Ministry Leadership Tue, 22 Jul 2014 09:21:14 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb 7 Principles for the Perfect Preaching Calendar

One of the preacher's greatest challenges is choosing what to preach and when. Three years ago, this challenge escalated for me when we started adding off-site campuses with live preachers.

Planning for multiple locations has forced me to think farther ahead and formulate concrete principles around which we build each series. Here's what we've learned so far:

1. For everything, there is a season. Certain times of year are easier to attract the unchurched. We want to leverage these opportunities by building our calendar around them.

For Americans, 2-3 weeks after school starts, 3-4 weeks after the New Year, and Easter and the weeks that follow it are the best times to target the unchurched. During these seasons, we want to do attractional series on topics like The God Questions, The Purpose Driven Life, Family, Marriage, or Money Management.

2. Balance, depth and breadth. The author of Hebrews understood that some of his audience needed milk, while others were ready for meat (Hebrews 5:12). To balance the "milk" of high felt-need attractional series, we fill in the rest of the calendar with deeper things like book studies.

3. Numerical growth comes mostly from campaigns. Children don't grow at a steady rate. They shoot up a half inch one month, then grow little over the next few months and then hit another growth spurt. Churches do the same.

At New Song, all of our growth has come from campaigns. Campaigns are intentional series that combine weekend preaching with mid-week small groups and daily readings, all on the same subject. That's why my books The Bible Questions, The God Questions, Future History (Daniel), and Jonah all were designed as church-wide campaigns.

In each of these campaigns, we've grown between 10 and 20 percent, with consolidation (and some attrition) following. We've positioned most of our Campaigns during the attractional seasons of September, January, and Easter, though we found that Future History hit the spot by starting it in December. (Daniel was a wiseman, so his early chapters fit well into the Christmas season. By the time we hit the future portions of Daniel in January and February, our attendance popped seventeen percent.)

4. All growth comes from Jesus. As our team sits down to strategize the preaching calendar, we recognize that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Prayer is as important in the sermon-scheduling process as it is in the sermon-writing and sermon-delivering process.

A key question we ask during planning is, "Lord, what do you want to teach your people during this time of the year?"

5. Titles matter. You can't judge a book by its cover, but most of people decide to read a book based on its cover. A bad title is a reason to stay home. A good title can spark curiosity, anticipation, and momentum, and motivate your people to invite friends. A good title promise benefits, raises intrigue and sticks in your mind. Where can you find good titles? Search Amazon's best-sellers list and surf the websites of some of the large churches you know. You'll find lots of great sermon titles there. (You'll probably also find that many of them have borrowed those titles from somebody else. You can too.) There's nothing new under the sun.

6. There is no perfect preaching calendar. In 2001, I developed the perfect preaching calendar. Then 9/11 hit. I was scheduled to speak on spiritual gifts. Like every preacher, I changed my subject that week. I spoke on destiny, then three weeks on Islam, and concluded with a Christmas series called The Prince of Peace.

To have a perfect preaching calendar, you need a perfect preacher. The only one I know returned to heaven many years ago. So we pray, plan, and re-evaluate when a crisis hits, but don't expect perfection. It only leads to frustration.

7. Choose your series 9-12 months ahead of time, put work into it 2-3 months ahead of time. By Christmas, we have our September campaign on the schedule. In May, we'll make sure we have its materials chosen and ordered (or written). In June, we recruit small group leaders. In July, we prepare graphics. In August, we beginning small group enrollment.

Great series don't happen because of 6-10 days of preparation; they happened because of 6-10 months of preparation.

Some time ago we decided to do a history series, called Continuum. We wanted it to be highly experiential. Last week we turned our auditorium into a map. I'm walking from section to section, recounting what happened where. This requires signs, props, and a spotlight. To pull all this off, we secured the spotlight three months ago, enlisted volunteers to create the props three weeks ago, and are having a ball, because we prepared in advance.

Ignatius Loyola said, "Work as if it all depends on you, and pray as if it all depends on God."

That's good advice! Fortunately, it doesn't all depend on you. But God is depending on you to do your part in his partnership miracle of bringing words to life.

You won't be able to sink a thousand hours into every sermon series. However, investing a few hours a year in advance, a few more hours three months in advance, and a few more hours a few weeks in advance will increase the quality of your preaching moment. I think God would be honored by that.

I know from experience that you will feel better about it too.

Hal Seed is Founding and Senior Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. Hal provides resources to help churches reach their communities at The Bible Questions might be a perfect campaign for your church this fall.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Hal Seed) Preaching Tue, 22 Jul 2014 13:00:00 -0400
7 Ways to Know It's Time to Move On

I am reticent to write this article. I do not want to encourage pastors to leave churches too early.

