3 Things Every Pastor Should Say To Their Church Following The FBI Raid Of Donald Trump

Nobody shouted “Stop the Presses!”, but they could have. The news cycle came to a screeching halt this week and every major network was quickly consumed with the story that federal agents had procured and were serving a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago, the primary residence of former president Donald Trump.

Within hours, the competing narratives we have come to expect were being rolled out on competing networks. The most platformed Christian influencers were quickly serving up their own opinions. I saw one tweet encouraging pastors that they “must” speak to their churches about what happened this week.

I wouldn’t presume to tell any pastor what to say to their congregation, but I suppose such momentous news in such divisive times requires us to take a stand. So, here are three things I think every pastor should say this Sunday.

1. Jesus is the only hope for our world.

You may hope that the FBI raid is the final piece of evidence collection and that the justice department will finally have the necessary case to bring charges against Mr. Trump. That hope may be realized. But even if it is, it will not matter one iota in eternity and it will not turn one soul back to Jesus.

You may hope that the powers-that-be have finally overreached and this will turn into a colossal scandal that all but guarantees a second term for Mr. Trump. That hope may be realized. But even if it is, it will not matter one iota in eternity and it will not turn one soul back to Jesus.

Regardless of whether Donald Trump is found to be a criminal or a persecuted ex-official, what people really need to hear is that Jesus is the only solution for the sins and He is the only guarantee of abundant and eternal life. 

Any time you might spend talking about the FBI, is probably better spent talking about Jesus.

2. Love is the calling of Jesus’ followers.

You may have spent this week calling for justice against a corrupt administration that has done irreparable harm to our country. You may be calling friends encouraging them to get out and vote to ensure this great wrong cannot be done again. You may have assumed the last two sentences are about Donald Trump or you may have assumed they were about Joe Biden.

Your real calling is to love the people around you. Jesus never spoke ill of Caesar. He didn’t concern himself with the occupying empire (other than encouraging his followers to go an extra mile when compelled by the occupiers). He spent a great deal of time teaching how to love and commanding that love be extended to neighbors, strangers, and even enemies.

The people in the pews don’t need any more voices telling them who to hate and who to extend their anger (er… righteous indignation) toward. They need to be encouraged and reminded to love, and especially to love their enemies.

3. The Gospel is the message we carry.

The constitution is a great document. It has served our country well for over two centuries. It may or may not have been violated this week. The FBI may have overstepped its constitutional boundaries, and Donald Trump may have overstepped his. Either way, this is not the concern of the church.

We preach Christ, and Him crucified.

Pastor, you would do well this Sunday to not concern yourself with mobilizing political action. You would do well this Sunday to not concern yourself with inspiring social change. You would do well this Sunday to not concern yourself with pointing people to a new cause they should take up.

Pastor, you would do very well this Sunday to mobilize people to share and spread the Gospel. You would do very well this Sunday to inspire life change in Christ. You would do very well this Sunday to concern yourself with pointing people to Jesus and the new life they should take up.

*This post is not timeless. It will be dated very soon. Please apply the content to all current events.

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.

3 People Who Need To Hear Your Sermon

In a few weeks, I’ll be preaching from John 10 (the “good shepherd” passage). As part of my four-week sermon preparation process, I am spending part of this week reading and listening to what others have said about this passage. Yesterday, in one of the commentaries I was reading, the author briefly mentioned the three audiences to whom Jesus spoke during his ministry.

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To the crowd, Jesus spoke with compassion. They were sheep without a shepherd. They desperately needed direction and instruction. In His teaching, Jesus also demonstrated patience toward the crowd who often struggled to grasp His truths. He used stories and sought to communicate complex truths with clarity and simplicity.

To His close followers, Jesus spoke with intention. He delivered deeper truths to them and had higher expectations for them. He corrected them when they were wrong (remember when He told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan”) and was quick to re-direct them when their priorities were misplaced (“The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”). He didn’t shield them from difficult or disappointing truths, but He guaranteed them He would always be with them.

To the religious leaders, Jesus spoke words of confrontation. They were Israel’s blind guides. They had misused their power, choosing to promote themselves and their own agenda rather than leading the people closer to God. Jesus condemned their hypocrisy, called out their lies and challenged their shallow faith. To whom much responsibility is given, much accountability is required. Jesus held them accountable for misusing their responsibility.

On any given Sunday, I am aware that these three groups of people are sitting in the congregation to whom I am speaking. Those who are seeking need to hear and experience compassion. Those who are following need a message of intention. Those who are self-righteous need to be confronted.

My goal is to always preach a sermon that accurately unpacks God’s Word and points to Jesus. I desire to accomplish this goal by using words that are hopeful and helpful. For the next couple weeks, I am going to make an effort to include compassion, intention and confrontation in every sermon.

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.

