Posts Tagged ‘Preaching’

Mar
18
2014

Preaching and Baseball

In an article for Leadership Journal, I compare ministry to baseball. Pastors have a tendency to “swing for the fences” with every sermon, but we’re better off working hard on the little things of preaching in order to give our people a lifetime of good spiritual food:

Ministry is very much like baseball in this way. There will be the home run hitters—exceptionally gifted preachers. But most who lead God’s people will be the grinders. The Belhorns, Glanvilles, and Bakos who show up every week and feed God’s people truth in faithful, but unspectacular fashion.

This is not an excuse for mediocrity. It’s not a rant against celebrity. Every generation has genuinely gifted servants with ministries beyond their congregations. We should rejoice at their large kingdom impact. “There many not be many noble,” Paul says. But there are some and we thank God for their giftedness.

Still, I wonder if the rest, called to grind it out and preach weekly attempt to be superstars. I wonder if we try too hard, swinging for the fences with every new sermon. When I pastored, I had to fight this weekly.

You might call this the Revival Syndrome or the Camp Meeting Syndrome. Most of us who serve in ministry have experienced one or more of these emotional, life-changing moments, where a single message altered the course of our lives. But if we were to be honest, those sermons might have been catalysts, but it was the patient daily practices of Bible reading, church attendance, prayer, and spiritual mentoring that helped the seed of spirituality blossom.

As a pastor, you want every Sunday to be this meaningful for the people in your congregation. Yet, there is something wrong if we expect every message, every worship service to be like that revival or camp meeting.

Read the whole thing here:

Feb
18
2014

What Pastors Owe Their People

If you are a pastor, you cannot escape the unmistakeable call of spiritual leaders, in the New Testament to “feed the flock of God”:

  • Jesus commissioned Peter to do “feed my sheep”, no less than three times, in that famous scene on the shores of Galilee (John 21:15-19)
  • Jesus commissioned the disciples, in the Great Commission passage to “teach them all things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16)
  • Paul commissioned the Ephesian elders to “tend to the whole flock” pointing this example of his unwillingness to shrink from “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:17-28)
  • Peter urges church leaders to “feed the flock of God among you.”
  • Paul instructed Timothy, in his last letter, “these things you have learned from me, commit to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). He also urged him to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14; 6:20). He also  reminded Timothy of the usefulness of “all Scripture” as profitable for the spiritual well-being of God’s people (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • Paul, in a rebuke to the Corinthians, discusses the need for people to have both “milk” and “meat” in their spiritual diets (1 Corinthians 3:2)
  • The writer of Hebrews reminds us that a good teacher is able to both handle the deep things of God, but also teach them (Hebrews 5:11-12

Preaching styles do differ, but it’s hard to argue the unmistakeable responsibility of pastors to take the whole counsel of God and preach it faithfully. To not give our people spiritual food, to not share with them the “all the things I have commanded you” is to commit spiritual malpractice. It’s to intentionally leave our people spiritually malnourished. And yet there is a temptation for pastors–I remember facing this weekly as a pastor–to sort of skip over or nuance the very hard passages. Or, more popularly, to not preach through issues that are at the tip of the cultural spear. Issues like a biblical sexual ethic, the dignity of human life, greed, materialism, and the prosperity gospel. It’s just easier to say things like, “We just want to love on people and be all about grace every Sunday.” But my question is this: if a new convert wants to know what it looks like to live out the gospel, where will he find it if he can’t find it in his church? We live in confused times, where the way of Christ cannot be assumed in popular culture anymore. So churches who tailor their preaching and services exclusively to not offend those they are trying to reach with the gospel will starve God’s people. I find it troubling when pastors sort of nuance or skip over passages that are counter-cultural.

We should talk about grace. A lot. Over and over and over again. But unless people see their need for grace. Unless they are confronted with the good law of God, they won’t see the bigness of the mercy God offers. They’ll assume that God loves them because that’s what God should do. That’s the Jesus they’ve been sold by much of the evangelical church, a sort of hipster, friendly, easy to digest Jesus who really isn’t all that concerned with morality and righteousness.

And those who have been restored and forgiven, made new by the blood of the cross, will never find the freedom of a life with Christ–if we never have the courage to tell them what that life looks like. Real love, Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6, is the courage tell them they are disobeying the call of the gospel. It’s to set a brother or sister aright.

