How long should a sermon be? As long as it needs to be.
People don’t hate long sermons.
They hate boring sermons. Irrelevant sermons. Impractical sermons. Uninspiring sermons. Unprepared sermons. Over-prepared sermons… You get the idea.
A bad sermon can’t be short enough, but an engaging sermon can go longer than you think.
However, before you let your next sermon drone on and on, make sure it’s everything it needs to be.A Tale Of Two Sermons
Recently, I heard two sermons that went well over 45 minutes each. Both were good. They had great content and I was moved by them.
One of them, while good, would have been even better with some editing. The speaker could have dropped up to 50 percent of it and a very good sermon could have been a great one. The other sermon, though long, felt rushed. It could have gone 10-15 minutes longer and no one in the room would have complained.
The issue wasn’t the length, or even the quality of the sermons, but the fit. One sermon was the right fit for the content and left us wanting more, while the other was too long for the content and left us wanting less.
A better question than “what’s the right length for a sermon?” is “what’s the right length for this sermon?” or “what length of time will help it do everything it needs to do in the best possible way?”Make Room For What Needs To Be Said
Too often, we limit what we can do with a sermon by the format of the church service.
Why not give the sermon the time it needs by putting a little wiggle room in our Sunday service format?
Got a short sermon? Let the worship go longer. Got a long sermon? Maybe get to it earlier in the service than you usually would so the worship and announcements don’t crowd it out.
People have longer ...
Three tips from my own experience as a church planting leader.
Many frequently joke about the turnover rate in church planting leadership. It seems that whenever I’m at a conference or church event, someone new will come up and say, “Hey, Ed. I’m the new leader of church planting at [insert denomination name].”
To be fair, this issue happens across denominations—it’s not just certain ones in certain parts of the country. It happens at the district, network, and denominational levels.
Church planting requires a certain set of skills—organization, initiative, patience, and passion, just to name a few. These skills are especially required for a church planting leader. To last long term in this capacity without burnout requires some forethought and consideration. Here are some thoughts on how to lead well in this position
First, dedicate yourself to being an advocate.
As a leader of church planting, it’s important to remember that you are not actually a church planter; the roles are different. You aren’t the official doer of all things church planting—you are, by definition, the one who helps organize and oversee the work being done by church planters out on the field.
Church planting leaders who enter into the territory of their church planters in a micromanaging sort of way ultimately undermine their own authority at one time or another. Simply put, if you find yourself frequently saying to the church planters you oversee, “this is what you should do” or “this is how I did it” and “this is how I’m going to do it,” know that this approach is unhelpful in the long term.
For many who work under the leadership of a denomination, your advocacy has to be directed upwards. It’s your job to work ...
Small church ministry isn’t about following trends, it’s about knowing people.
If you worship or serve in a smaller church, you may have read those articles and shrugged, or maybe you saw the titles and didn’t even bother to read them.
I don’t blame you.
While our brothers and sisters in bigger churches look for trends, compare notes and learn from the latest innovations, small churches usually let those trends pass us by without a ripple.
It’s not because small churches don’t care, it’s because current trends almost never apply in smaller churches the way they do in bigger ones.
Here’s why.The Unique DNA Of The Small Church
The smaller the church is, the more unique their DNA is.
Especially in a church of 75 or fewer (that’s over half the churches), the mix of personalities makes every church a unique place.
The bigger the church becomes, the less each individual personality affects the whole, so it becomes more helpful to know the latest trends. Not necessarily to keep up with them, but to have the ability to speak into them.
But when a church is small, it isn’t nearly as important to know the latest trends as it is to know the individual people in your congregation and your surrounding neighborhood. To know their needs, their histories, their strengths, their personalities and their relationship with Jesus (or lack of).Knowing People, Not Trends
If you pastor a church of 50 in an agricultural community, you don’t need to use the latest social media app. If you oversee a small denominational church in a once thriving, but now dying inner city, you don’t need to study blogs about the latest church trends.
In both situations, you need ...
Why being ‘spiritual’ is never enough, how Kate Bowler experienced Christ in her cancer, and 10 lessons from same-sex abuse inside the church.
