Tag: preaching (page 1 of 2)

11 Encouragements Young Pastors Need to Hear

I’ve been a pastor on staff at a local church now for over 7 years. In that time, I’ve been the new guy. I’ve been the young guy. I’ve been the guy with dumb ideas. I’ve been the idea killer. I’ve been the guy that made stupid mistakes.


image credit: TheBibleQuotes.org

And I’ve learned a couple of things. Not everything. Not even close to everything. Every day I feel like I’m being bombarded with new ways of thinking, new ways of operating, and new ways of leading here at Long Hollow.

Along the way, I’ve had to remind myself of some truths. And I’ve had to hear words of correction from others. Neither of which is immediately joy-inducing, but each of which has propelled me forward in ministry.

11 Encouragements Young Pastors Need to Hear

1. You don’t know it all.

You’re not the savior of our church staff. You’re not “all we hoped for.” You don’t have all of the answers to all of the questions we’ve been wrestling with. And the answers we’ve landed on have been wrought with prayers, tears, and sweat.

Encouragement: Bring your ideas with humility.

2. Not every hill is worth dying on.

This is a hard one for me, because I can easily find myself making mountains out of molehills. There are ideas, principles, and dare I say…*theological stances* that are better left untouched and buried for the time being. Triage the most important aspects of your ministry, and fight for those. If you go to battle for every one of the ideas you birthed in the seminary classroom, you’ll breed a staff of people who can’t stand to be around you.

Encouragement: Let someone else die on the molehills. Don’t cash in your relational chips on things that don’t matter.

3. The way you love your family now is the way you’ll love them in 5 years.

If you struggle with spending too much time at work now…you will in 5 years, too. If you tend to bring your job your best…and your family your leftovers…that won’t change. You’re dredging out a trench that will grow more and more comfortable to plow through as the years go on. If you don’t like the way you’re loving your family, change now.

Encouragement: Problems, solutions, and emails can wait until tomorrow. Your wife and children can’t.

4. Not everything is urgent.

This is a mashup of #2 and #3, but it stands on its own feet. Email seems urgent. Phone calls seem urgent. Sunday morning seems urgent. But if you don’t carve out time to dream and plan for the future, you’ll look up and 3 years will have passed you by.

Encouragement: Make sure you’re thinking forward for your ministry. Don’t let the urgency of today drown out your dreams for tomorrow.

5. Not everyone will love your ideas.

Whether you’re a small groups pastor or not, all of your ideas won’t be instantly loved and adopted. That shouldn’t persuade you from remaining silent, though. Learn how to lead up, down, and across. Learn how to innovate and build a team. Learn how to lead people well and integrate your ideas into the life of your church’s culture.

Encouragement: Get a thicker skin, take criticism seriously, and lead people well.

6. You’re not God.

God doesn’t sleep. You need to.

God changes hearts. You don’t.

“There is a God, and it is not you.” – John Ortberg

Encouragement: “Reminding ourselves of the gospel is the most important daily habit we can establish.” – CJ Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life

7. Time with God isn’t easier because you’re a pastor.

Many people naively assume that pastors just sit around, read our Bibles all day, and sing Kumbaya. Let the record show: I’ve never sang Kumbaya in my office. Just because you’re a pastor doesn’t mean that carving out personal time with God happens easily. Emails, meetings, phone calls, tragedies, meetings, videos, and meetings happen naturally.

Encouragement: Don’t neglect personal worship.

8. Leadership will be more important than theology on a day-to-day basis.

Before you hang me out to dry, know that I’m a theologian. I love to dig in and wrestle through theology. I love a good theology book and a good lecture. But nobody cares what you believe about your thoughts on the authorship of the book of Hebrews when their marriage is falling apart. When life doesn’t make sense, nobody leads with, “Who are the Nephilim, really?” Are there potentially important things about the authorship of Hebrews that come to bear? Yep. But the way you lead your staff and congregation will be more important than what you believe about the Nephilim. Or about Calvinism.*

Encouragement: Get your hands on some good leadership books. Maxwell, Osborne, and Godin are all pretty good places to begin.

