J.S. Park

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Posts tagged with "pastors"

Apr 6

Life Is Interruption.

Today I totally bombed the sermon at my church.

I had prepared like crazy: but we just moved buildings today, so we had no sound system, the AC broke, the noise outside was horrible, and my thoughts weren’t gelling together.

I knew that mostly everyone was checking out (except a wonderful group of ladies who sit up front and always take notes).  It was so discouraging.  The environment was affecting me pretty badly too, and the sermon just failed to find a rhythm.  So when the whole thing became unbearable, I cut the sermon short by ending with a metaphor and a story.  For a second everyone listened, and they seemed grateful I had enough sense to end early.  At the very least I was able to land the plane.

I discovered I get easily irritated when “my plans” get foiled by an unexpected turn of events. And really, most of our well-laid plans will get interrupted by inconveniences.  Nothing unfolds the way we picture it in our head.  There’s no ideal room or perfectly isolated space where perfect magic can happen. 

It’s during these escalated frustrating times that we need to think on our feet and be flexible enough to serve the reality of the room.  That meant that I had to pay more attention to the people around me instead of just mindlessly marching with my agenda.  It meant I wouldn’t get to unroll everything I had prepared; it meant all my careful research and prayer and prep was getting shafted; it meant that I couldn’t function at my best.  I could only make the best out of a bad situation.

But that’s okay.  I think these moments are necessary to humble us towards the needs of others, to be sensitive to what’s happening.  I don’t think we need to get everything right in a day.  I think I needed to learn how to serve others in an icky, sweaty, gritty sort of setting, because life is not like the movies where the temperature is always perfect and our speech is so impeccable and the day wraps up with a pretty bowtie.  Life is awkward and amusing and raw, and it’s okay to laugh about that.  We can meet each other there.  And of course, there’s always next week.

— J

Some of us have Friday night services. It can get a little hectic and rushed at night. A few reminders.

1) Your pastor is not just a leader, but a fellow brother in Christ. He might have had a long day of juggling his own life with the sermon and with planning for today. If his sermon is a little off or incomplete, show him some grace and encourage him.

2) It always takes a lot of work for services to happen. A lot of people volunteer their time and energy for it to take off; it doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s easy to criticize, but it’s better to pray for all the people who are trying to make this work.

3) On Fridays you’ll sometimes get visitors who know nothing about church. Remember them and don’t condescend with flowery Christianese language. Please don’t despite them if they do something “un-Christian” — even that idea is antithetical to the Gospel.

4) Ask how you can help the service. Serve.

5) Please don’t expect perfection. Only God is perfect. Expect Him.

— J

100, 99, and 1

I’m sorry, but angry post.

"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" — Luke 15:4

I don’t meet many pastors or Christians who believe this anymore.  We tend to accept those who appear more mature or are “willing to learn” or “have potential” — but we neglect the difficult cases.  We abandon those who somehow don’t fall in line with our church methodology.  We exert our efforts into the easy cases because they’ve met our ego-imposed standards, but we reject those who would “waste my time.”

This is a horrific, unbiblical, worldly legalism that has shackled prerequisites on the same people that Jesus died for.  I don’t remember Jesus setting these sort of absurd checklists to make someone a “worthwhile” disciple.

We think it’s a success in ministry to have all these guys who go to seminary or sign up for a six-week discipleship course or serve on the praise team: and I praise God when that happens.  But God forbid we also visit prisons, help the homeless, love on addicts, or do anything outside the church that doesn’t serve itself.  God forbid we are open to the sincerely struggling and those curious of faith or those who have been burnt by the world and its performance-driven paranoia.  God forbid we are loving to those who have nothing to offer back to the church.

