How to spend 20 hours a week preparing your sermon without becoming a hermit

When I was a wide-eyed college student, the teacher taught me that for every minute in the pulpit, you must spend one hour of study. I embraced that concept enthusiastically.

Then I became a pastor.

According the latest study (http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2017/april/gallup-hottest-thing-at-church-not-pastor-worship.html) over 70% of parishioners come to church because of one thing: (pick one)

  1. Biblical preaching that connects to real life issues.
  2. A fifty something pastor in skinny jeans.
  3. Fog.
  4. Hymnals.

Since those early days, I have learned a couple of things about preaching I would like to share with you. I was even called a Ninja in the pulpit. Dont know what that means, but I’ll take it!

  1. Multitask: I am not a Podcast junkie like Javier, but I do listen to quite a different slate of them. The sermon you are planning to preach has already been preached. (See #2) So how did others handle the text? I exercise for one hour (sometimes 1.5) a day. I wake up earlier, spend less time on the tube and the Book of the Face and spend the time that Im working out listening to preaching about my topic matter.
  2. Plan for year: I dedicate one week every year to plan my sermonic calendar. It allows for changes but the best thing it helps me with is taking the uncertainty out of it. As I pick what sermons, books, podcasts and online content I will CHOOSE to ingest, I make them match with my selected month’s topic.
  3. Write it down immediately. An idea can happen anytime. They can come to you in random places. I have a notes app that I write my ideas in. Same with illustrations. Pen it in or it perishes.
  4. Ruthless. I am guilty of this as much as the next person is. One misconception people have is that in order to make progress you must sit down uninterrupted for long periods of time. That hardly ever happens. I take advantages of sitting in the waiting room and in the toilet room to read or write ideas. I quote Lee Strobel: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life”

Most people I know that say they have no time, are stressed out and have a ginormous to-do list I have found that it has less to do with lack of time, and more with lack of planning.

My schedule looks like this:

1.15 hour of reading/studying.  (Daily)

1.15 hour of podcast/online content. (Daily)

4 hours on Friday for writing and Power Point.  (Weekly)

Do this and you too can be called a Ninja.

Evangelism is in my blood. My dad was one and I guess the apple did not fall far from the tree. He used slides projectors with a dissolver and preach in an inflatable tent. I use Power Point and videos and speak in an Ice Rink. At the end of the day, both of us are married to the mission not the method.

We just finished a meeting in a 100 member Lifespring Church Plant in Wesley Chapel FL which is a community that is middle class and its growing. The pastor https://twitter.com/wagenersmith and outreach director https://twitter.com/mouthofamule lead a pretty diverse congregation.  (age, culture, Christian background)

The meeting can best be described this way:

Eight nights, connecting eight of the most common human problems with eight of our most treasured beliefs. We used a well-known musical guest each night and held in an Ice Rink. You can watch the meetings here:  https://vimeo.com/channels/lifespringadventist

 

What I liked:

  1. Music was a draw. Several families came for the music, saw the program, stayed for the week. Several of them are connected to the church family now and will start studies.
  2. The venue. I like churches, but a neutral location works well. Since several other events were going on at the same time, we got employees attending our meeting.
  3. Community outreach. This is something brand new we tried and I loved the way the church did it. The offering each night went to a local organization that is part of the 5H that exist in every city. (Homelessness, Human Trafficking, Hunger, Health and Help). This did 2 things:
  4. People always thing we are after their money. This pointed outward not inward.
  5. Helped people who led these organizations to attend!
  6. Millennials response. 80% of people who were baptized were Millennials and Z. The crowd was diverse as the church, but the myth that young people are not interested in God or evangelism was just that, a myth. See one baptism here: https://www.facebook.com/lifespringadventist/
  7. Church response. Close to 100% participation from church members. That is a result of a year of planning and the fact that church planting increases participation. The systems this church has should be examined by every congregation that is serious about church growth. (write the pastor!)

 

What needed to improve:

  1. Advertising. Different from other meetings, this one had very few attending because of social media. We got a response of about 1 per 500 on mailers. Here are the stats.

