In a recent interview for our daughters’ new school, I was asked some personal, thought-provoking questions about my walk with God. My answers surprised the interviewer a little: “I didn’t grow up in a home that served God,” he said, “so I am fascinated by those who did. I always just assumed their lives were easy and somewhat perfect.”
I am so thankful that not only did I grow up in a home that served God, but that my parents devoted their lives to helping others serve Him as well. However, those of us who grew up in the ministry or who are raising children in it know it’s far from easy or perfect.
In my latest non-scientific Twitter survey, I asked the following question of pastors and church staff: What is your biggest challenge in ministry?
Here are the top 12 responses with representative quotes. I’ve taken the liberty to expand most of the quotes from their abbreviated form in Twitter.
1. Apathy and internal focus. “I have been in ministry for over 20 years, and I’ve never seen church members more apathetic and internally focused.”
You probably know by now that being a pastor doesn’t shield you from disappointments. Sorry for the buzzkill beginning, but that’s the truth. The offerings will sometimes be less than your church expenses. The sermon you planned to preach was a lot better than the one you actually preached. People will leave your congregation for the silliest of reasons. The list could go on and on, I promise.
But the good news is that God is working at all times on our behalf in the invisible realm—although that invisibility sometimes causes us distress. So we wrestle. We admit disappointment. We engage in earnest dialogue with our God. In the end, we come around to the same vow: “I trust you, Father. I really do. And while I don’t understand what You’re doing, I know You’re guiding me. You’re still God, and You are good.”
In article in a 1972 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, the Rev. Billy Graham was quoted as saying, “The vast majority of American young people are still alienated, uncommitted, and uninvolved. There is a deep vacuum within them. They are searching for individual identity. They are searching for a challenge and a faith. Whoever captures the imagination of the youth of our generation will change the world. Youth movement of the past have been perverted and led by dictators and demagogues. Perhaps the American young people will be captured by Christ.”
Rev. Graham hit it on the head. He did not go into great detail about the symptoms of the youth crisis. He did not detail the issues of pornography, suicide, depression, self-injury and hopelessness, but he did highlight the core issue. He reminded us that their problems are spiritual in nature.
The Bible is clear that Christians must be “doers of the Word and not hearers only,” (James 1:22) so it’s clear that our responsibility as pastors and preachers of the Word is to challenge people to do something in response to what we’ve said. In other words, the goal of preaching is life change.
How can you add more application into our message to make God’s Word more doable? Always aim for a specific response.
The greatest weakness of most preaching is that the sermon has a fuzzy focus. So many sermons are vague & abstract because the pastor isn’t really clear about why he is teaching this particular message, nor does he give the audience a specific direction to go in response.