I really want to ask some of these pastors and leaders: What are you actually doing for the Kingdom?  Are you self-reflexively isolating your territory with “worthy” people who are yes-men to your ideology?  Do you only collect churchgoers to perpetuate your programs inside the four walls of your building?  Are you burdening your people with more classes and more sign-ups and more activities?  Where is all this going?  What are you doing with all that time?  Have you even helped one individual your entire life?  Why is the church making people more anxious and more exhausted and more frustrated?  I don’t think this is what Jesus died for.  He died to take burdens off, not add burdens on.  

Recently, a famous pastor of a megachurch and bestselling Christian author called a meeting of his congregation and said, “Anyone who is serving on a team, you can stay.  Anyone who isn’t serving here, there’s the door.”  I don’t understand this.  It’s freaking infuriating.  This is why the church hurts people: because we’ve become an assembly line of jumping through dogmatic hoops.  The “pastors” are power-brokers who have abused God’s authority for their own grandeur.  I’ve always imagined the church as a beacon of healing in a bleak world, but we’ve assimilated the cultural ethos of American Idol into our sanctuaries.  Imagine I tell you, “If you’re healthy enough, you can enter my hospital.”  

If you do this to your people, then call yourself an employer or CEO or a college or a TV show or a critic, but please don’t freaking call yourself a Christian.  We oppose God when this happens: and it’s not okay.  

The church is certainly a sanctuary for the sacred: but it’s also a safe haven for sinners.  It’s a hospital, and we do not refuse the sick.

Of course there is wisdom in using your time wisely.  Pastors are only individuals who have limited resources and ability.  But if you’re a leader in the church, then each person who walks through the door is not some commodity project: but a human being.  They’re worth a portion of your time because they exist.

I can’t say I’m always good at this.  I fail often as a pastor and as a human being.  I have neglected others to my own shame.  In my imperfect writing skill, I’ve probably wrongly added burdens in this post too.  And I’m a small-time guy with just another critical voice in a sea of criticism.  But I grieve for our Christian communities to be like Jesus.  I pray we have a heart for the one when he leaves the 99.  I hope we are not categorizing people into worthy and unworthy: because if this were true, none of us could stand in the grace of God.  But that’s why it’s grace.  It’s for people like you and me and not for who we deem worthy.  

— J

Remember The Uninitiated.

In Sunday services, it can be easy to assume everyone is on board with the Bible, with God, with the music, with their faith — but even the most smiley, firm-handshaking, eloquently-praying, every-Sunday churchgoer could be drowning in a sea of doubt and questions. All the assumptions are only making it worse.

We often design our sermons and services with the faithful believer in mind. “Have you shared Jesus with anyone this week? Have you kept accountability? Have you confessed your sin and asked for forgiveness? Are you serving genuinely with your whole heart?”

These are important things: but the uninitiated won’t really care about them. I’m talking about that guy in the back row with arms crossed and foot tapping. That single mother with four kids who doesn’t think God sees her. The high schooler who’s ready to cut until it’s over. They’re unconcerned with Christian technique and instead: waiting to hear about a Savior.

While some of us are “convicted” by these terms, others will have no context for them and will only feel more distance. Some are just barely hanging on to believe God is real at all, and others still are resistant to anything remotely religious. And we forget about them.

I think knowing the vocabulary is even a disadvantage: because we get jaded to the same verbiage every Sunday. We can get self-righteous with all the insider buzz words because we check that list like a pro — but we can hardly admit we feel further from God every week.

I hope our churches are designed for both the strong and the weak, for the faithful and the curious, for the prodigal and the wanderer, for the robust and the rebel. I hope we use a language that invites everyone without compromising doctrine. I hope we define our terms like sin and wrath and Spirit every single Sunday, because even the veterans need a light on their basement of faith.

We could meet each other at ground level with the grace that Jesus offers. This is a harder way, with no lazy shortcuts and shorthand, but with gritty raw honesty: the same that Jesus had. To desperately strive for the ideal every week will only remind us how much we’ve failed, but to remind each other of Christ tells us there’s a hope beyond our striving.