Read CT Women’s most-read articles of 2018, ranked in order of which ones our online readers engaged most.
Simple steps to help you prepare better, preach stronger and have a greater impact.
One of the greatest challenges of pastoring is coming up with something fresh to say to the same people week after week.
As a pastor, I’ve been preaching for over 30 years. Over 4,000 messages. For many years I would regularly run out of things to say – or, more accurately, new ways to reinforce the same foundational truths - but Sunday was coming whether I was ready or not.
If you’re the preaching/teaching pastor, you know the feeling. The Saturday Night Dread. The “what am I going to say this week that they haven’t all heard 100 times before?” panic.
It still happens to me occasionally, but it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, because over the last three decades I’ve learned a few tools that reduce the pressure and make Preacher’s Block a little less frequent.What To Talk About?
The main issue in Preacher’s Block is coming up with a subject. An idea valid enough to be worth saying, but fresh enough to keep people’s interest.
That’s easy when the audience is new. Or when you’re new to them. But when you’ve been at the same church for years, even decades, you can’t keep saying what you’ve said before – even (especially) if you’re reinforcing the same foundational Bible principles you’ve taught dozens of times.
Over the decades I’ve discovered a handful of tools that help in this task. They’re not the “right” way to preach and/or prepare. They’re some tools that work for me. And maybe they’ll help you, too.1. Preach In A Series
Yeah, I know. This is not exactly a new idea. But of all the ways to reduce the “what am I going to preach about?” panic, this is the best one, ...
Good leaders never make their decisions based on personal preference. They make decisions based on the mission.
Good leaders have strong opinions.
And they should.
But our decisions should be guided by the mission, not by our opinions.
This is especially true in church leadership. The importance of Christ’s mission should be communicated in everything we do and say. Including in subtle cues that often remain under the surface.The Importance Of Saying “No”
One of the most important aspects of leadership is the courage to recognize and stop bad ideas so that better ideas can thrive. Saying “no” is hard. If it’s done badly it can lower a team’s morale, and even lose good people.
But it must be done. So it’s essential that we learn how to do it well.
Unfortunately, one of the easiest and most common ways we express our disagreement with a new idea is also one of the worse.
Saying “I don’t like that” is one of the fastest ways to kill innovation and stifle a church’s mission – especially when it’s said by the person in the lead position. In a church, that’s usually the pastor.
Here are five reasons “I don’t like that” (or something similar) should be banished from the vocabulary of every leader.Saying “I don’t like that”... 1. …makes it more about the leader than the mission
Good leaders never make their decisions based on personal preference. They make decisions based on the mission. “What are we trying to do and how well will this idea get us there?” is all that matters.
The reason we don’t like something may, in fact, be because it doesn’t move the mission forward. If so, we need to say it that way. When we phrase our disagreement as if it’s a personal preference, we subtly divert the ...
While it may seem counterintuitive, thinking bigger and on a longer timeline is often a better way to get things done.
You won’t succeed at your New Years resolutions this year.
Sorry for the bad news, but it's highly unlikely, statistically speaking.
But here’s what you can do. You can start.
Want to write a book? Start writing every day.
Lose weight? Start a healthier lifestyle.
Grow in your faith? Start a purposeful discipleship process.Bigger Goals, Longer Timeline
It’s been said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.
I have found this to be overwhelmingly true.
This may be one of the main reasons New Year’s resolutions fail. By trying to get something of lasting significance done in a year, we’re trying to accomplish too much in too short a time. So when we hit a snag or two (as we always will), we see the dream fading away and we give up.The Complexity Of Accomplishment
For instance, imagine your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight this year (probably the most common New Year’s resolution – at least in the USA).
To do so, the gyms of America will be packed on January 1. But by the end of the first week, they'll be much less packed. And by the end of the month? Back to December levels.
Why such a sudden drop-off? Because we're trying to do too much too soon.
The discipline required to lose weight is multi-faceted. It requires a stunning combination of factors, from finding inspiring long-term motivation, to landing on the right eating plan, to establishing a workout regimen that fits your lifestyle and interests, to finding friends and/or a coach who will provide the right mix of motivation, encouragement and knowledge. And so much more.Take The Time To Do It Right
Imagine, instead of saying "I'm going to ...