 

Friend 175
Flyer 55
Email 2
Selah Website 1
Facebook 5
Computer 1
Local Church 32
TV 7
Work 1
Ad 1
Letter 3
Road Sign 2
Radio 6
I seen it 1
Random 1
  278

 

Can’t wait to do it again in Pensacola, Berean, Charlotte and Chattanooga!  Any questions or comments please share in comment section or write me.

 

Our first fight was about money. We had just gotten married and started pastoring a church. No one taught us about finances except for generalities that weren’t helpful.  Four years later, we headed to Andrews for seminary with 10k in CC debt, a child, and a cut in pay. We survived and learned valuable lessons.

After 26 years in ministry, putting four kids through several levels of Adventist education, this is what we learned. Every person should examine their own lives and financial situation, we just wanted to share what has been helpful for us.

1. Give 20% of your income. Then increase it from there. We have always returned a double tithe. We give it first, before paying any bills. It’s our first fruits. The last 2 years we have increased 2% more. God always provides. Partial obedience is disobedience, especially in this area. Never compromise.

2. Tithing isn’t enough. Some believe that after you return to God what is His, the rest you can mismanage and still come out on top. The bible mentions finances 2,500 times for a reason. This was a big one for us. We went through Dave Ramsey’s Course which really helped.

3. Save for college. We started saving in a 529 for our kids when they were born. It’s a great feeling to pay for college up front because in 1994 we started saving. Not a lot, but even a little becomes much if it’s consistent. Our kids in college has been a relief not a burden financially. That’s why we can give more.

4. Purchase a home. This does not apply in all circumstances, but it has been a blessing for us even when we have moved.

5. Write a book. Adventist publishing will not make you rich. It will provide a bit extra. We always wanted to expose our children to mission work, this extra bit allows us to. Not everyone has a book in them, but many that do, don’t ever write it.  Like a mentor once told me, “Publish or perish”. Just remember you are a pastor first, writing should be done on your own time.

6. Stay away from multi-level everything. Doesn’t work, damages your ministry influence and drags down your finances. The secret to financial success is three words: It. Takes. Time.

7. Ask yourself why.  Shopping creates a sense of well-being, albeit temporarily. Why do I want this? Who is keeping me accountable in my finances? One rule of thumb for finances is this: If I have to engage in a conversation with myself about reasons to purchase it, it’s probably not the best decision.

8. Never borrow from church members. Never borrow, period. But especially from church members. Tragedy usually follows.

9. Pay attention to your investments. Ask questions. Attend the lectures. Early.

10. Never cosign for a church member. Almost always ends with drama.

 

What other ideas do you have? Share them in the comment section.

Worship Truce

imprrh@gmail.com —  January 28, 2017

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I am the father of 3 millennials and one Gen Z. One leads music, another plays percussion, and two of them, well let’s just say they sing in the pews. As we have discussions in our home about music in church I find their views consistent with the latest research regarding churches that attract young people. Here are two relevant quotes:

“When we asked young people how they would describe their church to a friend, only 12 percent talked about worship, and only 9 percent mentioned worship style. Similarly, when we asked, “What makes your church effective with young people?” only a quarter mentioned worship at all, and only 12 percent mentioned anything about music (that figure dropped to only 3 percent when we isolated the top third of churches most effective with young people).

“However, these statistics don’t mean that worship planning no longer matters. It may be that for young people, worship is a potential turnoff but not necessarily a turn-on. In other words, our worship style or elements of our service may have potential to repel young people or prevent youth engagement, but simply making our music better does not seem to ensure their involvement.

Powell, Kara; Mulder, Jake; Griffin, Brad. Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church (Kindle Locations 2369-2371). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

For the last 30 years or more, we have been fighting about music styles. It’s time for a truce. Here are 5 perspectives to consider, from our family.

