Rethinking Preaching

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Getting to hear Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, James Meeks and Andy Stanley speak about preaching was like a preacher’s heaven. So good. Here are some notes from each talk:

Tim Keller

  • How to persuade unbelievers in a sermon: Learn how to persuade with people’s own beliefs, Use people’s beliefs against them, You have to solve heart problems with the gospel, You have to demonstrate to the non-Christian that you know what it is like to not believe, to doubt, and Speak to non-Christians directly. Talk about what they are thinking in that moment. By doing this, you communicate that you know they are there and that their doubts matter.
  • Postmodern people want to know how the gospel fits.
  • If you preach to the heart every week, the non-Christians will hear the gospel every week.

Matt Chandler preached from Luke 15 to show what happens when preaching happens.

  • When the gospel is clearly preached, the most heinous sinners are drawn in.
  • Gospel preaching deconstructs and then reconstructs at the same time.
  • Jesus isn’t just after the prodigals, he is after the self-righteous hypocrite as well.
  • Don’t live vicariously through someone else or books. Don’t have other people hanging out with lost people’s stories.
  • Trust the bible.
  • If you move from biblical doctrine, you’ll have nothing to save people to because you won’t have anything to save them from.

James Meeks

  • Whatever you want people to know or do, you must preach that.
  • Preach the announcements.

Andy Stanley

  • Your approach to preaching is everything.
  • Your approach is more important than content.
  • If you take the wrong approach in preaching, it won’t matter if you have good content.
  • If you don’t care what people do with what you say, you don’t care about people.
  • Jesus didn’t come to make a point.
  • Preachers aren’t to make a point or be right, they are to win people.
  • The foundation of our faith is not the bible but an event.
  • The problem when you say “The bible says” is what else the bible says.
  • You take the bible seriously because you take Jesus seriously and Jesus took the Old Testament seriously.

Then they had a panel discussion and here are some tidbits from that:

  • Churches that create an environment for outsiders are positive. Churches that don’t are negative. Churches that go negatively quickly are inside focused.
  • People aren’t a truth quest; they are on a happiness quest. Preaching needs to start there, embrace the tension people have and then move them to the gospel.
  • If the gospel doesn’t hit on the redemption of all things, it is hard for people to move forward and see the point of things.
  • We need to care about eternal suffering, but also all suffering.
  • A preacher needs to be the most sanctified version of himself, not someone else.
  • A preacher needs to have fun. If you don’t have fun, otherwise people won’t have fun.
  • When you preach, give non-Christians an out and tell them, “you don’t have to do this.”
  • If you give non-Christians an out in a sermon, they lean in.
  • A good critical question for a preacher to ask after a sermon is, “Was the sermon fair in its viewpoint of non-Christians?”
  • A preacher should be prepared.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Don’t forget that the work of preaching is supernatural.
  • Don’t have faith in your sermon, have faith in the Holy Spirit.

How Many Times a Year Should a Pastor Preach

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The other day a church planter I coach asked me. “How many times a year should I preach?”

The answer to this question depends on the person, church, philosophy and what the person can handle. While most churches have one person who preaches the majority of the time (ie. 40-48 times a year), some churches have a team where people preach an equal amount of split in some fashion.

When we started Revolution Church, I preached 98 times in the first 2 years. This was partly because we didn’t have anyone else to preach, my desire to get better as a preacher, but also I felt the need to help set the tone of what our church would be like. This was tiring.

Now, the elders have set a goal for me to preach at least 40 times a year. This allows me to preach the most (which is important for the church, which I’ll talk about in a minute) and still develop other communicators. As I get older, I could see this number going down so others can be preaching and developing their gift.

I think it is important for a church to know the person who communicates regularly. This creates a normalcy to church, people know what to expect and they feel connected to a communicator.

The other question a pastor has to ask is how he will break his weeks up.

