Tag Archives: Pastors

Preaching for decisions: know when to land the sermon

I heard a well-prepared, well-delivered sermon that was intended to conclude with an invitation. As the sermon was finished a sweet spirit was evident in the service and I fully expected to see several people respond. The case had been made and the Spirit of the Lord was at work.

But the preacher wouldn’t land the sermon! Instead, we heard one more story followed by yet another application. By the time people were actually given opportunity to respond the moment had faded and the response was meager.

There are two points in the sermon that especially need to be well thought through by the preacher. The first is the first part of the sermon. The other is the closing of the sermon.

I’m not saying that sermons should never include “in flight” direction of the Holy Spirit, even at crucial points (like leading to a call for decisions). However, the preacher needs to be careful to leave the Spirit room to work in the hearts of the listeners and be leery of telling “one more story.”

The biggest single change for pastors

preaching

I was just thinking about the biggest single change I’ve seen in my 45 years of ministry.

One big one was the move away from the KJV to the NIV (or some other modern version) being the most commonly used version of the Bible in our services by preachers. That changed sermons from being, to a large part, translating Shakespearean language to modern English for our listeners to being more focused on the meaning of the text itself.

Another big change was the addition of video to preaching. I know some pastors have yet to move toward it, but the vast majority of our churches have video up at least for scriptures, but often preaching is supplemented by professionally produced videos and clips from popular culture.

A more subtle change is that our listeners now consume a wide variety of teaching ranging from TV and radio preachers to reading books or listening to podcasts from a variety of theological perspectives. This is a major change from the day when the local pastor was the primary source of teaching to those in the congregation. I’ve heard fine lay people repeat stuff that it is clearly incompatible with our doctrines. They’d heard it somewhere, and just accepted it because the speaker is a well known, capable teacher.

I think, though, that the biggest change is the move away from Sunday night services.

As I’ve just been saying, the pastor’s voice is diminished in the lives of church attenders already. So, while people are consuming a variety of religious teaching through the week, most pastors only address their congregations on Sunday mornings during the sermon. That limits the pastor’s influence over the congregation.

I’m not saying, though, that this change is necessarily a bad thing. It was late in my active ministry that our church yielded to the reality that most people simply didn’t want to attend a Sunday night service. And it was only with that change in the church schedule that I had a taste of Sunday being a Christian Sabbath. For many years of my ministry I came to Sunday night exhausted. The concept that the pastor should take a different day as a day of rest never really worked for me. My weekly “day off” was filled with the kinds of things that most everyone does on their days off and not especially restful. I came to greatly appreciate Sunday afternoons as a time to unwind without needing to “reload” for the Sunday evening service.

Beyond that, being able to focus on Sunday morning only made me, I think, a better preacher. All my preparation time was toward one sermon. For non-preachers this may not sound like much but I think most preachers who read this will agree that focusing on one sermon a week makes a huge difference in preaching.

Of all the changes I’ve seen, I think the elimination of Sunday night church is the biggest.

What do you think?

Contemporary Worship: things that bug me

No, I’m not going to complain about the style of music or being asked to stand through the song -er- worship service. Here are three contemporary worship services practices that I am seeing that bug me.

  1. Volume of instruments in the praise band. This may surprise you, but I’m not talking about the music being too loud. We seldom come away from a service in a church of our flavor (Church of the Nazarene) thinking the music is too loud. What I do hear fairly often, though, is unbalanced volume from the various instruments in the band. Often, even when the stage has several instruments, the only two I can hear clearly are the strumming of the worship leader on the guitar and the drummer. If you closed your eyes you would think that was all there was: no keyboard, no bass, no second guitar. Of course there are variations to that. Sometimes the music guy plays keyboard and it’s the keyboard you hear. Really, if you are going to recruit instrumentalists to your praise band and have them come to rehearsal it’s reasonable that your music and sound people work together to balance the sound. Obviously, there are exemptions – maybe you have a not-so-talented musician that you want to encourage by having them sit in. Aside from that, though, an effort needs to be made to equalize the sound.
  2. Self-serve communion. It is becoming more common to put the communion elements out and announce to the congregation that during the next song they can come and receive communion if they want. I can’t tell you what poor symbolism I think this is. Communion isn’t a self-serve event. It isn’t an “if you want it” kind of ordinance. Just continuing with the music portion of the service as though communion is just a side line misses the mark. I love communion and I think it has enough spiritual “weight” to hold it’s own in a service. I don’t mind the ritual being updated in some reasonable ways, but I want the pastor to lend his/her authority to the serving of the sacrament.  It bugs me to hear the pastor taking time to do announcements as though that is really important stuff but leaving the serving of the Lord’s Supper on automatic as though it’s just an optional part of that Sunday’s worship service.
  3. Preaching from floor level rather than the platform. I understand the desire of pastors to be informal and approachable during the sermon. I understand that in a contemporary worship service the speaker doesn’t want to appear preachy. Apparently, a lot of pastors have decided that, not only do they not want a pulpit, but they want to be down front rather than on the stage looking down on people. But let me tell you what happens out in the seats: some of us spend the whole sermon trying to look around the people in front of us. After awhile I gain a whole new appreciation for Zacchaeus of New Testament fame who climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of Jesus. If the speaker would just stand on the platform we could all see him or her. Some pastors think they are enhancing their communication effort by staying off the platform, but I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by creating an absolutely unnecessary distraction.

