Pastoral Preaching

It was one of those Sundays. I had given the message all I had. I had preached the text, I had equipped the saints, and I had exhorted the sinners. I felt that I had nailed the message that morning. The good vibes from Sunday morning continued to carry me as I headed into the office that week. I felt as if I finally had a grip on my preaching and I was excited to jump into writing the sermon for next Sunday. I just knew that I could knock it out of the park again. I was walking on cloud nine. Feeling as if God was ready to give me a fist bump at any moment.

Later that week, I headed into my men’s discipleship group at the local coffee shop with the confidence scale still raging on level 11. I opened up the group with a short prayer, as I always do and then asked the other guys about Sunday’s sermon, and . . . nothing.

Silence filled the air.

Their blank stares confused me. Their wide eyes. As the quiet continued for what felt like an eternity, I knew that they were struggling to remember and trying to avoid hurting my feelings in the process. Seeking to end their uncomfortable feelings and my misery, I asked, “do you remember the passage?” They shrugged, and we moved on.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but I was seriously bummed. I had poured several hours into preparing that sermon, the delivery was good (I’ve checked the tape and watched the recording!), but the sermon did not even last past Monday.

As a pastor, I decided that I needed to change something in my approach to preaching.

So, I began a mission to define my aim in preaching. There were a few things that I needed to get right.

1. Pastors Preach the text that God gives them.

I am an expositional or text-driven preacher by nature. I realize that God’s Word is what my people need to hear more than my voice and I fully understand that my people need to hear of God’s infinite wisdom more than my limited knowledge. I can even admit to the fact that if I were to preach out my understanding, it would be a really short sermon!

So, I see the need to preach God’s word. I begin with prayer and the text that God has directed me to. I then investigate the text to find what the text says and how it applies.

  • What is the text explaining? Why is it important to know?
  • What is the mood of the text? (Exhortation, warning, story, poetry, history, etc.)
  • How would the original audience have understood the text? Why would they find it essential to know?
  • What is going on in the book and chapter surrounding the passage?

2. Pastors Preach to apply the text to their people.

I then ask questions about my people. What issues are my congregation dealing with and how does God’s Word answer those questions or concerns? The apostle Paul demonstrated this through his preaching in the book of Acts. He did not pick a text and exposit the text without understanding where his audience was. In fact, he found where his audience was and preached a text that applied to their lives, answering their questions, and calling them to repentance and faith. Therefore, I adjusted by asking myself what does my church need to hear and learn from God’s Word instead of preaching a text and calling it good.

  • What issues is my congregation working through?
  • What does culture say about those issues?
  • How does the text respond to those issues?
  • What should Christians do after reading the text?

3. Pastors Preach messages that are easy to grasp and hold on to.

Then I asked, how could we hold onto it? This is where it became hard. I had to evaluate why my sermons were hard to hold on to. As I reviewed and studied my preaching, I noticed some things. I was explaining the text well, and I was applying the text well. But it was just too much. I was covering vast amounts of Scripture and spraying application without intentionality. In essence, was shooting with a shotgun blast of information. Some could grab a point or two of application, but there wasn’t a focused point. I needed to make it easier. Give all the people one point to grasp in the message and ask them to commit to it fully. I needed to trade in the shotgun for a bow and arrow. The message needed to move slower and hit one target. So, for me, I have adjusted my approach. Instead of explaining every application I can out of the text, I aim for one application point in each sermon.

  • What is the one overall application to this text?
  • How can I communicate that point in a straightforward manner?
  • Why is this something my congregation needs to know?
  • Why should my people care about this?
  • What should my people do after hearing, and understanding this point?

4. Pastors Preach messages that exalt Christ above all else.

Finally, I thought through what I am trying to accomplish eternally. For me, I wanted to show my people that Jesus is better. He is better than all the world has to offer. He is better than what we believe to be good. He is better than anything we would imagine. So, I desired to preach how the text points to Jesus above all other things.

  • What does this text tell us about God? (His nature, His character, His desire, etc.)
  • What does this text tell us about a relationship with God?
  • Why should my people care about a relationship with Christ being better than the world’s answers?
  • What should my people do in response to who God is?

Through this process, my preaching has shifted—and I believe for the better. I have gone from preaching longer, drawn-out sermons to shorter, more concise sermons which stick with my people.

What Does An Assimilation Process Look Like?

The assimilation process of a church is vital. If a pastor or the church leadership does not know how the people are to progress from guest to member, it is guaranteed that the guests do not know how to get involved in the church.

For many churches, the assimilation process is ambiguous. Guests have to stick around long enough and endure the awkwardness of being the outsider until they eventually just figure it out. For most guests, the ambiguity is too much and they just leave.

