Articles on this Page
- 09/24/19--09:30: _How to Raise Money ...
- 10/01/19--09:15: _Making Prayer a Pri...
- 10/08/19--09:00: _Great Questions Lea...
- 10/15/19--09:00: _The Power of Authen...
- 10/16/19--09:30: _Healthy Relationshi...
- 10/22/19--09:30: _Are You Holding Bac...
- 10/29/19--09:15: _The Biblical Mandat...
- 11/05/19--09:20: _How Not To Train Yo...
- 11/12/19--10:00: _How to Fear Less as...
- 11/19/19--09:00: _The Most Powerful M...
- 11/20/19--10:00: _Develop an Attitude...
- 11/26/19--09:00: _7 Christmas Sermon ...
- 12/03/19--09:00: _3 Ways to Thank You...
- 12/10/19--09:00: _Turn On the Lights ...
- 12/17/19--09:00: _How Not To Miss Chr...
- 12/11/19--10:42: _3 Lessons We Can Le...
- 12/30/19--09:00: _Developing a God-Si...
- 01/07/20--09:00: _How God Uses Weakne...
- 01/14/20--09:00: _What Makes a Great ...
- 01/15/20--12:10: _Change Requires New...
- 09/24/19--09:30: How to Raise Money for God’s Ministry
- 10/01/19--09:15: Making Prayer a Priority in a Crisis
- 10/08/19--09:00: Great Questions Lead to Great Conversations
- 10/15/19--09:00: The Power of Authentic Leadership
- Share your struggles honestly.
- Describe ways you’re making progress.
- Tell your congregation what you’re currently learning.
- 10/16/19--09:30: Healthy Relationships Will Have Conflict
- Compliment in public, correct in private. This statement is true regardless of the relationship. You need to do this with your children, your spouse, your best friend, and so on. Save your criticism for a time when others aren’t around. It’ll increase the chances that the other person will hear and respond to your concerns.
- Correct when they’re up and not down. Nobody handles correction well when they’re fatigued or depressed. My wife has always given me great feedback on my sermons, but she never gives me constructive criticism immediately after the service. She knows that after preaching multiple services, I’m out of energy. I can handle almost any correction when I’m feeling strong but not when I’m worn out. Timing is everything in candidness.
- Never offer correction until you’ve proven that you’re open to it. This is an area of relationships where you need to lead by example. Demonstrate that you are able to receive correction before you start giving correction. You must open up your life before you expect others to open up theirs.
- 10/22/19--09:30: Are You Holding Back Your Church?
- In a single-cell church of 150 people or fewer, you’re an owner-operator or an entrepreneur. You do most of the work yourself. You preach the sermon, print the bulletin, unlock the church, and sweep up. You minister to everyone your church reaches.
- The multiple-cell church has approximately 150 to 400 people. You have several “cells” in the church: Sunday school classes, small groups, men’s ministries, women’s ministries, and so on. In this setting, you’ll need to make the shift from a shepherd to a rancher because you’re no longer doing most of the ministry yourself. You’re managing others who do it.
- In the multiple-congregation church, you must transition to the role of an executive. You’ll probably have ministries the size of small churches. You’re fully in rancher mode in your role now. You’re no longer doing the hands-on work of managing. (Because at this point, you’ve likely hired another leader to manage the staff.) Typically, an executive does three things at a church: preach, evaluate, and make decisions.
- 10/29/19--09:15: The Biblical Mandate to Serve People with Mental Illness
- Every person has dignity. We all have dignity because we’re all made by God. That’s true of you, me, and every person on the planet with a mental illness. We’re made in God’s image, and we’re made for God’s purpose and glory. God has never made anything without a purpose. If your heart is beating right now and you’re breathing, God has a purpose for your life. Our dignity as human beings doesn’t come from the government, our appearance, or our economic prosperity. Our dignity comes from our Creator, who gives each of us a purpose.
- All of us are broken. Every single one of us has weaknesses, wounds, and mental illness. We all have our obsessive thoughts, compulsions, fears, and phobias. Since we all have disabilities, we all need each other. That’s one of the reasons God allows disabilities. If we had no imperfections in our lives, we would be arrogant and self-centered.
- Even though we’re broken, we’re still deeply loved and deeply valuable. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (NLT). God’s love for us is unconditional and unending. God doesn’t say, “I love you if . . .” God loves us because it’s who he is.
- We get well in community. The Bible reminds us of this constantly. Paul writes, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NLT). We need to be ready to share the burdens of people impacted by mental illness. It creates isolation, which is devastating for human beings. God says it’s not good for anyone to be alone. Community plays a part in God’s healing process of a variety of afflictions, including mental illness.
- What isn’t healed on earth will be healed in heaven. We can keep going and keep helping because we know that what happens here on earth isn’t the end of the story. I’ve read the end of the story. We win. We win against disease, illness, selfishness, and brokenness. In the very last book of the Bible, the apostle John writes: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV).
- 11/05/19--09:20: How Not To Train Your Volunteers
- You’ll wear people out. It may seem like it’s a good idea for volunteers to go through a robust training process before they get started, but that isn’t beneficial long-term. After a few weeks, many volunteers will grow tired of giving up a considerable amount of time before they can start making a difference.
- People learn best when they’re already serving. Training is helpful, but the best learning happens once people begin to serve. We want people to dive in and get all wet. Then they are highly motivated to learn how to swim!
- People don’t know the right questions to ask before they get started. Your volunteers don’t know what they don’t know before they start serving. Plus, if you’re mobilizing volunteers without a church background, they will have little context for what they must know before they serve.
- You do it. You can’t lead people to do anything you’re not doing. Your training begins with the trainer being an active practitioner.
- You do it, and they watch. You do the ministry as those you’re training watch what you’re doing. Let them see how you do it and ask questions along the way.
- They do it, and you coach them. Do the ministry with the people you’re training along with you. They will have additional questions as they begin to actually do the work, and you’ll be right there to help.
- They do it. Now that they’ve watched you do the ministry and done it alongside you, release them to do what God has called them to do.
- 11/12/19--10:00: How to Fear Less as a Leader
- The fear of inadequacy (Mary). Mary was a young peasant girl planning to get married. But an angel interrupted her plan by telling her that she was pregnant with the Son of God. It shouldn’t surprise us she felt inadequate.
- The fear of disapproval (Joseph). In Matthew 1:18-20, the angel told Joseph to not be afraid and to take Mary home as his wife. You can imagine the ridicule and shame Joseph expected to face at home if his fiancée was pregnant.
- The fear of unexpected change (the shepherds). Put yourself in the shoes of the shepherds. They’re out lying on the grass and tending their flock of sheep. It’s all quiet. Suddenly, the sky lights up. A huge choir of extraterrestrial beings starts singing loudly. You’d be scared, right? The shepherds were. Their plans for a quiet evening were interrupted.
- The fear of losing control (Herod). The Jews didn’t like Herod—he ruled with a heavy hand because he was paranoid of getting overthrown. His insecurities caused him to lash out when he heard a new “King of the Jews” had been born.
- The fear of being disappointed (Zechariah). Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for years and years to have a baby, but it hadn’t happened. They had one setback after another. When Zechariah found out Elizabeth was pregnant, his first instinct was disbelief. He was afraid to get his hopes up.
- 11/19/19--09:00: The Most Powerful Ministry at Saddleback Church
- 11/20/19--10:00: Develop an Attitude of Gratitude
- 11/26/19--09:00: 7 Christmas Sermon Ideas That Engage the Unchurched
- 12/03/19--09:00: 3 Ways to Thank Your Volunteers This Christmas
- Their faithfulness (Philippians 1:3-5). The volunteers in your congregation have many different things they could be doing with their time during the holiday season. They don’t have to be serving at your church. When they do serve, let them know you see their faithfulness to God and to your church.
- Their uniqueness (Colossians 3:15). Your volunteers serve in a myriad of different ways at your church. Each of your volunteers brings a unique SHAPE to their ministry. Thank them for their uniqueness. Let them know that your ministry during the holiday season happens because they’re living out the fresh and original way God designed them. When Paul wrote to the church of Colossae in chapter 3, he noted the church’s diversity wasn’t a weakness that should divide it but a strength that should unite it. The diversity of the gifts serving your church this Christmas season demonstrates this supernatural strength.
