Let me just say that I love the Pentecostal church. I have been a credentialed minister in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN.) for nearly 9 years now; it’s an awesome Pentecostal denomination with some incredible leaders in it. The Church of God is a great denomination with solid doctrine. It was in a Church of God where I came to faith in Jesus at the age of 18 and experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in such a real and tangible way. So I know first hand the power that Pentecost can have on a young persons life and am convinced that it is what the church needs probably more than any other thing.
I am writing this post because as the cultural and moral landscape in America continues to change, the Pentecostal church must continually think about not only how our message is perceived but also how it is presented to the culture in which we live. Now I am not at all saying that we need to compromise anything about who we are or what we stand for, nor am I saying that we should worry about every little cultural trend that comes around, that would just be silly. We do not operate the Church of Jesus Christ based on the latest trends because trends come and go. However, I do think there comes a time where things in culture have changed so significantly that we need to step back and evaluate our ministries to see how we might better position ourselves to reach coming generations more effectively.
One thing that I often say is that we as a church need to stay married to the mission not the model, our ministry methods may change but the mission never does. I admit that largely the Pentecostal church, even in my own denomination, has not always been quick to adapt to change in culture, and to some extent that is a good thing, but adapting is something that we’ve eventually just got to do. Now I know that when I say “adapt” some will hear “compromise”, again, that’s NOT what I’m saying. By definition the word adapt means to, “become adjusted to new conditions” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Unfortunately much of the church has not been very good at adapting to new conditions. We’re guilty of using tactics, methods, and models that worked years ago and because it was effective then, we assumed it would always be effective.
The illustration that popped in my head as I was typing this was the image of two fighters in the Octagon. Any good fighter who is serious about victory will take time to study his opponent’s fighting style in order that he might adapt his own fighting style for maximum effectiveness. Studying his opponent’s fighting style does not mean that he is compromising his own it just means that he wants to better position himself to anticipate attacks so that he might respond more effectively. Think about it, what is one of the first rules of effective communication? Know your audience! As you prepare your message you’ve got to have in mind who it is you are speaking to so that you can prepare more accurately. As a Student Pastor for 8 1/2 years one of my biggest pet peeves is when a preacher speaks to young people and it is obvious that his message has NOT been prepared with a young audience in mind, to me that is inexcusable. We have got to take the time to consider our audience and who it is that we are ministering to.
Below I have identified 7 particular areas that I really think the Pentecostal church needs to give attention to if we are going to be more effective in reaching coming generations:
1. Have a greater focus on Jesus
I have heard and admittedly even preached sermons where the name of Jesus was barely even mentioned. It’s very easy when your preparing messages to focus on all kinds of other details in the word of God instead of Jesus. We as preachers have got to be relentless in our proclamation of the gospel and who Jesus is to a lost and dying world. As preachers we are not called to merely preach words of human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:4) we are called to preach the message that the Apostle Paul preached, “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Whether we are preaching from the Old Testament or the New we have got to make sure that Jesus is in every message and that we are constantly calling people to place their faith and trust in Him and His finished work upon the cross. We must help people to see Jesus in the entirety of scripture. The people who attend our churches should have no doubt in their mind that everything we do is ultimately all about Jesus. The scripture says in Acts 4:12 that there is no other name under Heaven by which we are saved, the name of Jesus!
2. Become better at explaining what we believe
Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” We can no longer assume that people understand everything that is being said or done in our services. Were living in a time where Bible illiteracy is at an all time high, even with the increased accessibility of the Bible through technology, people are still startlingly ignorant of what the Bible teaches, especially when it comes to the Baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is critical that we do a better job of explaining on a regular basis in our services what we’re doing and why we’re doing it so our people can stay informed. For example I was in a church nearby a couple weeks ago where a message went forward in tongues during the altar call, the Lead Pastor, Pastor Greg, interpreted the message (1 Cor. 14:5), and then did a great job of explaining what just took place for those that were new or visiting, it was great! It just takes a moment to explain and is extremely helpful to those who are uninformed, especially if we give scriptural references. This will cause those who may (understandably) be a little weirded out by what just took place to understand that what just happened was in fact scriptural. I have found that once people see these things in the Bible for themselves that they are much more likely to warm up to it. The modern church today has taken the opposite approach, instead of taking the time to intelligently explain the moving of the Spirit, they’ve just done away with it all together for fear of turning people off. This train of thought is totally bogus, 1 Corinthians 14:22 says that tongues are a sign to unbelievers. It’s always possible that when someone comes to church and hears someone speaking in tongues that they might think its strange, but if we take the time to explain this biblical phenomenon every now and then those who are hungry for truth will be more likely to embrace it. I have found over the years that most people who come to a Pentecostal church and hear someone speaking in other tongues or operating in the gifts of the Spirit are actually intrigued by what they see and want to know more about it. We must do a better job of explaining Pentecost to the people who come through the doors of our churches each week.
