Category Archives: pulpit

Finish the Book! 3 tips to becoming a reader and a list of where to start!

“Leaders are readers!” – Harry Truman. Leaders read books that engage their mind and challenge them to be better. Likewise, good pastors read books. Books about theology, history, practice, church ministry, and the like flood the desk of a good pastor. Good pastors will try to read a variety of books from a variety of perspectives and they will strive to understand viewpoints that are well beyond their personal opinions.

I can remember seeing the library of a particular pastor I had come to admire. He had three small rooms lined wall to wall with books, categorized according to topic. In addition to the walls lined with books, he had free-standing shelving that filled the empty space with more books. He was asked how many of these books he had actually read. He casually said, “Every book, cover to cover. With the exception of the reference works and commentaries.” The reference works and commentaries lined one wall of one of the three rooms. Then, pointing to a stack of about 10 books, he added, “Oh! And that stack on my desk. I’m reading those now.” Such a wealth of knowledge had made him a powerful pastor whose knowledge was used by the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of all he came in contact with.

Contrast the aforementioned pastor with a particular pastor I knew in seminary. Having found him in the library, I asked if he had completed the assigned reading for the class. “Sure. I mean I got the gist of it.” Slightly appalled I asked for clarification. His response: “Oh, I didn’t actually finish the books. I mostly just skimmed them until I got the idea.” I didn’t understand! I was unaware that we could just skim a book and say we got the material down. Over the next few weeks of coursework, my friend began to fall behind in the class discussion. His lack of knowledge began to show and his ignorance of the subject matter drove him further and further into unengaged silence in the class. I cannot help but wonder the effect that failing to finish the books that are designed to equip him for the ministry has had on his pastoral ministry.

Don’t get me wrong. Many pastors are descent pastors in spite of not being strong readers. They love people and engage well. However, one cannot help but wonder how much more powerful they would be if they were disciplined readers. Reading is a matter of training your mind. I am assuming that most pastors are reading their Bibles in significant measure. If that assumption is wrong, then those pastors need to leave the ministry. In addition to the Scripture, pastors would benefit from reading other books as well.

I was not always a reader. I preferred a ball and a hoop on a blacktop over a book in a chair. Yet, God drove deep into my soul the understanding of my own need for discipleship and the wealth of spiritual discipleship available to me in books. As I began to pastor I started to realize that godly men had laid their souls out on page for me! So I began to read the works of Ravenhill, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Piper, Bonhoeffer, and Murray. I experienced in those authors words that have accelerated my spiritual growth. So, read dear brother! Read! If you are not a reader, here are three tips for getting started.

  1. Finish the book. There is nothing more tragic than reading 3/4th of an author’s labor only to quit near the end. Finish the work! If you have ever read the likes of AW Tozer or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know that the last chapters are paramount to understanding their efforts. Tozer particularly tends to put his greatest and most passionate applications at the end of his works. Read to the end, or you may deprive yourself of the best part.
  2. Vary your reading. I try to read one book that is an easy read (usually about ministry practice), one book that is a heavy read (usually theology), and one book for fun (often a book I’ve already read). In this way, I’ll feed myself a well-rounded diet of thought. Further, vary your perspectives. Read the heretics. Even if you spend the whole book fighting with them, read them. As a pastor, you will find it invaluable to be able to explain to your congregation members why you disagree with prominent authors. Do not be afraid of the heretic, they are here to sharpen you.
  3. Start small. I sometimes find myself reading 4-6 books at a time. If you’re not used to reading and engaging texts, don’t do that. Start small. Read one book at a time. Make your first work something easy but engaging. I’d suggest something from the Christian living section of your bookstore. As you get your feet under you as a reader. Read something heavier. Perhaps a puritan? Maybe something by Tozer? Go ahead! Dive in! But start small.

If you are not used to reading consistently and finishing the whole book here is a short list of books to get you started. I’ve broken them into four phases to kind of stair step you into reading larger more weighty works. Hopefully these help.

Phase One: Tuning your mind to enjoy reading spiritual material.

  1. Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  2. More than a Carpenter by McDowell
  3. Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
  4. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Phase two: Learning to engage deeper (a little).

