Welcome to my blog. I will be posting some practical and reflective thoughts regarding the peculiar speech known as preaching. I invite you to offer comments and ask questions in this virtual community of people who recognize that preaching matters.
Pastors are called not merely to grow a church
by developing programs. They are, instead, primarily called to architect a
church culture that aligns with the values of Christ. Working in collaboration with
God and the leaders of the local church to architect a culture is pain-staking
and time-consuming. Usually the fruit of cultural architecture doesn’t bloom
through the ground for 3-5 years, the average tenure of pastors in America. If
this is true, too many pastors resign from their local church too soon.
I was privileged to be a part of a local
church that turned a significant corner toward becoming a vibrant movement.
This church which was, for a long time, known as an insular holy huddle became
a part of the 1% of churches whose growth came from conversion. In fact, as the
church tripled in size more than 50% of its growth came by way of conversion
not transfer. Energy once devoted to pot-lucks and hymn-sings was re-assigned
toward feeding the hungry, housing the poor and helping the addicted. This
church, once known nationally as a racist flock, became one of the most
multi-ethnic churches in its community.
Programs didn’t change the cultural DNA of
this church. So, how can a pastor partner with God and lay leaders in
architecting a kingdom-aligned culture? Glad you asked. Here’s the journey one
local church made in the quest to become a culture congruent with Christ:
-Pray it: When a ship gets off course for many years,
it takes a miraculous act of God to redirect it. Significant change in the
cultural DNA of a local church will not happen unless the people fast and pray,
not just for the healing of Aunt Sally’s bunion, but for the empowering of the
Spirit upon the church. Frequent prayer gatherings (concerts of prayer, vigils,
40 days of prayer, retreats) can cultivate the soil of the church for the rain
(and reign) of Christ which brings cultural change.
-Communicate it: The local church I reference
above focused significant time on preaching and teaching from Luke 4:18-22,
where Jesus describes the anointing of the Spirit for the sake of the
marginalized. Communicating cultural values through preaching, teaching, testimony,
and small group curriculum is imperative. This allows the church to wrestle
with the biblical and theological foundations that undergird their cultural transition.
-Embody it: What the leadership team embodies and values,
in word and deed, will determine the cultural DNA of a local church. It doesn’t
matter what the vision plaque on the wall states, if the elected, appointed,
and hired leaders in the church do not embody the values of a culture congruent
with the character of Christ, positive cultural change will not happen. For
example, if you want to become a church that cares for the poor and addicted
but the leaders never spend time sharing life with the poor and addicted,
cultural change will be unlikely.
-Budget it: Cultural change in the local church happens
when the church puts its money where its mouth is. So, if the church says it values
the poor but it quickly decides to upgrade music equipment instead of helping a
single mom with four kids pay her electric bill, does it really value the poor?
If the church wants to become a culture of global generosity but decides on a
new, and unnecessary, projector while postponing the adoption of a village in
Africa, the cultural change it longs for will not happen.
-Schedule it: The church calendar says a lot about the
culture of a congregation. Lots of churches want a culture of care for the “lost,”
(a term they should not use if they want to actually reach the lost), yet their
calendar is void of any intentional contact with people who are lost. They
reserve space on the church campus for the Christian Business Men’s Association
and the Senior Women’s Bible Study, but don’t allow groups like Narcotics
Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous to corrode the church carpets. Make room in the
calendar and on the campus for the culture God seeks.
-Recruit it: Take your time hiring, recruiting, electing,
equipping, encouraging and empowering the kind of people who value the kind of
culture you believe God is calling the church to embody. That
culture-transitioning congregation described earlier hired an ex-convict to be
one of her pastors. It made complete sense for a church that wanted to foster a
culture where “captives were set free.” As you fill positions in your church,
avoid the warm body syndrome that simply seeks to find someone, anyone to fill
the gap. Instead, take your time and prayerfully select people whose values
align with the culture God is calling the church to embrace.
When all of the dots above connect
consistently for 3-5 years, culture tends to happen. Connecting these dots
demonstrates to God that we are serious about becoming the church he is calling
us to be for the sake of the world. And, when we do our part God will show up
for “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show
himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2
Consider sharing this with your leadership
team and discussing the following questions:
-In which areas above are we hitting a
homerun? -In which areas above are we striking out? -How can we maximize our strengths and address
our weaknesses to foster the kind of culture that is congruent with the Christ’s
just returned from speaking at a camp in Iowa. Over three days I spoke six
times. I’m exhausted but rejuvenated. Go figure. As I reflect on this most
recent ministry adventure and previous speaking opportunities at camps and
conferences, there are several insights I wanted to get “on paper” while they’re
fresh in my head. I am blogging my thoughts to initiate a conversation with
other camp/conference speakers, especially those with way more experience at
this sort of thing than I have.
·Pace yourself with
The amount of energy it takes to deliver a passionate message to people
expecting a life-giving word from God through you is substantial. If you speak
more than once each day, the exhaustion is even more severe. A 15-30 minute nap
once or twice each day, especially an hour or two before you speak, can replenish
your energy reserves.
·Take opportunities to
minister outside of the speaking events: Public speaking, though exhilarating, is energy-draining
and gut-wrenching. However, despite the fatigue, look for the chance to counsel
and pray with people outside of the speaking events. Your most significant ministry
impact may occur in those one-on-one meetings.
·Take your family with
Even though your primary ministry will be to those who attend the event,
perhaps you can invite your family along for the adventure. Of course, you
cannot do every activity with your family that they would like for you to do
because of the time you will need to counsel and pray with people, as well as to
prepare for speaking. It’s important to communicate to your family your time
limits and primary focus, but taking them with you allows for ministry memories
and a mini-vacation of sorts.
·Internalize the message
early in the day:
Most preachers have their own particular ritual for internalizing the message
for delivery. If you don’t, try waking up an hour or two before breakfast and
begin internalization early. This will give the message more time to simmer and,
during delivery, come out of the speaker fully cooked.
·Express public appreciation
to the group and her leaders: Sometimes the camp/conference speaker comes
across as an arrogant expert, God’s gift to the unclean masses. Humility goes a
long way in getting a hearing and receiving a future invitation. One of the
ways the speaker can express humility in an authentic way is to appreciate the
group and her leaders with a few thoughtful sentences beyond the typical “thank
you,” “you’re a great crowd,” and “what a good looking bunch.”