Sermon Preparation, 3

One of the greatest things pastors do to preach with God-honoring excellence is...NOT preach. Strategically, intentionally choosing when and where NOT to preach has resulted in some of the greatest seasons of creativity, passion, and effectiveness that I've ever experienced as a communicator. But you have to be really wise about it. There are some keys to remember when taking time off:

1. Schedule it only after a new ministry season is underway and running on its own steam. For example, the Sunday after Easter is an opportunity to reconnect with those folks who came Easter and decided to come back and see what it's really like. Good time for the primary teacher to be in the saddle.
2. Do the upfront work of developing and anointing other teachers. For your time out of the pulpit/off the stage to be truly time off, you have to know that the responsibility of God-honoring preaching/leading has just been handed off well and not fumbled. The lead pastor/teacher/preacher is still accountable for what happens in the preaching even though he/she isn't there. (And, the ultimate test of leadership always happens in the leader's absence.)
3. It strengthens your family. They need to experience the tangible evidence that they matter more to you than your job. Nothing communicates that more effectively than time. It is a great object lesson that needs no words that helps them appreciate, enjoy, and respect their spouses'/parents' calling rather than resent it.
4. Some issues are best left only to the senior pastor. The delivery of new vision/direction for the whole church, sermons about money, strong calls to repentance...these and other "big-picture" leadership issues are best delivered by, and received from, the senior pastor. It's a responsibility thang.

Preaching is one of the things that I LOVE about what God allows me to do. But, the reality is that Sunday is relentless. No matter what else happens, what leadership issues arise, what pastoral or personal crises need attention, Sunday is ALWAYS coming. And, to pray, prepare to preach demands big blocks of time. There is no short cut, no matter how long you've been doing it. Over a 2-3 month window, that takes a toll emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Time off and away from the weekly grind and blessing of sermon preparation refuels, recharges, and refreshes. And it's MANDATORY that a church not become dependent upon one voice to be the only reliable deliverer of God's word and leading. And, in this case, if it helps the pastor, it helps the church.



Hands & Feet This Weekend at LHC

We work and pray diligently for every worship experience to be an opportunity to introduce people to the extravagant love of God. However, this weekend I'm beginning a sermon series that is PERFECT to invite people for that reason. THROUGH OUR HANDS will be something you don't want to miss and a great excuse to bring someone with you to see what the Jesus thing is really all about.

Through Our Hands/Community Fair Invite from Lake Hills Church on Vimeo.


Sermon Preparation, 2

Very early in my ministry, Dr. Mike Hamlet (First Baptist Church, N. Spartanburg, SC) told me, "Preaching is 85% sweat." One of the things I've always appreciated about Mike is his candor (often seasoned with God-honoring sarcasm--no, really, it IS possible!) and the fact that he's typically dead right.

In his recent book Killing Cockroaches, Tony Morgan quotes David Foster, pastor of The Gathering in Franklin, TN:
"I operate on one key principle--great speaking comes from the overflow of preparation."

Preparation takes many different forms and comes in often unexpected ways. But there are a few non-negotiables:
1. PRAYER. Obviously, someone can get up in front of people and talk without praying, but that is not preaching. God-honoring, anointed, life-changing preaching begins, bathes, and ends with prayer. You have to invoke the power, presence, and prompting of the God you ostensibly serve by preaching.
2. STUDY. Scripture, Bible commentaries, topical books, alternative viewpoints, secular perspectives (contrary to, and consistent with, Scripture). If preaching is a spiritual/social exercise--and it is--then study is the diet that fuels the exercise.
3. EXPERIENCE. The most evocative, powerful illustrations are those that are born out of our life experiences. The audience automatically connects their personal stories to the ones shared in making a point. Almost every preacher I know is subconsciously trained to find illustrations in almost every experience. (Craig Groeschel posted some KEY thoughts about illustrations back in Feb. at swerve.lifechurch.tv)
4. FLOW. Prayer, Study, & Experience only help you find the ingredients. Creating a flow is what makes everything fit together in a cohesive, coherent way that people can and will follow you on the journey of a sermon. Flow is achieved through one thing: TRANSITIONS. It may be a word, a sentence, a pause, a phrase or a paragraph. But, transitions matter as much as almost any mechanical part of the message.
5. INFORMATION/APPLICATION. Bill Hybels says, "Tell them what they need to know. Then, tell them what to do." But long before Hybels ascended to a pulpit, that's how Jesus taught. Whether on the mountainside or in the synagogue, Jesus was much more deliberate about "how you should then live" than he was about the Hebrew root word chosen by Isaiah. Information feeds. Application leads.
Get it? Good.



Social(pathic) Networking

Let's say that you're applying for a job. Except, it's more than just a j-o-b. It's a calling, a vocation, that you truly want to invest your blood, sweat, and tears in and make a difference in the world while also earning a fair--OK, great--wage.

Now, let's say that in addition to your resume and references you are required to submit the last two months of posts you've made to Facebook, MySpace, and/or Twitter. Would you still be a candidate for the calling and vocation you long to fulfill? Would anyone screening applicants who are expected to make a difference in the world let you through the filter of discernment, emotional maturity, and good decision-making ability?

If not, why should your current employer entrust you with anything more than mid- to lower-level responsibilities? Why should they keep you at all?

It's one thing for students to post their "finding-themselves" moments and pictures of those moments on social networking sites. But, if I am chronologically expected to be an adult, my posts, tweets, and blogs should reflect it.

