You Aren’t Gospel Centered

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There’s been a resurgence in the last few years around the gospel. This is a good thing. We are starting to have a larger view of the gospel, seeing the gospel as more than just how one is made right with God, how one is changed and how one goes to heaven. We are seeing the gospel for Christians as well and how the power of the gospel changes us into who God has called us to be.

This is positive.

It has also created a new thing to complain about.

Now, preachers are gospel centered preachers. If you want to sell a book, throw the word gospel into it. Parenting, preaching, church planting, maybe even write a book called the gospel. 

Now, bloggers complain about writers and preachers who aren’t gospel centered. Maybe, if you are a pastor, you’ve had someone tell you, “I’m leaving your church because you aren’t gospel centered.”

When I’ve heard this personally, what this often means is, “You don’t preach the gospel the way I think the gospel should be preached.” In other words, “I think the gospel has specific components and need to be said in a certain order (ie. the Romans road) and if you don’t say them in that order, you haven’t preached the gospel.

This has also become code for deeper preaching and not having to move forward and do anything with a sermon someone gives.

So, if you are a pastor and get someone who comes up to you after a sermon or sends you an email telling you that you aren’t gospel centered, even though someone started following Jesus in that same sermon, what do you do?

  1. Ask them what it means to be gospel centered. Most of the people who will make this complaint have a prophet lens. For them, gospel centered is the gospel they heard when they got saved, how Tim Keller or John Piper tells the gospel message or something else, but something very specific. One of the best ways to learn from them and help them understand your perspective is to ask them what they think is gospel centered. Sadly, most people who make this complaint cannot actually articulate it. I had one guy complain about this for almost a year and he could never tell me what it meant to be gospel centered, only that our church wasn’t it. Finally, he said we were to sensitive to seekers, so that made us not gospel centered. At that point, you can actually have a conversation, when terms are defined.
  2. Lovingly tell them the gospel from your perspective. As you move forward, explain to them what the gospel is from your perspective. All over the New Testament, there is evidence of Peter and Paul communicating the gospel differently depending upon their audience. This is important for a pastor to keep in mind. So, what John Piper says at a Passion conference may have a different goal and audience than your church in New England or rural Nebraska.
  3. Understand the fears that come from someone with this complaint. Most of the complaints around this, and I can say this since the camp I’m a part of, the Reformed camp is the one blogging and complaining about this issue. It comes from fear. As we watch our country become more and more liberal, people are fearful that the church is going the same way, and many are. This is a legitimate concern, not fear. Scripture is clear that we are not to be afraid. This is a great shepherding moment for you as a pastor. Many leaders miss this opportunity in an effort to be right or win the argument.

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“I Want Deep Preaching”

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Here are some things that if you preach on a regular basis, you will hear at least once in your life:

  1. I love that you preach deep.
  2. I left my last church because the preaching wasn’t deep enough.
  3. I’m so glad you preach the bible at this church.
  4. I don’t like your preaching because it is too topical.
  5. I’m leaving your church because you aren’t deep enough (maybe someone said this to you yesterday).

Deep preaching is a moving target, for the simple reason: Deep preaching takes on different meanings for different people.

Usually it is a churched person that wants deep preaching and what they often mean is, “I want preaching that makes me think.” Or, “I want preaching that fills me up.” Often, the person asking for deeper preaching is actually an immature Christian who doesn’t want to read their bible for themselves. Not always true, but I’ve found that to be common thread.

I was told by someone recently, “You preach too topically for me.”

If you’ve ever said that or thought that about a pastor, here’s something to keep in mind: every preacher preaches topical messages.

Topical preaching is simply preaching on a topic. A good preacher, looks at a text, studies it, prays over, discerns what they think the author is saying, what their church needs to hear from this text and then preaches on it. Now, some preachers will simply decide on a topic and go looking for a passage that says what they want it to say. That isn’t good preaching and that isn’t always what topical preaching is, though for the people who have a disdain for topical preaching, this is what they are talking about.

“Deep preaching”  to me is when the preacher is lazy. If a pastor isn’t careful, in an effort to be deep, his sermons will simply be an information mind dump. They stand up and preach a seminary lecture or quote a bunch of commentaries or dead guys.