Frankly, many pastors have shared with me that, in the aftermath of their departures, they realized they had made a mistake. They left too soon.

Many times the departure takes place between years two and four of a pastor's tenure. That is the typical period when the "honeymoon" is over and some level of conflict, even crises, have begun. Many pastors who made it to years five and beyond express thanksgiving that they did not depart in those more difficult early years.

I confess that I left a church too soon. My family's income was below the poverty line, and I was too proud to express my financial needs to any trusted church leader. The church's income had tripled in my three-year tenure, so I could have easily been paid more. And I have little doubt that some of the leaders in the church would have gladly helped. My stupid and sinful pride got in the way.

So I have asked over 30 pastors why they left their previous church. Obviously, my survey is both informal and small. Still, the responses were both fascinating and telling. Here are the top seven responses in order of frequency, and they are not always mutually exclusive:

1. "I had a strong sense of call to another church." This response was articulated in a number of different ways, but the essence was the same. Slightly over half of the respondents left because of the "pull" rather than the "push."

2. "I became weary and distracted with all the conflict and criticisms." What leader has not been here? What pastor has not been here? It is often a death by a thousand cuts.

3. "I no longer felt like I was a good match for the church." One pastor shared candidly that he felt like the church outgrew him. He said he had the skill set to serve a church with an attendance of 150. But when it grew to 500 after eight years, he felt that his leadership skills were not adequate to take the church any further.

4. "I left because of family needs." One pastor moved closer to his aging parents who had no one to care for them. Another indicated his family was miserable in their former church location.

5. "I was fired or forced out." This story is far too common. Of course, some of the other factors in this list overlap with this one.

6. "I was called to a different type of ministry." Some left to take a position other than lead pastor in another church. Others went into parachurch or denominational ministry. I am among those who left the pastorate for denominational work.

7. "I was not paid adequately." I related my own story above. Let me be clear. The pastors with whom I spoke were not seeking extravagant pay, just adequate pay. And like me, most of them were uncomfortable broaching the issue with any leaders in the church.

What do you think of these seven factors? What would you add? What have been your experiences?

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Administration Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Are You Sure God Really Called You Into the Ministry?

Today there are many people in the independent Evangelical and Pentecostal movements who start churches merely because they feel led to do so.

If there were a way to statistically track the outcomes of these self-ordained pastors, my educated guess, based on years of experience, is that most of these churches and/or ministries fail to last more than a few years.

In our American culture, we glorify independence and self-determination. These values are great when it comes to our entrepreneurial spirit, which is why our nation will probably always take the lead in creativity and wealth creation and our economy will continue to rebound in spite of what the federal government does to us. But when it comes to functioning properly in the body of Christ, these values can be harmful.

Unfortunately, the way many of our brothers and sisters have "called themselves" to start churches or launch ministries mimics Hollywood movies more than biblical protocol! I am thinking of movies that depict independent fundamentalist evangelicals like The Apostle (staring Robert Duvall) and Elmer Gantry (staring Burt Lancaster). The former highlights a man who baptizes himself and calls himself an apostle, while the latter features a man who conducts tent crusades without any ministerial training or affiliation to a church, association, or denomination.

A telling scene in Elmer Gantry involves a group of pastors and a newspaper reporter asking evangelist Elmer Gantry and a lady evangelist a simple question: Who trained and ordained you? Their response: "God" did.

These movies demonstrate that even secularists understand there is something wrong with this way of doing ministry. It is as ridiculous as sending yourself to Afghanistan to fight Islamic terrorists without the covering, protection, training or the strategy of the U.S. military. I have had experiences in my own church in which a person left the church without proper training, communication or protocol with plans to start a church in their home. My primary question to people such as these is "Who sent you?"

I tell our church members that when they meet a minister or pastor for the first time, the number one question they should ask is "Who sent you?" or "Who do you submit to?" If the minister or pastor says "God" then run from them as fast as you can. Many have started local churches for the same reason some entrepreneurs start their own small businesses instead of working for a larger company: they simply don't want to submit to anyone else or have someone over them telling them what to do.

One of the greatest chapters in the Bible is the priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 in which Jesus is praying to the Father before His crucifixion. In this prayer Jesus constantly refers to the fact that He was "sent" or "given" things to Him by His Father to do the work He gave Him to do. This shows He never called Himself to minister; Jesus needed to be sent or given ministry by someone higher than Himself for His ministry to be legitimate, even though He is God the Son (John 17:2-4, 6-9, 11-12, 18, 21, 23-25).