  1. Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper
  2. Basic Christianity by John Stott.
  3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  4. Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Phase Three: Moving Towards personal practice

  1. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  2. The Bravehearted Gospel by Eric Ludy
  3. Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  4. Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray

Phase Four: Enjoying the journey of reading for worship.

  1. Heaven by Randy Alcorn
  2. The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
  3. Living in Light of Eternity by KP Yohannan
  4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

An Open Letter to Worship Leaders: 3 Thoughts to consider.

I love worship music. I mean it. I love the emotion, the unique chord shapes, the sometimes nonsensical symbolism, the poetic nuance, and even the melodic dynamics. I love worship music… but… In the last decade, most mainstream worship music has deteriorated to symbolic emotional twaddle. Often our songs are loaded with vague, unexplained images of water or fire. Vague imagery and ambiguous pledges to follow without a context of direction or command make the songs feel as though the writer knows little to nothing about the Spirit of which they are writing. The music follows a pattern that climbs to an emotional climax and the melody is designed to illicit a climactic buzz at the chorus. While there are some great examples of powerful, meaningful worship music writers, the majority of what is being espoused as great worship is really nothing more than trite and unbiblical efforts to conjure up emotional responses.

So I have a simple request for worship music writers: Stop it. I mean it… You’re hurting my people. Your shallow attempts at poetry, masked by unique chord structures and strings are luring the people of Christ into a state of theological impotency. You make confusing allusions to biblical stories that don’t make sense, create difficult environments for pastors who want to disciple their people well, and fail to actually challenge believers to live what they believe. You put on a great show that brings glory to your talent and satisfies the need of a few people to cry and feel some emotional catharsis.

I know it is difficult to write music that is received by the church. It is difficult to write in such a way to connect AND teach. Your job is hard, and I get that. I have three things that I would like you to consider when writing worship music for the church.

Music is Portable Theology

First: music teaches, it is portable theology. Take it seriously when you write. Music is one of the most powerful means of teaching that the church can use. It engages people at a level that mere discourse cannot begin to equal. The melodies and rhythms drive deep into the minds of people and help to crystallize truth into the heart of the one who is singing along. The repetition helps to solidify the memory. The corporate singing aspect helps to validate and normalize the truths proclaimed in the songs. The Bible says teachers will be judged by a stricter standard in James 3:1. Further, Mathew 18:6/ Mark 9:42 warns teachers not to cause others to stumble, saying it would be better to drown. So, be careful and take your job seriously. Your job is not to engage the emotions of people, it is to teach the truth through music!

Poetry is best when it is understood.

Second: Poetry is best when it is understood. I love poetry. Seriously. I’m not a good poet, but I write it myself. In fact, I’ve got a book of poems I’m going to publish soon (editing it now). I love the works of Kahlil Gibran, William Cowper, and William Blake. Poetry moves the soul and challenges the mind. The best poetry makes deep and difficult truths understandable. The best poetry is revelatory, not hidden. Please note: I did not say that poetry is easy. Your poetry can be difficult to grasp and that is fine. But it must lead people to understanding, not confusion. So it is with worship music. Make your poetry beautifully complex, but also wonderfully expository. When poetry is vague and easily misinterpreted, it hides truth and confuses people. Reveal truth through your poetic efforts by being exact. Vague references to water or fire are confusing without any context. Utilize your poetic talents to wrap the truths in context and exposition. Strive to Explain and teach about God and His character through your music. The Scripture is full of poetry that is designed to do this. Copy God’s example of praise and worship.

Songs should call us to love Jesus.

Third: Write songs that challenge people to love Jesus more deeply. The most powerful songs in the church are songs that challenge people to love and obey Jesus. They are songs that engage people on a deep level while simultaneously praising Jesus’ character in a way that challenges. These songs need to be formed within an established context of truth that will fortify the congregation’s love for Jesus. It is no good to call upon the name of the Lord and pledge that you are going to follow Him without actually making any declarative statements about where He wants us to go or what He wants us to do. It is no good to say, “I love you” without establishing anything about Him worthy of love. You may understand where God wants you to go or what it is about Jesus that is worthy of love, but the average person singing music in the congregation may not. So make the statement! State truths about God that will challenge our hearts to love Him more. Be as specific as possible and dig deep into the character of God. I want to be clear, it is not necessary that you constantly display incredibly difficult and deep truth that boggles the mind. It is necessary that you constantly display truth. You can write simple songs. But those songs must espouse clear truth and they must lead to a deeper love of Christ.

