Calvin Coolidge wisely expressed it: “One of the first lessons a president has to learn is that every word he says weighs a ton.” And so do those of the preacher! -G. C. Jones.
When I first began in the ministry over twenty years ago, I did not excel at preaching. I am by nature an introvert. I am not into big crowds so public speaking is a challenge even to this day, The process I have to go through to prepare to preach is exhausting. Add to that the anxiety and the gravity of the task at hand and it is a recipe for disaster.
In my first year of preaching, my sermons, designed to last 15-20 minutes, lasted on average seven. I was so nervous that I only took one breath during the message. One dear older, wiser Christian pointed out to me one day, “I like what you had to say, but young man the speed at which you said it made me tired.” Armed now with that full disclosure that I am not by any means the model preacher, it dawns on me that those given the task of sharing God’s Word with God’s people should be reminded of the balancing act that preaching truly is.
Preaching can be a huge blessing to the hearers, but it can also be dangerous.
The writer of Hebrews talks about the danger of God’s word in chapter 4 of the letter,
12The word of God, you see, is alive and moving; sharper than a double-edged sword; piercing the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow; able to judge the thoughts and will of the heart. 13 No creature can hide from God: God sees all. Everyone and everything is exposed, opened for His inspection; and He’s the One we will have to explain ourselves to.
Preaching the Word of God.
Preaching the truth is dangerous because the Word of God cuts through all the barriers we put up to not allow people to really know who we are deep down. If people knew all of our struggles, our dirty little secrets, the demons we struggle with, the brokenness of our relationships, we would end up more lonely and dysfunctional than we are now. Consequently, when we come to church and the verse used for the day begins to tear away each layer of our self-denial and unlock our protected passwords to our life, God’s word becomes dangerous. Our hearts are left bare because nothing is hidden from God. Everyone and everything is exposed. Every relationship and every sin are open for inspection. Now, as truth is preached to us we have to explain our choices, our decisions to the One, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ, who already knows the answer.
Preaching makes us vulnerable. It cuts through the foolishness and gets right to the heart of the matter, our fallen nature. Misunderstood and incomplete bad preaching leave the sinner here. We go home beaten and discouraged. The law of God, with His high expectations of holiness, leaves us feeling unworthy, measured, found wanting, and finally abandoned. Complete preaching points us back to the clear message that Jesus’ death and resurrection did what we could not do. His sacrifice replaced the requirement of perfection with the perfect sacrifice. The law is replaced by grace.
Preaching the truth without discipleship is even more dangerous.
This may come as a complete surprise to you, but people at times misunderstand what you are trying to say. One way to combat that is to strongly encourage your people to be engaged in some Bible study outside of Sunday morning. Here is the reason why:
The Sunday morning message should not be the main course of our spiritual meal. Even on my best days that message, like Chinese food, lasts only about an hour before people forget most of the morsels of truth I, by the power of God, fed them. Hear me correctly, I am not saying God’s word does not have the power to accomplish its task, we know it does. However, conduct an online test of your members. Have them respond on Monday to what the message was about and how they are applying that in their daily lives. What you hear back in response will shock and disappoint you.
Conversely, Sunday school and other teaching venues provide unique opportunities to disciple people. Beyond your corporate worship gathering, consider focusing on small groups ministry as a means to further pour the Word of God into the life of your flock. When the deep questions arise from the Word of God doing its work with people, they will need a forum to wrestle with what God is revealing in their lives with the other disciples on the same journey alongside them. This will require you and spiritual leaders to identify and train mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their believers in partnership with you. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. Preaching without this kind of on-going spiritual support leaves people vulnerable to carry out the work God has called the church to accomplish in His name.
One stormy night, Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak in Birmingham, England, at the Severn Street schoolroom. His hostess attempted to dissuade him from going in the torrential downpour by telling him that everyone would assume it was canceled. “But was it not announced for tonight,” Hudson Taylor asked. He then said, “I must go, even if there is no one but the doorkeeper.”
