Church Planting Lesson #22

LESSON #22:  Preaching Bad Sermons

I preached a bad sermon this past Sunday.  It wasn’t the first, it won’t be the last.  No, I didn’t preach heresy or accidentally let an f-bomb slip; I simply didn’t say what I wanted to say and realized it the moment I finished.

When we first planted the church, I regularly experienced a Sunday afternoon depression.  Immediately following the sermon, my mind would be filled with all of the things should have said, shouldn’t have said, or should have said differently.  It didn’t matter if people criticized or cried in response.  Silence only confirmed my “sucky” suspicions and compliments were perceived as sympathetic pity.  Meanwhile, my  mind, heart, and body would be filled with an overwhelming sense of discouragement as I replayed the prophetic monstrosity over and over again in my head.  I had this same experience Sunday, and I hated it.

And while I’m certain that someone probably needed to hear the creative chaos that I puked out yesterday, I am fairly convinced it was one of my worst sermons ever.  Of course, descriptions such as “best” or “worst” relative to my own sermons reaks of pride.  It also demonstrates one of the greatest temptations for preachers–believing that your value or approval is somehow tied to how well you preach on any given Sunday.   The sin in me creates feeling of embarrassment because I wasn’t at the top of my game–now perhaps they think less of me.  And, though I am tempted to believe the lies being whispered in my mind, I know that God is not disappointed in me.   But, for whatever reason, God has allowed me to be a bit disappointed in myself.

I feel like an athlete who for some reason didn’t have his best outing on game day.  He’s allowed this, I believe, to make me train better, and perhaps to meditate on how to avoid “bad” sermons as much as it depends on me.  I say this because I followed all the advice I am about to give…and still messed up:

1. Pray before, during, and after: We need to talk with God about what we are going to say, and how.  There is a war waged every time a sermon is prepared and preached.  It is not fought against flesh and blood.

2.  Prepare and work like an Ox:  Even though we pray, we don’t just “let go and let God.”  We work hard to read, study, write, edit, etc.  Our efforts are not primarily say “it” perfectly but, rather, to say what God deems perfect for the given moment and audience.

3. Let the Scripture lead: This is the strength of expository preaching.  The people need to be in the Word of God because that is where the power is.  Commentary about God’s Word is important, but one could do a lot worse than have a sermon filled with more of His Words than our own.

4. Make it personal: There is a tension between talking too much and too little about yourself.  Sometimes your audience needs to know who you are, but sometimes it can become less of a proclamation of God’s Word and more like a personal bio.  Making it personal means revealing how the TEXT has impacted you personally so that you can preach it honestly.

5.  Let the Spirit Lead: In other words, done predetermine what you’re going to say.  This can happen when you write a sermon based on a person or a people who YOU think needs to hear ____________.  When you go into an opportunity to preach with an intention to teach, you might miss what God actually wants to say.  In all sermons, God preaches to the preacher before he preaches to anyone.

6. Less is more: More than once God condemns “verbosity” in the Bible.  Fewer words will always be better in nearly every situation.  Granted, there is a tension between figuring out what is too short or too long.  There is no perfect length.  There is, however, something to be said and it need not be said three different times in three different ways.   When in doubt, say it with less words.

7.  Preach Jesus as the hero:  When all is said and done, the sermon should lead people closer to the cross in one way or another.  There are many other places that sermons can lead people to, most of which are centered on man-made religion.  If the entire Bible is about Jesus, then every sermon preached from the Bible should lead to Jesus.  This is more than adding a gospel message at the end.  It is exploring how our sin causes us to reject the truth being preaching, and how Jesus makes all things new.

Looking forward to next Sunday.


Church Planting Lesson #21: Feeling Territorial & Threatened

LESSON #21:  You will want to feel discontent and threatened…so don’t.

I have always liked the passage in John 3.  Up until this point, John the Baptist has been the only good preacher in town.  And though he is fully aware of his role as the “voice in the wilderness”, his disciples have other ideas.  When Jesus eventually shows up and begins his ministry, John’s disciples are a bit confused–even threatened–because the crowds seem to be gravitating toward the new show in town:

John 3.26-30 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John was a good man.  He did not feel threatened, because he knew his role.  His entire life was about Jesus and he did exactly what God wanted him to do, even when that meant his ministry shrunk; even when that meant his disciples left; even when that meant he was thrown in prison; even when that meant he was killed.

As a church planter, you will constantly be tempted to feel territorial and threatened.   At the core of this is a frustration that God is not building HIS church the way or speed in which YOU want.  This is discontentment that can lead unbelief, or more specifically, a belief that something outside of what Jesus is giving me will make me happier.  Discontentment can easily lead you away from your call, your unique mission, and even the gospel itself.   You will be tempted to believe that Jesus is not actually enough–that you need to be successful, to be the coolest church in town, to be growing, to do or have any number of things…in addition to having Jesus.  Believing that you have “peed” and marked your territory, any church that crosses your imaginary yellow line will be a threat.   You will find yourself mocking, over-analyzing, and criticizing every new church that moves close, every new church A-board sign you see at a school, every outreach event in your city (not hosted by you). You have forgotten that YOUR church doesn’t have a mission as much as the mission of God has a church.