I’ve learned, my limit for preaching in a row is 10 weeks. Other guys it might be 8 or 13. Around week 10 I start to get incredibly run down mentally and spiritually and feel like my tank is low. I shoot to make sure I have a week off from preaching at least every 10 weeks. Some times I’m able to make that happen and other times because of the season of our church, I can’t.

One question a lot of young planters wrestle with is: when to take a break. 

Each year, before I put together my preaching calendar of topics, I pull out the school calendar (district in my area and the university of Arizona) and see when the breaks are. We run on a year round school system here so we get 6 weeks of summer instead of 3 months. This means we have random breaks in October and March when Tucson seems to shut down. These breaks are great times to have another person preach. The sunday after thanksgiving and the 4th of July, the Sunday of Memorial Day and Labor Day and the last Sunday of the year and the first Sunday of the year are great weeks to take off from preaching and have someone else do it (that’s 6 right there).

I also shoot for a 3 week break from preaching at some point in the summer. The benefits to this are enormous for you personally and your church. This is when I plan the next year of sermons, work ahead, work on my own soul and take a vacation with my family.

But what do you do on a week off?

For many pastors or people in their church, the idea of the pastor having a week off from preaching sounds like he is taking a week off from everything. This is an opportunity for you as a pastor to work ahead on sermons, think through a series coming up, meet with leaders to plan ahead or evaluate a ministry, go to a conference, take an extended spiritual retreat to be with Jesus.

If you aren’t proactive, you will waste these weeks off.

So, why do pastor’s preach too much and burnout?

For some, it is a pride issue. They don’t want to give up control of the pulpit. They think if they aren’t at church, it will cease to exist and fall apart. This gets to the heart of who is building your church, you or Jesus.

For some pastor’s, they truly don’t have anyone else who can handle it. This is a tough spot to be in. You can use a video sermon from a pastor of a large church like Craig Groeschel or Andy Stanley (we do that once a year simply to expose our church to some great speakers and authors that I think would benefit them).

The bottom line is, you get to choose this as a pastor. The choice you make though has an enormous affect on your health and the health of your church.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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My latest blog post on the Acts 29 Blog.

When we started Revolution, our prayer was and is still, that we would die in Tucson. We wanted to give our lives to one church, to one city, to one movement and out of that church, we prayed that 1 million people would follow Jesus because of it. This commitment has helped when times are the darkest, because sometimes, your calling is all you have. You will come back to it and question it and wonder if you heard God correctly. If you commit to stay, it makes difficult situations a little easier. They still hurt and are painful, but when we hit rough patches, Katie and I would look at each other and say, “We decided to outlast them, so let’s push through.”

Kevan Lee on The best time to write, get ideas, be creative and succeed in work.

Research into the human body—its hormone  allotment, its rhythms, and its tendencies—has found that there are certain times of day when the body is just better at performing certain activities. Eat breakfast no later than 8:00 a.m. Exercise between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.Read Twitter from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. (your fellow tweeters are more upbeat in the morning).

Dave Bruskas on 4 ways a pastor can love his wife well. These apply to all men.

I have to preserve my best energy for my wife, and it often requires me to tell some really great people “no” when they request my energy. This also means disappointing them. But I would much rather live with their disappointment than miss out on knowing my wife more deeply.

12 things Carey Nieuwhof would tell himself if he was starting out in leadership today. This is pure leadership gold.

At 25 I wish I would have enjoyed life more. I probably still struggle with this. I’m driven enough to spend my hours thinking about what could be rather than enjoying what is.

Casey Graham on 3 common time management traps.

Nothing has helped me produce more results in less time than refusing to mix my days up.  I label my days.  They are either a Free Day, Buffer Day, or Profit Day.  Free days are completely work free.  Buffer days are the days to get stuff organized & ready for my profit days.  Profit days are days where I do my highest money-making activities for the business.

8 ways to spot emotionally healthy church leaders and staff’s.

