Archives For Leadership

Tips to Improve Your Sermon Preparation

One of the ways I prepare for sermons is by constantly collecting content—things like news stories or statistics that might make a good illustration, anecdotes and quotes, and Bible verses based on a common theme.

I usually start collecting this stuff months or even years before I ever write the sermon. This kind of collecting is one of the most underrated habits of great preachers. We can learn from them by always being on the lookout for things that will help us develop future sermons.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. A few years ago, I preached a sermon series on Psalm 23. It turned out to be a great evangelistic series. In fact, 446 people gave their lives to Christ during the seven-week series. But here’s the thing: I started collecting material on Psalm 23 back when I was in college! And so when it came time to preach this series, I had a huge file of information to draw on. I’d been thinking about the topics in Psalm 23 for years, so I don’t believe it was accidental that God used the series…

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How to Mobilize Our Churches to Finish the Task

For the past 2,000 years, Christians have been praying for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

And we’re still not there yet. But it’s within sight. We’re closer than ever before.

More than 2 billion people have never even heard the message of Jesus, so it’s time to take a radical stand and say, “This has to be completed in our generation.”

Nothing matters more than getting the Good News to people who haven’t heard it.

It’s why you’re still on this planet. It’s why every person in your church is still around. There are only two things you can’t do in heaven: You can’t witness to other people, and you can’t sin.

Nothing matters more than getting the Good News to everyone—and finishing our task. History depends upon it. The spiritual destinies of people depend upon it.

The church’s birth in Acts 2 gives us a great model for how we’ll reach the remaining unreached people groups on the earth. Within the story of these early Christians, we get the biblical foundation for mobilization.

1. We must depend upon the Holy Spirit.

If we don’t begin, continue, and end with…

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10 Reasons Churches Plateau

Every church goes through plateaus—times when your church simply doesn’t grow. It’s natural and normal, and they’re part of our story at Saddleback.

Our plateaus have looked different at times, but they’ve been there. In fact, a decade ago we were in the midst of one such five-year plateau. But then God did what only he can do. Today we’re going through a renewed period of growth.

In nearly 50 years of ministry, I’ve talked with thousands of pastors going through their own periods of plateau. I’ve studied the issue extensively. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Plateaus are natural.

Don’t get freaked out by them. Plateaus are just a state of little or no change. Everything stops growing at some point. It happens all of the time in nature. It shouldn’t surprise us when it happens in our churches. It will happen in our churches. You can count on it.

2. God created every organism to have a maximum limit on its growth.

Even redwood trees, which grow to 400 feet tall and live for 2,000 years, have a growth cap. Your church does, too. You can’t use it as an excuse, though….

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4 Things That Matter Most in Holiday Giving Campaigns

You’ll hear one word more than any other during the holiday season.

I’d like to say that word is Jesus or Gospel or even gratefulness. But it’s not.

The most popular word, by far, is gift. Everyone wants to talk about gifts they’re giving or gifts they’re getting. It’s not just a national obsession. It’s a global one. We spend at least a month—and these days, likely two months—in a mad dash to find the right gifts.

Many people think that the idea of giving gifts at Christmas began with the wise men bringing their presents to the Baby Jesus. It does begin in the Bible, but it isn’t the wise men who gave the first Christmas gift.

It was God himself.

The most famous verse in the Bible says it like this: “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die” (John 3:16 CEV).

Jesus was the original Christmas gift. God loved us so much that he gave.

That’s why it’s natural to encourage people to give to ministry…

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5 Truths for Ministering to Those with Mental Illness

I’ve always said our greatest ministry comes out of our greatest pain. That’s why Kay and I have focused the last few years on helping churches better engage people with mental illness.

Many of you know that our younger son, Matthew, battled mental illness almost his entire life. His profound suffering impacted everyone in our family. He experienced many, many moments of despair over his short 27 years of life. Then, in 2013, in one impulsive moment of despair, Matthew took his life.

In the months after Matthew’s death, Kay and I decided we wouldn’t waste our pain. We wanted God to use the pain to help local churches around the world faithfully serve the mentally ill.

As we prayed about what God wanted us to do to help Saddleback and other churches minister in this area, God gave us five biblical truths to establish the foundation of everything we do:

1.  Every person has dignity.

God made every single person in his image and for his purpose. Mental illness doesn’t change that truth one bit. If a person’s heart is beating right now, God has a…

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Building Your Ministry on the Promises of God

What makes Christian leaders distinctly Christian?

Some say it’s how they lead—by serving others rather than using forced authority.

Some say it’s the motivation—they lead for Jesus’ sake and to build up the body of Christ.

Those are both great answers, but I believe distinctly Christian leadership is based upon the promises of God.

By some estimates, there are somewhere around 5,000 promises of God in the Bible. Our God is a promise-making God. He is a covenant-keeping God. He made promises to every major leader in the Bible—such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, and Paul.

And God makes promises to you and me, too.

You can base your ministry on a variety of different factors, from your own cleverness to your own giftedness. I’ve chosen to base mine upon the promises of God. I have found, as Joshua did at the end of his life (read Joshua 21:45), that every one of God’s promises has been fulfilled.

