4 Leadership Lessons To Learn From David’s Failure

2 Samuel 6 tells the story of David’s efforts to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. His first effort failed miserably. He didn’t take the time to consult God or God’s regulations for transporting the Ark. Instead of having the Ark carried by priests, he placed it on a cart pulled by oxen. In transport, one of the animals stumbled and Ark began sliding off the cart. The man who reached out his hand to steady it was immediately struck dead (no man was allowed to touch the ark).

After a time of repentance and mourning, David tried again and did it the right way. The day began with sacrifices and ended with celebration.

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Wise people learn from the mistakes of others. What can we learn from David’s mistakes? As I read this story, Here are

4 LEADERSHIP LESSONS DAVID LEARNED TOO LATE.

1) Listen to God. Check His Word for wisdom.

2) Pay attention to details. Obey in small things.

3) Think of the people you lead before you think of yourself.

4) Take responsibility and learn from failure.

Whether you are leading a major organization, a small team, a family, or just yourself; these principles will help you become a better leader.

Preach Through The Bible In One Year

June doesn’t seem like the right month to be thinking about preaching through the Bible in one year. However, my assumption (sadly, I’m likely wrong on this) is that most pastors plan ahead. I would hope that most have already figured out their summer preaching schedule, and many have planned their fall and even their advent preaching calendar.

If you need help putting together a preaching calendar, here are 4 Simple Steps to Create a Preaching Calendar.

Perhaps 2020 is the year you will preach through the entire Bible. You could even do some neat play on the 20/20 them by naming the series “Perspective” or “Perfect Visions” or something more clever than I can create.

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Below are three lists which can help you think about preaching the entire Bible in one year.

LIST ONE: Choose the 52 Key Chapters in the Bible

  • Genesis 2
  • Genesis 3
  • Genesis 12
  • Exodus 12
  • Exodus 20
  • 1 Samuel 16
  • 2 Samuel 2
  • Psalm 19
  • Psalm 119
  • Psalm 150
  • Proverbs 6
  • Ecclesiastes 12
  • Isaiah 52
  • 2 Chronicles 36
  • John 1
  • Matthew 1
  • Luke 2
  • Luke 4
  • Matthew 5
  • Matthew 6
  • Matthew 7
  • Mark 2
  • John 11
  • John 13
  • John 15
  • Luke 23
  • Acts 1
  • Acts 2
  • Acts 9
  • Acts 11
  • Acts 15
  • Romans 1
  • Romans 6
  • Romans 12
  • 1 Corinthians 1
  • 1 Corinthians 12
  • Galatians 5
  • Ephesians 4
  • Philippians 2
  • Colossians 1
  •  Colossians 3
  • Hebrews 8
  • Hebrews 11
  • James 1
  • James 2
  • 1 Peter 2
  • 1 John 1
  • Revelation 4
  • Revelation 12
  • Revelation 20
  • Revelation 21
  • Revelation 22

 

LIST TWO: Choose 12 Themes And Preach One Of Them Each Month

  • Beginnings / The Prologue
  • Patriarchs
  • The Law of Moses
  • Judges
  • The Monarchy
  • Captivity
  • Poets and Prophets
  • Parables of Jesus
  • People who Met with Jesus
  • Jesus’ Last Night
  • From Jerusalem to the End of the World
  • The End of the World

LIST THREE: Choose 12 Books And Preach One Of Them Each Month

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Ruth
  • Samuel
  • Kings
  • Ezra
  • Mark
  • Acts
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 1 John
  • 2 Timothy
  • Revelation

There are other options as well. Many people wiser and more experienced than myself have probably created their own lists which would be worth a look. Have you ever done this? I’d love to hear how you planned it out.

The Criticism Of Others Is A Valuable Treasure

The best “How To” guide for the ministry I have ever read is the book of Proverbs. I truly believe pastors should read Proverbs every day and find at least one “next step” every day. Our ability to lead well would be greatly enhanced by this practice.

