Mistakes Old Preachers Make

A really good discussion here between Paul Tripp, Bryan Chapell, and Russell Moore (or Mooore, as it is spelled in the first screen caption) on the biggest mistakes old--or "seasoned," as I prefer--preachers and pastors tend to make.

Not that I've ever acted in the ways of which they speak. Never. No, never. (Lord, I'm sorry...)

Church of the Week: Wayfarers Chapel, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Wayfarers Chapel is a gorgeous, unique chapel on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
It was designed by Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was built in 1951. I love how Wright designed it to incorporate the redwood trees as architectural elements, and the fusion of wood, glass, and stone throughout....like the baptismal font (which was added in 1964):

Man, if I lived in that area, I would pray her as close as possible to every single day.

Not Everyone Can Do This

My fellow pastors, if you're looking for a dynamic worship leader, I understand these two are available.

They do it all, from "Alleluia" to "Ting-a-ling-a-ling" to "mmmwhhwmmm."

Learning Leadership from MLK

The following post has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition here on the Desperate Pastor blog. I first featured it on Martin Luther King Day 2010. It is borrowed from a favorite blogger of mine, Michael Hyatt, and is a great way to mark this day:
My wife, Gail, and I watched the speech again on Saturday. It’s less than eighteen minutes long. However, it is profoundly moving. By the end of it, we were both in tears....[And w]hile the speech is a masterpiece of rhetoric, I believe it also provides eight insights into what it takes to be a truly great leader. (You can read the full transcript here.)

Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality. This speech came at a critical point in the civil rights movement. Dr. King did not pull any punches. He faced the most brutal facts of his current reality. Referring to Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, he acknowledged,
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
Great leaders engage the heart. While logic may compel the mind, stories and metaphors move the heart. This is the difference between offering information and inspiration. To cite but one example in the speech, Dr. King states:
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”
Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo. In fact, I would say that this is the defining characteristic of real leaders. They are not passive; they are active. They are unwilling to acquiesce to their circumstances. Dr. King continues:
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
Great leaders create a sense of urgency. They are impatient—in a good way. They refuse to just sit by and let things take their natural course. They have a sense of urgency and communicate it. Dr. King says,
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
Great leaders call people to act in accord with their highest values. It would be easy for the civil rights movement to change tactics and resort to violence. Some did. However, like Nelson Mandela did when he became president of South Africa, Dr. King called his people to a higher standard:
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must ever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Great leaders refuse to settle. It would have been easy for Dr. King to negotiate a compromise, to settle for less than his vision demanded. But he was stubborn—in a good sense. He persisted, and his called his followers to persevere:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Great leaders acknowledge the sacrifice of their followers. They notice the effort their people have expended. They verbalize and affirm it:
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
Great leaders paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow. Leaders can never, never, never grow weary of articulating their vision. They must be clear and concrete. They have to help their followers see what they see:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
I have only scratched the surface. This speech is full of lessons and deserves careful study. I would encourage you, in the spirit of this holiday, to sit down with your family and watch the entire speech. It is less than eighteen minutes long. It will change forever the way you understand Martin Luther King Day.

(photo via everystockphoto.com)

Write the Closing Prayer First

Most preachers end their sermons with a prayer or a prayer period. For some preachers, the prayer closing one sermon differs little from the prayer ending another. However, I have long found it helpful not only to plan and write my closing prayer (or, in some cases, the benediction to close the service), but to actually make that prayer the first thing I do when writing my sermon.

Here's why. Defining what I will be praying for my listeners or asking of them at the sermon's close is one of the best ways I know to define and sharpen the aim of the whole sermon from beginning to end. Knowing where I'm going to end helps me to know how to start and how to proceed. It starts the sermon preparation process "with the end in mind," to cite a familiar phrase.

Do you plan to prompt your listeners to experience new life in Christ as a result of your sermon? Or do you hope that your hearers will reach a new level of commitment by the time the service concludes? Or are you going to ask them to surrender a particular sin or rise up to a specific task? Whatever the case, write the prayer that will close your sermon first and then let it guide the rest of your preparation.

Make 'Em Laugh

I enjoyed two fine sermons yesterday, one by my pastor, Rob King, at Cincinnati Vineyard Church, and the other via podcast by Erwin McManus of Mosaic LA. Both made me laugh numerous times, and both got their points across splendidly.

Those two preachers' highly effective use of humor reminded me of this recent post from one of the blogs I subscribe to, the Junia Project, comes this post on "5 Reasons Not to Use Gender-Based Jokes in the Pulpit"--you know, jokes about women spending money or men being clueless, that sorta thing. Read it, please. It's an excellent post.

Humor is a must for good preaching. It disarms, engages, and reinforces a good preacher's points. But only good humor. What do I mean by "good humor" (insert ice cream joke here)?

Humor that clarifies (rather than confuses)

I love wordplay. I enjoy humor that makes me think. But some humor can be so "sophisticated" (or obtuse) as to confuse or--even worse--make the listener feel stupid, which is always a failed attempt at humor. Inside jokes (that only someone in your denomination or someone who's been around your church for a while would understand) almost always confuse rather than clarify.

Humor that builds bridges (rather than burning them)

This is why self-deprecating humor is the best. It helps people identify with you. It helps them like you. And, at its best, helps them laugh at themselves because they are a little bit like you.

Humor that unites (rather than dividing)

I once used a metaphor in a message, saying that something was as "rare as a Baptist in a liquor store." I thought it was a safe reference, as most people could appreciate that Baptists don't (or shouldn't) frequent liquor stores. But one woman in the room took offense at the mental image of a Baptist in a liquor store. Upon reflection, I had to admit she was right. I wasn't a Baptist; she was (though attending my church...perhaps until that moment).

Humor that respects (rather than ridicules)

This is another reason self-deprecating humor works. However, even when telling stories on ourselves, there is a limit. "Good" humor in a sermon is that which doesn't ridicule or disrespect anyone--including the preacher, if he or she is the butt of the joke.

Humor that makes the point (rather than the joke) the point

In both of the sermons I heard yesterday, I took notes. And I didn't note the humor, I recorded the excellent points--and supporting scripture and ringing statements--the preacher made. As the Junia Project blog post said, if people talk about your humor on the drive home or around the dinner table, your humor failed; you want them to talk about the life-changing truth you shared, not the momentary laugh they enjoyed.

What do you say, preachers? What have I left out? What would you add? Or subtract? Or improve?

A New Day Dawns

This week on the Desperate Pastor blog, we move to a new schedule of our regularly scheduled scheduling. With this, the blog's 1,460th post, we will move to a twice-a-week, Monday and Thursday posting schedule. What that means for you is reliable, quality content stolen from other blogs will be yours--exclusively, along with pairs of other people all over the world! But if you're a true Desperate Pastor, you can't take much more excitement than that anyway, so it's all for the best, right?

Church Signs with Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 23)

Which way should I take it? Doesn't matter. Does. Not. Matter.