How Jubilee Impressed the Heck out of Me

Jubilee was a great experience for me. It was really refreshing. I enjoyed great worship, speakers, and breakouts. There was a lot to be impressed with, but one thing impressed me above all else—the serious faith of these students!! Their relationship with God was not just a small part of their lives. It was integral to who they are.

Wide Conference Shot

For example, the Hearts and Minds Bookstore (Website) had an outstanding selection of resources around a ton of topics. There were sections devoted to all kinds of careers and interests. For example- art, nursing, psychology, sports, writing… There were a bunch of categories including a very strong theology section. As I was in heaven looking through all the books, I struck up a brief conversation with a girl who was looking at books on a theological understanding of disability and how the church should return. I asked her why she was interested in the topic. She told me that she was a going to be a special education teacher the next year and wanted to know how to be a Christian in that field.

This conversation highlights what was for me the most encouraging part of being a Jubilee. These were students thinking very significantly about living out their faith to have an impact on their world. As one of the MC’s put it, these students were considering how to serve God “in every nook and cranny of their lives.”

The theological content of this conference was deeper and more robust than it has been at a number of pastor’s conferences I have attended. The main sessions of the conference were built around the theological story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. There was intentional Trinitarian language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in just about all of the sessions and workshops that I heard.

One of the theological topics was imago dei. This is the idea that we were made in the image of God. Several speakers talked about how we were made in the image of God individually but that we are also corporately made in God’s image. In other words, Adam and Eve each have God’s image but also have God’s image together. While I was walking around I overheard 2 different conversations of different students discussing whether we they agreed with this corporate understanding of imago dei. They were concerned that this might sound like pantheism or like a universal salvation. They were engaging with the theology and really thinking about it.

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Many Christians in America today would not know what that term even means, let alone be able to think about it so deeply. I wish I could have an influx of these kinds of Christians in my church and in many other mainline churches I know. But therein lies my worry—would these students with their serious faith their high hopes for the future be willing to be a part of a small, passive, and established church in a mainline denomination? Or would they go crazy seeing the passivity of the members of many of mainline churches today?

Despite my worry, I found these students really encouraging for the future of the church. I trust that if they base their lives around pursuing God’s will then God will use them to lead the church into the future. The church is not doomed. There is a new generation of leadership coming. Thanks Jubilee and CCO for your work to help the church and world in this way.

Jubilee Blog: What is the Jubilee Conference?

I was invited to attend the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. I will be blogging and tweeting my through it. It occurs to me that a number of people who read my blog have no idea what the Jubilee Conference is, so here is some background info.

Jubilee is a conference put on by the Coalition for Christian Outreach. This ministry, often called CCO, was started in 1971 as a ministry for college students. CCO tries to cooperate with churches and colleges to place staff members in the position to work with college age students. Staff often raises all or part of their own support while the church or university covers the remaining amount. CCO staff is involved on campuses doing things like Bible studies, international ministry students, outdoor education (where I have the most experience with their staff members), athletic ministries, and all kinds of other things. I have worked with and been friends with a number of current and former staff and I have the utmost of respect for how this organization forms the faith of its staff. (Check out more history at

jubilee cco

Jubilee is the annual gathering for CCO students. For 38 years, thousands of college kids from schools with a CCO presence converge on Pittsburgh, PA. This year has over 50 speakers in workshops on all kinds of important topics. Some of them include: faith and science, human sexuality, international ministry, seminary, writing, art and faith… The list goes on and on. When I look at the list, I can’t help but be amazed. There is a workshop for just about every area of life that a college student could consider applying their faith.

I have never been to Jubilee but I have heard from friends in CCO how much fun it is. I am excited to see that in action. Bob Goff is speaking. His book Love Does was a very fun read and he will be excellent. There will also be a superb bookstore put together by Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Books.

I am going to have fun. I am praying it is a time of refreshment for me personally as well. I think I am only nervous about one thing: feeling old!

