Friday Five: Michael Kelley

May 13, 2011

If you’re involved with a small group, attend Sunday-School, or attend a Bible study in your area, it’s likely you are dependent on Bible study curriculum, produced by Lifeway, Group, or other evangelical organizations. Well, who write this stuff? Today, we peel back the curtain as my friend, Michael Kelley, editor of Lifeway’s adult curriculum line, stops by for today’s Friday Five:

What distinguishes Lifeway’s resources from the plethora of small-group/Bible study stuff out there?

Hopefully a few things. Lifeway has a reputation of being first and foremost biblically sound. That’s something we take very seriously and will, by God’s grace continue into the future. Threads are resources geared toward young adults and are built on a few foundational principles:

Depth: We want depth to characterize the whole experience from the level of intimacy and sharing to the knowledge base.
Community: These Bible studies assume a discussion built around them rather than a lecture form of teaching. They are built to force personal engagement and introspection that is then shared in a group setting.
Responsibility: Young adults are, in many ways, leading the charge in the church to change the world. Issues of both evangelism and social justice are forefront in their minds and these studies assume a desire to bring the gospel to bear in the world.
Connection: We also want to encourage cross-generational ministry; connecting with people outside your specific demographic rather than each age group being a church unto themselves.

As a full-time writer and editor, do you have a writing schedule/system that works for you? Are you an early morning, crank out 5,000 words a day type of guy?

Other guys are better at this than I am. I recently read that Stephen King writes 10 pages every single day without exception. Regardless of what you think of his writing, that’s pretty impressive. I can’t crank out 10 pages, but I spend the first 30 to 45 minutes every day in the office writing. Much of the time I never use what I’ve written because it’s not any good; but the key thing is actually getting something down. The discipline of just writing, even if it seems like you’re writing about nothing, has helped me a ton. It’s forced me to articulate myself and edit myself – to think about the random occurrences of the day and to get ideas down on paper. And sometimes they actually go somewhere.

I like your series, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Seems today Jesus is often co-opted by many who want to skip over his rather tough statements, as if we can “follow Jesus” and forget the church, doctrine, damnation and such. Was this series written to address some of these misconceptions?
It was – to bring a more holistic and realistic viewpoint on Jesus. We tend to focus on the parts of His teaching we deem to be most palatable, but the truth is that most people left a conversation with Jesus with questions, anger, or confusion. You could say that Jesus was one of the worst PR guys in history. He constantly dispersed crowds and spoke in mysterious parables. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t press into His words and seek to understand what He meant. Only those who stuck with Him and followed got to fully appreciate the fullness of His teaching. My hope is that by examining a few of the “lesser told and preached” sayings of Jesus, we might have a more complete picture of who He is.

What do you think is the “hardest” saying of Jesus?

Man, pick one. With so many of His teachings, we tend to do clever theological tricks to get around what He’s saying. But for me, I’ve always found His teaching in Luke 9:57-62 about following Him to be incredibly difficult. It continues to challenge me, not so much on my level of commitment, but in how much I love Jesus and the gospel. Do I value Him that much, so that I would let the dead bury the dead and not look back? Tough stuff.

That, of course, comes right on the heels of Luke 9:23 when Jesus says that we must take up our crosses daily and follow me. That’s pretty scandalous stuff, given that the cross was the means of public execution. it would be like Him telling us to take up our hangman’s noose or electric chair and follow Him.

You’re most recent work is Holy Vocabulary. You talk about redeeming the language of faith. What do you mean by that?

Most Christians, especially in North America, live inside a spiritual sub-culture. Just like Nascar, Star Trek, or coupon moms, there are customs, dress, and language that go with that subculture. The driving force behind the book is that many of us have simply adopted the language of the Christian subculture. We use words like saved, hell, redeem, and sin without really knowing what we’re talking about. They’re just words, and we assume that everybody knows them.

I don’t think we need new words for these things – these are good words. They’re Bible words. But I do think they need to be rescued from the subculture. They need to be brought back and loved and known so that we feel the real weight and force behind them.

By the way, check out Michael’s terrific blog for his insights on writing, faith, and culture.