- Their effort (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). Never get caught up just appreciating results. Show people you’re grateful for the effort they demonstrated, even if the execution wasn’t perfect. If you only show appreciation for results, you’ll eventually lose volunteers.
- Be real. Your gratitude needs to be sincere and heartfelt. Don’t do it for any ulterior motive, and don’t use it as an excuse to get them to volunteer again. Be genuinely grateful for your volunteers’ sacrifice. They will detect any extra reason you might have for saying thanks—and they may be less likely to give their time again.
- Be specific. Don’t beat around the bush. Verbalize exactly what you appreciate about the person’s service. This means making your appreciation personal whenever possible. You may have too many volunteers to personally thank each one, but make your gratitude as personal as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to catch people in their acts of service. When you see someone serving, don’t just walk past them. Tell them how much you appreciate what they’re doing, and tell them exactly what you appreciate them for.
- Be consistent. Most of your volunteers aren’t just serving during Christmas. Make your gratitude a habit. Let the Christmas season be a time when you make a new commitment to consistently show how much you appreciate your volunteers. Paul writes, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). Continual appreciation for your volunteers will change the atmosphere in your church.
- 12/10/19--09:00: Turn On the Lights This Christmas
- 12/17/19--09:00: How Not To Miss Christmas
- 12/11/19--10:42: 3 Lessons We Can Learn from a Difficult Holiday Season
- 12/30/19--09:00: Developing a God-Sized Vision for 2020
- 01/07/20--09:00: How God Uses Weaknesses
- 01/14/20--09:00: What Makes a Great Team (Part 1)
- Consistency. People must learn to trust you. The more your volunteers spend time together and with staff leaders, the more trust they will develop.
- Loyalty. I believe loyalty to your volunteers is critical. I will publicly defend my volunteers before I even know what the issue is. Loyalty builds trust.
- Affirm their efforts. Make a point to notice and recognize publicly what your volunteers are doing well.
- Affirm their loyalty. Let them know that you appreciate the time and effort they are spending to serve at the church. Recognize that they’ve continued to serve regardless of any changes at the church.
- Affirm their uniqueness. Every volunteer is different. Let them know you see those differences as strengths that help your teams work effectively.
- Affirm their ideas. Your volunteers will be as creative as your church allows them to be. Let them know you appreciate any and all ideas so they will continue to share them.
- 01/15/20--12:10: Change Requires New Thinking
Do you know how to raise money for God’s work?
I went through 11 years of Bible college, seminary, and completed my doctoral program without ever taking a class on raising money. Although we need to raise funds for our ministries, most of us are never taught how to do it.
I had to learn it all on my own, and I’m guessing your story is similar. At this point, I’ve had 40 years of practice raising funds for ministry. I’ve led Saddleback Church through eight giving campaigns since the church started in 1980.
Here’s the most foundational lesson I’ve learned: HOW you raise money is secondary to WHY you raise money. You must first answer the question:
Why are we doing a giving campaign in the first place?
You might think it’s obvious: You run a giving campaign because your ministry needs more money.
That’s not entirely it, because there’s much more to the picture.
Here are four significant reasons to lead a church through a giving campaign:
You want to build people’s faith.
God is far more interested in building disciples than raising funds. At Saddleback, we always begin our giving campaigns by clarifying that we’re about building people, not buildings.
When you challenge people in their finances, God will stretch their faith and deepen their love. They’ll become more like Jesus. The Bible tells us that God so loved the world that he gave. God models giving all throughout the Bible.
In the last 39 years, God has shown me this truth repeatedly: If you build the faith of your people, they will give to the causes God has placed in your heart. That’s why when I do a building campaign at Saddleback, my main focus is helping people grow in faith.
You want to raise money for your next phase of ministry and growth.
Your giving campaign should cast a vision for what God wants to do next through your church. The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV).
Some of you have gone to two, three, or four services to accommodate your growth. You’re pushing yourself and your facilities to the max. If that’s your church, it’s time to build.
Remember that you don’t need a building to grow. Saddleback proved that. We grew to 10,000 in attendance before we ever built a building. Today we have multiple buildings across multiple campuses. Our buildings have been tools for future growth.
You want to deepen the fellowship and unity of your church.
Fellowship and giving go together. In fact, it’s the same word in the New Testament. The word for contribution and the word for fellowship is koinonia.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 ESV). When people give to your church, they’re more committed to it. Both fellowship and unity grow in the midst of a giving campaign.
Small groups are the secret to raising the level of commitment and sacrifice at your church. It isn’t enough to preach a series of sermons on giving. You must also have your small groups talk about it when they meet. It takes multiple reinforcements.
You want to thank God for blessing your church.
I encourage you to do your giving campaigns either around Thanksgiving or your church’s anniversary. Both are times to celebrate what God has done in the past. Gratitude and generosity go together. The more grateful people are for their church, the more generous they will be.
Psalm 66:5 says, “Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people!” (NLT). Encourage your people to celebrate what God has done by bringing a free-will offering in proportion to the blessings God has given them. We remember the miracles of the past to give us faith for the future.
When I reflect on the giving campaigns in Saddleback’s history, I’m reminded that they brought about some of the church’s greatest growth periods. I believe you can expect a similar transformation in your church.
One of the most important leadership skills you will have to learn is how to raise money for ministry. Ministry requires money.
It’s not enough to simply form your vision, you must be able to fund your vision.
I know many Christian leaders who have hang-ups about asking God for money. They allow personal fears and anxieties to limit the growth of their church. God wants your church to reach as many people as it possibly can. That requires money.
So get over it! And get to raising people’s faith and funds for the vision God has given you!
Every crisis is a leadership opportunity.
As a pastor, you minister to people in crisis all the time. It could be a health, relational, or professional crisis. It could even be a crisis born out of a natural disaster, such as a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or flood. In these situations, people will often turn to you first.
What should you do when they come your way?
Start with prayer. Don’t use it as a last resort, after you’ve done everything else. Even though there are a variety of actions you should take when ministering to people in a crisis, always pray first.
Daniel is a great model for how to pray during a time of crisis. Near the end of his life, 70 years after he and his friends were exiled into captivity in Babylon, Daniel faced a crisis of confidence. Daniel wanted to go home before he died. He knew the prophet Jeremiah had promised that the Israelites would return home after 70 years—and that time period was finally coming to an end. So Daniel prayed.
His prayer is a great model for believers who find themselves in a period of crisis. Here is how Daniel prayed:
Daniel listened to God.
How do you listen to God? You study his Word. That’s what Daniel did. At the beginning of chapter 9, he is reading God’s promise from Jeremiah to bring back the Israelites to Jerusalem.
When our people are in a crisis, we must help them focus on God’s promises. God gives us thousands and thousands of promises in the Bible. These promises provide a great foundation for prayer during a crisis.
Daniel focused his attention on God.
Daniel did this physically. Daniel 9:3 says, “I turned to the Lord” (NLT). One of the reasons a crisis causes us so much pain is we often take our eyes off God in the middle of it. Instead, we desperately need to focus on God during difficult times.
When you turn toward your family and friends, you focus your attention on them. The same is true in your relationship with God. Many people do this by bowing their heads and folding their hands. Personally, I like to look up when I pray because it helps me focus on God.
During a crisis, teach people how to focus on God—not their circumstances—and on what he is doing in their lives.
Daniel expressed his desires with emotion.
The Bible says that Daniel did more than just make his requests known to God. Daniel “pleaded with him.” Your passion and intensity often reveal how much something matters to you. Show God that your request is more than just a whim, that it’s a strong desire on your part.
The Hebrew word Daniel uses to describe his pleading means “begging.” Daniel wasn’t just asking God to let him go back to Jerusalem. He was begging. Teach your people that it’s okay to fully express themselves to God while in a crisis. When a person doesn’t feel like praying, it’s because they aren’t praying their feelings. Encourage your people to pray with emotion.
Daniel demonstrated his seriousness.