That isn’t preaching.

I remember doing a preaching lab with some younger preachers and one of the preachers gave no application in his sermon. When I asked him about it he said that he wanted to preach a deep sermon and that “the Holy Spirit will apply what he just preached.” While I fully believe the Holy Spirit brings the conviction and change through a sermon, this is simply being lazy. If that is your view of preaching, why are you preaching? Why not just read a text and then sit down and “let the Holy Spirit do his work?” Or better yet, we don’t even need a preacher, just have people read a passage silently and then listen to the Holy Spirit.

That would be ludicrous.

Romans 10:14 tells us we need preaching. We need preachers who will do the hard work of studying, praying, confessing their sin and applying the text to their congregation.

Which means, you will preach on a passage and not preach everything in the passage. 

This is okay, but hard for younger preachers to handle.

You feel like you are failing or not being biblical. That isn’t the case. There are times when you get to a text and something jumps out for your church, but if you were to preach that passage in a year, you might emphasize a different part of the text. Are both right and biblical? As long as you say what the author said, yes.

It also means you edit your sermon. You spend more time on an idea than another. Every preacher does this, even though the Christians looking for “Deep preaching” don’t think it happens. If it didn’t, every pastor would simply preach on one verse every week or one word just so they preached the whole text.

Editing is one thing that separates a good sermon from a great sermon.

It is getting to what is most important in the text for your church to hear in that sermon.

We don’t need more “deep preaching” in our churches. We need more preachers who will do the hard work during the week so that when they preach, they are laser focused on the heart, so that we see the transformation we long for in our churches and in our society.

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

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Thom Rainer on 11 mistakes I made as an author.

6 questions every leaders should ask.

Andy Stanley shares six questions every leader should ask and Michael Lukaszewski shares some application on them.

Time Magazine lists 9 terrible habits you need to stop doing immediately.

What makes Malcolm Gladwell so interesting.

 If you believe that Gladwell’s success is primarily driven by his writing, I think you’ve overlooked the most important factor. What makes him most interesting is not the narratives themselves, but rather the ideas behind them.

I am Ryland – the story of a male-identifying little girl who didn’t transition.

It grieves me to think of what Ryland’s parents may be robbing her of by choosing a gender for her at such a young age.  I hope that, if/when she decides that she is a woman, that they will support her in this.  That they won’t force her into their agenda to save face. I am writing this to offer another perspective.  Because I believe in freedom.  I believe that people should be free to have interests that don’t fit the social norm.  That children should be allowed to be children.  With all of their silly, fantastical play.  They should be allowed to believe that they are a dog, a Superhero, a Mommy, or a rock.

How to Lead in Good & Bad Times

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The need for leadership varies according to place and situation. Sometimes, a church is growing and certain style of leadership is needed. Sometimes, things are rougher or just getting started, so another kind of a leader is needed. A good leader is able to know which season is which and how to lead in that moment.

I came across this in Ben Horowitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answersshowing the kind of leadership needed at different moments in a church.

Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.

Peacetime CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. Wartime CEO cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.

Peacetime CEO builds scalable, high-volume recruiting machines. Wartime CEO does that, but also builds HR organizations that can execute layoffs.

Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.

Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.

Peacetime CEO knows what to do with a big advantage. Wartime CEO is paranoid.

Peacetime CEO strives not to use profanity. Wartime CEO sometimes uses profanity purposefully.

Peacetime CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.

Peacetime CEO aims to expand the market. Wartime CEO aims to win the market.

Peacetime CEO strives to tolerate deviations from the plan when coupled with effort and creativity. Wartime CEO is completely intolerant.

Peacetime CEO does not raise her voice. Wartime CEO rarely speaks in a normal tone.

Peacetime CEO works to minimize conflict. Wartime CEO heightens the contradictions.

Peacetime CEO strives for broad-based buy-in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus building nor tolerates disagreements.

Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy, audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.

Peacetime CEO trains her employees to ensure satisfaction and career development. Wartime CEO trains her employees so they don’t get their asses shot off in the battle.

