I was talking with a group of pastors in Rwanda a few months back, and they asked me to tell them what it meant to be a Purpose Driven church in as simple a way as possible. I said to them that the simplest way I know how to express what it means to be Purpose Driven is “to build Jesus’ church the way that Jesus wants it built.” Jesus shows us how to build his church in both what he taught and what he modeled.
Being Purpose Driven means you’re seeking as a church to do all that Jesus taught his church to do. “A great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission will grow a great church.” In the great commandment and great commission of Jesus you find him talking about the five purposes of evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and mission (Matthew 28:18-20). He talks about these purposes not only in these two passages, but also throughout his ministry – possibly most clearly in his teaching to the disciples the night before he went to the cross in John 13-17. It is his church that we are building, so obviously we are going to do the things that he taught us to do in building it.
Jesus not only taught us these principles, he also modeled them for us. I’ve found that for many pastors and church leaders it is the model of Jesus that gives clarity as to what they need to do in their church to balance God’s purposes. One of the simplest ways to look at the ministry of Jesus is to understand that he had a ministry to the crowd and a ministry to the disciples. These two ministries were intertwined. As he ministered to the crowd, he was serving the disciples. As he was teaching the disciples, he was ministering to the crowd. He didn’t serve one or the other, he served both simultaneously.
To be Purpose Driven is to have a ministry to the crowd and a ministry to the disciples. The crowd is the community around you who does not yet know Christ or has not yet connected with the Body of Christ as a place to grow and serve. The disciples, stating the obvious, are the group of believers in your church that you are seeking to help to grow in fulfilling God’s purposes in their lives.
So what does it mean in a practical way to follow the model of Jesus in ministering to the crowd and to the disciples? Here are the two ideas I gave my pastor friends in Rwanda.
Have a ministry to the crowd that includes being welcoming to them in your worship services.
There are many kinds of ministry that we could and should have to the hurting world around us. Those ministries must meet the needs of your community. You help those who are hungry to be fed, those who are addicted to find recovery, those without jobs to find work, those in grief to get support, those without God to know God – the needs are as many as the people in your community. The bridge to people’s hearts is to help them see how Christ can meet their deepest need, whether it be physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual.
As that need is met, there must also be a bridge into the fellowship of the church – because it is only in the church that we can find continued healing. Building that bridge has strategic parts to it that include language, culture, music, and accessibility. But above all of that is the simple need to be friendly to new people when they show up. Too many churches still don’t know how to be welcoming to new people. They may welcome them from the front during the worship service, but before and after the service the new person is totally ignored. The new person or family, who may be grateful that the church helped feed them during that week, is left to conclude that while the church wants to help them with food they really don’t want them to be a part of the family. They’re on the outside looking in.
I can say that even as a pastor I’ve been to many, many churches where I’ve felt like I was on the outside looking in. I could tell the people in the church loved and enjoyed each other by the way the spoke to each other – I just didn’t feel invited in. I know we don’t do this intentionally, it’s just easier to talk to a friend instead of the person we’ve never met. The point is that we must become intentional. While you may have greeters in your church, being welcoming is not the job of just a few greeters. Every single member is responsible for welcoming a new person at church, just as much as every single member of a family is responsible for welcoming a new baby into that family.
The vast majority of people will not automatically be friendly to new people – it goes against our cultural and relational norms. That means it’s up to us as leaders to train people to be friendly, to create a welcoming culture. If people in your church are not being friendly to newcomers, it’s a responsibility that lands squarely on you as a leader. The two most effective ways to teach it are by modeling it yourself and by including stories about it in your teaching to establish it as a value.
Have a ministry to the disciples that includes a clear path that teaches them to do all Jesus commanded.
Jesus taught us to “teach them to do all I have commanded you.” He not only taught this, he also modeled it for us in his three years of working with the twelve disciples. Because this calling is so important, it cannot be left to chance. We must give disciples a clear path to living a life of healthy fellowship with believers, growth in Christ, serving others, living on mission, and worship of God. What is that pathway in your church? If you cannot identify it in seconds, I guarantee you that the new person in your church will rarely be able to find it at all.