I lead worship at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria. I am also the teaching pastor. At our church, we strive to think deeply when we sing. We encourage our people to engage their entire being (heart and mind) when in corporate worship. If you want to be a part of a group of people trying to do this, albeit imperfectly at times, come check us out.

From “You” to “We.” Communal Language

dda86-bible-on-a-pulpitIn an effort to apply scriptural text to our congregation, pastors will occasionally attempt command application to the congregant in a sermon, such as “You need to X,” or “You need to stop X.” Before reading any further, let’s be clear: there is a time when application is to be directly commanded and it is even at times when it is commanded in Scripture. When counseling with someone or dealing with specific confrontation, it is sometimes necessary to read the Scripture and say: “look at what it says! Now stop doing what you are doing.” Direct command application is appropriate in one on one and in small group settings. However it often falls flat when we attempt to utilize command application from the pulpit. It is with the best of intentions that we labor to establish proper and helpful application in our sermons and devotions. We identify problems and specific errors and sins and try to address them with the congregation. It often follows a pattern like this:

Pastor identifies a direct and relatively obvious application

Pastor states specific sin

Pastor says “you need to stop this sin”

Congregation leaves and goes on about daily life.

Pastor is confused why this does not work.

Why is it often ineffective to proclaim direct command application from the pulpit? Why do people reject these efforts at moral instruction? I believe there are many reasons that our preaching may prove ineffective in the area of application. The sermons may be detached and distant from the congregation. They may lack “unction” as Leonard Ravenhill explains in Why Revival Terries. They may be poorly presented and poorly worked. In truth, we may just be bad preachers. However, in an effort to improve our ability to communicate truth, I believe we should begin to think of sermons less as a presentation and more of a journey. The preacher is not standing behind the pulpit to engage in simple instruction. The preacher stands behind a pulpit to lead people through the Word of God to the life of God.

If we are taking our congregations on a journey we should strive to go with them. Our language must reflect a journey. Think for a moment if you were hiking with a guide and the guide began to say things like, “First, you’re going to climb up this hill. Then you’re going to have to be extremely careful as you navigate narrow rock path on the side of the cliff. Finally, you need to keep alert for signs to know where to go!” The guide may be a great guide, but his language and instructions lead one to believe he is not actually walking with the group. He is instructing the group how to walk as if he is on one end of a walky-talky.

Now consider the same guide saying, “first we are going to climb this hill. Let’s be careful and watch out for each other as we navigate this narrow rock path. Now, come this way! See the sign? We need to follow it!” Now the guide is leading people on a journey. It is the same when we attempt to lead people to God in Scripture. Our language must reflect the journey.

So, I propose we change our application language from, “you” to, “we.”

I believe there will be a few benefits to moving our language to “we.”

  1. Identifying ourselves as part of the congregation provides a naturally disarming comfort for those who may be struggling. It is always easier to admit error and press forward towards righteousness when we feel like others are doing it together.
  2. Spreading out application into a more general form allows the congregation the benefit of self-introspection. When someone is speaking directly to us, we are naturally defensive.
  3. Changing application to we, forces us to be vulnerable and relatable.

Guest Post: The First Sermon Andrew Remembers

b7a26-bible-on-a-pulpitWhen I was younger, my memory was great. I could remember shows, songs, books, events, and random information better than just about anyone I knew. In some ways this often does still happen. Some random facts come out of my brain at the oddest times. I also seem to remember bits of sporting news whenever I need, or want, to. In the last few years, though, my mind has slipped. While I am still fairly young, 28, stress, age (ha!), and health issues have taken their toll on my memory. One thing that I am ashamed to say, is that sermons, over my entire life, have never really stayed in my memory the way I wish they would.

