Praying for the Church: Receptive Hearts

The Church must have people with receptive hearts!

In telling the parable of the soils, this is how Jesus described “good soil” …

The seed scattered on good soil are those who hear the word and embrace it. They bear fruit, in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case sixty to one, and in another case one hundred to one. (Mark 8.20, CEB)

Unfortunately, good soil is only one of the four options Jesus highlighted. And, it was the only good one!

Our job as followers and witnesses of Jesus is to scatter seed, but we certainly want our seeds to find good soil, receptive hearts.

O God, thank you for the seeds that found their way into our hearts, and for the grace that allowed them to bear fruit in our lives!

May every heart in the Church be receptive to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. We pray …

Examine me, God! Look at my heart! Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts! Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me, then lead me on the eternal path! (Psalm 139.23-24, CEB).

May your Word find good soil in our hearts so that we will continue grow “in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4.15, NLT) and so that we will follow wherever you lead!

Send your Spirit to go before us and to prepare the way in front of us. May people’s hearts be receptive to you so that we may bear much fruit for your kingdom, for your honor and glory! Amen.

(I invite you to pray with me for the Church. Previous prayers include: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, trust, discipline, courage, vision, provision, humble & hungry, patience & persistence, and unpredictable & uncontrollable).

Practice Doesn’t Make Preaching Perfect

There’s a myth that says, “Practice makes perfect.” But there’s also a fairly common rebuttal that says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.”

Whether you are a musician, an athlete, a communicator, or whatever, just because you do something over and over doesn’t mean you’re getting better at it. You may simply be reinforcing bad habits!

I’ve heard John Maxwell say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice with evaluation makes perfect.” Practicing with evaluation and reflection is how we grow. That’s certainly true in preaching!

Preachers must constantly make adjustments in order to become better communicators. Occasionally, after preaching, I will list some adjustments I need to make, such as, “too much information; leave more on the ‘cutting room floor,'” “be further ahead by Thursday morning,” “create more tension in the opening,” “include more practical examples,” “do a better job of internalizing the text,” etc.

During my preaching journey, I’ve tried to make some adjustments. The biggest change I’ve ever made was transitioning to a one-point preaching approach in 2006 (after reading Andy Stanley and Lane Jones’ book, Communicating for a Change). In more recent years, I’ve been investing more time and effort in growing as a communicator, with an emphasis on sermon preparation (see Preaching Requires Investment).

One area that has undergone constant development over the course of my ministry is how I use sermon notes, which I wrote about a few years ago. Basically, I’ve tried many different approaches: handwritten or printed half sheets hidden in my Bible, a small notebook, one 8.5×11 sheet, a storymap, etc. More recently, as I’ve been using fewer and fewer notes, I’ve been limiting my notes to one post-it note (or preferably, no notes at all). The bottom line is, you have to find what works best for you. I’ve discovered that the more detailed my notes are, the more scripted and inhibited I feel (and I hate that feeling)!

While all of this is secondary to time with God and cultivating our relationships with God, we still have a responsibility to develop and grow the gifts God has given us to communicate God’s message!

What adjustments have you made along the way? What adjustments do you need to make next?

Prayers for the Church: Unpredictable & Uncontrollable

The Church needs to give up control and let God be in charge. It’s his Church after all.

I read a prayer in The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson (see 5 Takeaways From “The Circle Maker”), which has stuck with me ever since I read it: “Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable.”

It’s a scary prayer. But I believe it’s a necessary prayer for churches that truly want to be faithful and obedient, churches that want to make the biggest impact on the world possible!

Scripture says …

God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being. (2 Corinthians 2.9, quoting Isaiah 64.4, CEB)

O God, the Church is your idea. It belongs to you. You are the Head of the Church. You are Lord and Master and King, and we are your servants and followers. O Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!

You have called us to follow you and to engage in your mission in the world. You lead us out of our comfort zones. It’s often difficult and messy to participate in what you are doing in the world. O Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!

We don’t just want to go through the motions. We don’t want to “play church.” We want our lives and our service to make a difference for the cause of Christ. O Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!

Do whatever you need to do in us, Lord—in our hearts and in the Church—to make us a Church you can use. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us. Help us to be moldable and adaptable and nimble, willing to follow wherever you lead! O Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen. (Ephesians 3.20-21, CEB)

Amen.

(I invite you to pray with me for the Church. Previous prayers include: awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, favor, endurance, trust, discipline, courage, vision, provision, humble & hungry, and patience & persistence).

Processing the 2013 Global Leadership Summit

The words awesome, incredible, amazing, and even life-changing can often be over-used to describe events or experiences. But I wouldn’t have a problem using these words to describe the 2013 Global Leadership Summit that took place in the last two days!

The event was attended by more than 80,000 leaders across the US at more than 230 satellite locations (it will be translated into 45 languages and taken to nearly 100 countries in the coming months where more than 100,000 international leaders will experience the event, as well).

What I enjoyed most about the Summit was NOT just the content, but the IMPACT, spiritually and emotionally. This was our third Summit, and every year I describe it as leadership formation by firehose! It’s always intense, and this year was as intense as ever!

The Summit is highly impacting because of the great communicators, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s great because of the diversity, which gives it so much contrast. One moment, we’re listening to a pastor, the next we’re listening to a business leader, an educator, or someone fighting for justice in a dark part of the world. Other times are filled by creative artists and musicians. There’s also a variety of personalities and communication styles. That diversity provides a great deal of contrast.

You can read detailed notes from some of the sessions at the WCA Blog. Others, like Scott Cochrane, have posted their favorite quotes (day 1 and day 2). Auxano posted some statistical details, including the fact that the #wcagls hashtag was the #1 trending topic on Twitter on Thursday and Friday, generating 50 million tweets.

