Less Fashion, More Fire!

kneeling_in_prayer“In the last days.. People will have the appearance of godliness, but deny its power.” (2 Tim 3)

I love fashion but fashion doesn’t save someone from hell. It seems like some preachers are more concerned for how they looked than how their sermon was cooked. Leonard Ravenhill once said,

No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. We have many organisers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few prayers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors; few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.

Simplify to Clarify!

Woman Shouting with BullhornIt’s been said that an academic takes something simple and makes it complex but a communicator takes something complex and makes it simple. There is way too much complexity in the world. Most of us are overwhelmed by information and more information leads to more complexity. Getting your message across to people requires you to cut through the complexity by keeping things simple and concise. The more detail, the less clear. Detail is ok for back of house but not for front of house, where people are going to see it. Jesus was a master communicator who took complex spiritual realities and tied them to everyday experiences and activities. Thus, 2000 years later, we are benefitting from the clarity Jesus lived and ministered with. Your message is too important to be unclear about it. Very few people can pull off clever and keep their message clear. Bother less about being clever and focus more on being clear. Your audience will appreciate you for it.

Keys to Communication!

IMG_1240I recently posted on Communication Carries Anointing and emphasised the importance of developing communication skills, both of a conversational and corporate nature. Here are some further tips to take your communication to the next level.

1 Big Idea! All good communication theory emphasises the centrality of 1 big idea. No matter what you are reading or who you are listening to, ask yourself 2 questions, “What is the writer/speaker talking about?” AND “What is the writer/speaker saying about what they are talking about?” In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is talking about “Love” but in context of 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 he’s saying that love should be the motivation for why we do what we do, especially in the arena of spiritual gifts. Listen and look for the 1 big idea. A great read on this is “Biblical Preaching” by Haddon Robinson.

Clarity trumps clever! A lot of us want to be clever but very few of us can pull it off. However, clarity will trump clever every time. Stop trying to be clever and work hard on making your ideas as concrete and clear as possible and people will connect with them more. Confusion in the pulpit will lead to confusion in the pew. Putting your ideas to paper helps clarify them. A great resource for this is a book titled “Make it Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath (I think).

Anointing doesn’t make up for lack of discipline! Practice, Practice, Practice. Every Friday morning for 2 years I practiced my weekend sermon in an empty auditorium with my parents listening and critiquing my content and presentation.

Tell lots of Stories! Everyone loves a good story. A good story will communicate your principle for you. Learn to tell stories well by finding them in your everyday life and start sharing them with anyone who will listen. The more you tell, the better you’ll get.

Listen to Good Communicators! There are a plethora of opportunities to listen to great communicators. Don’t just listen to be entertained but go behind their communication and listen for how they approached their subject. TED and iTunes is a good place to start. Check out Corey Turner Ministries (shameless plug 🙂

Develop Conversational Intelligence! Read Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser and put the principles into action.

Read and Listen! The more you read the more you’ll deposit into your mind a dictionary of words that you can pull out as you need them. Listening improves speaking. Ask good questions and then listen for the response. Log the response away in your heart and act on it at your next opportunity.

Structure your Outline! Don’t outline your notes into paragraphs but develop structure. Write your point and then explain your point, illustrate your point and apply your point. Transition to the next point and repeat the process.

Pray, Pray and Pray Some More! Our words are fruitless without the Holy Spirit. Ask for fresh fire and flow with the leading of the Spirit as you speak.

Communication Carries Anointing!

IMG_1240Your communication carries your anointing. Every believer is anointed but not every believer can carry their anointing through their communication. (God)

This is a really important insight. John Maxwell would articulate the insight above with the words, ‘Everyone communicates, few connect’. I’ve observed many anointed people over my lifetime but what separates those who hit the bullseye of people’s hearts and those who don’t is their ability to communicate what that anointing is. Your communication carries your anointing into people’s hearts. You maybe greatly anointed but if you are unable to articulate to others in an effective way, your anointing is inhibited. The anointing is the person and power of the Holy Spirit on you and in you for the purpose to which he has called and gifted you. The anointing is linked to your calling, gifting and purpose. Develop your capacity to communicate cause it will either help or hinder the potential of your anointing to minister to people’s lives effectively.

The Sermon Must Suffer!

Martin Luther once said, ‘Prayer, meditation and temptation make a preacher.’ We have little difficulty with prayer and meditation but the ‘temptation’ part we’d rather escape.

One reason why God allows preachers to suffer is that they might have the opportunity to grow spiritually and therefore to preach better. Even Jesus had to go through suffering to prepare him for his heavenly ministry (Heb 2:14-18), so why should we escape?

For a sermon to be good, the sermoniser must suffer. I wish there was some other way but apparently there isn’t. Trust me, I’ve been looking and I haven’t found one yet.

James 1:2-4 ‘Count it all joy brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’

Jame’s wisdom is paradoxical and yet profound. I’ve been a first hand witness to this promise of this verse being played out in my own life and ministry and I’m expectant of the fruit to come as a result of the testing of my faith in God.

The true preacher is known as one whom deals out to the people his life passed through the fire of thought. Phillips Brookes once said, ‘Truth through personality is our description of real preaching.’ If the truth of the word bypasses the personality of the preacher, then the sermon may become a lecture, and the preacher may become a hypocrite. If the text isn’t real to you, then you will find it hard to make it real to anyone else.

For the text to become real to you and others it must pass through the fire of a test. Don’t run from your test. Run to it, see it for what it is and embrace the spiritual growth that God wants to squeeze out of it, into you.

The Oracle!

Listen to Billy Graham!

Someone once asked Billy Graham what would you do differently if you had to do it all over again? He replied,

‘I would have spent twice as much time preparing myself for leadership and preaching and half as much time actually leading and preaching. If I had 5 years left to live, I would go back to bible college for 3 years and then hit the road and preach all over the globe for my last 2 years.’

