Archive for November, 2009

Leading leaders

This week is our annual elders retreat where we get away for a few days to read, pray, and sing together. We take a look at everything we have done, are doing, and hope to do with the goal of being more faithful shepherds of the flock. We plan for the meeting with a congregational family meeting where we take questions, ideas, and thoughts. We form a loose agenda and then put it all on the table for a few days. Every year we come away refreshed, challenged, and focused on the ministry before us.

I would like to hear what some of you do with your leadership in this regard. Do you have retreats, planning sessions, and the like? Please give us the details. What do you do for downtime? Please share in the comments.

2 Essentials to a God-honoring Pulpit Ministry

As a pastor’s kid growing up in a Christian home I have listened to more sermons than many believers twice my age.  In addition to this privilege/stewardship I spent close to 13 years at the Grace Community Church (to borrow a humorous expression from Dr. Mohler).  Besides sitting under the regular preaching ministries of John MacArthur, Rick Holland, Ken Ramey, Phil Johnson, Carey Hardy, and Jerry Wragg I also was exposed to the likes of W.A. Criswell, Al Mohler, John Piper, and Jim Boice.  I have listened to far more sermons in my life than I have ever preached.  As I’ve matured in my faith I realize that if the Word of God is faithfully taught (regardless of the preacher) the Spirit of God will use that Word in the life of all true believers (Col. 1:28-29).  For those of us “Joe the plumber” preachers that is an encouraging thought!

It is my opinion that in biblical preaching God is most interested in two things: faithfulness and humility.   Allow me to make a case for that assertion.

God does not give every saint (or preacher for that matter) the same measure of talent/spiritual giftedness.  If I can borrow a principle or two from the Parable of the Talents I may be able to make this point more clearly.  In Matthew 25 the text says, For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.  When I was in seminary it was obvious to me that all of us “pastors in training” had a lot in common.  It was also obvious that not all of us were given the same measure of giftedness.  Some of the men had photographic memories and crazy high IQ’s while others had golden tongues.  One of the lessons God was trying to teach me during this time of ministry preparation was my personal need to grow in humility.  Instead of being envious of the way God gifted a few of these exceptionally bright students I needed to be grateful.  If biblical ministry is all about the glories of Christ then how God chooses to bless a man is His prerogative.

It is my opinion that God does not gift every preacher with the exact same spiritual gifts/talents nor does He give every pastor the same measure of gifts/talents.  That is how I explain the difference between “Joe the plumber/preachers” and those unique preachers like Jim Boice.  To some God has given one talent, to others two, and to a select few, five talents. 

What encourages my heart is that God is most concerned about faithfulness not giftedness (that He alone controls, 1 Peter 4:10-11).  Consider Luke 12:48 And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.  Or take Matthew 25:23,  “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 

This is where I see Paul’s previous post coming in: “Are you growing in your preaching?”  What are you doing to become a more faithful steward of God’s infallible Word?  Take this common principle of sanctification and apply it to your preaching ministry.  Philippians 2:12-13, So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

All of us have witnessed this principle fleshed out in the sports world.  Not all athletes are created equal.  I remember one guy in college who had so much athletic talent it made many of us wannabes green with envy.  Yet this particular basketball player never applied himself and after four seasons never amounted to anything significant.  Their were other players I remember who had a quarter of the talent this player had yet because of their hard work ethic, their ability to receive instruction, and their tremendous commitment took their ‘one talent’ of basketball skill to amazing levels.  Of course then there are those players like Michael Jordan who receive ‘5 talents of athleticism’ and who discipline themselves as much or more than everyone else around them.  The rest as they say is history.  R.C. Sproul and Al Mohler are those type of Christians.

It is not profitable to sit around contemplating why God’s made me the way He’s made me or why He has chosen not to gift me as much as Pastor X or Christian Y.  What is profitable is to discipline myself for the purpose of godliness.  To strive to be a faithful prophet like Jeremiah.  To preach the Word in season and out.  To be a faithful workman who cuts the word straight each and every Sunday (2 Tim. 2:15).  To understand and apply the weakness of power and the power of weakness paradox (2 Cor. 12)

I should not conclude this post without talking about the importance of humility.  God will not share His glory with another.  That is probably why in His plan of salvation He has chosen not to save many wise or mighty men (1 Cor  1-2).  Consider the words of God from Isaiah 66:2, “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

In biblical preaching God is most interested in two things: faithfulness and humility.   

