2 Great Prayers for Preachers

I collect prayers and quotes for use before I preach and lead worship. Here are two great ones I found recently:Spurgeon

May the great and gracious Spirit, who is the only illumination of darkness, light up my mind whilst I attempt, in a brief and hurried manner, to speak from this text. —Charles Spurgeon

Dear God, through Your beloved Son You have said that those who hear Your Word are blessed.  How much more fitting it would be for us to bless You, praise, thank and laud You unceasingly, O eternal and merciful Father, with glad hearts, that You show Yourself so friendly—indeed, so like a father—to us poor little worms, that You speak to us about the greatest and highest of subjects—eternal life.  Nevertheless, You don’t stop there, enticing and wooing us to hear Your Word through Your Son.   He says: “Blessed are martin lutherthey who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  As if You couldn’t get by without our ears—we, who are dust and ashes!  Many thousand times more do we need Your Word.  O, how unspeakably great is Your goodness and patience!   On the other hand, woe!  Woe! over the ingratitude and colorblindness of those who not only don’t want to hear Your Word, but even stubbornly despise, persecute, and blaspheme it.  Amen. —Martin Luther

The Heart of Charles Spurgeon’s Preaching

This quote from one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons in 1894 shares what I think was the heart of his preaching—being and living in Christ:Lifeofcharleshad00rayciala_0494

“Often, when I come in at the door and my eyes fall on this vast congregation, I feel a tremor go through me to think that I should have to speak to you all and be, in some measure, accountable for your future state. Unless I preach the Gospel faithfully and with all my heart, your blood will be required at my hands. Do not wonder, therefore, that when I am weak and sick, I feel my head swim when I stand up to speak to you, and my heart is often faint within me. But I do have this joy at the back of it all—God does set many sinners free in this place! Some people reported that I was mourning that there were no conversions. Brothers and Sisters, if you were all to be converted tonight, I should mourn for the myriads outside! That is true, but I praise the Lord for the many who are converted here. When I came last Tuesday to see converts, I had 21 whom I was able to propose to the Church—and it will be the same next Tuesday, I do not doubt. God is saving souls! I am not preaching in vain. I am not despondent about that matter—liberty is given to the captives and there will be liberty for some of them, tonight! I wonder who it will be? Some of you young women over yonder, I trust. Some who have dropped in here, tonight, for the first time. Oh, may this first opportunity of your hearing the Word in this place be the time of beginning a new life which shall never end—a life of holiness, a life of peace with God!”

Charles Spurgeon Quotes about Preaching

Here are some great quotes from Charles Spurgeon about preaching that I found thought provoking::

  • All originality and no plagiarism makes for dull preaching.spurgeon
  • Whatever subject I preach, I do not stop until I reach the Savior, the Lord Jesus, for in Him are all things.
  • The man who cannot weep cannot preach. At least, if he never feels tears within, even if they do not show themselves without, he can scarcely be the man to handle such themes as those which God has committed to his people’s charge.
  • A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, “I will never hear that man again,” very often have an arrow rankling in their breast.
  • You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it. You cannot preach repentance unless you have practiced it. You cannot preach faith unless you have exercised it. True preaching is artesian; it wells up from the great depths of the soul. If Christ has not made a well within us, there will be no outflow from us.
  • He that can toy with his ministry and count it to be like a trade, or like any other profession, was never called of God. But he that has a charge pressing on his heart, and a woe ringing in his ear, and preaches as though he heard the cried of hell behind him, and saw his God looking down on him–oh, how that man entreats the Lord that his hearers may not hear in vain
  • If I only had one more sermon to preach before I died, it would be about my Lord Jesus Christ. And I think that when we get to the end of our ministry, one of our regrets will be that we did not preach more of Him. I am sure no minister will ever repent of having preached Him too much.

12 Questions Preachers Should Ask about their Sermons

Here are 12 questions for pastors to ask about their preaching. They relate to both particular sermons and the overall sermon.george whitfield preahcing