For pastors, the assimilation process may be hard to work through. Assimilation processes are not exactly theological and they were not taught in seminary, which leaves most pastors without a clue on where to start. Furthermore, the assimilation process depends on each individual church thus they cannot be copied and implemented exactly from other churches.

With that being said, I want to provide a starting point for the assimilation process. So, here is the assimilation process that I have worked through and now incorporate in my ministry.

The hope of this assimilation process is; for a first-time guest to become a visitor (a guest is defined as a person who attends regularly), the visitor to become a member (a member is a person who aligns in beliefe and purpose with the church), and a member to leader (a leader is one who excels and is growing in all the areas of membership).

Please, feel free to adapt this to your church context as you feel led.

Moving from Guest to Visitor

We desire for every first time guest who visits our church to feel welcomed and to know what their next step to get involved looks like.

  1. Welcome Contact from the Pastor: Thank you for visiting our church.
  2. Welcome Contact from a Ministry Leader: Can we answer any questions about the HBC ministries?
  3. Welcome Contact from Sunday School Class: Invitation to get involved in a Sunday School class.

Moving from Visitor to Member

We want those visiting our church to align with us in belief and join us in the mission to which God has called us.

  1. Personal Invitation to New Member Class from a Staff Member.
  2. New Member Class Provides Insight into Who We Are as a Church and Gives the Requirements of Membership (Occurs the 1st Sunday of Every Month).
    1. Beliefs: What We Hold to be True
    2. Unity: How We Connect & Protect the Church
    3. Mission: How to Serve our Church & The World for the Glory of God
  3. Presentation of New Member during the Invitation Time on Sunday Morning
  4. Vote on New Members in Monthly Business Meeting

Moving From Member to Leader

We want every member to be faithful in three areas of the church. GROW in their relationship with God and others. GO and serve in ministry and missions. GIVE to support the Church and missions.

GROW: Discover Discipleship
  1. One-on-One Discipleship. Become a Paul or Timothy.
  2. Small Group. Become a part of the family.
  3. Grow in leadership and skill development
GO: Discover God’s Gifts & Calling
  1. Spiritual Gifts Test and Staff Evaluation
  2. Discover Places to Plug into Serving with Pastoral Staff
  3. Get Involved in Missions and Evangelism
GIVE: Discover How God Provides through his People
  1. Support the Ministry of the Church through Involvement
  2. Support the Ministry of the Church through Invitations
  3. Support the Ministry of the Church through Giving

For More Information on Church Assimilation Processes Check Out This Video!

How To Start A Quiet Time

What is a quiet time?

When a friend of mine first became a Christian, his mentor asked him to start having a quiet time. He had no idea what it meant to have a quiet time. Wanting to be faithful, he went to his closet, closed the door, and sat in silence. Afterwards, he wondered, “what was the point of that?” A quiet time is ‘christianese’ for spending time reading God’s Word and listening to God. I wanted to offer some tips to those who may have never tried doing a quiet time.

Start small

Many people begin with grandiose ideas of being incredibly faithful. The problem with starting a quiet time, especially if you’ve never done so, is that it requires consistency. Consistency is always easy in theory. Until an established habit takes root, consistency is difficult. Therefore, it is much easier to be consistent when you start small. If you’ve never done a consistent quiet time,  my recommendation is to get a good devotion book.

My favorite devotion book is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Avoid devotion books which focus more on the author’s emotions than on Scripture. Devotion books which read like self-inspirational or motivational talks aren’t worth their time. The goal of a quiet time isn’t to build your self-esteem, but instead to listen to God.

While using a devotion book, get out your own Bible and read a slightly larger portion of Scripture than the devotion book lists. The goal of starting with a devotion book is to go deeper in the study of the scriptures.

Be consistent

As life changes, consistency is going to change. Some people like to do their quiet time pre-breakfast. Others, like myself, need to go through a morning routine before doing a quiet time. The people who mentored me were generally up around 4:00-5:00am and did their prayer and quiet time then. I tried that. I failed. When I was reading at 5:00am, I found I was trailing off; if I closed my eyes to pray, my prayers sounded like, “Dear God, I’d like to pray for . . . um . . . And . . . um . . . Amen.”

5am was not a great time for me to listen to God. Find a time and place which works best for you. You don’t have to be legalistic about certain times, but you do want to be consistent.

Nothing helps consistency like an accountability partner. Get someone you trust and ask each other what the Lord is teaching daily. On those days when one of you misses, don’t berate each other. The synonym for Christian accountability is encouragement not inquisition. Generally some sort of crisis has come up (lack of time, unforeseen event, etc.) or sin has crept in (laziness, disregard for God, unethical behavior); in both cases, encouragement and prayer for each other are necessary.