The longer I’m in ministry, the more I appreciate the power of a clear pathway. Pathways inspire direction and movement. If you were to walk up to the edge of a forest thick with trees, your tendency would be to stand and enjoy the view. But if you walked up to that same forest and saw a clear path that wound its way through with beautiful flowers and markers on both sides and a sign over the entrance that said “This path is for you,” everything in you would want to take that path. When there is no clear pathway in your church, new people tend to stand back and enjoy the view instead of entering in to become involved.
At Saddleback, the clearly marked start to the path is the CLASS series:
101 – Discovering Our Church Family
201 – Discovering My Spiritual Growth
301 – Discovering My Ministry
401 – Discovering My Life Mission
These classes are the path to get our people started in their growth in God’s purposes. The clear reason for the growth of God’s people at Saddleback is the clear path of these classes where people make commitment to living by God’s purposes. We’ve taught them almost every month for over 35 years! Why have over 42,000 people been baptized at Saddleback? Because we’ve been welcoming to new people and taught Class 101 every month for 35 years. Why is Saddleback one of the most generous churches in the world? Because we’ve taught Class 201 (which focuses on the habits of Bible study, small group, and giving) every month. How is it that we have over half our members actively involved in over 500 different ministries? Because we’ve taught Class 301 every month. How has Saddleback sent over 14,000 members to do missions in every country on the planet? Because we’ve taught Class 401 every month for year after year after year. Because God is always doing something great and something new, I believe there are churches just starting today that will see far greater fruit than this. And I believe that there are churches that have been faltering for decades in which God wants to do the possibly greater work of bringing new life. Our part is to follow the model and teaching of Jesus and to give a clear path to teach them all to do all that Jesus commanded.
To take this from thought into action, let me end with two questions to work on.
How could you train your church to be more friendly through your example and teaching?
How could you more clearly define your pathway for growth in God’s purposes?
As leaders we cannot successfully walk through ministry alone. We must be connected to people who are ahead of us in the journey, people who are right behind us, and people who are walking alongside us.
Paul described this kind of multigenerational mentoring relationship in 2 Timothy 2:2: “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (NLT).
Paul and Timothy modeled three kinds of relationships all Christian leaders need in order to grow and serve effectively. Their relationship showed us that:
1. We need a spiritual father.
Paul calls Timothy “my true son in the faith” in 1 Timothy 1:2 (NLT). We first meet Timothy in Acts 16 when Paul is heading out on his second missionary journey. He stops in Lystra to pick up the young disciple who accompanies him, assists him, and serves as a sort of apprentice under him. Paul becomes a spiritual father to Timothy.
My heart hurts as I see the number of young pastors and leaders who are enthusiastically serving with big dreams but lack spiritual fathers. I’ve been fortunate: I’ve had many spiritual fathers in my life—from my biological father to other Christian leaders who have taken me under their wings. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
I believe we can learn and be mentored from people who died long ago. For example, I recommend that at least 25% of a church leader’s reading be spent in pre-Reformation era writings and another 25% from the Reformation to the modern missionary age. Another 25% of our reading should be drawn from the generation just previous to ours, and only the remaining 25% should come from contemporary authors. We need to hear from voices that have gone on before us. Those voices connect us to centuries of church history. We must always be learning from our past.
2. We need to be a model for others.
We need to be an example of what mature ministry looks like. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he points out that, “You, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance” (2 Timothy 3:10-11 NLT). Paul provides Timothy with a powerful example for the younger leader to emulate. Timothy knows Paul. He’s watched him. He’s seen how Paul handles the challenges of ministry. We don’t just need a “Paul” in our lives, we need to be a “Paul” to others.
3. We need a partner.
In Romans 16:21, you’ll find that Paul’s relationship with Timothy has changed. Paul writes, “Timothy, my fellow worker, sends you his greetings” (NLT). Timothy has gone from being a son to a student and now to being a colleague and a co-laborer.
We spend plenty of time desiring and praying for more laborers, but perhaps not enough time investing in those with the potential to become our partners in the mission.