First, he fasted. Most of our congregations are familiar with this spiritual discipline. Then Daniel prayed wearing sackcloth and ashes. No one does this today, but for hundreds of years in the Middle East, this practice showed a person’s seriousness.
Jesus said some miracles can only happen through prayer and fasting, not by prayer alone. Fasting showed how serious a person was about the request. You see the importance of this over and over in the Bible. During a crisis, we need to help people demonstrate their seriousness before God.
Daniel thanked God for his love and promises.
The Bible says that when you give your requests to God, ask with thanksgiving. Daniel prayed: “Lord, you are great and deserve respect as the only God. You keep your promise and show mercy to those who love you and obey your commandments” (Daniel 9:4 GW). Daniel told God he was grateful for him, and he recognized the Lord’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises.
As we help people through a crisis, we need to encourage them to express their gratitude to God. It’s easy to forget this aspect of prayer, but it’s important because it’s God calls us to be grateful people—this is what we see illustrated in Daniel’s life. Thankfulness helps us see beyond our problems.
Daniel humbly confessed his sin.
God doesn’t want to hear prideful complaining, but he does listen to humble confessing. God never responds to our confession of sin with punishment. Instead, he blesses us when we’re honest about our sin.
“We have sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned away from your commandments and laws” (Daniel 9:5 GW).
Daniel didn’t just give a general confession. He specifically mentioned what the people of Israel had done wrong. He knew that God’s help would only come because of his grace—not because the people deserved it.
You and the people you lead will face all kinds of crises. As a pastor, one of the most important things you can do is help them to pray during this time.
If you have yet to determine your plan for helping others respond biblically to a crisis, consider doing a personal study on the life of Daniel. It will develop and deepen your convictions in this area of the Christian life. Of course, it’s always best to create your discipleship plan for crisis before you need it!
I’ve made it my practice for years to have significant conversations with just about everyone I meet. If you have an open mind and humility, you can learn from anyone. The more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve learned.
It’s easy to have a superficial conversation with someone. Most of our conversations aren’t personal. How often has someone asked you, “How are you?” What’s the universal response? “Fine. How are you?”
What if you didn’t talk to make conversation, but instead you talked to make a difference?
I’ve used “S.P.E.A.K.” as an acronym to help me make my conversations go beneath the surface. You can use these questions with anyone you meet—no matter how much money, power, or popularity the other person has, this tool will help you go deeper and be more personal:
S – Story: “What is your story?”
This is an open-ended question that gets people started. Most people like to talk about their story because being known is a basic need we all have.
P – Passion: “What motivates you?”
Everyone is moved by something. A person’s passion is one of the things that makes that person unique. You make a significant connection when you take an interest in what others care about. When you get people to talk about what they love, you’ll be transformed by a different perspective.
E – Encouragement: “Do you know what you’d be good at?”
Once you know someone’s story and their passions, it’s natural to encourage them to do something they are good at—or to consider something they could do well. This is a faith-building opportunity. People thrive when they are encouraged and empowered. Most people don’t have enough faith to believe in the dream God has given them. You can encourage them to take that next step.
A – Assistance: “How can I help you?”
When you ask this kind of question, you are being like Jesus. He often asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus served the people he encountered, and every conversation was according to God’s plan. You may be in a person’s life just so you can give them the help they need to fulfill God’s purpose for their life.
K – Knowledge: “What do you know that I need to know?”
This question is for your benefit. You can ask anyone this question because everyone knows something you don’t. With the right question, you can learn from anyone. You don’t have time to make all the mistakes! Wise people draw out learnings from the experiences of others.
There’s a bonus question that you should ask yourself: “Who do I know that should hear what I’ve learned?” This question passes along wisdom that others need to hear. Don’t hoard it for yourself; share what you learn with others.
Today we spend so much time buried in our mobile devices. Some of us have forgotten how to approach one another and have a meaningful conversation. Questions like these can help you engage with anyone you meet.
I believe there are two great confessions in the Bible.
First, you have Peter’s great confession in Matthew 16:16: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (NIV). Then, there’s another one made by Barnabas and Paul in Acts 14:15: “We are merely human beings—just like you!” (NLT).
I know many pastors who are quick to agree with the first confession but are more hesitant to proclaim the second. It’s easy for many pastors to talk about spiritual topics while ignoring or downplaying their own human imperfections. They try to pretend they’re superhuman or super holy.
Authentic leadership admits weaknesses and limitations. Vulnerability isn’t easy because it’s risky. You may have some people in your church who don’t want you to be vulnerable. They want you to maintain an image of being a little bit above the crass realities of life. But when you succumb to that image, you deny a key truth of life and keep yourself from having a full impact on the lives of others.
Why is it worth the effort to be open and honest about your humanity and your weaknesses?
It’s emotionally healthy.
Wearing a mask is unhealthy. In fact, being out of touch with reality is a characteristic of mental illness. Wearing a mask requires you to expend an enormous amount of energy and produces tension, stress, and even depression. Pastors who worry about maintaining an image are asking for burnout.
On the other hand, being vulnerable is liberating. It’s the only authentic way to live. As James writes, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16 NASB).
Revealing your feelings is the beginning of healing. I believe some weaknesses in your life won’t budge until you confess them to your own church.
It’s spiritually empowering.
James writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 NLT). What is humility? It’s not denying your strengths. It’s being honest about your weaknesses.
When we’re honest about our weaknesses, we can be honest about our strengths, too.
Pride is usually what causes us to camouflage our weaknesses. That’s why God resists pride. It keeps us from experiencing God’s full power.
God delights in blessing us when we understand and admit how weak we really are.
It is relationally endearing.
Vulnerability draws us closer to other people. When we’re authentic, people gravitate toward us.
Pastor, when you’re open about your weaknesses, it endears you to your people. Vulnerability creates fellowship. When you share personal pain with the people in your church, you’ll discover a new level of fellowship with them.
Your vulnerability will also encourage others to throw away their masks. They’ll realize it’s safe to come out of hiding. They’ll be able to stop pretending they’re perfect as well.
It enhances your leadership.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV). At one time, I thought it was arrogant of Paul to write that statement, but Paul was just pointing out that we learn from models. We’re all a combination of both strengths and weaknesses. Paul could be honest about his strengths because he was honest about his weaknesses. He wasn’t claiming to be perfect; he was just focused on following Jesus as his model.
Every leader has weaknesses, and how you handle them will determine whether they help you or hinder you as a leader. If you understand and accept your natural limitations, they become useful to you. But if you ignore them, they become embarrassments or even liabilities.
It increases the impact of your preaching.
When I first started preaching, I’d ask myself, “What is the most powerful way to say this point?” I no longer ask that question. Now I ask myself, “What is the most personal way to present this point?” I have discovered that the most personal way is the most powerful way. I’m much more effective as a witness than I am as an orator. When I speak out of the overflow of my experience, I speak with more conviction, and conviction moves people.
You add vulnerability to your preaching when you:
Vulnerability will do wonders for your preaching if you lean into it.
Rather than posturing ourselves as self-confident and invincible, we need to see ourselves as trophies of God’s grace. I have discovered that the more open I am about my weaknesses, the more God blesses my life.
You’ll never have a strong relationship without conflict. It’s impossible. Open and frank conversations are a bridge every relationship must cross to reach relational depth.
Proverbs 24:26 says, “An honest answer is a sign of true friendship” (GNT). Being candid and connected go together; you can’t have one without the other. That’s why a true friend doesn’t use flattery. Empty encouragement is a sign of a manipulator, not of someone who sincerely cares about you.
It sounds counterintuitive, but all healthy relationships must allow for the opportunity to express frustration and anger. Out-of-control anger isn’t good, but anger is part of a loving relationship. If you don’t get angry, you don’t care. If you don’t care, you don’t love.
Many people are too afraid of showing any anger in their relationships. They run from conflict. As a result, they’re always masking the issues and refusing to deal with them. That may lead to a 20-year-old friendship with hidden conflict that could have been resolved 10 years ago.
Going through the tunnel of conflict
You won’t have a genuine friendship without going through what I call “the tunnel of conflict.” This truth relates to your marriage, friendships, and all of your other significant relationships. I’ve told this truth to countless married couples throughout the years.