Sermon (Non-) Preparation, 1

Since I wasn't preparing to preach for the last couple of weeks, God opened up some things to me about preparing to preach. It's good for pastors and for church members alike to understand the dynamics involved in the mystery and miracle of God-ordained preaching.

Of course, no pastor would ever admit being un-prepared. But, we could all agree that there are weeks when we are more prepared than others (we'll talk about why later). Below are some critical misses that result from non-preparation:

1. Introduction-decarbonation. The introduction to a sermon is like shaking up a bottle of Coke. It’s where the pressure is built and sustained for a brief time before you take off the lid and release the energy contained in the sermon. If the introduction is weak or non-engaging, your sermon has no fizz. And fizz matters. Fizz is the equivalent of anointing and unction. It doesn't have to be funny to fizz, but funny sure helps engage your audience at the beginning of the message. Even better, funny AND personal creates engagement and empathy. But it's got to be real. Faux self-deprecation makes me throw up in my mouth.
2. Illustration-Apnea. Illustrations breathe life into a sermon that your audience inhales and exhales. It allows them to see inside your life and they reflexively draw parallels to their own lives.
3. Energy-overload. When a speaker’s not as prepared as he could be, he’ll tend to speak louder and/or faster in order to compensate for the lack of confidence in his material. Bombast is a good word and a horrible practice.
4. Transition-atrophy. Early in my ministry, Ed Young hammered into my psyche that transitions are the most important post-introduction element of a sermon (speech, address, etc.). He’s right. Transitions create flow and lead your audience from one point to the next almost without their noticing it. But, transitional statements/paragraphs/illustrations have to be prepared and refined and memorized in order to feel seamless to your audience.
5. Spirit-dehydration. Nothing can compensate for a lack of time spent in prayer and reflection for the message--and means of communicating that message--that God wants to deliver through the preacher. Without it, a sermon is dry, brittle, rough, and impotent. It loses its supernatural, mysterious, and genuine power to touch and change lives.

Nothing is more sacred or significant in the pastor's calling than the mission of preaching the Gospel. We have to guard our schedules and create blocks of time for prayer, study, writing, editing, and preparing to deliver sermons that God uses to change us and lead his church where he wants it to go. And, in larger congregations, we have to lead our congregations to accept their responsibility in honoring that commitment and accepting counsel/prayer/leadership/visitation/wedding- or funeral-officiating from other gifted and called pastors who do not preach on a weekly basis. What they need is the touch or counsel of God--who it comes through is much less important.



"Tough" is not the most frequently used term to describe most worship pastors. But, LHC's Worship Pastor Mark Groutas is not most worship pastors. This morning, he and his team led us to the throne in genuine, excellent, spirit-and-truth worship--all while he was suffering from a severely yanked back spasm.

I was standing backstage with Mark when a friend walked by and slapped him on the shoulder to say "Good morning!" and you could see the pain radiate through him--after he smiled and returned the "Good morning!" to the unknowing offender.

It's admirable when athletes play through pain and give their teammates everything they've got. How much more so when the stakes are eternal and literally, spiritually, life and death. "Tough" is rarely paired with spiritual character traits, but it should be. Spiritually mature, Christ-like people are tough. I was proud of him and proud to serve with him today in a new and fresh way. Thanks, Mark, for doing all you do as well as you do for the reasons you do it all.

Oh, yeah, how he yanked his back? Playing on the trampoline with his kids.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12


I want to introduce you...

...to a good friend of mine and an amazing leader. Dr. Rocky Kirk is the Superintendent of the Lake Travis Independent School District. Rocky leads one of the fastest growing districts in the state at a time of unprecedented uncertainty, opportunity, and challenges.

Every time I get to have lunch or coffee with him, he is relentless in his praise of his people, their devotion to excellence for the students of LTISD, and his commitment to do the right thing for the right reasons. In addition to all these things, he married over his head--which I truly appreciate!

Rocky is one of those people who fills my tank. He is an encourager, but it's much more than that. He's willing to make tough decisions on behalf of the students and community he serves. He is a leader's leader and someone I'm grateful and proud to know and call a friend.


Save the Daylight

I've known for a while that God is Provider--but until I started preparing for this week's message, I had no idea all the ramifications of that fact. I'm telling you right now, if you or someone you know is anxious/nervous/concerned/freaked out over the economy--and I understand if you are--then this weekend's service is HUGE for you and them.

Also, remember that Sat. night is night to set your clocks AHEAD one hour for the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. Check out this reminder:

Save The Daylight from Lake Hills Church on Vimeo.


This Weekend

The Dow reaches a 12-year low. The "Stimulus Package" has more pork in it than my two breakfast tacos yesterday (and that's saying something). People are financially freaked out and puckered up. And...the sun still came up this morning. We still have people in our lives to love, people who love us, and a lot more people in our lives who are more open than ever to the touch of God in their lives.

All of which means I cannot WAIT for worship this weekend. We're going to continue the message series Hello, My Name is God with a look at God Who Provides. Provider is one of God's primary roles that He chooses to play in our lives. This fact couldn't be any more relevant or important as we walk through this economic swamp. I promise you this weekend will in-courage, challenge, and stretch us as we continue chasing God together.

If you are a Christ-follower, there's nothing more spiritually mature or deep that you can do than introduce someone to Christ. If you invite them to join you at LHC this weekend, I guarantee they will meet Christ. We all will.


Deer Cat Fight

I caught this in a deer stand this season and it just makes me laugh every time I see it. The funny part is right at the beginning:

Deer Cat Fight from Mac Richard on Vimeo.