Do you have partners in the mission who cheer you on? Do you have other Christian leaders that you can lean on during tough times? Timothy became that for Paul because, for years, Paul had served as a spiritual father and a model for Timothy. Maybe one of the reasons so many pastors feel so alone in ministry today is that they haven’t spent enough time investing in younger leaders.
We need to follow the examples of Timothy and Paul. We need a spiritual father, and we need to be one for the next generation. We also need to partner with others so that we can serve more effectively and finish the race.
It’s just a few days before Easter. We’re always in a spiritual battle, but if you’re like me, this is when you’re particularly vulnerable to spiritual attack. Everything intensifies during Easter because Satan knows God is getting ready to do something incredible through your church.
So what do you do?
I’m guessing you’ve preached from Ephesians 6 on multiple occasions. I want to remind you that preparing for spiritual warfare isn’t just for the people we teach. As leaders in God’s family, we’re in the battle, too.
The Bible says in Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (NLT).
Let’s look at what we need to do in order to stand firm:
Belt of truth (6:14): This represents integrity, which means not compartmentalizing your life so you’re behaving one way in the pulpit and another way the rest of the week. If you lack integrity in one area of your life, you’ll be vulnerable.
Is there some area of your life you’re afraid your family or your congregation will find out about? Do people know the real you?
Breastplate of righteousness (6:14): God will not bless an impure heart. Satan loves to attack us with impure temptations. He knows if he can get his foot in the door of our purity, we’re goners.
Are you letting impurity into your life? What could accountability look like?
Shoes of peace (6:15): The Bible tells us we’re to do two things with peace. We’re to live it, and we’re to speak it. If you have an unreconciled relationship, you’re wide open for Satan.
Do you have any unreconciled relationships in your life?
Shield of faith (6:16): On our own, we don’t have the power to stand against attacks from the Enemy. Satan will work to fill our minds with doubt, discouragement, and depression. Having faith means believing the promises of God rather than the lies of the Enemy.
Are you currently believing any lies from Satan? What does God’s Word say about those lies?
Helmet of salvation (6:17): You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose your thoughts. Your thoughts determine your feelings, and your feelings determine your actions. Thinking about our salvation in Christ is protection from destructive thoughts that ultimately lead to destructive behavior. We can take hope in our salvation. No matter what we are facing today, the battle is already won in Christ.
Are you currently struggling with destructive thoughts? What would it look like for you to set your hope in Christ?
Sword of the Spirit (6:17): The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. It’s a weapon that takes aim at Satan’s territory. Jesus taught us to use this weapon when he faced Satan’s temptations in the desert as he responded to Satan with memorized Scripture.
Are you consistently memorizing Scripture, so you’re prepared to take new ground from Satan?
In prayer, ask God to help you put on his armor:
Lord, help me to live with integrity. Lord, help me to build my life on truth. Lord, help me to keep my life pure today. Lord, help me to make peace in my relationships. Lord, protect my mind from impure thoughts. Lord, help me memorize your Word.
Easter will be great for your church; put on the full armor of God so that you’ll be standing after the battle.
Being in ministry doesn’t make our marriage immune to complacency.
It’s way too easy for us to get so focused on ministry that we forget our responsibility to our marriage. God doesn’t call you to focus on helping other people to the point that you ignore your spouse—our family is a higher priority!
When we’re too busy to have time for our spouse, it’s a sign of marriage complacency. When we don’t have time to talk, or to just be together, we have allowed our marriage to become a low priority.
Take a realistic look at your marriage, do any of the following apply to you?
Infrequent expressions of kindness or affection
Rarely say, “I love you.”
When together, you’re often distracted or not “present”
Lazy with little things that show respect like taking the trash out, leaving a mess, etc.
Apathetic or critical heart towards your spouse
Here’s the solution to complacency: court your spouse. I’m convinced if there were more courting in marriage, there would be fewer marriages in court!
The Bible tells us this in Ecclesiastes 9:9: “Relish life with the spouse your love” (The Message).
You can’t be complacent and relish life with your spouse at the same time. It’s not possible. Here are three ideas for fighting complacency in your marriage:
1. Schedule a weekly date. I know your schedule is hectic. But make time for a weekly date. You can do it any time. It doesn’t need to be on Friday or Saturday night. For years, Kay and I did it on Monday mornings. You don’t need to spend much money on it either, but you desperately need the time alone together.