The meeting was attended by less than a dozen people, but there was an unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power, and half of those present either became missionaries or gave their children as missionaries while the other half became regular supporters of Mr. Hudson’s mission. -Source: Hudson Taylor—The Growth of a Work of God, Volume 2, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
When it comes to following our Lord’s command to Go, it is easy to find reasons to stop. The mission is scary. The forces working against us seem dug in. The strongholds of evil look insurmountable. Are will even equipped to carry out this important work? It is my prayer that this will blog will encourage you and not guilt you. There is enough guilt tied to missions now that no one wants to even attempt it. Here is a simple starting point:
1. What has God gifted you to do?
This question is the first step along the journey of determining God’s call for your life. If you’re a good organizer, then God will ask you to work organizing something. If you’re a good problem-solver, then God give you problems to solve. If you have musical gifts, God will give you an opportunity to create musical works of art to the glory of His name. He will use you to do what he has gifted you to do. The Apostle Paul is 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Once you discover what your gifts are the next challenge is discovering who you are impacting with your gifts?
2. Determine whom God is calling you to reach.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” Matthew 10:5-6
Why did Jesus limit the outreach efforts of his disciples? Was it because he didn’t like Gentiles or Samaritans? Of course not! Jesus himself often ministered to Gentiles and Samaritans. He sent his disciples only to the “lost sheep of Israel.” This is the K.I.S.S. principle; Keep It Simple Saints. Like any good leader, Jesus had them start slow. He started them off with something small that they could experience success. The disciples started with an audience they knew well, fellow Jews.
One mistake the church makes is that it sends people to go share the gospel who don’t feel prepared. They fear they are not equipped to talk to strangers. That feeling of failure and inadequacy kills missionary passion. So Jesus shows great wisdom he understood that the disciples weren’t ready. The disciples needed preparation to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” They weren’t yet equipped for such an all-encompassing mission. So, Jesus started them off with a smaller target.
3. Be Clear about the content of your message.
“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.'” Matthew 10:7
The NRSV translates it this way…
(v. 7) “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'”
We don’t get to make up the message we tell those far from God. The heart of your message is the good news that God has sent His son Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus came to announce the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. God’s message to the world is always a message of hope. Even when Jesus confronts us with our sin, he also comforts us with his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.
When we fail to articulate accurately the message God has given us, the results can be that people perceive us as being judgmental. We come off as holier-than-thou. Growing up in the Bible belt of the deep south, the message people heard from the church is, “You’re a sinner and you’re going to hell.” The message of the church is you have bee redeemed, through the blood Jesus and you are called to share that with those who are still outside God’s grace.
May this move you to seek through prayer and the study of God’s word, whom God is sending you to be a messenger of hope too. You have been uniquely gifted by God. He placed you in this world to make a kingdom impact. As Matthew 5 points out,”You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.”
Other blogs in this series on missions:
Friendship House MSU predominantly serves International visiting scholars, graduate students, Ph.D. students, post-‐doctoral students and their family members. One who arrived from China about a year ago was a student with an intense curiosity about Christianity. She attended all of our Bible studies, as well as many of our English As A Second Language (ESL) classes, and held in-depth discussions with several of our teachers about the who, what, where, when and why of their Christian faith. She began attending what is called the “Chinese church” that serves Chinese Internationals on campus. She also visited the worship services of many of our Lutheran congregational partners. She excitedly came into my office one day and announced with an emphatic, revelatory tone, “I am Christian!” As she poured out her zeal and joy, I was nearly overcome myself, a witness to her amazing declaration and transformation. She was later baptized and apparently thirsting for more and more about scripture, faith, and her personal evangelical responsibility. I asked her to attend ISM, Inc’s
She and In-Depth Seminar readily agreed. Right after she returned from what she felt was a mountaintop experience at In Depth, she learned that her husband’s oldest brother had passed away. As the family Skyped in the days following his death, our student shared the Good News, urging them to consider Jesus as the best and only source of comfort to them. Initially, the new eldest brother rejected her entreaties, calling such talk dangerous and subversive. Still, as the family gathered at weekly internet chats seeking some form of mutual solace, our student would continue to urge their attentions on Jesus. The eldest brother continued to reject her suggestions. Then, a few weeks later, the eldest brother called our student on her cell. He said, “What do I need to do to know more about Jesus?”
