I’ll bet you need a good laugh today.
Watch this video, then pick up Dave Barnes’ new Christmas album.
You can thank me later.
I’ll bet you need a good laugh today.
Watch this video, then pick up Dave Barnes’ new Christmas album.
You can thank me later.
While I’m preaching, there are myriads of thoughts racing through my head. Some of which include:
Why is that baby crying? Are they crying because I’m too loud? Or because they didn’t like that joke? Or because it’s too dark? Or too bright? Or…oh wait, it’s because they’re probably tired. Good thing they’re not falling asleep during my sermon like the guy behind them.
Why did he just get up to leave? Bathroom break? Am I going that long? Should I call him out right here and now? Nah…or wait. That might be funny. Or offensive. Probably offensive. But probably funny, too.
Why didn’t she turn her cell phone off? Hmm…I wonder who’s calling her? Wait…is she answering that phone? What’s she whispering? I wish she’d speak up so I can hear what she’s saying.
Uh oh…I’m going to go long with this sermon. Should I cut something out? Or make them sweat if I’ll ever be done?
I may be alone in how much my mind can often wander during a given sermon. But somehow, I think I’m not. And I’m willing to bet that most pastors believe these lies while they’re preaching:
1. Man, this sermon is awesome. In fact, all of my sermons are awesome!
Whoa there, Desperado. You’re not as great as you think. Jump on down from your high horse. Some weeks are good and others are, well, not so good. Accept it.
2. The person shaking their head in affirmation is actually listening.
Sometimes they are. But sometimes they’re just trying to keep from falling asleep. Don’t take it personally. And don’t use that moment to slide in your every-other-week “You shouldn’t stay out late on the night before church” points.
3. Everyone likes me.
Not the guy who stands out in the hallway every week. He doesn’t. Never has. And until you preach a message aimed at engaging him, he probably never will. OR…you could just try to have a normal conversation with him in the hallway. Either way…
4. “Amen!” guy is so zoned in to what I’m saying. It’s like we were cut from the same cloth.
I heard an “Amen!” guy at a church I once attended that “Amen”-ed every single point. He didn’t know when to stop. So he didn’t. I think I even heard him “Amen!”-ing in the parking lot.
5. I can do it all. If only I could clone me…
Stop it. Stop it right there. You’re doing one thing in this moment. You’re preaching. If you’re also slated to do the music for the day, every visitor follow-up throughout the week, and every prayer preceding the pot-lucks, it’s time to share some responsibility. You’re not good at everything. And if you think you are, then that might be one of the reasons your church isn’t growing as quickly as it could. (whoops…did I take that one too far? Sorry…)
6. They’re actually taking notes!
I saw some of our handouts from this Sunday. Doodling. A couple of notes. Then they left it under their seat after the service. Don’t kid yourself.
7. If I say this point with more force, you’re more likely to remember it.
Just keep trying. Use a megaphone if you want. Or, better yet, start yelling from the top of the sermon to the bottom. It’s all important, right? Then do your vocal warm-ups and let ‘em rip. And watch ‘em grab the ear plugs on their way in, too.
8. If I go long, people will love me for it.
Nope. If you go long, people will wonder how long you can actually go. And they’ll also be lamenting the fact that the Methodists are going to beat them to lunch today.
9. If I go short, people will judge me and wonder what I did all week.
Nope. If you go short, they’ll be the ones beating the Methodists to the buffet. And you’ll be their favorite preacher.
Why share this? Why smack pastors in the face a bit?
Because we’re humans, too. We’re prone to thinking too much of ourselves, taking ourselves too seriously, thinking everyone cares about intricate theology as much as we do, and prone to spiraling downwards into self-glorification.
The more we can pursue humility, making less of ourselves and our gifts and our talents and our insights and our winsomeness…and make more of the God who gives us life and breath and everything, the better off we are. And the better off our congregations are, too.
Time to quit believing the lies. Time to preach faithfully the message God’s given us. Time to remind ourselves who the King really is.
One of my mentors growing up made a drastic change in his life. He used to be a guy that people loved to be around…one of those people that laughed and joked and had a great time. He was infectious.
Then one day something happened.
He got on the boring train.
He began equating “holiness” with “seriousness.” No longer did he have time to joke around. Life’s too short for that. If you’re going to be holy, you’ve got to be serious and focused and intense. Truly holy people didn’t have time to joke around, because there are more important things to do.
Boring train…all aboard!
I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but this whole thing really rubbed me the wrong way. Mainly because I no longer enjoyed being around him…and apparently none of our group did, either. Instead of being a bridge over troubled waters, he created troubled waters and burned the bridge.