If the Son of God didn't call Himself into ministry, then others who feel called ought to pattern themselves after His protocol for confirming the timing of a genuine call into ministry. Furthermore, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 5:1, 3-6 that Jesus didn't call Himself into the priesthood; he waited until the Father called Him. This was patterned after the Old Covenant in which a person could only serve as a priest if his physical father was a priest of the tribe of Levi from the priestly line of Aaron (Exodus 28:1). Thus, if we don't have a father who ordained us into the ministry (in the New Covenant this includes spiritual fathers) then we have a "bastard" ministry and have no biblical legitimacy to fulfill our calling.

The early church also functioned with this concept of sending as a methodological background. For example, even though Saul and Barnabas had already felt called by God into ministry they didn't dare send themselves until the leaders of the church in Antioch also received a confirming word from the Lord to send them. (Read Acts 13:1-2, in which the tense of the original Greek wording shows that God had already called Saul into the ministry before the leaders of the church received the confirming word.)

In another instance, Paul the apostle submitted the gospel of grace he was preaching (to the Gentiles) to the leading apostles of the Jerusalem Church (Peter and John) for fear his work was in vain (Galatians 2:2, 9). This shows even Paul, the great apostle, needed the right hand of apostolic blessing to be considered legitimate.

Paul also shows it was part of the protocol of the early church that a person wouldn't preach or minister unless they were officially sent and, by implication, sanctioned by the church. (Read Romans 10:15 which says "How shall they preach unless they are sent?")

In spite of this biblical precedent, many ministers I meet have started their churches from no more than a subjective "leading of the Lord" without the training, blessing or sending of a local church body. If a person cannot go through the grid of submitting to a process of biblical training, character development, and theological and ministerial training in the context of a local church, then how can they be properly prepared to shepherd a flock under God? Most of the time, when someone has no personal submission to spiritual authority, it illustrates a deeper issue within them of rebellion against God! Jesus said that if we receive the one He sent then we receive Him. Conversely, by rejecting the spiritual authority He sent then we reject Him (Mathew 10:40)!

I have experienced everything I have written in this article the hard way! For example, when I first received a calling from the Lord to enter full-time ministry (in October 1980) the first thing I did was submit my revelation to my pastor, Benjamin Crandall. Even though I felt called to start a church I submitted to his counsel which included sitting under his tutelage for several years until he licensed me for ministry. It was four whole years of preaching in my community before he finally came to me and told me it was time to start a church, which I did in 1984. I believe that, because I submitted to his spiritual authority as my spiritual father, our church has been blessed with having no church splits in 26 years and unity amongst all of our elders and pastors. Also, I sense a special anointing and grace upon me to teach on spiritual authority and church government.

Conversely, some I know who started churches about the same time as me have experienced multiple church splits because they didn't submit to the biblical process involved in a ministerial calling. This includes training, ordination and submission to spiritual authority in the context of a local church or ministry.

Furthermore, when some bishops in my city approached me in 2005 about consecrating me as a bishop, the first thing I did before allowing such a consecration was to have them call several local and national bishops who knew me well to obtain feedback before we continued. If those leaders didn't agree that I was already functioning as a bishop then I didn't want to proceed! (They received confirmation from several bishops that then began a one-year process in which I submitted to a rigorous grid in which they interviewed apostolic leaders, my elders and my family to verify the legitimacy of my calling as a bishop.)

In spite of the above, I believe there are exceptions to these protocols especially in certain places in the world where there are no local churches or apostolic leaders, or where there are no spiritual fathers willing to process and release younger ministers into the ministry. But, in this nation it is very easy to find someone willing to mentor, train, and release a person into the ministry.

The first place to look is in your own local church. Most times there is a biblical process that is either structured or informal that a person can go through to be sent out into full-time church ministry. However, if you want to start a church, you should first prove yourself by either running a successful home group that rapidly multiplies or oversee a ministry in your local church that successfully nurtures and trains leaders.

If you cannot prove your pastoral calling with the blessing of a senior pastor in your local church, then that is a good sign you will not be successful as the founding pastor of a new local church.

]]> (Bishop Joseph Mattera) Pastoring Fri, 18 Jul 2014 19:00:00 -0400
5 Valuable Pre-Preaching Rituals

As a professional communicator, I get the privilege of doing a lot of speaking to a ton of different groups. God has blessed me to speak in front of big groups (just finished preaching recently to 5,000 teenagers at #IYC2014 in Nashville), small groups (I do a weekly staff chapel service for our staff of 23 strong at Dare 2 Share) and medium-sized groups (anything between 23 and 5,000).

After I prepare a sermon there are 5 pre-sermon rituals I go through before it is "go time." Here are the five rituals I do before I preach:

1. Review relentlessly. Before I preach my sermon I go over the sermon outline again and again. My goal is to know the material so well that nobody notices me looking down at my notes. If I know it that well then, if my notes spontaneously combusted, I would still have a message from God I could deliver.

