It’s been funny and sad to read, listen and watch the so-called controversy surrounding the RISKS sermon series at Christ Community. With a church that averages around 3,000 in attendance on a Sunday morning there will inevitably be things that “offend” (challenge) segments of the populace. If you aren’t challenging people then you have to wonder if you are doing anything at all.

Awhile back I was at a Creative Team meeting where we were developing ideas for the RISKS sermon series. It was fairly important because RISKS was the church’s definition of what it meant to be a disciple. Often we throw around that term, disciple, without any real idea of what it means to be one. The leaders at the church have spent the better part of the year developing and refining this definition. This sermon series would be an overview of the new paradigm, and in 2007 we would spend much time going into further detail.

At this Creative Team meeting we were kicking around ideas of how to kick-off this new discipleship paradigm. We wanted something that would be new, different, get people talking/thinking, but most of all would really capture people right away. Often churches can create catchy slogans and jingles that sound good, but there is nothing to them. We knew we had something deep with RISKS so we wanted something good to support it.

A lot of the ideas were going nowhere. Granted, a lot of the times in these meetings it seems people just throw anything out there to see if something sticks. Nothing was sticking. An idea I had been kicking around my head leading up to this meeting was to do a campaign that would be similar to Apple’s “Think Different” campaign in the 90’s. Simple yet profound. I finally shared the idea and people were keen to it, but weren’t necessarily sold on it. I then pulled one of the Think Different commercials off YouTube and played it at the meeting. When it got done everyone was sold on the idea. I then expanded upon what I saw with the campaign and everyone was down with it. So, it became my responsibility to develop the idea for the sermon series.

As with Apple’s campaign, I wanted to develop profiles that fit the idea of RISKS. I wanted people that didn’t fit the mold of CCC or the sterotypical evangelical Christian. Think Different had a wide variety of people it profiled. Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, Jim Henson, Alfred Hitchcock, Amelia Earhart, Jackie Robinson, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. I wanted a wide variety of people involved as well.

The first idea I developed centered around the life of Mother Teresa. To those outside of the church this may not seem like a bold idea, but unfortunately there is a minority of anti-Catholic sentiment in the church. To provide an example, when Pope John Paul II died we received complaints for lowering the flag to half-staff on the church property as a way of honoring him. Never mind that one of the heroes of Christian Republicans, President Bush, called for it. We received flack for honoring an individual who did great things for faith, peace and life. One more example. When the church went through Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” we had some people complain because in the book Rick Warren quotes Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen. The people didn’t have problem with the content of the quote, but rather that he quoted two Catholics. Crazy.

Let me stress again that this is a small minority of people at the church.

I brought forth the rough draft of the Mother Teresa poster and the Comm Team was down with it. (At that time it was Nancy Fager, Jen Lathrop and Sherry Gossman.) I also shared the other names I had in mind. Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr., Blaise Pascal, Eric Liddell, Cassie Bernall, Bono, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Billy Graham, a contact of mine in China, and others. The team was cool with these names. They suggested a few others. Nancy brought up G.K. Chesterton and A.B. Simpson and we decided to run with those. Originally we had talked about incorporating some people from the congregation. I brought this up and we nixed it, but we didn’t want to have all “famous” Christians. So, Sherry mentioned a friend of hers in Rwanda who has a great story. (His name is Ben Pahlow.) We decided to include him as well in the initial run.

After this, Nick Kelly came on full-time and started laying out the design of all the individual posters and coming up with the copy. We worked together on deciding the final wording of the posters. We got them printed up and Mark Ashton saw the posters before Nick and I started hanging them around the church the day before the sermon series kicked off.

Also in the week leading up to the start of the sermon series we worked on the script for the video that would kick-off the series. As a team we developed the script and then handed that over to Matt Paddack. Matt works out of the district office for the denomination and we contract with him on video projects. We had wanted to pattern the video after Apple’s Think Different video. Matt recorded Mark doing the voiceover for the video midweek, and then had a rough draft to us. Nick and I watched it and we like what we saw, but wanted to make a few edits. Nancy saw the video and thought the same. We talked to Matt about some of the changes, he made them, and the video he submitted is the one that is available on the main page.

One of the suggestions made before the final cut of the video was to limit the footage of Pope John Paul II. We did this because we knew that some people would be distracted by it and miss the point of the video, of the message.

The video played, people walked around the church to see the different posters of the profiles and Mark kicked off the RISKS sermon series. This was on October 29. All the initial feedback was positive.

(to be continued…)

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