OK. I was wrong about the SBC Pastors Conference.

sbcpc02Last year at the SBC in St. Louis I was wrong about the 2017 SBC Pastors Conference.

Pastor Dave Miller was elected President of the Pastors Conference. The format would change. The change was that smaller church pastors would preach expository messages through one book of the Bible. That book is Philippians. The Getty’s are doing the music.

I’m really excited for this Pastor’s Conference and thought I would go on record of saying I was wrong about it. I”m not sure what that really means. My attitude was kinda of mellow. there were reasons. While I am a SBC pastor, I don’t like it when we have to do everything SBC. When I heart church members say, “are they Southern Baptist?” like it has to be that for approval, my heart sinks. The reason is the kingdom is made up of more than the SBC. But really, this is not what the intent was, is of the Pastor’s Conference Team. They are just modeling something good. I’m excited.

sbc2017I hope you will consider going. It’s free. You just have to get there and pay your expenses. If you’re a pastor, your church will probably cover that for you. And everyone is invited, not just pastors. The Pastor’s Conference is a day and a half conference just before the SBC 2017 in Phoenix. Check it out!

Safe Preaching.

I’ve been preaching now for 24 years. If you asked anyone in my senior class if I would be a preacher, not one person would have said yes. As usual, I was an unlikely choice. That’s how God does it. He picks unlikely people to preach the word and reach the world. My first sermon was on Easter Sunday, 1993. It scared me to death to preach. My pastor, Elijah Mitchell, called me one evening to tell me I would preach Easter Sunday. I remember pastor giving me instructions:

  • I was to encourage and not rebuke the people. If I rebuked the people, he would sit me down.
  • I was to preach for 15-20 minutes or so that was the target.

I preached from Col 3:1-3. I still have the manuscript. I think the message lasted only 15-20 minutes. I read it. After, I remember one of the deacons saying, “We needed about 20 more minutes. It’s been a long time since that first sermon. I always like to joke around by saying, “the people did not deserve that first sermon.” Yet seriously, how does one learn to preach? What makes a message fresh? What’s the difference maker in preaching?

I’ve studied preaching for a while. I like to read a preaching book every year or at least review the basic preaching books throughout the year. I also like to listen to preaching. I listen to Charles Stanley, Louie Giglio, and Skip Heitzig. Preaching is worth the effort in learning at any and all angles. As I’ve listened to preaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that some preaching is too safe. What is safe preaching?

  1.  Safe preaching lectures the Bible as facts rather than an engaging experience with the  word of God.
  2.  Safe preaching uses too many notes thus killing the preaching experience.
  3.  Safe preaching avoids controversial topics.
  4.  Safe preaching relies more on study than prayer.
  5.  Safe preaching leaves people thinking “my toes got stepped on” while not seeing life  change.
  6.  Safe preaching doesn’t not ask people to do anything, especially to be saved, baptized,  or move into places of spiritual growth.
  7.  Safe preaching seeks to please people more than God.

I’m sure the list can go on and on. I do believe there is a thing called safe preaching. How can a preacher avoid safe preaching?

Pray more than usual for the preaching experience.
Preaching will always seem powerless when prayer is only minimal. Of course the preacher is prayerful as he prepares. If you want to play it safe, that works. If you want to see more, pray more. How? Get at least one prayer hour with a few others to pour out hearts over the lost, for the preaching, and worship at your church. Second, pray specifically for the message you will preach. Pray for the experience. Pray for the people as you don’t ultimately know their needs. Your prayer will open you for the Spirit to move in ways in your message that ministers to an unrelated need in a hurting person’s soul. Recruit a praying platoon at your church. Ask them to pray “during the message.” My simple prayer throughout the week and on Sunday morning is, “Lord, I can’t do what only You can do. Save souls and change lives.” What’s your prayer for preaching and teaching the word? Are you playing it too safe? Do you pray for the ending of your message?