9. Seminary is good. But it won’t prepare you for much of ministry.

It’s easy to get comfortable in the ivory tower. But real ministry rarely happens there. It happens on the street-level. I learned lots there…but not everything.

Encouragement: Don’t let your seminary education get in the way of you loving people.

10. Investing in the next generation doesn’t come naturally.

Look at your role as preparing the next generation of leaders. Even if you’re 22 year old. Or 32. Or 62. The next generation needs you! Spend time investing in people by bringing them along with you when you are doing the work on ministry. Help them to know what you know, see what you see, lead how you lead, and love how you love. Then turn them loose to use their gifts and passions!

Encouragement: Bring people with you when you do ministry.

11. Build in individual accountability, because nobody will do that for you.

Spoiler alert: you’re going to be tempted to sin. Maybe even more so as a pastor. Satan would love nothing more than to destroy your marriage, your local church, and your ministry. Asking other people to speak in to your life on a consistent basis will help guard against this.

Encouragement: Surround yourself with people whom you can be open, honest, and transparent with.


*I think that these things are incredibly important. Especially Reformed theology. What you believe informs how you live, how you preach, and how you counsel. But it’s easy to become a “Calvin-ite,” a “John-Piper-ite,” or a “Mark Driscoll-ite,” making a bigger deal out of them (what they believe and how they operate in ministry) than out of the way you are to contextualize the Gospel for the people you are called to lead. Be careful in how you wield your theology.



9 keys to preaching a lousy sermon

Most people, when they preach, want to do well. Right?

Most people want others to experience God, encounter truth, and leave changed. Most people want the hard work they put into their sermons to have some sort of impact on the people listening.

image credit: Creation Swap user Justin Knight (http://creationswap.com/justinknight)

Most people.

But not everyone. Some people aim to preach a lousy sermon. If you’d like to be one of those preachers, here’s your list.

9 keys to preaching a lousy sermon

1. Spend very little time praying.

If your sermon is going to be lousy, this is where you’ve got to start. Don’t seek God in prayer. Don’t spend time begging Him to lead your thoughts and your words. Don’t plead with him to soften hard hearts and open blind eyes.

2. Make your sermon purely about “teaching” propositional truths.

Go at it like your 7th grade history teacher…the one that you thought was boring. The one that you didn’t remember anything from her class. Just teach lofty moral platitudes and propositional truth statements that don’t drive any application home. That’ll get the job done.

3. Make your “study time” primarily about listening to other preachers talk about that passage.

Whatever you do, don’t read the Bible for yourself and study the Scriptures to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). Live off of others’ relationship with God, their experience with Him, and the knowledge and insight they’ve gained.

4. Don’t use the word “I” at all.

Don’t let things get too personal. Use ‘they’ and ‘them’ primarily. Slip in a few ‘you people’ and you’re good to go. Talk about “those people” a lot.

5. Heap burden after burden on top of your people.

Condemnation is the way to go. Try to make sure those condemning thoughts weave themselves throughout your sermon. Something like ‘The 5 ways you sinned this week and didn’t know it’ or ‘Why God hates you’ or ‘The 17 ways you’ll never measure up” or “Quit trying…you’re not doing any good anyway.”

6. Be sure to yell. Loudly. And obnoxiously.

Be careful with this one, though. People might think that, because you’re yelling, you’re saying something important. We all know you’re not. Just be careful.

7. Be completely absent and disengaged from people the entire week leading up to your sermon.

Because, if you’re not careful, your ministry of loving and serving people could bleed over into your sermon. The times you spend praying with and for people could have a drastic impact on the way you teach and preach. Be careful.

8. Don’t ask for anyone else’s input prior to preaching.

Study, prepare, write, and rehearse on your own. Don’t let anyone else take a look at your notes, your wording, or the direction you’re going to head on Sunday. Go it alone, my friend. Nobody else is as awesome as you are. The moment someone else tries to offer you a bit of advice, refer back to #6, above.

9. Don’t spend time wrestling through your own sins and weaknesses.

Just focus on other people. It’s much easier this way. Focusing on yourself gets all personal. And it means you have to be vulnerable. And…well, I’ll stop right there. I was just about to go into confession time. I can’t go there…and neither can you.

There you go. 9 steps to preaching a lousy sermon. Now get out there and start preaching!