Don’t get stale

I’ve had many different quiet time plans. I’ve never found one to be THE ONE. Some years I have a plan to read through the whole Bible. Other times I spend much more time looking into one book. Sometimes I use a devotion book. I change my devotion time whenever it gets stale. The quiet time is your time with God. Reading God’s Word and praying ought not be like cramming two saltine crackers in your mouth to start the day. A quiet time ought to be refreshing and help keep your mind focused on God. Change the plan up, try something new, don’t let consistency become drudgery.

Bookend your quiet time with prayer

Start your quiet time with prayer. I like to read a written prayer to open up my quiet time. The Valley of Vision and Prayers for Meditation are my favorite pieces from which to draw. These written prayers help my quiet time focus on who God is and not on what I want him to do. After reading through the Bible, take some time to pray again. Start and close your quiet time with prayer. I try to keep my quiet time prayers from becoming laundry lists of requests. I do pray for other people, but for my quiet time I try to ask God to reveal sin in me and help me to keep his Word in my heart. My prayer time for others is generally later in the day. When I am praying for others, I try to remember to pray for my church, pastor/staff, and my spouse. Many other requests come and go, but those three are consistent.

Once you’ve established a consistent quiet time, you’ll begin to experience the benefits of it. I find that quiet times help me to keep the Word of God in my heart daily. I tend to think more about what God says and less about what I want. When I’m consistent in my time with God, arguments in the home, frustrations at work, and general anxieties lessen. Quiet times help cultivate the peace of the Lord in my life. More important than all these personal benefits, a consistent quiet time allows me to listen to the Lord and allow him to guide my life.

If You Really Believed God Wrote a Book . . .

Each year at UNC Chapel Hill, Bart Ehrman begins his class with an exercise. He asks the class, “How many of you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God?” A majority of hands raise all over the room. Then he asks, “How many of you have read [and he’ll select the popular novel of the day]?” Usually at that point, almost every hand is raised, with very few exceptions. Then, Ehrman asks a third, very important question: “How many of you have read the entire Bible?” And almost every hand in the room stays down. At which point, Ehrman—who despite teaching the New Testament, does not believe it to be God’s Word—makes his point: “I can understand why you would read [the popular book]. It’s entertaining. But if you really believed God wrote a book, then wouldn’t you want to read it?”

Many of us who grew up in the church were encouraged and challenged to make daily Bible reading a part of our lives, but how many of us live out our belief? If we really believe that God wrote a book, why wouldn’t we want to read it? Why wouldn’t we make a plan?

“Every Christian worth his salt ought to read the Bible from cover to cover every year.”
J. I. Packer

I remember the first time I committed to read through the Bible; it was more than a decade ago. I had run through several devotionals and each of them had the same pattern. They would offer up a verse or two, followed by two pages of someone else’s experiences and thoughts on that snippet of God’s Word. . . . And those were the good ones! Some offered up the same cursory verses, but highlighted someone else’s story that had a similar theme. At some point, it struck me that, in my quiet time—in the moments I had set aside to hear from God—I was reading someone else’s words.

That was enough for me. I chucked the devotionals aside and picked up a one-year Daily Message Bible. (And for anyone throwing shade at me for choosing The Message, I would encourage you to check out my post on Eugene Peterson’s intent behind that paraphrase). I would read each day’s portion in The Message and then switch over to my HCSB to highlight verses and take notes.

The important thing was committing to a plan.

At the bottom of this post, I’d like to offer you two plans to consider for the upcoming year. There is no limit to Bible reading plans, but I’m going to give you the one I have found most useful and then the one I’m going to try next year. But first, let’s talk about what making the commitment to a Bible reading plan isn’t.

Committing to a Bible Reading Plan isn’t Normal

That you’ve read this far into the post is a testament to your oddity. Making the commitment to read the Bible through in a year is not something most people do. Should it be? Of course. But without a plan, we’re destined to get stuck somewhere between Leviticus and Numbers. And that’s why so many choose NOT to make the commitment. They’ve tried (even if half-heartedly) before and failed.

Committing to a Bible Reading Plan isn’t Legalistic

I have heard some argue that making a plan is legalistic. It’s impressing someone else’s standard upon our schedule and time. I’ve heard some argue that it stifles the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead you to the portion of God’s Word that he intends you to read on a given day.

Simply put, the only people who believe that have never read their Bible through in a year.

Anything worth doing is worth counting the cost and making a plan. And, as the old adage goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” (Not Scripture, but true nonetheless.)

