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Ministry Today's Resource Guide

Ministry Today proudly presents Greenelines, a new blog from Dr. Steve Greene.

Dr. Greene writes on a wide range of topics important to leaders, church administrators and young leaders in development.

He has lead business organizations, served as a dean of a college of business and lead as a senior pastor. Greene's primary focus is to equip the leaders of saints.

Read Greenelines
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Are We Warriors or Are We Tourists?

The local church should be a Holy Spirit training outpost for equipping God’s people to be kingdom warriors of love and servanthood on earth and to destroy the works of darkness. Instead, the local church is often operating more like a cruise ship instead of a battleship designed to equip an army.

I first met pastor Fred Hartley about five years ago when I was invited to be on a city transformation leadership team in Atlanta. Fred pastors a midsize congregation in a suburb of Atlanta and is also the founder of the College of Prayer, an international equipping ministry. Fred has written several books on prayer. He knew little about my work, but as we began getting to know one another, he took more of an interest in what I did. I shared a few of my books with him, but it was almost two years before Fred caught what I was doing and how it could impact his own local congregation. He wrote me this letter:

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How to Preach With Authenticity

The kind of preaching that changes lives is from the heart to the heart, not from the head to the head. Lives are changed as we speak from our deepest pain and suffering.

Socrates was the first to explain communication in three dimensions. He talked about ethos as the speaker’s character, pathos as the speaker’s compassion, and logos as the speaker’s content. We tend to think most about the content of a sermon, but the people to whom we are speaking perceive all three, and ethos is really the most vital of all three dimensions.

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Senior Pastor Perspective: Pastor’s Kids and Youth Group

Laura Ortberg Turner, daughter of John and Nancy Ortberg, has some great thoughts on what it means to be (but not really be) known as a “pastor’s kid.” One takeaway is the framework she felt her parents placed her and her siblings into. Turner writes:

“Had we not gotten freedom from our parents to be the people we were—to grow and learn for ourselves and even occasionally embarrass our parents, as good children do (a famed family incident at a church in Southern California that involves my then-5-year-old brother lying on his back, thrusting his pelvis to a children’s worship song called ‘Jumping Bean,’ comes to mind)—we would likely have ended up feeling like our only two possibilities in life were becoming the mantle-bearer or the rebel.”

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In the Face of 'Preachers of LA,' Has the Church Become a Reality Show?

Beginning this fall, a major television network will begin airing a new reality show called Preachers of L.A. Before you continue reading this article, please view this trailer.

Though every ounce of my being is tempted to respond in condemning judgmentalism, I will obey God’s command and judge not.

As with everything else, Christianity has changed in this new millennium. The question we must all ask is, Is it for the better or for the worse? Never before has the church earned such a poor reputation as we have in this generation. It appears as if the current church in America has two gods—the god of attendance and the god of money. We are seen as superficial, arrogant, self-serving, unloving and unholy.

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3 Mistakes We Cannot Make in the LGBTQ Conversation

To say that issues surrounding the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer movement are sensitive to navigate would be a gross understatement. Here are three mistakes that are often made in our ministries:

1. People make “gay” jokes. Statements like, “That’s gay,” or, “What are you, gay?” are exactly the types of things that will repel someone who needs to have a safe place to share. This will alienate kids and make you completely unsafe to talk to. We come across as arrogant and condemning. Huge mistake.

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Church-Bible

Can the Church Still Impact Today’s Culture?

George Barna reveal in a survey in 2009 that only 19 percent of Christians hold a biblical worldview and that less than 4 percent of those in their 20s hold a biblical worldview. Are we losing the culture battle? Can the church any longer impact the culture today, given such statistics that reveal the state of the church?

The church is often referred to as an institution instead of a people who love and serve society for the purpose of influencing culture. We’ve reduced the church to a place where we go on Sunday instead of a people that is the church spread throughout the marketplace daily. People either worship in spirit and truth, or they settle for religious ritual on the church mountain.

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3 Ways to Stop the Naysayers

“The poor will be with you always,” Jesus said, but I’m sure He could have added, "The stupid vision killers will pursue you always.”

