Archives For Preaching

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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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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Share With Newcomers These Six Reasons to Get Plugged In

The difference between being a church attender and a church member is commitment.

Attenders are spectators from the sidelines; members get involved in the ministry. Attenders are consumers; members are contributors. Attenders want the benefits of a church without sharing the responsibility.

One of the biggest hurdles you will face as a church leader is convincing attenders they need to commit to their church family and become members. Today’s culture of independent individualism has created many spiritual orphans without any identity, accountability, or commitment.

God is not silent on this issue. The Bible offers many compelling reasons why every believer needs to be committed to and active in a local fellowship.

1. A church family identifies you as a genuine believer.

I can’t claim to be following Christ if I’m not committed to any specific group of disciples. Jesus said,“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

When we come together in love as a church family from different backgrounds, races, and social statuses, it is a witness to the world. No one believer can be the body…

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Calendar

Big-attendance days, like Easter and Christmas, are important for the growth of a church. You get to meet a lot of guests and then follow up with them after they visit. You also get a visual picture of what your church can look like a year down the road on an average Sunday.

The problem with big days, however, is that we sometimes see them as the end goal, and they’re not. High-attendance days are just one part of a bigger picture when it comes to making disciples.

After Easter, a lot of churches start preparing for what many leaders refer to as the “summer slump,” when attendance and giving decrease because of vacation travel, sports, and other interests competing with the church for time on the weekend.

That’s why it’s vital to focus, on a regular basis, on the systems you have in place for making disciples in between those big days.

To put it another way, you have five or six weeks per year to invite as many people as possible to attend a special worship event, but you have 52 weeks per year to help people take their next step in their spiritual walk.

Every week,…

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Transformation

Nothing thrills a pastor more than seeing real transformation happen in the lives of people. We want to see people grow up and become completely mature—completely like Jesus Christ. Another word for this is sanctification, and sanctification always begins as God’s Spirit uses God’s truth to change the mind, heart, and will of his follower.

Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17, “Use the truth to make them holy. Your Words are truth” (GW). Transformation is change, and change happens as we apply God’s truth to every area of our lives. The first responsibility of pastors and shepherds is to preach God’s truth, which transforms the lives of our hearers into the image of Jesus Christ.

One of the primary marks of spiritual immaturity is when other people can easily sway us away from the truth. Not knowing the truth of God’s Word causes us to change our beliefs back and forth, repeatedly, which creates an unstable life. Paul said in Ephesians 4:14-15 that when we are mature and know God’s truth, “Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different…

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Friends

Some of the greatest preachers in history were great at introducing and delivering sermons, but poor at closing them. We preach Christ and we preach a Gospel that calls for commitment, so powerful preaching presses for a verdict.

This is an area I spend a lot of time on when I’m preparing a message because a sermon without a conclusion is a message without a purpose. Changed lives come from great conclusions. John Stott said, “If there is no summons, there is no sermon.”

First, avoid these four common mistakes:

  • Don’t just summarize the message. Ask people to act.
  • Don’t announce that you’re concluding, especially if you don’t mean it.
  • Don’t blame the clock and rush to a conclusion.
  • Don’t introduce new ideas or extra points in your conclusion.

Instead, conclude by doing these things:

1. Always point back to Jesus Christ.

Jesus is center stage. The goal of preaching is not to get people to fall in love with you as the preacher but to get them to fall in love with Jesus. Since the Bible is the story of Jesus’ redemptive work, every sermon ought to draw people to the cross…

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No other institution on earth has the potential to change the world and address global issues as the local church. No force on earth is as unstoppable as the local church when it is functioning as a unified body of believers. And nothing brings a church together in unity better than a growth campaign.

The greatest waves of growth that Saddleback Church has ever experienced have been the result of the various church-wide campaigns that we’ve done. When we set aside six to eight weeks to concentrate, as a church family, on a single theme, amazing things happen, such as…

  • People bring their friends, co-workers, and neighbors to church.
  • Hundreds of people are baptized.
  • All kinds of new small groups form and launch.
  • Some people give financially for the first time, and everyone sacrifices for the Kingdom.
  • The church grows larger, deeper, broader, warmer, and stronger.