Ever seen/heard a pastor lead this way?



Cherry-picking sins

I’ve heard some pastors cherry-pick certain sins, finding the biggest, juiciest sins to pick from the tree each and every week.

photo credit: Flickr user Robokow

Condemnation against these sins ends up weaving its way into the Sunday experience, whether it’s part of the notes or part of the while-we-are-talking-about-Jude-let’s-not-forget-_____. It’s not that the folly of these sins shouldn’t be exposed. The destructive nature of sin and the contrasting hope of the Gospel should always be proclaimed. But consistently highlighting sins that may be more public in nature or more far-reaching in their implications and natural consequences is a dangerous tactic.

3 Dangers to Cherry-picking

1. You pander to “itching ears.”

These sins are easy to “pick” on. Much of your church culture finds them offensive and repulsive, and they make for easy cries of “Amen!” in the congregation. You know that if you preach against “that,” you’ll have a room full of supporters. We often think that Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3  is talking to people who simply want to hear a motivational talk. Maybe, though, their “itching ears” are looking for a pastor who will rail against some sins, but not others. Maybe the 2 Timothy warning is for the cherry-picker, too.

2. You promote a weak theology.

Theologically, when you bang the drum against the same sin, you highlight that sin as if it’s more offensive to God. As if that sin sends you to a deeper level of hell and issue you a stricter punishment. As if that sin is more offensive to a holy God than others. As if God has to muster up a little more grace for others’ sin than yours. Though some sins carry a weightier earthly consequence, it’s shaky ground to stand on when you say that one sin is more evil than another, in the eyes of a holy God.

3. You hide in the shadows.

Practically, you have found a way to justify your own sin. When you consistently highlight someone else’s sin, you minimize your own. What you forget is that when you shine the light on somone else, you inadvertently cast a shadow on yourself, giving yourself room to hide in the darkness. Don’t simply highlight the sin that causes you the most offense. Instead, highlight the sin that you tend to minimize. The one that nobody notices. The one that you’re likely to think doesn’t offend the heart of God quite as dangerously. Highlight your drift towards laziness. Talk about your sin of gluttony. Mention your predisposition to choose people over God by sneaking white lies into your relationships. Drop in your next sermon your increasing impatience with your kids. Don’t hide your sin behind someone else’s.

Quit hiding behind the veneer of “bad” sins. Doing this only makes us look like impotent theologians, out of touch with our own depravity.

Choose authenticity instead. Be open and honest about your past, and current struggles.

In that, you’ll find freedom in being a living, breathing example of the Gospel of grace.

Question: Ever heard a pastor cherry-pick a certain sin time and time again?



10 Things You Forget About Pastors

I had the chance to preach at Grace this past Sunday. What a gift it was.

apparently, I said something I thought was funny

And what a hard week it was.

Every time I get the call to preach, I forget just how much work it is to prepare until the Wednesday before I preach on Sunday. It’s at that point, when I’m on my 5th rewrite, my 10th bottom line, and my 4th, “I have no idea what I’m going to say” thought for the week.

In the process of preparing and delivering the sermon yesterday, I realized that there are a few things that people often forget about preachers. In fact, I’ve found exactly 10 things that are often forgotten.

10 Things You Forget about Pastors

1. Preaching is a lot of work.

In fact, it takes me between 20-30 hours to prepare my sermon. On top of that, I still have my normal, weekly responsibilities. Last time I checked, adding 30 hours to a work week was a pretty significant amount. The best sermons take time to marinate. Which means that if you enjoyed the sermon…it probably took longer than normal to prepare.

2. Preaching is stressful.

If you mess up in your job, your boss might get upset with you. If we mess up…God is upset with us. I’d rather get the stink eye from your boss than mine any day. 🙂

3. Preaching has a lot of moving parts.

We feel the weight of preaching the Scriptures faithfully, in an engaging way, every time. We have to balance humor, theology, and application, making sure to pepper in just the right number of illustrations, but not too many so that people remember the illustration and not the Truth. That’s a lot to balance on a small stage.

4. We don’t always have it all figured out.

We don’t know it all. Or have all of the answers. Or have every truth we’re preaching on mastered. Growing up, I assumed that my pastor knew everything. Now that I’m in that role, I realize that we don’t.