Acknowledge But Don’t React

As much as we would love to send to some of these to Gitmo for vision espionage, we simply don’t have that authority … sadly. But if we give their voice weight, they will keep looking for opportunities to complain.

Naysayers and complainers don’t have a desire to help in what they say. They are looking for a platform that will hear them and respond. It makes them feel empowered.

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3 Ways to Find Out Why Your Church Isn't Growing

Here is an example of a common question I receive:

My church is not growing. People come, but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should, but they do not stay. Any thoughts, please?

I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time, I know they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.

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How to Help Your Staff Develop Their Gifts

As a pastor, you have a lot of responsibilities. When your task list grows, it’s easy to overlook the need to invest in your staff. However, one of the most important parts of leadership development is helping others understand their gifts.

At some point, most of us worked for or learned from a leader who understood this responsibility. And we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. Even if we didn’t have that help, we all understand the value of it and why we should invest in our people this way.

So for all you leaders, here are three ideas for helping the people you lead develop their gifts:

Gina-McClain

3 Worship-Leading Skills for Kids’ Ministry

After the past few years of observing the worship element of our kids’ experiences, I’ve discovered three key skills that distinguish a worship leader from a worship singer. The former leads kids to engage in a worship song while the latter holds a microphone and sings. There’s a big difference between the two.

Skill No. 1: The Art of Prompting

Storytelling and worship leading share this tool in common. Yet it’s assumed in storytelling and taken for granted in worship leading. Providing prompts seems intuitive when teaching kids.

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Measuring Church Health: How Many Students Should Attend?

Last week I launched a series of articles on measuring church health. We began by looking at average children’s ministry attendance. This week, we’ll focus on students.

For the churches we’ve worked with through the years, the average number of students is 10 percent of the overall church attendance. In other words, for every 9 adults and kids in attendance, there’s typically one student between sixth and twelfth grade.

Again, the factors driving student engagement are similar to those I noted with children’s ministry. Though the capacity of your youth pastor may certainly impact the health of your student ministry, there are a number of other factors to consider. Those include the demographics of your region, the church’s overall commitment and vision for student ministry and the programming in your worship services.

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9 Tips for Resisting the Overwhelming Pressure of Leadership

I am asked constantly by young leaders, “How do you handle the responsibility of leading something like Catalyst?”

Good question.

The reality is, anyone who leads a church, leads a company, leads a community, leads a nonprofit ministry, leads a team or even leads a family feels and knows the pressure of responsibility. And responsibility is part of leadership. Always.

You’ve heard this before: “You’re responsible for what happens. Don’t screw up!” Right! We hear this all the time from our parents, from our boss, from our boards, from our friends, from our spouses.

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7 Cautions Before You Preach on Money

The worst time to preach on money is when you need some, pastor. The second worst time is when the church needs some.

The best time to preach on money is all the other times.

That said, here are a number of cautions for you to consider before walking into that lions’ den to tame the monster called greed.

1. Get your own house in order. Now, it’s possible to preach on prayer while knowing you have a long way to go in that respect. You can preach on good works and witnessing even if your record is spotty. You can do so because everyone has room for improvement in these areas. But when it comes to giving/stewardship, you can know when you are doing well.

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Never Start a Ministry Without a Minister

Saddleback didn’t have an organized youth ministry until we had 500 in attendance. We didn’t have a singles ministry until we had 1,000 people in attendance.

And I’m glad we didn’t.

It’s not because those ministries aren’t important. They’re vital! But God hadn’t provided anyone to lead them. Never create a ministry position and then fill it. It’s backwards.

Your most critical component to a new ministry isn’t the idea to start it—it’s the leadership of the ministry. Every ministry rises and falls on leadership. Without the right leader, a ministry will just stumble along. It may even do more harm than good. I could tell you some horror stories about poorly led ministries.

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Why Teams Rarely Rise Beyond the Level of Their Leader

Leaders, if you’re frustrated at the level of your team or vendor’s performance, look no further than the mirror.

Only in very rare cases will a team perform better than the level of their leader. Why?

