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Give Them A Head’s Up

By now (I hope) you know what you are preaching on Sunday. But do your people know?

Does that matter? I think so. When I watch a movie, I want to know what it’s about. I don’t need to know the whole plot or story line, but knowing the nature of the film is helpful. The same is true with TV shows and books. Though the information might be minimal, it prepares us for what we’re going to watch or read.

Your church probably has an email list. I want to suggest that you send an email to your people on Friday or Saturday with the following information:

  1. Remind them that there is a worship service on Sunday and encourage them to attend. In a day when “regular church attendance” is often viewed as twice a month, it doesn’t hurt to include a line that conveys “I’m hoping to see you on Sunday morning.” And on occasion, a kind admonition as to why they ought to come is certainly in order.
  2. Tell them what passage you are preaching from and encourage them to read it before coming on Sunday.
  3. Give them the basic theme of your sermon. You might be reluctant to give away the “punch line.” But you can identify the topic and possibly also indicate why it is important.
  4. If there are important announcements, briefly list them. If your people get used to relying on the church bulletin and your email, you won’t have to spend as much time making announcements during the worship service.

You could approach this by inviting people to sign up to receive your email, but I’d encourage against that. You have the list, and while you don’t want to abuse that, you’re not going to be overtaxing their inbox with a short email. And it needs to be short. If it takes them more than a minute to read it, they may not bother.

We need to pull out all the stops when it comes to helping our people engage with the sermon. An end-of-week email can do that. A mid-week email briefly identifying the main points of your sermon and the main application can also be a helpful way of refreshing their memories.

You probably won’t see the results of this practice, but I do believe it is helpful. Let me encourage you to give it a shot.


A friend of mine has a funeral today, and I was reminded of the great opportunity funerals provide for preaching the Gospel. It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to have unsaved people present at every funeral. They may be friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members. And they need to hear the Gospel message.

I was sharing with my friend that I purchased a quantity of Randy Alcorn’s booklet on Heaven. He has written a full-length book on the subject, but this little booklet, available at Amazon for $1.99 is contains some biblical answers about life after death and a clear presentation of the Gospel. Near the close of the service I would say something to the effect that a the loss of a friend or loved one reminds us of our own mortality. Then I would invite people to take a booklet if they had questions.

We had a ledge on the back wall of our auditorium that was a perfect place for a couple dozen booklets. I would suggest that you put them somewhere close to where people naturally pass by on their way out, but not in a place where it looks like you’re hawking them. And by all means, don’t charge for them.


I hope you have a good weekend of ministry! Whether you are preaching, teaching, or engaged in some other form of ministering to your people, may God bless your efforts to serve him!

Little Things Matter Too

Have you ever been in the express checkout lane of the grocery store, and you see people who were in longer lines, who had shopping carts filled to the brim, walking out the door? And you’re still standing in the line that’s supposed to go quickly? What’s going on?

Well, maybe someone decided that the 10 items or less rule didn’t apply to them. Or maybe Granny is writing a check. Maybe Pops has pulled out his change purse and is trying to find 4 pennies. Or maybe someone’s debit card isn’t working.

We go to the express checkout to check out expressly. Quickly. Fast. And when someone is holding up the works it can be a little annoying. Most of the time it’s no major deal. But sometimes….

It was an early Saturday evening and I went out to buy my wife’s favorite ice cream. I didn’t find it in our local store so I drove up the road to see if another grocer had it in stock. Yay! They did, so I put two containers in my little basket and headed for the express lane.

There was only one couple in front of me as I put the ice cream on the conveyor belt. I started scanning the headlines on the various gossip rags (Bigfoot sightings, UFO abductions), and after a bit I realized the line was not moving. So I tuned back in to what was going on and after observing the antics for a bit I started to do a slow burn.

The couple in front of me were purchasing several bags of substantially discounted holiday Hershey’s Kisses. But the price per bag was ringing up a few cents more than what the shelf price said. And when I mean a few cents, I mean a few cents. Pennies. The cashier apologized, but that was not adequate for this pair. The manager was summoned. He tried to mollify the couple, explaining that they had 14,000 items in their inventory and sometimes there were mistakes. But that was not acceptable. The discussion went on. And on. And on.

After waiting for what seemed like hours (well…) a lightbulb went off in my brain. I had come up with an idea that would solve this logjam. So I opened my mouth and spoke these words with full sincerity but with a measure of sarcasm: “How about if I pay the price difference so that we can all get out of here and my ice cream doesn’t melt.”

Silence. The cashier, the manager, and the couple are now looking at me.

The wife turned, looked me up and down and sneered, “You’re rude.”

Hmmmm.

Ok, maybe it was a bit wise-guy, so I said, “I’m not trying to be rude. But I’d like to get home.”

She replied, “If you’re in that big of a hurry, why didn’t you go to 7-Eleven?” Slow burn back on.

I answered, “Because I didn’t want to go to 7-Eleven.

At this point the husband took over the negotiations. He said, “You have to understand! This isn’t about us! What if some poor old lady came in and wanted the candy and had to pay more money?”

