Advice for Young Preachers (Like Me) [Redux]

Thought I would re-share this older post as I begin prep work on my sermon for the end of March Gospel.  Enjoy a little redux for your Friday morning.
Public speaking can be an intimidating thing.  Up to 75% of Americans have glossophobia, the fear of public speaking.  I remember in Freshman English class struggling to stop shaking as I held my speech and trying desperately to keep eye contact with someone smiling so that I could make it through my first solo speech.  I thought I was not cut out for getting up in front of a bunch of people and trying to say something intelligent.  There was no way I thought I would be preaching and carrying the weighty task of expounding from God’s Word.
However, here I find myself a young, aspiring pastor with half a dozen to a dozen sermons under my belt, and I feel a galaxy away from the shaking 14 year-old I was in Ms. Pieper’s classroom.  I am forever grateful to those who have given me the opportunity to preach.  It’s allowed me opportunities to become battle-tested and to make a pile of mistakes and learn where I fell short and I excelled.
That being said, I know there are some newbies who are venturing into the foray of preaching and could use some advice from someone going through what they are starting.  As a solid member of the Single-A preaching team, I offer three nuggets from the prepping process, the actual sermon delivery, and three cents on post-sermon practices.
  • Depend on the Spirit in prayer – This is a big key.  You cannot tackle preaching without the work of the Spirit and expect to reach the hearts of those listening.  I learned this in a big way from a recent sermon I gave, where I prepped less and prayed more.  I will share that story another day.  Story aside, it is the Holy Spirit who reminds us of Jesus’ words (John 16:13; John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:10) and brings us into a full knowledge of Him.  Depend on Him to speak and to guide your prep time.
  • Leave a bunch at your desk  – Big mistake I have made a number of times.  It is important to practice the art of studying broader and beyond what you preach, but to leave a bunch of it behind.  You are delivering a sermon not a book reading.  Take what you learned and condense it down to avoid preaching way too long and lulling your audience into a slumber.  Besides, young preachers should not be aiming to preach more than a half hour anyways.  Ed Stetzer has a helpful article on guest-preaching that applies to a lot of what first time preachers are doing.
  • Do your own exegesis and study first – Commentaries and other pastors and theologians will help sharpen up your sermon, provide illustrations, shed light on tough passages, and help clarify theological positions, but it is important that your own voice is still allowed to emerge.  It is too easy to let someone else’s sermon or argument eclipse your own study and pretty soon you are just a parrot for that particular persons views.  Establish your own voice, and you will find you will be a better preacher with more effective sermons in the long run.
  • Try to sit still – Nothing is more distracting than a preacher pacing all over the place and gesticulating until they work up nasty armpit sweat.  Sit still, since it surprisingly calms nerves, as well.  Some use pulpits, music stands, or stools.  I actually am a fan of the pulpit since it is an anchor to me at this point.  Someday I might move away from it, but for now it is helpful for keeping my movements from being a distraction.
  • Easy on the water – One time I took up two glasses and drained them almost instantly out of nerves and then had the distraction of running out and someone getting me more.  Another time I kept drinking in the middle of sentences, which got warning shakes of the head from my wife.  The last time I preached I had no water, and it was no problem.  I don’t suggest not having it at all, since you never know when you might inhale dust, catch a frog in your throat, or swallow a passing seagull.  I would advise taking one glass up with you and use such glass only in one of the aforementioned emergencies.
  • Depend on the Spirit to speak – Preaching begins and ends with the Holy Spirit.  If we fail to depend on the Spirit when we preach, we are relying on our own works and capabilities.  That might mean you give a good sermon, but it doesn’t mean that you effectively preached the word of God.  Pray before, pray during, and pray after that the Holy Spirit bores deep into the hearts of your hearers and explodes their soul with the realities of the gospel.  Jesus’ already accomplished our salvation and the salvation of those who are hearing you.  Stop trusting in your ability and your intelligence and know-it-all and have faith that the Spirit is at work.
  • Listen to your sermons and take notes – I am still trying to heed my own advice on this, since I tend to be too hard on myself.  However, it is important (I hope I am listening to myself right now) to find out what is distracting in your speech patterns, where you honked your sermon, and where you nailed it.
  • Go easy on yourself – As I said above, I tend to be too hard on myself.  I am not and you are not John Piper or Greg Laurie.  Evaluate yourself as if you are new because you are new at this!  Learn, grow, correct, and lighten up!
  • Be thankful – Preaching is NOT something to be taken lightly.  Thank the Father that he has blessed you with the opportunity to preach His word and to proclaim His excellencies before His people, the church.  Preaching is to be the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.  You are not called just to talk about God, but to exhort God’s people to go out and live as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Be thankful for those who gave you the opportunity, be thankful that no one threw anything at you (unless it was part of the sermon or an illustration), and be thankful especially if they want you to do it again!