Because the leader sets the boundaries, deadlines and guidelines. The leader creates the culture and sets expectations. As a result, no matter how gifted or creative a team is, if the leader is incompetent, insecure or inexperienced, the team can only work within that framework.

Thom-Rainer

4 Keys to Planning for Church Health

Based on research and anecdotal evidence, I estimate that nine out of every 10 churches in America are growing at a slower pace than their communities—if they are growing at all. That is not a good sign for the church in America.

Through the feedback I’ve received on my blog over the past two years, it has become overwhelmingly evident that the spiritual health of churches and pastors is of great concern. Many have asked how to transform the churches in the 90 percent that are not growing into ones like the 10 percent that are.

This is no easy task, but it can be done.

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Do You Recognize Your True Role in the Church?

In the first post of this series, I began a discussion on the importance of pastors establishing healthy boundaries in ministry.

As it’s an area in which I have personally struggled—and one in which I continue to grow—I’m passionate about sharing what I have learned in order to help others not make the same mistakes I did.

In the next four posts, I will share keys to establishing these boundaries. Think of them as four fence posts surrounding a healthy ministry.

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5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed it, but recently I have received it more frequently, so I decided to write about it again. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. 

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Heal Your Servant: Grace and Exposing the Enemy’s Demonic Motivation

Through the ministry of Heal Your Servant, we have four scheduled weekly conference calls. Every call is unique, and most are filled with surprises. Sometimes we will have one person on a call, and other times we have several callers.

On a recent phone conversation, I had one individual call in. I introduced myself. He then gave me his name. As is customary, I began a short prayer, asking God for His wisdom.

I concluded, and instead of hearing the words, “Amen,” I heard, “Why do you do this?”

It was as if the Lord had been preparing me for this question.

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How to Get Started in Social Media

Recently, Leadership Journal interviewed me about social media, publishing it under the headline: “Not Tweeting? Repent!" So, in light of the fact that I basically called pastors sinners for not being on Twitter, I thought I should share some tips for getting started in social media.

Choose an Outlet

First, you’ll need to consider which social media outlet to use. My recommendation would be to engage in both Twitter and Facebook. The simple reason—you’re more likely to engage men on Twitter and women on Facebook.

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4 Ways for Youth Ministers to Stay in Touch With Their Students

“Does it work?” one of my children asked.

“Yes. It’s plugged into the phone jack. Of course it will work,” their grandmother responded.

“How do I use it?” They sat wide-eyed.  

“Well, you put your finger in the hole of the first number you want to dial and pull it down until it stops, do that with every number until the call goes through,” she explained.

“Can I try it?” they wanted to know.

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Are Churches Isolating Introverts?

Some of you may find this surprising, but I’m an introvert. I first made the confession in this blog post back in 2012.

Now, just because I’m an introvert, that doesn’t mean I don’t like connecting with people. I absolutely love it. However, I have to train myself to balance the opportunity to connect with others with the discipline of taking time to recharge.

While serving in ministry through the years, I’ve had to train myself to overcome some of my tendencies and preferences as an introvert for the sake of making others feel comfortable and welcome. Sometimes it was draining, but I felt that it was essential for my ministry to succeed.

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When Refreshment Comes

The youth ministry I grew up in was amazing. I was offered so much activity and was infused with so much passion that I was always serving somewhere.

Each week started with Sunday school, followed by Sunday service and a meal out with fellow youth groupies. Sundays ended with the evening service. On Monday nights, we went street witnessing, on Wednesdays we had youth group (all of the “mature” students served in multiple capacities), and on Friday nights we did ministry at the nursing homes.

My spiritual life was packed with social activities and service opportunities, and I owned my kingdom responsibility. I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to win the world.

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9 Reasons Church Leaders Struggle With Prayer

John, a leader in a church I assisted as a consultant, admitted to me what I’d heard before from seminary students and church leaders alike: “Dr. Lawless, I don’t always pray like I should. I know better, but prayer isn’t easy.”

I’ve heard something similar so many times that I’ve begun asking for more details. These findings are anecdotal, but here are my general conclusions about why church leaders struggle with prayer.

