Recently, I’ve been “reinventing” myself and re-evaluating my methods after 22 years of pastoring the same church. I come from a deep heritage of Pentecostal preachers, where fiery, Holy Ghost, sweat-filled sermons are the cure-all. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible makes it clear in Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (NASB). But is the gospel really communicated only through me? And does effective communication rely only on my preparation and my delivery?
Not long ago, I was challenged on this by a very successful pastor who attended one of our services. He told me, “You muscle everything! Everything that has to be communicated, you communicate by yourself, in the pulpit, with no support.” He said that at his church, the messages are communicated by everyone from staff to parking lot attendants and by multiple vehicles such as T-shirts (on the parking attendants), video screens and banners. His insights really opened my eyes, and I immediately began reallocating funds to staff these areas of support.
Since then, I’ve discovered some key principles for effective communication, which center less on me and more on the people I’m teaching. Here’s what I’ve learned about driving home a relevant message:
Communicating a relevant message requires me knowing and caring about my audience.I think back to Ezekiel and his charge from God to communicate His Word to the exiles at Tel Aviv. Scripture says he went to them “in the heat of my spirit” (Ezek. 3:14, NKJV). In other words, Ezekielthought he had all the answers. But once he arrived there, he “sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed” (v. 15, NIV). He began to get a heart for those to whom God had sent Him. Have you studied your audience? Are you acquainted with their needs, hurts and passions? To be relevant to people, we must care about them. This is the key to relevancy.
Communicating a relevant message requires me thinking about everyone who’s listening.I had the honor of speaking at Ed Young Jr.’s C3 Conference this year, where Ed talked about the “three chairs” we as pastors must keep in mind. The first chair, he said, is occupied by the visitor who has no knowledge of the gospel. The second chair is occupied by the new believer. The third chair seats the seasoned Christian. We must prepare our messages in such a way that we keep all three chairs in the front of our minds.
Communicating a relevant message requires transparency.Recently, I stood in the pulpit with tears running down my face and spoke honestly of our family’s struggle with our oldest son’s drug addiction. Afterward, thousands of teenagers responded to the altar call and accepted Jesus as their Savior. And we heard from many parents who, feeling like failures because of their children’s lifestyle decisions, were freed of guilt. It was one of the most transparent days of my life. I gave my congregation insight into my real pain. “Getting real” allows us to become touchable and makes our faith more authentic.
No one living in our culture today would argue that this is a different day. People are bombarded with information. But when it comes down to it, communicating a relevant message reflects our heart for God and for people. May we always have a heart that thinks first about those we’re teaching and allow that to shape how we communicate an eternity-altering story.
Ron Carpenter is senior pastor at Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, S.C. Connect at RonCarpenter.com.
As I sit in my office contemplating the last year, I am overwhelmed by a profound sense of thanksgiving. At this time a year ago, I was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from open-heart surgery.
As many of you may (or may not) know, a year ago things were very different in my life. After more than a week of exhibiting some very serious symptoms, my family, staff and friends began voicing their concerns. My son, Ronnie Jr., had been out of the country preaching, and while he was away, he had a heavy burden for me. He and his host pastor prayed and interceded for my life, and upon returning home, he tried to convince me to go see my doctor.
Evangelist Steve Hill was at heaven’s doorstep after years of fighting incurable melanoma. Those closest to him were making funeral arrangements and securing a burial plot after doctors told them he had three days to live. Yet as Hill faced eternity, the man known worldwide for his fiery preaching at the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Fla., made a deathbed deal with God.
“Jesus,” he prayed, “they just told me that I’m going to die, and to die is gain. You and I are madly in love with each other, Jesus. You’ve been my best friend for decades. Now they say it’s over. If it’s over, that’s fine ... but You’re hard-pressed for evangelists, Jesus. There are very few evangelists out there that do what I do, and You know that. If You’ll let me live, I will win another million people to You, Lord.”
It would be impossible, in just one message, to go into all the reasons for suffering and for why God allows tragedy. Instead I want to focus on five ways that we should respond to tragedy.
I Need to Release My Grief
When you go through a tragedy, which is inevitably going to happen, the first thing you need to do is release your grief. Why? Because tragedy always creates strong emotions.
Did you feel any emotions this week? We don’t always know what to do with our feelings. If you don’t deal with them, but instead stuff them deep, your recovery from a crisis always takes far longer than it should. See some people are stuffers.
It is the single word ground into the bloody soil of every battlefield in the world.
It is buried in the rubble of every civilization, state and neighborhood that has been devastated by a natural disaster.
It lies in the ashes of the burned-up dreams of a family that just lost everything.
It can be heard in the quiet, nighttime sobbing of a little girl whose mother just succumbed to cancer.
Consider this quote:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
In making this statement, I believe author and former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning hit the nail squarely on the head.
Whether by commission or omission, the church has allowed godlessness to permeate our society. We have allowed our “nation under God” to bury the Presence of God under a mountain of misinterpreted laws and legal catchphrases.