2. Adjust quickly. There is nothing like a pending audience to give you adrenalin to second guess lame illustrations and weak points. I always carry a pen so that I can make adjustments to my notes even minutes (at times, seconds) before I walk to take my spot behind the music stand to deliver God's message. Although I'm a stickler about preparation, exegesis and homiletics, some of my best illustrations have been last second additions.

3. Pray passionately. Before I preach I'm asking God to prepare the audience, to convict and convince the lost to be saved and the saved to be conformed to the image of Christ. Sometimes I'll do a long prayer walk to pray for the upcoming sermon and it's impact on the audience.

4. I pace like a caged animal. When I was a kid I had some friends who kept two mountain lions in a long dog pen in their backyard (where nobody could see them...and, yes, it was illegal.) I remember watching them pace back and forth and just stare at me. You could put the thought bubble above their heads. It simply read, "I would like to eat you for lunch." Call it "the eye of the tiger (or cougar)" or whatever but pacing helps me get my head in the game right before I "unleash the beast" on stage.

5. I tie my shoes. One of the last things I do before I walk to the stage to preach is to tie my shoes...even if they don't need tied. Why do I do this? It brings me to my knees. And while I'm there I ask God one last time to fill me and fuel me through his Holy Spirit. It's on my knees I yield myself fully to him to be used for the next 30 or 40 minutes to minister to that particular audience.

That's what I do before I preach. What do you do?

Greg Stier is a husband, a father, a preacher, an author, a twitchy revolutionary and a fanatic for Jesus. He's the president of Dare 2 Share Ministries that has led thousands of students to Jesus and equipped thousands more to reach their world with the gospel. He blogs at

For the original article, visit

]]> (Greg Stier) Personal Character Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:00:00 -0400
7 Things That Weaken Leadership

There are times I'm a better leader than at others. Sometimes it's my fault. Other times the cause is unavoidable.

If we can begin to identify what interrupts strong leadership, we can become better leaders. I have personally experienced some things in my own life that weaken my leadership. I am consistently finding ways to guard against them.

Here are 7 things that weaken leadership:

1. Distractions. As leaders, we do our best work when we are pointing people toward worthy visions. Some would say that's precisely what leadership does. It's easy to get distracted with things that, while they may be good, they don't help move the organization towards the vision. In fact, they delay progress towards the vision. I've also learned that I need to be leading in my strengths and if I ever get weak in my courage to say no to some things, my yes will be far less valuable.

2. Lack of discipline. It matters not that there is a great vision if we don't discipline ourselves to reach it. That includes having good plans  good goals. Good objectives. Good systems and strategies.

3. Ceased learning. Leading others to grow requires leaders who are growing. When I stop the creativity I my mind, I cease to have anything new to offer the team I'm trying to lead. Life becomes rather stale—quickly.

4. Negative influences. It's hard to be the only positive in a room full of negatives. Sometimes as a leader I've felt like more cheerleader than coach. It's one reason I surround myself with people who have a good outlook on life. I don't want all "yes" people, but if everything is always an immediate "no"—or "I don't like it but I have nothing better to offer"—that's draining and it is only going to bring down me and the strength of the rest of the team.

5. Fear. Risk is involved in every leadership decision. Notice I said every. And I meant every. I didn't say risk was involved in every decision a leader makes but every leadership decision. Leadership is taking people to an unknown. That involves risk. Every time. And every risk involves a certain level of fear. That's natural. Fear keeps leaders from moving forward when they allow the fear to dominate the decision more than the opportunity of the risk.

6. Pride. Pride goes before the fall. Pride destroys. Absolute pride destroys absolutely. Okay I embellished that one, but you get the point. Prideful leaders are always weakened by that pride. No one truly follows a prideful leader. They may obey. They may even be infatuated for a season. But they don't follow.

7. Contentment. Leadership involves a sense of urgency. When we lose that we lose the inner drive to lead well. We become weakened by our own loss of personal momentum.

8. Complacency. All of us love to succeed. I think attempting to is a pretty good goal. We might even plan for it. Sadly, though, sometimes a little success can usher in complacency. We can begin to think we've figured out a system to success. Before long, we don't think we have to be intentional anymore—maybe not even have to try as hard as we used to try. We can become weak quickly by our own delusions of grandeur.

Those are a few things that have weakened my leadership. What would you add to my list?

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Ministry Leadership Fri, 18 Jul 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Are You a Boss or a Leader?

I have to be honest; I hate the term boss. When someone refers to me as their boss, I almost feel like I'm doing something wrong as a leader.

Forgive me for making me think I'm the boss.

There are so many differences in a boss and a leader, if only in connotation.

A boss seems to have all the answers—even if they really don't. A leader solicits input to arrive at the right answer.