3. Maintain sound doctrine
Let’s face it a lot of strange phenomenon has tried to creep into the church over the years, especially in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles. 1 Timothy 4:1 makes it clear that in the last days that many will “give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils”. Everything from unbiblical manifestations of the “Spirit”, to mysticism, and new age philosophies have tried and are trying to creep into the church under the guise of a “genuine moving of the Spirit”. Now more than ever Pentecostal churches have got to be grounded in sound biblical doctrine. If a so-called “doctrine” cannot be clearly found and defended from scripture then it must be discarded. Sure there’s room for debate about secondary issues but we absolutely cannot budge on the non-negotiables. Just because a certain “doctrine” is popular doesn’t mean it should be embraced. Pentecostals now more than ever need to be grounded in the word of God.
4. Understand the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism
Reformed Theology is making a huge comeback today and is especially popular among young evangelicals thanks to guys like Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, and the like. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy listening to Mark and Matt every now and then but I am by no means a Calvinist. I’ll be honest, I have some concerns. Calvinism is hip and trendy and whether some like it or not is here to stay. Pentecostal pastors and ministers would do themselves a favor by becoming informed about the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. Most Pentecostals are by definition Arminianist, though there are different extremes of Arminianism just as there are different extremes of Calvinism. There are lots of books and websites out there that do a far better job than I ever could to explain it, and frankly, you’ll need lots of time to really wrap your mind around the 5 points of Calvinism. I don’t claim to fully comprehend it all, but I have done some research and it has greatly increased my understanding, which has better equipped me to speak more intelligently about the subject.
5. Strive to become more culturally relevant
The word relevant is a word that many, including myself, are frankly sick of hearing. It’s overused, it’s cliché, but the meaning of the word still holds great importance. The church has got to fight to stay relevant to the average, every day, ordinary people who attend our churches. Most of the people who attend our churches are not Bible scholars, or seminary graduates, most of them are just normal, working class men and women who need to hear the truth of God’s word on a level they can understand. Admittedly many Pentecostal/Spirit filled churches far too often fall into the category of being so, “heavenly minded that they're no earthly good”. For far too long the church has been guilty of answering questions that nobody is asking. To some degree we need to have a pulse on what is happening in culture and figure out how best to relate with those that God has placed before us. We must ask ourselves, "what are people today thinking? What questions are they asking?" Personally I think there is nothing more powerful than seeing an anointed, Spirit filled, tongue talking man of God preaching the word in a way that connects with every day people and brings them to a higher level. What did Jesus say in Acts 1:8? He said “But you shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you and you shall be witnesses unto Me…” The true purpose of Pentecost is to go out and make a greater impact upon every day people in our world through the power of the Holy Spirit; you can’t get any more “relevant” than that.
6. Recommitment to corporate prayer
Jesus said in Matthew 21:13, “my house shall be called a house of prayer.” It’s sad but many modern churches today have totally abandoned corporate prayer for programs and gimmicks. And why should they pray? They really don’t need God to do the things that they are doing. People may be coming but is anything spiritual really even happening? I personally believe that a prayerless church is a powerless church. It may have the appearance that things are happening but in reality it’s spiritually empty. In Matthew 21:13 we see that Jesus just finished chasing out the money changers from the Temple because they were essentially making a business out of religion, not good! Yes, there is a business aspect to ministry but we can never get to a place where we think that we don’t need God to do the work of the ministry and touch peoples lives. You cannot be a spiritual church without prayer.
7. Modernize where we can
This last point may seem shallow and trivial to some but modernizing the look and feel of our churches can make a big difference in the natural. It’s nothing spiritual but as I said at the beginning of this post we need to think about how our message is both perceived and presented. You can walk into a restaurant that has amazingly delicious food but if you walk into the establishment and the place is old, outdated, and dingy then it’s likely you won’t even stay. While it is true that I would rather be in a Spirit filled church that’s a little old fashioned, as opposed to a non-Spirit filled church that is totally cutting edge, there’s no reason that Pentecostal churches today can’t have both. Now it may not be the building that needs modernizing, it may be the style of music, the dress code, or some of the programs in the church, but most churches have somewhere that they can modernize. To me it just shows people that we care. Pentecostal churches today would be wise in my opinion to take an honest look at their ministries and see where some modernizing may be necessary.
Anyway, just some of my thoughts. I love the Pentecostal church and just want to see it reach this generation as effectively as possible.
I made a post on Twitter just a few days ago that I've been chewing on for some time now. "The real of work of ministry is the work of discipleship". Let that sink in for a minute. The only true and lasting work that we as ministers can perform in the lives of people both young and old is the work of discipleship.
Jesus boldly commissioned us in Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV) — 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. One of the last things that Jesus wanted to leave us with before He ascended to Heaven was the command to go and “make disciples”.