Write a sermon brief or manuscript, but then leave your notes at home.
Many have written on sermon notes in preaching books. Many great preachers use notes, so I’m not against them. I started using a few more this year, but mainly I use no notes. Preaching and teaching without notes means a few things:

  • Are you studied enough to be full of the word that you could preach 80% of it without notes? Preaching without notes does not mean I “wing it.” Preaching without notes means you have to study more, not less.
  • Preaching without notes means you need to write more during week. I use Evernote, which has a voice dictation option. Some parts of the message need to be spoken out on paper rather than written.
  • When you preach without notes, you really are not preaching without notes. Dr. Al Patterson once was asked “do you use notes when you preach?” He replied, “Yes I do. I use the Bible.” Dr. Haddon Robinson said the same thing when I was at Gordon-Conwell. Preaching without notes was mandatory at Gordon.
  • When you are studied full, prayed up hot, then the preaching can be an experience in the word rather than a class lecture. Not all preaching with notes is this way, but if you use notes, use them sparingly. Look people in the eyes.

Don’t play it safe. Trust God’s word. Ditch the notes after you study hard. Or use only what you have to have as notes. It makes a difference. Let the Spirit do something fresh through you.

Throw your heart on the table in life and in preaching.
People want to know the preacher is a real person. When preaching, throw your heart up on the pulpit some. Don’t talk about yourself all the time, but don’t ignore your stuff either. When you are real about your sin struggles, your sin problems, your life challenges, people respect it. You don’t have to put all of your mess out. I’m not saying that, but it helps to be real in a natural way. It may surprise people at some point, but it changes your church culture from “sanctuary for saints” to “hospital for sinners.” Don’t play it safe by acting like you have it all together by never talking about your own struggles. You don’t diminish holiness by being honest. You actually pursue it. Take a risk. Throw your heart on the table.

The Priority of Prayer in Revitalization

SBSGThe Priority of Prayer in Revitalization

There is a huge movement for revitalization of churches these days. Books, blogs and more books have been written. There is no shortage of resources to tell you how to revitalize or be an agent of revitalization in your church. When Kenneth suggested we put together a book on revitalization, I told him we needed the chapter that no one seems to include in revitalization or preaching books. The chapter on prayer. The first step in revitalization is prayer. Only a few people will tell you this, but most will not. The recent resources on revitalization give much strategy and assumed prayer. We will give you a resource that is dependent on prayer. Ramping up a revitalization campaign requires prayer in the planning stage (the return stage). Prayer is crucial in the implementation. It’s crucial.

Prayer is crucial. Here is why. The church I serve went through a split seven years ago. Then for the first two to three years we just seemed to never get to a season of health. I say that not because we were not growing numerically. The reality was that we were relationally unhealthy. Part of this is my fault. I failed to mobilize key people and the church to pray. When people pray together, it is harder to be relationally unhealthy. In revitalization, doing the things that bring life back to a church, people will be challenged. It is at the challenge point that health is revealed. When leaders jump to the assessments and procedures, we are convinced not enough praying has gone into the preparation. When the hard stuff of revitalization is addressed, people operate either with limited wisdom, fleshly wisdom, or wisdom from the business world. The wisdom of God is needed to walk through a revitalization process.

We address revitalization because most churches are at a plateau. They not growing or declining, but are on the verge of decline. No offense to others who are addressing revitalization of churches, but something is missing. What is it? Prayer. This is a hard question, but why are we not seeing more revitalization of churches with all the resources we are producing? We make the case here that revitalization must include a real prayer plan that at least includes the leaders of the church. Loyal members who desire revival in the church should be included also.

What is revitalization? Revitalization is bringing life to something on the verge of death. It is making something once vital, vital again. What would a church look like that was revitalized? More numbers? Better health? Kenneth says “spiritual health precedes numerical increase.” . Any measurement of church health surely would start with the Book of Acts. What role did prayer play in the early church? We argue from scripture a prayer priority in Acts. We remind anyone tackling revitalization of a local church, Acts 1:8 power comes from Acts 1:4 praying.

What’s the priority?

Open your Bible and skim these passages just to see the thread.

Acts 1:4; Acts 1:8; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1; Acts 2:42; Acts 3:1; Acts 4:31; Acts 6:4; Acts 7:60; Acts 12:5; Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23; Acts 16:13; Acts 16:16; Acts 16:25; Acts 20:36; Acts 27:35

The topic of prayer is spread pretty evenly throughout Acts. Early in Acts we see a priority of prayer established in Acts 1-6. Acts 2 is the foundational passage most church leaders would show us as to what a church should be doing, but prayer often fails to make it in the list. It gets swallowed up in worship. The early church prayed. We believe much more prayer happened than Acts records. We would argue prayer is established in Acts 1-6 as a priority and in Acts 7-28 it was a natural practice. While Acts 2 is the main chapter for prayer and Pentecost, Acts 6:4 is actually the anchor verse. The apostles drilled prayer down into the church as a priority not only for them, but for the entire church (Franklin, And the Place was Shaken).

