Three Preaching Essentials to Reach Today’s Culture

Preaching is important. The Apostle Paul encourages his young friend Timothy to preach the word, in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). As pastors and Christian leaders, this means we must always be prepared to preach and effectively communicate the transforming power of new life in Christ.

Most pastors aspire to be good preachers and we’ve all heard our share of sermons. Some great, many good, and some not so good. Effective preaching can be tricky. You must discern what God is saying, put it down on paper (or your laptop), and turn it into a sermon. Then you need to deliver that sermon to a crowd of people with different backgrounds, diverse needs and varying levels of spiritual maturity. And, of course, your goal isn’t that people will just hear your message, but that it goes beyond their ears and penetrates their hearts so that their lives, priorities and actions are changed. Every week!

That’s no small task and we deeply rely of God’s help and the Holy Spirit’s anointing to get that accomplished. While our culture and methods change, the word of God does not. And as preachers, we need to take this to heart as we are entrusted with communicating the gospel to the people of our day. Here are three preaching essentials to effectively reach people of today’s culture.

Word
In the first chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is referred to as the Word (logos, in Greek). Jesus is the central person of the gospels. So, pointing people to Jesus should be one foundational component of our preaching. Whether you preach verse by verse or talk about different Biblical themes or contemporary topics, the basis of the words must be rooted in the truth of scripture and the reality of the person of Jesus. Doing anything less would be a sad disservice to your people.

But we’ve probably all heard sermons that spoke truth but somehow missed the mark at connecting with people. And while the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said that his words will certainly accomplish their purposes (Isaiah 55:11), we can help our listeners connect with our words by using a few, simple techniques.   Continue reading

The Problem with Wineskins

Have you ever wondered why some Christians seem to get stuck in outdated methodologies? Why they get trapped in traditions that have outlived their purpose?

Traditions are not bad in themselves. But when a tradition becomes more important than the thing it points to, it leads to traditionalism, or the overemphasis of the tradition. This problem dates back to Jesus’ time. If fact, he spoke about it in Luke 5:37-38. “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

In Jesus’ day, wine was an important part of celebrations. It represented joy and often symbolized the happiness associated with the coming of God’s kingdom. Small amounts of wine were typically carried in pouches made of goat skin called wineskins.

Wine is an interesting thing. Simply put, when grape juice ferments, a chemical reaction produces a gas that expands, turning the juice into wine. Jesus reminded his listeners that if new wine was put into dry, rigid pouches, the gas would expand and burst the old, stiff wineskins.

Jesus was actually making a point. Not about wine, but about traditions. He distinguishes between something essential and primary (the wine) and something secondary but also necessary and useful (the wineskins). He’s saying that the new wine of the new covenant can’t be kept in the rigid forms of the traditions of Judaism. It needs to be in flexible forms that allows the Spirit to expand and move. The old wineskins have been stretched to their limit and cannot hold the new wine of his message that God is doing a new thing. He emphasizes that wine is always more important than the wineskin.

The problem of wineskins is very common in churches today. Wineskins are those old traditions, stiff structures and rigid patterns that have become more important than the gospel itself. Here are some ways you can know if your church has a problem with wineskins. Continue reading

Relating Well to Four Types of Church Attendees

Over the centuries, the church has been compared to many things. Some have likened it to a hospital or a boot camp. The Apostle Paul wrote that it was like a building, a body, a bride and a family.

The analogy of a ship can also be helpful when describing the church. Scott Ridout, president of Converge Worldwide, says the people on a ship can be compared to the people in your church. This analogy assumes the Pastor is the captain and there are four different kinds of people on board. Let’s look closer at each one.

The Crew
On a ship, the captain can depend on the crew to get the job done. They work alongside the captain and take ownership of every aspect of the ship and its passengers. They agree with all policies, procedures and practices on the ship to create a wonderful experience for everyone aboard.

The crew in your church are the people who are working with you to accomplish the mission of the church. They are your key volunteers and buy into the values, direction and destination of the church. They work hard to bring everyone who attends to maturity in Christ.