Researcher Mary Lederleitner explores the confusions and frustrations they face.
What distinctive gifts do women have for the global church? Is the church helping or hindering women leaders? In Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, missions researcher Mary Lederleitner describes both the particular obstacles women leaders face and the unique blessings they offer the body of Christ. Drawing upon two decades of personal experience and interviews with more than 90 women serving in roughly 30 different countries, Lederleitner outlines an emerging model of leadership that is faithful, connected, and holistic. Amy Peterson, adjunct professor at Taylor University and author of Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, spoke with Lederleitner about her research.
In your preface, you mention never having expected to write a book about women in leadership. What changed?
I’ve met a lot of women who are hurting because of divisive claims about what women can and can’t do in mission and ministry. The complementarian-egalitarian framework isn’t serving the global body of Christ well. Once you are in one or the other theological camp, the other group often wants little to do with you. Sometimes it seems like the two groups are enemies rather than people who are destined to live and serve God together for all eternity. I believe our Lord wants us to find a better way to dialogue about women in mission and ministry.
I’ve met women who are the first females to fill their leadership role in mission agencies, and they often feel so alone. Many are struggling to figure out how to lead effectively without the benefit of female role models.
What are you finding that men and women most appreciate from your research?
At a recent conference, a male leader ...
We are going to hear the voice of survivors, trauma counselors, and Christian leaders who will call evangelicals to a better way.
Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
The reality of that agony is more real than ever as this powerful imagery speaks volumes to an important issue we face as a nation, and inside our church walls, today. The issue of sexual abuse and scandal has rocked and ravaged our front pages, our computer screens, and our congregations within the past year.
Women across the country—and around the world—have put up with too much for too long. The tidal wave of reports bringing their stories to the surface in a tidal wave of reports called us all to reckon with the #metoo movement.
Last year, Time Magazine’s person of the year was actually more than one person. That annual high-profile cover showed us “The Silence Breakers,” those behind the movement that gave voices to so many women.
But well over a year after this all began, we still have so far to go—especially in the church.
What followed #metoo was #churchtoo—the telling of stories of abuse specifically within the context of church life. The posts, tweets, and hashtags once again flooded our social media pages and dominated conversations everywhere. And still, the stories haven’t stopped.
Most are aware of the fire being felt by the Catholic Church for the behaviors of priests and bishops towards children. Some of the headlines this past year alone have read, “American Priest is Accused of Molesting Boys in the Philippines” and “U.S. Catholic Church Hit with Two National Lawsuits by sex-abuse victims” and “Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says.” The pope, in response to what happened in Pennsylvania, wrote ...
Meet the conservative Baptists who don’t like Billy Graham.
On Sunday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a four-part series on more than 400 allegations of sexual misconduct affiliated with the independent fundamental Baptist movement. The scope of their reporting spanned nearly 1,000 churches and organizations across 40 states and Canada. The report noted:
One hundred and sixty-eight church leaders were accused or convicted of committing sexual crimes against children, the investigation found. At least 45 of the alleged abusers continued in ministry after accusations came to the attention of church authorities or law enforcement.
But what is the independent fundamental Baptist movement?
Historically it has meant a firm belief in the “fundamental doctrines, that is to say, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith” and “an insistence that you should only extend Christian fellowship to people who profess to believe the gospel.” said Kevin Bauder, a research professor of systematic theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of a two-part volume on Baptist fundamentalism.
But that’s not necessarily what people hear, Bauder acknowledges.
“The term ‘fundamentalist’ has sort of been co-opted by Martin Marty’s Fundamentalism project, where he made it a sociological designation for any extreme group,” said Bauder. “None of us are really happy with that label these days, because of the connotations it carries now.”
(Perhaps one way to see it could be as the inverse of historian George Marsden’s remark: “An evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.”)
Bauder joined digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the history of fundamentalism, why ...
This may be the biggest reason great ideas die too soon. We’re creating buzz, but we’re not building substance.