Committing to a Bible Reading Plan isn’t Difficult

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it. Here’s how I read the Bible.

Spoiler alert: I use my iPhone. It goes wherever I go. I’ve forgotten my wallet more times than I’ve forgotten my phone. So I use my phone. If that bothers you, as I know it bothers some, just add the step of opening your print Bible.

Download the Reading Plan app

This app is incredible. It connects to many Bible apps, which means that you simply open the app, click on the reading for the day, and it opens your preferred Bible app to that passage. It offers a litany of different Bible reading plans, but I’m going to suggest two: the one I’m finishing up and the one I’m planning to use in 2019.

I love the Book at a Time plan. I believe that context is extremely important in good biblical interpretation and that means reading larger portions of the Bible at a time. The Book at Time plan encourages that kind of reading, setting you for in one book for chapters at a time, usually followed by a single chapter from the Psalms or Proverbs. Also, it moves back and forth from Old Testament to New Testament, so you need not worry about getting lost in the wilderness for forty years.

In 2019, I’ll be trying something new—the 5x5x5 plan. It’s described as a simple New Testament plan, requiring only five minutes each day for five days a week. You read one chapter a day. Does that seem like too much? Surely not. Then again, if that seems too little, you can up the ante a bit and read it in the Greek text. (NOTE: If you’re up for this, reach out to me and let’s create a GroupMe or WhatsApp group to help one another along.)

If we really believe that God wrote a book, why wouldn’t we want to read it?

Making Room for Advent this Christmas Season

In a society that sprints past Halloween and Thanksgiving in order to get to the Christmas season, it should come as little surprise to recognize that we are not good at waiting. Our’s is a generation that has learned that good things come to those who refuse to wait. We have access to more information on the phones in our pockets than our parents and grandparents had in their local libraries. Everything is instant—riches, celebrity, coffee—and if you don’t believe me, just listen to the comments made the next time the wifi gets slow.

With such an embarrassment of riches, more eccentric subsets of our society have embraced a slower, more deliberate pace. They have learned to shave like their grandpa with a safety razor and boar’s hair shaving brush. Others have embraced the slow art of growing a manly beard. Albums available instantly in digital format are eschewed for those etched in vinyl.

But these exceptions prove the rule—as a society, we demand instant gratification. Which helps explain why Advent is so foreign to our understanding.

Advent is a four-week period of preparation in churches—usually of the more liturgical stripe, but has become more popular in recent years—leading up to Christmas.

This Sunday, December 2 is the First Sunday of Advent.

Many churches—perhaps even most churches—will begin to lean into some of the more familiar Christmas hymns this Sunday. Perhaps they’ll sing “Joy to the World” or “Hark the Heralds Angels Sing.” And those are wonderful hymns with a rich history. But like those who camp out on Thanksgiving morning in order to be first in line on Black Friday, they rush to Christmas morning too quickly.

And that temptation is so very real, isn’t it? After all, the Christmas season is a time for joy and laughter, friends and families, gifts and cards. But according to the Christian calendar, that season begins on Christmas morning. It doesn’t begin on the day after Thanksgiving.

Now, I am not a high-church liturgical worship guy. Not even close. But I think there are some aspects of worship found in the Christian calendar foreign to most churches. I am merely suggesting that if that is the case, perhaps it’s worth examining why believers in the past saw this as important and why we don’t. Or, even more indicting, why we may think it important, but not something we want to think on often.

During Advent, We Reflect upon Israel’s Longing

Advent is the season of expectation. It is the four weeks that Christian churches reflect on the silent inter-testamental period. In the Old Testament, we read of God’s activity and proclamation on each page. We see him in Creation and in the Garden. He sends a flood and confuses the speech of the builders of the tower at Babel. He speaks from the bush, thunders from the mountain, demonstrates his power in the whirlwind, and whispers in the stillness. He rules through judges and kings. He pits nation against nation. He raises a nation to discipline his own people, sending them into exile and bringing them back again.

And then, silence.

History is not silent. The inter-testamental period is a fascinating era filled with intrigue and uproar, but there was no revelation from God.

He was silent.

And year after year, they looked for a prophet to come. And year after year, none came. There were some who claimed to have a word from God. There were others claiming to be the Messiah himself. But they did not and they were not. God remained silent.

Years turned to decades; decades to generations; generations to centuries. Prayers were offered, but God was silent.

And the people of God knew that things were not right in the world. They felt the injustice of their situation. They knew their Scripture well enough to know that this was not the way things were supposed to turn out. And they longed for God to come set things right.

Can you imagine?

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

During Advent, we remember Israel’s longing for their Messiah. And while it is a period of remembering, it is also a season of waiting ourselves.