I have gone to church since I was a young child. In fact, my earliest church memories are of riding to church in a booster seat and then going into the nursery, and I have very rarely missed a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. Yet, few sermons stick out greatly in my mind. In fact, only pastors themselves stick out in my. The first pastor that sticks in my mind is Charlie Westbrook.

Brother Charlie was the pastor of FBC Fairview Heights Illinois when my family moved to Belleville Illinois shortly after Christmas my third grade year of school. It was right around this time I gave my life to Christ and was baptized. It was also during our time there that my father surrendered to a call to the ministry, but that is a story for another day.

I am not certain how much time passed between our joining the church and the first sermon I remembered, but it was sometime between third and sixth grade for me. I know this because I was still sitting with my parents during the service. A few specific things do stick out about both Charlie and the church. Charlie was one of the most serious and passionate men that I have ever met. He was always very focused, intentional, and serious. His sermons were always very passionate and evangelistic. Each week the church would prepare a fancy bulletin and fill-in-the-blank sermon notes page to help the congregation follow along with Brother Charlie’s sermon.

Typically I simply attempted to either make my own origami shapes or drew pictures during the sermon. That particular week, however, I paid attention to the sermon. Sitting next to my father, I followed along with all of the notes and listened intently to Brother Charlie’s impassioned sermon. Still, it is funny, I don’t remember the entire sermon. I don’t remember if Charlie went through the entire book of Philippians or if he was even going through all of chapter 1. What sticks out was simply one part of the sermon. It is especially the sermon notes that stick out in my mind. The final note, the focus and most important point of Brother Charlie’s sermon, looked like this:

To live is ______________ and to die is _______________.

I remember filling it out and my dad giving me a nod and smile of approval as he marked it for emphasis. Brother Charlie then went on to explain just exactly what this means. I know that this was certainly not the first time I heard this verse in my life, and it probably was not the first time it was explained to me, but this is the first time I remember hearing and understanding that we must give all of ourselves for Christ.

What really sticks out to me from this is that Charlie simply and clearly stuck with the scriptures. He left me, a roughly ten or eleven year old boy previously uninterested in listening, with the scripture on my mind. Allegories, similes, metaphors, and personal stories are nice and can help explain things, but none of them have the depth or staying power, or power in general, of scripture. We must always aim to leave those we teach with scripture. If anything that I add or use takes focus away from the scripture, it is a problem. I am forever grateful to Brother Charlie Westbrook for leaving me with this memory and, most importantly, this verse.

The First Sermon I Remember


What makes a sermon memorable? Is it the oration? Is it clever hooks? Is it constant repetition? I’ve listened to thousands of sermons and delivered hundreds and I remember very few. So here is a short reflection on the first sermon I can remember.

I was young… somewhere between the age of 7 and 9. My pastor, Paul Calmes [CAL-mEEs], was preaching about Samson. He always smelled like candy. There was a great boxing match on TV that everyone was excited about and I thought Samson would make a pretty good boxer. I drew a picture of a boxer. Then I drew a picture of Samson.  They were not very good pictures. I remember my dad taking furious notes on his yellow pad. Then nudging me and motioning for me to pay attention. I showed him my picture. He smiled and nudged me again motioning for me to pay attention.

Pastor Paul was explaining that Samson was a pitiful man who was fiercely strong but horribly sinful. He explained that God uses sinful people and redeems the sinful and broken of this world for His work in the Kingdom. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. That’s what I remember. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Pastor Paul was not a great orator. He did not have particularly stirring sermons. I can’t remember a power point, drama, or gimmick ever used, though I’m sure he occasionally employed some sort of preacher’s aid. I don’t remember every sermon, but I remember the one about Samson. I remember because of that particular truth: Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Our sinfulness does not outweigh God’s goodness.

This truth was lived out in Pastor Paul. That’s why I remember the sermon. He showed us that wickedness could always be forgiven. Christ’s love changes everything. Pastor Paul and my dad used to talk about this often. We were constantly engaged with conversation on the reality that the sinfulness of man cannot outweigh the love of Christ. I remember that sermon because it was Jesus. It was Jesus played out in the words of a man who loved him. If you long for sermons to make an impact, they must be lived… not simply spoken.