I’ll take it one step further, too. Remember what you did on your first dates. Both of you need to prepare for these dates like you’re not married. Pretend you’re still in wooing mode. Take time to get ready. Pick out just the right clothes. Get to know what kind of date your spouse wants and prepare for it.
2. Plan adventures together. You had adventures together when you were courting. But I’m guessing you have fewer of those these days. Predictability kills marriages.
Too many of us plan adventures and fun into our lives after we finish our work—or worse yet, we plan to do it once we retire. You talk about the trip you’ll take when life at the church calms down or when the kids get out of the house or when you retire. But you know this as well as I do, when you’re in ministry, the work is never done.
So plan your adventure today. Do something together you’ve never, ever done before. Find a challenge you can meet together. Take a trip. Sign up for a class. Say goodbye to monotony.
3. Touch each other more often. Before you got married, you couldn’t keep your hands off of each other. Now that you’re married, you don’t even hold hands. When that happens, the devil has won a great victory in your marriage.
Everyone needs physical affection. You may not feel affectionate because you’re too tired, too stressed, have a health issue, or are dealing with some unresolved resentment in your life. But don’t wait until you feel affectionate to show affection to your spouse. Your feelings will always follow your behavior. Don’t let a day go by without some kind of physical contact with your spouse.
You’ve probably poured your life into many marriages during your ministry. It’s time to turn the attention to your own marriage. If you’re going to go the distance in your ministry, you and your spouse must cultivate your life together.
The church has been on the front lines of some of the greatest humanitarian crises of the past few decades. The church has 2.3 billion people worldwide and is the biggest institution on the planet.
You might look at those numbers and ask yourself, “Why isn’t the church making a bigger impact in the world?”
I believe one reason is because the most creative people in our congregations must go outside of the church to start new ministries.
Why are they doing this?
Because the church wants to control them.
Instead of working within a church, many of these leaders form a 501(c)(3) to tackle the pressing issues of their communities. Today, there are tens of thousands of nonprofits in America doing what the church did for generations. We’ve structured these ministries right out of the church.
To broaden the ministry impact of your church, you will need to make the difficult choice to give up control.
You can choose control, or you can choose growth. But you can’t choose both.
Choosing growth over control means looking for ways to say yes when someone wants to start a new ministry. I believe most churches need to make it easier for people to start and serve in ministries, but this doesn’t mean I don’t believe there should be standards. I simply believe we shouldn’t bury new ministries with procedures and policies, or committees.
At Saddleback, anyone can start a ministry as long as:
1. They don’t expect the staff to run it. I call this the “You’re it” principle. When someone suggests we start a new ministry at Saddleback, I tell them, “Great. You’re it!”
You’re looking for people to own the ministries they’re suggesting; you’re not looking for people who expect someone else to do it. If a person has an idea for a ministry but doesn’t want to lead it, ask them to pray for God to inspire someone else to lead it. You won’t have a ministry without a minister.
2. It fits our church’s goals, strategy, and culture. Some ministries just won’t fit. If someone wanted to start a political ministry at Saddleback, it wouldn’t fit our culture or strategy. It’s not that we don’t believe elections are important. It’s just that a political ministry doesn’t fit our culture. You can give your people freedom without giving them a free pass.
3. It doesn’t harm the witness of the church. Failure happens in ministry. I don’t want to say no to a ministry just because it might fail. That’s choosing control over growth. In fact, a church without failure probably has too much control.
But failure that damages your church’s witness is a problem. It would confuse the people we’re trying to reach about what we believe and who we are. We can’t let that happen.
4. They don’t do any fund-raising for the ministry. We don’t allow any independent fund-raising for ministries at Saddleback. You simply don’t want every ministry in your church sending out appeal letters to your members. It’s chaos, and it’ll wear out your congregation.
You can’t have a unified church without a unified budget. You’ll have the best-marketed ministries getting the most funding, rather than the worthiest ones.