After having been a Student Pastor for 8 1/2 years I can tell you first hand that it is extremely easy to fill up the youth ministry calendar with all kinds of activities, events, and social gatherings for your young people that have nothing to do with the work of discipleship. Yes there is a definite place for fun and fellowship in youth ministry; you’ve got to have that. But in many youth ministries fun and fellowship has caused discipleship to take a backseat. Let me stress it again; if we as youth pastors and youth leaders are not doing the hard work of discipleship in the lives of our young people then we are not only being disobedient to what Jesus has called us to do but we are failing a generation of young people.
It seems that the order of the day in many youth ministries across the nation is everything BUT discipleship. The order of the day is “BIG”! Big events, big crowds, big impact! The church as a whole celebrates big, recognizes big, big gets peoples attention, big is the measure of our success, or so we think. Youth pastors lose their jobs all the time, why? Because the youth ministry was not “big enough”. How come we never hear of youth pastors of large youth ministries getting let go because there aren’t enough true disciples being raised up? How come we don’t see more youth pastors getting let go because there is no substance to their ministries? Now don’t get me wrong I’m not advocating that youth ministries should remain small. I mean come on, every youth pastor in America wants their youth ministry to grow numerically. But could it be that we are neglecting the very thing that will cause that growth to happen? And not just random, freakish growth either, as can sometimes happen in youth ministries that are solely focused on “big”; but healthy, steady, stable growth. We need to realize that big is not always synonymous with healthy.
One thing that I know with absolute certainty is that any youth ministry that does not have a discipleship focus is very likely to have at least a handful of committed, faithful, regular students who are frustrated; because they’re ready to go deeper but they cant because all of the focus is on the crowd. I do not believe that you can effectively disciple your students from the pulpit; trust me I tried it for years. Yes, Jesus preached to the crowds but he also came aside with His disciples and taught them. I want you to notice something interesting, in Matthew 5:1 (NKJV) it says, “And seeing the multitudes, He (Jesus) went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.” Notice that the multitudes came out to hear Jesus but only His disciples followed him up the mountain. Isn’t that true in ministry? The crowds may come to hear us preach, they may enjoy sitting in our services and hearing our messages, but lets face it not all them are willing to follow us up the mountain. Not all of them are ready to go a little bit higher. Because if your going to be discipled you’ve really got to want it, you’ve got to be willing to put in some effort, you’ve got to be hungry for more!
The key for youth pastors and lead pastors is to identify those in their ministries that are hungry and ready for more, separate them from the crowd, and begin the hard but fruitful work of discipleship. Over the years of being in full-time youth ministry by far the greatest fulfillment for me has come from the discipling and mentoring of young people. Those students who I pulled away from the crowd to intentionally invest my life into. Most of those students are still solid in their faith today, still serving and loving Jesus, some of them have even gone off to Bible College to pursue the call of God upon their lives. That is the fruit of discipleship.
So practically what might discipleship look like in a youth ministry?
For each youth ministry it might look a little different. For us it has always taken the form of a series of teaching/mentoring classes with a handful of core students in our student ministry. Again, "big" is not what your looking for when it comes to discipleship, Jesus himself spent most of his time with the 12 disciples. Most recently we organized a 12-week youth discipleship course that we called “The Core”. Students who were ready to go deeper could sign up for the course for a small fee which included their book (we used Multiply by Francis Chan), a quality bible (in the style cover of their choosing), T-Shirt, journal, etc.
I organized the course by putting together a complete syllabus with all their assigned readings and assignments laid out. Students who completed the course would receive a certificate of completion and be acknowledged before the entire church on a Sunday morning. The Core was set up as a personal enrichment course so there were no grades or anything like that for students to worry about (students are stressed out enough with school). Students would get out of The Core whatever they put into it. We would meet on a weekly basis for an hour to pray and discuss the material. Students were all required to wear their Core T-Shirts to class each week, this helps to foster a sense of unity among the group, that we’re all doing this together. The overall idea was that I as their youth pastor would have the opportunity to personally mentor, disciple, and build relationships with my core students on a weekly basis. Once students complete the course they will not only be stronger Christians but they will have also formed a stronger bond with their youth pastor.
The idea is that as new students come into your youth ministry you identify the serious ones and then push them towards signing up for your discipleship program when it comes around. Once they graduate you continue the cycle each semester with new students. Ideally you would have a course in the Fall and another in the Spring, that way you are discipling students in your youth ministry almost year round. You could even think about doing a level 2 type of course that goes even further for students that have already completed the first course.
The thing we have to understand about discipleship is that it takes time but it will pay off big time in the long run. Imagine after a years worth of discipling students what your youth ministry will look like? What about after 2 years? How much healthier would your ministry be? Imagine looking out into the crowd on a Wednesday night and seeing that over half of your group has been trained and discipled, you've taught them how to pray, you've taught them to worship, you've taught them how to study their Bibles, you've given them resources to help them to grow. It can happen!
Anyway this is what has worked for us over the years. So what are you doing to disciple students or adults in your ministry?