It’s only Jesus who meets us exactly where we are. He assumes you don’t have it all together: and he offers grace for that very reason. The church is called to do likewise, as a safe haven for saints and a hospital for sinners. I pray we make room for both.

— J

Church Things We Say: “Man-Centered Theology”

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Whenever someone in church says “man-centered,” I’m pretty sure I know what this means: that the whole spiritual walk needs to be uber-focused on the face-melting glory of God or else we’re totally sugarcoating the wrathful explosive fury of our precious doctrine. 

There’s this urgency we need to go back to our roots like Acts 2 and keep it straight Table-Flipping Jesus and there’s no room for feel-good therapeutic advice here, because that would be selfishly consumeristic and you-centered.  “God is for Himself and not for you, you know.” 

I think I understand all that.  Man-centered bad, God-centered good.

I’m just wondering if even God sees it this way.  I’m wondering if He makes this sharp distinction between His glory and your problems: because I seem to remember God wore a coat of flesh and became one of us and got right in the middle of our mess.  The Gospel seems to be saying that it was His Glory to take on our shame and He was exalted by humbling Himself among us. 

 

It seems that God Himself would say He was both man-centered and Him-centered, because God became man and took on the worst of us.

I know that the institutional church culture has catered to people by entertaining them; I know there’s a pervasive smog of people-pleasing in our Sunday services; we’re all tempted to hear cute three-point bowtie sermons that teach us how to have better finances and nicer kids.  I do not believe in a self-help theology. 

But God is a God of help.  He gives grace in our time of need.  He lifts up the downcast and strengthens weak knees.  He entered into humanity to reverse the curse of sin. 

The Bible is also not disconnected from our daily struggles and concerns.  Scripture makes clear that life is about Him, but there’s plenty of wisdom there for us too.  I hope our pastors have a Bible in one hand and their church’s hurts in the other, because these things cannot be separated.

 

God will even make much of us so that He will make much of Him.  When David took out Goliath, he said it was so that “All those gathered here will know it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.

God won that day: but God was pleased to give the victory over to David because He knew David would center it on Him.

David and Ruth and Paul and Mary were certainly celebrated: but they maintained a mirror-status to reflect the one who mattered most. 

I think we need to relax about a lot of this stuff.  A theology that helps you is not a terrible thing.  I don’t think Christian theology would draw a jagged line between “man-centered” and “God-centered,” but really just sets the priority. God will do amazing things through us for His Glory, but we get to enjoy them.  We don’t get to boast in those things, but we get to enjoy boasting in the God who does them.  And God does care about every nuance and detail and worry of your life, so that His glory informs all those daily decisions.  

The Glory of God is not above your everyday worries.  It is, instead, in them, working through them, pointing to Him.

— J.S.

 

"It’s a glorious thing to be enabled by the atonement by the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be freed from self and make much of God as your supreme joy in life. And it’s a glorious thing to delight in being made much of by God. Everything hangs on their ordering. Their ranking. Their being the bottom or not. That’s what I’m after.

"… God, everywhere in the Bible, loves us in such a way as to make clear his design in loving us is that he would be made much of. His design in making much of us is to make clear that his goal is that he be made much of."

— John Piper

It’s still amazing to me when people take notes while I’m preaching.

I mean I can hardly believe it.  Who am I?  A nobody.  A messenger.  A mirror.  Pointing to Him. 

To see people take such detailed notes: I feel so inadequate and so humbled.  It nearly wrecks me to tears, when I really think about it.

Oh, that I would not mislead, but only point to His grace and glory.

— J

Jan 8

Why I Don't Ever Want to Preach a Good Sermon by J.S. Park

I was published on Sermon Central!

An encouragement to pastors and Christian leaders: it’s not all about the sermon.

The original post is here.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

Jan 4

I'm on the route of full time ministry (but not becoming a pastor) and it's been a journey of trusting & learning process (still is) of what it means to take up my cross & follow Him. One thing people have told me is that ministry is the loneliest things someone can do. So, based off that, how have you experienced loneliness during your journey towards becoming a pastor? Thank you so much and God bless you! May He give you strength & pour into you so that you'll be able to pour into others!