Peacetime CEO has rules like “We’re going to exit all businesses where we’re not number one or two.” Wartime CEO often has no businesses that are number one or two and therefore does not have the luxury of following that rule.

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How to Know Your Vision is Clear

If you are a leader, you might wonder if your vision as a church is clear. How do you know if you are accomplishing it? Often, leaders can be so hard charging they never stop to ask the question of whether they are hitting their target. Or, they are so complacent that they don’t care.

Here’s a simple way to know if your vision is clear: Are people coming to your church and leaving your church because of it. 

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Is anyone attending your church because of your vision?

You will know this is true by talking to new people at your church. What drew them to your church? What excites them the most about your church? Why did they get plugged into a missional community, small group or serving team?

Listen to the stories people tell about your church, what they say when they baptized.

Are you seeing new people attend? New people stick?

If what people say is not part of your vision, you either have the wrong vision or it is not very clear.

Has anyone left your church because of your vision?

This will sound unloving and I understand.

As a pastor, you want as many people as possible to attend your church. I want everyone in Tucson to come to Revolution Church, love it and stay. I want them to be on board with our vision, our target and what we feel like God has called us to.

Everyone won’t though.

As much as that hurts, it is okay.

Every city needs lots of churches to reach all of the people in it.

Recently, I talked with two families that left our church and as I talked with them about the reasons why one of them articulated, “We just don’t agree with the vision.” When I asked him to clarify. He told me, “Revolution focuses too much on people who don’t know Jesus.”

He’s right. That is our vision.

If no one has left your church in the past year because they don’t agree with the vision of your church, it is either not clear, not bold enough or you aren’t actually doing your vision.

People don’t leave passive churches because of the vision.

People don’t leave visionless churches because of the vision.

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The Most Helpful Book on Productivity

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I am a big fan of being more productive, organizing your life for effectiveness and I’m always on the lookout for a helpful book in this area. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman is one of the best books on this topic.

What sets this book apart from others on productivity:

  1. Its emphasis on understanding how the gospel impacts productivity.
  2. How the gospel frees us to be productive.
  3. It also brings together some of the best ideas from other books on productivity to show a better system that combines the strengths of different systems.

If I had one criticism about the book, it would be how much time he spent convincing the reader that it is biblical to be productive. I know why he did this and the reasoning is sad: Christians seem to think productivity, organization or systems are unbiblical and have no place in the church. Sadly, this is why most churches are ineffective and why business leaders often feel like they don’t fit in churches.

One of the best reminders I took from this book and it immediately changed my stress level was planning my day in advance. I tried doing this the night before, but I then laid in bed thinking about the coming day. I now spend my first 5-10 minutes each morning at my desk, praying through and thinking through what I need to accomplish and list what is most important and remove everything else from my calendar or to-do list for that day.

If productivity is a struggle for you, or if you want to take your productivity to the next level, I’d highly recommend checking out this book. You won’t regret it.

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Monday Morning Mind Dump… [Late Edition]

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  • It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted my mind dump.
  • A lot has happened in that time.
  • Hence, the late edition.
  • We spent one week on vacation in San Diego and last week Katie and I were in Florida for the Acts 29 pastor’s retreat.
  • While it was nice traveling, it was nice coming home.
  • There are a ton of things happening for me right now: finishing up the rough draft of my book (which is due August 1), hiring 2 staff members at Revolution, planning our fall sermon series (Multiply on 1 Timothy and Waiting on God on Habakkuk), working behind the scenes to improve our systems of MC’s and elders as Revolution continues to grow.
  • All good and fun things.
  • I was reminded today why every pastor needs a coach after I talked with mine.
  • Having someone who can help you crystalize what you are thinking, give you pushback to improve something is so helpful for a pastor.
  • Doing the wedding of a couple in our MC this Friday.
  • Always love being a part of weddings.
  • The only problem with weddings in Tucson is everyone gets married an hour away from me on the NW side of the city.
  • The timing of the Acts 29 retreat could not have been more helpful for me.
  • This summer is all about how do we continue to grow as a church and stay healthy (or get healthier in certain areas) to shepherd and care for everyone God sends us.
  • Honestly, this is the most excited I have ever been about Revolution.
  • It is also causing me to dive deeper and deeper into prayer which is a good thing.
  • In some ways I feel like I did when we planted the church almost 6 years ago.