If done fairly well using props and illustrations can greatly enhance the impact that your message can have upon your audience. I have preached a handful of illustrated sermons over the last nearly 9 years of youth ministry, and although some have gone over better than others, most of them have been effective in achieving the desired result I was hoping and praying for. (NOTE: The picture to the left was from a series I did last year called "Glow", I cut the letters out of a 2 inch thick 4/8 sheet of white foam board from Lowe's. I propped the sheet against a wall using two folding chairs, then I projected the letters on the sheet using a projector, then I traced the letters onto the foam board with a sharpie. I then cut out the words using a Hot Knife. Very slow process, a jigsaw works way better and faster)
The thing that you have to realize is that depending on what type of illustrations your planning on using in your message it can take lots of additional work to pull off well. For example, in the sermon clip that I've posted below, although it doesn't show all of it, I had 5 separate students from my youth ministry playing different roles throughout my message. They each had different outfits they had to wear, they all had to come out at specific times to specific music, I had a video that needed to be played at a certain point, I had sermon audio playing softly in the background as I preached through the second half of the message, it all took a lot more planning than some might think. An illustrated message is not one of those things that can be thrown together last minute. For the message clip below I actually had to schedule a rehearsal with all of my actors the day before just to make sure they knew what they were supposed to do. The last thing you want to happen is have your illustration flop when your live in front of about 800 people!
I once preached a message to my students where I planned on using a plastic Gas Can filled with "gas" (was actually water) as an illustration. At a certain time in the message I had planned to pour the water out of the Gas Can to illustrate a point. What I failed to do was to remove a little plastic tab thingy on the container before the service started to make sure that it would pour properly. So when I got to that part of the message and went to pour the water from the gas can it wouldn't pour! And I basically got into a wrestling match with the gas can on stage in front of all my students. Needless to say the illustration flopped, my students were chuckling, and it was very difficult to recover the message after that. I say all that just to say that illustrations in your message can either be a HELP or a HINDRANCE. In order to keep them from being a HINDRANCE you've got to put in the work on the front end.
Last October I preached an illustrated message around Halloween time called "Saw". I admit it was a little risky, but I knew my kids, knew their parents, and most importantly GOT PERMISSION FROM THE PASTOR! I used as my scripture reference the passage in Matthew 5 that talks about how "if your hand causes you to sin cut it off", etc. I wanted to make the point that when it comes to sin in our lives sometimes we've got to go to drastic measures in order to get to the root and deal with it. I began the message humorously by talking about how silly scary movies can sometimes be, the kids were laughing and having a good time. Then, unbeknownst to them, I had our College Pastor sitting back stage wearing a Hockey mask and holding a real chainsaw (with the chain removed of course for safety). At a specific point as I said the words, “Now can you imagine how scary it would be to actually get chased in real life by a dude with a chainsaw!?” Right after I said that the College Pastor came bursting out from back stage with the chainsaw revved up and walked out through the crowd. The look on their faces was priceless, they loved it! Then as I moved into the more serious part of the message I used that same chainsaw to illustrate my point, I held it in my hands as I preached, it was awesome! It went over just as I had planned! But again, planning, planning, planning. I had to secure the chainsaw from a member of our church, I had to meet with our College Pastor to make sure he knew how to turn the thing on while he was backstage. It all required work on the front end. Can you imagine if the College Pastor couldn’t figure out how to start the Chainsaw backstage? It would have ruined everything! (NOTE: In the picture to the right I've got the chainsaw sitting on a stand, a white sheet with fake blood splattered on it, severed hands, a foot, and eyeballs. It goes right along with Matthew 5, you'll probably only get away with this around Halloween time. Yes its a little extreme but I thought it was clever.)
I do however want to give you a word of caution. If you are going to preach illustrated messages then DO SO SPARINGLY! Don’t use illustrations for every single message you preach, it just comes off as gimmicky in my opinion. The last thing you want is to feel like your constantly competing with yourself to top the last big illustrated message you did. I have seen guys do it well and I have seen others overdue it to the point where the message gets totally lost in the midst of all the props and illustrations. You don’t want your illustrations to be a distraction from the message your trying to communicate. Plan a few illustrated messages for the year and that’s it, let it be something that when it comes around everyone looks forward to it.
One last thing; an illustrated message should always start with the text of the Bible. Always, always, always start with God’s word first. Let the illustrations come from your time reading and studying the word. The last thing you want to find yourself doing is trying to find a scripture to fit into some crazy illustration you came up with. We are called as ministers first and foremost to “PREACH THE WORD!” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Don’t let your illustrations be a cover up for the fact that you’re not in the word like you should be. If you can’t preach without all the props and illustrations then you might want to reevaluate your calling.
Check out the YouTube video clip below from an illustrated message I preached over a year ago called “Grave Clothes”. Maybe it will stir you up to try preaching an illustrated message for yourself.