5. We get worn out, too.

Delivering a sermon is physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Expect that we’ll be pretty zapped afterwards. After all, “they” say that delivering a sermon is equivalent to 8 hours of work.

6. If you tell us some important detail on a Sunday morning, we’ll probably forget it.

Feel free to tell us, but follow that up with an email. We’ll thank you later. It’s not that we don’t care in the moment…it’s that our minds are racing, and we often have hundreds of thoughts and ideas we’re wrestling with.

7. Preaching is a gift, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

Some days, it feels more like work. I’d love to say that every time we preach, the heavens open up and God gives us great joy in the preparation and in the delivery. But I’d be lying…sometimes it doesn’t feel like a gift.

8. Criticisms need to wait.

Seriously, if you have a bone to pick, call us on Tuesday. We’ll be in a much better spot to handle criticism then, than on your way out the door on Sunday.

9. We see you texting.

Don’t act like you’ve listened to our sermon…we know better.

10. We have to do it all again next week.

Most preachers preach every week. In fact, most preachers preach on Sunday, Sunday night, and then again on Wednesday night. The work of a pastor is never done.


Have you ever preached? Do any of these resonate with you?





5 Things a Pastor Should Never Say

Ever heard a pastor say something that made you cringe?

We pastors say a lot. From the stage, to the phone, in an email, and in passing conversations, we are communicating with people most of our days. And while much of what we share is (hopefully) helpful, there are certain things that should never be said.

image credit: Creative Commons user The Justified Sinner

5 Things a Pastor should Never Say

1. “If it weren’t for the people, I’d love being a pastor.”

You’ve probably heard this one. In fact, you may have said it yourself. Often said in a moment of frustration or as a passing joke, this is a statement that can be incredibly hurtful to the people that need help the most. It inadvertently creates a wall between the pastor and those who are in need of grace and hope. And it makes people feel like there are problems too big to bring to their pastor.

 Truth: Being a pastor is about the people. It’s about serving and giving and loving and pouring yourself out for others.

2. “This week was so busy, I didn’t even get a chance to work on my sermon.”

This is sad, really. There are a handful of things that only the pastor can do. (qualifier: having a teaching team is an option that many churches utilize, but when it’s your week to preach, this is no excuse). Preaching is one of them. It’s not that others aren’t qualified…it’s that your role that Sunday is to preach.

Truth: Having the stage (or the pulpit, depending on your context) on a Sunday morning is a great privilege. Neglecting that gift is irresponsible.

3. “I don’t have time for a small group.”

Thankfully, our pastors at Grace have never said this. But many pastors have. Their weeks are so busy with other activities (even good things) that they don’t feel like they have time in their lives for a small group. But if relationships are vital to growth in discipleship, you’d be foolish to neglect this. And it’s hard for you to tell them that small group life is worth bending their life around if you aren’t living that.

Truth: you don’t have time to not be involved in a small group. 

4. “And my ninth point, again starting with the letter ‘W’…” Seriously, just write a book. 🙂

Truth: people will not remember all 9 points. Pick the most compelling, helpful point, and preach a sermon with that as your bottom line.

5. “Someone like you is not welcome here…”

I got a call this recently from someone, who said, “I have a friend, her name is ____. And she’s done ____. She talked with another church, and they have asked her not to come because of some stuff in her past. Is she welcome at Grace?” Honestly, I was taken aback. It literally took my breath away. I told her that there are few things in life that cause my blood to boil. This happens to be one of them.

Truth: God’s grace is huge. Minimizing it is foolish.


What have you heard a pastor say that caused you to cringe?

 * image credit: Creative Commons user The Justified Sinner


6 truths I learned from a failed presentation

image credit: CreationSwap user Agatha Villa

If you’ve ever done any amount of public speaking, you’ve had that moment when you step on stage and have a sinking feeling that says, “What in the world am I doing here?”

Ever had that?

Whether it’s the crowd that’s staring back at you, the venue itself, your lack of preparedness, or the content you’ve been asked to deliver, you realize in the heat of the moment that you’ve been asked to do something that’s out of your comfort zone and destined for a slow death.