I will be Tweeting, Facebooking, and blogging my way through it. You can follow me/friend me
Twitter- @jrimmer21

Check out info on the conference at
Follow along with the hashtag #Jubilee2015

Leading with Story Part 2: We are Storied-Beings

This is Part 2 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.NathanandDavid

The king had not been honest. He had worked the system to have a man killed so that he could have the dead man’s wife. How could the prophet confront the king without being killed himself? He told him a story. He engaged the king in a story about a man who stole another man’s sheep. When he got to the end the king was angry and the one who had stolen the sheep. “You are the man,” said the prophet, and the king could hardly reply. He was caught by a story.

This is my own rendition of the exchange between David and Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. It shows the power of story. Story has the ability to get past the barriers of our opinions and positions. A story has the power to shape values and spark action. A shared story can create a group or family. Conflicting stories can breed hatred and wars.

If I asked you who you were, you might start with a few facts—name, age, job, birthplace… But pretty soon you would have to start telling stories about your life. Why is that? I think it is because we are fundamentally storied-beings. Our stories define us. We live to create and tell stories. We naturally tell and hear stories. As children we learn the welcome of “Once upon a time” and the invitation of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” If something happens to us we are driven to tell others. This is why Facebook and Instagram has become so popular: we can all present the stories of our lives through pictures and status updates.

Stories make us human and shape who we are. We love the stories of books, movies, and TV shows. Stories captivate us. They also spread like facts do not. We retell good stories. This is why marketing is now storytelling. Some commercials are still about the products and why you should buy them over others. But the really good marketers are the ones who tell stories in their commercials. They often have no words and have few references to the products. Instead, they engage you in a story.storyteller

Ask yourself these questions:
What kind of story do you see yourself in?
What is the story of your church or organization?
How do you interpret your last few chapters?
What do you think will happen in the next chapter?

Leaders have the ability to use story to their advantage, or if they ignore the power of story a leader may find that they are telling stories somewhere else.

Leading with Story Part 1: The Crisis of Pastoral Imagery

This is Part 1 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

Pastors and Christian leaders have a long history of identity crisis. We use a great number of terms like pastor, priest, bishop, or preacher. We have tried on different metaphors throughout history such as priest, shepherd, prophet, physician of souls, pastor, teacher, leader, and counselor. Some of these metaphors are so old that we cannot connect with them without considerable historical work. Others are so wrapped in specific connotations that they represent a truncated view of ministry.


Let me give a couple examples. When we think of a pastors as a shepherd we typically mean the specific function of pastoral care. After all, none of us has ever seen a shepherd. We don’t understand what they did when that metaphor was used in the Bible. Shepherding was the metaphor of kings because of the huge responsibility of the task: guide the sheep to different pastures, breed and sell, protect from predators, care for the young and injured, read the weather and the seasons to know where they had to be… The job was so much bigger than we have in mind when we use the term.

Pastors today have been trained to think of themselves primarily as leaders or pastoral counselors. Are these faithful metaphors? Do we lead as a CEO might or do we lead by following Christ? Is it accurate to equate a person’s psychological health with their spiritual health?

It is common to use preacher as a term. This grew out of the Reformation. The challenge is that it makes one function of ministry the defining picture of our work. This is problematic no matter how important that function is.

Maybe every generation or even every individual pastor has to shape their own metaphors. I am still thinking about how that works. But I have observed that our metaphors and identities shape our work and how we feel about our work. If you see yourself as a preacher then you are going to put a premium on the time you spend preparing your sermon. If you see yourself as a counselor then you are going to spend more time counselling people about their mental and emotional challenges.

I think that every metaphor for ministry that we use and live-into for ministry needs to fulfill 2 criteria. The metaphor needs to be faithful to the tradition and the Biblical and historical definition of the work of ministry. The metaphor also needs to be fruitful for ministry. In other words it needs to help the pastor today do his or her work more effectively.