Much of this can be done in community, in one-on-one gatherings, small group studies, phone conversations, reading of good books, car rides, late night talks, etc. But if God’s people never hear their pastor discuss these difficult things, things alien to a permissive moral culture, they won’t rise in importance. Pastors must feed their sheep the good spiritual food God intends for them.

Jan
03
2014

Preaching as a Craft to Be Cultivated.

I love preaching. I love the act of preaching and I love listening to preaching. There is something wild and mysterious and beautiful about God’s Word flowing through a flawed man empowered by the Holy Spirit as a primary delivery method for spiritual change.

This week I had the chance to interview Matt Woodley, managing editor of PreachingToday.com, an excellent resource for pastors and church leaders. Our conversation was wide-ranging, really. I queried him on plagiarism, fact-checking pastors, etc. But my favorite part was reading Matt’s thoughts on the act of preaching itself. Here’s a question I asked him:

If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming pastor or church leader about preaching, what would you tell him?

Love preaching. It is a craft like mending shoes, fixing cars, throwing a curve ball, writing poetry, performing surgery, teaching British literature, and so on. You can grow as a preacher. So apply yourself to the craft. Learn from other preachers. Read good sermons (and reading is better than listening). Get feedback. And for Christ’s sake (and I mean that literally) stop being so defensive about your preaching! My gosh, it’s not like a sermon is your child or something. But when it comes to preaching, decide right now that you will be a lifelong learner of the craft.

But on other hand, don’t take your preaching too seriously. You aren’t primarily a preacher. You are a child of God. You are a member of the body of Christ. You are a friend, spouse, and parent. Your identity is not wrapped up in how well you preached last Sunday. So read and do lots of stuff that have absolutely nothing to do with your role as a preacher. Preachers who just preach are really boring. Be an interesting person, do interesting stuff, go to interesting places.

Read the entire interview here: 

Jan
23
2013

Why You Need Your Church Every Week

We live in an age when, increasingly, people are asking the question, “Do we need to gather on Sunday mornings for worship anymore?” It’s a valid question. After all, isn’t there a plethora of good sermon content online? Aren’t there churches that actually offer online services? And isn’t it possible to read your Bible, pray, and perhaps listen/watch/read a sermon at home?

The truth is that you can experience some of what you get at church at home. You’ll likely find a better message by listening to one of the popular preachers. You’ll might carve out more time to pray by staying at home. And you can even roll up your sleeves and get involved in works of service in your local community rather than going to church. You can even worship and sing in your shower.

Yes, to all of those. And yet, this kind of attitude really misses the point when it comes to church. At church we do hear a message preached from a pastor. And we do pray and sing and serve. But that’s not all church is about. There is more than simply what we “get out” of a Sunday morning.

I call it body life. Some call it community. Regardless, you cannot replace that at home. You cannot get that at a conference. You cannot get that online. The truth is that God has wired us, created us, for commnity. And when God ordained the Church, calling out a special people for His name, you will notice that God didn’t call a “person”, but called a “people.” Our American Western individualism causes us to skip right over the plural aspect of the Christian faith.

In the Old Testament, God called out a people. In the New Testament, God called out a people. Read the Psalms, notice how often worship is spoken of us in a corporate context. Notice how often you find third person plural pronouns. It’s the same in the New Testament. The commands, the calls to worship, the theology. It was delivered to a people, not to a person.

Why is this? Because we grow best in community. When God’s people are gathered from every nation, tribe and tongue, when people of diverse social standing and race and financial status are put together by the Holy Spirit, something wonderful and powerful happens. We change. We learn from each other. We become family.

This is why it is so important to not simply be a token participant in your local church, but a full-on, all-in member. That means you attend as often as you physically can. That means you go to most of the events. Even the potlucks and the seemingly non-essential things. Why? Because you’re part of a local body, part of a family. We are all sacrificing time, energy, passion, and the best of our lives for Christ. And, here’s the big one, when God’s people gather corporately every week to bow their heads and lift up their hands in worship, it says something. It’s a powerful statement about who God is and who we are. It sends a loud message to our part of the world. Yes there is a God and yes we consider Him transcendant and holy and worthy of our deepest adoration.