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

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Don’t preach simply, preach richly.

Thom Rainer on An autopsy of a burned out pastor.

The pastor would not say “no” to requests for time. Being a short-term people pleaser became a longer-term problem.

Chuck Lawless on 10 Questions for a spiritual check-up.

It’s hard to believe that almost ½ of 2014 is now gone. Rather than worry about days past, though, let’s focus on preparing for the rest of the year. Use this list as a spiritual checkup to evaluate your walk, and then let us know how we might pray for you.

Denny Burk on Should you allow your kids to go to a sleepover?

The day of sleepovers has passed. There are simply too many risks involved. Parents, therefore, should be wary of allowing their children to participate in what for many of us was a very common part of our growing-up years.

My blog will be moving in a few weeks and I don’t want you to miss anything. Simply click here to subscribe via email so that I can serve you better and continue to help you grow to become who God created you to be.

Top Post of June

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In case you missed them, here are the top 10 posts for the last month:

  1. Pick a Church
  2. The One Thing Destroying Your Marriage That You Don’t Realize
  3. N.T. Wright on Gay Marriage
  4. Pastors Can Make the Worst Friends
  5. God Will Let You Have Your Sin
  6. Why Calvinism Matters
  7. What to do When You’re Too Tired to Work
  8. How Motherhood Begins, Continues, And…
  9. 11 Ways to Know You’ve Settled for a Mediocre Marriage
  10. 10 Books Every Christian Leader Should Read

The Loneliness of a Pastor on a Holiday

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I’ll admit right from the start. This is an awkward post to write (and no, I don’t need an invite for a cookout this weekend). But with the 4th of July coming up, I thought it might be helpful for pastors, for a pastor’s wife, and for church members to understand what a holiday like this is often like for a pastor.

Many pastors and their families do nothing with anyone on a holiday weekend.

This is something that is hard for someone who is not a pastor to understand.

A pastor knows so many people, and because of this, people in their church think the pastor and his wife have a ton of friends. This is rarely the case. Because they know so many people, everyone in their church assumes the pastor and his family is always doing something with someone. So, when a picnic or pool party rolls around in the summer time, no one thinks to invite the pastor and his family because “they probably already have plans.”

I remember how hard this was when we first planted Revolution. I remember when this became obvious. We were talking to someone about a summer holiday, I can’t remember which one and they were surprised we had no plans. And they said, “But you guys know everybody. I thought you’d have 15 invitations.”

Now, if you are an introvert, you may not care. Chances are high though, if you don’t care, your spouse does.

In the past few years, this has changed for our family by doing a few things:

  1. Invite people over. At first we started inviting people to our house on the holiday weekends. If no one invites you to their house, throw a party and invite people over. Have a great time. Besides you’re the pastor, they’ll want to come over. This is also a great opportunity to model hospitality if your church isn’t very good at this.
  2. Build community the rest of the year. We often wait to build community for when we need it. That leaves us lonely and hurting. You have to build community for the time that you need community, if you wait til you need it, it will be too late. Pour into relationships at other times, be a good friend to others. Many pastors struggle with being a good friend and shutting off work and just being a person.
  3. Teach people what it is like to be a leader. Most people have no idea what it is like to be a pastor or be a pastor’s wife or be part of a pastor’s family. Teach them. Talk about it. Recommend books on it or share blogs (like this one). It isn’t that your church doesn’t care, they just don’t know.
  4. Be someone people want to invite over. The reality is, some people don’t hang out with their pastor or his wife because they aren’t fun to be with. It isn’t that they are being mean, it is just that you aren’t any fun to be with. You might be a grumpy pastor, or a bitter pastor’s wife. Fight against that. Be a friend people want to have. Learn how to talk about other topics besides church or God. Have some hobbies you can do with others.

I hope that helps you as a pastor or if you aren’t a pastor, to know how your pastor might feel this weekend. Have a great holiday!

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My blog will be moving in a few weeks and I don’t want you to miss anything. Simply click here to subscribe via email so that I can serve you better and continue to help you grow to become who God created you to be.