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10 Ways To “Sink” Your Sermon Series

I’m always looking for ways to improve my preaching, be it in preparation, content, or presentation. Tony Morgan recently wrote an article about effective sermon series’ and considering that most of my sermons are presented in a “series” format the article peaked my interest, and so I thought that I would share it, and along the way I’ve added some of my own comments. (in italics)

Scoping out what other churches across the country are doing to help people meet Jesus and take steps in their faith is one of my favorite things to do. By doing this over the past several years, I’ve learned that many churches use sermon series to both hone a teaching’s focus, and encourage people to invite their friends, not just for one week but perhaps four or six. I’ve also noticed, however, that some churches implement sermon series much more effectively than others. And, some series inherently engage the unchurched better than others.

Ironically, I’ve learned how to do it right from the churches who are doing it wrong. To present an effective evangelistic sermon series at your church, avoid making 10 crucial mistakes I’ve seen repeatedly at churches across the country.

Address questions that no one is asking. Typically, we have people’s attention for just 30 to 45 minutes each week. Weigh what you really want people to know, and respond to the questions people are asking. But this requires first knowing the questions they’re asking. For example, How do I raise my kids? How can I save my marriage? What am I supposed to do with my life?

Schedule your series to last more than six weeks. A series will probably lose momentum after six weeks. People consider a new series as an opportunity to invite their friends, but the longer the series drags on, the less likely those they invite will come.

(Occasionally I’ll go longer than 6 weeks, but rarely if ever longer than 10. In a series it’s important that the sermons connect to one another, but it’s also important that they are able to stand alone, for those who may not have heard the previous one.)

Pack your church calendar so full that inviting friends to worship isn’t a priority.  The more activities and ministries you provide, not to mention meetings you schedule, the less you’ll focus on your weekend services. Ask yourself: What is our primary way for reaching people who don’t attend church? If the answer is your weekend service, focus on making that effective by doing less of something else.

Teach too much in each message. Too many points can confuse not only your listeners, but you as well. Pick one point and stick to it. And remember … brevity is your friend.

(While brevity can be your “friend,” it can also be your worst enemy! Sermons that are too long turn people off, but sermons that are too short impede the ability to effectively expound on a passage. My rule of thumb is that a sermon should be between 30-45 min.)

Teach the truth without life application. For the most part, people don’t need more knowledge, but rather to learn how to put their existing knowledge into action. They know Jesus died for them, but what does this mean for them when their alarm goes off on Monday morning

Assume the message stands alone. The artistic and worship elements that surround the message need to prepare people’s hearts and minds for God’s Word. People must hear the message, but they also need to experience it with their emotions.

Don’t tease the coming series with appropriate promotions.  Launching a series without letting people know its coming does no good. How will your members invite people ahead of time? Promote what you’ll be talking about and why they should care enough to attend.

Don’t creatively connect biblical truth with the spiritual conversations in our culture. The Bible has a lot to say on hot topics in today’s culture. And when culture lobs us a softball and opens up a spiritual dialogue, we should be ready to swing the bat. A recent example is The Da Vinci Code movie. Whether or not people saw the film, the authenticity of the Bible was publicly called into question. Were you there to help answer these questions? 

Make sure your series only connects with people who already attend your church. Want to ignore the unchurched in your community? A sure-fire way to do this is to preach a series that assumes your listeners are already Christians. Eventually, churches will die when they stop focusing on people outside the congregation.

(Churches should always have an outward focus, driven by “personal evangelism,” and the Sunday message should be applicable to non-believers as well as believers, with an appropriate invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. That being said, we must never forget the fact that Sunday morning isn’t the time to focus on evangelism, it’s the time specifically set aside for the edification of the believer. Should we be “seeker sensitive” in our Sunday morning service? “Yes.” Should our service be “seeker focused?” NO!)

Don’t sweat the details. A good series involves more than just developing a message. When a team of experts comes together to plan out the messages—the art elements, the promotions and the rest of the service experience—there’s a much better chance the series will succeed in both offering biblical truth and reaching more people for Christ.

Why I Love To Preach

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas when it comes to preaching. I try to read at least 3 or 4 new books on preaching every year and I’m always on the lookout for articles about preaching from those who do it on a regular basis… why? To keep on top of the game when it comes to the presentation of God’s word.  Some of what I read influences my preaching, some of it doesn’t, not every “new idea” is necessarily a “good idea.” One always has to be mindful of two things when it comes to changing methodology when it comes to preaching; (1) does this presentation style conflict with any of the teachings of scripture (2) does this presentation style fit with the target audience. Here the other day I received an article entitled “Why I Love To Preach,” by Joseph Stowell, the former president of Moody Bible Institute, and I found it to be a great article so I thought I’d share it.