To that end I have been toying and tinkering with the image of pastor as storyteller. Many cultures have had people who officially or unofficially act as storytellers. These people not only told the history of the people, tribe, or community, but they also shaped the ethics, culture, and practices of their particular places. Storytellers today are not like those of old. Today it is the artist, the writer, the director, and the marketer that gets to tell the stories that capture and shape culture.

story road

Doesn’t this kind of storytelling also fit the ministry? Pastors have their own stories, the stories of their churches, the stories of their people, and the stories of their communities. Pastors proclaim what has been called “the greatest story ever told.”

I am planning a dozen or so blogs to explore the idea of Leading with Story. I will look at the growing field of narrative leadership. I will be connecting narrative and story with things like leadership, theology, worship, preaching, counselling, ethics, marketing and hospitality. This is what I am working on in my Doctor of Ministry program and building toward my dissertation. It is my hope that the blog series will help me get things in writing but will also give me feedback and new ideas as people interacts. Please make comments, engage on social media, and let me know your thoughts. I hope that we can help each other in our stories.

Questions for Reflection:
Question #1- What terms do you yourself and the work you do? How does that shape your work?
Question #2- Do you have a particular image that defines your work? Why is that image so powerful for you?

The Presbyterians of Beer

There is always as much reaction to Super Bowl commercials as there is to the game itself. I read an excellent article that you can find HERE on why the commercials were more stories and less humor this year. I, however, want to reflect on a Budweiser commercial.

First, a little context is needed if you are not much of a beer drinker. There are big changes going on in the beer world right now. The industry is dominated by a few companies. You know their names because they are the ones who can afford things like Super Bowl commercials. These are called macro-breweries. They are amazing at mass-producing very consistently average beer. They are huge businesses and fit the corporate America model. However, they are losing percentage points of the industry every year to craft beer. These are normally more flavorful beers that come from small breweries called micro-breweries. These beers are known for lots of complex and unique flavors and smells. They seem to be especially popular among young beer drinkers. These beers are more expensive because they are not mass-produced.

In response to this dynamic, Budweiser put the following commercial in the Super Bowl:



When you understand the context, it is easy to see how bad and confusing this commercial. I recommend THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE by Paste Magazine by Jim Vorel for a fuller treatment of the issues. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • Budweiser tries to use the term “macro” as a good thing even though the word is really a critique of their work. They are trying to re-sign a bad image but may only be admitting to this negative designation.
  • They make fun of beer drinkers that want to be “fussed over.” They are making fun of young hipster drinkers that have a curled mustache or drink beer samples at a brew-pub.
  • Budweiser, immediately after making fun of beer aficionados makes a claim that would only appeal to this kind of beer drinker. The average Budweiser drinker probably does not know or care that it is aged on “beechwood aged since 1876.”
  • They state that their beer is for drinking and not dissecting. They are saying that their beer is not supposed to be smelled or tasted. Is their beer only for getting drunk?
  • They make fun of pumpkin peach ale while just a few weeks ago they bought a small brewery that makes pumpkin peach ale. They are taking shots at their own companies. Not only are they buying up craft breweries but they also keep their own test brewery.
  • How can they claim that mass-production is the hard way to brew when small breweries are so much more hands on?

Here is the reality: the average Budweiser drinker is in their 50’s. The future of Budweiser is in serious jeopardy if they cannot find a way to appeal to younger drinkers. What they don’t seem to understand is that appeal to tradition is not going to make that happen.

I have bad news for Budweiser. This strategy marks the beginning of the end. I should know. I am an expert on this kind of failing strategy. You see, I am a pastor in a mainline denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA) and we and other denominations have been trying these strategies for years. We have appealed to our tradition. We have talked about ourselves as the true church. We have critiqued and made fun of new movements like church plants, independent churches, and Pentecostal movements. At the same time, our average customer age has been going up. In response, we have spent money on studies and consultants to help us understand these same new movements, young people, and churchless adults that we have put off for years. We have hung our hats on tradition over quality. We have appealed to loyalty over quality of taste. We have reinforced our corporate hierarchy at the expense of local church health.