On one side of the tunnel you have superficial intimacy, where you’re acquainted with someone and you like them, but that’s as far as it goes without conflict. You might go to a movie or sit in a Bible study with the person (or even be married to the person for years), but you’re not ready to share your deepest, darkest secrets with them. You’re not dealing with the gut issues of the relationship: your faults, their faults, and what’s causing both of you pain. You’re ignoring the tough parts of the relationship, as well as the greater connection that comes from them.
On the other side of the tunnel is genuine, deep intimacy. It’s a place where you’re fully understood by another person in a way that you never thought was possible on this planet. Every person craves to reach this level in their relationships.
How do you get from a superficial relationship to genuine, soul-satisfying intimacy with another human being? There’s no smooth path to the other side. You must go through the tunnel of conflict—it’s the only way.
Moving toward intimacy
Conflict is painful, which means it isn’t easy; this often leads to poor decisions. Conflict is necessary for intimacy, but don’t make the conflict harder than it needs to be. Here are three guidelines that will help conflict bring your relationships closer rather than pulling them apart:
You’ve got to be candid and honest and genuine if you want healthy relationships—and you won’t grow if you’re missing those kinds of relationships. Go through that tunnel of conflict and move toward greater intimacy, and watch your life change.
Is your church growing like you believe it ought to be?
Churches face many different growth barriers, including small facilities that cannot accommodate a growing congregation, an ineffective strategy to mobilize members for ministry, and unresolved conflict.
Do you ever wonder why growth just isn’t happening in your church?
As a church grows, the pastor’s role must grow, too.
If your role never changes, your church will reach a certain point and never move beyond it. If you are unwilling to change, you will become a barrier to growth in your church.
A pastor must make many changes, but the most common barrier to growth is when a pastor believes they must be the one person to shepherd everyone the church reaches.
For your church to grow, your role must change. To grow, you won’t be able to shepherd everyone your church reaches. You’ll need to learn to shepherd the shepherds. You’ll need to become a rancher.
In fact, your role will change multiple times as your church grows. For example:
Very rarely do you find a person skilled or passionate about the work at all three levels. Usually, either you prefer to be completely hands-on or you prefer to work through other people and focus on the church’s vision.
Each level requires a different skill set. For example, Saddleback Church got stuck at the middle level because I’m a terrible manager. Making the shift from a shepherd to a rancher was difficult for me because I work best when I’m doing it all or when I’m completely out of the picture.
But here’s the problem: If you’re pastoring in a manner consistent with a single-cell church, you’ll hit a growth barrier. You can’t be an owner-operator and grow a multiple-cell church. You can’t be a manager and grow a multi-congregation church. You’ll become the bottleneck in either case.
Even if you can make the shift to the next stage, you’ll likely hit roadblocks within the congregation. When you become the pastor of a church with under 150 people, they’re not hiring you to be a manager. They don’t want you to be a leader. They’re hiring you to be their chaplain. They want you to marry, bury, and serve the Lord’s Supper. When you start to lead, they’ll push back. However, as long as you’re doing all the ministry, your church won’t grow.
You and your church must be willing to pay the price if you’re going to grow. You won’t be able to personally minister to everyone your church reaches. If you personally minister to every person in your congregation, it can’t grow beyond your own energy level.
If you’re in a single-cell church that has hit a growth barrier, ask yourself this question: “Would I be happy as a rancher?” God loves shepherds. Most of the pastors in the world have a shepherd’s heart. If you don’t want to make the shift, you’ll need to grow by starting new churches. You won’t be able to grow by growing your church larger.
If you want to make the transition to become a rancher, you’ll need to outlast your critics because they will come. Remember, they probably hired you to be more of a chaplain than a leader.
You’ll also need to let others do the ministry of your church. If you insist on doing everything, you’ll become the bottleneck.
You also may need some more training. Many of the skills you need as a rancher weren’t taught in seminary or Bible college. Change up your reading habits and look for some good books on management. Talk to effective managers you know (in ministry and outside of it). Find a conference or two that teaches the skills pastors need at growing churches.
You can become a rancher, but only you can decide whether you’ll make that transition.
Healthy living must be an important issue for the church, giving Christians the opportunity to lead the effort globally to minister to people with mental illness.
The Bible says Jesus dealt with people who had all kinds of afflictions—including mental health issues. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 8:16, where he writes of Jesus, “That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill” (The Message). Jesus modeled ministry to the mentally ill.
For 2,000 years, the church has cared for the sick. In fact, the church has cared for the sick longer than any other institution. We invented the hospital. Go into nearly any country in the world and you’ll find that the first school and the first hospital were started by missionaries. Christianity has always been a preaching, teaching, and healing faith.
But there’s another critical reason why the church must take the lead in addressing mental illness. Churches are typically the first organization that families in pain reach out to. When a family is having a mental health crisis, they don’t go first to their lawyer, their accountant, or the police. They go to their pastor. We have at least 350,000 churches in America. I can take you to 10 million villages around the world where the only institution is a church. No other institution is better equipped to take the lead on this health issue.
As we engage mental illness around the world, I believe these five theological foundations should be at the core of all of our efforts.
That’s a great promise we can hold on to as we seek to minister to people who suffer from mental illness.
These five truths should shape our approach to mental illness. With these truths in mind, we should do as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (NIV). That’s good advice for all of us who are ministering to the needs of the mentally ill.
A note from the editor
I’ve been at Saddleback for decades and have seen how our church has transformed into a church that cares for people with mental illness. As a church member, it’s inspiring. It’s a reminder for me to be more sensitive to the needs of mental illness in my personal life.
As you consider what this looks like for your church, I imagine some pastors might think, “We’re not equipped to meet all of the mental illness needs in our community.” That’s okay.
I don’t think you need to meet all of the needs in your community. Your church can do what churches do best: worship God, reach out to the lost, teach the Gospel, serve one another, and be a warm and welcoming community—one that accepts others as Christ accepts us. It’s likely your church isn’t equipped to feed all of the homeless people in your community 365 days a year. But you can minister to some of them, love them, and point them to community resources. The same is true in serving people with mental illness—you do what you can, as you feel led by God.
The universal challenge here is that we would love universally. As sinful, imperfect people, we tend to draw lines and love some people but not others. Raise this issue with your leaders and see if it’s a line that needs erasing in your church.
The Biblical Mandate to Serve People with Mental Illness, by Pastor Rick Warren, is an article from Pastors.com. © 2012 Pastors.com.
I’m convinced that volunteers represent a sleeping giant in most churches. You’ll never embrace God’s vision for your church without mobilizing volunteers. In most churches, you have ready-to-go volunteers looking to serve if you give them the opportunity. In fact, our greatest need in churches today is for people to find their niche and use their God-given SHAPE (Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences) to serve Jesus by serving others.
A Gallup poll I read a few years back showed that only 10 percent of church members were active in ministry. The same poll showed that 50 percent of people won’t volunteer in your church no matter what you do.
However, the other 40 percent would serve if they were given that opportunity. That’s why I think it’s so important to look at obstacles that stand in the way of engaging more people in the ministry of our churches.
I’ve found that most churches spend too much time training volunteers before they get started. It’s an obstacle that’s stunting their ability to mobilize volunteers.
Please don’t misunderstand me: training is important, but you don’t need to load people up with too much training, and here’s why:
So how do you train people without requiring a huge time commitment upfront? You train people while they’re serving. Jesus did on-the-job training—just read the Gospels. He didn’t require a long time of training before he sent the disciples out to serve others. He trained them while they were doing ministry.
Here’s a simple training process that works in just about any setting, including preparing people to serve in your church. (It also works in families as you help your children learn and grow!)
Don’t stop your training there, though. In fact, your training should never end. For years at Saddleback, I did a monthly two-hour training for all of our leaders. We spent time in worship, recognized volunteers, and even handed out a “giant killer” award to honor particular volunteers. Today, our individual ministries hold similar regular trainings for volunteers.
Your volunteers play an instrumental role in your church’s efforts to engage your mission. Don’t overwhelm them with endless training before they serve. They are too critical to what God has called your church to do to risk losing them!
