Becoming a great preacher is about me. Preaching more effectively is about Jesus.
Effective communication is a passion of mine. But when we speak in front of people on a regular basis it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re doing it.
How many pastors have found themselves deep in the weeds in sermon prep, trying to find just the right illustration, turn of phrase or rhyme so the last point matches the first two points?
When we’re trying to become a better preacher we can become enamored with all the wrong things:
- A clever sermon title
- Cool graphics
- Tweetable quotes
- Memorable alliterations
- More “amens” from the congregation
- The sound of our own voice
In the middle of pursuing all that we can lose sight of what really matters – honoring Christ and helping people become more like him.Be Effective
Instead of preaching better sermons, we need to become more effective at using our words and actions to point people to Jesus.
It doesn’t matter if we call ourselves preachers, teachers or communicators. Or if what we’re delivering is called a sermon, a homily, a message or a talk. What matters is, are we making a difference? Is what we’re saying having the impact it needs to have?
Is it effective?
What Jeff Goins recently told writers applies to all communicators, including preachers. “Don’t be good. Be effective. Stop trying to be a good writer, and start trying to be effective.”Where’s The Focus?
Becoming a great preacher is about me. Preaching more effectively is about Jesus. And connecting others to him.
An effective sermon isn’t one that makes people want to hear you speak again. It’s the one that makes people want to change their attitude, their character and their behavior to become more like Jesus.
And a really effective sermon doesn’t ...
A simple, practical first step to help you or your team start building a team.
As pastors, we have a solemn obligation to equip church members to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Instead, too many pastors burn out because the pastor and the church members expect the pastor to do most or all of the ministry for them.
Making the transition from the doer of ministry to the equipper of ministers is very hard for most pastors to do. And it can be even harder for church members to understand, let alone step up to. After all, pastors are in ministry because we’re passionate about doing it, and we’ve trained our congregations for generations to let us do it for them.
Shifting from doing all the ministry, to training others to do ministry doesn’t come easily. But it is essential. And it’s biblical.Put Equipping On The Agenda
The idea that the pastor and other church leaders should do all the ministry for church members is very deeply ingrained in our churches and our pastoral psyches. So we can’t expect things to change overnight – for either the pastor or the church members.
But here’s a simple strategy that can help any church start down that road, giving everyone some early success.
Put “equipping God’s people” on the agenda. Literally.
This is a simple, practical first step to help you or your team start building a team.
In every regular leadership meeting, ask your team members (deacons, elders, staff, volunteers) to share an instance since your previous meeting when they had someone else do ministry with them, instead of just doing it themselves.
Then, lead them by your own example.
This is a simple way to encourage everyone, including yourself, to stop doing everything on your own and start bringing others along for the ride.
If you don’t have a ...
"Most great leaders in Scripture were called to leadership from obscurity."
Ed: Why have you dedicated your life to teaching leadership, and why do you believe leadership skills are so important?
John: Since July 4, 1976, I’ve known that leadership was the area I was called to speak into, and the past 40 years have just confirmed that calling in me. As a leader myself, I know firsthand how good leadership lifts everything around it, while bad leadership can sink an organization, team, or individual in a heartbeat.
Simply put, everything rises and falls on leadership.
Ed: I am always cautious to remind peopel that the Bible is not your leadership guide— it’s the story of God’s redemptive plan. Yet, there is much about leadership in the Bible. What are some of the most important things about leadership you’ve learned from the Bible?
John: First and foremost is that God calls all of us to be leaders. We read stories of great biblical leaders, and often what we lose sight of is that most great leaders in Scripture were called to leadership from obscurity.
Noah was just a faithful man. Abraham was a nobody. Joseph was a sheltered kid. David was a little shepherd. Even Jesus, the greatest example of a leader in all of history, began his life in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in a straw-filled feeding trough.
Yet despite those humble beginnings—or perhaps because of them—biblical leaders were able to do great things through their obedience to God and his call (or purpose) for their life.
Second, I’ve learned that leadership isn’t a one and done deal. It’s a journey. Again, if you go back to the lives of Abraham, Joseph, David or Jesus, you become keenly aware that none of them rose to prominence overnight.
There were years of consistent obedience before ...
The odd Old Testament episode is a sharp reminder of our need for Jesus.