The long term sustainability of denominations like the Presbyterian Church (USA) are seriously in question right now. Unfortunately, with this commercial Budweiser has become “the Presbyterians of Beer” and that is not a good thing. It has not worked well for mainline Christian denominations, and I doubt it will work well for Budweiser either.

The reality of life is that we all must adapt or die. If we adapt a little, we may survive for a while but we will never thrive. It is not going to work to poke fun at the way things are changing while at the same time appealing to those you are poking fun at to join you. The only way to move forward is to have the courage to face reality and respond. Alternatively, you can die. What will be the fate of Budweiser? What will be the fate of Christian churches and denominations?

50 Sermon Ideas for Lent and Easter

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it difficult to preach year after year on the same topics. I need some ideas to prime the pump and help me think of images and questions that can turn into sermons. Last year for Lent and Easter I came up with 35 sermon ideas and questions. This year I expanded that list to 50. I hope as pastors are planning their sermons that this can be a helpful list. They are not organized in any order. Just a random list of random thoughts. May something spark a sermon for you.ashes

  1. Mary Magdalene’s back story is not well spelled out in the Gospels but we know enough to know why she loved Jesus so much.  See Ellsworth Kalas’ book below for a sermon on Mary’s experience at Easter.
  2. One of the Gospels says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb “early in the morning” and “while it was still dark.”  Why say the same thing twice?  Might the darkness have more to do with a dead savior than the time of day?
  3. John and Peter race to the tomb.  The gospel of John makes a big deal out of the race.  John gets there first but doesn’t go in.  Peter does go in but it is John that believed.  Why all that detail?
  4. Jesus burial cloth was folded.  Why was it folded?  There is some evidence that when you left the table at a meal you would fold your napkin as a sign that you are going to return.
  5. The earthly life of Jesus has a cloth at both end–a burial cloth and swaddling cloth.  What is the connection between those 2 clothes?
  6. The story of redemption start in the Garden of Eden and ends in a garden Easter morning. It would be interesting to compare these gardens.  It might be interesting to tie in the idea of an old Adam and a new Adam.
  7. Look at Old Testament predictions and foreshadowings of resurrection.
  8. Look at Jesus’ own predictions of His resurrection.
  9. Thomas gets a bad rap.  We call him Doubting Thomas.  We would probably doubt too.  Worst of all, the text says it was a whole week before he got to see Jesus. What would that week have been like?  What do we do with our doubts?
  10. A lot of people today doubt the Resurrection as a historical event.  I think every few years I am going to give a historical defense of the Resurrection on Easter morning.
  11. Along the lines of #10, I think that the biggest evidence of the Resurrection is the change in the disciples and what they do next.  The live as an Easter People and are the best witnesses to the Resurrection.  What does it mean that we are Easter People too?
  12. Why does Jesus pop up every once in a while to a bunch of people for 40 Days?  What is the significance of 40 days?  There are a lot of references to 40 days and 40 years in the Bible.
  13. I am fascinated by the emotional roller-coaster of Holy Week.  There is the joy of Palm Sunday.  There is the sadness and disappointment of Maundy Thursday.  There is the anger and violence of Good Friday.  Might some of those same voices that cried “Hosanna” on Sunday have cried “Crucify Him” on Friday?  There is the silence of Saturday.  We know almost nothing about that Saturday.  Then there is the shock of Sunday.  Tracking this roller coaster might make the joy of Easter more special.
  14. The Bible makes a big deal about the reality that we have died with Christ and have been risen with Christ.  What does that mean?
  15. Paul describes the Resurrection of Jesus as “first fruits.”  We will be resurrected as well someday.  What does the resurrection of Jesus say about our own Resurrection?