Any time I see young adults in the church who are really into worship it blesses my heart and I’m happily convinced that a lot of contemporary churches are doing a lot of things right.  Still, I have to confess that these things bug me.

How about you?

Preaching Advice for Young Pastors: Preach an “Annual Message”

At the beginning of your ministry in your new assignment (even better, as a part of your considering becoming pastor of the church and the church considering you as a potential pastor) lay out your philosophy of ministry in a sermon. Talk about the kind of pastor you aspire to be and the kind of church you want to pastor. Make it a Biblical, scripture-based sermon, but at the same time, share your heart with the congregation.

A year after you arrive, on your anniversary Sunday, preach that same sermon again. Let it remind you and them of what your ministry is all about.

Then, as years pass, you probably won’t preach that sermon annually, but every two or three years get it out, update it, and preach it again. It will be good for you to restate your hopes as a pastor. It will also be good for your congregation to be reminded of what you told them you would do (or not do) as their pastor. It will help new people get on board as they better understand what you and the church are about. Also, over time, it will create a sense of celebration of your partnership in ministry.

Preaching Advice for young pastors: funerals – part 3

Random pastor/funeral thoughts:

  1. Spend an hour or so with the family early on – during that time, plan the service, but also let them tell you things – take notes – use some of what they said in the sermon.
  2. Always open the service yourself.  Introduce yourself even in your own church – this isn’t your Sunday crowd.  Welcome people and on behalf of the family and your congregation thank them for coming.
  3. Be in charge.  Do an order of service and give a copy to everyone.  The Funeral Director will appreciate it too.
  4. If you have guest clergy assisting, invite him or her to read the obituary and then offer personal remarks.
  5. Take a text and preach a real sermon as described in the previous post.
  6. In a traditional funeral, stand at the head of the casket as mourners pass by.
  7. At the cemetery, walk ahead of the casket to the graveside.  In some places, the pastor is expected to ride in the hearse.  Otherwise, drive behind it to the cemetery.  You are, in a sense, the “spiritual guardian” – no, I can’t explain it, but people are equating you with Jesus, walking with their loved one to the grave.
  8. Make the committal short, thank people for traveling this last mile – then, if you have a boutonniere, remove it and place it on the casket.  Then, go to each primary family member and assure them of your prayers for them and their family.
  9. If you are offered an honorarium, don’t make a big deal out of it.  Just say thank you and that it was an honor to serve.

Preaching Advice for young pastors: funerals – part 2

Here’s my advice to young pastors concerning funeral sermons:

  1. You need to develop at least five different sermons…although some can be just variations of another
      • A sermon for a saint who lived long and well
      • A sermon for a younger person who lived for the Lord but died too young
      • A sermon for a person who had no testimony
      • A sermon for a person you never knew personally
      • A sermon for a person who died tragically
      1. Those sermons, though, basically use just two approaches
          • We celebrate the victory we have in Christ over even death and our hope of resurrection
          • We point people to the comfort that is ours in Christ
          1. Not all funeral sermons can operate at the celebration level but all should offer comfort
          2. Don’t make the person’s life your text. If you can preach about our victory in Christ – make the sermon about Jesus. If you emphasize comfort in grief – make the sermon about the Lord’s willingness to comfort even in times of loss.
          3. Do use the person’s life in illustrations – include some heartwarming memory or some conversation or something that connects them to your sermon. Caution: don’t make the sermon about your relationship with the person. That does more to impress people that you’re a wonderful person than it causes them to remember that we have a wonderful Lord.
          4. Remember that a funeral sermon is an opportunity to minister to people who are thinking about life and death – and often they are people who don’t hear many sermons. If you can point them to Jesus as our hope and comfort you might move them a step closer to coming to Christ.