A huge reason why Saddleback has grown through the years is that we allow people to be as creative as they want to be when starting new ministries.
I could tell you story after story about the ministries started at Saddleback. Most of our 800 ministries weren’t started by staff members. They were started by people who saw a need and had a creative idea to meet it.
Celebrate Recovery® is probably our best and most well-known example. No one on staff started it. Instead, we received a 13-page letter by John Baker, a layman in our church. He told us about his own journey with alcoholism and his vision to start a Christ-centered recovery ministry.
Today that ministry reaches far beyond Saddleback. There are more than 35,000 churches around the world with Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery step studies have helped more than 5 million people worldwide.
All of that has happened because God inspired a layman to start a ministry in a church where we choose growth over control.
What could happen if your church did the same?
Questions for Self-Evaluation
Do you have more volunteers now than you did a year ago? Why or why not?
How many volunteer-led ministries does your church have?
Do your volunteer leaders have the freedom to fail? When was the last time that happened?
If a volunteer wanted to start a ministry, how long would it take? Have you defined a simple process?
Specifically, how is your church caring for—not just equipping—your leaders?
There’s no such thing as instant spiritual growth; it’s a gradual process of development. The Bible says, “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding” (Hebrews 6:1 NLT).
Spiritual growth is a journey, and that means it takes time. Sure, we want to speed up the process, but we can’t. It’s a lifetime journey where God teaches us one lesson at a time to develop our character so we become more like Jesus.
At the core of this journey are disciplines that help us grow spiritually. These disciplines—or habits—aren’t new; they’ve been around for thousands of years.
We are the sum of our habits. Here’s the truth: You can preach the greatest sermons in the world, but your congregation won’t grow deeper spiritually until you help people learn how to practice spiritual habits on their own.
At Saddleback, we focus on spiritual habits in CLASS 201. We teach four specific habits that are essential to every growing Christian. These aren’t the only habits that help you grow spiritually, but they are the most important.
You won’t see any surprises on this list. They’re tried-and-true disciplines that have helped Christians grow for generations:
Read the Bible daily. The people in our churches desperately need truth. Truth sets us free—free from worry, free from the expectations of others, free from guilt, etc. Jesus said this in John 8:31-32, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (NLT).
Since the Bible is the best and most reliable source for truth, we must encourage people to get into God’s Word on a daily basis, to help them find freedom and grow as Christians. You simply can’t grow spiritually apart from the Bible.
Pray daily. Disciples spend time with Jesus. God’s Word tells us in John 15:7-8, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it . . . and in this way you become my disciples” (GNT).
We become disciples by bearing fruit. We bear fruit by remaining in Jesus—and having his words remain in us. We listen to God through his Word, and we talk to God through prayer. To grow spiritually, we need both habits in our lives.
Tithe weekly. Tithing reminds us that everything we own belongs to God. He doesn’t just own that first 10 percent. He owns it all.
If God isn’t Lord of our possessions, he isn’t Lord of us. Too many people sitting in our churches are possessed by their possessions. Learning to tithe helps people hold what they have loosely and put God first in their lives.
Fellowship weekly. We all need other believers in our lives to help us grow. Weekly worship services aren’t enough. Significant relationships don’t develop when people just attend corporate worship. People need opportunities to talk and engage with others. At Saddleback, we believe small groups provide the best environment for people to build the healthy relationships that will help them grow.
Like I said earlier, there are no shortcuts to spiritual growth. While we worry about how fast people grow, God is concerned with how well they grow.
When God wants to make a mushroom, he takes six hours. When God wants to grow an oak tree he takes 60 years. Do you want your people to be mushrooms or oak trees?
Teach your people the four habits above, and they’ll grow into oaks.
I believe that every church should continue to grow warmer through fellowship.
We live in an extremely isolated world today. Our culture feeds individualism and lifts it up as a value. But the fruit of rampant individualism is massive loneliness.
Unfortunately, we have lonely people in our churches.
One of God’s purposes for our lives is to learn to love people in our spiritual family—the church. As a leader in your church, one of your responsibilities is to help people grow in their relationship with other believers. As you do, your church will continue to grow warmer.