Emotionally unhealthy people keep company with people who bring them down and then blame everyone else when their life isn’t how they want it to be. Conversely, emotionally healthy people don’t act as though the world owes them anything. They don’t waste their time having pity parties or feeling sorry for themselves.

Mike Leake on The shame of pornography and God’s justification of sinners.

For me there was a vicious cycle of freedom, failure, shame, depression, freedom. Over and over and over for the better part of ten years–from my teenage years until a few years into my marriage. The shame over failure only caused me to spiral into deeper despair and more sin took root.

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Leading Up

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Leadership is hard. That isn’t news.

It is hard to lead people. It is hard to lead followers. It is hard to lead those under you or those who work next to you on the organizational chart (you know, the ones you can’t make do something).

It is really hard to lead those over you, to lead up.

Yet, to get anywhere in leadership, you must learn to lead up.

Why?

The person above you probably controls your budget, your salary, your benefits and if what you want to do gets done.

The person above you potentially controls a lot.

So, to accomplish what you want to accomplish at work and in your life, you need to lead them well.

This is especially true for guys who want to plant churches.

If this is you, you will at some point, find yourself working under someone. Someone that you are smarter than, someone that you are more relevant than, someone that you are more biblical than, someone that has sold out to risks and is now just collecting a paycheck.

Now, you won’t say these things to them.

But deep down, you know they “lost it.”

They now look and sound like the guy from Up. 

So how do you lead up? Here are 5 ways to lead up and accomplish what God has called you to without losing your leadership. Because don’t mistake this: if you don’t lead up well, you will have a hard time leaving your current spot to get the role you want. 

  1. Affirm and back their vision. Right now, if you aren’t the leader at the top of the organizational chart, you are a follower. If you can’t follow well, you can’t lead well. What if you don’t support their vision? Unless it isn’t biblical, you chose to be there. You need to be submissive to that. As long as it isn’t heretical, just different from what you would do, follow well. But you know better. You are an entrepreneur who God has called to something else. I know. But wait. Affirm them as the leader. Believe it or not (see #5), you will need them in the future.
  2. Be patientYour timing is not God’s timing. I knew when I was 21 that I would one day plant a church. I didn’t know where or when, but I knew. It was when I was 29 in a state I had never set foot in before. Those 8 years were hard, sometimes painful, but they were formative. Be in the moment. Seek to learn what you can. If you aren’t in charge, relish that. Prepare for when you will be. Watch. Listen. Ask questions. Seek out mentors. Read books. Be ready for when God says “Go.”
  3. Risk when the time is right. This is a timing and heart issue. I’ve watched countless guys say “Go” and it was terrible timing for them, their families and the church they left. Can God overcome anything and call anyone at anytime? Yes. God is also wise and doesn’t always call us to the stupidest thing we could do. If you think, “Is this stupid? That must be God’s will for my life.” That is a terrible way to discern that. But lots of people equate crazy risk with stupid. Don’t put your family in a bind. Don’t put the church you are leaving in a bind. Remember, the way you leave a church is how they will remember you. They will forget everything else you did.
  4. Be open and honest. Talk to those above you about what God has placed on your heart. What if they fire you? You don’t want to be there then. This also shows if you feel called or if you think planting or being the lead guy just sounds fun.
  5. Don’t leave unless they back you. The first question I ask a church planter who wants money, people, support or resources from Revolution Church is, “Does the church you just left support you? Are they giving you anything?” I’m very cautious of the guy who says “No” and then has a story or reasons why not. Is it always their fault? No. But to me that is a sign, a red flag that often reveals a character issue.

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15 Quotes from Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret

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Every Saturday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail (kindle version) by Larry Osborne.

