By Andy Baker, Nehemiah Center Volunteer
For the second year the Nehemiah Center partnered with Street Psalms to offer the Vision Table. This is a time for pastors and leaders in Managua to gather for discussion, prayer, and visioning over an issue affecting their city. Twenty pastors and leaders gathered at the Nehemiah Center for six-weeks in March and April to discuss, grow, and fellowship together. This year we focused on the following question: how can pastors effectively preach peace in a time of increased polarization?
So, what is polarization? Polarization means that on a wide variety of issues (social, political, religious, etc.) people are becoming more and more “my way or the highway” or “you’re either with me or you’re against me.” Issues are either black or white or right or wrong, and there is seldom a middle ground where understanding, compassion, and fellowship occurs. The more people rigidly entrench themselves in their opinions, the more likely there is to be conflict in relationships, communities, and churches. Many pastors are experiencing this polarization in their communities. Before the table several pastors expressed to us that polarization was making it difficult to preach and lead in their churches. One pastor told me that he struggled to find anything to preach on that would not anger a significant portion of his congregation. Others shared about how much division they were seeing in their church, families, and community. After a time of prayer and discernment about how the Nehemiah Center could best assist pastors in addressing this issue, we decided to focus on how to effectively preach for peace.
We shared a simple, biblical, definition of peace with the pastors. Peace is the following of God’s plan for the world, while chaos is disobeying God’s plan. When we preach peace we encourage people to seek out God’s preferred future for themselves and others. We looked at a variety of scriptures where God laid out His vision of peace, as well as examples of God helping to bring peace to cities (such as Jerusalem and Nineveh). We also shared best practices for preaching, especially focusing on how to preach sermons that will lead to transformation in the lives of the listeners. A major positive of the Table was the fellowship between the pastors. Over these six weeks they shared ideas, encouraged and supported one another, and spent time praying with, and for, each other.
When we began this journey many pastors were expressing high levels of stress and burnout. They saw a lot of problems, but could not envision solutions. As the weeks went on more and more pastors embraced God’s view of peace, and began developing a vision for sharing that peace. Everyone around the table wrote and preached at least one sermon about peace. One Pastor shared that before the Table the stress of ministry was negatively affecting his health. During these six weeks his stress level decreased, and his health improved and he sought and shared God’s peace. Several pastors shared that they now have a much clearer vision of how to address the polarization they see in their communities. One wrote that the Table “gave me a deeper understanding of peace, as well as new ideas for how to preach peace to my church in the midst of polarization we are seeing in our community.”
One of the things nearly every participant said they learned from our time together was the importance of effectively calling their congregations to apply the message of the scripture and sermon each week, which was a relatively new concept for many of them. One pastor shared that learning the importance of calling his congregation to apply the message has helped his church “obtain better results and helped our members carry a clear message to others. I’ve seen myself better applying the Bible to the spiritual and emotional needs of my congregation, improving the impact the message has on them.”
So what’s next? The Nehemiah Center is continuing to walk with these pastors as they share God’s peace in their churches and communities. We are also exploring other avenues of sharing God’s plan for peace and best preaching practices with additional pastors and leaders in Managua over the next year.