Our student felt called by God to return to her country for the rest of the summer to witness among her extended family and share God’s peace and joy to all who would listen. She spent many hours with the eldest brother. She returned to MSU and Friendship House for the fall semester. When she called me in my office, her smile was as broad as a summer’s day. “My brother-‐in-‐law is starting to believe,” she said. “This is important because the family follows his lead.” Along with her courses and research at MSU, our student returned to our Bible classes. Late in the semester, she and I met to talk about her continued desire to be a witness for Jesus. What came out of our discussions was a new class, which started last Sunday afternoon at one of our partner churches. The church pastor agreed to lead our student as his assistant. Incredibly, our student personally recruited 29 other Chinese Internationals from MSU to attend this class. She arranged for transportation so they could safely arrive and return home afterward. They all came. They all stayed. They are all coming back. He said to them,
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
By Rich Bearup, Executive Director of the Friendship House at Michigan State University
For more information on the ministry of MSU click here: http://www.schoolius.com/school/112819728824007/Friendship+House+MSU
An architect of the “Boston miracle,” Rev. Jeffrey Brown started out as a bewildered young pastor watching his Boston neighborhood fall apart around him, as drugs and gang violence took hold of the kids on the streets. The first step to recovery: Listen to those kids, don’t just preach to them, and help them reduce violence in their own neighborhoods. It’s a powerful talk about listening to make change.
In 1946, Czeslaw Godlewski was a member of a young gang that roamed and sacked the German countryside. On an isolated farm, they gunned down ten members of the Wilhelm Hamelmann family. Nine of the victims died, but Hamelmann himself survived his four bullet wounds.
Godlewski recently completed a twenty-year prison term for his crimes, but the state would not release him because he had nowhere to go. When Hamelmann learned of the situation, he asked the authorities to release Godlewski to his custody. He wrote in his request, “Christ died for my sins and forgave me. Should I not then forgive this man?” —Gospel Herald.
Hamelmann shows the kind of forgives that comes only from a heart transformed by a loving, heavenly Father. It is also a painful reminder that even when we abandon God and struggle to see God because of our sin, God is still there. God never moves. He is always there. Today we see that never more evident than in Isaiah 40:1-5. Before we dig into that text allow me to lay out the context.
The nation of Israel had committed multiple sins against the Lord. Their offenses included idolatry, injustice, immorality, and insensitivity to the messengers God sent to show them the error of their ways. No matter how grave the sin, no matter how much they rejected the love of the Father, His love never waned. These were still His people, and He loved them, that would never change. Discipline is not often received well. I can’t think of one punishment growing up when I said, “Thank you, Mom, may I have some more.” So even though God would chasten them, He did so like my mom because He loved them. He wanted to restore them, redeem them. He would not, could not forsake them. In the original Hebrew the term “Speak tenderly” literally means “speak to the heart,” and “warfare” means “severe trials.” God’s chastening’s are not unfair, for God is merciful even in His punishments. God chastened them in an equivalent measure of what they had done. We should not sin; but if we do, God is waiting to pardon.
In the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God still keeps His promises. Isaiah hear His voice. God has a message for His unfaithful people from Isaiah 40:3-5,
3 A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
4 Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
5 The Lord’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”
There are two key promises in this section:
One the King Is Coming! I love how Kent Hughes describes it: “He comes to us as we are, where we are, in the wilderness and the desert of our real lives. He wants us to get ready to receive him, because right now we aren’t ready.” John the Baptist used this verse to remind us that we prepare for this King’s coming by turning from the ways of sin and walking a new path by faith. The ways of sin are made low, every valley of our own self-reliance is flattened, the unevenness of our commitment to holiness is made straight. Every bit of pride is replaced with the glory of the Lord and all humanity will see the King is here.
Secondly this King, unlike previous earthly kings who fail, will accomplish God’s purpose. This King will usher in a new social landscape, no longer are people looking to the old temple system for salvation, now a more complete, a more perfect sacrifice is put in place. This King will be one that the Father says of him, “This is my Son. In Him, I am well pleased.” When this king’s earthly work is done, He proclaims boldly, “It is finished!” Nothing else, no one else need do what I have done. Your sins are atoned for, your relationship with God restored. Rest now in the peace and comfort of His presence for all eternity, for Jesus the King has come and has accomplished what God that the Father sent him to do.
I am going to delve into another sensitive area in this blog post. I grew up hearing from black people that we don’t have the ability to discriminate. This may come as a shock to every other race on the planet. In order to explain this unique perspective on the issue, allow me to define the word discriminate.
First, the dictionary defines discrimination as: “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.” That definition pretty much says it all. It would appear to be all inclusive. However, living life as an African American I ran across an interesting time and space anomaly. I was told that African Americans cannot discriminate, we really can’t be racists. Yes, you read that right. If you want to understand the heart of so many misunderstandings, you need to understand this concept.
