COLUMBIA, Mo. — Two comments hanging on his bulletin board remind Kevin Glenn of the two groups he hoped a recent sermon series, “God Behaving Badly,” would touch — “outsiders” and “insiders.”
The impetus to use David Lamb’s book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? as the basis for the series stemmed from his personal desire for people — both unbelievers and Christians — to hear God’s story.
“I spend a lot of time with unbelievers, burned believers. I love to be in conversation with people who, unless something drastic happens, will not step foot in a church,” the pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., explained. “I made a commitment to spend as much time as I can…with outsiders.”
Memorial’s pastor for five years, Glenn has attracted “quite a group” of individuals outside the church to his blog and other social media accounts. Many of the questions people had and the reasons they gave for staying away from the church “weren’t about Jesus at all…but they were getting hung up on the God of the Old Testament,” he said.
“The impetus [for the series] on one side was…the questions about God. They couldn’t find compatibility with what they understood about Jesus.”
The “inside impetus” for the series came from church members.
“The biggest surprise was how many Christians…generally did not want to hear sermons from the Old Testament,” he said. “They had a genuine dislike and discomfort” with it.
Every time he preaches a sermon series from the Hebrew Scriptures, “people would ask when we were going to get out of it,” he said.
Both groups’ misunderstandings led him to develop the God Behaving Badly series. “I love the Old Testament. I grew up loving it and felt this [dislike] can’t be,” Glenn said.
When he discovered a church member knew Lamb, Glenn “leveraged the friendship” to invite the author to launch the series Jan. 13. Although bad weather that weekend somewhat limited attendance, Lamb’s appearance still generated attention that carried through the entire nine-week series.
“Conversations have spun off,” and Glenn is still seeing people react. Because of the series, individuals in the community have realized “this is the kind of church that talks about real life,” he explained.
The “outsider” comment tacked near his desk reminds Glenn that the church can reach people: “I’ve gone from atheism to agnosticism because this has caused me to think about my doubts about God.”
And the “insider” note from a long-time member calls him to continue stretching his congregation: “I’m not afraid of the Old Testament anymore.”
“Both comments kind of encapsulate” what he tried to do with the series, the pastor said.
“Visitors keep coming and our challenge is to love them. I’m trying to continue putting together sermons that…continue to address issues,” he added. “I’ve seen believers get more honest…and unbelievers have a greater level of confidence they can…engage with Memorial.”
‘Truly Human’ series
Glenn believes God will continue to touch people through his current series, “Truly Human.” Believers and unbelievers don’t understand Christ’s humanity. He hopes the sermons will show people “how to get in sync with God,” he said.
“I don’t want people to come to church on Sunday and check out of their life…to be in a vacuum…totally unconnected…. I feel we’ve failed if we haven’t helped believers connect God to real life and unbelievers to see that God does connect to life,” Glenn explained.
Tell your story
He hopes all believers will ask God for boldness to tell their story. “Tell your story of what God has done in your life…and drawn you into his story…. That’s the ‘expert’ people want to know.”