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How do I feel about preaching? To say, “I love to preach” seems too simplistic. I love to eat pasta, hang out with my wife Martie, play golf, or drive a fast car. But do I love preaching? Well, maybe…? It depends!

Preaching is not like anything else I love to do. I do not agonize over eating a great dinner, spending time with my wife, hitting a perfect drive, or nailing the accelerator. But I do agonize over preaching. I don’t have to dig deep to do most of the things I love, but I have to dig deep to preach.

Most of the things I love don’t bring my worst insecurities to the surface. They don’t tighten my gut on a Friday night or ruin an otherwise good Saturday. Although I love preaching, I usually have the nagging thought that the sermon I am about to preach could still be improved. Even after preaching, my anxiety level can remain elevated because I forgot a key transition or muffed the introduction.

I’m never plagued about how to grip a putter when I golf, but I am often haunted by the thought that there may be something pivotal in the biblical text that I have not yet seen. As I preach, I agonize about how to articulate the message in the most compelling way.

The Agony of Preaching

I am haunted by the words of my professor and mentor Howard Hendricks, who warned me that one of the worst sins is boring people with the Bible. It is certainly challenging to convince “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” church members that what I am about to say is more important than what they would like to think about for the next forty minutes.

Preachers are human, and humans wrestle with ego. When you give birth to one sentence at a time, articulating something so intrinsically a part of your soul, there is always a certain risk. It is a blow to a pastor’s ego when he walks by the most spiritual people in the church, huddled in the foyer after the morning message, only to overhear them talking about the great insights of their favorite radio preacher. Of course, preaching is not supposed to be about egos, but there is nothing like preaching to remind you that you have one.

As someone who lives in the suburbs, I love to cut my lawn and edge my driveway with precision. There is something satisfying about standing back and thinking, “There, that’s done. I’m great with how it looks!” I never feel that kind of satisfaction with preaching. When someone asks me if I’m ready to preach, my response is always, “Not really!” I never feel completely ready. There always seems to be a more interesting illustration, a clearer transition, a better thought about the historical and cultural context, on and on, forever and ever—with no amen! Preaching is the ultimate in open-ended art form; it can always be improved.

Preaching never feels like it is over and done. I can walk away from a lousy golf game and get on with my life, but I can’t walk away after a poorly preached sermon and forget it. I can’t tell you how many times I have preached and afterward promised God I would never embarrass Him like that again.

Why is it that when I feel I have preached a really good sermon, it sometimes seems to go nowhere? And, when I feel I have not done so well, God often sees fit to use it in someone’s life? In moments like these, I comfort myself with the reminder that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). God often uses my inadequacy to keep me appropriately humble. A public display of weakness in the thing that people expect me to do well isn’t very comfortable. I don’t enjoy being humbled. But preaching has a way of doing that to me. 

My Goal is Preaching

I must remind myself that the goal in preaching is not be a great preacher but to be an effective preacher. Hitting this goal consistently is a complicated, multifaceted enterprise that plays with my head and my heart. I am humbled when I remember that God even spoke through a donkey in the Old Testament.

Saying I love preaching seems too simplistic and too flippant a way to speak of such a profound responsibility. I am awed by the magnitude of the responsibility. I am the middleman in a divine encounter between the Almighty God and sinful humanity. When I think of preaching as a matter of crafting my own words into what God wants me to say, it is a terrifying and weighty pursuit.

I am always aware that preaching is serious business. It entangles us in a myriad of conflicting emotions and self-deprecating thoughts. Preaching demands our best, even while it reminds us that we are not up to the task. I feel a kinship with Bruce Thielemann, who writes, “The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors; and like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest…. To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.”

Yet the reality, as strange as it may seem, is that I do return to it again and again. Not because I have to, but because I want to. No, actually, I preach because I love to. I’m not sure I can even explain my ambivalence. But I know this. After thirty-six years of “dying naked a little at a time,” I still love to preach. To me, in spite of all the challenges and nagging insecurities, preaching is the sweetest agony in the world.

A Key Reason to Love Preaching

Whether you are an aspiring preacher or a seasoned veteran, let me try to describe to you what drives us to publicly fall on the sword of our inadequacies Sunday after Sunday and somehow love it all the same.