We miss something when we check in on Sunday and then check out right after the service. We miss when we stay home and watch it online. We miss something when do a lot of Christian, churchy type stuff, but don’t actually attend church on Sunday. We miss the life of the body of Christ.

Church isn’t simply for self-improvement (I got nothing out of the message last week. I wish the music wasn’t so loud. Did you see that kid in the third row who was making all that noise?). Church isn’t just so I can change and be better at my job and my marriage and my golf game. It’s body life. And if you’re not all in, my friend, you’re missing out.

Oct
02
2012

3 Reasons Your Pastor Probably Doesn’t Preach Politics

I’ve written on this issue before, but it’s probably worth revisiting in an election season. And new research has been released by Lifeway that affirms what I’ve always believed: generally Bible-believing pastors shy away from overt political endorsements and preaching politics in the pulpit.

I wrote a piece for Relevant not long ago on this subject in which I said this:

[To preach] is a humble and holy task because the people who attend churches arrive with the assumption that what is said comes from the Bible. To cut and paste partisan talking-points or to substitute consistent exegesis with sample “election season” sermons is spiritual malpractice.

I want to expand on this with three important points on why pastors don’t and probably shouldn’t preach politics in the pulpit:

 

1) Our Text Must be the Word of God

This sounds like a cliche, but it bears saying: faithful Bible preachers use the text of the Word of God as their source of preaching. Anything less is simply a speech, which may be inspirational, moral, or even Christian-themed. But if our basis is not the text, we’re not preaching.

Sometimes a given text will make political or moral statements. For instance, if you’re preaching through Psalm 139, you cannot escape the references to the sanctity of life. Or if you are preaching through Proverbs you will encounter many economic truths that shape capitalism. Or if you are preaching through parts of James or Timothy, you will find it inescapable to avoid the harsh condemnations of greed.

But as a rule pastors, especially those who preach in an expository (taking a book at a time, chapter at a time, verse at a time) approach, will be guided by the text. To parachute political talking points into the text is spiritual malpractice.

One caveat is this: perhaps a pastor will do a topical series on key issues of the day and how Christians should think through them biblically. I’ve done this as a Sunday Night series. This can be helpful, however, a pastor must be faithful to let the text speak to the issue and not wedge your particular political opinion into the text.

2) The Bible cuts both ways

I find it fascinating that certain groups on the Right want pastors to “speak up.” What they mean by this, of course, is to more overtly endorse their preferred candidates and/or moral issues. But what they don’t understand is that pastors are speaking up, it’s just that what pastors are speaking up about may not be the taking points of the current season.And, the Bible cuts against both parties, against all political persuasions. Yes, there is much in the Scripture affirming the prolife (Psalm 139; Genesis 2-3) and traditional marriage (Mark 19:5) positions. You can also make a good argument that the Bible affirms the idea of limited government (1 Timothy 2:2; Mark 12:17) and some of the root ideas of capitalism. So some would say the Bible is very conservative.

And yet that would be incomplete, because you will also find in Scripture many texts on justice, the plight of the poor, treatment of the immigrant. And who were Jesus’ chief antagonists were in the gospels? The Pharisees, the Religious Right of their day.

Should pastors speak about in the pulpit about contemporary issues? Yes, but only when the texts of Scripture clearly articulate it. They shouldn’t bow to any party’s talking points. They shouldn’t slant their sermons to fit a political profile. They shouldn’t become wannabee pundits in the pulpit. They should preach the Word and let it do it’s work in the hearts of the people, who will then go influence their communities.

3) We must never dilute the message of the gospel. 

The Church should be counter-cultural and should engage the issues of the day. But this engagement should be an outgrowth of the gospel’s sanctifying work in each believer. In other words, the political issues shouldn’t be the main thing that characterizes a church. The gospel should be the main thing. The Scriptures should be the main thing. Christ should be the main thing. This is why pastors often shy away from endorsements or public pulpit activism. It sends the wrong message that the main purpose for gathering on Sunday is to stir up the troops and get “our guy” elected. But what of the brother or sister of the other party or the soul seeking God who only hears partisan talking points? If this happens, we’ve failed in our mission.

To be clear, pastors are citizens, too. And so in other venues, such as op-eds, blogs, books and other places of influence the pastor may speak his mind. Even so, he must jealously guard that influence and always speak winsomely. Again, as a minister of the gospel, he must not make politics more important than his pastoral duties.