Today is not the 25th of the month, but I am going to make an observation from Proverbs 25 anyway. Verse 12 says this:

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

I have only ever owned one gold ring. It is precious to me. Several years ago, I was on a youth mission trip and was playing an old African drum with my hands. Suddenly, my wedding ring flew from my finger… in two different directions. I was devastated. No earthly possession was more important to me and now it was destroyed. (read to the end for the conclusion of this story)

A gold ring (or other gold ornaments) is valuable because it is created from precious metal. The reason my ring was so important to me was because it represented my relationship with Marianne. Gold is not at the heart of this proverb. Value is the primary idea.

Solomon (the author) is telling us that we must place a HIGH VALUE on those who are willing to reprove us.

“REPROVE” = reprimand, rebuke, reproach, scold, admonish, chastise, chide, upbraid, berate, take to task, rake/haul over the coals, criticize, censure; 

If someone is willing to correct you or warn you that you are headed in a bad direction, don’t ignore them or attack them. Value that correction! We do not gain a great deal of wisdom from those who tell us we are doing everything right. We gain wisdom from those who tell us we need to change.

In Ephesians 5, Paul says to PAY ATTENTION to how you fill your life. He challenges us to walk wisely. Solomon makes it clear that a wise walk places a high value on those who challenge us to be better.

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In case you are wondering, the reason my ring broke was because I had spent so much time that summer in swimming pools (I was a youth pastor and a father of young children). The pool chemicals had exposed and then exploited a tiny weakness in the metal. I was able to get my ring repaired and today it is as good as new and as precious as it was the day Marianne put it on my finger.

How Did Jesus Demonstrate Leadership To His Disciples?

If you aren’t sure what I mean by Leadership E-Words, go back and see this post about 6 practices of powerful leaders.

A while back, I came across some verses in Mark that prompted me to think about how Jesus guided the spiritual development of his disciples. So I used the Leadership E-Words as a template and was able to very quickly identify how Jesus used similar concepts to prepare the disciples for ministry.

These are all from the first half of Mark. I think you could do this exercise even better if you used the book of Matthew. It might also be interesting to look for similar patterns in Acts. I have no intention of doing either (unless some LifeWay editor is reading this and thinks it might make an interesting book, then I would be willing to write more… otherwise, probably not)

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Here we go:

Jesus ESTABLISHED a direction for his ministry.
Of course it was more about just identifying and clarifying God’s direction for His ministry… but that’s what we should be doing as spiritual guides anyway.

Mark 1:15 – “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus EXPLAINED to the disciples their role in the ministry’s direction.

Mark 1:17 – “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (aside: If you aren’t a fisher of men, are you sure you’re a follower of Jesus?)

Jesus EQUIPPED the disciples to accomplish their role.
Apparently, Jesus’ plan was two-fold: 1) Let the disciples/apostles hang around and 2) Send the disciples/apostles away.

Mark 3:14 – He appointed twelve—designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach

Jesus ENABLED the disciples to be effective in their roles.
(an even better example of this step in in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit as the ultimate enabler)

Mark 6:8–11 – These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

Jesus ENCOURAGED the disciples in their efforts.

Mark 6:30–32 – The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Jesus EVALUATED their success and incompletions.
The two stories found in Matthew 6 (feeding the 5,000 and walking on the water) both serve as labs in which Jesus evaluated whether or not the disciples had learned from the job he had given them (going out and preaching).

Unfortunately, they failed their evaluation. Fortunately, Mark has 16 chapters, so it isn’t over at the end of chapter 6. The final evaluation comes in Revelation!

6 Practices of Powerful Leaders

Not everyone can be a leader all the time, however, at some point in their life most people engage in leadership. When you find yourself leading, consider these six “must-do” activities.

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Establish a clear direction. I did not say “choose a direction” or “proclaim a direction”. A good leader does not set agendas himself, he observes and listens to his followers/team and establishes a direction which reflects everyone’s gifts and passions. Before you can be a vision-caster, you must learn to be a vision-collector.

