It always seems like a cop-out to me when someone bestows a fill-in-the-blank-of-the-year award on an abstract idea or a group of people, rather than gathering the courage to name a particular individual.
But that's not going to stop me from naming the group of people that clearly influenced me more than any one individual alone and far more than any other collective group for the cause of the gospel in 2007.
At the beginning of the year I moved to Washington, DC, to participate in the internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and I stayed around in DC after it was over to work in a low-level pastoral support role at the church that would help me soak up more preparation for prospective pastoral ministry in the future.
One of the oddest things we do at CHBC is a weekly service review. So for about two hours after the evening service, 50 or so weeks a year, all the staff pastors, all the pastoral assistants, all the interns (when they're in residence), everyone who participated on the platform in either of the Sunday services, and occasionally other special guests gather to talk about everything that took place during those services. That almost always includes music, service leading, assorted prayers, Scripture readings, Sunday evening sharing and prayer items, and the morning and evening sermons.
Participants discuss and debate what worked well and what didn't, and offer encouragement and constructive criticism to all who led the congregation in the various elements of the services, and most especially for the Sunday evening preacher—who may either be a non-staff elder of the church, a potential future elder, or a young man likely heading toward pastoral ministry. This is one of the absolutely foundational ways the gifts of younger men are evaluated, edified, and shaped in preparation for their own pastoral ministry elsewhere.
Although the bulk of the comments tends to focus on biblical content, usefulness of application, and the mechanics of presentation, one essential theme is never far from the surface of the discussion, and it often rises above the surface to absorb the center stage.
That theme is the gospel.
A basic presupposition of the service review is that what is being sung, prayed, read, and preached ought to draw bright red arrows in the minds of the congregation back to the gospel. Whether or not you're convinced that the central message of Scripture is the redemptive work of Christ isn't the issue. The point is that it's irresponsible for a pastor to preach a message from any text of Scripture without clarifying that text's relationship to the broader themes of Scripture and outlining the personal implications of that text and those themes for the congregation—presumably composed of both Christians and non-Christians. And the gospel is clearly one of those themes that has direct implications for the life of a believer. But that's another conversation.
What I'm here to do is to express gratitude to the service review crew—the 2007 Paleoevangelical of the Year—for its contribution to my life in demonstrating and modeling the centrality of the gospel in the public services of a congregation. Like many things that are good for me, it's certainly not always what I'd prefer to be doing on a Sunday night. In fact, sometimes it's downright annoying. But it "lights brushfires in our minds." So thanks to Mark, Michael, Andy, Deepak (not Chopra!), Mike, Mike, Adam, Kevin, sometimes Ken and Kasey and other special guests, and the other 11 interns (who strategically and creatively employed their "one comment" ;-) to my benefit as well as the more senior staff).
And there is one more thing I'm here to do. Pastors and future pastors, why not consider developing your own adapted version of service review in your own church? A little criticism offered and received with humility and love (and a dash of humor) never hurt anyone.