It is a belief held by far more African Americans that you may realize. I know in writing this blog, I risk having my Black card pulled. Nevertheless, I am willing to take that risk. I am revealing insider information, but in my heart, I am convinced the truth needs to be told. So many conversations go right to race because of this underlining belief system. I think the racial divide in this country is ripping apart the fabric of the nation and putting us at risk of destroying ourselves and the freedoms that many of our ancestors have bled and died to defend.
The Great Divide:
White America looks at America and thinks, “Hey this isn’t the sixties. There are no more whites-only restrooms. Blacks can live anywhere they want. We have affirmative action to make things fair where they appear unfair. And the topper is we elected the first black president in Barak Obama. It seems like we are making progress, right?” That is what they think.
In the minds of the black community, very little has changed. You see, the black community is using these factors as a measuring stick. From a Huffington Post article by Jeff Nesbit here are the indicators:
I give you this information because in the black community, these kinds of numbers, these disparities prove there is an institutional problem. While one side of the equations sees progress the other side is only frustrated by the lack of progress. So when those two opposing ideologies realities collide you get Ferguson, MO. You get rioting in Baltimore because the people who feel oppressed also feel no one is paying attention. I am not saying by any means, this is the best way to handle it, but realize the perception is that the institution is against them. So if the institution is against you, any emotions and feelings you have that may be racist are justified because you are the oppressed racial group. Again, do I agree with that? No. Do I understand the frustration? Yes. Have I figured out all the answers? No. What advice can I give both groups? Communicate.
How Do We Begin The Conversation?
While as one song puts it, “You have come a long way, baby,” we still have a long way to go. The hurt was created over the course of hundreds of years. The history books have tried to soften the effects, even hide the truth. However, the pain is real, the cuts are deep. It will take time and intentional effort to move forward.
Forgiveness is not a human thing, it is a God-size accomplishment. This is no human solution to fix this problem it will require heavenly intervention. Remember this, nothing is too big for our God. Here is a biblical truth.
What does it mean, “to forgive” in the Greek? Literally, aphiemi means “to send away” or “to make apart”. A graphic image I’ve used is, if sin is “missing the mark” not hitting the perfect bulls-eye forgiveness is “removing” or “taking away” all the errant arrows that have missed perfection. Nothing imperfect remains. They have been “sent away” — “removed”. This is the direction in which, this racial issue needs to arrive at. Where we not only forgive each other but send away all the issues that divide us. We need to form a new relationship that is not so grounded in the past that it taints the present. Then and only then can we avoid the hurts we keep doing to each other. This is only one in an ongoing series of blogs on race. Other new additions come out every Tuesday. Stay tuned.
Other blogs in this series:
Links to the statistics:
A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. The letter reads:
“I’ve gone to church for 30 years now. In that time, I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time, and the pastors are wasting their time.”
This started a real controversy in the Letters to the Editor column – much to the delight of the editor.
This letter could have been written today by anyone of the young people who have checked out of Sunday Morning worship. If you have followed this blog long enough, you know I am not here to bash anyone but to offer you encouragement and practical solutions.
With that disclaimer in mind here is interesting research from The Barna Group about Millennials. Then I will give you some practical ways to connect with Millennials.
The Barna Group found:
They are echoing the feelings in the letter written over 30 years ago that somehow the messages of the church are not connecting with them. I believe a huge part of the disconnect is that we are still operating with a churched culture mindset. We are still trying to reach the Christians who have drifted away, preaching and teaching the same way we did decades ago. However, this generation is facing challenges to its faith that previous generations never did. While this is the case, hope still remains. There is a way to connect with this younger generation that is searching for answers.
The New Front Door
You need to know your audience. Back in the good ole days, you could send out a mass mailing and you could expect to reach possibly one to three percent of the population. Things have changed.
We live in a digital world and us as a people have a need to remain connected. That change in culture affects the way we shop. Before I go to a restaurant, for example, I go to their website, I check out their menu, and I read the reviews. Likewise, this is the door Millennials enter first when it comes to church shopping. Your website is the front door to connect with Millennials. Millennials will use your website to see if your congregation is worth a face-to-face interaction because you need to understand time is precious to them.
Key Website features
You need to think of your website as a welcome center.
What information would you have on your website to make the first time visitor feel at home? Design your front page in that manner.