Why Plant Churches?

I recently shared some info on why we would be wanting to plant a church in the Fox Valley (Appleton area).  You can find that post by clicking HERE.  However, I thought it would be beneficial to back up a bit and share why do we even bother planting churches at all.  I haven’t even started planting a church yet, and already I’ve had numerous people ask me, “Why do you think we need more churches?”  or,  “Aren’t there enough churches already?” or, “Can’t we just invest in the churches we already have?”  My dad, elders at church, my friends, and even the dog (not really) have asked me one or more of those questions.

Obviously, I would not be writing this if I didn’t believe in the necessity and the need for church planting, however the questions people close to me have raised are legitimate questions.  It is my belief that church planting is not merely an effort to establish “one more church”, but is the obedience of Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew Chapter 28.  It is an effort that has four componenets:

Church Planting is…

  1. Evangelistic in its motivation
  2. Strategic in its implementation
  3. Historical in its practice
  4. Vital to Church renewal

Evangelistic in its motivation

In the book of Titus, Paul has sent Titus to the island of Crete to minister to a particularly brutish group of people.  He even quotes Crete’s own poets, who call them, “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.”  How does Paul commend Titus to minister among these people?  He opens his letter by presenting the gospel, tells him to appoint elders in every city, and complete the work by teaching the people to live exemplary, attractive lives that flow out of a gratitude for the loving kindness and goodness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

What kind of work was Paul calling Titus to?  He was giving him a basic Pauline blueprint to plant a church!  He tells him to preach the gospel (v.1-4), appoint leaders from those he preaches to (v.5), and to continue to preach the gospel to grow communities of people who believe the good news, grow into maturity as believers and live sent lives that continue to preach the gospel and live out the implications of the gospel in everyday life (the rest of the book).

Likewise Jesus, in chapter 28 of the Gospel of Matthew, tells his disciples to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  Jesus is the orchestrator of the plan previously mentioned and used by Paul.  He tells his disciples to make disciples, which obviously starts with preaching the good news about Jesus.  We are then sent by Jesus to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is to grow a community of believers (the church) and appoint leaders in that church.  Lastly, we are to grow in maturity by teaching them all that Jesus commanded them.  The best part is that this command is like the back of a shampoo bottle, we lather, rinse, and repeat until Jesus comes again!

Jesus and Paul make plain that planting the gospel is planting the church which is planting the gospel and planting the church again and again until the end of days.  Tim Keller states, “Only a person who is being evangelized in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith.”  Church planting is a call to continually preach and share the good news about Jesus Christ (evangelism) through the context of a worshipping community.  Only by multiplying the number of churches through church planting, through the power of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of God, can we hope to make the good news of Jesus Christ known throughout the neighborhoods, cities, and nations.  I’m sure there is a Peter Wagner quote somewhere for this.

Strategic in its implementation

Not only is church planting an effective evangelistic strategy, but when strategically implemented, it is an effective vehicle for making new disciples among members of the community that most need the gospel and need a church family.  Those people in a community tend to be new generations, new residents, new people groups, and the un-churched.

In any given community, as younger and emerging generations move into or grow up in a community, churches that reflect more of the ideals and culture of that generation tend to attract their kind to that type of church.  Culturally, we need different expressions of church for the different generational cultures in our nation.  For example, a church in my town that was started twenty years ago is most likely to have my parents attending it, who are in their late 40s.  A church that was started two years ago is more likely to attract someone from my generation (i.e. my friends) as compared to the church that was originally geared to reach my parents when they were my age.  As newer congregations spring up, there is always a greater amount of younger people to be found in those churches.

Likewise, newer churches are bound to attract new residents to their churches and given more leadership and influence faster.  As Tim Keller states, “ In older congregations, it may require a tenure of 10 years before you are allowed into places of leadership and influence.”  Newer churches (church plants) put a premium on being able to mobilize new members quickly and get them to be a vital part of the church.  It only makes sense that a church with a more fluid minor league system tends to attract brand new members of the community the church is a part of (whether they are believers or not-yet-believers).