Explain with precision the roles of those you are guiding. Most people simply want to know what is expected of them. They want to know how they will be evaluated, and they want to know what they can do to help accomplish the “win.” While a leader may fully succeed in getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, if he doesn’t clearly communicate the expectation, he will fail. It should also be noted that a leader can never get his people into the right roles if he doesn’t know his people’s gifts, passions, and dreams. True leadership demands a great deal of listening and observing.

Equip completely with the training and resources necessary to accomplish the team’s shared vision. A good leader recognizes tht everyone with whom they work has an important role. They must equip them to accomplish that role. Equipping includes training and providing resources, but it also includes assisting someone in maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. A good leader recognizes that everyone they lead is unique and therefore they learn to develop creative approaches when equipping different people.

Enable accomplishment by unleashing people in their areas, by giving them necessary authority, and by regularly advocating their efforts in public. Nothing can be more disheartening for someone than to have a leader who doesn’t enable them to accomplish their tasks. As a leader, if you can’t unleash someone to do a job, it is an indictment against your leadership style. If you aren’t willing to give someone the authority to do a job, the likely reason is that you haven’t capably equipped them. On the other hand, nothing is more empowering than a leader who not only unleashes people to work, but takes every opportunity to publicly proclaim how much they value and trust the work of those they lead. A leads who does this will have followers who accomplish much.

Encourage perseverance by regularly collecting updates and providing assistance when asked. Those you lead will become discouraged, they will have setbacks. There will be times when they want to quit. You can intervene in those moments and encourage them to carry on. If you step in at the right time and help them to refocus on the ultimate goal, you may keep them from quitting. But you’ll never know if they are wearing down if you aren’t regularly checking in with them. However, don’t check in just to “monitor their progress”. Be certain they understand and believe that you are checking in because you want to see them succeed. “Progress reports” should be an exciting and anticipated time, not a dreaded practice. You’ll set the tone, and by doing so, you’ll create a culture of perseverance.

Evaluate the person’s work by rewarding effective accomplishment and by correcting issues which may have led to incompletion. Simply put, “those who have done well with a small thing should be given more. And those who has struggled with a large thing should be given less.” good evaluations will help you identify the proper load for all your team members.

How I Find Illustrations While Preparing To Preach

Illustrations are important in a sermon. Jesus used parables to drive home powerful kingdom truths and although I am not half the story teller He was, I like to use stories to illuminate kingdom truths for those I teach.

However, it can be tough to find fresh and stimulating material week after week after week. I shy away from the old-school sermon illustration books. When younger, I would sometimes refer to the “1000 Sermon Illustration” type books. However, I’ve discovered that many of the stories in these books are portrayed as true but not verified. They are “pulpit-legends”, passed from pastor to pastor without every being fact-checked. I try to never tell a story as if it is true if I haven’t done the research for myself to know it is valid.

So, how do I come up with illustrations?

I begin with my own experience and knowledge base. I read through my sermon material making a mental list of the key ideas I would like to illustrate. Then I refer to the following list while asking myself if I can illustrate this point using:

  • Bible stories
  • History
  • Science/Medicine
  • Google
  • Music/Movies/TV
  • Relationships
  • Animals
  • Employment
  • Hobbies (Sports, Hunting, Fishing, Quilting, Scrapbooking, etc.)
  • Poetry/Literature

As an aside, using my own experiences and stories about myself is good as it allows people to know me a little better and feel a more personal connection to me. This opens them up a little more to the truths I’m teaching. However, I have two simple rules about using myself in illustrations:

  1. In any given sermon, my illustrations cannot be exclusively about me. At least one of my illustrations has to come from another source. This keeps me from appearing narcissistic.
  2. I can never be the hero of the story. Allowing others to learn from my mistakes and shortcomings enables them to acknowledge their own mistakes and shortcomings as opportunities to grow. I am also setting the example that we can learn from one another if we are willing to share the bad as well as the good.