Anonymous

Hey my friend, thank you for this question.

There are really two kinds of loneliness that every pastor and every Christian servant will feel.

1) The loneliness of following Jesus in the church.

2) The loneliness of following Jesus in the world.

If you’re a pastor or Christian servant who is never lonely in the church: you’re probably too comfortable and complacent.

If you’re a pastor or Christian servant who is never lonely in the world: you’re probably too comfortable and complacent.

For example: When I gave away half my salary in 2012 to fight human trafficking, I got the most backlash from fellow Christians.  Almost my entire church at the time looked at me like an alien.  I thought maybe it would inspire a few people to follow harder after God: but it did not.  Most of them called me a show-off or thought it was a waste of time.  I was totally alone.  Not a single person in my church really commended me or cared.  I wasn’t doing it for that, but I’m still saddened by how much I repelled other brothers and sisters in the church.

Most pastors also live in a brutally punishing culture in which you’re expected to perform at a maximum output all the time.  Pastors are often seen as Pope-like beings instead of brothers in Christ, so they’re very rarely encouraged by others.  It’s easy to think a pastor has it all together, when we forget that pastors are still learning and still trying to follow Jesus like everyone else in the church.

But I need to say: Pastors are expected to be lonely sometimes.  It’s part of our calling.  So while I sound like I’m tooting my own horn, I also know that loneliness is part of the package.  I don’t expect pity or false sympathy. 

Every pastor and Christian servant has been appointed by God to fully give their lives over for His mission: so of course, there will be lonely days when no one understands us, when we enter hostile places, when we are misunderstood by our church members.  Jesus told us it wouldn’t be easy to follow him in this world.  But he also told us it would be worth it: and I’m privileged to be adopted into his Kingdom.  I am never truly alone.

— J

I would like to become a pastor. How do I get there, would you say? :)

Anonymous

Hey my dear friend: I say this with all grace and respect for you, but I’m not entirely sure this is the correct question. I know you asked this without bad intentions, but I just want to gently push back for a moment so you know what you’re getting into.

I don’t know any pastor who began with “I would like to become a pastor.” When someone tells me this face to face, I tell them they have no clue yet and they should really consider something else. Being a pastor is not a job you apply for: it’s your whole life.

I’ve had to shoot down several young men who felt like being a pastor would be cool or interesting or a unique career or a one-day-per-week job — and as mad as they got at me, they did end up realizing they were just in it for themselves.

Being a pastor means you’re giving up your entire life for people. You will never ever get back what you give until glory. You will probably die poor or hated or early. You get the tougher judgment (James 3:1). Hours of hard work can result in very little fruit for years. Ministry will bring heartbreak nearly every day.

I’m saying this the same reason doctors want med students to man up: because the pastoral call is not built on a whimsy. It’s a crazy hard life. Please know I’m not judging you or your motives. I’m trying to love on you by saying how hard it is right upfront, and if you think this is a downer or “speaking death,” then you’re still too sensitive in all the wrong ways for ministry.

God also appoints pastors. You’ll almost feel like it’s an interruption or an unwanted pull. This isn’t true for all pastors: but mostly you’ll have a burden for people and for God’s kingdom on earth. You’ll have a burning for God more than you care about your own name, recognition, church size, book deal, or blog. You’ll point to His glory, not yours. You won’t be scared of people. You won’t entertain in your sermons to get validation for your skill.

So before you think about the “how,” which is just as easy as serving a church and applying for seminary, please consider the “why.” Pray very hard through this. Ask others what they think of you and let them dig in. Listen. You’ll get both an internal and external confirmation.

If enough people look at your life and say “No,” then please don’t take that as people “holding you down.” They’re trying to help you and help those future church members that you might abuse for your own glory. Or they’re saying to wait a bit until God actually calls you into those deep waters. It’s okay to wait.