Your website needs to be easy to navigate not only is that a good idea for Millennials, it is a good idea period. Who wants to spend all day trying to figure out your website? Besides Millennials are accessing information often on the go. As Amber van Natten for News Cred wrote, “Despite the value of long-form content, 41% of Millennials said the main reason they abandon content is that it’s too long. Keep the context of your content in mind – are they on a mobile device looking for a quick distraction or researching for real, in-depth information?”
So keep the content short, informative and to the point. Consequently, it is critical to gear the front page so that outsiders can understand it and navigate it easily.
Make Your Web Presence A Social Gathering Place
Equally important is the fact that Millennials meet outsiders in on-line social gathering places. If we learn to engage and connect with them in this realm they can become our greatest advocates for the spreading of the Gospel among their peers. Check this quote out, “When millennials fall in love with a product or an organization, they tell the world — through social media and face-to-face conversations. The Millennials who love your product are your best marketing tool. These evangelists will sell your product for you if you give them a forum and the means to do so.” – Joel Kaplan for Mashable
Moreover, Millennials want to connect online and be part of a community. Image having them sharing podcast of your sermons, Bible studies and blog posts virally to their unchurched friends. It could have a similar impact that Dr. Martin Luther experienced when he put the word of God in the language and the hands of the German common folks. Think of the global impact. To meet this amazing opportunity many churches now have a volunteer or a paid staff person for digital and social communications, because this is where your members and outsiders are living.
In conclusion, in the opening letter about the effectiveness of preaching, the discussion went on for weeks until someone wrote the following clincher:
“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
Preaching is not the issue, the Word of God is still effective and powerful today. Our challenge is how to connect that Word of God with a population that is searching for community, but not necessarily ready to darken the doors of our building. We meet them where they are in the digital world they travel.
This cartoon sums up where so many congregations begin the call process. How can we call pastor with tons of personality, who inspires us with great sermons and Bible studies, attracts lots of young families, and increase our numbers of people in the pews and dollars in the offering plate? Now find us a pastor who can do all of this without fundamentally changing anything about us. When churches enter this transitional phase in the life of the church, they do so with much fear, apprehension, and uncertainty. With all those emotions flowing through the congregation, it is no wonder they want to play it safe. They know things will be different from before, so the tendency is to find a Shepherd, who will lead them into this new reality but in a way that does not upset the apple cart too much. So how do we call a pastor that is right for what God will do in the congregation moving forward?
Take the time to do a detailed Self-study.
Jesus teaches us that preparation is essential in Luke 14:28 he says,“Just imagine that you want to build a tower. Wouldn’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to be sure you have enough to finish what you start?” When we are about to embark on a decision that affects how God’s mission is carried out among His people in that community, wouldn’t it make sense to consider prayerfully what God’s will for your community of believers is? A congregational self-study gives the congregation a chance to examine its ministry direction, programs, and access any problems needing to be addressed. It affords the leadership an opportunity to really ask the tough questions. Questions about may be why the former pastor accepted a call to serve somewhere else. There are many reasons why he did, financial, conflict with leadership, family needs, or a movement of the Holy Spirit to help a new group of believers. Whatever the reason now would a perfect time for the church wrestle with an intense time of prayer and reflection. Below are some questions to get the juices flowing:
Taking the time to discover clearly who you are and where God is leading, helps you determine the type of shepherd is needed to lead your congregation. In my experience working with over 40 congregations in the call process, when a church skips this step or shortchanges it, there is a tendency to lengthen the time of the vacancy. Because the call committee and the congregation wonder aimlessly into the pool of very talented pastoral candidates with no clear way to align the candidates with the congregational needs. Once the interview process or call goes out and the pastor asked the question: “So why did you feel I was the right pastor for this church?” The leaders and congregation have no clear answer to this issue, giving the candidates a sense that you are not sure what you are looking for, so how can you be sure God is calling him to serve? So take the time to hear clearly from God. May God bless you and may God bless His church.
Other posts in this series:
Thoughts on Life and Faith
As I Heal, You Heal
Where Jesus Meets The Churchless
Join the Journey into Falling More in Love with God and His Word
The Feel good Festival in a Blog.... Feel it, love it, share it.....
connecting you to global missions
Welcome to your new home on WordPress.com
Writing to Help Others Overcome Darkness
All things are possible through Jesus Christ!
Valuing quiet and solitude in academe.