Sometimes, I don’t need a process to discover illustrations for my sermon. Sometimes, I’ll see or experience something during the week that smacks me in the face and is obviously a powerful story for my upcoming sermon. Sometimes, I work through my normal process and still don’t have the illustration I want. Usually, my fall back source for illustrations is two obscure websites.

https://www.randomlists.com/topics

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This is a simple resource for authors who are struggling with writers block. Everytime I refresh the page, I’m given eight new topics about which I write. Often these words trigger a memory or an idea for a story I can use in my upcoming sermon. The central illustration for my Christmas Eve sermon a few months ago was the result of seeing the word “sign” on this site. It inspired a memory of one of my favorite stories and one for which I had a ready made picture which reminded us that God doesn’t leave us on our own.

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https://www.onelook.com/thesaurus/

This site is actually a robust thesaurus. I use it several times in my sermon preparation process (as well as when I’m writing or creating resources). I also use it when I’m really stuck and struggling to find an illustration. I review my sermon, identify 4-5 main themes and then plug one keyword for each theme into the thesaurus. This week, I used the word “eternal” (We’re looking at Jesus and Nicodemus and the promise of eternal life in John 3:15). Two words that popped up were “lasting” and “permanent”. This reminded me that we all long for permanence in life. This deep longing for things that last is a powerful reminder that we were created for eternity. I’m still working out exactly how that will be expressed in the sermon, but it was a helpful tweak that will likely make it into the final product.

I am not Jesus, but I want to be like Jesus. He mastered the art of using everyday experiences to draw people into spiritual conversations and eternally significant discussions. I want to do the same.  I hope you do also.

4 Things Every Pastor Must Do Every Day

I like structure. Lists and tables (think excel not dining room) are the best. One of my favorite structure hacks is what I call “quadrant brainstorming”. It’s a marriage of brainstorming and mind mapping but with rules and guidelines.

I begin by drawing a circle in the middle of the page and then drawing two perpendicular lines to divide the circle into four quadrants (I would say it looks like a cross-hair but that’s no longer a fashionable term, so think of it as a pie with four pieces). I then draw four more circles, each connected by a line to one of the original circle’s quadrants. I finish by dividing the four circles into four quadrants also. Now I’m ready.

I use this process to think about a project I need to complete, people I need to meet or manage, a resource I need to create or my roles and responsibilities for a given week. I also use this method every week as part of my sermon preparation process.

Whatever I am trying to bring into focus, I begin by identifying the four big pieces. In a sermon, it’s the four movements I hope to work through. It might be four people who are my direct reports. It might be the four thematic goals (WIGs if you’re a Covey devotee) of a project I’m working on. I’m not sure why I like four so much. I have no science or magic to suggest that it is the perfect number, but I like the cross in the middle of the circle and four seems to be useful and flexible number. It’s large enough to include everything without being so small that something gets missed.

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This Sunday, the four pieces of my sermon (I’m preaching on Nicodemus) are:

  1. The conversation behind the conversation
  2. The Kingdom of God
  3. New Birth
  4. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

On Good Friday, we create an event called The Via Dolorosa. It is a prayer walk through the Upper Room, the Garden, and then through multiple stations to the foot of the cross. You might think of it as an evangelical remix of the Stations of the Cross. I used my quadrants to create our big picture plan for the event. The four primary categories of planning are:

  1. Design
  2. Execution
  3. Volunteers
  4. Promotion

All that to say this. Yesterday, while I was working out, I was thinking about the role of a pastor. Perhaps this is a reflection of my own neurosis, but I’m constantly trying to sharpen my own understanding of what I do so that I can do it better. I want to narrow my focus so I can focus on what is most important and beneficial. By defining the four quadrants of my life as a pastor I can evaluate my plans by asking questions like, “Where does this activity fit? Am I being balanced? What am I neglecting?”Here’s the four things I think I ought to be dealing with every day:

  1. People — Equipping the people of God to do the work of God
  2. Programs — Repeating events (usually weekly) such as Worship Gathering, discipleship groups, etc.
  3. Projects — One time activities, events or initiatives which enhance our ability to equip people and improve programs
  4. Problems — They happen. The buck stops with me. I have to address them and find solutions

The great benefit I experience from quadrant brainstorming is an escape from chaos. By creating guardrails for my thinking process, I am forced to sometimes make decisions about what is most important and what is nice but expendable. Clarity is a powerful force when harnessed. When I find it lacking, I draw a circle and two lines.