Fears hold us back from God’s best for our lives. As a leader, fear hinders your engagement of God’s mission for your ministry and your church. When you overcome your fear, your deeper dependance on God advances your personal growth and leadership.
Next month, most of us will be teaching on the Christmas account in the Bible. Fear and overcoming fear are key parts of the narrative. Four times God tells different people in the Christmas story to “fear not.” Today, we know that the Christmas story is Good News—God became flesh in order to save us from our sins. But for those who experienced the Christmas story firsthand, the news scared them to death.
When you read through the Christmas account, you’ll find that the characters faced five of the most common fears in existence. You’ll recognize the fears because we frequently face them in ministry, too.
All of these fears are incredibly common for pastors to face. I’ve seen each of them disrupt thriving ministries. If you’re facing any of these fears, it doesn’t mean there’s something defective about you or your ministry. These fears are common; they show that you’re human. You will face fears. No seminary degree can prepare you to face them, and no sermon will inoculate you from them.
So, what do you do with your fears?
First, surrender yourself to God.
Job 11:13-15 says, “Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer, and give up your sins—even those you do in secret. Then you won’t be ashamed; you will be confident and fearless” (CEV). Before you get up each morning, start your day with this prayer: “Father, I surrender this day to you. I surrender my past, my present, and my future.” Let God fill you with hope and empty you of worry.
Second, stop listening to the voices of fear.
They are all around you. You’ll hear them in your church, in the media, and in the coffee shops. Fearful voices are everywhere. If you hang around fearful people, you will become fearful. Turn those voices off.
Third, fill your mind with music that praises God.
The Bible teaches over and over that praise is the antidote to panic. You lose your fear when God is near. Mary practiced this principle in the Christmas story. When she was afraid, she wrote a song (see Luke 1:46-55).
Fourth, base your hope on the promises of God.
Hope can’t be based on what you think. It’s based on what God promises. David wrote, “Even when I am afraid, I still trust you. I praise God’s word. I trust God. I am not afraid” (Psalm 56:3-4 GW). Memorize the promises of God and lean on them when you’re afraid.
I don’t know which fear is holding your ministry back. Maybe it’s one of the five mentioned above. Maybe it’s something else. But I do believe that if you take these four courageous steps, you can move past your fears and step into faith.
When you surrender to God, listen to his voice, praise him, and base your hope on his promises, your fears will become stepping-stones to what God wants to do through your ministry.
Do you want to see God change lives through your church?
Since the day I started Saddleback, that’s been my prayer for the church. I’m addicted to changed lives; it’s the main reason Saddleback has continued to grow all of these years. I’ve never been excited about the numbers. In fact, more people means more headaches and more crises, but it’s worth it because it also means more changed lives.
In 1 Corinthians 16:15, Paul writes that the household of Stephanas has “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (KJV). That’s a good cause to be addicted to. God wants to heal broken, messed-up lives—and he wants to use us in the process.
No ministry, in the history of our church, has changed lives more than Celebrate Recovery®. God works powerfully through this ministry!
Not only does it produce life-change, it’s a leadership “factory” for our church. When I choose to share a testimony during our weekend services, Celebrate Recovery is the first place I look. Why? Because I know I can depend on finding stories of life-change in that ministry.
The Story of Celebrate Recovery
Celebrate Recovery began with John Baker’s story. More than 25 years ago, he wrote me a letter. Honestly, I could have easily missed it—I didn’t get all the letters that were sent to me. But two of my associate pastors, Glenn Kreun and Tom Holladay, told me I needed to read it. In that 13-page letter, John suggested a new ministry at Saddleback to help people like him who needed recovery.
John had become addicted to alcohol as a way to overcome his nagging sense of emptiness. He was in recovery, but he was struggling with the vague manner that Alcoholics Anonymous deals with God, the Bible, and salvation through Jesus Christ. Since those issues were also important to me, I did a six-month intensive study of both the Old and New Testament on the concept of recovery.
During my study, I came upon Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. As you know, Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, where he shares eight ways to be happy. In fact, if you look carefully at the Beatitudes, you’ll see that they parallel AA’s 12 steps of recovery in the exact same order.
John and I launched Celebrate Recovery at Saddleback in 1991 with a 10-week series called “The Road to Recovery.” Since then, I’ve taught that series multiple times under different names. We’ve never looked back.
Reach into the Sores of Your Community
Today, 27,000 people have been through the program at our church—70 percent of them came from outside the church. It’s by far the greatest outreach our church has seen. More than 35,000 churches now have Celebrate Recovery ministries and over five million people have completed a step study.
God took an ordinary person in our church and started a movement. God can start a similar movement in your church too.
It’s time our churches work together to help people heal and become whole so they can live out God’s purpose for their lives. Yes, a recovery ministry is messy at times—but it’s what the church is all about.
How to Start a Celebrate Recovery Ministry in Your Church
Interested in LEARNING MORE about Celebrate Recovery?
The Life’s Healing Choices: The Beatitudes Sermon Series takes a deeper look at the hurts, hang-ups, and habits that stifle the abundant life God has planned for us. If your church’s budget can’t afford this series, email email@example.com so we can get it to you.
Interested in STARTING a Celebrate Recovery ministry in your church?
The Celebrate Recovery Program Curriculum Kit will provide you with all the support you need to cast the vision for Celebrate Recovery and help your congregation get started on God’s road to wholeness, growth, and spiritual maturity.
Interested in STRENGTHENING your existing Celebrate Recovery ministry?
The Advanced Leadership Training Kit will take your ministry to the next level with dynamic leadership development designed to encourage, equip, and empower you and your leaders.
Do you need a miracle in your life?
If so, be grateful.
Gratitude is a miracle-creating attitude. It has the power to transform seemingly unsolvable situations. When you thank and praise God in the midst of a problem, he will do a miracle and turn things around.
Acts 16 demonstrates the power of gratitude. Paul and Silas had gone to Philippi to preach and to teach, but they weren’t well-received. In fact, the crowd stoned them, beat them, and threw them into prison.
At midnight, in the middle of the dark, damp, cold prison, Paul and Silas began praising God and singing songs of thanksgiving.
That’s when God did a miracle. He sent an earthquake that shook the whole prison. The prison cell doors opened up, and all the chains and shackles on every prisoner came unbound. Freedom came through thanksgiving.
I don’t know what kind of freedom you need. I have no idea what kind of miracle you’re asking God for, but I know gratitude is the key. Gratitude will do miracles in your life as it releases the power of God. Instead of complaining about your problems, start counting your blessings.
In just a few days, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. But the irony is that on Thanksgiving Day, we’ll do very little of giving thanks. We’ll pray before we eat, but that’s about it. Most of our day is preoccupied with football, cooking, and eating.
I want to challenge you to make this Thanksgiving different. Spend time thanking God for all he has done in your life. How can you make Thanksgiving more meaningful?
The Bible says that there are four ways to express your gratitude to the Lord.
Sing to him.
The Bible says, “Sing out your thanks to him; sing praises to our God” (Psalm 147:7 TLB). Christianity is a singing faith. There are more songs about Jesus Christ than about anything else, even love. You need to learn to sing your thanks to God and to praise him joyfully.
Few things make you aware of God’s presence more quickly than singing your praise to him. It doesn’t matter how much musical talent you have, either. The Bible urges us in Psalm 100:1 to make a joyful noise.
Give to God.
The psalmist writes, “Give an offering to show thanks to God. Give [him] what you promised” (Psalm 50:14 NCV). Obviously, giving and thanking go together. That’s how we get the word “thanksgiving.”
Nearly 400 years ago, a group of people called the Pilgrims set aside a day in the fall to express thanksgiving to God by bringing an offering, experiencing a banquet, and sharing in fellowship together. Today, we know that day as Thanksgiving, and we celebrate it as a national holiday.
Pray to him.
Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT). Spend some time praying and thanking God in your prayers. The Bible says the more specific you are in your prayer, the easier it is for God to answer it.
The same is true for our thanksgiving. God doesn’t want us to just say, “Thank you, God, for everything.” That’s a pretty bland prayer. Make a list of exactly what you’re thankful for. Then spend some time thanking God for those items.