  1. Are you preaching both the Old Testament and the New Testament? Both need to be preached if you are going to give your people the full testimony of preaching.
  2. Are you helping people know AND do? Sermons need to be about both practical living and theological insight. Some sermons might be more one or the other, but your people need both on a regular basis.
  3. Are you only preaching what people want to hear? If everybody loved every one of your sermons then there is probably a problem. If they hate all your sermons there is probably a problem too. People need to be both convicted and encouraged.
  4. Are you using the right number of stories and examples? There is a problem when you tell too many or too few examples and stories. Too many and people can actually lose the point. Too few and people won’t remember the point. Some points require more or less examples.
  5. Are you too point driven? People don’t remember points. They don’t think in points. They think in stories. They remember images. Gone are the days when your sermon should be jammed into a 3 or 4 points system.
  6. Do you have too much or too little energy? If you are monotone and never get excited then your people will sleep. If you are too bubbly and wild then your people will be scared. You need variety and to avoid extremes.
  7. Do you have too much or too little tradition? I like tradition. I like history. I like the creeds. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. People live today, not 500 years ago.
  8. Are you too focused on Biblical themes or particular passages? There are times when certain large biblical themes that need to come up in sermons. There are other times when a particular passage needs mined for all of the precious nuggets in it. Both are important.
  9. Are you preaching the same message every week? So many pastors have their hobby horse like evangelism or social justice. You are not just preaching what you like. Not every sermon and topic can come back to the same idea that you like.
  10. Are you preaching to your congregation? This sounds dumb, but many pastors preach with little or no regard for where their congregation is. Is your preaching simple enough? Does is speak to real issues in your congregation?
  11. Are your conclusion too open ended or too specific? The best sermons have guidance on what to think about and how to apply them but also leave room for the message to haunt people throughout the week.
  12. Who is the hero in your sermons? It should be Jesus. Our faith is not about self-help. It is about God-help and how we turn around and help others.


Why I don’t always Preach Exegetically (but I think it is cool that you do)

There is a big discussion going on in the world of preaching right now about how pastors should preach. At one extreme is the die-hard exegetical preachers. These preachers generally preach text by text through sections of scripture and stick almost exclusively to the Bible. Sermons often come in series through Biblical books or passages on particular themes. On the other extreme are topical preachers that use some scripture but are primarily driven by the topic they are discussing. Sermons from these preacher center on themes for applying your faith to your life.

Pulpit Bible

Most pastors are in the middle somewhere or preach a variety, yet there are vocal proponents of both extremes. Exegetical preachers argue that you must be guided the text so that you take ideas out of the text (called exegesis) and you do not read your own ideas into the text (called eisegesis). The topical preacher often counters that preaching needs to connect with the congregation where they are.

There are great examples of both styles of preaching. John Calvin preached verse by verse through almost all of the Bible in Geneva. His commentaries come from his sermons. On the other side, Charles Spurgeon was a topical preacher known as “The Prince of Preacher.” Thought we should also not that Calvin preached with sensitivity to the issues in his world and Spurgeon was very biblical.

So while I think that it is crucial that we as preachers to submit to the authority of scripture and not just give opinion, I also think that both kinds of sermons are necessary. Here is why I don’t always preach exegetically:

1. There is no command to preach exegetically in the Bible. There is not even an example of exegetical preaching in the Bible. Jesus, Peter, and Paul all preach in a way that is soaked in scripture but they do not exegete a text. To define biblical preaching in this way is actually not biblical.

2. Exegetical preaching is a very modern way of preaching. The early church was not exegetical, though they were focused on scripture. They were more focused on metaphor than verse by verse analysis. I do not think we should make a commandment out of something that the church has not done much in its history.

3. Exegetical preaching does not always help preachers preach variety. I have heard many preacher who preach exegetically but still always find their same message in every passage. Isn’t it convenient how people can find their own opinion in every text?

4. The Bible is one book and has lots of themes and topics throughout. I want to preach the fullness of those things. Some of those themes can only be seen by looking at the full testimony of scripture. For example, I once preached a sermon on the theme of water in scripture and found some great insights by not sticking with one particular passage. Most exegetical preachers will miss out on some of those things that the Bible has to teach us.

5. We proclaim Jesus as the Word made flesh. I have heard preachers proclaim the Word (the Bible) as if it saves people. The Bible does not save us. The Bible is not a 4th member of the Trinity.

6. The Bible itself is open to other ways that God is proclaimed and glorified. If the Bible says that mountains and rocks and stars can proclaim God’s glory then why do preachers get in the pulpit and insist that only that Bible can glorify God? Surely our culture also has reflections of God’s glory that can be given voice in sermons.

7. I am not as scared of eisegesis as others are. The Bible talks about how we have the Holy Spirit. Why can’t the Holy Spirit give a preacher a message and then they go and find a text to fit that message? Also, when we go to write a sermon it is not the first time we have ever read the Bible. There is nothing wrong with understanding a biblical principle and then backing into a text.