Pastors should also coach their members to winsomely engage the culture. We need gospel preachers at all levels of society and in all spheres, politics included. Pastors should equip, encourage, and support those who enter public service.

Summary: In conversations I’ve had and in my own experience, it is mission that keeps pastors from overtly preaching politics in the pulpit and not the IRS.

 

Sep
27
2012

Les Lofquist on Leadership and Preaching

I especially loved this piece by Les Lofquist on how to respond to a criticism of preaching:

I think the only way is to be determined to be prayed up and studied up the next time you’re in the pulpit. Resolve to get up early each day the next week and pray as a man of God should. Then study seriously. Grapple with next Sunday’s text. Turn off the television. Stop surfing the web. Put away your fantasy team rosters. Dig into the Bible. Pull off from your shelves those theology books and commentaries of yours and pore over them. Review your old Bible College / seminary class lecture notes. Accept the challenge of that passage you’ll be preaching and wrestle with its meaning and outline and application.

Approach next Sunday with all the earnestness you can. After all, it’s God’s holy and written Word you are handling! Get serious about it once again, like you did when you first began preaching. Shake off the cobwebs and preach with fire in your soul, accepting the calling from God to be the spokesman to your people in your congregation for Him. Let them see His glory through you as you seriously handle His words. And don’t be afraid of being appropriately direct and bold, assuming nothing with respect to the spiritual condition of the individuals in your congregation. Preach with the authority of God, bearing God’s message, speaking God’s Word and forget about yourself and your own authority.

via Leadership … and Preaching | Fire In My Bones.

Sep
04
2012

5 Ways Pastors Can Encourage Working Men and Women

Yesterday America celebrated Labor Day, the holiday reserved as a tribute to American workers. This is a good time to discuss ways pastors and vocational ministry leaders can encourage working men and women in their congregations. This is an oft-neglected, but essential part of ministry, because most Christians who attend church on Sunday don’t draw a paycheck from a Christian organization. They have to get up on Monday morning and perform in the so-called “secular” workforce. Those of us privileged to do so-called Christian work for a living don’t always understand the pressures of the American workforce. So here are five ways pastors can encourage the laity:

1) Read Work Matters by Tom Nelson. Every pastor should read this book, which gives a thorough theology of the oft-neglected doctrine of vocation. Pastors should be able to articulate this in their preaching and counseling. Most Christians don’t understand that the actual work they do in the workplace matters to God. Their role as a plumber or bank teller or lawyer isn’t simply a means to tithe money or be a witness. God is intimately invested in the quality of work produced by our hands. Good work bring glory to the Creator. Reading Work Matters can help you form a theology of work which will in turn help you encourage the men and women in your church to think biblically about their God-given callings.

2) Repent of dividing clergy and laity. All of us in professional pastoral ministry, at some times, have elevated the so-called full-time positions of pastor/teacher/youth pastor/worship leader above the supposed lesser callings like carpenter, fast-food worker or CEO. But Scripture makes no such distinctions. Sure, spiritual leaders bear a sober responsibility, but their work is no more noble than that of the faithful lay person who performs his work to the glory of God. In fact, those who work in secular vocations are arguably on the mission field longer than pastors, because they interface with more unchurched. They are in situations that force them to practice godliness in workplaces largely hostile to Christian values. Rather than treating them like second-class citizens, we should honor the faithfulness of Christian laity by equipping them for their mission, affirming their callings, and encouraging them to faithfulness.

3) Start Connecting Sunday to Monday. We need to infuse our sermons with more illustration and application to Monday. We need to remind the administrator who dreads facing that Monday budget meeting that he is not there simply to collect a paycheck. He is there as God’s representative in his workplace, as a light in the darkness, as a molder and shaper of those in his employ. We need to encourage the stay-at-home mom that her long days of changing diapers, grocery shopping and administering teething drops has a purpose beyond survival. We need to identify with the struggles of those who go in to work every day and are often beaten down by surly bosses, unethical coworkers, and tough working conditions.

4) Reward Faithfulness In the Workplace. I’m not quite sure how to do this, but somehow we need to acknowledge those who work their jobs with integrity and faithfulness. We often reward and celebrate achievements that happen at church–and we should–but what if we publicly acknowledged the teacher who celebrates 30 years in the classroom or the employee who has a faithful attendance record at work or the police officer who is rewarded for community service?