It’s been a bad year for pastoral scandals in the church. Whether Roman Catholic cardinals or high-profile Protestant pastors, it’s been devastating and sobering to read about sins and abuses by those entrusted to preach the gospel and shepherd God’s people.
Besides the horror of the abuses themselves, the sharp contrast between an outwardly successful ministry and the apparent darkness within is deeply discouraging. If our spiritual leaders cannot be trusted, who can?
I’m reminded of the shocking deaths of Nadab and Abihu by divine fire in Leviticus 10. At this point in the Hebrews’ journey to the Promised Land, things are going swimmingly. The Tabernacle is built. Moses has the instructions for the sacrifices. Aaron and his sons are being consecrated for ministry. On cue, God’s glory appears, and fire consumes the burnt offering; the people are overjoyed (Lev. 9:24). But that joy suddenly turns to shock and sorrow when Aaron’s sons try to offer up fire to the Lord—and flames burst forth and consume them instead (10:1–2).
Most read this and naturally balk, asking, “Why is God so harsh? Isn’t this just another sign of an arbitrary, angry, erratic God?”
The natural question isn’t always the right one, especially when taking the whole narrative context into account. This is the merciful God who redeemed Israel from Egypt, met them at Sinai, gave the covenant Law, forgave their infidelity with the golden calf, and instituted the priesthood and sacrifices precisely so sinful Israel could enjoy his holy Presence. We should ponder instead, “What went wrong?”
Leviticus is light on explanation, but there are a few narrative clues. For one, the fire ...
I narrowed the process of church recalibration down to four phases.
I remember the first Sunday of January 2004 like it was yesterday. I had just been elected Lead Pastor of New Life Church, the church where I was saved and had served as youth pastor. It was my first official Sunday, and our Superintendent was going to “commission” me as Lead Pastor.
It snowed the entire night before (In Seattle, snow shuts down everything.) The Superintendent called, saying he couldn’t get there. So, I was up to preach—my first time as Lead Pastor. Even better, only 30% of the normal Sunday crowd arrived! Nevertheless, I stood at the pulpit and started preaching, not realizing the winding, complex road that lay ahead.
New Life was a good church, but it had plateaued. The church was in a dangerous place, what I now describe as “deceptively healthy.” It had signs of health, but if not revitalized, it would slowly die. I knew it needed new vision and leadership, however I had no understanding of the courage this would take––or the pain it would cause.
I soon realized that the changes needed were more than a new preacher or some quick cosmetic modifications. New Life was a choir-driven church, with a strong Sunday school and midweek program. I recognized that necessary changes would be deep and cultural: music style, discipleship approaches, transition to an intentional church model, and a change of core priorities.
The first three years were really hard. I quickly learned, “It would be easier to change the Bible than the music style.” Many at New Life saw change as a threat; they watered down the gospel and lessened the church's impact.
I remember the day when the top giver left the church. Over lunch, he said, “I am leaving. I don’t agree ...
Her behind-the-scenes ministry reminds us that pastors (and their spouses) can’t be reduced to a package of roles and gifts.
The pastor of the church I attended in college had a strong personality, a firm handle on Scripture, and a clear gift for expository preaching. This, in fact, was my entire perception of him: the mark he made as he stalked the stage on Sundays, Bible in hand, and the Spirit of God booming through his voice.
I never considered him beyond those weekly sermons.
Occasionally, as one among thousands in the sanctuary, I’d twist in my seat, tracing his exit with my eyes, hoping to watch him rejoin the wife or the children he spoke about from the pulpit. I was strangely fascinated with labeling them in my mind as “the pastor’s wife” and “the pastor’s kids,” as if they were mini-celebrities. I also wanted to see them interact, as if the perfect affection I imagined between them might cap for me the truth of the pastor’s sermon.
Several years after graduating college, I married a man who became a lead pastor himself, a church-planting pastor to be exact. Slowly it dawned on me that I was a pastor’s wife, the pastor’s wife, the one waiting in my folding chair to be rejoined by the preacher who stalked the elementary-school gym floor with Bible in hand and Holy Spirit in his voice. The thought struck me that a starry-eyed college student in the congregation might do what I’d done, imagining the two of us as mini-celebrities rather than mere humans trying to juggle the weighty responsibilities of leadership along with our uncertainties, insecurities, and besetting sins.