Relationships are the glue of your church. Sure, some people will spontaneously develop those connections, but you can’t leave relationships to chance. They’re too important.
That’s why you need small groups. People can develop meaningful relationships in small groups, but it’s not an automatic fix. Some people can be in a small group for years and never develop meaningful relationships—and your church never grows warmer in the process.
The truth is, many people have never really learned to love anyone. Small groups are the laboratory where they can learn all the relational skills they haven’t learned yet.
Your small groups won’t teach these principles on autopilot. You and your team must set the expectation of the relationship principles that your small groups are built around. Here are five of the relationship principles I’ve taught to the small groups at Saddleback:
1. Make their small group a priority. If people only attend small groups when they feel like it, they won’t develop meaningful relationships. A habit means you do it consistently. That’s what’s so great about spiritual-growth campaigns. Anyone can commit to being a part of a small group for six weeks. If you can help people develop that habit over a couple of months, they’ll likely continue it afterward.
2. Share their thoughts humbly. Arrogance and pride will destroy fellowship. You can’t simultaneously try to impress others and build meaningful relationships. Small groups should provide your congregation with opportunities to let go of their egos and come together with a desire to share what God is teaching them.
3. Respect the ideas of others. Courtesy matters in small groups, too. If your small groups are going to teach people how to love—and help your church grow warmer—you need to teach people to listen to one another.
People must learn how to do that no matter how much they disagree with each other. In today’s culture, social media has conditioned us to push back hard on whatever we disagree with.
But that’s why I love how Eugene Peterson paraphrases Romans 14:1: “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently” (The Message).
That’s a great model for the relationships within our small groups.
4. Open up about their faults. This will really take a small group to the next level. When people can talk openly about their faults, stresses, pressures, and troubles of life, small groups will grow.
Most people don’t get that opportunity anywhere else. They can’t be open and share their problems at work. They can’t do it at school. Frankly, they often can’t do it at home. People spend lots of time pretending their lives are perfect. But for them to grow, they should be able to be open and honest about their pain.
5. Encourage one another with accountability. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 10:24 how important this is: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (NIV).
Every person in your church needs to have someone who can spur them on to reach their goals—whether those goals are spiritual, health, career, family, etc. If you surveyed the people visiting your church, my guess is most of them wouldn’t have those kinds of relationships either. Accountable relationships are rare, but your people need them.
Those relationships don’t develop overnight. That’s why consistency is so important for small groups. You need to encourage people to continue making small groups a priority, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
I regularly hear pastors talk about wanting their churches to become warm, friendly places. That’s great. We need to develop friendly churches. But your church will grow warmer as it develops the purpose of fellowship, which will happen primarily in your church’s small groups.
Teaching your people how to love each other is an essential part of the process.
There’s a word in the Bible for focusing on God: worship. Some people think worship is a ritual—that it’s all about a regimens, rules, and regulations. But, it’s not, worship simply means focusing on God.
God wants our focus because he is focused on us.
Our ongoing focus on God is the only real antidote to the worries, frustrations, and stress which causes so much exhaustion in our churches. Our churches need the kind of strength only God can bring.
In The Purpose Driven Church, I wrote about how church growth was more than numerical growth. Actually, God wants every church to grow:
Warmer through fellowship
Deeper through discipleship
Stronger through worship
Broader through ministry, and
Larger through evangelism
The Bible gives us three ways we can help our congregations grow stronger through worship.
1. Provide an opportunity for vibrant corporate worship.
Let’s face it. Your people can listen to sermons, read Christian books, and sing along with the latest worship music. People can worship on their own, but worship is better when we do it together. All of those acts of devotion are good, but they aren’t enough to truly sustain followers of Jesus. They need to worship with other believers. That’s why the Bible makes it clear that we’re not to “give up the habit of meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25 GNT).
Corporate worship isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential for spiritual growth. This is a need that only our churches can fulfill. As shepherds in God’s family, we’re called to provide opportunities for vibrant corporate worship.
2. Teach people they can worship anytime, anywhere.
Pastor, you know this. You can worship anywhere. Your people don’t have to be in your building to worship. They can worship in their backyards, their offices, and their schools. Yes, they need corporate worship, but they can worship by themselves, too.