If it’s good enough for Billy Graham, it’s good enough for you and I. Lead yourself before you lead anyone else!

The Oracle!

Preaching on Sex!

I am in the middle of a series at Activate Church titled, “Lets talk about SEX!”

My preaching philosophy is centralized on expository preaching, which is a commitment to preach in such a way that the big ideas of the text are drawn out of the text rather than the individuals personal ideas. Every preacher brings their bias to the text but our role is to discover the original sense and meaning of the passage we are dealing with and communicate it in a way that best represents the authors and ultimately God’s inspired and original intent.

My normal modus operandi is to preach through books of the bible as led by the Holy Spirit, as well as considering the needs or vision of the congregation. Apart from the Old Testament book of Song of Songs (Solomon) the issue of sexuality is laced right throughout the bible beginning in Genesis and finding considerable focus in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6-7).

Sex is a thematic or topical doctrine to preach on and so I’ve had to study the bible for the variety of ways the issue of sex is dealt with in the text. Sex can also be a difficult topic to preach on, as there is so much cultural baggage, people carry with them into the sermon event. As well as this many people carry weights of sin, shame and pain into the sermon event and these can often preclude them from opening their hearts to hear what God wants to say about the issue.

For all the same reasons, preaching on sex is also easy because people are primed to hear God’s perspective on the issue due to the amount of confusion and secrecy there seems to be about the unspoken topic, especially in church circles. There are only a few times you don’t need to work hard to keep people’s attention, talking about sex is guaranteed to be one of them, where people are very attentive.

Here are some of my thoughts on approaching the topic of sex in the preaching context:

  1. Prepare thoroughly – Too many of us preachers shoot from the hip and underestimate how educated our audience really is. Read widely and keep up to date with the current stats and trends of all things sexual in our culture. Some of the books and articles I studied for the series, included, “Real Marriage” by Mark and Grace Driscoll; “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ” by John Piper and Justin Taylor; “From Good Man to Valiant Man” by Dr Allan Meyer and several online articles. As well as this I did my exegesis on the texts used throughout the series and listened to several sermons preached by other trusted sources on the sex texts concerned.
  2. Seek advice – None of us knows everything and I have learnt to lean on mentors like Dr Allan Meyer who completed his doctoral studies on the issue of sexual addiction.
  3. Just say it – Too many of us shy away from unpacking the issues surrounding terms like, masturbation, oral sex, cybersex, sex toys, etc because of the ‘blush’ factor involved. However, the spirit of the culture is more than prepared to have the conversation and pervert God’s original intention for sex in marriage. Be prepared to go there, your audience will appreciate it. In talking about God creating sex for pleasure, I talked about the woman’s ‘clitoris’ and God’s intention for it to be a pleasure organ, not useful for anything else other than a wife’s pleasure in sex with her husband.
  4. Help people don’t condemn people – Sex tends to be an avoided preaching topic and if its is touched on, it’s talked about in a condemning way, which gives people the idea that God is dead against it. I have tried to not only inform people as to what the text is saying but apply it for people in a practical way that has left me receiving some of the greatest feedback I’ve ever had on a series. God is for sex and created it for several reasons in the marriage relationship (protection, comfort, pleasure, pro-creation, oneness, healing, theology…) to name a few.
  5. Move the sermon from the pulpit into the church community – Giving people helpful resources like books to compliment the series as well as sermon outlines and study guides for the life group meetings during the week.
  6. Practice what you preach – This is the fun part. As always don’t simply be a mouthpiece but be a practitioner of what you are learning and growing in. Needless to say the pastors personal marriage should benefit from a focused series on this topic.

Our outline for the “Lets talk about Sex” series looks like the following:

  • Week 1 – Theology of Sex (am) and Sexual Healing (pm)
  • Week 2 – Sex: God, Gross or Gift?
  • Week 3 – Christians response to homosexual marriage
  • Week 4 – Porn again Christian
  • Week 5 – Special guest Sy Rogers: Seminar and Outreach

Grace!

The Place of Political Incorrectness!

I’m very amused by the incredible lengths we go to, to avoid controversy and conflict in the name of cultural approval. Australia is rampant with it. Especially the Christian Church.

It seems like criticism follows the individual who goes too far (in some people’s minds) but never follows the individual who isn’t prepared to go further than their thoughts. It’s far easier to hide in the shadows, then stand on a dock and give a reason for the hope that you have.

When it comes to the office of the sacred desk, there is no place for political correctness. Line up John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ against the majority of us preachers and we fall far behind their commitment to speaking the truth in love. Keep in mind, all three were killed by their enemies. There’s a price to pay for speaking the truth, even in love.

I’m not advocating arrogant rants or angry outbursts or being offensive for the sake of it (although a good shout in the pulpit, every now and then doesn’t hurt), I’m calling for a commitment to speaking and living God’s truth with Christ-like compassion, love, wisdom AND boldness.

Any preacher worth their salt will eventually have a long line of people wanting to offer their opinion on what they could do better or do away with.

Why? Cause the cross is folly to those who are perishing and Christ continues to be a stumbling block of offense for many people. When a preacher is committed to letting the biblical text speak for itself and systematically working through the bible, at some point, it’s going to hit a raw nerve. Preacher, rather than shying away from it, run to it and embrace it. It’s your job to herald such a gospel.

I pray for God’s grace, wisdom and boldness to mark gospel preachers everywhere to declare the full counsel of God’s Word without fear or favor, and to the end of God’s glory and the salvation of people’s souls, let the pulpit be a place of political incorrectness.

Grace! (Matt 13:57; Rom 9:33; Gal 5:11; 1 Peter 2:8)