          Preaching Advice for young pastors: funerals – part 1

          Over the years I’ve preached my share of funeral sermons. Funerals are unique on the church calendar because they trump everything else. One time I left on vacation following the Sunday morning worship service and drove 300 miles to a commercial campground. I had just gotten settled in when someone from the office knocked on the door to inform me that I had an emergency phone call. The next day I ended my vacation and drove 300 miles home to officiate at the funeral of a dear lady who had called me “pastor.” I wouldn’t have had it any other way; still, it’s an example of how funerals trump everything else. They offer the pastor an unprecedented opportunity to minister at a level and to individuals who the pastor would have little opportunity to impact with the gospel.

          Pastor/Lay friendships

          In my 35+ years of ministry I’ve had many good friends who weren’t clergy. In fact, while I’ve had lots of good friends who are pastors, most of my best friends (golfing, fishing buddies) have been laymen. One thing that has helped that relationship is that they thought of me as a friend and not as a pastor. That isn’t to say we never interacted at that level, but there was a sense of mutuality about it.

          However, I’ve known some good men with whom I couldn’t have that level of friendship because they could never forget that I was a pastor. We could be right in the middle of laughing about something and they’d say, “I can’t believe a pastor would think that’s funny.” When I hear something like that I reevaluate my relationship with that person. They aren’t ready to be a real “friend” to the pastor. I adjust things so I can treat them as a person in need of a pastor. I guess you’d say I stop being “one of the guys” in a group of Christian friends and move back to the pastor position so I can minister to them the best I am able.

          In fact, I think wanting to “be friends” with “the pastor” is almost self defeating.  If someone wants to be friends with me, a person with whom they have something in common (like fishing for bass or hiking) that’s one thing.  If they want to be friends with “the pastor” well, that carries with it, at least in my way of thinking, considerable baggage.  After all, I don’t think to myself, “I’d like to be friends with ‘the doctor’ or with ‘the policeman.'”  Rather, I view them as people and not vocations.

          Pastoral Sabbatical Leave

          I’ve been thinking about the development of pastoral sabbaticals and have some observations.

          Many years ago we Nazarenes voted on our pastors annually. Pastors moved frequently in those days – staying in a church on the average of two years. In time, leaders felt that pastoral tenure of two years wasn’t in the best interest of the churches and that the frequent voting was contributing to the short pastorates.

          Because of that, the voting period was increased to two, three, or four years. Sure enough, pastors stayed longer and average tenure topped two years.

          Then, the biggest change of all came. The vote was replaced with an every four year review. Soon pastoral tenure neared four years. Pastors were staying longer and longer.

          In fact, for the first time the denomination had a significant number of pastors staying 7+ years.

          With an increasing number of long term pastors, a new pastor-church problem was seen. Pastors who had been in churches a longer amount of time would spiritually or emotionally or physically hit the wall. We began to hear more about burn out and we found that pastors who were now pretty secure would move, not to avoid a vote, but because they had run short of spiritual, emotional, and physical energy. A pastoral move creates a sabbatical of sorts. For one thing, there is a “honeymoon” in which everyone is on their best behavior, creating a much less stressful pastor-church relationship.

          Some in the denomination began to think seriously about the Biblical concept of the sabbatical. Pastors don’t necessarily work harder than other Christians, but they do carry unique responsibilities. As shepherds they are “on call” 24 hours a day and they are well aware that more than is true for most Christians, how they handle their day to day responsibilities carries eternal consequences for not only themselves but for their congregations.

          At that point, officially, the denomination was ready to embrace the concept of pastoral sabbatical. It was included in our church Manual, not as a hard and fast rule, but as a guideline.

          It takes time for concepts like this to filter down through our churches. After all, we have had long term pastors for less than a generation. We can’t blame lay leaders for thinking “we’ve never done it that way before” unless we make a greater effort to educate them about the purpose of the pastoral sabbatical. Most lay leaders are the best friend a pastor can have. Once they grasp the importance of sabbatical leave for their pastor and realize the possible long term benefit for both pastor and church, they will support the Manual direction on this topic.

          The Manual puts the sabbatical at 7 years. Personally, I think a four to six week sabbatical at 5 years would be wiser because the break would come closer to the period of time when most Nazarene pastors consider a move.