Archives For Preaching

bible

Preaching, as a pastor, is hard. It’s not hard to get up and say something inspirational. It is hard to get up and rightly divide God’s Word, build a bridge from an ancient culture to our own, and then to call people to an appropriate response to God’s revealed truth consistently week after week.

On a recent Sunday, I kind of bombed. Most of the congregation probably couldn’t tell; partly because they’re so stinkin’ nice, but I knew driving home I had missed the mark. For my own benefit, and for the benefit of pastors who may read this, I wanted to use a blog post to explore where I think I went wrong.

You must understand that every pastor prepares messages a little differently. I plan a year of preaching in advance using a spreadsheet, then write an overview of each series a couple of weeks before it begins. On Sunday night, I start reading and soaking in the primary passage and theme for the following Sunday. On Tuesdays, I study hard and usually by Wednesday, I have an outline. I purposely wait until Saturday to turn it into a publicly presentable outline and slideshow…

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Recently, I was attending my home church and listening to the guest speaker’s message. He started out by asking everyone to close their eyes. He said, “Picture a used car salesman. Picture a librarian. Picture a sumo wrestler.” Then, he said, “Picture a spiritual person.”

He went back and addressed each one. He asked the congregation, “What did you see when you pictured a used car salesman… a librarian… a sumo wrestler…?” And with each one he described the stereotypes and asked people to raise their hands if they pictured the same thing.

Then he asked, “What does a spiritual person look like? How many of you pictured Billy Graham? How many of you pictured Mother Teresa?” Then, like a brilliant communicator, he asked, “How many of you pictured yourself when I asked you to picture a spiritual person?” 

He went on from there, but I was so proud of the preacher and here’s why: Over the past 12 years when I have spoken at pastors and leadership conferences, I have urged pastors to, “Paint a picture with your words. Don’t underestimate the power of imagination.” 

“Imagination is more…

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I want to be a great pastor. I make no apology for that. It’s an ambition. I want to lead and shepherd well. I want to preach and communicate effectively. I want to develop leaders and cast vision and build a great staff. So where should I start?

Level zero.

One of my favorite lines from the original Kung Fu Panda is when Po shows up at the dojo to begin his training and tells Master Shifu, “Let’s just start at level zero.” Shifu explains that there is no such thing, but gives Po a chance to prove his most basic skill of punching one of those wobbly inflatable toys. It doesn’t go well, and after Po returns to Shifu’s feet, beaten, bruised, and burned by all the equipment he accidentally stumbled through Shifu pats him on the head and softly declares, “There is now a level zero.” Here’s the clip, in case you need a break from politics.

That’s me! Sometimes, I just need to go back to level zero. What’s level zero, for pastors and church leaders? What is it that we need to put into practice before we begin doing anything else?…

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Pastors

Let’s cut the fluff and get real for a moment. Being a pastor is incredibly difficult.

The church is often guilty of only painting a picture of the wonderful blessings of being called to ministry – like it only gets better day after day.

We somehow forget to talk about the suffering involved. Did we forget, or are we afraid people won’t go into ministry if they know the truth?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are some things we are failing to prepare new pastors for.

I wish someone would have sat me down at age 20 and told me the following as I have spent the last decade learning these the hard way:

1. It will be the hardest thing you ever do.

No seriously, it is really, really, really hard! Imagine the most difficult thing you have done and multiply it by a hundred. That may be close to how hard ministry is. If you want to be a pastor because it sounds fun or easy, do something else.

2. Integrity and a love for Christ will not be enough; you have to be able to lead people.

Your character and love for Christ are…

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I procrastinate on writing my messages.

I plan lots of time at the beginning of my week to study and write my message but inevitably something arises leadership-wise that causes me to take the time I planned for sermon development and devote it to some other worthy cause.

Why do I keep doing that? Let me pull the lid off this thing and examine it.

The Cause of Procrastination

First, I think I do this because writing sermons is tough work.

It is grueling. Sermon crafting is like having a baby – some come out with one push, others come out breach. Having a baby 48 times a year is tough. Sermon writing is just tough work. To do it well you have to be disciplined and sit at that desk whether or not the inspiration comes.

Second, I think I postpone sermon writing because I like to gravitate to something that is more fun to me – leadership challenges.

Leadership challenges energize me. They are reflexive. Leadership comes naturally to me. I know I have the gift of teaching, but it ranks second in my gift mix. Having the gift of leadership and teaching is a wonderfully troublesome combination.

Third,…

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tim-keller

While reading Timothy Keller’s new book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, I ran across a quote that, I believe, is wildly telling. In this passage, Keller is talking about legalism (dependence on morality to save us) and antinomianism (the belief that God’s grace doesn’t mean we have to live holy lives).

“Here is where the issue affects your preaching. If you think legalism is simply too much emphasis on the law, then you will think the antidote is to talk less about obedience and more about acceptance and forgiveness. If you think that antinomianism is simply too loose an attitude toward morality and law, you will assume the remedy is to talk less about mercy and acceptance and more about God righteousness and holy commands. In short, you will try to cure one with a dose of the other. This will be a disaster, because both of them have the same root cause. Both come from the belief that God does not really love us or will our joy, and from a failure to see that ‘both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace.’”