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Is It Worth the Price, Pastor?

Once in a while, a pastor has to make a tough call.

Do you speak out on a controversial issue or not?

Yes, you could come down hard on the latest political correctness issue dividing the country and enraging both halves.

You could address the racial matter driving the liberals crazy and inflaming the conservatives to near-incineration.

You could take a public stand on what your community is experiencing, knowing that many on both sides of the issue are upset with the others.

Some will insist you should take a stand.

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Can You 'Fire' a Church Attendee?

Maybe fire isn’t the right word. But can you say no to someone in a way that suggests your church might not be the right church for them? How do you balance loving and caring for a person and not allowing him or her to leverage their personal wants and maybe even their own agenda?

I’ve been reading a great book titled The Orange Code: How ING Direct Succeeded by Being a Rebel With a Cause, by Arkadi Kuhlmann and Bruce Philp. I’ve been reading it slowly and thinking my way through it for a long time now. The chapter on staffing (“The Dirty Dozen”) is worth the book. There is another great chapter titled “You Say You Want a Revolution?” that speaks to the topic of this article.

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What Not to Do as an Emerging Leader

As an up-and-coming emerging leader, don't do these:

1. Believe you are the answer.

2. Stop honoring those who’ve laid the groundwork before you.

3. Write off all the folks who finally helped you “arrive” and who might suddenly seem insignificant or unimportant.

4. Remove yourself from reality by surrounding yourself with “handlers” and those only interested in being “yes” men and women.

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Radicals, Racism or Righteousness: The Choice Is Yours

Society is being turned on its ear, and we are being given a front-row seat.

I could sit here for days and decry the many ways in which our culture is losing its soul. I could catalogue the multiple symptoms that are evidence of the demise of towns and cities all over America.

I mean, think about this ...

To steal an eagle’s egg in the U.S. carries a $10,000 fine, yet killing an unborn human is perfectly legal. Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, if the same fine was imposed for the nearly 55 million abortions that have taken place since then, the cumulative monetary fine would be more than $545,596,150,000.

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6 Commitments for Growing a Church With Unity

One of the reasons why Saddleback Church has grown over the years is because we have maintained a harmonious atmosphere. When there is a church that loves, it attracts people like a magnet.

When a church really loves, really offers love to each other and those who are welcomed into it, you’d have to lock the doors to keep people out. Because Saddleback is a loving church, we continue to reach out and we continue to grow.

Growth is automatic. All living things grow, and if a church is alive and living, it will grow naturally. The question, if a church isn’t growing, is, “What is keeping it from growing?” If you remove the barriers to growth in your ministry or in the church as a whole, it will automatically grow.

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Do You Doubt Like Thomas?

We know Thomas best by his famous statement soon after Jesus’ resurrection:

“Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” (See John 20.)

We tend to think of Thomas’ lack of faith because of Jesus’ response a few days later when he showed Thomas his hands and side: “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

A closer look at Thomas might help us understand him better and learn from his approach.

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Pastor, What’s On the Plate You Are Passing?

The Apostle Paul said, Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).

Christians are the most overweight people group in America. Have you wondered why this is true? I believe everything rises and falls on leadership, and I believe the main reason people are overweight in the pews is because so many pastors are overweight behind the pulpit.

Like most pastors, for years I chose to ignore the problem, shift blame elsewhere and not make my congregation aware of the importance of being healthy—but not anymore. Now that I’m doing something about my weight and my lifestyle, I no longer have a difficult time speaking to my congregation about this problem.

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How to Tame Resentment at Church

I recall a time as a pastor when my emotional skin got so thin that I took offense at just about anything anyone said. I knew it was not good, but it was like I could not stop myself.

I liken that period to having “emotional rug burn.” Rug burn is a painful condition where friction of some sort has rubbed your skin so thin that it becomes highly sensitive to heat or touch. You can get rug burn innocently enough, like when roughhousing with your children on the floor. But when one has rug burn, the hypersensitivity it creates makes things that normally would pass unnoticed become a painful focus of our attention.

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They Cut Because They Hurt

Her name was Randy. She was working in a fast food restaurant in her mid-teens when I met her.