When we preach, it must be with the power of Jesus lived out in our life. Your sermons have no power if they are not lived out and expressed outside the pulpit. Sermons about evangelism and outreach by a man who fails to do both mean nothing and will have no effect. However, a sermon that is supported by a life of obedience is powerful, transformative, and life changing. A sermon that is illustrated by the life and passion of the preacher can leave a lasting impact on the hearers.

My father-in-law says, “I don’t remember a single sermon I’ve heard, but I remember the passion and life of the men who taught me.” This is what will change your congregation. They must see your life and passions living out in the sermon. So here are three things I am trying to do better as a pastor.

  1. Tell my people when I fail at something. Throughout my limited time as a teacher of the Bible (roughly once a week for 19 years), I have learned that people will thrive and engage more when they see my faults. Don’t wear a cape and stop trying to be super-pastor. No one likes super-pastor. Don’t be that guy. Instead be authentic and honest.
  2. Live what I preach! If I preach on transparancy in comunity, I must be ready to be transparent. If I preach about reaching out to our neighbors, I need to reach out to my neighbors. My people will see this and begin to live it out themselves.
  3. Live with more passion than I speak. What good is it if I speak with passion but live a lifestyle void of passion? My life must be surrendered to the Gospel I preach.

In this way I will follow the example set by Paul Calmes.


Honesty in the Pulpit


This post is a part of an on-going series.  You can read the rest here: Pulpit Series

I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. The young man looked at me with an odd tilt of the head and asked a simple question that burned me to my soul… “Was that story true?” I had just spoken for an hour on a passage in James and had used a fabricated anecdote to illustrate the passage. I don’t even remember what it was now, as that was over 11 years ago, but I remember it was an emotional story that I sold well. I answered, “No, I was trying to illustrate the point.” I still remember his face. It wasn’t condemning or disappointed… it was apathetic. In that moment I had lost any hope of zeal for the Scripture in that young man. An hour of investigating Scripture was now lost. My well preformed fabrication had dislodged everything I had so carefully tried to teach. I learned my lesson that day and I’ve never forgotten it: you cannot disciple people if you lie to them. I say disciple because you can still teach them… you can still preach a good sermon… you can still be an engaging speaker… you may even be able to draw a crowd. But, you cannot walk with them in the Lord. When you lie to them, you forfeit the greatest privilege of pastoral ministry: discipleship.

To be clear, it is not problematic to tell a story to illustrate a point. It is, however, wrong and even sinful to pretend that a story is true when it is not. Ephesians 4:25 states: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” As a Christian your nature has been changed. You have been redeemed by Christ and the Holy Spirit has taken your lying self-exalting nature and replaced it with a new nature that is being conformed to the image of its Creator. (Col. 3:9-10) So when you persist in lies you prove one of two things: either you are in serious disobedience to the Lord, or you don’t know Him.

Some may say I’m being dramatic… you can certainly overcome a falsehood and sometimes those minor infractions can even be ignored. Maybe… unless you believe what the Word of God says about lying. Take these examples from Proverbs:

  1. Proverbs 10:18: The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.
  2. Proverbs 12:19 Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
  3. Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
  4. Proverbs 21:6 The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
  5. Proverbs 26:28 A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

The Bible is clear, lying is deadly.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect God’s word and show that we do not trust Him to speak through it. Do you really think God needs you to make Him look better!? Do you think that lying enhances His revelation in any way? If God wanted you to share whatever falsehood you felt so valuable, He would have made it true. I have heard many preachers tell stories, espouse so called facts, and breach confidences from the pulpit. Some of them are held in high esteem, but none of them disciple people well. In their attempt to enumerate a point or to shepherd a congregant, they have inadvertently created a snare of death in their ministry. They have failed to trust that God put them in the place where they are for a reason and have decided that they must know better. Let’s be honest… this is reason enough not to lie at all. It should terrify us all the more when we lie in God’s name from His pulpit. God is terrifyingly holy… it is foolish to test His holiness.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect our hearers and loose the opportunity to connect with them. I remember a man’s daughter who heard a pastor tell a lie about her own father. The lie was convincing, it was emotive, and it was well delivered. It made the pastor and the church look great… but it killed any chance that church had of reaching and discipling that man or his family. The instant that preacher made the decision to exaggerate a story in his own favor, he made the decision to cease discipleship with that family.

