Month: August 2015

Some Truths about Sermons, Preaching and Preachers

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. Acts 20:20

Since Christianity started, there have been men and women commissioned with the responsibility to preach the Scriptures to their congregations. Some have rode horseback through dangerous frontiers and others have left the comfort and familiarity of their hometowns to take the good news to distant lands. Many of us studied long years and practiced our craft wherever and whenever the opportunity to preach was presented. No matter how we arrived in the pulpits we now steward, preaching is energizing, frustrating, and exhilarating, sometimes all at once.

What does your pastor want you to know about them? How can we build up those called to speak? What should a congregation know about the sermon that takes up a portion of our weekend?

 

1. Pastors are really invested in the message.

Preaching is a serious matter to most pastors. Hours have been spent studying the texts, praying for the meetings, and thinking about innovative ways to engage people in a story that started thousands of years ago. When the weekend arrives, we are invested emotionally and spiritually in a 30-minute message that has the potential to change the destinies of those listening.

Or, it can be awful. Even then, the Holy Spirit can take the scraps of human effort and make something beautiful. This is a pastor’s work –  to teach truths that will probably offend, to encourage the discouraged saints, to compel the cynic to reconsider and to awaken the spiritual sleepers. Because we have poured ourselves into this moment of speaking and exhorting, we may need some space after the service to just be with people in prayer and conversation. Preachers feel really emptied after a sermon, which leads me to the second truth.

 

2. Preaching is exhausting work.

If you are not tired after preaching, you are not doing it right. When a sermon has ended, our adrenaline glands are depleted and the emotional energy that has been expended is not easily replenished. It’s when we feel the most vulnerable, even if everything went great. For many, we have to regroup and deliver the same message again in less than an hour to another weekend gathering.  Afterwards, we just need a good nap, a long walk and some sunshine to begin feeling human again. That usually happens by Tuesday morning. Seriously.

 

3. Preaching should be more substance than style

In the Western world, our culture is saturated by entertainment and celebrities. Our personal time is entertainment time, therefore the culture shouts to pastors,”If I give my personal time to church, you need to entertain me!” That is a dangerous trap for many pastors. Sermons certainly need to be engaging, which means it is ok to have some fun and to laugh, but our messages are not a spiritual stand-up act. The moment style is prioritized over the weighty substance of Scripture, we and our churches are in trouble.

 

4. Preaching only starts the conversation.

People have huge expectations from pastors and their sermons. Almost everyone has pet ministry projects, social issues, the latest headline outrage or spiritual gift they wish the pastor would spend more time on each week. Neither preachers nor their sermons were  designed to answer all our questions. In fact, the best sermons teach us to ask better questions and then point us along the path for truthful answers. The most powerful sermons jump start our disciple-shaping journey, compelling us to study more, to lean into mature relationships and jar us free from apathy or deception.

 

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The Batteries of Our Lives

All of us have internal batteries that determine how much energy or effort we have to expend on the matters of life. When these batteries are charged, we can take on multiple tasks and still have strength left. When these batteries are low, even everyday jobs can overwhelm us.  I have four batteries that need constant evaluation and re-charging and I’ve learned that if any of them run low, I am less than my best.

I have a personal spiritual battery that is only charged when I spend time with God in prayer, worship and scripture.  I talk to God every day, but at least five days a week, I need extended time alone with Him.  My goal is seven days, but in reality, that’s not always possible.  When I am in a good rhythm of schedule, my spiritual battery is charged and I feel nothing can keep me from taking ground.

I also have a work battery. This is the energy supply for doing my job as pastor such as meeting with people, leading meetings, teaching, and studying. I keep this battery charged by saying yes to things that I should be doing and saying no to things someone else should be doing. When I’m operating in my strengths and my calling, I feel fully alive and able to give my best to the assignment God has given me.

I also have a dad battery. This is the energy supply I need to be a good dad to Abram and Callie. Because they are 16 and 14, the short drive from New Life to my house is my time to switch off the work battery and plug in the dad battery.  My goal is not to take work home at night and not be talking on the phone when I walk in the house.

I also have a husband battery.  I’m not listing this last because it’s the lowest of my priorities, but because it’s the easiest for most of us to neglect. The difference between a good marriage and a great marriage is often a matter of time invested. But time alone does not a splendid marriage make. We have to be present when we are together, ready to engage and ready to listen. We need to give energy to the relationship, not the spare change after spending ourselves all day on others. For the two of us, this means we need to get away, to separate from ordinary life and take long drives or go on short trips.

Take an honest look at the batteries in your life. Are they all charged for optimum output or do you need to make some lifestyle or schedule changes today? God has enough strength for all of us. We just have to sit and get re-charged.  Your batteries will be grateful.

If want to read and learn more about healthy rhythms, my newest book, Addicted to Busy, may be helpful.

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Celebrate, Tolerate or Obliterate

Every team has values, shared beliefs and convictions that guide their decisions and ultimately determine success or failure. For some teams, values are super clear so decisions are easier and more is accomplished with less time and resources. When values are vague, time and resources are misspent and often wasted.

Big Idea If our team is not celebrating the values, our teams will be ineffective or toxic. If our team knows and embraces the values, a lot will get done with less.

Most people on our teams celebrate the shared values. They will strive for unity and are not content with mediocre. They cheer for others who hit the mark and there is a sense of shared responsibility for the group’s well-being. They are honest with their struggles, true with their friendship and gracious when sincere efforts fail. Values are discussed, debated and agreed upon regularly. Promote these people.

Some on our team are just tolerating the values. They are not rebels, but they are certainly not disciples. They seem like devotees in meetings, but when given the opportunity, they take shortcuts. They are indifferent when goals are not met and are not that concerned about budgets and such. They tend to get by with “average” and are working for a paycheck, to maintain status quo and nothing more.  They are generally peaceful, but seldom passionate which means innovation and proactive problem-solving are both rare. Spend more time with these people.

The third group obliterates the values. They are either immature or just riding on the wrong bus altogether. They’re always in the center of some drama and strife and seem like Pigpen, the Peanuts character who was always traveling in his own private dust storm. They have been taught, and taught, and taught, but they do not agree with your values and never will. If they do not admire the team’s values, they do not need to be on the team. Fire these people.

Most teams can agree on values if we slow down and ask more questions. Give your team room to debate and adopt the values. Make them clear and easy to understand. Allow the introverts to process and the extroverts to argue out loud.  Create a culture of honest debate and allow everyone to participate. Coach those who want to grow, and don’t feel awful when disagreeable people choose to go elsewhere. Great teams are built on great values. That’s worth celebrating.

 

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