During Advent, We ‘Feel’ Our Own Longing

Many of us, when we sit still long enough and think about the world, can not only appreciate Israel’s longing—their desperate sense that things are not the way they are supposed to be—we feel it too. We look around us and the world seems to be spinning out of control. It doesn’t matter which news station we turn to, the news is bad.

Wars and rumors of wars? Check.
Earthquakes and natural disasters? Check.
Increasing hostility to the people of God? Check.

Everywhere we turn, the reports are negative. The only difference is who gets blamed.

And so politicians of every stripe promise us solutions. False prophets tell us that our faith, or lack thereof, is holding us back and that if we’ll just sow a financial seed of faith into their ministry, we too can experience the blessings of God. But deep down, we know that their promises are empty.

We know that only one thing can set this right.

And that’s what sets Advent apart from hopelessness. There is hope. There is assurance that despite all appearances, the world is not spinning out of control. Christians have the promise that God is not finished with his Creation; he has not washed his hands of our dust. But rather, he is patient and good and at the right time, the Son will rise from his throne and return to this world. But rather than coming in the humility of a child in a manger, he will come in the clouds with power and put all things under his righteous rule.

And so we long for our Messiah. We yearn for his return. We ache to see all that is wrong with the world made right. And that sense of desperation—that groaning that we feel each time someone we know receives that terrible diagnosis, each time a friend receives that call in the middle of the night that we all fear, each time we lay a loved one in the grave—that is Advent.

A Humble Appeal

I am not suggesting that you scratch your Christmas songs this week. I am not suggesting that you adopt the liturgical calendar and invest in a set of candles to light during the worship service. Instead, my hope is that you will remember the silence and darkness that characterizes Advent—that you would feel the hope and longing. And this, in part, because we are so prone to avoid those emotions in worship. They make us feel uncomfortable. In those moments, our Christmas hymns, so full of joy, can create such dissonance with the longing.

But when we allow that longing to settle upon us, when Christmas morning comes, the Incarnation of our Lord reminds us that even in the silence, our prayers have been heard. And our longing turns to joy.

My appeal to you is to make room for Advent in your worship. Perhaps that’s a single sermon (might I suggest Micah 7:1–11 for your text). Perhaps you might choose an entire Sunday morning to feel it. But make room for Advent.

There will be the temptation to rush to sing the happy songs and avoid the darkness. But I’m reminded that almost every year, in order to see the culmination of the candlelight service, we turn the lights down in the sanctuary to experience the light.

That’s the Spirit of Advent.

Pastor, How Do You Know What Hill To Die On?

The past few weeks have proved to be an interesting season for me in ministry. While the season has been fruitful for my congregation, I have received several calls from fellow pastors who are new in their churches and currently facing difficult decisions in their churches.

It was nostalgic as I can remember those years in my first pastorate when I was faced with a difficult decision that could potentially blow up in my face for one reason or another. I remember looking for answers as I reflected back on the ministries of the former senior pastors I had served under who would either attack the situation or ignore the situation altogether. I remember feeling the burden in knowing that I needed to make the correct decision. I understood that the decision would ultimately have an eternal impact for the Kingdom and an immediate impact on my ministry at the church.

The longer I pastor, the more I realize that there are problems that need to be addressed with a heavy hand and a firm stance, and there are other situations that cannot be fixed with anything but the passing of time.

As I have reflected on this process, I have come up with a series of questions to ask yourself. My hope is that these questions would form a filter to process these situations through.

Pastor, if you’re in a situation that you feel may need some serious attention work through this series of questions before you engage in battle.

Is the Issue a Temporary Issue or an Eternal Issue for my Church?

Many times we are so heated at the moment that we do not understand how temporary the consequences of the decision are.

I can remember a heated church meeting at the beginning of my church involvement when two church members were arguing passionately over the best practice of promoting the upcoming Vacation Bible school. Honestly, looking back on the meeting, it was so insignificant because I cannot remember who won or even what the positions were. However, as a relatively new Christian, I do remember the meeting. Each party was so passionate about their position that they were willing to drag out all the stops to make sure it was done “right.” But truth be told, it was a temporary thing, and if I went to them today, they probably would agree that it really didn’t matter all that much now looking back on it.

My point is that when a pastor is tempted to engage in an argument, he must ask if the effects are going to last into the future or if this is ultimately insignificant? If the topic has no future impact on the church or your ministry, that hill is not worth dying on.

Will the Issue Keep the Lost from Getting Close to Jesus?