A new message has been uploaded to my resources page
. This message was prepared in light of the Sandy Hook School Shooting that occurred just a couple weeks ago, I preached it to my students just last Wednesday. The message was followed by a powerful Human Video skit called "Let Go" that tied in perfectly with the content of this message. During the altar call we had a girl come forward who showed me the scars on her arm from where she had cut herself and the Lord touched her in a powerful way.
The Sandy Hook shooting hits especially close to home for me because I was born and raised in Connecticut and Newtown is just about 30 minutes from where we lived. Never in a million years would I have thought that the nations second deadliest school shooting would have happened in my home state.
So if your students are struggling with questions about why and how such a thing could happen this message might be helpful.
Hey everyone! I just wanted to let you know that I have finally taken the time to add some great stuff to my "Resources
" page! All of the content on there is absolutely free of charge, its just my way of trying to give back a little to any of my youth pastor and ministry friends out there. This page is filled with sermon series and stand alone messages that I have personally prepared and preached to my students. Please feel free to download, prepare, personalize, and preach these messages to your young people, make them your own and take all the credit, its all good! As a Student Pastor for over 8 years I know all about the stresses of preparing a fresh message to your young people week in and week out, so if I can help you out by giving you back some of your time then that's what I want to do.
Please just do me one small favor and email
or message me on Twitter or Facebook whenever you can if you use any of my material, it just blesses me to know that people out there are using my stuff. Let me know if I can help you in any way. Thanks for all you guys do in pouring into peoples lives through the preaching of the word! Be blessed!
Your friend and ministry partner,
(NOTE: This is a picture of Pastor Dewey Smith from a church in Georgia. He's a dynamite black preacher, but I just posted this pic cause I thought it was funny.)
One question that I have heard several times from young guys who feel like God might be calling them into the ministry is "how do I know if God is really calling me to preach?" This is a great question and one that should be taken seriously. The call to preach the gospel of Jesus is, and I don't believe this is an overstatement, one of if not THE most important job in the world! Yes it can be fun, yes it can be exhilarating, but it is a heavy responsibility. I mean think about it what other task given to people carries with it more weight than proclaiming the life changing message of Jesus to a lost and dying world? People's eternal destination literally hangs in the balance here, preaching is a big deal!
First a quick word of DISCOURAGEMENT!
Yes I said that right, I want to give those of you who feel like you may be called to preach a quick word of discouragement. The first question you need to ask yourself if you are trying to work out whether or not you are called of God to preach is, "where is this 'call' to preach coming from?" You have to be brutally honest with yourself here, "is this desire to preach coming from myself? Someone else? Or is it coming from God?" I have seen guys over the years get into the ministry for all the wrong reasons. I have seen Pastors kids riddled with guilt because they were pursuing a career in ministry simply because that's what they were expected to do by their family and friends, even though they themselves had absolutely no desire for it. I have seen guys desire to preach because they were star struck by the celebrity of Televangelists who wear fancy suits, travel with an entourage, drive expensive cars, live in luxurious homes, and fly around in private jets. I actually know of a guy who said from his own mouth, "I can't wait until my ministry gets so big that I have to have security guards to travel with me!" I mean c'mon, seriously dude? If you can't trust God to keep you alive during a church service then I don't want you praying for me! Here is my point; If there is ANY part of you that wants to preach because you want to please someone else, because you are envious of other preachers, or because you desire the praise and applause of man then you need to run, not walk, run from the ministry! I'm serious you need to get out now! You're motives have got to be seriously and honestly checked. Paul the Apostle even ran into this same problem in Philippians 1:15, "Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will." You don't want to be one of those guys who preach Christ out of selfish ambition but rather out of a sense of duty and calling from God. There's nothing wrong with having a passion and desire to preach, you should have that, but just make sure you motives are right.
3 WAYS THAT YOU'LL KNOW YOUR CALLED TO PREACH:
1. Others Will Confirm the Call
This is so key, one of the primary ways that you'll know your called to preach is that other people, primarily spiritual mothers and fathers in your life will confirm that call. They will identify and acknowledge a gift or anointing upon your life to open God's word and proclaim it to peoples lives. Relationship is key here, you can't listen to just anyone who comes your way with a "word from God" that you are called to preach. You need to have spiritual leaders in your life that you are in relationship with to affirm that call upon your life. Also, you will typically here it from more than one person. This is important, I believe in confirmation. If I feel that God is telling me to do something I always look for a confirmation from other sources, if God is leading you to do something it will be something that He will most likely repeat to you more than once. There is no magic number of how many times you need to hear it before you know it's God, but trust me you'll know when He's speaking to you.
2. The Desire to Preach Will Burn In Your Heart
Secondly, I really believe that if you are called to preach that there will be a fire, a passion, a burden on your heart to preach God's word, some people call this the "preachers itch". One of the things that started happening to me early on when I first began to sense the call to preach was that the Lord started to give me messages. As I would be reading the word of God I would begin to see things, the Lord would drop little nuggets of revelation into my heart, or I would be watching something on TV or a movie and thoughts or illustrations for messages would start to come to me. Not only will you have the desire to preach but you will also have an insatiable appetite for God's word. These two things really go hand in hand. You cant preach the word if you don't love the word. A man who desires to preach but doesn't desire the word is a fraud in my eyes.