I had one of these opportunities just the other day. I was asked to give a presentation on a recent mission trip I led to Costa Rica. The trip was phenomenal. But in the same vein as every other post-mission-trip-story I, and you, have ever heard in my life, the gravity and beauty of the trip doesn’t translate once you’re off the field. Translation isn’t often hampered by a language barrier, though. It’s hampered because the people in the room weren’t there on the trip, they feel a bit guilty because they haven’t gone on a mission trip, they want to go on a future one but know they won’t, and they’re ready to get back to life as normal. As much as you, the mission traveler, try to engage through stories and pictures, the experience gets lost in translation.

I led off with describing a funny situation. Well…I thought it was funny. No response. So I pressed on. Dropped a few funny lines in about 5 minutes in. Nothing. About 3/4 of the way through my presentation, a cell phone went off right beside my podium. Turns out it was the president’s who was  presiding over the meeting. I made a quick-witted comment about it, which caused even me to give myself a little chuckle. No chuckle from the crowd, though. Two older guys in the back were literally sleeping. Alexander DeLarge himself sat front and center, his droopy eyes forced open against their will. A few guys were checking their cell phones, presumably because the president’s ringing phone reminded them they have some business to take care of. Things went sideways quickly, so I looked for as quick and graceful of an exit as possible.

It was through this process that I learned a lot about public speaking. Failed experiences can teach you a lot.

6 Truths I Learned from a failed Presentation

You can completely bomb, and life will go on.

I walked out of that presentation relatively unscathed. My pride was a bit scarred, but all-in-all, I was fine. My “worst fears” as far as speaking goes were realized…and I lived.

Sometimes your jokes will fall flat.

Just keep going on to your next point. Failed jokes, poorly executed initiatives, great ideas that never get off the ground…these will be normal occurrences. Take it on the chin and move on.

There’s always next time.

It’s a good source of hope knowing that if I bomb again in the future, there’s always next time. There will be other opportunities.

There’s more to life than being perfect every time.

Much more. An always-perfectly executed sermon/speech/presentation is nice…but that’s not reality. And expecting that every time just sets you up for being disappointed.

It’s not all about the money.

Especially when you’re not getting paid…and it bombs. Don’t take an opportunity just because they’re offering you money. And don’t turn one down just because they aren’t. (I know that that’s a generalization. Sometimes opportunities need to be turned down for other reasons…or accepted for monetary reasons because you need to provide for your family).

Failures can affirm God’s call on your life.

God’s call is sure, but it’s not easy. He never promises that life is going to be easy…but He does promise to always be with you. (Hebrews 13:5) Failed experiences cause you to evaluate your calling in life. I walked out of this failed experience as sure as ever that God has called me to do this. Strange, I know. But I received comfort as I examined my calling once again, reminding myself of what God’s called me to do and who He’s called me to be.

Failing at a public presentation is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Don’t let your “worst fears” keep you from doing what God’s calling you to do.


What’s been your worst experience with public speaking?

* image credit: CreationSwap user Agatha Villa


Should Pastors Work on their Presentation Skills?

photo credit: Creation Swap user Agatha Villa

I’m reading a book right now by Nancy Duarte entitled Resonate.

I’m giving a presentation this upcoming week at the RightNow Conference, and thought it might be helpful to brush up some skills. The book has been a helpful read as I’ve been preparing my talk.

I know that when (some of) you hear that I’m reading a book on communication, you roll your eyes. You feel that pastors shouldn’t concern themselves with things like leadership, communication improvements, and the like. They should just focus on the Gospel. That argument says: Isn’t the Gospel enough?

Though the Gospel is sufficient…I tend to disagree with the train of thought above. I think that leadership and communication are unbelievably important for a pastor to grow in.

For Pastors, Communication and Leadership

  • are gifts we should steward.
  • aren’t necessarily innate gifts for preachers, but are skills that can be learned and improved upon
  • are an important part of sharing the Gospel
  • are like muscles…if you don’t work on using and improving them, they’ll wither up.
  • shouldn’t be the only thing we study, but should be part of what we study
If we (pastors) have the best message (the Gospel), shouldn’t we be the best communicators? And if our communication is lacking, shouldn’t we be compelled to improve?
But maybe I’m wrong. So I’d love to hear from you!