These new members might not only be the dominant socio-economic or cultural group , but might also be members of new people groups as a result of immigration or shifting economic conditions.  Instead of waiting for existing churches to either adapt or wait for the cultural group to assimilate into the existing culture, church planting is strategic to plant the gospel among these people immediately, and reap a harvest among those God has brought to the community.  This can also be true if a community changes from Blue Collar to White Collar or service oriented (i.e. Rust Belt cities), and a church plant is more effective reaching these people instead of a church positioned to reach the previous socio-economic majority.

The last point is by far the most compelling, as we long to see people who do not know Jesus Christ know him and walk in relationship with him.  Overwhelming evidence shows that church plants are strategically effective at reaching and evangelizing the un-churched.  The following is a small sampling of the many researched statistics that evidence the necessity and effectiveness of church planting among the un-churched:

  • No county in America has a greater church population than it did ten years ago.
  • There are now nearly 60 percent fewer churches per 10,000 persons than in 1920
    • In 1920 27 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans
    • In 1950 17 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans
    • In 1990 11 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans
    • The number of US adults who do not attend church has doubled since 1991.
    • Today, of the approximately 350,000 churches in America, four out of five are either plateaued or declining
    • There are over 100 million Americans who have no contact with a church and 85 million of them do not believe in Jesus Christ
    • One Christian denomination recently found that 80%of its converts came to Christ in churches less than two years old
    • The average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size

Being able to reach and grow the church among the un-churched is critical to Jesus’ Great Commission.  The disciples who were sent out by Jesus had this task, since everyone they were making disciples of would have been un-churched!  Why are we to expect anything different of ourselves?  If we are making disciples among the un-churched, they will likely have un-churched friends and family and so will they and it creates a rippling effect of the Spirit working as He did among the 1st century church we read about in Acts!

It’s no wonder Peter Wagner said something you have all heard before!  Church planting is a highly effective strategy to reach the un-churched.  If we are truly serious about starting a movement of churches that long to see the gospel resonate in the hearts of people and people groups that are not a part of the church, then we should be very serious about starting more churches through church planting.

I will address the last two points in my next post.  Until then, the gist of the beginning on this material is found over at Tim Chester’s blog.  You can click the vocabulary word for today and read his blog series, “Titus for Church Planters.”

Obliquity [oh-blik-wi-tee] noun – divergence from moral conduct, rectitude; immorality

Sin Boldly

Luther-copyMartin Luther has the oft misunderstood quote, “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [bold].”  The meaning on its surface seems like, at best presumptuous, and at worst, an awful lie.  But let’s look at the greater context in his letter to Philip Melanchthon:

“If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. . . . Pray boldly-you too are a mighty sinner.”

The radical message of grace is that when we sin (and that is WHEN), we sin with boldness knowing that we cling with more boldness and strength to the grace and mercy of God found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The message of grace is a radical call to abandon any preconceived notion of our own righteousness and to fully embrace the righteousness found solely in Jesus Christ.  Read Paul’s words to the Romans:

“Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  Romans 8:1-4 (HCSB)

What a message!  There is NO condemnation.  You are FREE!  Sin boldly, pray boldly and walk according to the Spirit!  You no longer need to be weighed down by the expectations of yourself, others, or your culture.  Your new life in Christ liberates you to boldly serve Christ as your serve others and worship Him.  What amazing good news that is!

The Devil’s Team Led By a Christian?

Growing up in the Milwaukee area I was a huge Brewers fan.  I still to this very day can vividly recall as a five-year-old sitting in the bleachers of the old County Stadium with my Grandpa Phil and seeing the swarm of bugs in the outfield flood lights overlooking Vaughan’s Valley in left field.  I get chills (seriously, I just did) recalling the electric and explosive atmosphere at Miller Park when Nyjer Morgan drove in Carlos Gomez to beat the Diamondbacks in 10 innings in the 2011 NLDS (thanks Uncle Murray and Aunt Pat for the seats that day!).

The Brewers lost some of their rivalries when they switched to the National League in 1998, but we instantly developed heated rivalries with the nearby Chicago Scrubs, I mean Losers, I mean whiners…ah the Cubs stink.