First, we should love to preach because you and I are wired for preaching. In the classic movie Chariots of Fire, the Olympic runner Eric Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” 2 My spiritual gifts are bent toward preaching, and when I preach I feel His pleasure. This should be true for you if you love Jesus and are gifted to preach.

It is wonderfully rewarding to hear people tell you how God has used the message to impact their lives in a strategic way. If you and I have this spiritual gift, we should use it to honor Him.

Preaching is a way to bring glory to God. Preaching offers the opportunity to proclaim the nature, ways, and will of God on a regular basis so that all of the radiance of His surpassing glory can be comprehended and adored.

My Top Three Reasons

If you were to ask me to give my “short list” of reasons I love to preach, three others would be at the top of my list—and perhaps yours, too.

1.  Being a voice for God in a world of distracting and destructive voices.

Preaching, as it is meant to be, is not an exercise in sharing our thoughts with interested people. Thankfully! After many years of talking, I find that what I think is important and interesting is not always as compelling to those who have to listen to me. I hate to tell you how many times I have launched into a discourse on some topic I thought would be gripping to my listeners, only to watch their eyes glaze over. More than once, I have dogmatically shared my opinions, only to realize later how wrong I have been. To be honest, I sometimes tire of hearing myself talk.

However, I never tire of telling people God’s thoughts. His words are always compelling, relevant, and more importantly, always correct. Preaching is the one verbal exercise I can do with confidence. Only when I preach God’s Word can I be sure that my words are indisputably true, and, if acted upon, are as transforming as they are profound.

The tricky part is making sure that I am preaching God’s thoughts and words, and not simply something I would like to say. The hard word of exegesis—understanding the true meaning of the text in its historical, grammatical, and cultural context—is essential to preaching with confidence. It is not always easy. I have studied many texts that at first blush seemed to contain a great sermon idea, for which I have both a passion and a bunch of killer illustrations, only to have the dream of that great sermon die on the battlefield of exegesis.

No matter how tempting it was to try to revive the original sermon idea, integrity demands that I preach God’s intention in the text. There is no power in preaching what I wish the text would say. The power comes only when the sermon is aligned with what God is saying in the text. His Word, not mine, is the sword that plunges deep into the heart of the listener, piercing all the way to its hidden intentions and motives (Hebrews 4:12).

Preaching that is effective and powerful is the intentional commitment of the preacher to connect the head and heart of the listener to the central message of the text in a way that enables the hearer to understand what the passage is saying about the message of the text and to communicate appropriate ways to help the listener implement the proclamation point of the text in relevant aspects of their lives.

People want to hear a word from God. If our thoughts are not the thoughts of God as expressed in the text, then we have missed the essence of preaching. I have become painfully aware that my preaching must always be about “Thus saith the Lord!” not “Thus saith Joe!” When I was a student in seminary, Haddon Robinson often told our homiletics class, “When you are done preaching, if someone disagrees with you, your sermon should be so deeply rooted in the text that you can tell them that their disagreement is with Scripture, not with you!” That’s great advice!

In 2 Timothy 4:1–2, Paul commands Timothy to “Preach the Word!” The Greek term in the text translated “preach” is the word “herald.” In the ancient world, a herald was one who took the edict of the king and declared it to the villagers of the kingdom. A herald who wanted to keep his life didn’t go to the villages and say, “The king has a thought that he wants you to discuss and see if you think it is worthwhile.” Or, “What I wish the king would have said…” He didn’t dare. It would have been a breach of his calling and an abrupt end to his career. A herald simply declared, “The king says…!” He represented the will and wishes of the king and carried the authority of the king to communicate it without apology. This is the privilege and power of great preaching.

Preachers join the grand legacy of the prophets of the Old Testament, who for good or ill shamelessly and courageously served as middlemen in a divine informational transaction. Their message was aimed at repentance and the realignment of lives gone out of whack. Being a modern “prophet” is a good thing. People desperately need to hear from God!

Lots of voices are vying for the minds and hearts of God’s people. Most of them are counterproductive and contradictory to God’s voice. But no voice is as dangerous as the inner voice that responds to our own desires and shapes our decisions. We are fallen creatures. Too often our first instincts are wrong and destructive. We do not lean toward forgiveness and love for our enemies. We tend more toward greed than generosity. Our hearts rush to serve self instead of others. We believe we have an inherent right to joy and happiness in the here and now. We think suffering is unproductive and something to be despised. Is it any wonder our relationships fail, spiritual expectations are not realized, and we remain empty and disillusioned with life?

Thankfully, God’s Word helps us with these impulses. The preacher is an agent of transformation when he speaks the Word and will of God.