 

Pastor: You are too worried about First Impressions.

A few years ago, we launched an initiative called “The Glue Team.” The goal was to make our church more “sticky.” Our hope was that we could be more intentional about building relationships, specifically with those who were new to our church or on the margins of our church.

Essentially, we put together a team of about 12 people who committed to arriving early on Sunday mornings and spending their time in the worship center meeting people who were seated prior to the service.

(At our church, as I’m sure happens at many other churches, the first people into the worship center before the service are often those who do not have significant relationships or they are people who are visiting for the first time and don’t want to arrive late. Those who are well-connected often spend extra time in the lobby cafe reconnecting with each other.)

The Glue Team was a minimal success, but for a variety of reasons, we shut it down after about nine months. At the end of the run, we gathered the team for a debriefing meeting and to discuss what other methods might be more effective to accomplish our goals.

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For me, the biggest takeaway from that meeting was what I now call “The Opperman Principal.” My friend Charlie Opperman shared about a book he was reading that stressed the importance of closure and last impressions. He cited funerals as an illustration of the lengths to which we go in order to create a positive last impression of our friends and family members who have died. He suggested that we direct more focus on people’s “last impression” of The Gathering than on their first impression.

In some church circles, this is heresy. “First Impressions” has become an a cornerstone program in many church’s strategic connection plan. Amazon has multiple pages of books which were written to teach us how to make better first impressions at church. I agree that first impressions are important, but a great first impression will be forgotten after a bad last impression and a bad first impression can be overcome by a great last impression.

More often than not, the lasting impression is the last impression.

Our church is transitioning, not only in size but in staff roles. In the next few weeks, we will have a dedicated Pastor for Connections. His role is to empower people to move from their first connection at The Gathering into a LIFEgroup, a serving role or both. He will, of course, be overseeing our “first impression” team but he will also be paying close attention to our “last impression” experience.

Over the coming months, we will be constantly asking the question, “What needs to happen in order for someone to leave our parking lot and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back next week?'”

We will write the stories that lead to that statement. We will identify what we can control and work on to promote more people making that statement. And hopefully, the Opperman Principal will enable us to communicate more of God’s message to more people so that we can make more of a difference in more of God’s world.

Let’s Talk About Death

Later this evening, I’ll be meeting with a family who is grieving the death of their mother. We will plan the details of her memorial service and I will ask a series of questions allowing them to talk about and remember her. This process will prepare me to deliver a funeral sermon which honors the deceased, points to Jesus and provides hope for those who are left behind. This is a pretty regular part of the job.

In an unrelated event, this morning, a member of our church stopped in to talk with me about his upcoming death. He hasn’t set a date and there is no impending reason that he will die soon, but he is past 80 and realizes that his time is shorter than it once was. We talked about the funeral home he has contracted with and what the service might be like. He gave me a three page summary of his life that he had written to help me prepare his eulogy. What he really wanted to know, though, was if it was okay for him to be cremated.

So, death is on my mind.

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I often wonder if we do a disservice to the people in our church by not speaking about death as we should. We are people who claim to have been made new. We believe that our old life is gone and that we are no longer like the world. Yet, it seems that we talk and think about death exactly like everyone else. Our new life in Christ changes everything about us, except it seems, our view of death.

Death is the enemy of humanity but it is not an opponent of Jesus’ people. I could argue that death is actually the friend of God’s children.

Paul hinted at this when he said, “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (ultimately, Paul decided he should not depart because he could still provide value to the lives of others AND he submitted the timing of his death to the wisdom of God rather than his own whims and inclinations)

Last week I sat with a friend whose father is failing mentally and physically. He is mourning the loss of his father, even before death strikes its final blow. Together we wrestled through the hard truth that “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15). We fight against the loss we feel when other pass, but at the same time, we must learn to celebrate their homecoming and that they are present with their Father who  loves them.