If you have a message, idea or product you want the world to know about, there’s never been a better time than right now to build the platform for it.
Technology has enabled anyone, anywhere to take an idea (it doesn’t even have to be a good one) and make it available to everyone, everywhere.
At the press of a button.
While sitting in your living room.
In your PJs.Teams Build Substance
Because of this, it’s easy to have an unbalanced approach to creating and promoting a new program or idea.
The biggest mistake we make? Sinking all our energy into using technology to build a platform, while shortchanging the necessity of building a team to sustain that platform.
But building that team is as important as it’s always been. Maybe more so.
Since everyone else has access to the same technology (more or less) team-building is what usually makes the difference.
This happens in the church, too. Someone comes up with a great idea for an outreach, a sermon series or an event, and the first step we take is to start thinking of ways to promote it.
We create graphics, shoot videos, and bombard social media with the images. But in too many cases we’re promoting something that doesn’t have the team to sustain it.Ideas Are Easy, Teams Are Hard
This may be the biggest reason great ideas die too soon. We’re creating buzz, but we’re not building substance.
Why do we do this?
Because buzz is fun. It’s fast. And technology has made it easy.
Team-building is hard. It’s slow. And even with the best technology and creativity in the world at our disposal, it takes the long-term, old-school application of high-commitment people-skills to build and sustain a strong team.
Everyone can have an idea. Anyone ...
No pastor should ever stop learning – not if we hope to stay effective.
Pastorates are getting longer.
This is mostly good news for pastors, their families, and the churches they serve.
But there are a few inherent dangers to staying in one church for a long time. As someone who celebrates 26 years at the same church this month, here are the top 5 dangers I’m constantly trying to avoid, in no particular order:
1. Getting Stuck In A Rut
2. Getting Stuck In A Rut
3. Getting Stuck In A Rut
4. Getting Stuck In A Rut
5. Getting Stuck In A Rut
Yeah, that’s about it. If you can stay out of that rut, a long-term pastorate is best for everyone. So, how do we avoid getting stuck?
Here are a handful of lessons I keep learning that help me stay fresh, excited and forward-looking after two and a half decades at the same church.Stay Curious
If the pastor isn’t learning and growing, the congregation will be able to tell. Maybe before we can.
The same old stories, the same tired ideas, the same worn out excuses…
You may have left your formal schooling decades ago, but no pastor should ever stop learning – not if we hope to stay effective.
The wisest, most joyous, most delightful people to be around are those who keep a spirit of curiosity about everything. They’re never satisfied with what they know. And they’re ready and willing to learn from as many sources as possible. Even (especially?) from people who hold views they disagree with.Listen More Than You Talk
People may get tired of hearing you talk, but they’ll never get tired of having you listen.
People who talk all the time are exhausting. People who listen well are inspiring.
And if you can listen well, then reflect on it with a few words of wisdom? That will never get old.Entrust Ministry To Younger Leaders
The youth ...
What can we learn from the story of Tamar and Amnon?
I was moved and astonished as the pastor spoke. He was preaching about the rape of Tamar. Tamar was the beautiful virgin daughter of King David who was raped by her brother Amnon (2 Sam. 13).
The pastor was acknowledging that the people of God caused suffering and that traumatic events could happen in holy places.
I must admit I was surprised at such a bold message coming from the pulpit, and it stirred hope within me.
Unfortunately, those feelings were short-lived as the pastor wrapped up his message with a warning that although these things happen, we ought not to talk about them to people outside of our families—if we dare speak about them at all.
At that moment, my heart broke, and my anger rose. It was as if the breath had been knocked out of me. I wondered how many others in the pews around me had experiences of trauma and abuse, how many were feeling the beginnings of hope, of the opening of space to share stories that need sacred space to be told, to receive help, only to have it crushed in an instant.
Sadly, this is something that appears to be common in many communities of faith—being silent on matters of abuse and silencing and shaming survivors of various forms of sexual trauma.
However, if we examine the story of 2 Samuel 13, we see that being silent and not naming the evil that had been done to Tamar caused more turmoil and wrath within the family unit.