This book was fantastic. Instead of a full blown review, here are 15 quotes that jumped out to me:

  1. What is the dirty little secret of innovation? It’s simply this: most innovations fail.
  2. The success of people is not found in their ability to avoid failure. It’s found in their ability to minimize the impact of failure.
  3. Innovation is birthed out of answering these two questions: What frustrates me most? What’s broken most?
  4. Organizational innovation is often ignited by our deepest personal frustrations.
  5. The kind of mission statement that keeps an organization focused and accelerates innovation doesn’t just happen.
  6. A mission statement needs to be ruthlessly honest. It should reflect your organization’s passionate pursuit, not merely your wishful thinking, your marketing slogans, or a spirit of political correctness.
  7. Many leaders confuse mission with marketing.
  8. A mission statement should be aimed at insiders. Its purpose is to tell those on the inside of the organization where the bull’s-eye lies.
  9. The purpose of a mission statement is to tell everyone on the inside what we’re aiming at. It’s supposed to let them know what’s most important.
  10. To impact the daily decisions of an organization, a mission statement must be easily remembered and repeated ad nauseam – and then repeated again.
  11. When your mission statement is an honest reflection of your passion, is widely known, and is broadly accepted, it will not only help you get where you want to go; it will accelerate innovation.
  12. God’s will has three components: a what, a when, and a how. Each is equally important. Two out of three won’t cut it. Miss out on any of the three and you’ll end up in the weeds.
  13. It’s not always the best idea that succeeds. It’s the combination of a great idea, proper timing, and excellent execution that brings success.
  14. You can’t lead if you can’t live with low-level frustration.
  15. The important question is not, “Does this fail to help us fulfill our mission?” The important question is, “Does this keep us from fulfilling our mission?”

A Man Feels Called to Plant a Church but His Wife Does Not. Should He Plant?

From time to time I’ll meet a couple. He feels like God has called him to plant a church, but she isn’t so sure. Sometimes, it is just fear on her part.

What will it look like? What will being a pastor’s wife feel like? Will my friendships change? How will this affect my kids? Where will money come from?

Many guys, because they are visionary, excitable, wanting to serve God with their whole lives either ignore these questions or simply give answers akin to, “We’ll figure it out.”

When I meet a couple, if she does not feel called to plant a church, I tell them to wait.

If a couple is truly one and if God is calling one of them to plant a church, he will make it clear to the other one that they are both called to plant. If they plant while one is still on the fence or opposed to it, disaster for them and the church awaits them.

When I say this, I get a stunned look from many guys and they reply with, “If I do that, I won’t plant. What am I supposed to do then? I’m sinning if I don’t do what God has called me to.”

Here are a few thoughts on that question that you may have right now:

  1. If God has called you to plant, you’ll plant. It may not be on your timetable or how you would picture it, but it will happen. Maybe you’ll be part of a church plant, maybe you’ll actually be the planter. You may want to do it at 20, but it will happen at 40. Revolution got planted a full decade after God birthed the vision in my head. Why? I needed to grow up and get beat up in ministry so my pride was sanded down for God to properly use me. 
  2. Just because you feel called to ministry doesn’t mean you are. Lots of guys want to be a pastor. They see what a pastor does on stage. Everyone is looking at them, they are in front of people, they spend time at Starbucks, have lunch meetings, read books and blogs and work one day a week. What they don’t see are the angry emails, the stress that can come from leading volunteers and staff, budget meetings, counseling sessions that go awry, and the stress and spiritual warfare that comes to a pastors’ wife and kids. You may be called to ministry, you may want to be called to ministry. That is why it is important to have a church affirm your calling.
  3. Being called to ministry is something every Christian is called to. Every Christian is in ministry. Some are freed up to be pastors, some are in ministry in government, in companies or other non-profits. All Christians have spiritual gifts that they are to use. Planting and leading a church may be yours, it may not be. If it isn’t, you are not a second rate Christian.
  4. Lead your wife first. If a guy wants to plant but his wife doesn’t he’ll ask me what to do. My response? Lead your wife first. She is your first disciple. If you want to know what kind of followers or disciples a man will develop, look at his wife and kids. If you can’t lead them well, if they don’t feel called to follow you into a church plant, why will others?