“Since we have a Kingdom nothing can destroy, let us please God by serving him with thankful hearts” (Hebrews 12:28 TLB). Whenever you serve someone else in the name of Christ, you’re offering a visible, tangible thanksgiving to God.
If God never does anything else in your life, you still owe him everything. He gave you talent, energy, health, and opportunity to make a difference with your life.
Everything you have is a gift from God. This year at Thanksgiving, don’t just eat food, hang out with family, and watch football. Thank God for what he has done in your life.
That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.
Like many of you, I have struggled to prepare Christmas sermons that are faithful to Scripture and yet engaging to an unchurched audience. This year I’ll prepare sermons for my 40th Christmas season at Saddleback.
Christmas services have played a big role in Saddleback’s growth through the years. We built Saddleback on two seasons: Christmas and Easter. We’ve called it the two humps of the camel. We’d see exponential growth during a holiday and then it would drop off a bit, but it didn’t drop off much. During the rest of the year, we’re typically consolidating our growth and moving people from “come and see” to the “come and die” purpose driven paradigm I wrote about in The Purpose Driven Church.
I know some pastors have the idea that their churches will grow by adding one family a week for the rest of their existence. But that won’t happen. You’ll never grow a little bit by little bit. Growth usually happens in spurts. Your attendance will stay static for several months but then, on one big day, you’ll jump past a growth barrier (whether it’s 200, 500, or 1,000).
That’s why it’s so important that we’re preaching messages that resonate with unchurched people during the Easter and Christmas seasons. Unless your holiday sermons engage an unchurched audience, you’ll struggle to retain all those guests coming to your church.
I want to help you overcome that obstacle, so I’ve created a list of some of the most effective and engaging Christmas sermon ideas we’ve used at Saddleback.
Christmas is a time of miracles. In this sermon, I looked at four of the most important miracles of the Christmas story.
In the first Christmas story, Baby Jesus messed up the plans of both Mary and Joseph. Jesus is still in the business of messing up plans. In this sermon, I taught about how God messes up our plans in order to get our attention and shift our focus to his plan for our lives.
The very first thing the angel told the shepherds on the first Christmas was, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy.” Joy is at the heart of the Christmas story. I taught this sermon as part of my “Radicalis” sermon series focusing on radical faith, radical joy, and radical love.
Jesus didn’t come to Earth to be a baby. He came to grow up, live a perfect life, die on the cross, and be resurrected again. He came “to seek and save the lost.” In this Christmas message, I taught about the three stories of “lostness” in Luke 15—the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son—and what they can teach us about God’s passion to reach the lost with the Good News about Jesus.
Jesus came on the first Christmas to give us peace—with God and with others. In this sermon, I explained the four kinds of peace that Jesus gives us and how we can have his peace in our lives on a daily basis.
Lights were important in the first Christmas. The angels orchestrated the dazzling light show in the sky, and the shepherds went to Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus as a result. The wise men saw another bright light in the sky, the Star, and followed it to where the Savior was born. In this sermon, I used the theme of light to show how Jesus is the antidote to the dark days of disappointment, distress, doubt, and depression.
Several people in the first Christmas story completely missed the true meaning of Christmas. In this sermon, I used the cautionary tales of these characters to provide wisdom on how our congregation can avoid missing the real meaning of Christmas in the middle of all the busyness of the season.
It can be difficult to come up with fresh and original sermons for holidays year after year, but the Christmas story is endlessly applicable to people’s lives. I pray you will see the story with new eyes during this season.
I hope these ideas will provide you with some inspiration as you prepare your holiday sermons!
7 Christmas Sermon Ideas That Engage the Unchurched, by Pastor Rick Warren, is an article from Pastors.com. © 2012 Pastors.com.
I’m sure you’ll be saying “Merry Christmas” often in the next few weeks, but there are two other words that may be even more important:
Pastor, you’re likely in the midst of one of the most volunteer-intensive months of the year. You have countless projects, events, and activities to prepare for this season. Plus, you have one of your largest services of the year coming up in three weeks.
It’s a busy time for you and your volunteers—so please remember to thank them. It’s not just courtesy; it’s a critical part of ministry in the holiday season. Paul describes what should be a regular practice in the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now” (NCV).
Your appreciation of others boosts their value. You give people strength when you thank them. William James once wrote, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
Paul gives us a great example of how to express gratitude to church members in his New Testament letters. He clearly understood the importance of expressing gratitude to the people who supported his ministry. For example, he specifically thanked people for:
How to Say Thank You
It’s not just what you say; it’s also how you say it that matters when you’re expressing appreciation for your volunteers this Christmas. Keep these three principles in mind as you say thanks.
Let’s be honest—you never know how many opportunities you’ll have to say thanks. It’s a sobering truth for your personal life, as you ponder all of the people in your life who may never get the chance to hear you say, “Thank you.”
But it’s also true of your ministry. You never know what could happen to the volunteers who are serving with you this Christmas. Don’t take them for granted. Some of the most important people in your church will never hear their name mentioned in a worship service. Often, their service will never make it into a book or even their obituary someday.
Pastor, for many of them, none of that matters either. They’d simply love to hear their pastor say, “Thank you.”
Embrace the attitude of gratitude this holiday season and beyond.
We’re in the season of the year when dark days come with regularity. As we approach the winter solstice on December 21, we’ll see the sun less and less each day.
I think it’s fascinating that Christmas pierces the darkest season of the year with its light. What’s true of the physical atmosphere of the Christmas season is also true of the spiritual.
As a ministry leader, you know this is a difficult season for some of your people. They are facing dark days of disappointment, distress, doubt, and depression right now. Yes, Christmas is a time of great joy, but it also can be a time of terrible sadness.
But it’s not just your people who face dark days during the holiday season—pastors do, too. You’re likely busier than at any other time of the year. You’re balancing church and family demands. You’re challenged to be at your best throughout the entire month.
But here’s the good news: Christmas isn’t the problem; Christmas is God’s solution for you.
Christmas brings good news for anyone struggling with dark days during this season. The truth is, God doesn’t just want to pat you on the back and say, “Cheer up.”
God wants to use your dark days to help you learn new attitudes, new choices, new thoughts, and new approaches. He doesn’t want you—and all the people you’re serving who are struggling right now—to just keep going. He wants to change you.
God doesn’t just want to chase away the darkness this Christmas.
He wants to turn on the lights!
The Bible says, “It is even possible . . . for light to turn the thing it shines upon into light also” (Ephesians 5:13 PHILLIPS). When the light of God shines on my life, it changes everything. It takes me out of that pit of despair and fills me with God’s light. Through his light in me, God shines his light on others.
Pastor, that’s what God wants to do through you this Christmas. God never wastes a hurt. God wants to use your pain right now to help others. But before that can happen, his light must shine on you.
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:9, “For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true” (NLT). When you allow Jesus to fill you with his Spirit, he’ll bring out the best in you—even when you’re at your worst.
You may feel overwhelmed this Christmas. You may be going through really dark days. Whether it’s disappointment, distress, or depression, you are not alone.
The good news about Christmas is that now there is a light in the world that can drive away the darkness, a light that can drive away your darkness.
Jesus—whom the Bible calls the “light of the world”—will walk with you no matter what you’re going through. Hold on to God’s promises in the book of Isaiah: “I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you” (Isaiah 43:2 CSB).
In fact, that’s why Jesus was born. God saw our sin. God saw our pain. God saw our failures. So he came to earth as a helpless baby, as Immanuel, “God is with us.”
To not succumb to the Christmas blues, you don’t need to sing another Christmas song every few minutes. You don’t need to wear a wacky sweater daily. You don’t need to say, “Ho, ho, ho,” wherever you go. You do need to choose the light over the darkness. God shines the sun on everyone, but we can choose to live in a cave. We can choose to be blindfolded. We can refuse to look at the light. That’s on us.
Think about the first Christmas. I’m sure many people saw the same star that the wise men saw. It may have been millions and millions of people who saw an unusual light in the sky, and most people didn’t do anything about it.
But the wise men followed the light.
I don’t want to minimize whatever you’re going through this Christmas. We all have dark days, when we don’t want to get out of bed, when we would rather throw in the towel.