3. You'll have a passion to see people meet Jesus
At the end of the day the job of every preacher and teacher of the word is to help people come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The focus of all our preaching is ultimately Jesus. Jesus is the central theme of all of scripture. What good is it if we teach people how to live lives that are in line with God's word but never introduce them to Christ? There are lots of people out there who live basically Christian lives but don't know Christ. At the heart of every preacher should be the desire to point people to Jesus.
The other day I got an incredible opportunity to share the gospel at a local High School. My instructions from those who invited me were very clear, they wanted me to share the GOSPEL! Not just any old message, but the gospel. I have to admit that over the years of preaching that I actually have not prepared that many messages that were totally centered around Jesus and how to be saved. I try to include Jesus in every message of mine, I always try to point unsaved students to Jesus in my messages, but its been a while since I prepared a message to a largely unsaved group of students. I thought to myself while I was preparing, "why is this so hard? This should be like second nature!" the weight of this event was weighing heavily upon me. The students I preach to in my youth ministry hear me every week, but here at this event I only had one shot! I knew that I had one chance to convince some students that they needed Christ in their life, and to lead them to make Jesus Lord of their life. Out of the 70 plus students that were huddled up in that Library at least 11 of them made decisions for Jesus! Praise God! Sure I would have loved to have seen more students get saved, but the fact that my preaching made an eternal difference in at least 11 students is quite a feeling. That's what preaching is ultimately all about. Having a passion for souls is a huge part of knowing whether you are truly called to preach.
I have been preaching from my iPad for well over a year now. I bit the bullet and purchased a 16gb iPad 2 from Best Buy early last year and I'm so glad that I did. I have found the iPad to be a great tool that has helped me incredibly in my preaching.
At first I was like a lot of guys, I thought that the iPad was nothing more than a gloried iPhone with one major difference, a larger screen. For the first couple of weeks that I owned my iPad I didn't use it to preach from because I couldn't quite figure out a way to do it that I felt good about. I knew that I couldn't just upload my Word document through a Word Processing app like Pages because I might accidentally delete a section of my notes or accidentally bring up the keyboard in the middle of my sermon, which would be a total disaster. So I knew that I would have to save the Word document files as a PDF to keep anything like that from happening. Now for what program to use? I didn't like iBooks because it lacked features, i didn't need that fancy turning 3D bookshelf, plus I didn't like the idea that my sermons would be mixed in with other eBooks that I might have uploaded to my iPad. Then I discovered GoodReader!
GoodReader was the answer that I was looking for. It was the #1 App on the iPad in 2010, it's packed with features such as cropping, highlighting, annotating, etc. it alphabetizes your files, plus it gives you the opportunity to create folders to store your sermons in. It's a great feeling to know that I have all of the messages that I have preached in the last almost year and a half stored right there on my iPad to pull up at a moments notice! The program is clean and easy to use, all you need is a few minutes to really get used to it. For me it was really important that I be able to crop my PDF files because I have terrible vision and really need to be able to zoom in on my text. GoodReader gives you the option to crop the margins out of you PDF file so that you can be as close to the text of your document as you'd like; and the cool thing is that it stays that way! So whenever you go back to a message you have already preached it will still be in the same format you left it. I then turn my iPad sideways (Landscape style) and bam, I have my message right there in front of me as large as I need it ready to deliver. As I am preaching I scroll through each page from top to bottom, then when i'm through with that page I can easily flip to the next by sliding my pointer finger on the screen from right to left as if I was flipping through an actual binder.