In my work as a psychologist, one of the things that is most detrimental to survivors is the dismissal and silencing of the survivor by those they chose to turn to for help.
After being silenced by her brother Absalom (2 Sam. 13:20), to whom she turned, Tamar is described as a “bitter and desolate” woman. Not only had her rights been violated ...
Abuse can skew more than just a survivor's relationship with the church.
Papers, crayons, vanilla wafers, and juice. Toys, toys, and more toys. Brightly-colored flannel-graph Adam and Eve figures hiding behind bushes. Banners hanging on the walls which read: “Scars of love: He bore your pain” and “Jesus loves the little children.” Musical crescendos, quiet prayers, stirring sermons, bread and wine, kneeling, reciting Scripture, raising hands.
These religious images and experiences convey comforting considerations for some, but for others they are haunting reminders of being sexually violated by individuals who represent God (Schultz & Estabrook, 2012).
As mental health clinicians, we have collectively listened to thousands of stories of sexual violence in the lives of women, men, adolescents, and children we have counseled. These violations include a wide array of nonconsensual sexual acts such as rape, child sexual abuse, incest, intimate partner sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual innuendos, unwanted sexual contact, and trafficking.
Moreover, many of these egregious forms of trauma have been carried out by every imaginable kind of trusted individual from inside and outside the church.
Journeying with individuals as they share these stories is a sacred privilege. Over the years, we have gleaned much wisdom from brave individuals who have dared to share their anguish with us.
First and foremost, we have witnessed that no two survivors of sexual violence are impacted in the same way, or to the same extent. Nor can individuals be reduced to the violations and evils that have been done to them.
Survivors of sexual violence have taught us that they have encountered wounds and express strength. They have suffered from posttraumatic stress and recount experiences of posttraumatic ...
Longevity builds trust, which gives people a better perspective on what does and doesn’t really matter.
Pastors seem to be staying in their churches longer now than they did in previous generations.
That’s on purpose.
I know, because as of this month I’ve been ministering at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship for 26 years. When our family arrived here, our prayer was that the Lord would let us stay and plant roots.
Certainly there are challenges to staying so long in the same place. Keeping fresh, not settling in too comfortably, and not repeating the same ideas over and over are constant battles to fight against. (We’ll address those in my next article, The 5 Biggest Dangers Of Staying In A Long-Term Pastorate – And How To Avoid Them).
But if you can avoid those pitfalls, here are 8 advantages to investing a big chunk of our lives in one church body.1. There are some lessons it takes a lifetime to learn – and teach
Recently I heard an art history expert say that the reason the great painters of history are called the “old masters” isn’t because they painted a long time ago, but because it takes decades to become great.
It’s the same in ministry.
When you move every few years, you never get past the preliminary stages of relationships and ministry.
It takes years, even decades to get into the truly deeper aspects of any discipline, including pastoral ministry.2. You get to see generational results
Spiritual growth is long term. Not only is it about an eternity in heaven, it’s a about how we spend our lifetime here on earth – and how we affect the generations that come after us.
Spending decades of thriving ministry in the same place allows you to have that kind of long-term impact. Today, there are adults with kids in our church who were kids themselves when we started ...
How, the late pastor asked, can you shepherd a flock you don't know?
Eugene Peterson—who died in October at age 85—is best known, perhaps, as the author of The Message, his vernacular paraphrase of the Bible. But for many pastors and church leaders, Peterson was also a mentor who taught them to be shepherds rather than CEOs—in large part by modeling that approach himself. Drew Dyck, acquisitions editor at Moody Publishers, spoke with Peterson in 2017 as one of his final books (As Kingfishers Catch Fire) was published. They spoke about recent developments across the ministry landscape, the seriousness of the pastoral calling, and how The Message sprouted from his desire to truly know and listen to the people in his ministry. Pieces of that interview appear here for the first time.
In the preface of As Kingfishers Catch Fire, you write that the Christian life is “the lifelong practice of tending to the details of congruence.” What does that look like in a pastor’s life?