God’s voice is counterintuitive and countercultural. Whether it’s on talk shows or in self-help books, classrooms or chat rooms, from neighbor chatter to church folk sharing their thoughts, God’s point of view is rarely expressed. He warns us that there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Prov. 14:12). I love the thought that when I preach, I am bringing God’s voice back to center again. His voice desperately needs to be heard.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the readiness of God to receive and restore those who have wandered from His thoughts and His ways when he writes: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isa. 55:6–8).

If you visit Staunton Harold Church in Staunton, England, you will find an inscription praising its founder, Robert Shirley: “In the year of 1653, when all things sacred were throughout the nation destroyed or profaned, this church was built to the glory of God by Sir Robert Shirley, whose singular praise it was to have done the best things in the worst times…”

In this godless age, preaching has to be among the best things you can do in what many believe to be the worst of times. I pray that the same will one day be said of my ministry and me.

2.  Talking about the real, compelling Jesus.

Through the years I have discovered how easy it is to tire of myself. I tire of the insecurities that hound me, of the sins that defeat me, and of the words I wish I could take back. I tire of the foolish decisions I have made, of being tempted to think too well of myself, and of my tendency to fail repeatedly.

Yet I never tire of Jesus. I find Jesus more compelling, more adventuresome, and more troubling (in the best sense of the word) than anyone I have ever known. Each day I serve Him He proves to be more worthy of my adoration than before.

And I love to tell others about Him.

I love to help people wake up to the fact that when life is “all about me,” it backfires. But when it is all about Jesus, even our greatest accomplishments become like dung, compared to the surpassing value of knowing and experiencing Him (Phil. 3:1–11).

I love to lead people to the true Jesus—to the Jesus who is more than a meek and mild hero of history. I want them to know the Jesus who was a tough and determined revolutionary, who came to overthrow the regime of hell and set the captives free. I want them to see Jesus as He really is, intriguingly radical and truly authentic—to recognize that He had nothing but warning for religious hypocrites and scorn for Bible bureaucrats. This Jesus loved sinners. He came to heal the sick, to help the hurting, and to restore the lost. He made losers winners. Tough men dropped everything to follow Him, and women felt safe with Him. By observing His life and listening to His teaching, we too can learn how to really live, right side up in an upside-down world, and how to really die. By knowing Jesus, we can die to ourselves and live to God.

I love to invite others to care for the kind of people Jesus cared for—the marginalized, the weak, the despised, and outcasts of this world. I love helping people get their heads on straight and their hearts back in line. I love being a part of the process of allowing Jesus to dominate our thoughts and our ways, so that our broken lives can announce the reality of His kingdom and the radiance of His glory.

I love to ignite the spark of hope in the unbeliever’s heart by telling them that Jesus loves them and died so they might be forgiven. I tell them that Jesus will liberate them from their sins and that Jesus alone is someone they can follow without disappointment.

3. Knowing that God will be at work though the preaching of His Word.

It has happened many times. I am sure it has happened to you as well. After you have given birth to the sermon—in public for all to see—someone approaches you and tells you word for word what they heard. “It was just what I needed,” they say. “Thank you so much! It was such a blessing.” At this point most preachers press the rewind button only to discover that they never actually said that—something close, perhaps—but not that! What does a preacher do in such a case? Does integrity demand we say, “Sorry, I never said that, so scratch the blessing”? Or do we acknowledge that there is a supernatural dynamic to our preaching?

In a mysterious way, beyond our comprehension, the Holy Spirit takes our words and runs them through the grid of the listener’s life, customizing the application to a needy heart in order to make a difference.

If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, who empowers us and energizes God’s Word, I would quit today. There is no way I could stand before people Sunday after Sunday and talk to them for thirty to fifty minutes and expect them to listen to me, not after being stimulated all week by a high-tech, special-effects world. How can a preacher compete? A preacher can’t. Not by himself.

But we can be assured that the supernatural work of the Spirit probes deep into hearts in a way that is “living and active.” God’s Word is “sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The preacher can now know that in spite of the odds he is up against, God is at work.

I preach to see the light of discovery in the eyes of a listener…to see a tear of relief or repentance roll down a cheek…to see a genuine nod of understanding. I preach to have my listeners tell me that God has used my ministry to make a difference in their lives and then to hear how God used His Word for His glory and their gain.

I preach with the confidence that even when no one tells me what is going on in his or her heart, God knows and his Word meets listeners right where they are. I preach to hear what I have heard so many times before, that the passage I chose to preach was exactly what they needed.