I saw my former expectations for what they were: I’d taken a servant and tried to mold him into a savior. And I’d thrown his wife in for good measure.
There’s a difference between our perceptions ...
How churches can help victims decades after assault.
Christine Blasey Ford’s recent testimony added fuel to an already heated discussion on how we should respond to abuse allegations. Regardless of politics, pastor and author Ed Stetzer called for caution in how we speak about abuse so that we don’t harm victims within our own communities. Research confirms that victims stay silent because of a negative community culture toward abuse and often don’t receive emotional support. According to therapist Connie Baker, herself a sexual abuse survivor, our response as a church community can make tragic situations worse or they can help with the healing process.
Rachael Denhollander, the attorney who spearheaded the fight to take down Larry Nassar for sexually abusing hundreds of young female gymnasts, experienced both damaging and healing responses from her church communities. Before she came forward, she recalled the kind of church culture that had previously silenced her.
During a youth group discussion, Denhollander remembers a student asking whether they could consider King David’s misuse of power toward Bathsheba as sexual assault, and their teacher said no, opening the floor for others to give their opinions. (You can read why it is assault from a theological viewpoint here.) A friend of Denhollander’s raised his hand to share: “I think it had to have been her fault, because she could have chosen to die rather than have sex with him.”
“This immediately told me I would be better off dead than a rape victim. And if I didn’t fight to my death, it’s my fault,” Denhollander recalled.The Impact of Silencing
Research indicates that when abuse victims feel like they can’t or shouldn’t talk about their experiences, ...
Five ways to facilitate a healthy ‘goodbye’ when leaving your church.
Leaving places can be difficult. Saying goodbye, even when absolutely necessary, can be really painful—especially for pastors.
After years of one pastor’s investment in a community, quite naturally it’s hard for a congregation to imagine being led by another figure. Likewise, from the pastor’s standpoint, it’s equally as hard to imagine entrusting a church’s care to another person—no matter how qualified that person may be.
In my experience, transitioning from one pastoral role to another doesn’t happen well by accident; it requires thoughtfulness, intentionality, and proper planning. Looking back on my first formal ‘goodbye’ to a church, it’s easy to recognize the many things that I could have done better. There are ways to leave a congregation well and there are ways to leave that often do more harm than good.
Pastors: transitioning away from your church will always be challenging, but it doesn’t have to leave scars on your community. Here are some ways to facilitate a healthy ‘goodbye’:
Let your congregation grieve Many of the ‘rules’ I share here are being shared because they are things I didn’t do when I left my first church. My first mistake was to underestimate the hurt my congregation would be feeling once they caught wind of my departure. What I didn’t realize was that as a Father-like figure in the lives of many of my congregants, they felt badly hurt and betrayed by the thought that I was planning to leave them. They had this person (me) in their lives who’d been a steady, heavily invested presence for many years; I completely misunderstood the effect that my goodbye would have on them. I can vividly ...
The latest abuse investigations have rattled non-Catholics’ perceptions more than Catholics themselves, according to survey data.
American Catholics have been so unsettled by the wave of allegations of decades-old sexual abuse and cover-ups spanning dioceses in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and across the country that the most vocal critics have called for Pope Francis’ resignation.
Their evangelical neighbors, some once enraptured by the popular pope, are also disappointed. According to two recent reports, white evangelical Protestants’ views of Pope Francis and the clergy have fallen even more than Catholics’ after the latest investigations into abuse by priests.
Evangelicals’ approval of Francis dropped more than twice as much as Catholics’ this year, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday.
Just 32 percent of white evangelicals rated the pope favorably last month, down from 52 percent in January, the most dramatic decline among religious groups.
His favorability among US Catholics fell from 84 percent to 72 percent during the same period. Pew also saw declines among white mainline Protestants (67% to 48%) and the unaffiliated (58% to 53%).
Francis now has his lowest approval rating—51 percent of American adults—since he assumed the papacy in 2013.
A Gallup poll last month also found that the latest allegations have damaged views of Francis among those outside the Catholic Church more than those inside it.
Catholic approval of Francis remained relatively steady around 79 percent, according to Gallup, while his favorability among non-Catholics and Americans overall dropped by at least 10 percentage points between August and September (from 63% to 45% and 66% to 53%, respectively).
Further, Gallup reported that Protestants have come to adopt a grimmer view of the church than Catholics.
About half ...