As you plan your preaching over the next twelve months, plan at least one, if not two, opportunities for your church to align around a single theme. Our newest campaign, 40 Days of Prayer is available now! Some of our other campaigns have included 

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Typesetting

When big news happens — civil unrest, natural disasters, terrorist attacks — pastors usually start an internal dialogue about the coming Sunday’s message.

Do I preach the message I’d planned on preaching? The one I had announced and slotted perfectly into our current series? The one I’ve already spent a couple of early mornings and late nights working on?

Or do I preach a message that addresses this current cultural crisis?

The question isn’t as simple as you might think, or as some leaders make it out to be in social media posts.

Does every significant cultural moment require us to abandon the pre-planned message for a “hot topic” message? Not necessarily. It all depends.

Here are a few questions that guide me when I’m deciding whether or not to address a particularly prominent news story . . .

Does this crisis affect my congregation more than the topic I’d planned on talking about?

If I happen to be preaching on the topic of marriages in trouble or how to recover from financial failure, should I switch to a topic that might actually be less deep for my congregation? Could the conversation about what’s in the news actually just be a distraction from what…

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Prayer on the Beach

“I will . . . station myself . . .” (Habakkuk 2:1 NIV).

If you want to get God’s vision for your life and ministry, you must want to hear it, you must withdraw to hear it, and then you must wait to hear it.

The New International Version says, “I will . . . station myself“( Habakkuk 2:1 NIV). What does it mean to station yourself before God? It means stay put. It means, “I’m not moving.” It means, “I’m going to be still. I’m going to sit here and I am not going to move until I hear from you, God.”

Hurry is the death of prayer. And, as pastors, we feel all kinds of pressure to get in a hurry. Yet God won’t speak to us as we run out the door. He wants us to care enough to linger and listen in our prayer time.

So many times, we’re running so revved up, we can’t slow down enough to tune in to God.

So, how do you slow down? You calm your mind by relaxing your body. You take deep breaths and you relax your muscles and let the…

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Sermon Cards

I attended a book-writing workshop recently that revolutionized how I write sermons. Let me explain.

The instructor had a great way of mapping out a book using what I would describe as a “building blocks” approach. Apparently, this is not a new technique, but it was new to me.

To accomplish this method, you take index cards and write every thought, every story, every illustration, and every quote on individual index cards, color coordinating them as you go (illustrations in green, your quotes in red, and so forth).

Once you’ve written it all down, you begin to assemble your thoughts and your cards piece by piece, in the order you want.

She explained that most people use Microsoft Word to write a book, which is incredibly slow and cumbersome because you have to copy and paste anytime you want to move your copy around. Additionally, you can only see a small amount of your work at a time.

Using her method makes it a lot easier because it allows you to lay it all out and organize it before you ever start writing.

As I was sitting in her workshop I thought, “This would be a…

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People with Needs

Pastors are called to feed, lead, and intercede for the church. When we have the privilege to stand before the people of God and share biblical truth with them, we must do so with the greatest skill entrusted to us by the Lord. This requires from each preacher due diligence in his study, spiritual preparation in his life, and total commitment from him through his delivery. When the Bible has been proclaimed faithfully and the people of God have been fed spiritually, there is a healthy spiritual satisfaction that rests upon the preacher.

The challenge of preaching is to communicate to the varied levels of maturity from those who hear us proclaim the Word. If all were on the same level, the preacher’s challenges would not be as great as they are. In the public worship services in our churches, it is our desire to have the services filled with those who are mature, those who are not as mature as they should be, and those that are absolutely there in search of God. Though it is a challenge to speak to these various levels of where people are with…

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Bird Feeder

Each spring I set out a red bird feeder in my backyard. It is a red metal box that stands affixed on a five foot pole. I always position it so we can see the swarm of birds that come to it through our kitchen window. I’ve always felt that that bird feeder is the simplest metaphor for understanding a preaching audience that I’ve ever witnessed. Here’s why.

When the bird feeder has food, birds magically appear. Without any marketing effort on my part, within two days of setting out the feeder birds are swarming all over it. I’m convinced there are two reasons for that. One is birds, need to eat. Second, birds follow each other to where there’s food. People are a lot like birds – if you are setting out fresh bread each week, and don’t grow weary, over time people will come and bring friends.

When the bird feeder is empty, birds simply go away. The same drive to eat is the same drive that causes birds to look elsewhere when their food source is gone. I’ve noticed that when the feeder empties, birds will fly back to it off…

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