-prioritized, deepening my appreciation for good health, loving relationships, and my faith in God. We must always remember that God will never leave or forsake us. Historically, tough times have brought out our strength. I am hopeful that this event will be no exception.

Learn about Jennifer Edmonds.

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