Having said that: The confirmed call to ministry is a beautiful thing. The joy I get to experience being interwoven with other broken lives is just incredible. It took me about two years of ministry to really understand what I was doing (and I’m still learning), and I’ve found it’s ultimately about living with others in their journey towards God. It’s a messy organic journey that breathes and breaks, and it will usually be ugly and dirty. But there’s nothing like the glory of seeing another person’s eyes light up and the Spirit breathe new life into them. Nothing like seeing dead bones get up and dance.

That’s only if you can endure the many nights of loneliness and rejection. God appoints certain people to do that, and you could be one of them: so I am only telling you what I wish others had told me before seminary. Pray hard, my friend.

— J

The Language of the Enemy and the Infidel: How Religious Language Will Eventually Kill You

There’s a certain vocabulary in churches when good old church folk talk about the “enemy,” and how the “oppressors” and “injustice” and “persecution” are against us on all sides.

I worry about this sort of military mindset in churches because we’re cherry-picking Bible verses to find more reasons to alienate others and perpetuate a xenophobic cycle of the foreign stranger. 

This is a culture of nationalistic fear.  It is a triumphalist self-affirming theology.

And man does it feel wonderful.  It appeals to the most reptilian black-and-white part of our flesh-driven nature.  It requires no work except to label all critics and haters and naysayers as “them.”

 

When the Psalms talk about “smiting the enemy” or “justice against the oppressors,” they were not talking about your boss at work or that one girl you can’t stand.  They were talking about actual invading armies that would pillage, murder, and destroy whole families.  They were venting about the futility of ever finding peace. They were talking about the unresolved tension between a broken hostile world and the God who would deliver them from their earthly distress. 

Unless there is smoke rising from the debris of your burning house or you’re forced to eat your dead children, you don’t get to use the angry language of the Psalms.

 

I meet many Christians who are not only absorbed in this language of the infidel, but overwhelmingly infatuated with it.  It’s intoxicating to think you’re invincible, to claim that God is on “my side.”  Disagreement is called the “enemy.”  Everyone is a hater and we only like yes-men and we can’t be told we’re wrong.

We try to pass off the enemy as, “Oh I just mean Satan,” but we always have some person in mind.  We’re not really talking about spiritual warfare.  We’re just hijacking the Christianese vocab to cover our real feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and bitterness.

I’ve heard pastors say the “enemy” about their own congregation, or about that church down the street.  I hear bloggers throw around “enemy” like the world is against them when they (freely) express their opinions.  I hear this used in conversations about Chick Fil A, gay marriage, the government, and the President. I’m sure I’ve even done it here in this blog post, despite my hurting heart to quit dividing.

It’s an atrocious abuse of vocabulary, like when people casually use the word “rape” to talk about getting beaten in a video game. 

I wonder: Does this language actually DO anything?  Does it work toward any purpose other than to rant to our like-minded tribe so they can all nod and agree and reinforce our bias?  Is it anything more than preaching to the exclusive members-only choir?

I have never seen “enemy” used constructively.  Certainly there are biblical laments and judgements against people who are actively enslaving and hurting others.  Your problems are also very real. But we can’t keep using this language to create conflict where there is none.  It’s not for your platform. 

 

Jesus came to destroy these categories in the cross.  He called us all equally broken, all equally needy, and all equally dire for grace.  He didn’t just give us orders like “love your enemy,” but he reversed the very wellspring of our connective tissue by demonstrating love for his own murderers.  It was a cosmic upheaval of our instinctual competitive brutality.   Jesus bridged divides, first between you and God, and then between you and others — and he showed no favoritism among the lepers, the lame, the adulterers, and Roman officials.  He went to them all, dined with them all, died for them all.