We have all heard of the horror story of the church where all the men wear suits every Sunday. One day when a lost man came to the church in his work clothes, and he was quickly rejected. Although the man didn’t own a suit, the men of the church told him not to come back until he was able to wear a suit on Sundays. This is obviously tragic for many reasons. But the big reason is that they put a huge roadblock in front of the man who wanted to get close to Jesus.

Christians must be conscious of how their actions can establish religious barriers and their decisions could potentially create obstacles for others to come close to Christ.

For example, the men of the previously mentioned church at some point made the decision that wearing a suit on Sunday is a requirement for worshiping God. This decision was not biblical and yet it had implications on how the church dealt with people who needed to get close to Jesus.

My point is when a pastor is tempted to engage in an argument, he must ask if the decision going to cause roadblocks for others to get close to Jesus? If the topic has the potential of keeping people from getting close to Jesus, that is a hill worth dying on.

Will the Issue Keep my Church from Reaching People for Jesus?

An issue that is prevalent in our day among pastors is the use of alcohol. While many will claim that they have freedom in Christ giving them the ability to partake in the drink, they would be hard-pressed to say that their indulgences do not affect their witness for Christ.

While alcohol is a hot topic right now, this principle can be applied to anything of moral questionability in Christian life. Anyone can understand that it would be difficult to share the gospel while using obscene language or living an immoral lifestyle. The same can be said of a church that indulges in the things of the world instead of being set aside for Christ.

My point is, when a pastor is tempted to engage in an argument, he must ask, is the impact of this decision going to hinder the witness of my church for Christ? If the topic could keep the church from reaching people for Jesus, that is a hill worth dying on.

Will the Issue Provide an Accurate View of who God is through the Church?

Whether we like it or not, churches have a reputation in their community. Your church may be seen as loving and accepting, or judgmental and full of cliques. Every church has a reputation in their community and that is established in the manner in which the church interacts with the community. Every pastor must come to grips with this reality. The city you serve is making judgments about your church and those judgments are based on how your church serves your community.

Ultimately, the church must understand that they are a representation of God in their community. The people of the community will make assumptions about who God is based on how they see your church. If you have a loving church, the community will perceive that God is loving. Consequently, if you have a judgmental church, the community will perceive that God is distant and condemning.

My point is, when a pastor is tempted to engage in an argument, he must ask if the impact of this decision is going to offer an accurate view of God? If the topic relates to communicating an accurate view of God, that is a hill worth dying on.

Conclusion

If I were to sum all of this up, before engaging in a dialogue that has the potential to be tense, I need to ask myself:

1) Is this worth arguing over or is it insignificant?
2) Will this set up a roadblock for people to get closer to God?
3) Will this keep my church from sharing the gospel?
4) Will this communicate an accurate or inaccurate view of who God is?

Pastor, understand that churches have issues and people are going to argue. Let us make sure that we are discussing the things that matter and let us fight for the hills that are worth dying on.

On the Proper House-Training of your Youth Pastor

A few years ago, our family adopted a puppy. He was rescued from a parking lot in the rain and our kids were desperate for a dog with which to run and play. Once we saw his paws, though, we knew this would not be a small dog for long. But whereas we thought he might grow to reach 50 pounds or so, he’s give us abundantly more than we could have asked or imagined in an 80 pound dog.

Shortly after adopting him, we left him crated at home only to receive a call from our neighbor who explained that our dog—Captain America (we have four boys and only one girl)—was not crated. In fact, he was looking out of the broken blinds in the master bedroom of our house.

When I came home, not only had he broken his crate and gotten into my bedroom. He had apparently pushed the door behind him and become panicked. He destroyed my bedroom—the comforter, the sheets, the pillows, the blinds, and that smell . . .

I still have nightmares involving that smell.

Seriously. As recent as last week.

And as frustrated as I was in that moment—deep down, I knew that he was a big puppy who just wasn’t house-trained yet.

Today, he’s calmed down for the most part and become a reliable protector of my kids. He cannot stand for them to be outside without him. And he guards them like I might. He’s gentle with them and vicious toward any dog (or person) who might dare threaten them.

The puppy who gave me nightmares now gives me confidence when my kids play outside.

The Puppy-Stage of Ministry

Some years ago, when I was in the puppy-stages of ministry, I was invited to serve as a youth pastor at an established church. I was finishing up college and, despite my complete lack of experience or wisdom, I was absolutely certain as to how I wanted to “do” youth ministry.

I never let myself into a room and destroyed it quite like our family puppy had, but I may have given my senior pastor a nightmare or two.

And, in retrospect, I have come to understand that I learned more from the grace and patience he gave me during those early years than I ever understood at the time. I have no doubt that he had moments when he experienced a similar consideration as I did when I encountered our dog in the wasteland that was my bedroom, but his decision to use those moments as opportunities for growth and instruction have had a dramatic influence on my life and ministry.