When we lie from the pulpit, we disrespect ourselves and we damage our ability to hear from the Living God. It is obvious from Scripture that God does not like lies. You’ve watched in the Old Testament as Saul lost God’s favor when he lied about the Amalekite king. You can see how David causes the downfall of Israel because he attempts to cover over sin and deceive the people. Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead because of a lie that would be rather harmless in many of our eyes. In the same way, you will lose the power of God and invite His wrath upon yourself… or at the least, you will lose His presence. Good luck trying to disciple His people without Him.

God is The God of Truth. Lying in His name or when instructing His sheep is therefore an affront to His perfect nature. Tell the truth, no matter how simple and un-impressive it may be. Don’t lie. Don’t do it. No matter how tempting it may be to embellish a story or illustrate a point. Don’t do it.

Preparation in the Pulpit

dda86-bible-on-a-pulpitThis is part 3 of a series…  You can find the others here Part 1, Part 2

3 to 8 months ahead. That’s how far ahead I plan out sermons. It sounds extreme, but it’s really not. I often line out an entire book of the Bible and then plan a rough outline 3 to 8 months ahead for each sermon. Take a moment and think about it. Your job as a pastor is to teach the Bible and disciple people. This is supposed to be a labor founded on a consistent relationship with the Word. Further, the Word is already written… you’re not having to wait for God to speak, He has spoken already! Therefore, it should be logical that you can be at least a few months ahead but would ideal to be about 8 months ahead. This is simply a matter of best practice. There is no excuse for pastors to wing it in any sphere of their work, especially in the teaching ministry.

To most pastors, preparing ahead is a foreign concept. It is not for lack of motivation that preachers fail in planning ahead, nor is it for lack of vision. Most pastors have a great deal of vision and motivation. I believe most pastors just don’t know better. They may have some idea of how to schedule or plan ahead, but the task seems so arduous that they cannot bring themselves to sit down to line out a plan.

To be fair, preparation is done in the heart first, not merely on paper. Many pastors prepare with great vigor the sermon from their heart and not on paper. That’s fine, consider the following two examples:

I stood next to a beloved pastor and friend as he exclaimed, “I never prepare a sermon until the day of! I ask the Lord what He wants me to say in the morning and then I go say it!” Two young men who were with me were stunned. This man is an honorable man who loves the Lord. He teaches well and engages his audience well. I believe he listens to the Lord and walks closely with Him.

Contrast that with another man of God who manuscripts his sermons and is always a year ahead in his preparation. When asked about the movement of the Spirit in his sermons he responded, “The Lord moves in my life every day and every time I meet with Him in my study. As I study the Word to prepare to teach, He speaks and I listen. What my people hear in my teaching is the result of the Spirit moving over long periods of listening and waiting.”

Both men are great teachers of the Word… both study, work, and pray hard… both men are engaging a lost world with the Gospel. One has a plan, the other is simply running. Personally, I prefer the plan and here is why:

  1. The plan gives me freedom. When I started in ministry I wrote each sermon the week of. It was exciting and often felt almost miraculous. Over time I noticed a peculiar result. No matter how hard I tried I could not find vision or think with a long term view. So I tried planning out text, topic, title, and basic outline of sermons. The result was a sudden freedom to look ahead and engage my people. Further, because it is planned out, I know what I am able to deviate from. It allows me the freedom to say, “The Lord is moving in a unique way this week, so we’ll just go with it.” Because I have planned ahead, I am free to deviate from that plan. If I have not planned out the work, I bear the stress of trying to hold on to the work of teaching. If I have planned, I’m free to relax and obey the Spirit joyfully and not out of anxiousness.
  2. The plan helps to ensure that I am not going to speak from my own selfish desires or pet issues from the week and forces me to look at what the Bible says. Too often modern preachers speak from a self-righteous condemnation of pet sins and political issues. Pastors will use their pulpits to address the problems they have during the week. The Lord has much more to say to the people than our opinionated nonsense. The Word speaks of much deeper things than our visions of or for the people. I am no better than the preachers who would use their pulpits to beat up on people over pet issues. So, recognizing my flaws, I plan ahead. When you have sat down months before and considered what the Word says, then you don’t know what you’re specifically going to be dealing with in the future. Therefore, your teaching is prepared with minimal bias.
  3. The plan is stress free! When you come into whatever sphere your teaching, it is wise to be prepared. When you have a regular place of teaching, it is best to be prepared extensively. Trust me, stress is minimized when you plan.
  4. The plan is more spiritual. Ok, now I am getting a little subjective, it’s fine to argue with me here. People will argue, albeit erroneously, that not preparing is somehow more an act of faith than planning out the work. As if the Lord prefers stressed out followers who fly by the seat of their pants over disciplined diligent workers. Planning out removes my own selfish desire to address current issues. It forces me to trust that the Lord will handle issues in His time and His way.  Further, if I have been diligent to plan ahead, I am free from an obsessive desire to control what He wants to say to the people.

Here is a brief outline of how to do this:

  1. Read the entire book you are intending to teach over and over, praying for guidance, making notes, and identifying passages that stand out.
  2. Outline that book and divide it into teachable sections.
  3. Pray and repeat steps 1 and 2
  4. Walk through the teachable sections one at a time making a basic outline of each.
  5. Pray and examine the first passage and work up a more extensive outline
  6. If you manuscript, complete your manuscript
  7. Praying through the message identify application.
  8. 2 weeks before teaching the text, set aside some time to go through the teaching and add in any necessary application you may have missed.
  9. The week of preaching, reserve time the last few days of your week to go over your teaching.

So, what do you think… feel free to push back in comments.

The Power of the Pulpit

What can stir the affections for Christ? What is it that brings the soul to the point of contrition? What brings the heart to an understanding of Salvation? What is it that draws people to Christ? What changes the condition of the soul, inspiring life change? What is the power of the pulpit?

Most pastors believe the power of the pulpit is their personal ability to persuade people to come forward at an altar call. Preachers tend to craft their sermons and even their services around an emotional appeal that leads into an invitation/altar call. In church history, this is a relatively new phenomenon.

For almost two thousand years of Christian history people turned to faith in Christ without an altar call. There is no example in Scripture of people being ushered or called to walk to the front of a crowd to make a declarative statement or decision. Sure, they were called to repent and believe, but that was done where they stood. They were called to turn from sin and trust in Jesus for their righteousness right where they stood. And they were called to make a meaningful choice to follow Jesus without the aid of music or an aisle to walk down.

Then a man named Charles Finney (1792-1875) established “the anxious bench.” Over time this has morphed into our modern altar calls. Finney believed that you could persuade the soul of man by creating a perfect setting. If you put the music in the right place, appeal to the emotions in the correct manner, ensure the lighting is properly set, and lay out the right words, then people will come forward. And, in a very practical since, Finney was correct. If you set the stage correctly, you’ll be able to manipulate many people into walking forward. (To be clear, I’m not questioning Finney’s motives… His heart was to see people become committed followers of Christ. He was simply extremely pragmatic and humanistic in his approach.)

It is true that one can set the atmosphere to convince people to walk forward. However, history and modern church demographics have called this methodology into question. In the last several years a slew of material has been written decrying the shallow, consumeristic Christianity that is so prevalent in American churches. Easy-believe-ism is often cited as a result of a kind of altar call faith.

So what are we to do? If we are not to focus our messages around an emotional appeal that calls people to walk to the front, then what is the power of the pulpit?

The answer is simple. It is so simple that it is simply assumed by most preachers… though rarely practiced.

The power of the pulpit comes from the Scripture. The Scripture is the power in our messages.

“Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Rom. 10:17

“All Scripture is breathed-out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:16-17

“…devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching.” 1 Tim. 4:13

“For what was written in former days (Scripture) was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of Scripture we might have hope!” Rom. 15:4

The Spirit of God through the Word of God is what changes the soul of man. It is not our clever methods or our well-crafted appeals that challenge the soul. It is the conviction that comes from hearing the Word read and proclaimed aloud. One of the most powerful things you can do as a teacher is read the Bible out loud!