I can assure you, dear reader, that there wasn’t a poor old lady within 5 miles of this grocery store. But I let his response go and said, “Look, I understand you have a right to the correct price, but I really am willing to pay the difference so that we can all leave.”

Eventually they paid for their order and continued to engage the manager in a dispute about cash register accuracy. I paid for my ice cream, which probably could have been poured into glasses, and left the store.

No, I need to correct that. I didn’t just “leave the store.” I left the store feeling like a champion. I had dared to speak up and face down the most annoying kind of shopper in the world. If other shoppers had known what I had done, that I actually had said something to this couple, they would have put me on their shoulders and carried me through the aisles singing my praises. Word would spread and I would be the idol of grocery shoppers everywhere.

I got in my car, feeling like I had done what so many others through the centuries wish that they could have been able to do, reveling in my rapier wit. And I started to drive away.

And then a tiny voice in my mind raised this question. “What if that couple shows up to church tomorrow?”

Oh.

Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so heroic or witty. And I was quite relieved when, on the following morning, my fellow shoppers weren’t sitting in my church eating Hershey Kisses.

Last week I wrote about the importance of integrity. I titled the post “People Are Watching.” And they are. And while we may be free from major moral failure, all it takes is opening our mouths at the wrong time or in the wrong way, or doing something stupid to potentially derail our reputation and undercut the work of the Gospel.

We need to watch our words and actions. Yes, even when people cross the “Annoying” line. When you eat out, order your morning coffee, deal with a salesperson, a cop, your kids’ teachers, or the guy who delivers your Amazon packages, remember who we represent.

And if the person in the express lane is taking too long, just go to 7-Eleven.

Addendum for Monday, January 20, 2020

After posting my blog for today, I learned that Ligonier is selling 60 teaching courses for 50% off. The link is here.

We made liberal use of these series during the summer months to give our teachers a break, but they can be used in small groups and for your own personal edification.

You can purchase audio alone, video alone, or DVD in most cases. I highly recommend you check out what’s available and stock up.

Tools of the Trade for January 20, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

Ligonier published an article from the late (and greatly missed) R.C. Sproul on “Accepting ‘No’ As God’s Will.” His comments on prayer are helpful.

Kevin DeYoung writes about God’s existence, presenting the doctrine in less than 500 words. This is a helpful summary and starting point for study.

This is not from a Christian site, but “15 Effortless Memorization Tricks to Remember Anything” may come in handy. I include it this week because I didn’t want to forget. (I know. Corny.)

Colin Adams writes “The Eleven Commandments for Long Winded Preachers.” Not that any of us need that, but we might have a friend who . . .

How are Christians to deal with the various purity laws in the OT? Some of them get thrown in our face when discussing the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. Here’s a helpful article by Peter Leithart.

This article on handling disagreement has a host of applications.

If you’re looking for a helpful conference to attend, The Institute for Expository Preaching with Steven Lawson would be worth considering. Details here.

Tim Challies reviews a new book by Jared Wilson, The Gospel According to Satan. Read it here.

Ministry can become task-driven, but it needs to be people-driven. Here’s an article by Nicholas Batzig on loving the people God has put under our care.

In our Sunday pastoral prayer, we used to pray for a specific nation where Christians are persecuted. Joe Carter tells us where Christians are most likely to face danger.

Sometimes we can preach on a specific sin and leave people feeling that there’s no hope. John Sloan talks about this in relation to abortion.

John Muhlfeld writes in the Tabletalk magazine about Encouraging Men in Ministry. There are so many ways in which this can be applied. Read it and ask God to bring someone specific to mind.

Finally – and I might be the first Christian blogger to break this news – cartoon genius Gary Larson has a website where he displays some of his previous work from The Far Side and promises some new material. Oh joy!!!

Have a good week!

People Are Watching

The sports world was rocked a bit this week by the penalties imposed by Major League Baseball on the Houston Astros. If you’re a baseball fan, you know what happened. If you’re not, you can go to MLB.com and read all about it.

In short, the Astros employed some dirty tricks in order to gain an advantage (in other words, they cheated). As a consequence, the general manager and manager were both suspended for a year by Major League Baseball. Then they were fired by the team’s owner. This has also affected the jobs of two other men who were the managers of other teams. Both of these men were involved in the cheating scandal when they were with the Houston team.

I don’t believe that these are bad men. But their poor decisions are going to have a long-term impact. It is possible that none of them will find work within professional baseball again. Their reputations have been tarnished. And we tend to have long memories when it comes to the misbehavior of public figures, whether they be athletes, musicians, actors, or politicians. Or pastors.

It takes time to build a good reputation. But it takes a second to lose it. An angry outburst, a moment of dishonesty, the exposure of a moral failure, and what was formerly a good reputation is gone.

When I was starting out in ministry I was told of a pastor in a smaller town who had reached a handshake agreement with a car dealer to buy a car for a certain price. The next day, when the pastor went to complete the purchase, the dealer reneged. The pastor, in a moment of pique, flattened him. In fact, he sent him flying through the plate glass window in the front of his dealership. That moment cost that pastor his ministry in that town.