This is a trial.  This is a temptation.  Most of us, instead of confessing your idolatry (worship of your church) and working to preach the gospel, will begin working to avoid losing things like money, people, or applause.   Because every church is considered the enemy, you will privately (and sometimes publicly) campaign for their failure.  If they “succeed” or “grow”, you will imagine some strange reason like mind control or money–something to explain this unexplainable phenomena.   Believing they can’t possibly be succeeding because God wants them too will only serve to fuel your sinful belief that you’re the only church in town who has it together.   And, giving into your sin, you (the planter) will become a little less biblical and become a lot more cultural in order to “reach”  the world.  The church will become a little less sacred and and a lot more attractive as you strive convince people the experience at your church is “different” and “new”.  And finally, the planter will become a little less spirit-filled and much more pragmatic in their faith.

So what is the solution?  First, you will feel threatened–it is the sin in you–so fight it.  Second, remember to work like the Farmer.  Work hard, till the ground, plant the seed, then wait.  If it rains, grows, or dies, all the result is in God’s hands for his glory, not yours.  Be faithful, be truthful, be courageous, be hopeful, AND be content.

10 questions you need to ask your bride

Below are ten questions (five twice-over) I dare any man to ask his bride.  Unfortunately, I know most men won’t because you already know the answer–and it will be difficult to hear.  You’ll notice, they are not YES or NO questions, meaning, you will actually have to discuss the answer.   And know that, as Jesus is THE HUSBAND, when we fail to love and lead like Jesus does, we preach false sermons about Jesus.  In other words, our failure to be true husbands isn’t just unfortunate or regrettable, it sinful.  We don’t need better skills as much as we need confession and the power of Jesus to overcome the sin in us:

1.  Do you feel pursued by me or ignored by me? (When/how do you feel most pursued?)

2. Do you feel led by me or as if you have to lead me? (Where  am I not leading?)

3. Do you feel protected (emotionally, physically, spiritually) or insecure with me? (Where do you feel vulnerable?)

4. Do you feel served by me or like a servant to me?  (Where can I serve you more or better?)

5. Do you feel cultivated by me or neglected? (How can I build you up, encourage, or teach you?)

…Ok.  I’m convicted now.

3 Ways to Neglect Your Gifts

I recently preached 1Timothy 4.14 , where Paul charges a young pastor named Timothy to “.. not neglect the gift you have, which was given you vby prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you”  I began to wonder how many people neglect their gifts.   Neglect is an interesting term, one that denotes a range of meaning from indifference to full on intentional abandonment.  According to Scripture, gifts are given by God, given to glorify God, and given to edify the church.  In other words, our gifts are not ours to used, abused, or ignored as we wish.   Consider what it means to neglect a gift from God.  I believe this verse fleshes out three different ways we WILL neglect God’s gifts unintentionally if we don’t employ God’s gifts intentionally:

#1 Neglect by not using:  Some people do not employ their gifts at all.  That doesn’t mean they do nothing, rather, that they don’t do the right thing.  By right I mean to say they can work hard and serve hard, but they don’t do that which they are equipped by God to do.  Sometimes this happens out of a lack of opportunity, sometimes ignorance of their gifts, and other times it is simply laziness.  Everyone has talents, and everyone saved by Jesus has at least one gift.  For those who truly desire to employ their gifts, like an itch you cannot scratch, they will not rest until they can. Those who could care less whether they can identify or use their unique blessing, disregard their Creator and neglect their gift.    

#2 Neglect by not using to glorify God:  Many people employ their gifts, but not for the glory of God.  There are many who have been blessed by God with various talents and gifts.  Unfortunately, instead of using them to “make much of God”, they are often guilty of using them, to make much of themselves.  There are those who would argue that the employment of any gift is glorifying to God in that it is an expression of the imago dei in all of us.  I don’t comprehensively disagree with this concept, but most  “creative acts”, just as most individual lives, do not glorify God.  This is not to say that every creative act is sinful, though the Bible says that anything that does not proceed from faith is sin.  It is to say that God created the world to glorify Him, created us to glorify Him, and created gifts within us to glorify Him.  Only Jesus can judge a man’s heart n this respect.  As Paul says in 1Corinthians 10.31, “Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.”  If we can eat and drink in such a way to NOT glorify God, then we can certainly employ our gifts BUT neglect to do so to the glory of God.

#3 Neglect by not using to edify the church:  Finally, there are those who use their gifts, a few who even use their gifts to glorify God, but then neglect to use them to edify the church.  According to Scriptures, gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to build up and edify the church.  In other words, gifts were designed to be exercised within community.   The church is often described as the body of Christ.  Paul makes a point to “flesh” out the body as made up of differnet parts with differnet roles.  He says in 1Corinthians 12.12ff “…14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, [5] yet one body.”   Neglecting to use your gift for the glory of God to edify the church, impacts everyone.  The community is less just as a body without an arm, eye, or leg is less.  It can manage, but could be so much more.