 

Download This Four-Week Sermon Preparation Plan

I love crockpot cooking. Allowing the meal to sit in it’s own juices for hours seems to heighten the flavor of every bite. I look for chances in life to add a crockpot mentality to my tasks. Taking the crockpot approach to sermon preparation allows me to let passages soak in my mind for several weeks before I present them. This means when I stand up to preach, the wrestling is done and the passage feels like an old friend.

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Most of my sermons take four weeks to prepare. That doesn’t mean I’m working on one sermon for four weeks, but that every week I’m working on four sermons. Each week I have a specific goal to accomplish for each sermon:

Week One: I need to understand what the text says. I have two study sessions set aside during week one in which I devote my efforts to exegeting the text.

Week Two: I need to determine how this text applies to our church community. During week two, I work through several exercises to help me look at the passage from several different angles. The fruit of week two is several short “next step” ideas.

Week Three: I need to discern the most effective method for communicating the truths I’ve unpacked. As in week two, I’ve created several exercises which help me consider a variety of possibilities for my sermon presentation. The goal of week three is not to create or find new content, but to arrange the content I’ve already discovered.

Week Four: I need to get ready to preach. Throughout this week, I have several tasks to accomplish so that Sunday’s sermon will be clear and concise. I also use week four to create a variety of follow-up materials for those who desire to go further with the sermon.

You can download the google doc template I use to work through my planning process at the link below:

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Different sermons lend themselves to different processes, so I may deviate from this template from time to time, but it is my starting point for every sermon. I’ll post later about some of the exercises I use each week, but you can see them all listed at the template link above.

If you have questions or would like to chat more about this template, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.

You Are Not The Hero of Your Sermon

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Preaching is presenting. So I hone my craft by learning from other presenters.

Preaching, however, is far more important and urgent than presenting. Most presenters are selling something (a product, a subscription, themselves). When I preach, I’m not selling anything, I’m just point to Someone. The Holy Spirit does the selling work.

My message is far more critical than the message of any pitch artist, but I am communicating to people, just like every other pitch artist. So I hone my craft by learning from pitch artists.

6 Pitching Tips To Impress Any Audience is an article by Jon Levy. You can read the whole thing on your own, but I wanted to zero in on his second tip.

In a great pitch, the hero is your pitching audience–only they can save the day. Your idea is the tool that they will use to vanquish the enemy. Allow the story to play into their ego.

Stop making yourself out to be the hero, because it does not matter if you’re amazing. What matters is that they can use your knowledge, experience, strategy or product to save the day.

I think he’s partially helpful for preachers here. Stop making yourself out to be the hero, because it does not matter if you’re amazing.

We are absolutely not the hero of our presentation, however, neither is our audience. God should always be the hero of every sermon we preach. If we have a secondary hero, it can be the listener. It should never be the preacher.

Matt Chandler brilliantly made this point several years ago while preaching at Steven Furtick’s “Code:Orange” revival (watch it here).

Practically, this has a few implications for Sunday’s sermon.

  1. If the congregation leaves with a sense that they know me better than they did before, but they don’t know God better than they did before; I’ve failed.
  2. The wisdom which undergirds my sermon should come from God’s Word not my mind and the humor that spices up my sermon should be honoring to God, not me.
  3. If I use myself in an illustration, I should be the heel or the villain, not the hero. How can I expect my congregation to humbly approach the throne if I only speak of my virtues and never my vices or shortcomings?
  4. Those who hear my preach should be overwhelmed by God’s grace, not my eloquence.

I am not suggesting you not let your personality shine through. If God has given you the gift of teaching, use your gift to it’s fullest! But use it to point people to God, not back to yourself!

How to Bake the Perfect Sermon

The most difficult task when preparing a sermon is knowing what NOT to say.

Almost every week, more of my study material is left out of the sermon than makes it in. I ruthlessly cut and trim because I want to sharpen the main point of the message.

I recently read a tweet from @JoshWeidmann. He quoted H.B. Charles , “People don’t want to know the details of the recipe, they just want to smell the fresh baked bread.” My pre-sermon study discoveries are the flour and the eggs and the yeast and whatever else you put into your bread (raisins maybe). The sermon is what comes out of the oven.

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I came across this article at Fast Company recently. The author, Judith Humphrey, writes this:

Streamline your thinking down to a single, essential idea–the point you want your audience to buy into. Sometimes speakers have too many ideas, or else they have no idea what they’re trying to say. Too many ideas or no idea–both produce the same thing: confusion.

If I can’t identify my main point before I stand up to preach, I am likely to do my listeners the great disservice of confusing them with my words instead of pointing them to His Words.

Humphrey suggests five criteria by which to evaluate your message before you speak. If your message meets all five, you are ready to present a clear and compelling concept which will hopefully lead to action.

  1. It’s one idea
  2. You can express it in a single, clear sentence
  3. It’s engaging
  4. It carries your convictions
  5. It’s positive

Her five criteria all apply to sermons as well. Checking your message against this list may help you bake just the right sermon for next Sunday.