HOW I DO IT
So what I do is I type up my sermons on my Mac Book through Microsoft Word
, then once I'm finished I make sure that I insert Page Numbers
on the top and bottom right hand of my document. This is important because it helps you know how close you are to the end of your message while preaching it from your iPad. For example; my messages are typically about 10 pages long, so if I see that i am on page 5 or 6 I know that I'm half way through my message, then I know whether to speed up or slow down depending on the time. After my document is finished I save it as a PDF to my Dropbox
folder. Dropbox, if you haven't discovered it yet, is a life saver! I then pick up my iPad and access my Dropbox. I find my PDF then tap on it, once it comes up on the right I then click "Open In" on the upper right hand corner of the screen, a drop down menu appears, then I tap "GoodReader". GoodReader will then open and automatically save the PDF file within my GoodReader app adding it to my collection of messages. Then I am free to edit my PDF message by cropping (as I stated above), highlighting key words, adding annotations, etc.It's a solid app that has served me without fail for over a year now.DISABLE AUTO SCREEN LOCK
One really important thing is to make sure that you turn off your Auto Screen Lock featur
e. I forgot to do this once during a message and my iPad kept locking on me throughout my message which totally broke up the flow of my sermon and caused me to be distracted while preaching, not good! The last thing you want is to be wrestling with your iPad while your on stage in front of your audience, pressing buttons and switching screens, the iPad should be a help not a hindrance! You don't want your audience to even know that your preaching from a tablet, you want them focused on the message God has given you.DRAWBACKS OF PREACHING FROM A LAPTOP
For a few months before I got my iPad I used to preach from my Mac Book. Although it might have made me appear to be techie or trendy to be the Student Pastor who preaches from a "Mac" I found that there were a few major drawbacks; first of all it caused there to be barrier between me and the audience, namely my laptop screen. I didn't want to preach to my screen I wanted to preach to my students, and I found that my laptop just hindered that connection between me and my audience. Secondly, the whole time I was preaching the white Apple logo on the front of my Mac was lit up for all to see, now this may not seem like a big deal to some but when I'm preaching I want my audience focused on Jesus not Steve Jobs, it's just distracting. Also I found myself answering more questions after my sermons about Apple Computers than I was about Jesus, I'm not here to promote Apple I'm here to promote the Cause of Christ. Finally, it was just too big and clunky to lug around. The iPad thankfully has resolved all of those problems for me.ONE WORD OF CAUTION
Although I love technology and believe that it is a gift that can be used for great good, we have to understand that none of it is perfect. It's always possible that your iPad can get dropped, broken, stolen, get a virus, or just quit working. Make sure that you back up all of your sermons
to a computer or external hard drive so that in case something ever goes wrong you still have copies of your message saved somewhere. I know of guys who type and store all of their messages right on their iPad, if something bad happens to it then they have lost everything. Always backup your work.
Anyway I hope this little article was helpful, give GoodReader
a shot I'm sure you'll come to love it as I have! Check out the brief video below of how I upload my messages onto my iPad using GoodReader.
1. Who is My Audience?
You always want to start your message prep by asking yourself, “who is my audience? Who am I going to be communicating to? How old are they? Will there be a great deal of interest from the audience right off the bat or will I have to work for it? Do they know me well or will I have to take a few minutes to introduce myself? Is this the kind of audience that verbally backs up the preacher when he preaches or are they more low key? All of this will affect how you prepare your message, as it should.
Nothing is worse in my opinion, and I have seen this dozens of times, than when a preacher gets up and preaches to an audience that is NOT THERE! One of my biggest pet peeves is when I’m at what is supposed to be a “Youth Service” or “Youth Conference” and the preacher gets up there and acts like he or she is preaching to adults. To me that is inexcusable. When that happens it just reinforces the false idea in the mind of a young person that church is totally irrelevant to their life. I get fired up about this because I’m a Student Pastor who considers it to be a privilege to preach to young people, and every opportunity I have to speak to students I want to make sure that they know that I’m talking to them!
So it’s very important that we take into account right from the get go of our sermon prep who our audience is as that will dictate what the rest of the message looks like.
2. What is the Tone of this Message?
One thing that we need to pay attention to in our sermon prep is the tone that we are looking to strike in our message. What is the overall mood of this message? Some messages are very inspirational, funny, and upbeat; others are heart wrenching, soul stirring messages that shake you to the core of your being. Every message has a certain tone to it.
To better understand what I’m talking about just think about your last visit to the video store. When you walk down the isles you quickly see that the store is broken up into categories: “drama”, “comedy”, “thriller”, “horror”, “Action”, “Adventure”, “Documentary”, etc. It’s not that these movies don’t have other elements mixed in them but they can all be ultimately categorized based on the overall tone of the movie.
Last year I preached an illustrated message to our church called “Grave Clothes”, where I talked about the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The big idea of the message was that a lot of Christians are like Lazarus, they’ve been brought to new life by Jesus but for some reason they’re still walking around in their grave clothes, which symbolize what they used to be not what they are now. In the message I was looking to strike an eerie tone, so I found some eerie background music that droned softly in the background which effectively created the mood I was shooting for. We had tombstones placed on the stage behind me while I preached, and we had one of our students come out at a certain point in the message wrapped up like Lazarus. I had the audience in the palm of my hand, It was awesome! Of course I ended the message with great hope and gave people an opportunity to get rid of their “grave clothes” and walk in the freedom Christ has given them.
So next time your preparing a message ask yourself, “What tone am I looking to set in this message?” Then organize your message in a way that achieves that goal.
3. What is the Pacing of this Message?
It is impossible to maintain the same pace throughout your entire message, not without wearing out or boring your audience to death. Every speaker should take into account what the overall pacing of their message should be, and every message may call for something different. I hope that the goal of your preaching is not just to disseminate information, unless of course you’re teaching some sort of seminar or class where there is a great deal of interest from your audience in your subject, but rather I hope your goal is to take your audience with you on a journey, a journey that has ups and downs, twists and turns. It’s exciting for them and it will be exciting for you as the speaker!