When it comes to preaching:

Is it wise for pastors to read books on improving their presentation skills?

Or is that so secondary to the Gospel that we shouldn’t worry about it?

Should we just be reading books about the Gospel?

Or should we be reading books on communication, because communication is the vehicle through which the Gospel goes out?

 * photo credit: Creation Swap user Agatha Villa


The art of the spoken word

Over the past few months, I’ve had the chance to preach at my church, Grace Community Church, three times.

And I’ve loved it. Each time, though, I’ve learned quite a few things. Some about myself. Some about the art of preaching. You can read what I’ve learned HERE and HERE.

Well, this past Sunday was no exception.

5 Observations about Preaching

1. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted.

I notice every single person that stands up to leave. Every one. And I try oh so hard to not get distracted by them. Remember that next time you get up in the middle of a sermon.

2. To preach well, you have to give of yourself.

When I preach, I pour myself, my life, my personality, my research, my stories, my heart and my mind into the craft. And this past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching 3 times. It was a beautiful exhaustion.

3. Beware the death blow.

Want to know how to deal a crushing blow to a pastor? Right after they say ‘Amen,’ find them in the hallway and tell them which part(s) of their message were a disaster. They’ll love you for it. And by love, I mean…watch out, because they may swing at you.  Preachers should elicit feedback, but it’s okay to wait a day or two.

4. If you want to get better, you’ve got to work at it.

I work to get better every single time. I evaluate what I said and how I said it so that next time I can communicate more effectively. And, hopefully, I’m improving.

5. Preaching is an unbelievably incredible motivational tool.

I talk so much about the importance of community. In fact, that’s what my sermon was about on Sunday. And I talk so much about community that I can almost forget how powerful the public, spoken word can be in someone’s life. We saw people taking steps of faith in droves on Sunday, as they took a step towards community by signing up for small groups.

Question: Has God worked in your life through hearing someone preach?



7 Personal Truths I Learned Through Preaching

I’m a “learner,” at least according to Strengths Finder.  I enjoy learning new things, exploring new ideas, and trying to understand different systems.  But sometimes I “learn” about myself.  And that seems to happen each time I preach.

Last time I preached, I learned a lot about myself. See what I mean HERE.

I had the opportunity of preaching again at my church, Grace Community Church, yesterday.

7 Personal Truths I learned Through Preaching

1. I’m hard on myself.

Always. In fact, I’m probably much harder on myself after I preach than others are. I know the spots where I swung and missed, the spots where I didn’t connect, and what I should’ve said differently. And I’m good at beating myself up.

2. I’m vulnerable right after the message.

I’m all about “constructive criticism,” but I need some time. Give me a few hours…24, if you’re feeling extra generous.

3. Rehearsing through the whole sermon a few times helps me a ton.

I’ve started doing this, practicing through the whole sermon a few times, from start to finish, adding in key phrases, transitions, and striking things that are out of place. When I’m piecing things together throughout the week, I find I inevitably leave out key pieces of the puzzle.

4. I carry a lot of the emotional weight of the room.

I shared a heavy message yesterday, and I could definitely feel the weight of emotion in the room as I preached. This thought encourages me to pray for my pastor more…even while he’s preaching.

5. Preaching drains me.

I said this last time, but I’ll say it again. After I’m done preaching, I feel like I’ve worked a full day.

6. “Great message!” doesn’t do much for me.

It doesn’t feel all that encouraging. I’d much rather hear something like, “That’s what I needed to hear.” Even if it comes through an email.

7. Preaching is a lot of work.

The prep that goes into each message takes lots of time. The guys that do this every week are studs. Props to Ron Edmondson and Chad Rowland, my pastors!

8. Preaching connects me with God unlike anything else.

My mind is more active, my spirit more tuned in, and my heart is more primed.  Preaching, for me, is the culmination of a lot of intense preparation.  And I feel tightly connected with God through it.

Question: Do any of these resonate with you?



Caption please

I’m all for making fun of myself.  And if you’d like to chime in, feel free to let ’em rip.

Comments please…

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