Hearing that God has used our preaching to touch the lives of others is encouraging. We live for those affirmations. But I find it awkward to respond to such compliments. I could say something like, “Thanks, I really worked hard on that sermon and I’m glad you liked it.” But that doesn’t seem like a good plan. God doesn’t it take it lightly when we steal His glory. I remind myself that it is God and His Spirit who have been at work in spite of me. I remind myself of the gifts He has given me, the education He has permitted me to have, the opportunities He has granted, the wife with whom He has blessed me, the abundant mercy with which He covers my persistent failures—the list is long. If it weren’t for all these things, my preaching would be in vain. I am nothing without Him. Really! I cannot take credit for the gain He brings to people when I preach.

Hence, my problem. What should I say when someone wants to tell me what God has done through my ministry?

I have learned not to reject my listener’s words of appreciation. God has been at work in their lives, and it is important for them to express thanks for the impact my ministry has made. So I listen with a sense of appreciation and say something like, “Well, we know where all of that came from. But thanks, your words are a real encouragement to me.”

I often tell them that I pray God will use me to make a difference in somebody’s life and if that has happened with them, then God has answered my prayer. But my all-time favorite answer is, “See how much God loves you? I had no idea what you needed, and God laid that on my heart just for you. How good is it that He loves you that much! Thanks for telling me. It’s a great encouragement!”

While I want to transfer the gratitude to its proper destination, my heart is overflowing with joy that God would see fit to use me in a divine connection between His heart and theirs. It’s what I love about preaching!

When the Preacher Disappears

Some time ago I sat in a congregation where people were going to microphones in the aisles to describe what God had done in their lives through the ministry of that church. One man addressed the pastor, “Bill, ten minutes into the sermon last week you disappeared and I heard from God.” There could not be a more profound compliment for a preacher than that. When His Word is preached, God rolls up His sleeves and gets to work.

This is why I love to preach!

I don’t understand the current climate that downgrades preaching to a brief closing thought at the end of extended worship. Nor do I understand those who say that preaching is “arrogant.” If I am only preaching my own thoughts, then perhaps they are right. A sermon based on the authority of my own thinking is indeed arrogant. But if it is based on God’s truth clearly seen in His Word, and carefully proclaimed by the prophet-preacher, it is not arrogant. What we preach is then strategically important. Truth is not found in community. Truth is found in the God who is true and in His Word, which is truth. For reasons best known to God alone, He has enlisted preachers to join in the enterprise of conveying His Word to His people.

I have preached enough to fully understand that getting God’s Word to His people is a demanding task. I must extract God’s ideas from the text and craft them into a sermon that speaks to the head and the heart. I want my audience to know that I am in touch with their struggles. Delivering the goods while staying on top of my insecurities and shortcomings requires an unshaken reliance on God. Preaching is a demanding assignment, but I love it just the same!

I love it when the light of exegetical discovery illuminates the text. I love sensing that I am, at last, emerging from the dark cave of wondering what I will say in the sermon.

Every preacher knows the excitement of feeling a sermon grow within, like an embryo developing cell upon cell. It is an excitement that flows from the increasing awareness that we have something to say from God for His people—an excitement that gives way to a sense of urgency and confidence. Urgency makes us passionate about the message of the text, and confidence empowers us to preach that message with boldness and authority.

Simply put, good preaching is the art of bringing glory to God by delivering a word from God to His people in a way that touches them where they live and leads them to where they should be living. When I sense that I have found that word, it takes on a life of its own in my soul. It is then that I can’t help myself. I must preach. At that moment, I know I am almost ready to preach. And when I am ready—almost ready—I love to preach!

More Thoughts On Preaching

The other day I received my weekly article from sermoncentral.com and the topic of the week was preaching. Being a Pastor I’m always on the lookout for insights from others that can help me refine and maximize my effectiveness as a preacher. I could spend the next thirty minutes typing out what the article was all about or I could just post it for you to read.  Being that time is something that most Pastor’s (myself included) are short on I’ve decided on the latter. I hope you find the article as insightful as I did. 

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“How I Prepare To Preach” – by Perry Nobel

When NewSpring Church began, I realized that I have between 35-40 minutes (okay, maybe 55 or even 60) to speak to the people who attend one of our services every week and to say something that is given to me by God that will impact their lives. I also realized that part of my job as a communicator was to make the message as engaging and memorable as possible. So I have a seven-step philosophy on message preparation that I feel has served our church and our staff well.