It’s common among churches to hire ministerial pups as youth pastors. Often, we do so with the understanding that many youth pastors are not “lifers,” in that they don’t plan to retire a youth pastor. Most likely, they’ll cut their teeth in youth ministry before stepping up to the pastorate. As such, it really shouldn’t surprise us when they make a mess, should it?

So, what do you need to do in order to house-train your youth pastor?

Give him opportunities

He’s energetic and hungry. Point him in a good direction and give him opportunities to lead . . . and not only with the youth. Give him opportunities to preach on occasion, even if only on those “special” weekends when you don’t anticipate a large crowd.

Give him events to take the lead on. Use his energies for the sake of the church. It will benefit the church and give him some much-needed interaction with grown ups.

Give him resources

This goes hand-in-hand with opportunities. Give him the resources he needs to succeed. I realize that the money’s tight and that the church is in a budget-crunch. I understand that we all need to “tighten the belt” and make things work. I’m not asking you to go overboard.

But give him what he needs to succeed. And if the number that the budget committee returns with falls short of what he’s been asking, give him some options and suggestions for making every ministry dollar stretch. The pace with which he runs and the ministry he leads has a lot to do with the investment your church makes in him.

Give him coaching

One of the most important investments your church can make in him is through you. Pastor, you have experience in ministry. You have experience with people. You have wisdom to share. Can I just encourage you to coach your youth pastor?

He doesn’t need you to micro-manage him (probably). Doing that will only ensure that you’re overloaded with responsibilities. But he needs someone to chat with on a regular basis and discuss how things are going and what he could/should do differently next time around. You need to be that person.

Remember, he’s serving a subset of your congregation. You’re the youth’s senior pastor. And the best way you can ensure that they’re receiving the best care and attention they need is by investing and mentoring him.

Will that be a costly investment? Up front, it will. But in the long run, the entire church will benefit.

Give him leaders

A youth ministry without good volunteer leadership is an unhealthy youth ministry. Pastor, you need to take a major role in recruiting leaders for the youth ministry. Don’t send him down to the basement of the church without any strong volunteers. Speak highly of the youth ministry from the pulpit. Tell stories of how God is moving among the teenagers of your church and invite adults to find an avenue for leadership in the youth ministry.

Give him patience

He will do something stupid. He very well may do several things that leave you frustrated and shaking your head. Give him patience. If it’s not a moral deficiency or sin, make it a learning opportunity for him. Allow it to direct your guidance for a bit. He feels the weight and responsibility of ministry and his decisions. Rather than using it as an opportunity for chastisement, help him make better decisions in the future.

Last thought

Youth pastors are important to the ministry and work of the church. A good youth pastor is hard to find. He’s much easier to raise. But you’ll have to get past the stage where he chews up the furniture and pees on the carpet. And that takes time and perspective.

May God give us eager young ministers of the gospel. And may he give us wisdom and courage to help them grow. And may he give our church’s custodians patience and a good sense of humor.

Just remember 3-1-6

For as long as I have been a born-again follower of Christ, I can remember witnessing. My pastor took me out witnessing regularly. Usually, I was a wreck. At first, I would fumble the presentation and only get the message out clearly on occasion, but my delivery improved over time and with proper instruction.

Once I had been studying a particular gospel presentation that my pastor had given me in order to help me learn the necessary steps and to give me a method of sharing the entire gospel with another person. I was standing on a front porch, hands sweating from nerves and mouth so dry that I could barely even get out the word, “Hello.” I found myself talking about everything except Jesus. Finally the lady to whom I was presenting the gospel said, “Spit it out; share something!” And with her encouragement, I managed to share the gospel with her and, with the assistance of my pastor, I had the joy of leading her to saving faith in Jesus Christ. 

I will never forget the exhilaration of that first soul-winning moment. I watched as the light of God filled her heart and the light of life came appeared in her eyes. That day, my pastor’s prayers and investment resulted in my heart being transformed into the heart of an evangelist. I couldn’t wait to share the gospel with others again and again. And I learned a valuable lesson that day. Don’t wait; share something.

There is always another soul in need of hearing this message. And the message is not especially difficult. But it must include the sinless life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Son of God. And once you have established that each of us is a sinner separated from God and that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, the rest is simply providing the listener an opportunity to respond to God’s call. 

It really is that simple.

Why, then, do we not share the gospel?

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, why then are not all of us sharing this life-saving, eternity-altering message with the lost among us? Is it fear? Is it lack of time? Is it lack of concern? Is it lack of knowledge of the gospel message?