A boss tells. A leader asks.

A boss can be intimidating—if only by title. A leader should be encouraging—even if in a time of correction.

A boss dictates while a leader delegates.

A boss demands while a leader inspires.

A boss controls systems while a leader spurs ideas.

A boss manages policies; a leader enables change.

People follow a leader willingly. You have to pay someone—or force them—to follow a boss.

By connotation, there is really only one boss.

In fairness, there are times I have to be the boss. Even the "bad guy" boss—at least in other people's perception. But I much prefer to be a leader.

In any healthy organization there will be many leaders. Do you work for a boss or do you serve with a leader?

Be honest.

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Administration Wed, 16 Jul 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Is Your Church Sick?

As pastors, we know our job to minister to the spiritual health of our communities. But as you think about the spiritual health of the people in your church, do you consider their mental, physical, emotional and relational health as well? My guess is, if you're like most pastors, you probably don't.

Consider how the health of someone's marriage might have an impact on their experience of God and intimacy with him. Think about how depression—or perpetual anxiety—might impact a person's spiritual well-being (and vice versa).

When I spell it out like this, it seems so obvious. Of course these things are connected.

But it's easy to forget this as a pastor.

If you want to pastor a healthy church (and my guess is you do; if you don't, that's a discussion for a whole different article), you have to take into account the emotional, mental, physical and relational health of the people you pastor.

If that thought scares you, don't let it. You don't have to be a therapist or a doctor or a life coach in order to provide this for the people entrusted to your care. There are some simple ways to support yourself, your staff and your congregation to be the all-around healthiest versions of themselves.

Here are some of those ideas:

Physical health. This is something far too often overlooked in church cultures. In fact, most often in church cultures, spiritual needs are elevated at the expense of physical health. Pastors work too many hours and are required to run on too few hours of sleep or don't have adequate time to workout or prepare healthy meals for themselves.

This lack of physical health can (and often does) spread to the rest of the community.

But consider this: without a healthy physical body, how can we really experience the tangible presence of God? If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, are we acting like it when we sleep too little, eat fast food to quiet the stress and fail to move our bodies they way they were designed?

For more thoughts on how to promote physical health—and the spiritual dangers of avoiding it—I recommend a book by Gary Thomas called Every Body Matters.

Emotional and mental health. Chances are, there are people in your community who have a legitimate desire and need for counseling, but either can't afford it, are embarrassed to ask for it, or don't know where to go to ask for help.

What if you compiled a list of resources—trusted counselors—to make available to everyone in your community? This would provide anonymity to those who are afraid to ask, and it would provide access to those who don't otherwise have it. In addition, what if you created a scholarship fund to support those in your community you know need counseling but can't afford it?

Another resource you could provide would be support groups.

Grief counseling, chronic pain groups, Celebrate Recovery—these are all examples of support groups you could form based on the needs and resources of your community. By providing these support groups, we will refute the common misconception about church: that people need to come and pretend to be perfect.

We'll invite people to get healing instead of hiding their brokenness. We'll help them do that.

Relational health. When was the last time your church community did a series directed toward marriages or toward healthy dating or friendships? Have you talked about what it looks like to live in healthy community with other people?

Scripture has so much to say about this—in fact, this is the majority of the New Testament, is it not? How to live in community with other believers. And yet we dedicate little to no time to it. Maybe a week here and there.

The health of the marriages in your community will have a major impact on the spiritual health of your community. The health of the marriages on your staff will have a major impact on the health of the marriages in the wider context. What have you dedicated to making those marriages healthy?

Is there more you can do?

Don't hesitate to focus on helping people achieve health in their emotional, physical and relational lives. It is part of your job. It is a worthy investment. It will make a difference in the long run. These areas will inevitably have an impact on the health of each individual and the health of your church.

With more than a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and, all while staying involved in the local church.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Justin Lathrop) Culture Tue, 15 Jul 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Pastoral Secrets Lead to Pastoral Sickness

Years ago I had a secret—a secret so shameful, that I could not tell anyone. At the time, it just wasn't done.

It was a secret that wasn't spoken about at dinner parties, and a problem you were expected to solve on your own. I had carried the secret for years; it kept me up at night, and was like a piece of malware always running in the background of my mind. My secret was making me sick.

Pastor, do you have a secret you wish you didn't have? Is it one that you don't want anyone else to ever discover? Are you getting tired of hiding this part of you, of masking over the pain and the shame?

Is it a secret that only you and your spouse know about? Or, maybe, they don't even know? Is your secret making you sick?