Most churches in need to revitalization rush to the things that bring numerical growth, but forget to sow the things that guarantee a harvest that will last. Prayer paves the way. Prayer changes culture. Pray gets the church body desiring revitalization. Now one thing needs to be clarified. When we say “get your church to praying” we do not mean “pray and do nothing.” Strategy is important. What we are saying is strategy is born from prayer.

Why the hard push for prayer?

– Prayer kept the church unified.
– Prayer acquired the power of God.
– Prayer fills the church with the Holy Spirit

The same thing that happened in the first century can happen in the twenty first century.

“Pastor, when did we start praying?”

I (Alan) had a deacon who asked me “Pastor, when was it that you started focusing us on prayer?” I was excited someone not only noticed the change but was willing to voice the change. It was obvious. Our church culture had changed. Things were better. Better from what you might ask. That leads to more “why the hard push for prayer.” Let me give you a list.

– Those two or three men in the church who are more fleshly than spiritual?
– That little critical rumbling that never seems to go away?
– Those two to three critics in every key area you want to see revitalized?
– The tone set by you mediocre tithes and offering that keeps things stirred up?
– Those classes that are entrenched inward at the expense of an outward focus?
– The spiritual vibrancy that seems to be missing from your worship service?

How will you deal with the negatives that are always barriers? If you start with strategy and procedure, you may be doomed. What happens is leaders start with strategy at a fast pace that leaves behind preparation in prayer. At the same time, leaders who do not prayer are given a voice at the table of revitalization. When this happens, some at the table will treat revitalization as a business endeavor instead of a spiritual issue.

When did we start praying?

About a year from when the deacon asked me that we had started praying. I focused the church on praying after I preached Matt 9:35-39. The Greek work in v. 37 is deomai. It means beg or ask. Literally it would mean, “ask like a beggar because we are desperate.” A desire for revitalization should come from a desperation that churches are not healthy and growing. One of the challenges, the main one, is creating a culture for revitalization that sticks. God prompted me to get our church body praying. Why?

When a pastor sees the church as desperate, he looks for solutions. He, as well as other leaders, wants the church to flourish in Great Commission work. So a pastor will lead change. A meeting will be called. Then a series of meetings. Yet the soil will not be tilled with prayer. So in the revitalization meetings an obligatory prayer will be offered at the start of the meeting. Once the pontificating of expertise is over (a little facetious here but not far off) another prayer will be offered asking God’s blessing. The problem with this approach is that is lacks real praying for gets people involved in a spiritual level. I take a risk in saying this. Usually a church meeting can get by without prayer, which is sad. Revitalization requires a deeper, more passionate prayer. Why?

When revitalization meetings happen they involve evaluation and these meetings open the doors for carnal people to cause trouble. Many a pastor has been sacrificed on the altar of strategizing before leading a season of praying. The amazing fact is no church growth books on revitalizing say this truth. Why? It is easier to have the expert come for $3000 than to get before the face of God and get instructions from Him. Now do not take that statement wrong. We are not saying a voice from outside the church is not good. It is good. Yet the pastor of a church will have to own revitalization at some point. The pastor should start revitalization with prayer. Prayer should permeate the entire process. As a matter of fact, revitalization should insert prayer in the center of the church. Revitalization should make a church prayer driven.

We know what you are saying now – “How do I do that?” Look at the appendix. We are giving you a one page plan for the average church. It is not perfect. You will need to evaluate your own church and make your own contextualized list. Yet we do believe this one page can change your church. I may take a year, six months, or ninety days. The Spirit of God will lead you if you are willing. Use the page in the appendix called “Remember the Prayers!” to start your revitalization process.

Use sermon based small groups to reinforce a 4 week series on prayer. You can use your existing small groups or you can create short term small groups for the series duration only. We suggest off campus options. The staff, elders, or deacons and other leaders could create prayer groups for 4 weeks. Refresh yourself on Jeremiah Lanphier’s strategy for praying during the 1857 Prayer Revival. When you start the series on prayer (or other topics in revitalization) use these sermon based groups to undergird the movement in prayer.