I’ve built my ministry on these eight promises.

1. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”
(2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV).

God used…

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11 Simple Strategies for Helping Guests Feel Welcome

When I think back to some of the factors that have helped Saddleback grow through the years, one of the most important has also been one of the most overlooked.

If you want people to show up, you must be nice to people.

Sounds simple, right? It really shouldn’t surprise anyone. But even though most churches say they’re friendly, some of them really just mean their members are friendly to people they already know. They’re friendly to people who look like them and act like them.

And that doesn’t guarantee they’re friendly to guests.

You must be intentional in your friendliness. You don’t overcome unfriendliness by accident. You need to build friendliness into your worship service.

That’s why, early on at Saddleback, I instituted the three-minute rule. Guests are usually among the first to leave at the end of a worship service. Longtime members stay the longest. I’d tell my longtime members to find someone who looks like a guest (they are usually easy to spot) and talk with the person right after the service. I’d encourage them to spend some time getting to know these guests and making…

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10 Reasons Every Christian Should Share the Message of Jesus

Every person in your church has a message to share with the world. The middle-aged business owner has one. The single parent has one. The 10-year-old you just baptized has one. The 95-year-old in a senior citizen home has one, too.

As pastors, we understand that every member is a minister. And so telling others about who Jesus is and what he came to do isn’t a commission meant just for us.

The Bible makes it clear that God has called every believer to share the Good News.

I know it’s not easy to get everyone in our congregations to commit to evangelism. And it can be frustrating to hear people say they don’t know what to say, they don’t have time, or they are embarrassed to talk about spiritual matters.

At Saddleback, we’ve learned that explaining why evangelism is so important helps people understand the necessity and value of sharing their faith. Here are 10 reasons from the Bible why God wants us to share our faith.

1. God made us to know him.

Human beings are unique. God made us in his image. We have a…

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Breaking the Chains of Hopelessness

The first time Rick publicly prayed at a weekend church service for people living with a mental illness, his words were simple. He asked God to bring comfort and strength to anyone living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness. He asked God to reassure them that their pain and suffering mattered to God and to their brothers and sisters, and to remind them that as a church family, we would do all we could to offer support to them and their families.

The response from the congregation was astonishing. As he stood on the patio following the services, dozens of men and women who were living with a mental illness, or who loved someone living with a mental illness, lined up to give him a hug and to thank him for bringing their struggle into the light. Many spoke through their tears about the deep gratitude they felt to hear mental illness mentioned from the pulpit in such a loving and positive way. “I’ve kept my illness a secret at church,” several said. “I didn’t know it was okay to talk about it.”

That simple,…

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6 Ways to Prevent Vision Drift in Your Church

Your most important job as a church leader isn’t to hire and fire. It isn’t to manage a budget. It isn’t to mentor younger leaders. It’s not even to preach.

All of those tasks are important. They’re part of what you do as a church leader.

But your main job as a leader is to remind your congregation continually of your church’s vision. Everything else you can delegate. You can’t delegate vision.

Proverbs says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” You have a lot riding on the vision you communicate to your church.

Communicating vision get harder and harder—and much more important—as your church grows. I saw this firsthand at Saddleback. If you’ve heard the story of Saddleback, you know I shared a vision for the future of the church during our trial run, a week before our official launch.

At first, it was relatively easy to keep the church focused on the vision. When we were small, the only people who came were non-Christians. They had zero expectations about what church should be like. All they knew was Saddleback. We didn’t have a children’s ministry, a youth…

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How to Be a Decisive Leader

One thing that will create stress for you, your staff, and even your congregation is when you are indecisive. It is a form of double-mindedness, and James says that leads to instability (James 1:8).

I think part of the problem is that we complicate decisions, often factoring in information that isn’t really important, relying on our own wisdom while failing to specifically seek God and his wisdom.

When I find myself stuck over a decision, I go back to the basics with these four steps:

1. I admit I need God’s guidance to make any decision. 

None of us can see the future. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow—much less next year or 10 years from now. The Bible says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12 NIV). On the other hand, God knows everything that has happened to you, that is happening to you, and that will happen to you. In order to keep our ministries heading in the direction God desires, we have to go to him for guidance in making decisions.

2. I ask…

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3 Ways to Replace Busyness with Purpose in Your Ministry

More than 70 percent of pastors say they work between 55 to 75 hours every single week.

Those numbers may not surprise you. But they should.

Just like all the people you serve in ministry every week, you were created for a specific purpose—and that purpose isn’t fulfilled simply through activity and busyness. You might think those late nights hunched over your computer and all those times you’ve skipped family meals are helping you fulfill your unique purpose.

But your purpose is more than what you do on Sunday mornings. It’s more than what you do in meetings and hospital visits. Those activities may helpyou fulfill your purpose, but they must not define your purpose.

Every pastor, just like every person, is driven by something. Many are driven by the pressures around them. Others are driven by responding to crises in their midst—and there are plenty of those, right? Some pastors are driven by the expectations of those they lead.

But God wants something more from us. He wants us to live purpose driven lives. You can’t lead others to make the most of their lives if…

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