I’d love to say that my uneasy feelings were motivated by a deep desire to honor God, rooted in the Truth found in the Scriptures. But I was more pragmatic. He made me feel creepy. Ever said a joke to a guy and had them just stare right back at you, stone-faced? Not a great experience.
As I spent more and more time in Scripture, I realized that my creeper radar going off pretty strongly in my head growing up actually had some roots in Scripture. Check out what the Psalmist said:
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. – Psalm 126:2-3
I don’t know if you fully caught that. Did you see the response from the nations? When they heard the people’s mouths filled with laughter and their tongues singing songs of joy, they said, “They must serve a great God!” Laughter and joy became attractional for the church. Outsiders began to notice the community of God-followers because they were laughing. Not handing out tracts. Not going door-to-door and inviting people to Sunday morning. Not because of a billboard. But because of laughter. Laughter pointed to the greater reality that God was good.
Want to be sensitive to seekers? Laugh a little.
Want to show people that we serve a good God? Laugh a little.
Want to make much of the grace of God? Laugh a little.
Want to show people that holiness isn’t boringness? Laugh a little.
Want to live in a way that shows people how great God is? Laugh a little.
To those of you who think that holiness and boringness should go together: enjoy riding the boring train.
Get it? Enjoy riding…oh, never mind.
Have you ever equated holiness with seriousness? Ever thought that laughing could honor God?
* Photo credit, Creation Swap user Chris Powell
I realize that some of you have never delivered a funeral sermon, and perhaps you never will.
But I also know that, at just the thought of delivering a funeral sermon, others of you will begin to get the sweaty-palm. Your heart beats a little faster at the thought of having to stand in front of a casket to deliver words that convey hope and life in a room full of death. And though you may not be able to envision ever having to preach a funeral sermon, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll have the opportunity at some point in your life.
In my short tenure as a pastor, I’ve unfortunately been asked to preach many funeral sermons. I say “unfortunately” because I don’t thoroughly enjoy the heaviness. Even so,through meeting with families, weeping with them, getting to know somebody that I will never physically know, and communicating hope in the midst of pain, I’ve learned a lot about preparing and delivering a funeral sermon.
Having a system in place is incredibly important. Without a system, you won’t know the next step to take when you get the call that says, “____ has just passed away, and I want you to preach at the funeral…”
Meet with the family.
Weep with them. Ask questions that help them recall the good memories. In the process, take note of stories and defining marks in their lives. Try this question:
If you could describe _____ in one word, what would it be?
As the family is describing their loved one, feverishly take notes. Capture details from stories so you can better understand the life and legacy of the loved one.
Use this as a guiding question: What did _____ do as a hobby/for fun?
Listen for funny stories. If the family doesn’t offer any, ask for some. Likely, the family is sitting on them, not sure if they really have the freedom to share something funny in a setting like this. Humor (that maintains dignity and honor for the deceased) helps break the heavy tension of the service.
Try these guiding questions: Do you have any funny stories from ______’s life? What were some of _______’s nicknames?
As much as you can, incorporate the family’s wishes into the service.
I say “as much as you can,” because it could be that the family asks you to do something that contradicts your value system. But consider asking this:
Is there a verse, a quote, or a song that you would like incorporated into the service?
During the service, connect positive characteristics with a story from the person’s life.
Pick three or four defining positive characteristics of the loved one that you gathered from your conversation with the family and present them each with a story (or two). This helps paint a picture of a person’s life for those who didn’t know them as well, and it reminds family and friends of the good times.
Be honest, but not hard.
It’s okay to be honest in your sermon, but don’t use it as a time to bash the deceased, even if the family relationships were difficult or the person was an unbeliever. First of all, it’s not your place. Secondly, it’s not becoming. Ever.
Everybody in the room is focused on death, so utilize this as a time to connect people with the truth that this life is short, and the Gospel is the only hope of eternity with Jesus. If you don’t land here, you’ll leave people dry and miss out on a great opportunity to share true hope with hurting people.
Question: Have you ever had to give a funeral sermon? What did I leave out?
*I’ve also mapped out how I go about laying out a marriage sermon HERE.
* Photo credit: Creation Swap user Krist Adams
Growing up in the church, I’ve heard many, many different public prayers.
Small group prayers are the best. They’re personal, genuine, and heart-felt. What’s better than requesting prayer, then having someone pray for you right there on the spot?!? My most intense times of prayer, when I’ve felt closest to God, have been in the context of healthy community.