Are you growing in your preaching?

My fellow contributor asked some great questions in regard to my previous post. Since what I wanted to say was longer than a comment I have provided it hear as a follow-up. Thanks Caleb for the great questions. In short, the issue is how can a young preacher maintain pulpit cred and grow in his skills and calling. I think we should be careful to avoid a one-size-addresses-all problems approach. As I think Caleb indicated in his comment there are a number of solutions to the pastor getting help with his preaching. Here are a few bullet thoughts:

1. Study preaching. Read a few books on preaching every year and take away a few things to work on from each resource. Read and listen to good preachers. Challenge yourself to preach different genres of Scripture. I am biased toward preaching narrative at the moment but OT and NT narrative will open up a world of study and color.

2. Find one or two reliable/trustworthy sources of feedback in your congregation. I know there are exceptions but most churches will have at least a couple of men who know good preaching and can provide loving feedback. This can also double as a discipleship opportunity so that they are trained to sharpen their hearing as well. I have many that I discuss my preaching with but I have two men that I know will tell me I was terrible and at the same time help me.

3. If #2 is not a possibility then form a work group with a couple of local pastors. Exchange sermon audio or video and provide feedback to each other. If there is no one in your area then look to fellow preachers in your seminary network or like-minded pastors in another state.

4. Continue your education. Go to conferences with break-out sessions on preaching (Shepherd’s Conference, Simeon Trust, etc.). If you are able and you have an M.Div pursue a D.Min in preaching (Master’s and Southern Seminary both have excellent D.Min in expository preaching). These programs will help to refine your skills and expose you to various nuances of preaching that are easily forgotten or missed.

5. Self-evaluation. Watch yourself on video tape. Watch three sermons in a row so that you are not only watching a “favorite.” Watch them multiple times and focus your critique on something different each time. For extra measure, have someone you trust watch them and provide feedback then take the person to lunch for sitting through your sermons and helping you.

6. Read the Bible a lot! Read and read and read your Bible, wear it out, and sit for lengthy periods of time reading chapter after chapter. I’m convinced that the deeper your well becomes the more compelling your preaching. This is why solid preachers who have been at it for twenty years or more who have also established good habits of Bible reading are likely to be excellent expositors. If you are too busy as a full-time pastor to read your Bible for even hours at a time then you are too busy and you are headed for trouble. Turn back now and establish good habits. Do whatever you have to do to deepen your knowledge of Scripture.

7. Turn off Facebook, your phone, Twitter, email, and every other electro-disturbance that hampers your preparation. Train yourself to focus without feeling the need to check some frivolous “update” that adds nothing to the process.

8. If you do have time to read blogs, etc. then explore Expository Thoughts. There are hundreds of essays and ideas here that are given to motivate, challenge, and inspire expositors. Also see Peter Mead’s Biblical Preaching blog which is an excellent blog on the nuts and bolts of preaching.

9. Worship Jesus. If you are daily spending time reading about, praying to, fellowshipping around, meditating on, and striving to be holy like Jesus then your preaching will reflect your walk with Him. It will not be necessary to embrace a form of preaching that works Jesus into your message but the fingerprint of the Messiah will be evident on everything you say.

“That’s a beautiful picture son” and other lies you’ve heard

So you’re fresh out of seminary or you’re about to finish and soon you will find yourself preaching week in and week out. Your first series may take off because after all you’ve already taught it to a small group Bible study with the youth or something like that. Maybe your first series is the “fruit” of an exegetical project you were proud of so now all you have to do is polish the apples and that series will fly . . . right? Listen to the advice of Russell Moore:

Young preachers, your first few sermons are always terrible, no matter who you are. If you think your first few sermons are great, you’re probably self-deceived. If the folks in your home church think your first few sermons are great, it’s probably because they love you and they’re proud of you. If it’s a good, supportive church there’s as much objectivity there as a grandparent evaluating the “I Love You Grandma” artwork handed to them by the five year-old in their family. So your first set of sermons, unless you’re very atypical, are probably really, really bad. So what?

Read the rest of his “Two Cheers for Bad Preaching” here.

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