So, I propose we change the way we approach our Sermonizing. It seems as though our message ought not to be crafted around an appeal to emotions, but rather, it should be the explanation of Scripture. Be clear, be plain, be honest.  If you will focus on teaching the Bible, you will see life-change in people. If you will focus on clearly explaining the Word of God and showing people the character and nature of God, you will find people living changed lives. Teach the Bible so that people see Christ! Engage the hearer in heart and in mind. Teach so that people better know Christ. Don’t try to manipulate the emotions to garner a response. Instead, focus on teaching the Bible clearly.

Further, structure your services around meeting with God. Show people Jesus, and then worship will follow. Let the climax of your service be knowing and meeting with God Himself! Make everything you do point to Jesus. He has promised that His Word will never return void.


The Purpose of the Pulpit

“The primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.”

― D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

I was taught that the church pulpit is reserved for the teaching of the Word of the Lord. The logic was drummed into my head and heart as I learned what it meant to be a pastor. It seems that most ministers think our job is to prepare and preach one sermon a week and a small smattering of bible studies for Wednesday and Sunday nights. It is this logic that leads most of us to prize our pulpit on Sunday morning as our chief medium for teaching people, dealing with issues, and engaging the world in general. As a result, many pastors use the Sunday morning pulpit to deal with issues they think are important.

The process frequently goes something like this:

  1. What are my people dealing with? (a good honest question bathed in prayer)
  2. Where does the Bible talk about that? (or where can I make a case for it in the Bible?)
  3. How can I shape this to best suit and address the needs I see in my people?
  4. Craft a sermon around the perceived needs of my people using the Bible for proof text.
  5. Deliver sermon with passion and try to say things people will remember and apply.

The trouble began with the initial question. If the Pulpit is reserved for the teaching of the Word of God, then we must begin with “what does this passage say.” To start with the perceived troubles of our people places higher value on our plan for insight into the people. To begin by asking about the condition of the congregation is to center your message on your perception of the needs of the people. The pulpit is supposed to be for the Word of God, not the word of pastor. So I propose a new opening question: “What does the Bible say.” Note the period. Find a passage in Scripture to teach, then teach what that passage says. This will change your entire outlook for Sunday morning services. You’ll teach with more clarity and passion and you’ll find great joy in walking closer to Jesus.

When we insist on focusing our messages around the congregation we will inevitably find ourselves using the pulpit for our own pet opinions. When we feel like people drink too much we will preach a sermon against alcohol. When we feel like there is gossip in the church, we will preach against gossip. When we feel like people are mistreating each other we will preach on unity. When we feel… When WE feel… when WE feel. Do you see the issue? What if you don’t know the trouble? What if God wants to say something beyond what you are capable of intuitively feeling? When we spend our energies “feeling” out what we are supposed to say, we truncate the benefit of teaching the Word of God. The Scripture is transcendent! God can use it even if you aren’t feeling a text.

Further, if we focus our message on the perceived needs, we will miss out on the supernatural power of the Word. God’s word tends to expose truths and flaws within our souls that we often do not realize exist. The one delivering the message must be prepared for God to move his heart as well. The pulpit is for the Word of the Lord, so let the Bible be the scalpel and the Holy Spirit be the surgeon… you merely serve as the table for the operation.

Finally, after some time of using the Pulpit to our own ends, people will eventually turn us off and our pulpit will lose its value. The longer we go on wasting our energies preaching to perceived felt needs, the quicker people will begin to reject the messages. In my own experience I have seen people reject and turn against my preaching when I have attempted to use the pulpit to “deal with issues.” You will loose them. Maybe not right away, but you will. However, when you teach the Word of The Lord directly and show people what He says, they will grow.

Sunday morning was not intended for us to deal with issues we think we see. The Bible is clear, those are supposed to be dealt with one on one and in small groups by speaking in love to one another. Congregational worship is intended to be a celebration of who Jesus is and should be treated as such!