N.T. Wright is among the two or three most influential theologians alive today. And recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with him.
If you're leading a church, you're probably gifted. God's given you some skills which you bring out on a regular basis to build the church. Maybe it's a preaching or leadership. Perhaps you're a great evangelist or strategic thinker. Whatever your talent is, it ain't enough.
Your talents aren't enough to do what God has asked of you. If they were, then you wouldn't need God. Can you get to a certain level on your own? Sure. But to take the work of God in your hands to greater heights, you're going to have to see that your talent alone just won't cut it. Your people deserve you to be more than who you are naturally.
To your talent, you'll need to add the following to steward your talent well:
Study Don't just rely on your gifts. Work your mind to make them better. Get that seminary degree. Dust off the Greek and Hebrew. Your people need you to know what you're talking about.
Fidelity Talent and faithfulness aren't the same. In fact, a lot of talented people get discouraged and quit. Don't. You'll have to become faithful to be truly fruitful.
Practice Talent is just a sign of untapped potential. If you're naturally a good communicator, imagine how good you'd be if you practiced. Do the hours, do the reps. Get better.
Coaching Whatever you're talent is, I guarantee there's some better. Find that person and beg them to coach you. You're never too old, too good, or too lofty to get good kick and a hug.
Your talents aren't enough. But, they're a great place to start. Get a plan, and get to work on them to maximize your effectiveness for Jesus.
I've had the privilege of leading a preaching lab recently. It's been a blast. This process has forced me to clarify how I prepare my sermons. Some time back, I heard Mark Driscoll offer his set of questions that he asked himself during sermon prep, which started me thinking along this line. (Giving credit where it's due here. I don't care what you think about Mark Driscoll, so please, don't get distracted). But now that I've been at it for a while, here are the 8 questions I ask myself when I'm getting a sermon ready:
- What does the text say? What am I reading? What's happening in the text? This question discovers what's actually going on at face value. Very important to hold off interpreting until you read it a few times.
- What does the text mean? Now come the tools of hermeneutics and exegesis. How, according to the rules of good Bible reading, am I to interpret what the text says.
- What is the hook? Every good song has a hook—the part we remember in the chorus, even if we forget the verses. Sermons should have hooks if preachers want the content remembered.
- What are the defeater beliefs? What am I preaching that will be stopped by the inherent defeaters my audience believes? What pre-existent beliefs are opposing the gospel?
- How will I overcome the defeater beliefs? If you don't mention their defeaters and start defeating them, then your people will quietly begin exuding themselves from obedience.
- Where is Jesus? How is Jesus exalted in the text? This is where you get out your Bryan Chappell and Tim Keller books and make sure you're not just pasting justification-by-faith at the end of your sermon. Think about it. He's there. Show them where.
- What do I want the Christians in the room to do? How should they apply your preaching? Repent? Sign up for a group? Evangelize? You'd better tell them, or they probably won't do much.
- What do I want the non-Christians in the room to do? If you care about people who aren't yet Christians, you need to start telling them what to do as well. How should they respond? Remember, you're preaching to Christians and to non-Christians every week. Let me know you know they're there, and that you love them by talking to them too.
Yes, a lot more goes into prepping a sermon than this. But, this is how I start to organize my thoughts. Did I miss something?
I love being a pastor. But, having been around a lot of pastors at our various confabs around the world, I've noticed something unhealthy. Some of my brethren are afraid to ask their people tough questions.
Actually, let me include myself in that. Sometimes I am afraid to ask my people tough questions.
But, ask we must. Why? Because Jesus has called us to tend his flock and to add to it. Our lives are, according to David Hansen's book The Art of Pastoring, to be lived out parables of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we're going to do that well, then we'll need to know the answers to some tough-to-ask questions.
- Are you actually following Jesus? Lots of people who do church things are not Church people. Notice the capitals there—they may be in your church but they're not part of The Church. There are those in all our congregations who act churchishly. They go to gatherings, give a little money, and appreciate that the youth group keeps their teen out of trouble. But, they're not Church people—part of the bought, bled-for, bride of Christ. They're not following Jesus. A pastor should never, ever be afraid of asking anyone in his church if they are actually following Jesus like a disciple should. "Is Christ your treasure? Is he Lord and Master of your life? Are you really trusting him as Savior?" We must ask these questions, often.
- Who do you hate / What are you angry about right now?