But as we celebrate Christmas this year, I pray you’ll do what the wise men did.
I pray you’ll follow the light because that’s where Jesus will be this Christmas.
The Christmas season adds a lot of extra responsibilities to your plate—including sermon preparation, outreach organization, candlelight service arrangement, Christmas parties, the list goes on and on.
Add to this your personal family commitments. But as busy as you’ll be this Christmas season, that’s not your biggest problem. Your biggest concern is that you’ll be too familiar with the Christmas story.
You’ve read this story a hundred times. You’ve preached it, sung about it, and probably have recited it in your sleep. You know the story too well.
You’re not alone. In fact, you can look at the Christmas story itself for company. During the very first Christmas, there was a group of people who missed the birth of Jesus because of familiarity: the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
You’ll notice that when the Son of God was born, not a single religious person was invited. The people who should have known the most about the birth of Jesus, the spiritual and religious leaders of Israel, didn’t have a clue.
Wise men who had studied the Hebrew Scriptures came from the East because they had seen the Star. They knew the Savior of the world had been born, but they didn’t know where.
When they asked King Herod of Israel, he didn’t have any idea. He asked his religious scholars, and they knew exactly what he was talking about. They’d been waiting for this moment for hundreds of years. They had discussed it, debated it, detailed it, and dissected it.
Those of us in ministry should take that as a cautionary tale. We may know the Christmas story inside and out. We can teach it, preach it, and recite it from memory. But we can also completely miss the meaning of the story for ourselves.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew every religious tradition by heart, but they wouldn’t walk five miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to witness the arrival of God’s Son. Let’s be honest—that’s us sometimes.
But it doesn’t have to be true this year. Pastor, here are three actions you can take to make sure you don’t miss the real reason for Christmas.
I know it’s tough to stop running and slow down during this season. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for pastors. But remember what the psalmist says: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NIV).
Sometimes the most important part of worship during the holiday season for those of us in ministry is the simplest—we need to chill out. God always speaks to the person who is willing to listen. God doesn’t talk to you if you’re constantly telling him you don’t have the time. Do you have time to talk with God this Christmas? If not, you need to make the time because nothing else matters more.
Take another look at why Jesus came in the first place. Don’t just do this when you’re preparing for your Christmas sermon. Make the effort to read the Christmas story with fresh eyes, maybe in a translation you’re not accustomed to using.
Don’t let yourself get too familiar with the Christmas story. Remind yourself of what God did to show you his love. You need to be reminded of that just as much as the people you’re serving this season.
Spend some time expressing gratitude to God for sending Jesus to the world for you. Gratitude is a life-changer during the Christmas season. God gave you the greatest Christmas gift you’ll ever receive. Let him know what that gift means to you.
Don’t miss the real reason for Christmas this year. As you invest in others this Christmas and help them understand the true meaning of the holiday, take time to stop, look, and say thanks to God to refresh your own perspective on the Christmas story.
Make this your best Christmas yet!
I know the Christmas season isn’t particularly merry for many people. When December rolls around, you’re not thinking of Christmas carols, holiday gatherings, and Christmas Eve worship services. Instead, your mind is on family members who are gone and on holiday disappointments.
Many also live in places where it’s cold and dark in December, which likely makes the problem worse.
Pain is a part of life, and holiday lights and eggnog can’t always push it away. I don’t know what the source of your holiday pain is, but I know it’s real and it hurts.
I also know God can turn your pain this holiday season into benefits. Re-read that last sentence. Your pain hurts—badly, but it doesn’t need to have the last word.
Paul writes about the benefits of our struggles in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. No, he wasn’t facing a difficult Christmas season. Paul was facing persecution for his commitment to preach the Good News about Jesus regardless of the consequences. Here are three benefits of our struggles, according to Paul in that passage.
God will use your pain to teach you to trust him.
You’ll never know God is all you need until he is all you have. The holiday season may be painful for you. Perhaps you’ve lost a job, a relationship, a loved one, your health, or even your hope and joy. Now all you have is God.
I want you to know—and more importantly God wants you to know—he’s enough for you. He is all you need. Paul discovered this firsthand and wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 1:9: “In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (NLT).
God will use your pain to give you a ministry to others.
Your pain often reveals God’s purpose for your life. God never wastes a hurt. He doesn’t want you to hold on to the pain you’re feeling this Christmas; he wants you to use it to help others. What does that look like? I don’t know. Maybe it means that you minister to people who are struggling this season—ministry that may help stop the pain from being repeated in the lives of others.
Paul reminds us of God’s promise: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT). Paul says that as God comforted him, he could comfort others.
We can do the same. Take a look at what causes you pain this Christmas. Ask yourself how God can use that pain to help comfort others. If you’re struggling through this pain, I guarantee that others are, too.
That’s what many of you in Celebrate Recovery® have learned firsthand. It’s no accident that the final step in the Celebrate Recovery journey is “Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.”
That principle isn’t just true for your hurts, hang-ups, and habits. It’s true for whatever you’re struggling with this Christmas. Let God heal you, so he can use you to heal others.
God will use your pain to draw you closer to other believers.
This is another truth you’ve seen through Celebrate Recovery. God wired humans for community. You weren’t meant to go through a painful Christmas season all alone. That’s why you need your church family and your friends from Celebrate Recovery to come alongside you.
In fact, one of the reasons we tend to go through particularly tough holiday seasons is because we get so busy that we neglect our relationships. We miss church. We choose to wait until after the holidays to head back to our Celebrate Recovery meetings.
Paul writes, “You can help us with your prayers. Then many people will give thanks for us—that God blessed us because of their many prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:11 NCV). Pain reveals how much we need each other.
You can’t get to the deepest level of relationships in your church family without opening up about your pain. If you are struggling with the holiday blues, the Christmas season isn’t the time to neglect your Christian relationships. It’s the time to dive into them.
I don’t know what you’re going through this Christmas season, but I do know that God wants to use your pain—to teach you to trust him, to show you how to help others, and to draw you closer to other believers.
I pray this Christmas, as you face whatever pain is in your path, that you will have the greatest Christmas of your life and learn to worship the God who came to earth to make a way for you to be right with him.
Have a very merry Christmas!
3 Lessons We Can Learn from a Difficult Holiday Season, by Pastor Rick Warren, is an article from Pastors.com. © 2012 Pastors.com.
Your biggest decision as you begin 2020: Do you want this year to be like the last? Or are you ready for God to do something new in your church?
I believe 2020 could be your church’s best year yet. It could be the launching point for the next level of health and growth that you’ve been praying for.
It could also be just another ordinary year when you and your church drift and don’t take the next step forward. I believe the choice is yours.
I’m not just preaching this message to other churches; I’m encouraging myself and my staff to make 2020 different. I’m convinced that God’s best years for Saddleback are ahead of us, not behind us. I believe we’ve just scratched the surface of what God wants to do through our church. How do I know that? I’m listening to God. I’ve been walking with God for more than 50 years. I know his voice. When God speaks, I know he’s the one talking.
I don’t know what situation you’re in, but I know that you need to trust God for the impossible—a plan he will faithfully provide as you listen to him. For your church to have its best year yet, you need God’s plan for 2020. You need to hear his voice, and you need to set goals you can’t accomplish without his power. You need to set goals that are so big that you’ll fall flat on your face if God doesn’t intervene.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (NIV). I want to please God in 2020 and I’m sure you do, too. Pleasing God will require faith.
I can give you dozens of accomplishments in my life that I can’t explain except that God did it—I was bound to fail unless God bailed me out. I want to push you to set audacious goals for 2020.
Your church can’t grow, and you can’t grow personally, until you set goals that you need to trust God for. When I started Saddleback Church in 1980, I stood up in our preview service, a week before launching the church on Easter, and announced a dream God had given me. I described the vision in detail in The Purpose Driven Church, but it was audacious: 20,000 people in our church, sharing Christ with hundreds of thousands of people in our community, 50 acres of land for a regional church, and much more.