Many people in our churches have a false impression that they can only worship once a week when they come into our buildings. But that’s only a small fraction of our lives. Worship is much bigger than once a week.
The Bible says, “So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer” (Romans 12:1 GNT).
I don’t care how vibrant your church’s corporate worship is, it’s not enough. True worship is to offer every moment of our lives to God’s service.
3. Help people worship through their work.
Most of us will spend at least 40 hours a week for around 50 years in a vocational setting. Most of the people in our churches have no problem thinking that those of us in ministry worship while we work. Many assume we sit at our desks all day singing praise music and reading our Bibles. They don’t doubt our ability to worship while we work.
But they don’t understand that they can, too. They don’t realize that they worship God when they use the gifts they’ve been given in their vocation. Irenaeus, one of the great leaders of the early church, once said: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
When we do what God has made us to do, we bring glory to God. It’s an act of worship. Many people don’t have the strength and power in their lives because they’re trying to live out someone else’s calling. God gives us the power to live out what he has called us to do, not what he has called someone else to do.
The greatest temptation of life is to worship something other than God. Too many people are worshiping powerless gods, like money, fame, and power. We were planned for God’s pleasure. We were made to know God and to love him. Nothing you do as a pastor is more important than helping people do that.
Worship is the power our people need to become who God made them to be. It’s the power our churches need to reach our communities and our world.
Preaching is tougher than ever these days. For one thing, we can’t assume that people come to our churches with a basic understanding of the Bible like they may have in the past.
But it’s also tougher because of all the media we interact with on a daily basis—from television to email to social media. It seems like someone is always trying to sell us something or convince us about a new idea.
Just open your email, and you’ll likely see a full selection of pitches asking you to buy anything from lunch to a new fishing pole to a vacation. Turn on the television, and the pitching from commercials continues.
Because of this, when unchurched people hear you preach, they assume you’re trying to sell them something. They believe you’re trying to sell them on religion.
That’s not your purpose, but your listeners often don’t know that.
Every week you’re preaching to people who are more skeptical than ever before.
You used to be able to turn up the volume when you had a weak point and keep people’s interest that way. But you can’t do that anymore. It won’t work.
People don’t want you to preach at them. They want you to talk to them. That’s how you keep their attention.
Here are three ways to keep people listening to your sermon:
1. Be open about your struggles and weaknesses.
Don’t try to hide the pain you’ve experienced—or are experiencing right now. Be transparent.
It’s called confessional preaching, and it can increase your credibility. Your confessions will encourage others when they’re going through tough times.
I remember one time, as I preached on anger, I told the church, “You know, it bothers me that sometimes I say the most hurtful things to the people I love the most, such as my wife and kids. Does that bother anyone else?”
Now, I could have just told people that they should be nicer to the people closest to them. I could have made it a command, but that would have immediately put my listeners on the defensive.
When you start with a confession, people will follow along because they see you as someone like them. Your confession will help your message resonate with authenticity and authority.
One key to effective communication is the ability to drop your mask and share real emotions. People will catch your heart. You don’t get this when you yell at them. You get it when your preaching allows others to see what’s going on in your life.
2. Share how you’re making progress.
People grow best through models. Several times in the New Testament, Paul tells readers, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” I used to read that and think I could never do it. It sounded egotistical.
Paul wasn’t saying he was perfect. If you have to be perfect to be a model, we wouldn’t have any models in the world. Frankly, I’d rather have people following me than following someone who isn’t honestly trying to follow Jesus. And so now, I don’t apologize for trying to be a model for others.
We need to follow Jesus’ example in incarnational preaching—where the Word becomes flesh. The way we communicate has changed. Our message isn’t validated by the text alone. It’s validated by the messenger.
Most of the people you’re preaching to aren’t asking, “Is the Bible believable?” They’re asking, “Are you believable?” They want to know whether you have any credibility because if you don’t, they won’t listen to you even if you’re holding up a Bible as you preach.
Our message, on a weekly basis, should be something like this: “Here’s how God got me through another week.”