The Passengers
The passengers on a ship differ from the crew in one major area. They also love the destination and want to get there, but they don’t pitch in to help. Passengers are just along for the ride. They enjoy the experience of the cruise, but don’t offer assistance or support.

Most churches are full of passengers. They fill the pews every Sunday. They enjoy the worship, listen to the messages and love the fellowship. They partake in the midweek programs, but they don’t get involved in serving. They are the ultimate “church consumer”, taking advantage of the ministry of the church but not offering any help. Passengers buy into where the church is going, but don’t get involved to help anyone get there. Continue reading

Stats & Stories: Using Both for Maximum Impact

It’s been said that facts are your friends. This is true in business, relationships, education and faith. Even though facing facts can sometimes be hurtful, truth needs to be exposed and embraced to make headway in all areas of life.

To make any wise decision, it’s important to have the right information. But you need more than information to get results. You also need motivation. Information and motivation are two key elements in getting things done.

But not all data is important. And not all data is interesting. Yet combining important and interesting data can compel people towards action. I call these two types of data, Hard Data and Soft Data. Let’s take a closer look at both.

Hard Data
Hard data are statistics. And statistics engage the mind. If you like charts, graphs, numbers and Excel spreadsheets, you love hard data. Stats give us needed information by which we can judge situations, develop ideas and solve problems. They are a foundational building block to any problem that has ever been solved. Some people can just look at statistics, figure out the problem and pose a solution. While it’s seldom that simple, that’s the general idea. Continue reading

How Staff Values Can Impact Church Culture

If you’ve been in ministry for a while, you may have noticed how easy it is for a church to stray from its original purpose. Mission drift happens subtly and over time, but if it’s not addressed it can lead your church down a well-worn path towards irrelevance. This can lead to churches getting really good at things that don’t really matter.

One way to fight against this trend is to establish church values. Creating clear values will help clarify direction, determine resource allocation and determine priorities. They are a foundational component of any church culture.

The same is true for creating values for your ministry staff. As with a congregation, a church staff can forget the reason they do what they do. So, establishing staff values reminds everyone in the room what your staff is really all about. They are great, written reminders of the “rules” by which your staff agrees to operate. Here are six staff values to consider implementing with your church staff.

Love people
Loving people is really the bottom line of ministry. Jesus said love God, love others. That’s it. Ministry should always focus on loving people with the love of Christ. When your staff makes decisions that affect your church, always ask, Is this about loving people? The answer will determine your next steps. Continue reading

The Key to Improving Boss / Employee Relations

Have you ever been in a work environment where you’ve had issues with your supervisor? Ever had disagreements with your boss? If you’re like most people, you probably have. Many factors can contribute to an uneasy work environment, but the most common is the employee / boss relationship.

In his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement, author and consultant Patrick Lencioni says there are three signs of a miserable job. 1. Anonymity – People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. 2. Irrelevance – Everyone needs to know that their job matters. 3. Immeasurement – Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and their level of contribution to the organization.

These three factors all relate to the employee / boss relationship. If your boss doesn’t really know you, if he doesn’t let you know you matter, if she doesn’t give you goals and guidelines by which to measure your work, you’ll most likely end up miserable.

Striving for a good relationship with your boss is vital if you’re going to be successful at work. And maintaining that relationship is directly related to how long you will stay employed.

Having worked for lots of bosses in my ministry career, I’ve found the key to keeping a great relationship with your boss. It’s just one word. “Distance.”

Physical Distance
The key question is, how close is your office to your bosses? I have a friend whose boss works in a different state, 400 miles away. Needless to say, this causes issues. I’ve worked in a large, church facility that had four different office locations in four different parts of the building. Again, this led to issues. If you’re in a multisite environment, your boss may be in a different building in a different part of town. While some of these issues can be worked through, suffice it to say the less physical distance between your office and your bosses, the better. Continue reading

Three Simple Tips to Improve Workplace Efficiency

When Jesus sent out his disciples to minister, he told them to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). To put it another way, he told them to be smart, efficient and quick to learn, but also to be gentle and humble in their approach.