So in the end I preach both ways. I like to do my work in series. Sometimes I will do a series on a theological topic, a cultural issue, or a theme like prayer. Other times I will preach straight through books of the Bible or important passages. I think that pastors should have some variety.

If you are not an exegetical preacher, make sure you have systems in place to make sure you are not just preaching things people want to hear or things that make you sound impressive. And if you are a die-hard exegetical preacher, I appreciate your discipline, but have some grace for those of us who do things a little differently.



Why I don’t Preach the Lectionary (but I think it is cool that you do)

Throughout Jewish and Christian history there have been various sets of readings for both daily use and Sabbath use. These are sometimes referred to as lectionaries. In 1994 a major ecumenical lectionary was released after years of study and experimentation called the Revised Common Lectionary. This 3 year cycle of texts for Sundays includes a Psalm, an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading. This lectionary is used by many mainline denominations including a number of Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist bodies.

Billy Sunday

It has become quite popular to preach from these texts. Commentaries have been developed as well as liturgical resources to accompany those texts and themes. There are many die-hard fans of preaching this way. In fact, many pastors go so far as to say that all pastors should follow the lectionary. It is helpful because it takes the guess work out of picking sermons, forces pastors to preach a variety, and there are so many resources available for lectionary preaching. IF there is no system in place, pastors often end up preaching out of their own passions and not their weaknesses so they end up passing their weaknesses on to their congregations.

I am not a lectionary preacher. I appreciate the idea. I use a lot of those lectionary resources and even do some of my liturgy based on those themes. Still, I don’t preach the lectionary except on a few important dates. Here is why I don’t preach the lectionary:

  1. I find it constricting. I know that some people have trouble coming up with sermon ideas. I never seem to have that trouble.
  2. The lectionary skips things and is not complete itself. The lectionary does not have every text or even every book of the Bible in it. It also often jumps over troublesome verses.
  3. I don’t follow strictly to the church year. I track with Lent and Advent, but some of the other days (like Pentecost, Ascension, or Epiphany) I only emphasize every couple of years.
  4. The lectionary does not always work. Preaching the lectionary does not guarantee that it forces the pastor to preach a variety or in their weak areas. I have found that pastors have the ability to find what they want to say even if they are preaching the lectionary. They can also favor certain areas of scripture and pick the text that week that fits them best.
  5. There are other ways to fix the problems that the lectionary is trying to solve. I have found that I can find variety and preach my weak areas by listen to the Holy Spirit and by preaching through books of the Bible. I actually like to push myself to preach wherever I am being pushed and whatever I am comfortable with

I think that the lectionary is a good idea. If you are not a lectionary preacher I would encourage every pastor to look at it and try it. And if you are a lectionary preacher, I appreciate your discipline, but don’t have to try to make me a lectionary preacher. Even though it may be helpful, it is not a biblical commandment and it is not for everybody.


Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore your Church Building

I am a firm believer that our lives our like stories. We tend to embody the story that we see ourselves in. In other words, we tend to dress, live in homes, and drive cars that fit our story about ourselves. We see this in people who are really depressed. Often they do not take care of themselves. They are disheveled and unkempt. They don’t shower as much or pick up after themselves. As people get healthy and come out of depression they tend to physically look healthier.Church Front

Our appearance not only reflects how we feel but it can also change how we feel. If we are feeling down, we can dress up. Or if we need to relax we can put on comfortable clothes. If people want to get in shape they often go out and buy athletic clothing. This is not only important for exercise, it also helps us play the part we are wanting to play in the story of us being physically fit.

When I look at many of our church buildings, I see that they perfectly reflect how many churches feel. The buildings look depressed and broken down. They often smell funny and have firmly established cobwebs and decade old dust piles. There is junk piled not just in every closet but in every corner and on every shelf. The front of the sanctuary is so cluttered that it shouts out—“We are disorganized and random.”

The effect for fancy churches can be just as troubling. These churches can tell the story that we think we are important and we care a lot about people’s opinion. The resulting insight is that only people who are wealthy and clean can come here.

You may not realize or think about the story your building is telling, but your visitors will. So it is time to get intentional about your buildings.