If you haven’t signed up to receive my latest blog post every morning in your inbox, you can do so here. I’d love to help you move forward in your life and leadership.

Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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  1. Barnabas Piper on You’re asking the wrong questions.
  2. One thing all successful churches must have. The one thing might surprise you. It did me.
  3. Trevin Wax on Is the Bible too violent for kids? I love that we use the gospel project in Planet Rev and how they have put it together and don’t gloss over what is in the Bible.
  4. Some pastoral wisdom from Thabiti Anyabwile. This is pure gold for a pastor.
  5. Bob Johnson on Questions a potential church planting wife should ask.
  6. Ron Edmondson on the 7 most exciting thing a pastor experiences and the 7 biggest frustrations a pastor experiences. These are all true.
  7. Thom Rainer on 7 things pastors would like their churches to know about their kids.

Preach Better Sermons || Darrin Patrick

bookI’m watching the online conference Preach Better Sermons today and wanted to share some of the learnings I picked up. One of the speakers is Darrin Patrick founded The Journey in 2002 in the urban core of St. Louis, Missouri. The Journey has six locations and has released seven church plants. Darrin is Vice President of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network (which Revolution Church is part of) and has helped start multiple non-profits in St. Louis. Darrin is the author of two books: Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission and For the City.

Here are some things that jumped out from Darrin’s segment:

  • The Journey rotates through Old Testament, New Testament and hot-button current topics. This keeps the sermons fresh. 
  • By moving around like this, it helps the church have a holistic view of Scripture.
  • Teaching through books of the Bible you are forced to teach on everything.
  • Take chunks of time to prepare during the summer for the rest of the year.
  • We need to preach the gospel all the time, not just in one sermon.
  • The gospel is this thing that is growing.
  • The way we came to Christ is the way we stay in him.
  • People have felt needs, but the gospel is the real need of every human being.
  • Would your sermon work if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?

Stop Giving Him an Out

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One of the things I hear women do too often it seems, especially church planter’s wives is give their husband an out.

Recently, Katie and I were talking about a new book she read called The Church Planting Wife. She told me she liked a lot of it, but felt like the author kept giving her husband an out for his sin.

Here’s how it happens for couples, whether they plant or not.

He is busy. People want his time. He needs to give it. So, during dinner he answers his phone, email or text. During date night he has his phone on. I’ve sat and heard wives say, “People need him.” No they don’t. Your husband isn’t Jesus and that is sin.

Now, before you think I believe pastors shouldn’t care for people or be available, that isn’t the case. But, the reason pastor’s don’t take vacations, days off or be present with their families. The reason they schedule something every night, run themselves ragged is not because there is so much church planting work to be done, but because of sin. Because they think they have to care for everyone, be there for everyone, meet every need, be at every meeting, be involved in everything. The pastor is not the only person who can do something in a church. In fact, the New Testament shows in numerous places (take Ephesians 4 for example) that if the pastor is the only one doing something, that’s an unbiblical, unhealthy church.

Are there times you need to move something around with your family for an emergency? Yes. Should you ever skip a day off or work on it? Sometimes that happens.

If that becomes the norm, that’s when sin creeps in.

Men, if this is you and your wife makes excuses in her head for you not being present, skipping days off, feeding your idol of being needed and thinking you are Jesus. Repent. Women, if you make excuses for his sin, you need to repent of that and stop doing that.

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A Simple Time-Management Principle

There is an incredibly simple time-management principle that has guided my decisions and how I manage my time.

While it is simple, it has far-reaching implications. Here it is:

Every time you say yes to something, say no to something else.

If you run a company or a church, you can’t do everything. In your family, you can’t afford everything; you can’t sign your kid up for every activity (although lots of parents try).

It’s very simple. If you say yes to something, you will have to say no to something else. I was talking with a couple recently and they were wrestling with whether or not the wife should go back to work. They have small kids, money is tight, and they said, “It would help us financially.” I told them this idea and said, “If you say yes to working, you will make money. But you are now spending less time with your kids and someone else is raising them, you are bringing stress into your life that isn’t there now because you will be home less, because of working.” I kept going but you get the idea.