So then: saying “us” versus “them” is just your flesh talking.  It is not from God.  Ever.  It’s not from grace or love or truth.  It’s the perpetuation of our violent broken humanity that only rehearses a tribalistic narrative that will kill everything around you, including you.  And I’ve seen it happen, over and over, poisoning our churches and families and blogs and nations. 

The unresolved tension in Psalms does eventually resolve.  There’s always an exhalation, a moment of unclenching and relief.  The groaning of our souls meets the hope of a Redeemer.  Scripture does not end with destruction: but a re-creation.  It kills the enemy by turning them into beloved friends.

This then, is truly what Jesus died for.  It’s the church he meant for us.

— J.S.

The Christian Horror Story: Why Cautionary Tales Don’t Work

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There’s always a heavy dramatic moment in a sermon when the preacher begins confessing someone else’s sin, a guy always named Bill, who got addicted to crystal meth and ran out on his kids and punched small animals and screwed up his life, and then the preacher concludes:

"Don’t be like Bill.  Let’s pray."

The sermon closes and everyone fights for the offering plate.

But …

But.

I can’t help but think: I’m no better than Bill.

I keep wondering: Who exactly did Jesus come to die for?  God sent His Son Jesus Christ to part the universe and galaxies and stars and skies to die on a cross in our place for everyone — except that dirty, disgusting, filthy pagan Bill.

Or the preacher says, “The first guy hears the Word of God and gets saved.  The second guy hears and goes off to the world but gets beat up, so he gets saved.  And the third guy: he stubbornly refuses and he ruins everything.  Don’t be the third guy.”

Everything in me wants to flip a table and yell, "But I’m the Third Guy.  I’m Bill.  That loser you’re talking about is me."

Is there no grace for them? Because many of those church people are living through the very consequences that we’re yelling about.  Only preaching consequences is like throwing desert sand for the thirsty.

 

When we believe people cannot change, we suckerpunch the sovereign grace of God. We make inexplicable exceptions for the loser, the failure, the fallen. We distort actual human beings into one-dimensional caricatures, as if the Gospel is too good for them. There is a political divide, an abyss, a chasm that threatens to separate the religious do-gooder from the untouchable, unforgivable, unimportant rebel.

I don’t know where this tactic came from.  But I don’t want my spiritual walk to be a reaction to someone else’s consequences.  That’s an awful, despicable way to live.  It’s essentially throwing someone under the bus and then driving the bus. 

Of course we need to know how our actions can hurt others.  A certain healthy amount of guilt or shame shows that we’re human, that we’re capable of the worst depravity.  Yet none of these things can be the foundation for our faith: they cannot sustain your walk and will ultimately crush others with the very same fear.

And I believe there’s still grace even for the preacher who uses those cheap tricks.  There’s grace for the Christian authors who keep using real human beings as allegories for what not to do.  For the church people who gossip about a brother and say, “He needs Jesus.”  For the ministry whose entire philosophy was born out of an overreaction to being hurt by another church, thereby perpetuating that hurt.  For the parents who keep comparing you and scaring you with other kids.  For the blogger who is always saying, “I’m not like those other Christians.”

I believe there is grace for our total lack of grace.

If it’s really all so bad: Then I hope we’re grieving on our knees praying for their souls with tear-soaked eyes. 

If it’s really all so bad: Then tell me how I can move forward instead of looking back.

The drowning need a lifesaver, not a description of the water. The blind need vision, not false sympathy. The broken need a new dream, not a rear view.

My heart hurts for them and for me. Plead with God for tenderness.  Speak of what could be, not should be.  Speak with hope.

— J.S.

Hi! I am feeling discouraged. Today at a Christmas rehearsal I experienced a Pastor yelling at a Ministry Leader in front of everyone in the name of "excellence". I don't understand why Pastors feel like they have the authority to degrade a ministry leader. If its a bad example when a Christian is yelling at someone in public in the world, why would this be okay? Because I have served 2 well-known pastors for the past 10yrs and they have both yelled at leaders, its degrading I don't understand??

