Archives For Church Leadership

I entered pastoral ministry in 1986, and I’ve experimented relentlessly with preaching forms and techniques for nearly three decades. Preaching today is both more interesting and more challenging than ever before.

Though much of my speaking has been in the pulpit, I’ve also done a good bit of presenting in classrooms, at conferences and retreats, and in business settings. For the first 13 years of my ministry, I delivered three different messages a week. I still preach before a live audience almost every single week.

Preacher and Congregation

Over the years I learned many lessons on how to improve preaching, and the most important one is this: If you want to boost your impact on an audience, preach without notes.

That sounds daunting, I know, and perhaps you think it unnecessary. But I believe you should give it a try. Here’s why.

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I was nearly home after a short bike ride. It was one of the first days pleasant enough to ride outside, and I felt good. It was a warm-up ride, hopefully a prelude to a good season.

Then it happened. A vehicle slipped alongside me on the moderately busy street, the street I live on. There was no shoulder, and he passed me rather close. Nothing unusual about that. But what happened next startled and upset me.

Dangerous City Traffic Situation

The driver slowed a bit, turned toward me, and angrily hollered: “Use the sidewalk!”

Cyclists are perfectly within the law to ride on the road in Indiana, as I thought everyone knew. Riding on sidewalks brings its own dangers and is prohibited in some locales.

Even so, motorists and cyclists are ancient rivals. Like farmers and ranchers, we irk about how to share a limited space. This was not the first unpleasant encounter I’d had with a driver.

But this time was different.

The antagonist here wasn’t an impatient minivan pilot or a macho pickup driver. It was a motorcyclist. A fellow two-wheeler.

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Yesterday two random things came together in my life. First, the decision by global charity World Vision to hire gay Christians in same-sex relationships hit the news. Second, I chanced upon an internal newsletter by a tobacco lobbying group from the mid-1980s.

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Those seemingly unrelated statements bring the politics of sexuality into sharp focus because Big Tobacco and World Vision are so much alike.

And so different.

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Is it possible to survive in pastoral ministry without being a kind of celebrity? Mark Driscoll, who has held both roles for a several years, says just the opposite. For him, the two are incompatible.

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He is right, of course. Pressure to live up to this insane expectation is the primary reason clergy are dropping like flies from pastoral ministry. It’s time we divorced the ideas of celebrity and spiritual shepherd once and for all.

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Most pastors know what they want to do, they just don’t know how to do it.

In other words, they usually know the answer to the first two of Andy Stanley’s leadership questions, but not the third. What are we doing? (Making disciples of Jesus Christ.) Why are we doing it? (Because Jesus is the hope of the world.)

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Pastors get up every morning with that fire in their belly.

What’s less clear is the answer to Stanley’s third question: Where do I fit in?

Many pastors struggle to define their leadership style. They don’t know their unique role or contribution in the church.

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“I love Jesus, I just don’t like church.” Anyone who has ever been part of a local congregation has probably felt that way. Christianity in its abstract form is a beautiful faith based on the perfect life of Christ. In reality, it’s a bunch of imperfect people, doing their best to follow a high calling while stepping on each other’s toes almost constantly.

It is challenging to be part of a local congregation. That may be why so many Christians are quitting going to church.

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Most recently, Donald Miller expressed a similar view, saying, I think, that he simply doesn’t connect with God through the things we usually do at church, namely singing, preaching.

I have felt that way myself.

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Super Bowl XLVIII was a huge disappointment to the faithful in Denver and the legion of Peyton Manning fans everywhere. The Seattle Seahawks trounced the Broncos 43-8.

This anticlimactic result isn’t unique. The Super Bowl is always a letdown, no matter who plays or wins. That’s inevitable, given the spectacle it has become.

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Many people find church a frustration too, and for exactly the same reasons.

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