  16. The Gospel makes a big deal that Jesus is physically resurrected. He is not just a Spirit.  People can recognize Jesus, touch Him, eresurrectionat with him, and walk with him.  At the same time, they cannot always recognize with him, he can appear in locked rooms, and disappear.  Why is it important that his resurrection was physical? Why is it that his resurrected body was different?
  17. Paul said that if there is no resurrection then our faith and preaching are meaningless.  Why is the resurrection so critical to belief?  What if there are people in your congregation trying to be a Christian but do not believe in the resurrection?
  18. What is the effect of the resurrection?  In other words, we make a big deal about why Jesus had to die, but why did he have to resurrect?  Why was his death not enough?
  19. We have journeyed through Lent to this point and it began with Ash Wednesday.  What does Easter have to do with the ashes and dust of Ash Wednesday?
  20. Paul talked about so many witnesses that he had talked to 1 Corinthians 15.  Imagine talking to one of them and hearing the story first hand.  How might the discussion go?  Do we witness with that kind of emotion?
  21. When someone dies we say that they are with us “in spirit.”  We mean that they are with us in our thoughts and our actions as we think about them and live out their influence.  The disciples claimed to have Jesus’ Spirit with them.  He even breathes it on them right after the Resurrection, but it is not until Pentecost that Spirit moves in such a mighty way.
  22. Revelation 21 talk about a new heaven and a new earth and makes a big deal that death will be no more.  Easter morning has been called “The Death of Death.”  How does Easter change death?  Why do we still die?
  23. I like to preach images and metaphors. One of the interesting images in the story is the Stone.  What is the significance of the stone?  I once heard Timothy Keller say in a sermon that the stone was rolled away not to let Jesus out but to let us in.  What do you think he meant by that?
  24. In the Gospel of John the Resurrection of Jesus is foreshadowed in the raising of Lazarus.  Compare and contrast these stories.  What is the same?  What is different?
  25. The angels are often skipped in Easter preaching.  We don’t like to deal with issues of angels and demons from the pulpit.  Yet there they are in the story.  What is their role?  What do they say and do?
  26. The Bible makes a big deal about Jesus being raised on the Third Day.  In our understanding of time it is not really 3 days.  It is only Friday night through Sunday morning making it not even 48 hours.  Jews in those days counted time differently, but there are also a number of other references to “the 3rd day” in the Old Testament.  Jesus even talks about tearing down the temple and rebuilding it in 3 days. There is plenty there to play with in a sermon.
  27. One of the big themes in the resurrection accounts is Recognize.  Sometimes the disciples recognize Jesus.  Other times Jesus has to open their minds.
  28. One of the ways that Jesus gets the people to recognize him is by breaking bread.  There is definitely a connection between Communion the Resurrection stories.  This also makes Easter Sunday a great communion Sunday though most churches I have been around do not do it then.
  29. Mark has a short ending and a long ending.  What are the strengths of both endings in connection with Easter morning?
  30. There is an interesting story in the Gospels about the guards at the tomb.  The run away, report to the authorities, and then take a bribe to say that the body was stolen.  Not a really uplifting story. Why does the Bible include this?
  31. The story of the road to Emmaus is rich with preaching ideas.  Who are these people?  Why are they walking?  What Old Testament passages does Jesus show them?  I have also read a description of this story as the model for a traditional (particularly reformed) worship service.  Have you ever thought of it that way?
  32. Emmaus also shows the importance of hospitality.  Had they never invited this stranger on the road to a meal they may never have known it was Jesus.  How often do we miss Jesus opportunities in our lives because we have lost hospitality?
  33. Why are the first witnesses to the Resurrection women.  In those days, women were not well respected.  They could not be witnesses in court.  Surely this was not made up this way.  It helps prove the accuracy of the Gospel accounts.  But might it also say something about equality of the genders and the reality that Jesus’ resurrection is for everybody?
