Many churches take time out from the rhythm of the lectionary in order to focus on particular issues of faith and discipleship by having a sermon series on a specific theme. Quite a lot of work goes into planning and preparing these—so wouldn’t it be a good idea to share them?! The first of these came from John Allister and described a series reflecting on the journey through the wilderness. Here, Garreth Frank, curate at St Nic’s, Nottingham, shares details of a sermon series we used over the summer on Signs of Life: A spiritual health check.
According to St Peter, Christians are ‘living stones’ sourcing their life from ‘the living stone’, who enables believers to create the ‘spiritual house’ that is the church (1 Peter 2.4-5). Along similar lines, in 1 Corinthians 12, St Paul famously describes the church as the body of Christ. This metaphor re-appears in Ephesians 4, where Paul is concerned for said body’s health, hoping that it might mature, grow and flourish, relating to and reflecting Christ.
In biological terms, there are seven signs of life: movement; respiration; sensitivity; growth; reproduction; excretion; and nutrition. In light of his conviction that the church is essentially ‘an organism rather than an organisation,’ the minister and missiologist Mike Breen proposes that this biological framework offers a ‘useful diagnostic tool for assessing the spiritual health of those you disciple’.
Inspired by Breen and the Academy of Life discipleship programme produced by St George’s, Leeds, G2 York undertook a sermon series based on biological processes. During my time as one of G2’s student workers, I helped my then vicar and boss, Christian Selveratnam, put the series together. Several years later, at the beginning of my curacy at St Nic’s, Nottingham, I revisited this concept for a summer sermon series entitled: Signs of Life. In both cases, the aim was that the series might serve as a spiritual health check up for the church.
The series took place over the course of 6 weeks between the end of July and the beginning of August, and was used during both morning and evening services. During what marks a transitional period in the life of St Nic’s, this represented an ideal time for us to pause and reflect on our spiritual health. This points to one of the primary applications of thematic sermon series: the possibility of addressing the pertinent needs of one’s context.
The key danger, meanwhile, of a thematic series is that it might lack biblical rootedness. In order to avoid this and provide the series with a canonical core, each topic was assigned with both an Old and New Testament text.
Due to the comings and going of the summer season, no fewer than seven speakers were involved in delivering the series. Whilst offering the benefit of a rich and refreshing variety of voices, this had the potential to undermine the coherence of the series. Consequently, we tried to counteract this possibility by producing a series guide which was sent to all speakers, which provided an outline of the aim of the series and a steer regarding the content of each individual talk.
Nutrition – Deuteronomy 8. 1-3; John 6. 25-40
Week 1 explored the idea of spiritual nutrition, asking what it means to live ‘not by bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Specifically, this involved focusing on the source and sustenance of our spiritual life, the living Word (Jesus Christ) made known through the written Word (Holy Scripture).
Respiration – Isaiah 61. 1-4; Galatians 5. 16-26
Week 2 equated respiration with the role and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in discipleship. It focused on the role of Spirit in creation, as well as in forming the church and transforming the lives of disciples.
Sensitivity – Proverbs 27. 17; Ephesians [3.14-21] 4. 1-6
Week 3 equated sensitivity with the communal life of the church. In particular, this involved exploring how the church bears with and builds one another up for the benefit of health of Christ’s body.
Excretion – Psalm 51; 1 John 1. 8-9
Week 4 equated excretion with the theological theme of forgiveness, alongside the spiritual discipline of confession. This sermon simultaneously challenged the church to live an accountably, whilst emphasising the freedom and forgiveness available through the person and work of Christ.
Reproduction – 2 Kings 2. 1-15; Matthew 28. 16-20
Week 5 equated reproduction with making disciples alongside developing Christian leaders. This meant emphasising not simply evangelism, but the nurturing of new believers and mentoring the next generation of those who will serve and lead God’s church.
Movement and Growth – Genesis 12. 1-3 1 Corinthians 3.5-15
Week 6 concluded the series by exploring the key purpose of spiritual health. Namely, that disciples might move and grow in faith, in order to serve God and take part in the work that he is doing in the world.
Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture (Zondervan) – see chapter 12 on ‘Spiritual Health’
Mark Powley/St George’s Leeds, Academy of Life
Have you developed or experienced a helpful sermon series recently? Why not write it up and share it here with others who might find it useful? Email me on Ian (at) Psephizo.com or use the contact page.
Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?