Prepare To Preach By Creating An Elevator Pitch

Preaching is not pitching. However, pitching is communicating and so is preaching. Before you attempt to speak for 30-45 minutes, you should be able to deliver your main point in 90 seconds or less.

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What is the one thing you want people to take with them when they leave? This is your elevator pitch. By turning my sermon into an elevator pitch before I preach, I know exactly what I must communicate and I know how to evaluate my sermon when I’m done.

Try creating an elevator pitch of your sermon. Then fill in the gaps with supporting Scripture, compelling illustrations and practical next steps.

Check out this article by Ryan Robinson about crafting an elevator pitch that leaves a lasting impression.

How I Use Pinterest To Prepare Sermons

Pinterest is likely not the first place most pastors turn for help in preparing their sermons. Pinterest may, however, be at least one place pastors turn before they finish preparing their sermons. Those who are willing to at least give it a shot and create an account may discover a trove of resources they never expected. I use Pinterest almost every week when preparing to preach. Here are three resources I regularly mine from this social media network:

Story-Telling Help

6dd9a3412b7a628418018e9c0b1ce9a5If you are a preacher, you are a story-teller. You should be regularly working to hone your story-telling craft. Pinterest is over-run with writers and aspiring writers who love to share their trade secrets with one another. Searching terms such as “story”, “writing” or “plot” will reveal lists, links, articles and charts all designed to make you a better story teller. I attempt to spend a little time each week reading story-telling material. I look for places in each sermon to implement the lessons I’m learning. Occasionally, when it works, I’ll structure a sermon as if it is one long story. While these skills can be learned elsewhere, a few clicks on Pinterest often proves beneficial and time-efficient.

Quotes

Quotations make great illustrations. Sometimes others have explained a concept using words that are much more sticky than anything I could manufacture. I may use an exact quotation in a sermon or I may refer to one and paraphrase it. I may discover a quote that prompts a line of thinking for me which leads me to an “aha” moment. I might just include a quote in the sermon follow-up materials I distribute via YouVersion.

Pinterest is a wonderland of quotations. Simply type in a topic or concept and begin scrolling. You will quickly discover many visual quotes and the more you click, the further down the rabbit hole you’ll go. Pinterest remembers your searches and your clicks, so the more you use the site, the better it will know you and it will sort your search results more efficiently. (You can see some of the quotes I’ve saved over the past few months here.)

Lists of Words

bf33e991ff6fa69bb22755396204e01cIn a 30 minute sermon, I’ll use anywhere between 3500-5000 words. I want these words to be chosen wisely and to effectively communicate my message. I don’t want my words to be a distraction because they are repetitive, imprecise or misused. In addition to avoiding “um” and “ah” (I’m still working on this one), I hate when I say “things” because I’ve demonstrated I wasn’t quite ready to communicate an important truth.

Pinterest is crawling with word charts. If you want to avoid saying “thing”, you can find 200 better words to use.  Do you want to communicate badness but want a better word than “bad”? Abhorrent, abominable and appalling are just 3 of the 100 words you can discover on Pinterest. I have a Pinterest board titled, “Expanding My Arsenal of Words.” Every week, I pull up one or two lists of words I’ve clipped and read through them a couple times. By filling my mind with alternative words, I’m growing my working vocabulary. This practice spills over into my preaching and empowers me to be more precise and concise.

Pinterest can feel like a non-preacherly site to visit. It may not work for you. However, if you give it a shot, you may discover a new source of material which will aid your sermon preparation process.

I imagine others use Pinterest as a piece of their sermon preparation process as well. If that’s you, I’d love to hear how you are benefiting from this site

The Post-Sermon Play-by-Play

Every so often I have a Sunday morning experience that I am quite certain is not unique to me. I call it the “Yes|But”. Anyone who preaches on a regular basis has probably tasted the “Yes|But” at some point in their ministry.

The “Yes|But” sounds something like this, “Pastor, I agree with what you said, BUT…”

Sound familiar?


Before you decide I’m being overly critical of the “Yes|But”, please allow me to finish. I have discovered that the Yes But can teach me a great deal about the words I just spoke.

Sometimes, when confronted by the “Yes|But”, I find myself feeling defensive. I immediately begin planning my response. I look for ways to show the Yes Butter that they are clearly in the wrong.

You can be certain that this response clearly indicates that the words I just preached were not God’s, they were my own.

The more defensive I am of the words I preach, the more likely it is that they reflect my ideas, not God’s.

Sometimes, though, when confronted with the “Yes|But”, I don’t feel the least bit defensive. Sometimes I feel quite peaceful, and sometimes, I have found myself feeling a genuine concern for the spiritual journey of the person speaking to me. When I don’t feel the need to defend my words, it is likely that they were really Gods words.

The beauty of speaking the Word of God is that I never have to defend myself. As long as I can say, “I am simply preaching directly from the Word of God”, I never have to worry about the “Yes|But”. I can always respond (at least in my mind), “you don’t have to agree with me, but please make sure you aren’t disagreeing with God.”