A Secret Weapon Against Secret Sins

One of the secret weapons against secrets is also one of the secret weapons against sin. That weapon is ... the light of day! Your secret only has power because it's a secret. As long as it's a secret, it has control over you. Once you shine the light of day on it, it loses its power and hold on you. Once you tell your secret to another person, you share the burden of it, and it begins its descent into irrelevancy.

God does not want us pastors to carry secrets. They lead to shame, guilt, lies, a troubled mind and emotional exhaustion. God doesn't want us doing ministry alone, and he certainly doesn't want us carrying our burdens, our secrets, alone.

Maybe it is time for you to come clean, to share your secret with a trusted friend or mentor. Maybe you need to share the burden of it with another, and to get help. When you tell your secret, it's like a new car immediately after you drive it off the show room floor; it drops in value big time! A shared secret loses its teeth, and releases its bite on you.

Back To My Secret Sin

Dear God. I carried that thing around, with my wife's help, for years. We sweat over it, prayed about it, tried our hardest to fix it, and did make some progress. In fact, we made a good deal of progress. But we bore it in silence, and in secret, hoping no one would find out. If they did, they would think less of us, perhaps consider us unworthy of ministry.

When it was time for us to move to a new ministry, I decided I would open up and let our new church leaders know up front what my secret was. I was almost sick over it. No, I was sick over it! I wasn't sure they would want me. I'll never forget the call.

We were scheduled to go and candidate in two weeks, and I did not want to do that without them knowing my secret. I was honest and open. I shared my secret. To my shock, and delight, it was a nonstarter. "Is that all you've got?" they said. I was floored, and felt a ton of weight being lifted off my shoulders.

"Has it been difficult?" they asked. "Yes" I said. "Then good, we want a pastor who has been through the wringer and knows what it's like. We want a pastor who has crashed and burned, and knows what it means to get up and keep going. We're on your side, we're in this together."

I Had No More Secrets—I Was Free

After we hung up, I sat there in my van, staring at my cell phone. I had carried this secret for almost eight years! Did this just happen? I started to cry. Then I knew. This is what grace is. I finally experienced it. Grace. Love. Acceptance. Jesus. This is the body of Christ. I'm pretty sure I could not have been more relieved, happier or more full of peace than I was that evening. They knew. And they still wanted me.

What was my secret, you ask? I'll never tell! You see, you don't have to tell everybody your secret for your burden to be lifted. You just have to tell the right person or persons.

Paul said, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." James said, "Confess your sins one to another, that you may be healed." If I actually told you my secret, you would say, "oh yeah, that" and move on to the next thing. No big deal. But it was huge to me, because I had no one to help me carry it.

What secret are you carrying? Can I scream it? Here I go—FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, BARE YOUR BURDEN! TELL SOMEONE! SHARE YOUR SECRET! Watch it lose its power and feel the weight roll off your shoulders. Then understand what Paul meant when he said, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

Jeff Keady is the pastor of Dover Church in Orange City, Iowa. Jeff partners with Jonny Craig at and the #1 podcast dedicated to providing ministry encouragement to pastors of small churches.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Jeff Keady) Personal Character Mon, 14 Jul 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Does God Care About Organization?

My top two spiritual gifts are leadership and administration, so the subject of organization is something I love and gravitate toward. If you have the spiritual gift of administration, you love structure, systems, processes and org charts. If you don't, those things probably drive you crazy.

Regardless of your primary gifting, it helps to approach leadership with a 30,000-foot view and try to see the big picture of what's going on in your organization. The way the body of Christ works is if this is difficult for you, surround yourself with other leaders for whom this is natural.

In my travels, speaking, consulting and conversations with leaders of all types, I've discovered a major reason they are not getting the results they desire is due to a system designed to give them the exact result they're getting. If your system is designed to fail, you will fail every time. If your organization's culture is one of creativity, innovation and trust, and you have a healthy system in place, there is no limit to what you as a team can accomplish (through the Holy Spirit).

Do you think the Bible cares about organization? I do. Read the story of Moses and his father-in-law in Exodus 18:13-26.

I thank God for including the story of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro. In this story, we see Moses was a man with flaws and had made a poor decision on how to best go about judging the people. Maybe he didn't have the gift of leadership or administration. He did, however, have the wisdom to listen to someone who did, and the Bible tells us this gave Moses new strength to carry out whatever God commanded him. The people also flourished in their settings. It was a win-win.

The book The Externally Focused Quest by Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw has some great thoughts on this as well. I could easily quote chapters of it for you, but I'll just encourage you to read it.

It's crucial to recognize your system could be choking the life, health, creativity and innovation out of your organization. My encouragement to you is to have someone with the gift of administration evaluate your systems. This could be someone in your church (maybe a business leader who will volunteer), a gifted staff member, or an outside consultant who can come in and look at the big picture.