As pastors we’re interested in getting people to live a life that is congruent with the gospel. One of the things I realized from day one is that I needed to listen to congregants and not just put things into their heads. This is one of the wonderful things about being a pastor. You get the time and the opportunity to make connections with the everyday lives of people in your congregation. You can’t just treat Christianity as a pile of ideas from which to add and subtract.
You grew up in farming country, and your father was a butcher. Did that environment shape you as a pastor?
By all means. People who work with the soil and with animals learn to respect what they’re doing and the subjects of their work. My dad had one man working for him who he would send to the farms or ranches. ...
From Billy Graham to Bob Dylan, how a youth movement briefly changed the world.
Imagine Christianity suddenly became cool.
It may seem impossible, especially since Christianity has always been rooted in timeless tradition and wisdom.
Sure, pop musicians and actors may embrace the Christian faith in carefully considered ways, but when talking about it, they tend to keep their theological cards close to the vest.
What if rebirth, exclusivity of the gospel for salvation, good works accompanying genuine faith, and an explicit hope for Christ’s second coming became explicit as part of a cultural phenomenon?
On the second episode of Living & Effective, Richard Clark explores the origins and effects of one of the most impactful Christian youth culture movements in modern history. With special guests Larry Eskeridge, Greg Thornbury, and Trevin Wax, Clark finds out exactly how the Jesus Movement was so successful in thrusting the Bible into the mainstream, and what happened after public fascination with the movement faded away.
In church growth, as in everything, we can’t take our lead from the best examples, but from typical results.
You know those commercials where clients or patients had amazing results, only to hear a hurried voice at the end telling you “individual results may vary”?
It might be helpful if church growth books, blogs, podcasts and conferences had that, too.
The reason those commercials have that qualifier is because the fantastic results they advertise aren’t typical. They’re the best examples, not the usual ones.
I understand why commercials do that. If you want to promote something, you talk about your success stories.
But if you’re looking to buy or invest in something, you shouldn’t just look at the best examples, you need to know what the typical ones are. Look at averages, not exceptions. What’s normal, not what’s unusual.
It’s the same with church growth.No Church Growth Guarantees
The principles that have been discovered by the church growth movement are helpful and important. The methods that have been devised to help us take advantage of those principles are valuable. And the people who promote those principles and methods are doing their best to help churches and ministries.
In short, the majority of church growth material is great.
But it’s not fool-proof. There are no guarantees.
Except one. The one given by Jesus that he would build his church.
But Jesus never promised relentless, unceasing, inevitable numerical growth for any congregation. Not even for the faithful ones, (as we see in the struggling, faithful congregations in the New Testament).Facts Are Our Friends
Without using the right principles, no congregation will ever make any progress towards health, effectiveness and greater ministry impact. But using all the right principles is no guarantee that your church ...
Discovery takes place in the hinterlands, where we don’t feel comfortable and things can get a little scary.
Oh, the funnel.
That simple, but immensely valuable piece of human engineering.
With it, you can take massive amounts of material, data or (using the visual funnel we call a lens) visual information and channel it in a way that makes it so much more valuable than when it was random, scattered and unfocused.
But the funnel is not just a wonderful tool. It’s also a great metaphor for increasing our ministry effectiveness by widening our scope and narrowing our focus.
This is one of the insights I’ve gained in the most recent decade of my life and ministry. When it comes to input, I draw from as many sources as I can (history, science, theology, the arts, and more), but when it comes to output, I’m constantly narrowing it tighter.
For instance, I’ve moved from a general study of theology, to a more specific study of Christian ministry, to the narrower study and practice of pastoring, to the very underappreciated and highly misunderstood world of pastoring a small church.
By widening my scope and narrowing my focus, I’ve increased the impact and effectiveness of my ministry exponentially.“All Things” For “This One Thing”
When we narrow our focus, we’re taking a page from the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul who narrowed his focus to a laser point, as evidenced in verses like “this one thing I do…” and “I have resolved to know nothing except Christ and him crucified.” (Philippians 3:13 & 1 Corinthians 2:2)
When we widen our scope, we’re also like the Apostle Paul when he told us “I have become all things to all people.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
If all we do is narrow our focus, we can miss a lot. But if all we do is widen ...