  1. I want a church where heads do not roll if you play the drums and eyes do not roll if you play some hymns. My kids enjoy Hillsong and Hymns. Stop making one style holy and the other less than. People that love Jesus and the church love various styles Calling people antiquated or anti-God for their music styles is not helpful.
  2. Words and expressions matter. Think about the message you send to African American churchgoers when we say clapping is not reverent. Why are we are comfortable saying to a large majority of our black brothers and sisters they are outside orthodox worship?
  3. The greatest turn off for my kids (and many of their friends) is not worship styles. Its people that fight about worship styles.
  4. It’s probably not a good idea to tell Millennials that playing percussion is of the devil. Especially when you just met them. (happened to us not too long ago). Having the music discussion is not the best way to connect.
  5. Warm is the new cool. (a phrase I borrowed from Growing Young). In a study about pastor’s kids, they found out that when parents are involved, kids tend to stay around more. Loving relationships, whether you have a traditional or contemporary service wins the day.

Let’s continue the discussion and look for ways we can bless each other instead of berating each other. Sing!

My beef with the Children’s Story

I don’t like children’s stories during worship.

It’s probably not because of the reasons you think. Sure, there are countless examples of misguided storytellers. Here are some:

*The unprepared one in a church on the West Coast: “Hello children, I haven’t read this story, they just asked me this morning, so sit and be quiet”.

*The Vegan Bible in a church in the south: “Jesus took the loaves and ___________ and He gave the loaves and _______________ to the people and they ate the loaves and _________________”.  (she took out the word fishes every time, ‘cause you know, diet matters more than the bible)

*The weird one in a church in the Caribbean where every Sabbath they have children’s story but there are no kids in attendance, only 60 year olds.

Sometimes it takes too long, many times its absolutely irrelevant and the seldom portray grace, just a “do this kids, or you will lose your meal like little Johnny” sort of stories fill the Sabbath morning landscape.

The reason I don’t like it is not because of any of those reasons. The children’s story is a small bone we throw to kids that are bypassed in most of the worship services. We use adult themes with adult language geared for adult issues and then wonder why kids disconnect as soon as they are teens. If the children in your church are so important answer me this:

If you are pressed for time what part of the service is the first to go?

Here are some suggestions to creating a kid friendly worship service.

To do:

  1. Illustrations: use ones that kids can relate to. Most of the ones I hear aren’t.
  2. Visual: In a visual generation talking heads garner as much interest as a game between the Jets and Jaguars.
  3. Shorter: The gospel is eternal but the sermons don’t have to be. One hour sermons are unnecessary.
  4. Think of them: When you are constructing the message. Can a six-year-old get what you are saying?
  5. Ask them: Go to the children’s divisions and ask them what they are afraid of, what they wish for, what would they like to hear. Then build messages around that. If you are afraid of not engaging adults because you go too young, don’t. Most adults are ecstatic that their kids and grandkids are paying attention!

Here is to better worship services for kids! Any other ideas? Leave them in the comment section.

 


The debate whether it is or not rages on. Let me add my contribution to this discussion with a story that is not unique or rare.

Last year in Lexington KY I held an evangelistic meeting for 3 area churches. One young man, let’s call him Edgar, in his early teens that attends our only Adventist school in Lexington came every night. He wanted to get baptized but since his family were not Adventist, he was not able to.

Fast forward a year.

I just finished a caravan of hope for the family, where we preached in 6 states in 8 days. One of the stops was in Lexington. To my delight, after I preached about God’s plan for the family, we had the privilege to baptize Edgar. With his whole family! Mother, aunts and cousins. They even had special music at the end. Their family filled the platform. The dad who has not yet made a decision even won the Tablet we gave away and that was the first time he ever attended.

Is Adventist Education evangelism?  You decide.

These are some recommendations to make an evangelistic school even more intentional:

1. Ask.  A significant amount of schools I have known over the years offer Bible classes but no invitations to follow Jesus by deciding to be baptized or take Bible studies. If we hadn’t asked, we might have one less family at the Lexington Adventist Church today. Don’t just preach. Ask for a decision.

2. Follow up. Weeks of prayer, weekly chapels and other events are places people make decisions. Local pastors have an opportunity to study with these young people and their families. Sometimes the school doesn’t communicate it to the local pastor, sometimes the local pastor doesn’t follow through. We can do better.

