Posts Tagged ‘ministry’

Reading the Word Effectively

This was originally published as a guest post on the preaching blog propreacher
Reading the Word

Photo credit: George Redgrave cc

One of the most important parts of the sermon is what happens before you preach: reading the text to the congregation. If you don’t do this, than you are robbing your congregation.  And by all means do not close your Bible after you finish reading. In doing so you subtly or not so subtly communicate that what comes after the reading is all about you and your message. Again, you are robbing your congregation.

So, how can we read God’s Word before the sermon effectively?

Here are some ways to do so:

1. Read with Authority:

Do you have something to say or not? The authority to proclaim God’s Word does not reside in the frail vessel, but in the Spirit who illumines hearts and opens eyes. If you do not believe in what you are reading, please exit stage left.

When you are confident in the Word and it’s transformative power, your congregation will experience real change.  God promises that His Word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and will not return empty (Isaiah 55:11-12).  Therefore, read with authority.

2. Read with Eye Contact:

Obviously, you lose eye contact when you read, but your goal should be to maintain some eye contact with your readers.  Hopefully, they have heads down following along, but you still should strive for connection.  In doing so, you help bridge the gap between pulpit and pew.

The way to accomplish this is twofold.  First, know thy text.  Hopefully by the time you are stepping into the pulpit you have spent ample time with your passage.

Secondly, “scoop the text”.  That is, read a little bit ahead and place in your mind.  You can do this with whole sentences and phrases.  Maintaining eye contact will assure the congregation that you are engaged with them.

3. Read with Intonation & Variation:

One of the cardinal sins of preaching is to bore your congregation. It can be deadly – ask Eutychus.  If you read the Word of God like you read the phone book, then you are doing it all wrong.

Different genres of Scripture require variation in speech. The Gospels read differently than Psalms, which read differently than Hosea. Even the same passage can do with some variation. For instance in Psalm 34, David opens with a call to worship that sores to the heavens and invites the listener to join in. But later, when you might lower your voice and speak more softly, David reminds us that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and afflicted.

Sometimes God speaks with power and other times He whispers tenderly.  Let your reading reflect this awesome reality.

4. Read with Confidence:

Let’s be honest, there are some difficult passages full of strange names and places.  Even with knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, those passages can be intimidating.

I have heard a couple of unique approaches. You can read a few names and then skip to the end of your passage. Or you can just use initials to identify the people or places.

I would rather have you practice. The best way to do this is to listen to someone read the passage ahead of time. Max McClean is a wonderful reader of the Word. Also some websites have audio versions, like the online ESV Bible.  This will give you confidence when reading the Scriptures.

Remember, reading your passage is an important part of preaching.  When you read with authority, while maintaining eye contact, reading with intonation, and with confidence you invite your congregation into a sacred dance with the Lord of  the Word.  Don’t neglect this vital starting point of preaching.

Preaching the Whole Counsel

This post was originally written and published as a guest post on the Preaching blog propreacher

When I was 16 years old and still a babe in Christ, I once remarked that I didn’t need to read the Old Testament. I didn’t think you could find Christ in the Old Testament. How wrong I was!

I can blame my ignorance, in part, on not being raised in the Church and never hearing the Bible stories. I couldn’t distinguish Noah from Jonah. I was a functional Marcionite, long before I knew Marcion’s name.

Bible and shadow of Cross

Photo Credit: damianeva cc

A little history lesson: Marcion was an early church father, who served as the Bishop of Sinope and lived in the late first century until the middle second century.  He would be condemned by the other early Church Fathers. Why? He viewed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as competing deities. There was no grace to be found in the Old Testament.  He called the OT God by the name demiurge, a mere tribal deity of the Hebrews. This led to his rejection of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Unfortunately, our pews are full of many functional Marcionites. They just don’t see any use for the Old Testament. They don’t see Jesus.

We must lay the blame for that at the feet of pastors who consistently avoid preaching the Old Testament. I get it. It’s hard and there are many passages that create difficulties. How do we handle the annihilation of the Caananites, for example. But Jesus, on the Road to Emmaus gave us the big picture. He told us all of the Scriptures speak and lead to Him.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:45-48, ESV

Keep in mind that the New Testament had not been written yet!