Apart from her nametag, she blended in with the rest of the people she worked with. Same uniform, average height, normal build. But when she turned to reach for the Choco Taco I had just ordered, my attention rested on her arms.

They were scarred.

And not just once, but each arm had dozens—probably 50 or more between the two.

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Don’t Blame Your Schedule for Your Burnout

We live in a world that is defined by boundaries. Our roads are painted with them, our sports games are designed around them, and our psychologists tell us we need to expand them around that codependent crazy aunt of ours.

While it may be true that the term boundaries has been “Oprahfied” in the last few years, I think it’s an area that is vital in the lives of church-planters and pastors.

People often point to too much activity as the inherent culprit of fatigue and early departure from ministry. The problem, however, transcends a busy schedule.

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7 Signs of Healthy Empowerment

Empowering other people on the team to be leaders—delegation—is critical to a successful church or organization. Every leader talks about delegation, but few truly empower others to be leaders.

It’s a frustration I hear frequently from staff members of churches.

Frankly, as one with a strength (StrengthFinders) of command, I can easily take over if no one else takes the lead. It takes discipline as a leader, but I want to create an environment of healthy empowerment. I want to lead a church that produces leaders.

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Stop Selling 'Its a Small World’ to Christians

I’ve always hated the Its a Small World ride at Disneyland. I don’t know if it’s the incessant song, the Chucky-like dolls or just the bland predictability of it all.

I prefer Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, where every turn is a new adventure. Just when you think you have it figured out, you are spun around and sent off in an entirely new direction.

So I wonder why we feel compelled to sell the Christian life as more Small World than Wild Ride? We tell people if they’ll take these six steps to a better life in Jesus, their finances will improve, their spouse will love them more and their acne will clear up. While there might be bumps along the way, the more we follow Jesus, the better our world will be. Sing along: “It’s a Christ world after all, it’s a Christ world after all …”

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How Is Your Eternity Quotient?

Have you ever had one of those long daydreaming moments while you were should be praying? I certainly have. You know the scenario: You are supposed to be talking to the Lord, and you suddenly find yourself somewhere else mentally!

One recent morning was one of those times for me, when I caught myself daydreaming about eternity. My thoughts did not simply focus on what eternity would be like or when God would call me to heaven. Instead, I mused on how current-day believers seem to focus very little on eternity. Thinking over my 27 years as a Christian, I seem to remember much more emphasis on our eternal reward than I hear today. It seems like things have shifted to the point where many believe our best life is now.

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8 Ways Good Leaders Are Great Followers

As leaders, it’s equally important for us to know how to follow as it is how to lead. In fact, many believe to be a good leader, you must first be a great follower and continue to follow well as you continue to lead well.

I would suggest that great leaders are equally in tune with how to follow well as how to lead well. So here are a few thoughts on following:

1. Good followers are finishers. They get the job done, take projects across the finish line and make things happen on their own.

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How to Beat the Slump in Church Leadership

Church leadership is difficult (in case you hadn’t already figured that out).

Some days it is easy to feel discouraged, to wonder why you work as hard as you do. Especially when you don’t receive the thanks you deserve. Especially when you don’t see the results you want. Especially when it’s been a long week or weekend—you’ve preached multiple services and tended to the needs of others, and even after all of that, you look around the room and wonder if it was enough.

Maybe you worry there are people you aren’t reaching, or maybe you see people hurting and don’t have the answers.

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How to Use the Web to Help People Grow Spiritually

Remember the days when we just duplicated everything in the church bulletin on the church website? Church websites were just online brochures.

Then we started encouraging people to connect. We offered ways for people to sign up for a group, volunteer role or an event through the church website.

Then we started offering the experience online. Churches began to stream their services live to give people a chance to experience teaching and worship without being at a physical location.

What’s next?

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3 Essential Points for Every Sermon

I enjoy speaking and preaching in our church. Honestly, though, for years it was difficult to get ahead in thought and stay focused with a simple plan for each sermon.

Yeah, I know, I took homiletics too. However, I’m a very simple guy who needs a simple but effective thought process that allows me to pray and study through a subject and stay on point all the way through.