When we read the qualifications of elders and deacons in Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1), notice how many of the qualities that qualify a man for ministry have to do with reputation including the very direct statement in 1 Timothy 3:7 that an elder/pastor needs to be a person with a good reputation among those outside the church. Having a good reputation is why Paul told Timothy to “Pay close attention to your life” (1 Timothy 4:16a, CSB)

D.L. Moody said, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.” But “taking care” of our character is something that requires disciplined determination. As I said, it takes time to build a good reputation, but only a second to lose it.

As a baseball fan, I was disappointed to hear what had taken place, and saddened for the men whose lives have been affected by these bad decisions. But as a Christian, I’ve grieved more when a fellow pastor has torpedoed his ministry.

If you are younger and/or new to a church, work on building a solid reputation. Continue to build godly character and have a servant’s heart. Our goal is not to be people-pleasers. But a good reputation is foundational to an effective and trustworthy ministry.

It’s What We Do

We were watching a video by R.C. Sproul during a Sunday School class and something caught my eye. On the wall behind the podium was a picture. It was a painting of a man from biblical times scattering seed on a field.

I made a mental note to look online to see if I could find a copy. I found something similar, put it on my list, and my wife, Laura, got it for me for Christmas. Until my retirement it sat in a prominent place in my office, reminding me often that that’s what we do. If you’re a pastor reading this, it’s what you do, too.

You know the very familiar statement from 1 Corinthians 3. Speaking of his own ministry, Paul writes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6, ESV).

There are two significant ideas in this passage. The first is that those who minister are involved in planting and watering. Sunday-by Sunday as you teach or preach (and counsel, and converse, and pray, and lead), you plant and water, plant and water. You sow the seed of God’s word in the lives of people, planting precious truths in their hearts, and you water by reviewing those truths and teaching supporting truths.

But that’s all you can do. Which leads to the second point of significance, Paul’s statement that God gives the growth.

To confuse our role with God’s is disastrous. No matter how we try, we cannot bring forth growth, because we can’t change the hearts of our people. That is a supernatural activity that we have no ability to perform. So pastors and teachers need to content themselves with doing what they can do and with leaving God’s work to God.

Understanding it is not up to us to produce growth is both frustrating and liberating. The frustration comes from a natural desire to see our ministry have an impact on the lives of our listeners. When growth is not visible, or when it seems that the ground is dry and hard, it can be discouraging. But it can also be a point of temptation.

I believe it was because Paul understood this very basic dynamic that he would later write: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word . . . (2 Corinthians 4:1-2a, ESV).

We may tend to think of a slick TV evangelist when we read that, but it is an easy trap to fall into. If pastors don’t understand and accept the difference between what they do and what God does, some may try to manipulate their hearers through guilt or emotionalism in order to see visible results. It’s a mix of pragmatism and bad theology that is a dead end.

That’s why this truth as liberating. Knowing that the results are in God’s hands and not in your hands or my hands frees us from approaching preaching and teaching as if it all depends on us. That is good news for pastors.

Look, I had Sundays where preaching was frustrating. Sometimes I left my office on Saturday thinking I had a decent sermon, only to go over it on Sunday morning and think it was deficient. Sometimes I wasn’t happy with the way I delivered it. And I will admit there were times when I would have liked to have seen my people have a collective “AHA!” moment that inspired them to new levels of understanding and sanctification. Instead, they responded like they did every Sunday. They listened well, but no one stood up and said, “Please don’t stop preaching!” and no one got to their feet and said, “My life is now forever changed!” Whatever “growth” was accomplished was invisible to me. But my job was to plant, water, pull out some weeds. And trust that God would do his work.

And that’s why I wanted that picture. I wanted a constant reminder of the part I played in the spiritual work that would take place on Sunday mornings. And in doing so, I was reminded that my very ordinary sermons could be used by an extraordinary God to do something substantial in the lives of my people.

Tools of the Trade for January 13, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

First, WTSBooks is having a sale on their staff favorites from the last decade. Books are about half price in most cases. Some might be good for the book table, but you may want to treat yourself.

David Mathis writes about the significance of praying in Jesus’ name. This is one that is worth sharing.

Kathryn Butler encourages us to “Point Kids to the Gospel Through Great Books.” Yes, kids can still read books.

Erik Raymond writes about praying for our church family. Here’s one definitely worth sharing with your people.

Scott Hubbard shares a helpful article on what it looks like for the fruit of the Spirit to be in our lives.

David Gunderson tells us “Why You Need Sermons That Don’t Directly Apply to You.” Share this!!! Lots of copies!!

Here’s a video/transcript by Tim Challies on “How Should We Think about Technology as Christians?” Tim writes about this periodically and has some helpful insights.

This is another share-worthy article. Your people may encounter wrong ideas about the Bible that sometimes sound plausible. This will strengthen and educate them.

Kevin DeYoung asks and answers the question, “What Is Preaching (And Who Does It)?” Anything Kevin writes is worth reading.

Here’s one more from Tim Challies that challenges us to be reading.

John Piper writes about praying according to the will of God. Another one for the literature table.

This article, from a secular website, talks about some helpful planning and productivity principles.

For any of you who are church planters, here is a helpful article on patience in church planting. Actually, this is a helpful article for all pastors.


Have a great week!