Another heated rivalry is not born out of geographic proximity or annoying fans, but born out of the sheer fact that THEY KEEP BEATING US AND WINNING ALL THE TIME.  That team is the St. Louis Cardinals.  From their super dedicated and knowledgeable fan-base, great players, and constant winning to their thorny/genius previous manager (colloquially called “the Devil” by a Milwaukee sports radio host) Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals have it all and engender a large amount of loathing from fellow National League Central Division teams.

So you can find me at a bit of a crossroads when I pop over to the Gospel Coalition website this morning and see that one of my favorite preachers, Darin Patrick, is the chaplain for the Devil’s team!  And not only that, their manager (Mike Matheny) is a Christian.  Patrick interviews him on the cusp of a new season and he sounds like a pretty stand up dude.  He shares his story of faith in Christ and  he answers some questions about faith in the clubhouse.  Here is part of one of his answers with some solid advice for Christians leading among people who do not believe in Christ:

“There are eyes on me non-stop, and important conversations pop-up. We talk a lot more about life than we talk about baseball. We’re together so much that we have an opportunity to go through life together. I believe that’s one of my main jobs. Part of that is being available when those questions of faith come up.

But once again, I don’t believe my job is to force feed these guys anything. So I give them their space. But those opportunities come because life happens.”

The Brewers fan in me is convulsing in violent exorcised spasms.  There is froth and spittle and pea-soup vomit everywhere.  The Christian man in me is praying for Mike Matheny and praying for Cardinal players to magnify Christ in everyday life around the clubhouse and on the field.  But when the Cardinal and Gray come to Miller Park, don’t expect me to cheer for them.

You can check out the whole interview by clicking on today’s vocabulary word.  But please don’t root for the Cardinals.

Jocose [joh-kohs]  adjective – Given to or characterized by joking; jesting; humorous; playful

Why Do We Need Churches in the Fox Valley?

Oh, hey again Blog-olytes!  Glad you clicked on this very important post from yours truly.

As some of you may be aware (click on the “About The Guy Who Writes This” to find out more) I am in the middle of a church planting internship with Appleton Gospel.  This is not what you typically might associate with an internship (Starbucks runs, paperwork, mindless organizing, etc.).  Nope, I am mostly with Appleton Gospel to soak in the culture of their church, serve, teach, mess up, learn from messing up, and grow in my understanding of planting a church.  The ultimate goal is to prepare myself to do what Appleton Gospel has already done and to lead that somewhere else.  Pretty, awesome, no?

You might be asking why we still need more churches in this day and age.  Why would we want to start more works in a country/state/city where there are plenty of churches with open doors and warm (but usually pretty awful) coffee on Sunday mornings you say?  Well, instead of snide remarks (a specialty of mine) I will return with a hard-to-believe recent findings.

Class, please turn your attention to the graphic below:


What you are looking at is some fancifully rendered research from the Barna Group/American Bible Society.  They interviewed a score of people over a seven-year period in the top 100 metropolitan areas in the US on their “Bible-mindedness”.  That means that they have read their Bible in the past seven days and agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible.

While their is much in here to talk about, I want you to look further down the list and join me in a collective gasp fro finding Appleton/Green Bay listed at number 85.  That is right; a figure-eight followed by the presidential position of James Monroe.  That is right above the skeptical and academic Syracuse, New York and six below that last remaining communist stronghold in the world; Madison, WI (I kid…sorta).

David, our pastor here at Appleton Gospel, recently shared this and it has stuck with me.  I have been questioning why the Father had us land in family-friendly and safe Appleton, Wisconsin.  Why didn’t we land in very secular, highly educated Madison?  Or what about massively huge and culturally diverse Chicago?  Why not England or Sri Lanka or Honduras or Iceland?   This research and our few months in Appleton has really started to unpack why we are here.

Appleton seems like a friendly, churched place, but underneath the surface is a lack of knowledge or regard for the Bible, and by proxy Jesus Christ.  The #85 rating shows an understated need for an awakening to the good news of Jesus and that is done through the planting of new churches that proclaim the gospel and a group of people (the church) who live to worship (give the most importance to) the God of the universe.  There is a severe lack of discipleship (learning from/following Jesus) and our hope is to be part of a growing movement of churches looking to make disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ in the everyday.  We want to be God’s people doing God’s work to show God’s kingdom.

So hopefully I answered your question with some data and passion.  If you want to know more about what is next for the gospel in Appleton and for church planting; let me know, I would love to talk and convince you to come here.

You can check out the link to Barna’s research by clicking the vocabulary word below:

Blutterbunged – (adj.) to be surprised, baffled, bewildered