I’ll never forget how scared I felt after sharing that vision during the dress rehearsal. A fear of failure overwhelmed me. I wondered what would happen if God didn’t step up and fulfill the dream he gave me. I hadn’t just written my vision down in a journal; I had shared it publicly. I couldn’t go back. I had to trust that God would fulfill the vision he gave me—and he did.
2020 is a special year for Saddleback. When I shared that vision in 1980, I made a commitment to spend at least 40 years at this church. Most people figured this vision was crazy, but God came through. Every big goal God challenged me to make has happened.
God isn’t done yet. I’m sure of it. He’s not done yet with your church either.
Opposition will come. That’s guaranteed. I’ve faced plenty in the last 40 years at Saddleback. I promise you that whatever your big, faith-inspiring goal is, you won’t reach it without opposition.
Opportunity plus opposition equals the will of God. Wherever you get opposition, I guarantee you’ll find an opportunity. You must learn to live with both opportunity and opposition in your ministry. That’s just part of a mature, unwavering faith in God.
Yet God is always there to help us. In Revelation 3:8, Jesus told the apostle John: “I have opened a door for you that no one can close” (NLT).
I have witnessed the truth of that verse in my own walk with Jesus. As I’ve pursued God’s goals for our church, he has been faithful to open doors that no one on earth could close. Opposition has come, but it has been no match for the power of God.
It won’t be any match for God’s work in your church either.
I believe 2020 is your church’s year. What big goal are you trusting God for?
You have weaknesses. I’m sure this statement doesn’t shock you. You know about them, most likely you’ve known about them for some time.
But the real question is this: What are you doing with your weaknesses? You can hide and deny them. Most of the time, this is what we try to do because we’re afraid of what might happen to our ministries if people discover we’re not strong in every area.
There is a better option, though. Instead of hiding our weaknesses, we can recognize and share them. Even better, we can learn to glory in our weaknesses. For God to use you greatly, you’ll walk with some kind of limp the rest of your life.
I have struggled with a handicap all my life. I was born with a disorder in my brain chemistry that makes public speaking excruciatingly painful to me. It is a genetic problem that is resistant to any medication. If doctors could have cured it, they would have years ago. I’ve been to the top neurologists in the nation.
In a nutshell, my brain overreacts to adrenaline. Neurologists at the University of California, Irvine, would tell you I’m allergic to adrenaline. Throughout my childhood, anytime adrenaline would hit my system, I would faint. In high school, I took medication for epilepsy (not because I’m an epileptic but to alleviate my symptoms). To this day, I still get severe reactions to adrenaline.
First, I get very dizzy. My vision blurs, and then I black out. Sometimes I get headaches—severe headaches. At other times, I experience severe hot flashes. Sometimes I can’t even see the audience. These symptoms usually last until about 15-20 minutes into the message, when I’ve expended enough adrenaline that my body goes back to normal. The first part of any message is excruciatingly painful to me.
My most common reaction to this experience is an absolute sense of irrational panic. It’s as scary as hanging off a skyscraper and holding on with just a single finger. It’s absolutely terrifying!
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:3, “When I came to you, I was weak. I was afraid and very nervous” (GW). I understand what Paul is saying—I experience it every time I preach.
This condition has been a thorn in my flesh for my entire ministry. Most preachers and other public speakers will tell you that adrenaline is their best friend. Preachers who don’t have adrenaline are boring! You won’t make it in preaching without adrenaline. I’ve leaned on adrenaline to preach multiple services every week for decades. Instead of helping me, adrenaline makes me absolutely miserable. What every preacher needs for an effective sermon is like poison to my body.
Many people ask me whether I get prideful when preaching to so many people each week. Honestly, pride is the last thing on my mind when I preach. I’m usually thinking, “God, just get me through this one more time.” If I wasn’t convinced that God had called me and gifted me to preach, I would have found a whole lot easier way to make a living a long time ago.
I keep doing it in spite of the pain because I know God wants me to do it and he’s called me to do it. I’ve been in ministry for almost 50 years, and I’ve done everything possible to deal with my condition: I’ve prayed about this every day of my life, I’ve fasted for long periods of time, I’ve seen the best doctors and counselors, and I’ve read the best books.
God has not chosen—although I will keep praying to that end—to take this weakness away.
Prayer does dramatically limit the symptoms of my disorder. God used this issue to help Saddleback become a praying church. I wouldn’t think of preaching without having my prayer team praying for me during the message. They pray for me during each service.
What’s the lesson?
God uses weak people! God will use you, too. He won’t use you in spite of your weakness—he’ll use you because of it.
Prepare to be used by God by being honest about your weaknesses today.
Every church needs a strong volunteer team. You can’t afford to hire enough staff to do all God wants you to do in your community.
More importantly, one of the purposes of your church “is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). Part of equipping your volunteers to serve the church is developing them into an effective team.
Strong churches have strong volunteer teams. So what makes a good team? Every good team has eight traits. When put together, these traits spell the acronym T.E.A.M.W.O.R.K. I’ll share these eight traits in the next two articles of the Ministry Toolbox. Here are the first four:
T – Trust
You can’t build a team without trust. Trust is the emotional glue that binds a team together. If you don’t trust someone, you don’t have confidence in that person. Without confidence, you can’t achieve anything of value.
Paul trusted Timothy to represent him to the church in Philippi. Paul knew that Timothy would be faithful to care for the church and carry back news to Paul. In Philippians 2:19-20, Paul wrote: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (NIV).
What builds that kind of trust?
You’ll know when your volunteers begin to trust each other because you’ll see them delegate to other team members.
E – Economy of Energy
Proverbs 14:30 is one of my life verses: “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life” (TLB). If you want to live a long life—and have the people on your volunteer teams live long lives—you’ll need to encourage a relaxed attitude.
You and your teams are doing work with eternal implications. That’s why I encourage you to have what I call “relaxed concern.” In other words, while you need to recognize that heaven and hell hang in the balance for the lives of many people you’re serving, and although your volunteer teams impact those eternally significant decisions, no one should be tightly wound all the time.
If you aren’t careful in this area, you’ll burn volunteer teams out quickly. I have seen this happen in many churches, filled with burned-out staff and volunteers. Their problem isn’t that they’re not dedicated enough. Their problem is that their dedication isn’t tempered by the ability to relax.
You want volunteers who will serve at your church for the long haul. Be careful not to burn them out.
A – Affirmation and Appreciation
Appreciation means to raise in value. It’s the opposite of depreciation. If you’ve ever bought a new car, you know it depreciates the moment you drive it off the car lot—it goes down in value.
Appreciation means you raise the value of something. When you show appreciation for a spouse or a child, you’re raising their value. The same is true for your volunteers. The more appreciation you express, the more you’ll raise the value of their ministry.
How do you do that?
M – Management of Mistakes
Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, they rise again” (NIV). Everyone makes mistakes; the Bible is clear on that. Every volunteer and every staff member at your church will make mistakes from time to time.
Mistakes are useful—they teach us what doesn’t work. Any church with creativity makes mistakes. If there are no mistakes, the church isn’t being creative.
Give your volunteers the freedom to make mistakes. Redefine mistakes as “learning experiments,” and teach your volunteers how to learn from them.
In the next Toolbox, I’ll share four more principles of great teamwork! Don’t miss it.
“Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” Ephesians 4:23 (NLT)
The battle to change your life begins in your mind. If you want to change your behavior, you must start with your thoughts and attitudes.
The renewal of your mind is related to the word “repentance.” Repentance is a negative word for some people. They think of a guy on a street corner, holding a sign—“Repent! The world’s about to end.”
Repentance is a good thing. It does not begin with your actions. It begins with learning to think differently. “Repent” simply means to make a mental U-turn. It’s something that starts with your mind, not with your behavior. Changing the way you think will change the way you act.
This means turning from guilt to forgiveness, from purposelessness to purpose, from no hope to new hope, from frustration to freedom, from darkness to light, from hell to heaven, from hatred to love.
Repentance also changes the way you think about God. He’s not mad at you; he’s mad about you! It changes the way you think about yourself, your spouse, your kids, your loved ones, and how you think about your past, present, and future.
Renewal is powered by the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is actively working to help you change the way you think, so that you will become more like Jesus.
May 27 from Open Doors: A Year of Devotions