Matt Queen, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor has said, “If you know enough of the gospel to be saved; then you know enough of the gospel to share it.” Every Christian came to exercise a saving faith in Jesus Christ because the gospel message was shared with them clearly and an opportunity to make a decision to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord was given to them. In fact, I have serious questions about the sincerity of one’s faith in Christ Jesus if they never share their faith with the lost around them.

In my experience, to deny one something they need so desperately is cruelty, not kindness. Why, then, would we take comfort denying others an opportunity to hear the life-saving message of the gospel?

I plead with local churches to offer evangelism training in and for their churches. Pastors, model evangelism to their congregants by sharing stories of your evangelism encounters from the pulpit regularly. God forbid that the reason our churches aren’t sharing the gospel outside the walls of the church is because our pastors aren’t sharing the gospel outside of the pulpit.

Not everyone has believed our message. Not everyone will. This is not reason for discouragement, however. Many have and many will. And presenting the gospel message to others is an enrichment exercise for a Christian. As the message is presented, God engraves the gospel upon a Christian’s heart every time they share.

Remember 3-1-6

In my last post, I promised to offer an evangelism tool that I’ve found helpful in keeping me pursuing the lost. It’s called 3-1-6. Here’s how it works.

Ask the Father to impress 3 people on your heart who you believe need the gift of salvation. Write their names down. Pray for them 1 time a day for 6 days, asking the Lord to give you an opportunity to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ with them in that week. I have found that when I pray earnestly and ask God to honor this prayer, I have been empowered with God’s love and affection for those precious souls and many more times than not, been given that opportunity.

And when you pray that prayer and the Lord grants you the honor of sharing the hope of Christ with them, don’t hesitate. Remember those words that shocked me into action that day: “Spit it out; share something!”

Re-Surrendering to Ministry

I remember sitting in the auditorium among a few hundred other college students who had surrendered to the ministry. The professor onstage told us to look around—to the people next to us. He wasn’t trying to dissuade us from our calling, but told us that the statistics said that 3 out of 4 of us would not retire in the ministry.

I remember the faces of the guys around me.

I remember discussing with them how unbelievable those numbers were—how surely we would be the exception.

And then, over the course of years, I saw friend-after-friend walk away from the ministry. Some lasted years; some less. Many of them still play important roles in their churches, but they’re not serving in full-time, vocational ministry as they had once committed themselves. (And while there’s an entire post to be written concerning the positive manner in which they continue to serve in a number of capacities, this is not that post.) They had made an initial commitment, but for whatever reason, were unable to fulfill that calling.

In light of the number of pastors and ministers stepping away from pulpits around the nation due to moral failures (and before you fire off that email, I am not equating one leaving the ministry with a moral failure), it seems reasonable to believe those statistics have only worsened.

But, in a sense, I think this is the result of only surrendering to the ministry once.

Hear me out. However difficult it may be to make that initial decision—however much wrestling was involved in your call to the ministry—that was the easy part. Whether you left a lucrative role in the business world or stepped into ministry fresh out of college, the decision to lay down your desires and embrace God’s calling for your life was the easy part.

The Scale of Small Decisions

Big decisions are often like that. Deciding to be something or do something begins with that initial move, but the hardest part comes with the hundreds of smaller, daily decisions that follow.

This is why every January millions upon millions make the commitment to lose weight. Having worked at a gym, I can tell you that January is unlike any other month in the fitness industry. People join the gym in droves, waiting lines form behind treadmills, every aerobics and spin class is filled to capacity. But those crowds dissipate in the weeks to follow and disappear within a month. Why? Because the initial decision is so much easier than the daily decision.

It’s one thing to surrender to the ministry; it’s quite another to re-surrender to the ministry every day—to wake up each Monday and, despite the events of the previous day, make the decision to continue serving this particular flock in this particular place.

But that daily-discipline—that habitual laying down of your will, of crucifying your flesh (Gal 5:13), that taking up your cross every day (Lk 9:23)—is necessary for enduring in our calling.

Each time I hear that another pastor has stepped away from the ministry and every time that I learn of another moral failure, I grieve. But I’m not foolish enough to believe that their departure began on the day the announcement was made. Their departure from the service of the Lord took place over the course of many days, one after another, during which they refused to surrender themselves and give themselves over to their calling.

I don’t know what you’re facing in ministry at this moment in time. I don’t know what struggles or difficulties—what hurts or pains—you might be facing. But my encouragement is to find someone to talk to. It can be another pastor or a trusted friend, but talk to someone; share your struggles. Because just as our church members often put off seeking help until they’re well-down the path of sin, many of us do the same with our hurts.

Find someone who will help you surrender to the ministry again . . . and again . . . and again until you hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”