If you’re not ready to model your message, you’re not ready to preach it.
3. Say it in an interesting way.
I actually work hard on preaching in an interesting manner. The Bible says, “When wise people speak, they make knowledge attractive” (Proverbs 15:2 GNT). It’s foolish to bore people with the Bible.
Too many preachers get stressed out about the idea of entertaining people as they preach. Do you know what the definition of entertainment is? Capturing and holding the attention for a period of time. Do you want your preaching to do that? Of course you do—and you shouldn’t apologize for it! Making your sermons interesting doesn’t mean you have to do a song and dance; rather, it means you help people understand that the Bible is relevant to every little detail of their lives.
To the unchurched, dull preaching is unforgivable, and there is no reason for it. Our message is too important to deliver with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
The problem with a boring message is that your hearers won’t just think you’re boring. They’ll think God is boring.
How do you preach in a more interesting way? It’s not about your charisma. You can learn to do it. Start with these three practices.
– Vary your delivery. Nothing is more boring than a monotone preacher who gets stuck on one speed and volume and never comes up for air. Vary the speed and volume of your preaching to make your sermons more interesting.
– Don’t make a point without a picture. People love stories. Pull them from your life. Pull them from the people in your congregation. Pull them from the news.
– Make people laugh. Humor is good for people. It makes a painful truth more palatable. It creates positive emotions like joy and happiness. By the way, you don’t have to tell jokes to be funny. The best humor is usually found in real-life stories.
Every week you get the opportunity to preach God’s Word to people. It’s an extraordinary opportunity. Keeping people engaged in your sermon is how you can get God’s Word into the lives of your listeners, and God’s Word will transform their lives.
You’ll never find the ideal time to take the next step toward your goals.
So do it now. Those three words could change your ministry. The Bible says, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (Ecclesiastes 11:4 TLB).
You can’t wait until your life settles down to reach for that elusive goal. You can’t wait until everyone else is on board to do what you know the Lord has called you to do.
The time is now.
Your ministry must thrive under imperfect conditions or it will never thrive. So get started today with these four steps.
1. Clarify your goals.
God gave you an amazing ability to choose what’s important in your life. Many ministry leaders never stop to think through and identify what’s really important to them. You can’t do what’s important in your life until you clarify what it is.
Take a half day, if possible, and pray about two specific things: What do I value? What do I want to change?
Yes, you should think about your ministry goals, but don’t stop there either. I also usually think through:
Intellectual goals: What do I want to learn?
Physical goals: How can I improve my health?
Spiritual goals: How do I deepen my relationship with God?
Social goals: How can I serve other people more effectively?
2. Write your goals down.
You won’t complete any goals you don’t write down. As you write them down, word them so they are SMART goals. That means they are:
Specific: Give a number when possible. How many books will you read? How many pounds will you lose?
Measurable: You need to be able to measure your progress and know if you are getting closer to your goal.
Achievable: You’ll get discouraged if the goal is impossible for you to complete.
Relevant: Choose a goal that is based upon what matters to you. Don’t set a goal you think other people want you to complete. Your goals should be your goals.
Time-sensitive: A goal is a dream with a deadline. A goal says that by the end of this amount of time or by this date, I’m going to reach this goal. It’s specific, it’s measurable, and it should be achieved within a specific time frame.
3. Get support from other believers.
Too many pastors try to achieve goals by themselves. You probably preach this truth to your congregation all of the time: “You weren’t made to go through life on your own.” Guess what? It applies to you and me, too.
If you’re going to reach the goals you set for yourself in January, you need other people to cheer you on. Maybe this means you create a local pastors’ group so you can share your goals with your peers. But it doesn’t have to be this. You just need to gather with people who care about you and what you’re doing.
4. Ask God for help.
Pastor, if you’re going to complete your ministry and personal goals this year, you need to expect that God will help. Pray expectantly.
The Bible says, “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph!” (Isaiah 50:7 NLT).
You can only accomplish the impossible if you see the invisible. Living in the light of eternity is the only thing that’ll keep you on track in 2019.
You and I only get a limited time to make an impact through our lives. So let’s make the most of this year.