Preaching Requires Investment

Preaching is hard work. It’s not just the act of preaching that’s hard, but all of the prep that goes into it during the days (and sometimes weeks) leading up to the preaching event. Preaching requires a lifetime of investment!

Recently, I heard Bill Hybels quoted as saying …

Preaching has been the single most vexing activity that I am engaged in, in Christian work. Nothing beats me up or puts me on my knees for longer periods of time, frustrates me more, or creates a greater feeling of dependency on God than preaching and teaching.

My primary spiritual gifts are leadership and preaching. But it can be challenging to have two passions (I tend to have a one-track mind). That tension goes back about twenty-five years. Not long after devoting my life to Christ, I began sensing a call to ministry, specifically, “a call to preach.” But just before I graduated from college, I heard John Maxwell (before he was internationally known as a leadership expert), and I have been a student of leadership ever since.

For many years, I focused on leadership, and preaching took a back seat. That began changing in 2006 when I read Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (see One-Point Preaching and 5 Years of One-Point Preaching). Transitioning to one-point preaching has been the single biggest transition I’ve made in ministry!

Ironically, the transition to one-point preaching occurred while I was working on a D.Min. program with an emphasis in leadership. When I chose a topic for my dissertation, I tried to unite my passions for leadership and preaching. In my dissertation, I used the term “leader-communicator” and looked at how leader-communicators shape a missional culture through preaching and communication. It was an attempt to unify my passions!

Now, I am in the middle of another major transition in my preaching life (I recently wrote What I’m Learning About Preaching). Whereas the transformation in 2006 was related mostly to sermon structure, this transformation is mostly about sermon preparation.

I’ve always known sermon prep was important, of course (see The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation); it’s just always been a struggle to prioritize. On top of that, it doesn’t usually take me very long to put a sermon together. But, in recent months, I’ve been increasing the amount of time I spend soaking in and studying the text before putting the sermon together!

A major reason for this transformation is Preaching Rocket, a one-year video coaching program with monthly videos. It’s expensive (I’m grateful for my continuing education fund at Centre Grove!), but it’s an investment in my ongoing preaching development!

I can’t really point to anything specific about the Preaching Rocket program (I was one of the first to sign up nearly a year ago, as a charter member) other than it’s simply an opportunity to focus on my development as a preacher. And, the content is good. In the process, I’m gaining an appreciation for more effective sermon preparation!

Preaching Rocket kicked off last year with a free online conference called “Preach Better Sermons.” It was great (see 5 Takeaways from Preach Better Sermons). The next Preach Better Sermons event takes place tomorrow (May 1). There’s a great lineup of communicators, including Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, Mark Batterson, and a number of others.

I’m especially looking forward to Nancy Duarte, whose book, Resonate, I’ve blogged about extensively (the last one, with links to the others, was “Resonate”: Bringing it All Together). Duarte’s work has been a significant part of my preaching development (the eight blog posts I wrote about Resonate indicate that!).

Well, you can sign up for the free online preaching conference here. I’m looking forward to it. It’s another opportunity to invest in my preaching (and it’s FREE)!

What the Most Powerful Preachers Do Before Breakfast

In the last two days, I read three mini-ebooks by Laura Vanderkam. The books are from her series, What the Most Successful People Do. The books are good because they are short, practical, and include lots of personal stories and application.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast is about early morning routines and making the most of the early morning hours. Vanderkam asserts, “learning to use mornings well is … what separates achievement from madness.” Of course, this is certainly much easier to swallow for morning people than night owls!

Thankfully, I’ve always been more of a morning person. In fact, I’ve been working on improving my own morning routine in recent months. Before we had kids, maintaining a strong morning routine was much easier than it has been in the last five years!

This book has also got me thinking about what the most powerful preachers do before breakfast.

Back in college when I was discerning God’s call on my life, I remember reading about powerful preachers from past centuries. There were differences among them, in terms of theology, personality, and preaching style, but one thing they seemed to share was that they prayed during the early morning hours, usually getting up around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. and spending two, three, or even four hours in prayer!

So, what do the most powerful preachers do before breakfast? Mostly, they pray!

In my morning routine, I try to include prayer, journaling, and Bible reading. I also try to exercise before breakfast. On the treadmill, I may listen to worship songs, read, listen to an audio lesson, or watch a TED talk.

Vanderkam contends, “The best morning rituals are activities that, when practiced regularly, result in long-term benefits.” She says, “When you make over your mornings, you can make over your life. That is what the most successful people know.”

What’s your morning routine? What do you do before breakfast? How can you improve it to make the most of the early morning hours?

I Love the Psalms!

I’ve always loved the book of Psalms. I am often reading through the psalms. In fact, in the earlier days of my journey, I followed what I heard was Billy Graham’s system for reading Psalms and Proverbs (5 psalms and 1 chapter of Proverbs per day, reading through each book once a month).

I want to pass on my love and appreciation for the psalms to our kids. I recently wrote about 5 Children’s Books for Family Devotions. The list included Psalms for Young Children. The book, which is nicely done, includes a few sentences from a number of the psalms.