I like…

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man-person-relaxation-steps-large

This week, Pastor Pete Wilson’s name is coming up on newsfeeds after he stepped down as Pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville. Pete’s a great guy and handled his resignation in a positive way. He stepped down primarily because of exhaustion and burnout. He’s tired. He’s broken. He’s not okay. But he is in the good hands of a good Father.

Unfortunately, over the last month or two, dozens – perhaps hundreds of pastors, have stepped down from their positions because of burnout. It’s epidemic. And that’s the point Karl Vaters addresses on his blog, Pivot, this week…

The pain of one pastor is intensified under the unforgiving glare of the spotlight, while the pain of another is ignored. Both hurt equally…

The pain of the megachurch pastor is intensified by failing under the unforgiving glare of the spotlight, while the pain of the other is amplified by failing in anonymity. Forgotten by almost everyone.

Both scenarios are toxic. They break the heart of Jesus, they damage his church, they devastate pastors’ families, they ruin ministries and they make it harder for church members to trust a pastor again – or to…

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One of my favorite things to do is to speak to a group. It’s mostly because I am a teacher at heart and I really enjoy helping people understand a new idea, deepen their knowledge about a topic, or help them move from point A to point B about a subject. From a young age I wanted to be a teacher and I have been blessed to be a teacher for most of my career.

Similar to leadership, teaching is something that has naturally come with each of my positions. When I’m a manager, I train others how to do their job – teaching! When I’m in a meeting presenting a new way to reach customers, I’m teaching! When I’m in the classroom in front of a bunch of college students teaching them about leadership, I’m teaching … okay, that one was kind of obvious.

One of the best ways to spread your message is through public speaking. Whether you’re in a pulpit on Sunday morning, presenting a PowerPoint presentation to your colleagues, or leading a family meeting at home, you’re speaking. And most of us can get better at this skill. And, I am…

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If you want to initiate change, the best place to start is by creating a captivating sermon series. Preaching is the single greatest contributing factor to church-wide growth. It is also the one thing we have total control over as Senior Pastors. If we want to change, nobody is stopping us.

The most common thing I discover when I begin a new coaching relationship is not that they don’t know how to preach. All are exceptional communicators. The common struggle they face is “putting all the pieces together.” This includes prioritizing, creatively planning, studying, writing, promoting, and executing the task of preaching week in and week out.

Oddly enough, what I find is that all the guys I coach have a home run sermon at least once a year. People love it. But when I ask what happens the following week, they tell me that they strike out. And the next week they barely get a walk. And the next week they get depressed, eat too much, and want to quit.

Great Preaching Begins With Consistency

As a fellow preacher, I’m not interested in home run sermons. Home runs are flukes. Home runs are statistical anomalies. Given enough time, everyone hits a home run. My goal in preaching is to…

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I was told, early in ministry, some of the most terrible advice: “Don’t get too close to people. You can never trust them.” I now give leaders the exact opposite advice. Fall into the depth of meaningful friendships. Will you get hurt? Yes. Such is life, but it’s worth it. From personal experience I can say, it’s worth it.

I’m thankful for the words Shawn Lovejoy wrote about this on Ed Stetzer’s Exchange blog…

The #1 mistake I see pastors make is living in isolation. We don’t mean to, but we just get busy, overcommitted, overextended, exhausted, and sometimes even numb. After a long week of ministry, many of us just want to go home and binge on Netflix or self-medicate in some other way.

What’s missing in the lives of many megachurch pastors I know is genuine friendship, camaraderie, koinonia, and intimacy. We are missing relationships that are for us and with us, not just behind us or under us.

Jesus is our greatest example. Why did He pick the 12 apostles? Mark 3:14 tells us: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out…

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church

The devil is a preacher. From the third chapter of the Bible onward, he is opening up God’s word to people, seeking to interpret it, to apply it, to offer an invitation.

So the old Serpent of Eden comes to the primeval woman not with a Black Mass and occult symbols, but with the Word she’d received from her God—with the snake’s peculiar spin on it. Throughout the Old Testament, he preaches peace—just like the angels of Bethlehem do—except he does so when there is no peace. He points God’s people to the particulars of worship commanded by God—sacrifices and offerings and feast-days—just without the preeminent mandates of love, justice, and mercy. Satan even preaches to God—about the proper motives needed for godly discipleship on the part of God’s servants.

In the New Testament, the satanic deception leads the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees to pore endlessly over biblical texts, just missing the point of Christ Jesus therein. They come to conclusions that have partially biblical foundations—the devil’s messages are always expository—they just intentionally avoid Jesus.

So, the scoffers feel quite comfortable…

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As pastors we know that Jesus teaches us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27). But when we attempt to teach this love for God to others, we run into obstacles as ministry leaders. Why is this and what can we do?

Pay Attention to the Experiences (Providences) of Those We Serve

It can be hard to say, “I love you” to anyone.

For some of us it just isn’t “manly” or proper to do so. Love is weakness. Love makes a mockery of etiquette.

For others of us, we’ve said, “I love you” to so many people, only to learn later that we were holding on to something other than love. So, we don’t trust ourselves to say it wisely or truly anymore. We don’t trust others to mean it when they say it either. People can use love talk as well as any other thing in order to take selfies and get their own way. Maybe we’ve done this ourselves. Maybe God does the same. We are cynical about it all.

And let’s be honest – saying, “I love you” to someone we cannot see…

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