Working with wisdom, integrity and passion are always worth striving for, regardless of one’s work environment. These qualities are especially true in a church or a kingdom focused business or ministry. From working in the local church for 30+ years, I’ve come across some smart working practices that improve office productivity. Here are three simple tips to improve workplace efficiency.

Synchronize Communication Systems
I once worked in an environment where people used all kinds of different systems to organize email, calendars and tasks. Some used Outlook, others preferred Goggle. Some used Franklin planners while others used nothing at all. None of these systems worked together and our office lacked efficiency because we spent too much time trying to communicate with each other.

My suggestion is to get everyone on the same system. Regardless of which one you choose, synchronizing your communication systems will save time, lower frustration and increase productivity.  

Use Email R-Codes
I borrowed this idea from author and consultant Juliet Funt, but adapted it to make it my own. Ever send an email expecting to get a response, but don’t get it? Or you get the response a month later when the issue is already resolved? It’s frustrating.
Continue reading

Small Group Axioms

In the 1970’s and 80’s small groups began becoming popular in churches. Today, it’s hard to find a church without some sort of small group ministry. In some cases, small groups have replaced Sunday School as the main approach to Christian education and fellowship. In other cases, small groups compliment Sunday School by offering a different environment for teaching and connection.

I’ve spent many years as a Small Groups Pastor. The value of community in the context of a small group is one of my highest priorities. And over years of leading small group ministries, I’ve come across some helpful axioms that help define the purpose of small groups and remind us what small groups are really all about.

Axioms are basically a memorable saying that contain truth. Much like a proverb. Here are three axioms for small groups. Continue reading

The DNA Difference: Church Plant vs Multisite

A lot has been said in recent years about two specific strategies to reach more people for Christ. Church planting and, for lack of a better word, multi-siting. Both have been used successfully to expand the kingdom of God, reach people for Christ and disciple new believers. Both are good approaches. But there is a fundamental difference between a church plant and a multisite. The difference is in the DNA.

What is DNA?
Simply put, DNA is the carrier of genetic information used in the growth and development of living organisms. In humans, DNA contains the molecular building blocks that make us who we are. In churches, also living organisms, DNA is the foundational information that makes the church what it is. It’s the beliefs, values, purpose, mission and unwritten rules that govern how a church operates. DNA is important. It makes humans who we are. It defines churches and determines who they are.

Cloning
Not long ago I watched an interesting documentary on the cloning of Argentinian polo horses. Apparently, it’s a common practice. The league’s premier jockey, Adolfo Cambiaso, became famous not just for his skills as a champion polo player, but also for his successful business of cloning horses. His best horse, Cuartetera, has been cloned many times and in December, 2016, those clones helped him and his team win the country’s most prestigious polo match at Palermo. Continue reading

What Hedgehogs Teach Us About Ministry

In Jim Collin’s classic book, Good to Great, he introduces readers to the idea of a Hedgehog Concept. Collins says the idea came from a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin called “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” It’s based on the ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The fox uses multiple ideas and numerous strategies in its battles with the hedgehog. But, says Collins, the hedgehog always wins by using one simple, surefire approach – curling up into a ball. When the hedgehog employs this defensive position, it exposes his sharp spikes to deter attacks from predators. Despite the many and varied tactics the fox uses, the hedgehog always emerges victorious by using his one, focused strategy.

Collins goes on to say that the idea of a Hedgehog Concept has helped successful companies define who they are, focus their energies and become more successful. They do this by answering three critical questions. 1. What are you best at? 2. What are you most passionate about? 3. What drives your economic engine?

Developing a Hedgehog Concept for churches can be extremely valuable. As churches grow, they naturally drift towards complexity. So the need to define and embrace a Hedgehog Concept will help define vision and mission, give a framework around resource allocation and give clarity to critical decision making.

I was part of a church that used the Hedgehog Concept. The senior leaders asked the three questions. After much time, thought and prayer, their answers were incorporated into the culture of the church and helped the church in a major season of growth.

As church leaders who want to bring increased levels of organizational health to your churches, encourage your leaders to wrestle with these three questions.   Continue reading