But there’s one thing I’ve noticed. And I don’t think I’m the only one who’s heard this. In fact, I think it’s the most commonly used prayer phrase. And when it’s used, it stands out like that one final nail that you still haven’t hammered in on the pergola in your backyard. All you hear is this phrase. It usually comes after a brief, awkward, I-don’t-know-what-to-say-now pause. Maybe you’ve heard it. It goes like this:
…and that situation…
“Lord, please be with Sally and Vick this week, and help them out…and that situation.”
“God, you know better than I do all of the difficulties John is facing in life…and that situation.”
“Lord, you love Gary, and I ask you help him out with his house…and that situation.”
“And that situation” becomes the way to close the deal. Hang up the phone with God. It sounds irreverent to say, “Later, God…” and so the question is, “How do I tell God, and the small group, that I’m done with that request?”
Enter “and that situation.”
It’s a fantastic catch-all, really. Because when you say it, everyone in the room goes, “Ohhh…that situation. Yeah, that’s bad. That situation.”
Here are 5 other times when “and that situation” fits beautifully.
No reason to listen closely anymore when people share their prayer requests. You’ve got a perfect fall-back, catch-all, I-love-each-and-every-person-in-my-group phrase. Repeat after me: And. That. Situation.
Don’t press in to know people. That’s too difficult and too “honest.” Let it ride. “And that situation.”
If it doesn’t naturally fit, it’s okay. God will fist-bump you for hanging up the phone with class.
“Would they be comfortable with me repeating details before God? Would God even want me to do that?” Don’t make things too awkward. Don’t try to get to know them later on so that next time you pray you won’t question things. “And that situation” that thing and move right on.
The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, right? I bet his “groans” sound something like a holy “and that situation.” (see Romans 8:26)
Have you ever heard little phrases creep in to your prayers?
Have you ever heard “and that situation?”
We showed this video yesterday at Grace.
You may have seen it before, and if so, forgive me. If not…you’re welcome.
I just want to take a minute to say that we’re all proud of the way you’ve done your research and found the most biblical curriculum. You’ve trained your small-group leaders to have airtight, foolproof theology. They can move from a discussion on the Nephilim to ecclesiology, then weave in a bit of distinction between Calvinism, the resurrection, and eschatology.
You’ve taught your group leaders how to facilitate a discussion, minister to the EGRs, fill the empty chair, raise up apprentice leaders, and plant new groups. You’ve helped groups become more “missional” by consistently serving their neighborhoods and communities. Group members are working to baptize and make disciples of all nations, starting with their families and neighbors.
But one thing is missing. Small groups aren’t fun. Sometimes they’re boring, actually. Sometimes people only come because they feel like they are supposed to.
So here’s my plea to you, small-group champion: incorporate fun, life, and humor into the small groups at your church.
1. If it’s not fun, people won’t come back.
It’s possible to get more information in a more convenient time in a more convenient way through many other means. Podcasts, books, blogs, and forums offer information and discussion environments at any time of the day, every day of the year. What separates small groups from each of these environments is the relationship, face-to-face aspect. Make sure you maximize this!
2. If there’s no fun, it’s not reflective of real life.
If your group is intensely serious, it can drain the life right out of people. We’re only wired to take so much seriousness. And often, our work environments give us plenty of seriousness.
3. If there’s no laughter, people are missing out on great medicine.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). Maybe what hurting people need isn’t more medicine, but a healthy small group. They need to laugh together so hard that they snort. They need to laugh at themselves. They need to laugh at a corny joke. Because God has wired us to receive healing through laughter. I’m not sure how it works, but after a difficult day at work—with the kids, with finances, with in-laws—laughing helps to melt away stress and anxiety, bringing healing to your aching bones.
4. Have you ever belly-laughed?
Seriously, there’s not much that’s more redemptive than belly-laughing with someone in your small group. If you’ve laughed that way, from your gut, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, then I sincerely weep for you. Join my small group, please—we’ll show you how to do it.
5. When we have fun together, we show others that we serve a good God.
Check this out: “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them'” (Psalm 126:2). Did you catch that? When our mouths are filled with laughter, others are convinced that God has done great things among us. Could the flip-side be true? If our mouths aren’t filled with laughter, could people become convinced that the God we serve isn’t good? That he doesn’t take delight in loving is people? That the God we give witness to is ultimately boring, and the eternity with him that we say will be wonderful is painted as dull and lifeless?
6. Laughter builds community.
Laughing together can help your group bond in a rich way very quickly. Don’t neglect times of fun and laughing. Relish those times together. Jokes that carry from week to week, laughing at random things, and having fun together help set the stage for deep discussions, building trust among those in your group.
Have you ever been a part of a boring small group?
*I originally published this for smallgroups.com