Christian leaders often lament the rate at which young people are leaving the church, but few seem to have noticed that many of those who do stay have accepted a non-orthodox version of the Christian message.
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Yesterday a gunman entered a community college classroom in Oregon, shot and killed the teacher, then told students to stand up, one by one, and state their religion.
To those who said Christian, he replied “Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second.” He killed 10 people.1
As a minister, as a Christian, as a citizen of the United States, I’m appalled by this senseless act of violence, by the Charleston shooting, by the 262 other mass shootings in our country this year, and by the culture that supports it.
It’s time for change.
My earliest preaching mentors taught me that every sermon needed four things: a compelling introduction, a body that included two or three points of biblical exegesis, illustrations to make it memorable, and a conclusion that helped people apply the truth to their lives.
Boy were they wrong.
Three points and a poem may have worked at one time; not anymore. Listening habits have changed, listener attitudes have changed, and the environment of the preaching event has changed.
Today, every sermon must do these seven things to capture attention and motivate life change.
Every important action you will ever take is based on one of only two human motivations: fear and aspiration.
That’s according to marketing guru Seth Godin, who might as well be talking about the Christian gospel. Over the years Evangelicals have yo-yoed between positive and negative motivations as the basis for our message.
The old gospel, the one ante-millennials cut their teeth on, was based on fear—the fear of hell.
The new gospel, the one we began using sometime in the 1990s, appeals to an aspiration—personal well-being or success.
Is one better or worse?
Actually, both are wrong. It’s time to return to the other gospel, the one Jesus preached.
As a pastor for most of the last 30 years, I had one burning question: Am I doing this right? The reason pastors wonder about that is that (a) there are many different ways to do church these days, and (b) there are so many people telling us we’re doing it wrong.
Given that leadership theory is now the dominant way of evaluating pastoral effectiveness, it’s fitting to apply the advice of Warren Bennis, the grandfather of modern leadership theory, to pastoral ministry.
Thirty-five years ago, Bennis said, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”
Rather than asking “Am I doing this right?” a better question for pastors is “Am I doing the right things?”
The task of a spiritual leader is to inspire people to see and enter the other life, the life of the spirit. It isn’t that spiritual leaders don’t have to deal with mundane concerns. Even Francis, the most inspirational Pope in recent memory, has spent his share of time revamping the Curia and reeling in renegade bishops.
But spiritual a spiritual leader’s primary task is not directing the affairs of an organization. That’s the work of deacons, useful chaps who are great at setting goals, forming strategies, measuring results—the very things we wrongly label “leadership.”
As the spiritual leader of a congregation, a pastor’s job is quite different. And my greatest mistake as a pastor was to set aside my true work to become the CEO of a nonprofit corporation called the local church.
Here’s how it happened.
Pastors have a lot on their minds each week. They have a huge task, and there’s much to remember. Heading toward Sunday, a minister may be preoccupied with dozens, even hundreds of concerns.
They think about:
The shreds of biblical language they learned in seminary.
The number of dollars they’re behind on budget for the year.
The number of volunteers needed to make Sunday happen.
The calls they need to return.
But there’s one all pastors forget eventually. And when we do, it tanks our effectiveness harder and faster than missing budget or blowing a board meeting.
I know this because I’ve done it myself.