One scripture I've found myself quoting to church leaders often is when Jesus told his disciples to be "wise as serpents" (Matt. 10:16). In The Message, verse 16 reads, "be as cunning as a snake." I am often referring to this verse when I'm engaged in helping an organization with strategic planning and overall strategy.

I don't think there's anything wrong with strategy when it comes to church leadership. Of course we need to always be sensitive and open to the Spirit's leading and sudden change, but God can be with us in the strategy and planning of any organization. So as you set up your systems, structure and processes, I would suggest two thoughts: keep it simple, and keep it fluid or flexible.

Neil Cole, director of Church Multiplication Associates said, "Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will break down early in the transference to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness that is needed to keep it going. The simpler the process, the more available it is to the broader Christian population" (Cultivating a Life for God, page 10).

Albert Einstein said, "Out of complexity, find simplicity." I agree. You might have 75 staff members on your team, but this doesn't mean you can't approach your structure and processes in such a way in which they are simple to share, quote and move people through. Did you know research strongly backs this principle?

The book Simple Church is full of thoroughly researched and proven principles. I want to strongly encourage you to read it if you haven't already. In Simple Church, the authors, Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, tell us that, "In general, simple churches are growing and vibrant. Churches with a simple process for reaching and maturing people are expanding the kingdom. Conversely, complex churches are struggling and anemic. Churches without a process or with a complicated process for making disciples are floundering. As a whole, cluttered and complex churches are not alive. Our research shows that these churches are not growing" (Simple Church, page 14).

The preceding is a brief excerpt from one chapter of Greg Atkinson's new book Strange Leadership: 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization. Go to the book's website for more information.

Greg Atkinson is an author, speaker, consultant and the editor of Christian Media Magazine. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company and his own consulting firm.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Greg Atkinson) Administration Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:00 -0400
How to Use Your God-Given Influence as a Kingdom Builder

Everyone has influence. We all influence someone. And God expects us to be good stewards of that influence for His kingdom's sake.

He didn't give us our influence for selfish purposes on our part, but so that we might share the good news about him—so that we could be kingdom builders. But what exactly is a "kingdom builder?" It's someone who has ...

  • A great purpose to live for. And for the Christian, we have the greatest purpose of all—to rescue people for eternity through Jesus. Kingdom builders demonstrate a great commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
  • Great principles to live by. A kingdom builder is one who has a different source from which to draw wisdom—God's eternal truth revealed in the Bible.
  • Great power to live on. A kingdom builder operates in a different power that the rest of the world—the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who offers guidance every step of the way.
  • Great people to live with. A kingdom builder gathers with God's people and joins up with a small group for encouragement and accountability.

There are at least a dozen principles we learn from Scripture about how to use our influence as a kingdom builder. I'm going to share six this week and six next week. Here are the first six:

1. Everybody has influence. What you do with the influence you currently have will determine whether or not your influence grows more. And you have far more influence than you realize. You influence people everyday through your smile, conversation, email, voting, etc. In order to understand what influence is, it's helpful to understand what influence is NOT.

  • Influence is not a position.
  • Influence is not authority.
  • Influence is not fame.
  • Influence is not wealth.

You can have any one of those and not actually have influence.

2. God expects me to use the influence he's given to me. Influence is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more it grows. It takes courage. You'll have to get out of your comfort zone, speak up when you're intimidated and serve others when you don't feel like it. Jesus challenged us to let our light shine and to be like salt that preserves and flavors the world around us. In other words, you have to decide to put your influence to use.

3. My influence is for the benefit of others. When God gives you influence, it isn't for the purpose of making you rich or famous, especially for your own pleasure. He gives you influence because He uses people to help other people. It's about others. And the blessings of your influence are not for you to consume but for you to share.

4. If I'm not influencing them, they're influencing me. This is one of those truths naive leaders miss. Not only do we all influence others, but we're all influenced by others as well. And when we're unaware of the power that others have to influence us, we'll allow our hearts to compromise. Just as Lot failed to influence the cities of the plain in Genesis, we too can become attached to the values of the culture we're hoping to change.

5. The purpose of influence is to speak up for those that have no influence. Psalm 72 is a prayer for leaders, and it says, "Please stand up for the poor, help the children of the needy, come down hard on the cruel tyrants." In other words, God, please help leaders to use their influence on behalf of those who have little voice or platform of their own—the poor, the fatherless, the diseased and isolated, the slave and the oppressed.

6. I will answer to God for how I used my influence. I am eternally accountable for how I used the influence God gave me in this life. What I do with my influence in the temporary world matters forever, and the Bible is filled with proof of this. The question God will ask every human being in His judgment is, "What did you do with my Son, Jesus?" And the question He will ask everyone who is a member of His family is, "What did you do with the time and the resources and the influence I gave you?"