IF we really believe:

  • that Jesus has prepared a place for those who believe in Him
  • that eternal life is ours because of Christ’s work
  • that death is the passageway to the presence of God
  • that we will be made whole on the other side of the grave
  • that once we die, we will no longer see through a glass darkly
  • that the new heaven and new earth are far superior to our current dwelling place
  • that there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain

THEN, shouldn’t our attitude toward death reflect hope and joy?

Loss is painful. Whenever a loved-one is lost, pain is expected.  We mourn because we will never again, on this earth, experience the connection we once enjoyed. It is good for us to acknowledge this hurt and to sit with one another in these times of loss.

AND…

We should prepare our people for these moments by regularly reminding them that death is not the ultimate enemy for those who trust Christ. The grave has, indeed, lost its sting.

Today, I’m thinking about death. This has reminded me that I must do more to preach and teach about life, eternal life particularly. I must equip those in my care with a worldview that embraces death, not as a long separation but as a blessed home going. This is a tool I can give them which will be well-used by all at some point in the future.

Sound-Bite Sermons

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed political speeches include increasingly more “sound-bite” type statements. Speechwriters know the media will only play short clips of the speech, so they feed them ready-made lines to appear on the evening news. These sound-bites are driven by the campaign’s foundational “talking points” which is why you feel like you hear the same speeches over and over again.

The problem is that most political speeches have become a constant stream of sound-bites without any effort to provide substantive content. On the rare occasion a politician takes time to explain the “why” behind his campaign goals, they get killed by pundits for being “boring”. As a result, most political speeches are pretty shallow these days.

I prefer a speech that mixes important content with memorable sound-bites.

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Often, when I preach, I try to have several sound-bite type statements sprinkled throughout my sermon. Not because of the media, but because a short, memorable statement is a good way to wrap up a point and help the hearers take it with them. These statements are usually the last piece of my sermon to develop as they are in many ways the transitions and summations of the key points of the sermon. The danger I have to avoid, however, is the temptation to develop a sermon full of short, witty statements that inspire people and get them excited, but don’t really teach them anything new or direct them toward life change.

As an example of sound-bites in a sermon, here are some of my transitory statements from a sermon on 2 Timothy 2:14-22:

  • How disappointing is it to God when the feuds and drama within His church are mirror images of the workplace fights that happen among those who don’t even know him?
  • Handle the Bible in such a way that there is no question as to the RIGHT way to live.
  • Whatever your talents, resources, position, or possessions; use them in ways God would approve.
  • If we are not willing to rightly handle the gifts God has given us, we cannot be useful to him.
  • We need to discipline ourselves so that our first response to temptation is to flee.
  • Because of faith, God has already declared me righteous, so when I pursue righteousness, I am simply living up to the person God has already declared me to be.
  • Faithfulness is demonstrated by consistency over time.
  • Faithfulness is choosing to consistently rely on Christ every day. This kind of faithful life is the catalyst for righteousness.
  • When I’m consistently relying on Jesus to provide my righteousness, I have no need to take care of myself. Therefore, I can focus my attention on others… on loving them.
  • The greatest obstacle we face in pursuing loving relationships is too great a sense of self-love. I cannot completely love you the way Christ loved me if I am worried about fulfilling my own needs and desires.

An added benefit of creating these sound-bites is that they are ready made for social media. I can tweet these, put them on Facebook or create Instagram and Pinterest graphics with them. I might use them to spice up my YouVersion live event or in an all-church email the week after I preach. If my church members follow me on social media, these quick statements are a great reminder throughout the week of how God has spoken to our community.

These statements are not the “meat” of the sermon, they are the seasoning. They won’t provide the protein, but they make the meal memorable. If one of these sound-bites sticks with someone and enables them to receive God’s truth so that It changes their life, then my time spent developing them was well spent.