3. Advertise. You can be persuasive without being pushy. Do your bulletin boards have invitations to the local Adventist church evangelistic event? Do parents receive in their materials an address for local church and contact info for pastors?

Let’s pray for our schools and more importantly, the children that attend them. It’s the reason we have them open.

Do we love them enough to introduce them to the savior?

“Love, the basis of creation and redemption, is the basis of true education.”

Ellen White, Education, page 16.

Why I support #HOPETRENDING

imprrh@gmail.com —  September 29, 2016

One of the most common questions people in the church are asking these days is: How do I present a timeless and unchanging message in a way that is relevant to a changing culture?

My friends Dwight Nelson and Rodlie Ortiz at Pioneer Memorial have taken their time engaging people and have developed a series called:

HOPE TRENDING.

This has four characteristics:

Innovative- it was birthed not out of a board meeting but with people that live outside the walls of the church.

Daring- taking the gospel and engaging younger people is both daring and necessary.

Excellent- from the graphics to the watch parties, this does NOT have 1992 written all over it.

Adventist- that’s what we are. We don’t hide it, but we proudly proclaim it in a contextualized way.

If you want to participate, please know its not too late.

Here is the info:

1. Training event and Q & A session for those considering being Watch Party leaders. So if you know anyone in your church that might be open to lead, send them the link and ask them to catch it online available at hopetrending.org/pastors so they can view it any time.

 

2. We’ve been hearing that some churches are planning to use Hope Trending as a follow up for Shadow Empire, the series from Voice of Prophecy. The reason why they’re able to do this is because people can easily host a physical Watch Party in their homes, or they can invite their friends to an online Watch Party.

 

3. Hope Trending will be offered in Spanish. Esperanza TV, the Spanish arm of HopeTV, is providing the technology for live simultaneous translation into Spanish during the event. All of the resources available are also being translated into Spanish and will be available within a few days on hopetrending.org/recursos.

Lets pray for this!

Ministry is awesome. Except when it isn’t. After 26 years pastoring, leading pastors, and helping pastors lead I have seen more than one quit, burn out or just explode. The ending is never pretty. Can it be avoided? Here are three things I have consistently seen people in ministry ignore to their peril:

  1. Can’t outwork, out-plan or overcome prayerlessness.

I can hear the groans. The excuses. The reasons why prayer is not the all-encompassing solution. I don’t know if this is an egg or chicken type of situation, but I have seldom seen a pastor crash and burn that had an intimate, personal and robust prayer life. I know there are examples. We call those exceptions. Here is the truth. Just like you can’t outwork a bad diet, you can’t out work prayerlessness. Its tiring. Think kite. You can fly it when the wind is blowing or you can run and make your own wind. Here are three questions:

How long are you praying every day?  How many times a week do you fast? When do you study the bible to eat, not to feed?

  1. Secrets.

We all have them. Everyone you meet is dealing with something they hate about themselves. Some just are better at masking it. The thing is, unattended private struggles tend to become public spectacles.

Weight.                Sex.        Mental illness.   Family.                Loss.      Whatever.

Trace it. Face it. By God’s grace erase it. The devil thrives in secrecy. Unleash the power of the gospel that says its ok not to be ok when things are not ok. OK?

  1. Impact in our life of the dysfunction around us.

For some reason, and for the life of me I don’t know why, we tend to give dysfunctional, hurtful people passes. People have explosions in board meetings or church business sessions and we use phrases like “That’s just Anna” (made up name). We learn to cope with dysfunction. What we don’t confront we confirm. We just bid our time, untill we get another call and pass along the dysfunction to the next victim, er, I mean pastor. Dysfunction, like stress, is a silent killer.

So, what do we do? There are no easy solutions, but here are some suggestions.

Pray. Go on a retreat ASAP. Step away from the madness and the conferences and the planning and spend 3 straight hours in fasting and prayer, then get back to me.

Talk. Share your pain, talk to a professional. Kill the secrecy monster.

Brave. Prayer and counseling will prepare for the confrontation that needs to happen. Be brave. If God is for you, those who are against you are wasting their time.

 

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