I want to influence this world in light of the next. That's our calling as kingdom builders!

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rick Warren) Counseling Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:00:00 -0400
To Grow Your Church You Must Know the Culture

I talk with a lot of pastors and leaders, pastors and leaders from different places and different-sized places.

Specifically, as I talk to pastors and leaders in rural places, in small towns, across the country, I hear desperation in their voices about their community. You see, I've come to realize that pastor and leaders are wired for their community and context. The best leaders are leading where they are because of a great call from God—because they've heard God tell them to lead where they are.

The small town pastor and leader is no different. These leaders aren't leading in small towns because they can't cut it in the big city. They're leading in a small town because that is exactly the place God has called them.

These leaders are desperate for their town. They're desperate to win people to Jesus.

The biggest concern these pastors often have? How they can grow their church. I hear so many "We don't have the money to do that" and "I don't want 9,000" I'd settle for 90" comments.

What's the key?

It's the same key that Jesus understood when he spoke in parables—you gotta know your culture before you can reach it. You have to know the people you are dealing with, speaking to, and ministering to before you expect to grow the kingdom or your church.

Small town leader or big city leader, don't expect to grow your church if you aren't' willing to know your culture. Rub shoulders with the powers that be in your small city. Go to the Friday night football games. Hang out at the local gas station that everyone in your small town hangs out at.

Know your culture. Grow your church.

Artie Davis wears a lot of hats and leads a lot of people. He's Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He heads the Comb Network and the Sticks Conference. He speaks and writes about leadership, ministry, church-planting, and cultural diversity in the church. You can find his blog at or catch him on Twitter @artiedavis.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Artie Davis) Culture Fri, 11 Jul 2014 16:00:00 -0400
3 Hard Questions for Preachers

Preaching the gospel is privilege. It is also a burden, and a calling.

I have been a preacher since 1982. I love my job. I love to read, study, teach and preach. Every day I am thankful that I get to do what I love. I am not a natural communicator. I have had to work hard to develop whatever teaching and preaching skills I have.

Over the years, my preaching style has changed a few times. Originally, I was a topical list preacher. I would find random verses about grace, faith, or whatever the topic, and preach away.

After about 10 years of that, I started exegetical teaching/preaching. I spent two years preaching my way through the book of Mark on Sunday mornings. I spent a year on Acts, and six months on 1 Corinthians.

Then I taught my way through shorter books like Jonah, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians and James. For the past 10 years, I have done team prep and team preaching. Hopefully each change has been an upgrade. If you are a teacher or preacher I hope you are constantly upgrading your craft.

Before getting on my Manila-to-Tokyo-to-Minneapolis-to-Nashville flight recently, I met with some of our best Filipino preachers to discuss concerns and pitfalls of preachers and preaching. Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves.

1. Are our preachers making disciples? Are preachers doing the work of the ministry? Are they ministering to people and making disciples in small groups? Or are they spending all week in their study with a pile of books? I am not suggesting that study is unimportant. Quite the contrary, but we must study people as well as the Bible. The more we connect with people and their pain, the better preachers we will become. The goal is to make disciples. Preaching is an important part of the disciple-making process, but it is only a part not the whole.

2. Are our preachers carrying the burden? Are preachers carrying the weight of the ministry? Are they shouldering the pressure of the budget, the vision, the values, the mission? Or are they simply communicating pre-packaged points? Last Sunday while preaching at Victory-Makati, I felt an overwhelming burden that I had 35 minutes to connect with those in the congregation. I had a heavy burden because the topic was so important. I was not just communicating information, I was preaching a sermon that had the potential to shape, redirect and change lives. That is a heavy burden.

3. Are our preachers preparing their own hearts? Preparing a sermon to preach is the easy part. Preparing our hearts to preach is difficult and often painful. I sometimes wonder if the time preachers spend working on slick Powerpoint and Keynote presentations, would be better spent on their faces before God. I also wonder if modern preachers spend too much time researching illustrations to make people laugh, rather than time searching the scriptures for the original meaning of the text. Powerpoint pictures and funny stories do not change lives. God's Word brings change because it is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness."

I get to work in Nashville, Manila and around the world with some really great preachers. The reason they are so good, is because they constantly ask themselves the hard questions.

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1 ESV).

"It pleased God through the folly of what we preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21)

Steve and Deborah Murrell went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They are the founding pastors of Victory Manila, one church that meets in 14 locations in Metro Manila and has planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and 20 nations. Currently, Victory has more than 6,000 discipleship groups that meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories and homes in Metro Manila. Steve is co-founder and president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, a family of churches focused on church planting, campus ministry and world missions.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Steve Murrell) Vision Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:00:00 -0400