So, we have our marching orders. We cannot ignore the Old Testament. How then do we find balance in our preaching, so that we preach the whole counsel of God’s Word? Commit to preaching both Testaments.

I do this by alternating my preaching series between the two. I learned this from the pastor I worked under out of seminary and I am grateful for that leading. I preach expository series, but this can work with topical series too. Just make sure you draw on the full teaching of Scripture.

Even with special series, I try to alternate my preaching. So, at Advent I will preach the promise of the Coming of Christ one year and then the Reality the next. In so doing, I point my congregation to the full teaching of Scripture. I am committed to drilling Marcionism from their hearts.

Additionally, books by Biblical Theologians, like Graham Goldsworthy and Sidney Greidanus may help the preacher connect the redemptive story of Christ together.

Preacher, commit to preaching the whole counsel!

Coming up for air…

           I’ve never been scuba diving.  Snorkeling one time as a child in the Dry Tortugas, which was incredible, but never scuba diving.  I do know that if you dive really deep and then come to the surface too quickly, you can end up with decompression sickness.  I saw on it TV and read about it on the internet, so it must be true.  Seriously, decompression sickness can lead to some serious physical and neurological effects  (you can google it if you want to know more). Thankfully, the sickness can be treated with oxygen and time in a hyperbaric chamber, usually resulting in no long term effects of decompression sickness.  


        I’ve never been scuba diving, but I’m quite sure that I spent most of last year diving in the abyss of cancer.  The depths of suffering and pain that we have explored are overwhelming at times.  Sometimes the deep was so deep that no light could be seen.  Thankfully, the abyss did not swallow us and we have returned to the surface.  But I realize that my return to the surface has been quick in many ways. It has much to do with my desire to return to ministry in a full-time ministry.  And normal life.  Whatever that means.  

         So, I’m in a strange place.  Maybe there is some decompression sickness.  It’s really nice to be on the surface.  Life is really good, but there are still many challenges that I face on a day to day basis.  On the positive side:  my strength, energy, and endurance are returning in a great way.  I would say that I am back to working full-time – which means some long days and weeks.  That’s not a complaint – the water’s nice.  I am so glad I can make hospital visits, focus on serving my family and our church family, seek God’s wisdom for the future, and continue to preach and teach week to week.  But I also feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged.  Out of place or out of step.  Disappointed by my mistakes and my need to make frequent apologies for my foibles.  The waters can still be troubled at times.  So, I have to try to remind myself regularly that I am first and forever a child of God.  That I am forgiven.  That, though I am weak, He is strong.   I need the oxygen of God’s grace.  And the  hyperbaric chamber of His steadfast love.  And day by day I find new mercies – which is more than I deserve.  I’ve come up for air and I am so glad – even of my ascent was too fast in some ways.  I have to trust God with that too.


Group Blogging Project: Simple Church (Chapter 8)

This is my contribution to a group blogging project using Simple Church.  Essentially, a blogger writes/reflects on one chapter and hosts the discussion on their blog/website over the course of two weeks.  Go to Andy’s website for links to the previous chapters/discussion or the last one (chapter nine).

Without further a due my reflections on Chapter 8 “Focus:  Saying No to Almost Everything”:

Yesterday, I had the chance to go out to eat with a friend and leader.  We went to a typical American chain restaurant with reliable food.  As often happens, I arrived at the restaurant with my stomach growling.  I didn’t have a clue ahead of time what I wanted to eat.  As a result, I flipped restlessly through the menu.  The problem, apart from my hunger, was the multitude of options that were before me.  In addition to the menu, there were a couple of other special menus with even more choices.  You would think that all the choices would make it easy, but in this case, it actually made it difficult to decide what to eat (I eventually settled on a burger & fries – living on the edge, I know).  Same thing happens when we go to get deodorant from the store – so many brands, smells, and promises.  Even though my problem is relatively simple (I’ll stink without it), all of the choices can make something easy – difficult.