A couple of years ago I “discovered” (only by God’s mercy on a simple-minded leader) a process I have found to be very powerful.

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3 Great Reasons to Tell Stories in Your Preaching

Pastor, your people love a good story. Listeners who have gone on vacation during the first 10 minutes of your sermon will return home in a heartbeat the moment you begin, “A man went into a store….” or  “I remember once when I was a child….”

He never preached without telling stories.” (Mark 4:34)

Those who have died early in your message will suddenly spring to life when you say, “The other day, I saw something on the interstate …” or “Recently, when the governor and I were having lunch at the local café …”  (smiley-face goes here)

Thom-Rainer

Pastor’s Perspective: 10 Ways to Be a Better Church Staff Member

After about a quarter of a century of church consultations, I have dealt with a plethora of church staff matters. I continue to hear many of the same themes since I left church consultation.

Today I present the top 10 issues from the senior pastor’s perspective. In an upcoming post, I will offer 10 issues from the church staff perspective. My desire in writing these two blog posts is to offer a positive framework and to allow church staff today, and pastors on Saturday, to have the best possible work relationships.

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How Perspective Can Be a Leader’s Best Friend

Last night I was reading in 1 Kings 12 as part of my daily reading plan. This pivotal moment in a new king’s reign is interesting to investigate.

I mean, we knew based upon a warning God gives to Solomon that the better part of the kingdom would be removed from the hands of his son. But how it happened is intriguing to me.

In the latter part of Solomon’s life, his great wisdom was not on display. In fact, I would argue that in the season his son, Rehoboam, was growing up, Solomon’s focus was on experiencing the pleasures of life.

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What Items Were on Jesus’ Bucket List?

Somewhere in the councils of the Trinity, a plan was devised for the restoration of the world. Among His other assignments, these fell on the bucket list of the Son of God:

1. Be conceived and born as a human.

2. Live a sinless life.

3. Gather a dedicated following.

4. Equip them.

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Rick Warren: Character Is the Foundation of Leadership

Plenty of highly charismatic leaders have bombed out and failed because they lacked character, which trumps charisma every time. You don’t have to have charisma to be a leader. You do have to have character—credibility—because leadership is influence, and if you don’t have credibility nobody is going to follow you.

While your reputation is about what people say you are, character is who you really are. D.L. Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark when nobody is looking.” In 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Paul lays out the necessary characteristics for church leadership. He never addresses having a robust résumé, having gone to the right seminary or having a magnetic public persona. He talks about character traits.

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12 Game-Changeable and Tweetable Proverbs

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare" (Prov. 15:1, NLT).

"A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash" (Prov. 15:14).

"Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success" (Prov. 15:22).

"Greed brings grief to the whole family" (Prov. 15:27).

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How Can You Tell if a Staff Member Is in Pain?

Recently, a friend told me of a major shift in his home life—one of the life-altering kind. The thing that bothered me most (and the whole thing is an issue for prayer) is that I didn’t sense that anything was wrong.

Sometimes people who care the deepest for others are the best at hiding their own pain.

How can you tell if your staff is in a place of pain?

1. Pacing. Sometimes when our personal lives begin to fall apart, we run to what feels safe. Our work feeds us with constant accomplishments (despite the pain), and when home is too stressful it is easy to hide in work. Think about ways to help your staff take time for their families—not just to fix problems, but to build good memories.

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How a Pastor Can Implement Discipleship Churchwide

Discipleship is cycling to the top as a priority for many pastors. Many churches are trying to change their culture to one of making disciples. But how would you actually implement a change of that magnitude—especially on a sustainable basis?

I’m a men’s discipleship specialist, but what we’ve learned working with 35,000 churches also applies to discipleship in general. What follows is a plan I shared with a pastor recently. Of course, you can adapt this in many ways:

Dear Pastor,

Here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes. My thought is to keep the plan as focused on discipleship and as simple as possible. The following represents a plan to help each person understand and implement discipleship for themselves and others in three ways (salvation=call, growth=equip, service=send).

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