1. Get a word from the Word.

I have an intense conviction when it comes to preaching: A preacher has got to speak from the overflow of what God is doing inside him. This means we must have consistent time with God when we are on our faces seeking Him for what he wants to say to us, because it is out of our victories and our pain that we communicate the most passionately—and therefore connect intimately—with the people that God has called us to lead.

The overwhelming majority of the series ideas that I have preached at NewSpring Church come out of my personal time with God. Now, let me be very clear: I do not use my quiet time for message preparation. The purpose of my personal time with God is for me to connect with Him, not to prepare a message. However, I always have a pen and a paper nearby, so I can jot down a note and come back to it later.

The best thing we can do as communicators is communicate what God is setting our hearts on fire with—then we don’t have to produce the passion. God produces the passion inside us.

2. Listen to other communicators.

From time to time, people will ask me, “Hey, Perry, do you ever use other people’s stuff?” I answer, “YES!”

However, give me a second to unpack this…first of all, I will not preach another person’s message word-for-word. However, if I’m listening to a communicator, and they say something to their church that resonates in my heart and my spirit, then I will not hesitate to use that same phrase, that same quote to the people I am preaching to.

I believe it is arrogant for a pastor or a church leader to hear something meaningful or impactful said by another church leader but still come to the conclusion, “I can’t say that to my church, because it is not an original thought birthed inside of me.” One of the greatest mistakes that a leader can make in speaking to his church is to actually think that he has to be original in everything that he preaches and teaches. God has given us the gift of other leaders and communicators who say some incredible things, and we should listen and be unafraid to share what God uses in their voices to impact our hearts and our congregations.

And by the way … the person who claims to be completely original in their communication and vision has a problem with lying!

3. Find your best time and place to prepare.

All communicators are completely unique in their preparation process. We have to find what works for us. When I attended college many moons ago, it became evident to me that I did very well in early morning classes; however, after 12:00 p.m. my ADD and my desire to take naps often got the best of me! I am most likely to be “on my game” when it comes to preparation between 7:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.; after that, I am useless most of the time!

Thus, these days my preparation takes place in the morning, and I guard that time like a pit bull. I do not allow meetings to take place in the mornings. I very seldom do breakfasts for anyone, because the morning-time is when I am the freshest and able to think most clearly in regard to what God wants me to say.

I mentioned time—let me also mention place. When we study, we’ve got to separate ourselves from distraction. Give your cell phone to your assistant, put it on silent, and do not Twitter. From time to time, we need to get in a different environment—go to a coffee shop, sit at a picnic table in a park, do whatever it takes to find our best time and place to prepare. Do not schedule meetings during this time, and do not apologize. You’ve got a job to communicate to the people God has placed in front of you, and we’ve got to find our best time and place to prepare.

4. Organize a creative process.

I used to do “week-of” sermon preparation and planning, and it was one of the most stressful things that I’ve ever done in my life. One of the harshest realities that a pastor faces on Sunday night is that the next Sunday comes really fast. So I’ve organized a creative process that helps me in my planning. It has two parts:

a)  Content. Our creative process always begins with scripture. We do not begin with, “There’s a cool song we’d love to do, so let’s organize a sermon around that.” We do not say, “I have a really cool illustration, so let’s find a Bible verse that fits with the illustration and revolve a sermon around it.” Correct theology must drive our methodology, and what we communicate must always begin with scripture.

I also bring others into a meeting to discuss the scripture passage, because there are people at different stages of life that will see scripture through a different lens. You would be amazed at some of the conversations that take place in some of our meetings. For example, I will bring in women who point out, “You know what, Perry? That’s the fourth sports illustration you’ve used this week. It’s not really connecting with us.” Or I’ll bring in singles and ask how they believe this passage applies to where they are in life. In fact, sometimes I will bring in people who may differ on some minor theological issues, because I want an all-around view of scripture.

Here’s the problem: Leaders, this takes work. It takes organization. It takes effort. But if you want to teach the scriptures in a way that connects with everybody, teach it in a smaller group and ask their opinions on it first. (That is, if you have the ego for it…)

b)  Creativity. Once we get the message ready, then we try to organize the branding of the series and the days around it. Once again, I get different people in this mix. We brainstorm and we think BIG! What needs to be done musically? What needs to be done video-wise? I have a rule: No negative people in this meeting. We don’t need anybody to play the devil’s advocate—he doesn’t need an advocate, and I don’t want anyone on his team around my table. When you brainstorm, you’ve got to have people in the room with a willingness to check their ego at the door. Many times it takes about nine really bad ideas to produce one really great idea. People have to be willing to speak their mind and say what they’re thinking.