During this past Lenten season, I was re-reading parts of 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton (see my blog post on the book). In the book, Hamilton discusses the psalms, noting that Jesus and the disciples would have sung selected verses from Psalms 113-118 following the Passover seder meal.

Hamilton writes …

Jesus turned regularly to the psalms, drawing from them throughout his public ministry. He taught from the psalms, he sang from the psalms at the Last Supper, and it was the psalms that he prayed as he hung on the cross. Clearly they were an important part of his spiritual life. If we seek to learn spiritually from Jesus, we will want to become familiar with the psalms. Like Jesus, we will draw comfort from selected verses. The Gospels do not show him reciting entire psalms but rather choosing this or that verse, often drawing on beautiful, noble, and lofty verses nestled among less noble, even vengeful, verses in particular psalms.

The psalms represent the heart and soul of the Bible, and Jesus’ use of them during the last twenty-four hours of his life beckons us to become more familiar with them. (32).

Are the psalms an important part of your spiritual life? How do you read the psalms?

Celebrating Earth Day

For Earth Day, Ethan’s Kindergarten class put on a special Earth Day program. The class, which spent weeks preparing, did a great job. And, we are very proud of Ethan!

The one-hour program included a few songs, some readings, a “video book” (an edited video of each child reading a page from a book), planting four different kinds of seeds in small containers, and refreshments. It was a nice program!

We continued the celebration at home. For dinner, we had “crazy bugs” bug-shaped macaroni and cheese. And, for dessert, we had “dirt dessert.”

Interestingly, here’s an article with the backstory of Earth Day: Pentecostal Origins of Earth Day. Also, Joleen found a children’s book that’s good for a God-centered celebration of Earth Day: God Gave Us the World

Here are a few photos from the day …

Partnering With Churches in Sierra Leone

Both of the churches we serve participate in the Sierra Leone Initiative, which allows us to partner with United Methodist churches in Sierra Leone.

Two guests from Sierra Leone are currently touring churches in our conference, reporting on the work in their country. We met both of them this past weekend, and one of them, Rev. Solomon Rogers, stayed with us Friday afternoon through lunchtime on Sunday (Ethel Sandy was also with us Friday afternoon).

The significance for us is that Solomon is the pastor of the church Centre Grove partners with (Kercher). Solomon is also the district superintendent of the Kenema district where West Side’s partner church is (Rorucks), as well as a second church one of Centre Grove’s Sunday school classes partners with (Dodo).

We enjoyed having Solomon in our home, and the kids enjoyed having a guest, as well. The Kercher church presented Joleen and I with nice, locally made shirts, and pants for Joleen. We wore them on Sunday, which matched the shirt Solomon wore.

Solomon spoke at West Side on Saturday night. He began Sunday morning at Centre Grove with breakfast and speaking during the Sunday school hour. Solomon attended and participated in worship services at Centre Grove and West Side. Both churches prayed for Solomon and the work in Sierra Leone.

The United Methodist Church is growing and vibrant in Sierra Leone (as it is throughout much of Africa), in spite of tremendous challenges. We are grateful for the privilege of connecting with Solomon. Communications in Sierra Leone can be pretty challenging, but we hope to be able to communicate more in the future.

Thanks to church photographers, John Kordish (Centre Grove) and Russell Unick (West Side), here are some photos from Sunday services at Centre Grove and West Side …

How Much Sleep Do You Get?

In recent months, I’ve been trying to improve my sleep. I just read an article by Tony Schwartz, Sleep is More Important Than Food, which is challenging me to be even more intentional.

For most of my life, I’ve taken sleep for granted. When I was a kid, I thought sleep was a waste of time. But, for most of my life, I haven’t had trouble sleeping. In recent years, however, I haven’t been intentional about getting enough sleep.

I am a morning person, but after becoming a parent, I started doing more after my normal bedtime. This led to a downward spiral by going to bed late and not getting enough sleep (this probably played into issues with my heart rate during the past year).

For my Lenten practice this year, I simply decided to try going to bed at a decent time (by 10:00 p.m.). My hope was that I’d also get up earlier, and therefore, have more quality time for devotion and my morning routine. I didn’t really force a get-up time because I knew I was still catching up on rest. It work pretty well; I usually got up between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (though the quality of my sleep still isn’t as good as it used to be).

I’ve always known I should try to rest or nap in the early afternoon; our schedule is such that we need to, sometimes. Our days start early in the morning and sometimes go well into the evening, so, it’s imperative that we carve out time to rest during the day. We just aren’t always good about doing so!

Schwartz’ article cites a study of violinists, which revealed that the top performers not only practiced, they also got plenty of sleep, getting an average of 8.5 hours of sleep per 24 hours, including a 20-30 minute nap.

To increase my sleep, I’ll need to go to bed earlier, because it’s important I get up early (especially with kids). Hopefully, the quality of my sleep returns and improves over time!

What about you? How much sleep do you get? Are you getting enough?