Pace is something that Film Writers understand. For example I once saw a documentary about how Disney makes their movies. It was fascinating to me that they actually map out, using some sort of line graph, where the high and low points are throughout the entirety of the movie. They know exactly where the exciting, action oriented points are, and they also know where the sad, somber points are. They know where the suspense is and they know where the tear jerker scenes are. They build entire scenes throughout the movie to elicit the proper response or emotion that they are aiming for from their audience.
Try this little exercise the next time you’re watching a movie with your family. Get a notepad and a pen and try and figure out the overall pacing of the movie. Try and determine where the high and low points are in the movie, if it’s an action scene write “action”, if it’s a sad scene write “sad”, if its suspenseful scene write “suspense”, if its a scary scene write “scary”, you get the point. Don’t worry about all the fluff between scenes, just focus on the big chunks of the film. The background music is usually a dead giveaway for the kind of mood they are going for. Then once the movie is over sit back and look at what you have. I think what you will often find in your typical movie is a film that has its fair share of high’s and low’s strategically spaced throughout the movie.
So it is with our messages. In our preaching we need take people on a journey, one that causes them to walk away saying, “wow, what a ride!”
4. Where am I going to put some Passion Moments?
As an unapologetically Pentecostal preacher, I would definitely say that Passion Moments are my favorite parts of any message. These are the parts of your message where you just let loose and drive your point home with passion, fire, and conviction. If anyone is going to say “Amen!”, “Hallelujah!”, or my favorite, “Come on, preach it!” it would be here. At these points the volume of your voice might increase, the force behind your words might intensify, your body gestures might become a little more animated, and you might even (God forbid) sweat a little! I love what Martin Luther once said, “put some fire in the sermon, or put the sermon in the fire.” I couldn’t agree more! Almost every good message should have some Passion Moments strategically placed throughout it. Some messages may call for more Passion Moments and some may call for less, but there is no doubt that a well placed Passion Moment can be very effective in igniting the hearts of your audience.
Now I will say that we do need to use some caution here, I have seen guys do it just right and I have seen guys overdo it by shouting at their audience the whole time. This can be counterproductive, as no one likes to feel like their being screamed at the whole time; if you do this people will eventually tune you out. Preaching with passion and screaming are two totally different things. One stirs people’s hearts and the other hurts people’s ears.
Understand that every preachers Passion Moments are going to be a little different, don’t try to imitate the way others do it, find out what works for you and stick with it, learn what you can, but stick with what matches your unique style. I don’t care what anyone says, there IS an art to preaching and every “artist” does it a little differently. So next time you’re preparing a message be intentional about including some well placed Passion Moments, I think that you’ll find it to be very effective and much more exciting!
Nothing will cause you to come face to face with your humanity like being in the ministry.
Anyone who thinks that the ministry is a walk in the park doesn't know a thing about it. The ministry will stretch you, the ministry will push you to very edge of what you even think you are capable of, the ministry will throw you to your knees in prayer not even because you want to pray necessarily but because you HAVE to pray just to make it. I can't tell you how many times I have been driven to my knees in prayer not out of desire but out of desperation; because I needed God to show up in some way.
Welcome to the ministry!
I was reading this morning in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestled with God all night long. I read something very interesting in verse 28, "And He said, 'your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God AND with men, and have prevailed. -NKJV" That's what ministry feels like sometimes, it feels like a wrestling match, a struggle, a battle. Sometimes you feel like your wrestling with God and sometimes you feel like your wrestling with people. The ministry will exhaust you at times, it will exhaust you mentally, physically, and spiritually. Sometimes you will find yourself completely depleted of strength, wondering if your even making a difference, wondering if your ministry is making an impact on anyone's life, wondering if anyone is really listening....... Then you get an email like the one I just received this morning from one of the Mom's in my Student Ministry:
First of all I want to thank you and your wife for the wonderful job that you do. You have been such a great role model for my two girls. With the absence of their father they look up to you. Thanks again for the positive role that you play in their lives....
When you get random emails like that you realize, it's worth it all! The ups, the downs, the mountains, the valley's, the fruitful times, and the not so fruitful times, the trials, the challenges, its worth every second when you realize that you ARE making a difference, that you ARE making an impact, that someone IS getting it, even if you don't know it yet.
I have learned through experience over the last 8 years of full-time Student Ministry that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is be faithful and hold on. What did the Apostle Paul say in Galatians 6:9? He said, "9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. -ESV". It's sad but lots of guys give up right before the breakthrough comes, don't let that be you! Looking back over the years I realize that it was the tough seasons of ministry that shaped me the most. There were things that God pulled out of me during the hard times that I didn't even know were there. I'm stronger today than I've ever been because of it.
So, Pastor, Youth Pastor, Ministry Leader, or Lay Person, I don't know what season you find yourself in right now but HANG IN THERE! Be encouraged, because breakthrough is coming, the harvest is on its way, and when it does you'll look back and say IT WAS WORTH IT ALL!