5. Work ahead.

I realize that many pastors are preaching what I call “Saturday Night Specials,” because they don’t feel they have the time or they don’t feel they can work ahead. I would challenge pastors to do everything they can to prepare their message two or three weeks ahead of time. The reason why is simple: It relieves your team and helps them to prepare better, too. Seriously, you have people who serve in your church—video people, music people, whatever—who, if you simply gave them two or three more weeks to pray through and develop some ideas, would AMAZE you with quality of work they could produce.

Pastors sometimes start to think their staff exists to serve them; therefore they work “week-of,” develop their message by Wednesday, give it to the people who have to help pull it together, completely stress out their music and video crew, and make them work 60, 70, 80 hours a week just to get the job done. If the pastor would repent of his laziness and egomania, the entire staff could serve the Body rather than just the pastor.

When we work ahead, it allows things to marinade in our minds. When we know what we are preaching two or three weeks in advance, it will literally help us become more aware of what we are preaching—so we are always thinking about it, always praying about it. We might even see something online that will refer to it. Marinating on an idea helps it develop. I try my best to work way ahead, so that our staff—specifically our creative arts department—can do their best job possible.

6. Pay attention to culture

This should go without saying, but what people are talking about should be important to us. One of the greatest problems I believe the church has—we are answering the questions that no one is asking.

Whatever culture is saying, Scripture has already addressed. We don’t have to try to be relevant; in fact, I believe the quickest way to irrelevance is to pursue relevance WITHOUT the scriptures!  People are not always going to identify with our common ground, so it’s up to us to say, “Here’s what you are dealing with, and here’s what the scriptures say,” and show them how real God is through the teaching of His Word.

7. Inward promotion works best.

This is a conviction I have in regard to promoting a series. The best thing that we can do in order to reach more people with the Gospel is inform our church where the services will be heading (which takes planning ahead), promote it inwardly, and get the people in our church excited about what is coming next.

Please don’t misunderstand—I am not preaching against doing mail-outs or billboards or newspaper ads. We’ve actually done all of these. However, nothing is more impactful than a church full of fired-up people who are so excited out of their minds about what the church is getting ready to address, they will actually dive out of their comfort zones and take a risk to bring someone else to church with them. When someone is excited about what is to come, it’s the best way you can promote what is coming!

By the way, people will sometimes tell me, “Perry, I think you overhype your church.” This always makes me laugh, because…

a) If I say I’m excited…then I am EXCITED! If I say it is going to be the best Sunday ever, it is because I believe it! I can’t help but be absolutely FIRED UP about what I get to do! In fact, I think there is a problem when you CAN’T get excited about the upcoming Sunday…which leads to…

b) If the pastor can’t be excited about Sunday, then how can he expect anyone else to be? If you are a church leader and/or pastor and can’t get excited about Sundays, maybe you are in the wrong church…or even the wrong line of work!

God didn’t call us to be passive but to be filled with HIS passion to CHANGE the world with HIS Gospel! So NEVER apologize for passionately communicating about your belief that “Sunday is going to be awesome!”

One more thing: whatever you do, do not over-promise and under-deliver. When you say it—mean it!

Questions Week 2; The Bible In 90 Days

Bible in 90This is the first question that I have received concerning the reading for the second week. If there are other questions concerning the current reading feel free to pass them on. jim@m4conline.org.   

{The Wave Offering}

A “wave” offering is exactly what it may appear to be. An offering placed in the hand of the priest and waved before the Lord.

This ceremony was a common ritual in Israel and typically focused on the grain harvest, though there were some “wave” offerings that included sacrificial animals. Instruction’s for the ceremony where grain is used is detailed for us in Leviticus 23:10-14. No one was to eat any of the grain of the harvest until the first sheaf of the harvest was brought to the priest, who in turn waved it before God. The wave offerings are intertwined through all aspects of Jewish life and culture.