Courage was the major theme of the Summit. Bill Hybels, who’s written about courage (see my post on his book, Courageous Leadership), kicked off the event with a talk centering around God’s word to Joshua to be strong and courageous. But there were other major themes, as well, such as emotional and spiritual health, and failure is a necessary, and painful, part of leadership.

At the heart of the Summit is the belief, as expressed by Bill Hybels, “Everybody wins when a leader gets better!” Hybels also noted that “Leaders are incurable learners!” That’s why so many people participate in the two-day event. I especially love the fact that over the last few years, even more leaders outside the US experience the event than inside the US!

Heading into the Summit, I didn’t know who all of the speakers were. I was most excited about Bill Hybels (no one inspires and challenges me more) and Andy Stanley (another leader and communicator who challenges me), as well as Patrick Lencioni, whose book on organizational health, The Advantage is making an impact here in Clearfield (both of our church councils are studying it as well as one or more organizations in the community). I also wanted to hear Brené Brown after having watched her popular TED Talk. But it was also good to hear speakers I wasn’t familiar with (there were no bad sessions)!

Here are some of my favorite quotes …

“God made you a leader to move people from here to there … we cannot stay here! (Bill Hybels)

“It doesn’t take a lot of guts to stand before people and say, ‘I long for the day…’ It takes courage to say ‘This is that day!'” (Bill Hybels)

“Some of the best rewards in a leader’s marathon are reserved for late in the race.” (Bill Hybels)

“Love God. Love People. Do stuff.” (Bob Goff)

“Don’t just teach principles. Connect to values. … You want to change the world? Learn how to change behavior!” (Joseph Grenny)

“Love is cultivated between two people only when there is self-love present in both. … It’s very difficult to love people more than we love ourselves. (Brené Brown)

“We can’t give people what we don’t have.” (Brené Brown)

“If you haven’t given a sermon and wanted to leave town afterward, you aren’t trying hard enough!” (Brené Brown)

“Without failure there can be no innovation.” (Brené Brown)

“The size of your harvest depends on how many leaders you have. The more harvesters you have the larger your harvest will be.” (Oscar Muriu)

“Identify the budding leaders around you and take them to God in prayer.” (Oscar Muriu on what he calls his “hit list”)

“Lead where you are. You only have between this day and your final day to make a play for God.” (Bill Hybels)

Well, there’s a lot to process. Joleen and I want to follow-up by reading some books by some of the speakers, including Joseph Grenny and Henry Cloud, in particular. The process didn’t end when the Summit concluded yesterday. In many ways, the journey is just beginning!

Preaching With a Demonstration of the Spirit

Over the last few months, some words by the Apostle Paul have been shaping my thinking about preaching.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2.4-5

My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I did this so that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of people but on the power of God. (CEB)

And, similarly, in 1 Thessalonians 1.5, he says …

… our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. (CEB)

Communication skills are important. We should certainly seek to grow and develop our skills and gifts. We should learn how to craft compelling messages (the book I’ve blogged about more than any other is a book on communication called, Resonate; this post includes links to all of the posts I’ve written about the book).

But preaching—the act of presenting and communicating God’s Word—is different than other forms of communication. It’s more than a presentation. When preaching takes place with a demonstration of the Holy Spirit, the presentation has a greater impact than mere words alone can possibly have. God does something in the lives of the hearers that preachers, no matter how skilled, can do on their own!

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a formula for experiencing a demonstration of the Spirit in preaching (at least I haven’t found one). But John Ortberg indicates that it’s simply part of the preacher’s life (see his article, When Bad Sermons Happen to Good Preachers).

I don’t know the formula, but I do know that prayer is huge part of the mix (see Preacher & Prayer). And cultivating a deep, vital, growing relationship with God!

That’s not always easy to maintain in ministry. A. W. Tozer laments, “In an effort to get the work of the Lord done we often lose contact with the Lord of work.”

Interestingly, early on in the life of the Church, the apostles hit a point where they needed to refocus their priorities. In the end, they decided to recruit a team and release ministry to them so they could “devote (themselves) to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word” (Acts 6.4, CEB). Communicating God’s Word and prayer must go together!

To help maintain my focus, Paul’s words have become part of my prayers

O God, please let my message and my preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ, be presented not just in speech or mere words—even convincing wise words—but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power and with deep conviction, so that people’s faith won’t depend on human wisdom but on the power of God! Amen.

Finding Your Rhythm for Sermon Preparation

I recently wrote Rethinking Sermon Preparation where I talked about the nature of sermon preparation (God works on and in the preacher first so that the preacher can help hearers take a similar journey). This post is about finding your rhythm for sermon preparation.

It’s easy to fall into a rut with sermon preparation. We may learn how to prepare sermons in a college or seminary class, or on our own, and think that’s the only way to prepare sermons. Then we’re stuck doing it that way for the rest of our lives!

But, there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach for sermon preparation. You have to find what works for you, and the only way you can do that is through lots of experimentation and trial and error!

Some preachers carve out one full day or two half days a week for sermon prep; others schedule smaller blocks of time each day. Some prepare week to week, focusing on one sermon at a time; others work on sermons a few weeks ahead of time. Some work in quiet, secluded places; others prefer noisy, public places. Some write out full manuscripts or detailed notes; others create story maps or story boards.

The bottom line is, don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s only one way to prepare sermons. Work on it until you find the rhythm that works best for you, and be flexible to adjust it, as necessary.

How has your sermon prep evolved over the years? What have been the most significant changes you’ve made in your preparation? What adjustments will you make in the near future?