Anonymous

Hey my friend, I’m really sorry this happened to you today.  I’m also sorry because I used to be one of those guys, and I’m still regretting a thousand things I said in my early leadership that probably turned off many people in their faith.

I would very much consider talking to this pastor one-on-one and asking what’s going on with him.  Find out if he’s okay.  Ask him why he really yelled.  When most people lash out, especially leaders, there is usually something deeper going on with them than simply just the mess-ups in rehearsal. 

I know this sounds like you’re letting him off the hook: But Jesus calls us to the same grace that he’s shown us.  This includes showing a counter-intuitive grace even to leaders.  This means the church as a whole needs to step in and have a serious talk with your pastor that will dig deep into the roots of this fellow brother in Christ.  He is human like the rest of us: and any one of us in his position is just as capable of lashing out, too.  We’re not any better than him.

This conversation could go many different ways. 

1) He’ll deny anything is happening.  In this case, keep digging.  Don’t just try once and give up.  If he continually says “I’m okay,” then you might want to consider attending another church.

2) He’ll play the pity-card and say, “Yes, I’ve been so stressed lately and I’m sorry if I offended you and it’s because of this, this, and this.”  You’ll need to get past this defense very quickly.

3) He’ll blow up on you.  Change churches.

4) He’ll actually listen, apologize, and repent.  He’ll admit he sinned against you.  Because yes, what he did was wrong.  He might also share his heart and you’ll create a new channel of communication with him.  You might be surprised to hear about his struggles and inner-turmoil and even his guilt about the whole thing: and while this doesn’t make his behavior more acceptable, at least he’s willing to be open and to change.

 

The point here is: We must at least try to confront our fellow church members about what happened.  We’re all learning and growing here.  People get frustrated and angry, and it’s still our Christian obligation to handle these things with a head-on collision and exposure of their ugliness.  I see too many church people who just bottle up all their frustrations against other church members and begin to slander them or build resentment or divide into factions, and this is just playing the devil’s game.  Most people are too cowardly to confront their leaders and pastors: and I’m not saying this is you, but we would rather exert a lifetime gossiping to destroy a ministry than fifteen minutes in an awkward conversation.

I pray you will choose what’s most loving and most wise.

And if you must: Pray hard about finding a new ministry that will respect you and that will not put so much misguided energy into a rehearsal.

I trust you will speak with both grace and truth.

— J

Tomorrow at church —

You might hear your pastor say something really weird.  You might disagree with him.  Everything might be fine until a certain phrase, a shrill statement, an awkward comment, an insensitive remark.  Maybe his theology will be a little off and his interpretation is not how you would’ve done it.  You’ll raise your eyebrow.  It’s happened to me plenty, too.

But please, please, please don’t be too quick to write off your pastor. 

Please don’t dismiss him so fast based on a single sentence.

Certainly we ought to be careful of heresy and I’m not pulling a pity-card: but pastors and leaders who preach and teach are in the hot seat all the time.  They have a billion thoughts they’re trying to shape just right.  They know when they’ve said something off and they beat themselves up for it the entire Sunday. 

You can let him know: but with grace.

Your pastor needs the same grace we all want. 

It’s okay to disagree with him too.

Just love your pastor.  As messy as he is: he gets it right sometimes.

— J

Recommended Sermon Podcasts

In case you were interested, the sermon podcasts I’ve been listening to lately and why. 

As always, please listen and watch with discernment.  And if you’re a sermon junkie like me, please practice good boundaries.

 

- Francis Chan.  He’s been preaching recently at Reality Church in California.  He’s still by far my favorite preacher of all time.  I get scared to listen to him because I know afterward I’ll have to repent and change something: which is a good thing.  One of his more recent sermons has one of the best illustrations I’ve ever seen.

- Timothy Keller.  Highly intellectual and he reaches soaring heights about the beauty of the Gospel.  My favorite by him is still the one on the Red Sea.