5) Get to Know the Struggles of the Working Man or Woman. The best way I’ve found to help encourage the working man or woman in my church is to simply find out more about what their days are like. Ask questions about their jobs, probe a bit and see what struggles they face everyday, what issues can you pray for? I’ve found people really enjoy when I ask them specific questions about their vocations–how they got to where they are, what they enjoy about it, how their businesses work, etc. This also helps me pray better as well. And it makes me grateful for the job I do as pastor. I often tell people, “I’m not sure I could do your job. It sounds way harder than mine.” Knowing the day-to-day struggles of the people you serve helps you appreciate their contribution, not only to your church, but to the community.

Jun
26
2012

Five Resolutions for a Christian Communicator

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the calling of a Christian communicator. This could be your duties as a writer, wither blogs or books or articles. Or it could be your task as a preacher or teacher, whither in small group, pulpit ministry, or classroom.

To communicate the truth of the good news of the gospel, in any form, is a high privilege and a sober calling. I’m always mindful of James 3, which outlines the seriousness of the calling and the negative and positive effect of the words we craft.

So I came up with five resolutions that we might consider:

1) I will communicate well to serve others, even if I never become famous. To seek a wider audience is not wrong. Ambition, properly exercised under the Lordship of Christ, is not evil and is good. But it may be God’s will that my books never reach the NYT bestseller list. It may not be God’s will that I become a popular conference speaker and pastor a church in the Outreach top 200 list. God may be more glorified in my obscurity and I need to be okay with that, if after my best efforts, I achieve only a small modicum of what we call success. Regardless of the size of my audience, I’m called to fully exercise my gifts. I’m called to serve well those God has called me to serve.

2) If I do achieve fame, I won’t become an entitled jerk. If the Lord does grant me “success” or “fame”, will I leverage that to fulfill my own desires or will I use that to better serve others. God does indeed grant fame and fortune to some. The test is, “what will you do with that fame.” Will I become a diva, a star, a demanding selfish man who sees himself as above the rules? Or will I stay humble, soft, sensitive, serving? I must resolve now to refuse the entrapments of fame that sink so many men and women. I must not view others as means to my own satisfaction and pleasure. I must value relationships above advancement. I must not overly personalize criticism and own my ministry to an extent that I see people God loves as enemies instead of friends. I must forgive easily and repent quickly.

3) I’ll carefully weigh every word I speak or write, all to the glory of God. Will I leave a body of work I can be proud of? Will I never forget the exalted position I hold? Will I do one more tiresome edit to ensure that I’m communicating clearly? Will the words I write and the sermons I preach have lasting value? Will others be able to read them, years hence, and still find nuggets of gospel gold? I must approach sermons and books and articles and blogs less as a job to be done and more as brushstrokes on a canvas. I must endure that one more edit to ensure I’ve said what the Spirit has led me to say. I must avoid being flippant in the pulpit, lazy at the keyboard, overly casual in conversation. I must pray, as Paul did, for increasing clarity (Colossians 4:3-4).

4) I’ll never stop learning. Whatever success I gain, I must not regard that as confirmation of my own brilliance, as the end of the road of wisdom. I must stay humble. I must stay teachable. I must realize that the more knowledge I gain about God and His world, the more there is to know. I must not allow my mind to grow soft and unchallenged. Will I consider myself the expert at everything and thereby shut off the flow of wisdom? Or will I consider myself, always, to the end, a student, a learner, a pupil at the feet of Jesus? Will I continue to read and grow and learn and stretch? Or will I allow my own flawed opinions to grow hardened and calloused over time?

5) I’ll never lose the awe and wonder of communicating for God. To write or speak or teach or even whisper in the dark about the unsearchable riches of God’s grace is a high and lofty privilege. Nobody owes me a platform. Nobody owes me a book contract or pulpit or teaching position. Every new opportunity is a privilege. The gift I’ve been given is not one of my own choosing or making, it’s been granted by God and can, at any time, be taken away. Any work of art I create should point, not to me, the simple intermediary, but to the Creator who designs the artist and commissions the art. May I never think that my life was my own idea, that my work was my own genius. May I always bow in humble gratitude to the One who formed me.