You need to know what anger, fear, and hatred is living in your people right now. If we're going to shepherd the flock of God among us, then we must know what's hurting them. This is especially true if you pastor a church that isn't exactly like you. I pastor a rapidly growing, very diverse church. So I must ask this one, often.This question has helped me be a better pastor for everyone. For example, when some issue of racial injustice blazes across America, that will probably create some righteous (and maybe some unrighteous) anger in the hearts of the African-Americans in my church. I love them, but I might not automatically feel what they feel. I'm white, and have never been the victim of racism. I don't know what it feels like. I have to ask them, and not pretend I already know—because I don't. Or, if some issue of political scandal is raging in Washington, it will make half my church happy and the other half sad or angry (Party politics and all). I need to know that, if I'm to shepherd them well. So, I have to ask.Now, this question has brought up some hard conversations. Hard for some to say, and hard for me to hear. But Jesus didn't call us to skip the hard stuff. He called us to preach the whole counsel of God. Knowing what angers and hurts our people is critical to gospel application.
Also, this question helps the people in your pews who aren't just like you know you love them, and care to understand their experiences. I really do care, but I can't actively pastor the people I care for if I don't ask this one.
- If you were me, what would you do differently? This is a dangerous question, because everyone has opinions on what we pastors do. And, just like I don't know what it's like to be a banker, mother, teacher, etc., no one but me knows what it's like to pastor my people. So before you ask, you have to decide you won't be defensive.This question helps your people understand that you love them, and what to do your best for them. Also, as a leadership tip, this question prevents blow-ups. I can say that up to this point we haven't had any major explosions in our church, but we've had a few near misses! Asking this question helped sniff them out before the bomb went off.And hey, Pastor, you just don't know everything you should be doing. Practice some of that Christian community you're always talking about and let someone speak some truth to you.
Ask these tough questions, brothers. They'll make you better and help you love your people more like Christ.
I was recently privileged to be asked to speak at Campus Harvest. Here's the message I preached.
On this Resurrection Sunday Pastor Adam helps us understand the resurrection of Jesus and its implications from the perspective of four different characters in John 20. We discover that because Jesus is alive, everything can change.
The Advent Changes everything. Before Jesus stepped into the scene, God coming to help out directly seemed like an anomaly in an otherwise closed universe. Humanity was enslaved to the merciless consistency of cause and effect. Cause: sin. Effect: death. Cause: sin. Effect: pain. Cause: sin. Effect: brokenness. But that was before Advent—before the chain was broken, when the lid to universe was opened from the top and the creator stepped in.
You and I and everyone else who has put their ultimate hope in Jesus will be singing for ten thousand forevers of the mystery and effect of the Advent. So, I'm not going to pretend to unpack it all in one brief blog. But I do think that it's worth a moment, given the season, to consider a few very important ways the Advent changes everything.
The Advent means Nobody is a Nobody ...there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them... (Lk. 2:8b-9a)
Shepherds were nobodies. Shepherds in the backwoods of Bethlehem, which was in the backwoods of Jerusalem, were the nobodies of nobodies. And yet, God sent legions of angels to sing in their presence of the birth of Jesus—them! If God almighty chooses to reveal the good news of the Gospel of Jesus first and foremost to the nobodies of the world, then everyone—without exception—qualifies to hear it. No one is too low, too unimportant, nor too high and self-important, to miss it. When God's armies show up to nobodies, all of a sudden they become somebodies. Now, nobody is a nobody. That's great news, especially if you've ever been tempted to think yourself too small or unimportant for God to use you or speak to you. If you're small, then you qualify.
The Advent Means God is Incomprehensibly Loving And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Lk. 2:10-11)
Love can be measured by the cost of its givenness. That is, you love someone only in proportion to your willingness to sacrifice for them. The Advent therefore can only mean that God is incomprehensibly loving, because he gave in the most helpless and humble state his own son to a race of beings which deserved him least. If God has done such a thing, then questions of his love for humanity are now answered with an unshakable proof—he gave us his son. He loves us, and the Advent makes this a settled fact.
The Advent means We can be Changed And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Lk. 2:20)
The shepherds came back to their fields changed. That's precisely what the Advent does—when Jesus comes to us, and we come to him, the only right response is exactly what the shepherds did—worship. The delight of the heart into which Jesus has come is worship. This is the feast for the hunger after God. This is the consummation of the love of God. And, this the proof positive that these shepherds where changed, all because of an encounter with Jesus. And if Jesus can change them, then good news: he can change me too.
Tonight was a great night—easily the most successful Christmas event we at Aletheia have ever done. My prayer, though, goes way past numbers or meetings. My prayer is that width would be quickly accompanied by depth. My prayer after a great Sunday night like tonight is that, in my great city, the news of the Advent of the Son of God would change absolutely everything.