The same multitude of choices is being introduced into the church to satisfy a consumer-oriented & elevated culture that feasts regularly upon fast-food diets and wants church the same way (more choices, faster response).  The authors call this “fast-food spirituality” and say that this approach is killing our churches.  It requires us to “say no to everything” that does not fit into the simple process of disciple making & building.  And constant vigilance, evaluation, and courage are required to say no.  But “[f]ocus is a truth taught and affirmed throughout Scripture. The focus of individuals in the Bible is humbling, and principle of one thing emerges…focus is the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.”

The authors suggest the following helps to maintain focus:

  1. Eliminate:  eliminate programs/ministries that are not directly related to a designed discipleship process.  I appreciate that the authors acknowledge the great difficulty in doing this.  It is far better to be simple to begin with, than to try to go back.
  2. Limit Adding: Though it may be hard (and necessary) to eliminate, it should be easier to limit the addition of new events, programs, or ministries. The difficulty here is when the new thing is designed to meet a real or perceived need.  And sometimes new feels very appealing (ah, this is what will help us grow…).
  3. Reduce Special Events: “In general, simple churches are so focused on their ministry process that there is little time for special events.  Special events would get in the way. They would distract.”  The difficulty in this is similar to the problems in numbers 1 & 2 – eliminating somebody’s ministry and the appeal of a special event.
  4. Easily Communicated
  5. Simple to Understand:  The point with both points 4 & 5 are that a discipleship process is that cannot easily understood or communicated is by nature not simple and therefore will not keep the church focused on a simple process.

Focus requires saying no – and even saying it a lot.  This, to me, is the great difficulty.  I don’t like to say no and not many of us want to be the ministry killjoy.  Maybe we could borrow something from the world of pro football.  Every team has that guy that the players striving to make the team avoid at all cost.  He’s the guy that asks for the playbook and tells you you’ve been cut.  Maybe we could have a guy like that in the church:  “I’m sorry your ministry has been cut.  Hand in your keys to the church.  Don’t worry, Jesus still loves you.”  Err, maybe not.

Seriously, as a pastor in a small church, the notion of focus (and simplification more broadly) are challenging.  In our church, we have a lot of people who work really hard to serve the church and the Kingdom of God.  As a result, they are fulfilling the call and command of God in many ways.  At the same time, I often see tired people too.  What is appealing to me about focus and simplification is the ability to free people from the burden of ministry and channel them into the joys of ministry because they know what we are doing is essential to the life and growth process of the church and they are a vital part of that.

But even more than focusing on process, I want people to learn to focus on the Gospel on a daily basis.  Then maybe we can talk about process in a much healthier way.  But I guess that’s another book.

Your thoughts?

The Perfect Pastor…

I used this as an illustration this past Sunday as part of my sermon on Gospel-Centered Ministry from Colossians 1:24-29.   One of the things that I said, is that we often evaluate ministry (whether pastoral or otherwise) on the wrong set of benchmarks.   I do not remember where I found this, but it is not original to me.

After hundreds of fruitless years, a model minister has been found to suit everyone. It is guaranteed that he will please all the people in any church.

He preaches only 20 minutes, but thoroughly expounds the Word.

He condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings.

He works from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. doing every type work from preaching in the pulpit to janitor work.

He makes $100 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books regularly, has a nice family, drives a nice car, and gives $50 a week to the church.

He stands ready to give to any good cause, also.

His family is completely model in deportment, dress and attitude.

He is 26 years old and has been preaching for 30 years.

He is tall, short, thin, heavy set, handsome, has one brown eye and one blue eye, hair parted in the middle, left side dark and straight, right side blond and wavy.

He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spend all his time with the older people.

He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work.

He makes 15 calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is never out of the office.

2 Posts for Pastors or understanding pastors

First read this post titled Why are pastors so needy? (HT:  Matt via facebook)

Then go read my friend Ken’s post Every pastor needs a pastor

World Mag Offer for Pastors

If you are a pastor, World is offering a free six-month subscription.  To sign up go here.  From the site:

Pastors: Sign up today for your free 6 month subscription to WORLD Magazine!

To help your work in ministry, thoughtful donors have made it possible for us to offer you 6 full months of WORLD Magazine absolutely free. Simply complete the online form and we will get your subscription started. And remember, along with your magazine you will also enjoy full access to, the online version of WORLD Magazine, for the duration of your subscription term.”

HT:  Challies