THE CHOICE IS YOURS

Every weekend, every weekday we make choices about how to spend our time. When a man chooses between spending time on the golf course or at the lake with his buddies, versus with his children, he is saying yes and no to something. We might say yes to what we want to do, but at the same time, say no to investing in our kids or an important relationship.

At the end of the work day, when we decide to take work home, stay just a little bit longer as opposed to getting home, getting to the gym to get some exercise, spend time with friends. We say yes to something and no to something. By saying yes to working late and yes to more stress, we are saying no to a sustainable pace, no to spending time with friends that would relax us or help us to unwind, no to exercising so that we can be healthier.

You can’t say yes to every kind of music, dress, style, and service time. Pick one.

Pastors try to fight against this in their churches. “If we have a program for everybody, we will reach everybody,” they say. But if you shoot to reach everybody, simply you will reach nobody. You can’t say yes to every kind of music, dress, style, and service time. Pick one.

When I planted Revolution Church, I struggled with this every day. As a pastor, there are so many people to meet with. You don’t want to say no to anyone because they might leave, and you need everyone you can get, all the givers you can muster. This often leads you to running ragged, not resting well, not spending time with your family or time with Jesus. We rationalize that we’re serving people, helping them, and that next month we’ll take that Sabbath, that date night.

As a parent, it is easy to do this as we run our kids from one activity to the next in an effort to give them a well-rounded life. By doing that—by saying yes to running their kids everywhere—we are saying no to family dinners, family devotions (often), but we are saying yes to more stress in their life as a family. Many couples sacrifice their marriages for their kids, pouring their time and energy into their kids instead of their marriage as the most important relationship in the family. This is one reason why more divorces happen in year 25 than any other year of marriage now. Empty nesters don’t know each other without their kids.

HOW TO SAY YES AND NO

We say yes and no in our family. We say yes to exercising and a healthy lifestyle. I’ve shared in other places about my journey of losing 130 pounds and keeping it off. Every time we go to the gym or make a meal plan to eat a healthy diet, we are saying yes to health and longevity in life. We have to say no to sleeping in later (as I get to the gym by 6 a.m.), to late night snacks, to too many chicken wings, and to swearing off my beloved Frappuccino.

When we got married, we decided I would work and Katie would stay home. We said yes to her staying home and no to a lot of other things. Other families have nicer things or go on nicer vacations than we do because of this choice. That’s OK. When we made this choice, we knew what we were saying yes and no to.

You need to know the implications.

We say yes to spend time with certain people and no to others. Pastors feel the strain of wanting to be with people, spending time with as many people as possible. But it is simply impossible. For our family, we seek to spend time with the pastors and their wives at Revolution Church, the MC leaders I coach and those in our MC and those our MC is seeking to reach. That is what we as a family we have said yes to. This means we have said no to other things and other people.

You need to know the implications. When you say yes to something, you say no to something else, maybe multiple things, but it happens every time.

IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO

This at the end of the day is what drives many of us to say yes. We have this desire to appease people, to be comfortable, to make others like us. This is what drives so many of us to not say no and to say yes too much.

When someone asks if they can meet with me, I want to help them, I want to say yes. Often I’m able to, but many times if I say yes to that opportunity, I will say no to something else. It might be a date night with Katie, time with my kids, a nap that I need, and my sermon prep time. When we say yes to the wrong things, it is often because we want to make someone like us, approve of us, and be comfortable in a relationship.

FOCUS

This is really a question of focus. When we say yes and strategically, we live more strategically. One helpful thing for me has been to lay out my ideal week and identify what the most important things for me to accomplish each week are. This helps me to see the time I actually have available for things that pop up at the last minute, it helps me to gauge if I can say yes to those opportunities without hurting the most important things.

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