- Andy Stanley. I know most people consider him “Lite Churchianity,” but he has such clear practical wisdom that it’ll clear the cobwebs quickly.  His current series is a great gut check.

- Matt Chandler.  At times he is so abrasive I can hardly stand his voice, but other times I praise God for his clarity, boldness, and honesty.  His series Recovering Redemption is a punch in the heart.

- Mark Driscoll.  There are a million opinions about Pastor Mark, but I can tell he loves Jesus and he’s often like a shot of spiritual espresso.  For a very human look at his struggles, check out his documentary.

- Louie Giglio.  All I can say is: totally gracious.  Pastor Louie gets you closer to God every single time.

- Ravi Zacharias.  He’s one of the first preachers I’ve ever heard when I first became a Christian, and he remains a strong voice in my spiritual foundation.  Artsy, humorous, intellectual, and relatable. 

If you have any recommendations, please feel free to share.

Be blessed ..!

— J

I don’t ever want to preach a good sermon.

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- For pastors, preachers, leaders, Bible study teachers, and for us all. -

 

If I preach a good sermon on a Sunday service:

I didn’t do it right.

Yes, I want to research hard.  To study up, do the exegesis, dig up the Greek and Hebrew, get into my historical-grammatical exposition, find the redemptive purpose.  I want to speak in a dynamic tone, find the best stories, sharpen my metaphors, keep it relevant, be self-aware and self-deprecating, know my people and give them permission to laugh.

All this is good.

But if people are saying, “You’re good” or “Great sermon!” — then I totally messed it up. 

You know why, pastors.  Because our job is to point to Him.  To step out of the way so that instead of the hearers saying, “Isn’t our pastor great?” — they say, “Isn’t Jesus great?”

I understand though.  Many churchgoers hear a sermon like they’re watching a movie, reviewing its contents and checking for internal consistency and mentally debating whether they like it or not.  For many, it’s entertainment.  Just a guy with a mic to inspire everyone.

And it’s very difficult to turn the tide on consumer consumption.  Especially when most of our churches are set up like disposable theaters.

It’s also tough to get rid of that manic, desperate, sweaty demeanor that is begging for validation from the whole room.  It’s not easy to stop saying with your body, “Do you like me?  Am I cool?  Is this working?”

With all this mixed in, it’s not easy to preach a good sermon.  And certainly you don’t want to preach a bad one.

 

I’ve found that only one thing works.

And it’s exactly because you can’t “make it work.”  It’s completely beyond formula, fashion, crafting, and content.

My first pastor preached these extremely emotional sermons that left him sweaty and breathless by the closing prayer.  I was an atheist then, and I didn’t know what to think except, “He really believes this stuff.”  But I still graded him on a performance scale, by how much he told good stories and whether he was saying helpful things.

My pastor continually reached out to me.  I saw in his own life that he was living what he was preaching.  I began to see the work of Christ in his life.  I saw a love that compelled him which was greater than any love I had ever known. 

The more I knew my pastor, the more I knew he meant it on Sundays.  He was in tune with God.  Not perfectly, but passionately.  And against my objections, God drew me in to Himself through the work of my pastor. 

No single sermon can do this.  You can only wow people so long with skill and argumentation.  Soon they will look for sincerity.  This takes much longer than just hitting a home run in your pulpit, because it means you need to be at the hospital after a widow’s diagnosis and you’ll stay up until 3am crying with the family who just lost their baby and you’ll need to visit that prodigal in jail and you’ll have to comfort the high schooler who wants to kill himself. 

This will cut into your sermon-writing, and thank God for it. 

It’s right to craft good content.  But the power is in Christ pouring through your rolled up sleeves, hands in the mess of beautifully broken people, restoring one fragile heart at a time.  It’s in the pulpit just as much as on the ground in the trenches, creating lasting memories and loud laughter, swords drawn against the devil, tears and hugs and prayers our shield.

It’s where Jesus is, and where I want to be.

— J.S.