  1. Your building can give you clues about how your congregation feels about itself. Try to look around your church property and ask what story your building is telling. This might give you insights into where your church is struggling. Is the nursery dirty? Are offices neglected? Or is everything in need of help?
  2. Your building can help teach people to care about visitors (or not). I am a firm believer that the church exists primarily for the people that are not there. Your building can get in the way of that, or you can use the building to help create that value. Ask your people to start thinking about the building from the perspective of someone who does not already go there. This can help people be aware of the world.
  3. Your building can help change how people feel about themselves. Just like dressing up can make you feel better, changing your property can make your church feel different. Can you clean things up? Paint? Add some banners to plain walls? Any little thing can built momentum for your church.
  4. Your building can improve (or hurt) your ministry. For example, well over half of communication is non-verbal. Clutter communicates that we are disorganized, unclean, and unprofessional. If you declutter the front of your sanctuary your music and preaching will probably sound better and be well received just because people can and will pay more attention. Also, do you have a social hall that an outside organization or ministry would want to meet in? Could improving your meeting space help create partnerships in your community?

One other areas that I see churches hurt themselves in the area of temperature. Many churches, to save money, try to use the temperature controls as little as possible. That means that the church is freezing cold in the winter and roasting hot in the summer. This is a mistake. It tells the story that your church is cheap and unwelcoming. It may save you some money immediately, but it also costs you money. What people will end up doing is avoiding coming to church when it is too hot or too cold. When people miss church, they often do not make up their giving later. That means that you are costing yourself attendance and giving in order to save a few bucks. Turn your heat up in the winter. Put in window air conditioners or good fans in the summer. Tell the story that you care about the people more than the dollars. It will pay off for you.

In the last year at my church we have done a lot of little things to make our building look better. A new roof and a new boiler was costly, but most of the other things we did cost little to no money. We added banners, had some cleaning days, got rid of a lot of stuff, added window air conditioners, and did some painting. I have been surprised how much these little things have impacted the feel of our church. What might you be able to try?

10 Tips for Keeping Sabbath in 2015 (SABBATH PT 5)

rest hereIn my previous blogs about the Sabbath I have argued that we really need the Sabbath today. I also said that the Sabbath cannot just be a bunch of rules but needs to be based on grace.

I am not sure that it is feasible to do Sabbath the same way that ancient Israel did. If you can then great, but I don’t think that way of doing Sabbath works in 2015. So, here are 10 tips to think about for doing Sabbath in 2015:

  1. Schedule it. Whatever your Sabbath habit, it will not happen if it is not on the calendar. Put God in first and schedule the rest of your life around that date.
  2. Sabbath does not have to be Sunday. I am a pastor which means that for me Sabbath is not just A workday but it is THE workday. I have to rest at other times. Our culture does not treat Sunday as a special day anymore so many people have to work on Sunday. Find other times to rest.
  3. Piece Sabbath together. I have 4 kids so I almost never get at 24 hour period of Sabbath. I have actually found that it fits me better to piece together my Sabbath throughout the week. There is something special about longer periods of rest, but sometimes resting a little every day is just as important.
  4. Don’t half-way Sabbath. It may not be Sunday and it may not be a 24 hour period, but a Sabbath must be focused on rest. You cannot rest and kind-of work. If you are working then you are not resting. Put the work away. Otherwise you are not effectively working or resting.
  5. Write down what you have to do. I find it easier to really rest and stop worrying about work when I have a good list of what I have to get done. I also find that when I Sabbath I start remembering things I have to do. I Sabbath with a piece of paper handy so I can capture those and then not worry about them. This lets my mind relax.
  6. Try different activities. Sabbath is a time of resting and refreshing. You have to experiment to find what activities (or lack of activities) does that for you. Sometimes you need fed spiritually. Sometimes you need sleep. Sometimes you need a distraction. Take a nap, play a game, go for a run, watch a movie… Your Sabbath may look different at different times. Try different things and see what works.
  7. Have a deadline. One of the secrets to Sabbath is the deadline. If you have a clear time that your Sabbath begins then you can get motivated to get housework and work-work done by that time so you can fully rest. I don’t know about you, but I always work hardest right before going on vacation. I don’t want to have to worry about things or be working on things while I am away. If you have that kind of weekly deadline for Sabbath it will help both your productivity and your rest.
  8. Think Sunset to Sunset. We tend to think of the day starting in the morning, but I think that the old way of thinking about the day starting the night before is helpful. If you only have a morning of Sabbath on a certain day then start your Sabbath at sunset the night before. It will add to your rest.
  9. Cook meals ahead. Cooking (especially in big families) can be a lot of work. Put a meal in the crockpot or prep a casserole the day before so that you can easily share meals together on your Sabbath. This particularly helps mom to Sabbath.
  10. Live a life of Sabbath. We tend to see Sabbath as a break from the important things of our lives, but that is not Sabbath. Sabbath is the recognition that God is the most important thing. Live the other 6 days of the week with a focus on the Sabbath. It can change your life.