What the “wave” offering consisted of…

  • The fat and right shoulder, of the priest’s consecration-ram (Exodus 29:22-23)
  • The breast of the priest’s consecration-ram (Exodus 29:26 & Leviticus 8:29 )
  • The breast of all peace-offerings (Leviticus 7:30 & 9:21)
  • Left shoulder, of Nazarite’s peace-offering (Numbers 6:17 & 6:19)
  • The first fruits of barely harvest (Leviticus 23:10-11)  
  • The first fruits of wheaten bread (Leviticus 23:20)
  • The jealousy offering (Numbers 5:25)
  • The leper’s trespass offering (Leviticus 14:12 & 14:24)
  • The fat of the consecration-ram burnt on the altar (Exodus 29:25 & Leviticus 8:28)
  • Was given to the priest as his due (Exodus 29:26-28; Leviticus 7:31; 8:29; 10:15;Numbers 18:11)
  • Was to be eaten in a holy place by the priest’s family (Leviticus 10:14)

“Wave” offerings often centered on the first “first fruits” of the grain harvest. We see this idea carry over into the New Testament. Thousands of years after the law was given, we find the term “first fruits” used to describe Jesus

“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1st Corinthians 15:20)

Thoughts On Preaching “Sermon Series”

498_preaching_frontHere sometime back I was asked why I preach so often using a “series” format. This is a question that I have been asked several times before and so I thought I would share my reasoning and though processes with everyone…

Through the generations since the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost there has been but one message that we as followers of Christ have been charged with making known to the world, that message simply being that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, and He alone is the path to salvation for all men. Though the content of that divine message remains unchanged and rightfully so, the presentation has changed over time to meet the needs presented by an ever changing cultural and social climate. In 1st Corinthians 9:22-23, the apostle Paul makes the comment that he has become “all things to all people,” so that he might effectively present the Gospel message. His message never changed, his methods certainly did.  I don’t believe there is necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to present the message we’ve been charged with, but over the years of my ministry I have found the most effective and productive way of presenting God’s word on a weekly basis to the congregation I’ve been called to serve is to focus on a “systematic” presentation where my messages are often presented in a “series” format consisting of anywhere between 3 to 12 separate messages.

There are several reasons that my preaching of scripture is most often carried out in a “series” format. I will briefly explain each of my reasons in order to attempt to provide explanation as to why I chose to present the Word in the format I do… 

These are just a few of my reasons…

1. It provides for a greater cumulative impact on the congregation as a theme is continually reinforced.

2. It provides for a more thorough treatment of a subject, theme, or passage. Each week builds on the previous weeks and takes the subject further

3. It provides continuity for the listeners as they remember the previous week and can anticipate what will be presented in the coming weeks.

4. It allows me to be more focused and directed in my study and preparation. It’s a great help in that I don’t have to spend the first few days of each week struggling over the choice of a topic for the next week’s message. As I study a subject, chapter, or book of the Bible for a period of weeks my study patterns I believe are more efficient and focused.

This doesn’t mean that I simply make my plan, not allowing room for change or the leading of the Holy Spirit. I seek out God’s guidance in every aspect of sermon preparation. To plan for the upcoming year takes all of the current year to compile. There have been many times when I’ve had my sermon completed, and in the days just prior to Sunday I have been led to change it, sometimes on a Saturday evening. More often than not, I follow my yearly sermon plans roughly 75% of the time.

5. I believe it serves to encourage regular attendance at church and communicates the message that each week is linked to other weeks.

In years past, especially before the advent of the printing press many preachers practiced what is known as “lectio continua,” which means they would continue in the reading and preaching of Scripture in order and would preach through a whole book of Scripture in a very lengthy series.

From my experiences I have found that a series of three to twelve sermons is most acceptable, because it’s important that we don’t spend so much time on one theme from scripture to the determent of another equally important theme. This is where guidance from the Holy Spirit is most needed in the planning process.  

There are many different types of series. Here is a basic list, and they aren’t listed in any order of priority.   

1. Doctrinal Series. A specific and fundamental doctrine of the faith is selected and taught in consecutive messages.

2. Narrative Series. God’s acts in history are part of His revelation of himself, so to study a process of historical events can be helpful. In this we see history moving towards His goal!

3. Biographical Series. The drama of individual lives is a prominent part of the Scriptures, but requires more than one sermon to explore them.  

4. Thematic Series. A specific theme of the Christian life or faith is selected and explored.

5. Issues Series. Many problematic questions arise in our attempt at living out our faith. 

6. Chapter Series. Select one special chapter of the Bible and work through it with consecutive sermons

7. Book Series. This is the most historical method, going back hundreds of years; a book of the Bible is selected and expounded in succeeding weeks until completed.

8. Request Series. This is a personal favorite of mine, it’s when a pastor solicits suggestions from the congregation on issues, questions, and passages that they’d like to hear addressed in a message. The topics my vary in type or context, but are tied together 

So there it is, the method behind my “madness,” even though I enjoy doing sermon series and believe presenting the word in this fashion is beneficial. However I don’t believe “series” preaching is the end-all be-all method to presenting the word of God, and I preach many messages during a given year that aren’t attached to each other in any form.