  34. Another homiletically pregnant passage is Peter being reinstated.  He dives off the boat to see Jesus after apparently putting clothes on.  Jesus challenges Peter’s love and asks him to care for his sheep.  In the Greek there is some interesting something going on here.  I have always wondered if Peter had told everybody about his denials or if he had been silently and grumpily carrying that failure.  What do we do with our own failures to follow Jesus?  Do we really love Jesus?  How are we doing with the lambs in our world?
  35. Jesus has a strange encounter with Peter and John.  The sum of it is that Peter will die for his faith but John will not.  Why is that in the passage?  Is there some kind of rivalry between the two?  Perhaps the race to the tomb also shows this.  What does it mean that John was the disciple that Jesus loved?  What does it mean that we are loved?
  36. What about several “accounts” instead of sermon. Tell the story from the viewpoint of several characters. Maybe even have different members of your church plan to be Peter, John, Mary Magdalen, Mary the Mother of Jesus… Don’t preach, just let the testimonies do the preaching.
  37. We often do not tie Lenten themes into Easter morning. Lent is a time of fasting, penitence, and sorrow leading up to Easter. How does the Resurrection answer many of the feelings and longings of Lent.
  38. Preach the book of Ruth for Lent. It may seem strange, but the book of Ruth contains many things to say about the theme of Redemption. Both Ruth and Boaz save others.
  39. I love the story of the Prodigal Son. This story is so rich that it can make for a whole Lenten series. Take a look at the work of Timothy Keller and Kenneth E. Bailey.
  40. The Great Commission is the closing of the story for both Matthew and the longer ending of Mark. What does the Great Commission have to do with Easter?
  41. There is a line from the song Because He Lives that says, “…an empty grave is there to prove my savior lives.” Talk about the symbol of an empty grave. Perhaps you can even tie it to our own empty graves in the future.
  42. How funny would it be to be called “the other Mary?”  (Matt 28:1) You are the other Mary after a prostitute who gets to be the first Mary. What does Easter mean for us when we feel like an “other?”
  43. One of the emotions of that original Easter morning was FEAR. Do we feel fear on Easter? Should we? Jesus says not to fear (Matt 28:10) but we also read in the Bible that we should fear the Lord.
  44. The Bible makes a big deal about the resurrection happening after the Sabbath and on the first day of the week.  This means in our day that our faith is not a Sunday faith, but a Monday morning faith. Why is that significant?George_Whitefield_preaching
  45. The Gospel of John is organized around “I am” sayings and signs. These make a great outline for a sermon series leading up to Easter.
  46. Mary Magdalene knows Jesus in the Gospel of John because He calls her by name. He does not pronounce who He is or what has happened. He calls her by her name and suddenly she sees clearly. How does Jesus call us by name? What does it mean that Jesus is so personal in calling us?
  47. Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father. This makes no sense. Why can’t she cling to Jesus? How is she going to cling to Him after He ascends to the Father?
  48. I have heard people talk about how Jesus can enter a locked room after His Resurrection. I have never heard a sermon on why the door is locked.  The disciples are rightfully afraid that they might be crucified next. Yet in the book of Acts many of them will be arrested and killed. How do these scared men and women turn around after Pentecost and get so bold?
  49. Ron Cantor has pointed out that Jesus actually rose from the dead on a Jewish holiday called the Feast of Firstfruits.  How does this shape the Resurrection story? Check it out HERE.
  50. One of the images of death and resurrection that the church has used over the centuries has been baptism. We die and are resurrected with Christ. This image is not so vivid when you sprinkle water on a baby, but it is still a great image. What does it mean on Easter Sunday that we are risen with Christ?

Books I recommend for Easter Sermon preparation: Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Easter from the Backside by J. Ellsworth Kalas, The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, The Case for Easter by Lee Strobel, The Challenge of Jesus by NT Wright, and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.