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Racial Hypocrisy, Lunch, and the Gospel

May 16, 2017
Depiction of Paul writing his letters.

Depiction of Paul writing his letters.

NASHVILLE—This blog is the final installment of an impromptu series on ethnic diversity and racial reconciliation in the Church. The first blog was inspired by a trip to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa; the second blog was inspired by a Sunday worship service at Bethel in Nashville; and this final blog is inspired by an argument between Paul and Peter in first-century Antioch. That apostolic argument led to a very public apostolic rebuke.

The Story
We read about this confrontation and rebuke in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, a city in modern-day Turkey. But first, a little background to help us understand why the rebuke was necessary.

In the first chapter of Galatians, Paul pleads with the church to hold on to the gospel. Before describing the real gospel, he mentions four false versions of the gospel that had infiltrated the church: a different gospel (verse 6), a distorted gospel (verses  7), a contrary gospel (verses 8, 9), and man’s gospel (verse 11). Unfortunately all four of these “gospels” are still being preached in the church today.

After exposing these four false gospels, Paul turned his attention to the true gospel and its implications on race relations in the church.

Despite the teaching of some legalistic Jewish believers, Paul wanted to make it clear that Gentile believers did not have to become Jews (i.e. be circumcised and follow Jewish dietary laws) in order to follow Jesus. In short, Gentiles and Jews are saved by grace alone, not by following religious traditions.

After a long discussion about the gospel and its implications for Gentile believers, Paul recounts his confrontation with Peter:

But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-13).

Paul’s Response
Here’s my summary of the situation. When Peter visited the church in Antioch—the first church in the New Testament that had a significant number of non-Jews—he hung out with Gentiles and even ate with them, something a good Jew would never do. But when Peter’s Jewish friends from Jerusalem came to visit, he suddenly stopped eating with the Gentile believers and reverted to the old mode of segregation.

Paul was deeply troubled by this behavior, twice calling it hypocrisy (Galatians 2:13).

First, Paul did not remain silent. And he did not talk about Peter behind his back. He “opposed him to his face” (Galatians 2:11). Much more could be said here, but the fact is, there are some issues that demand confrontation. This is one of them.

Second, Paul treated racial reconciliation as a gospel issue. “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas…” (Galatians 2:14). Paul did not treat the ethnic and cultural divisions in the church at Antioch as a minor issue. He did not treat it as a side issue. He did not treat is as a political, cultural, social, or economic issue, even though he could have. He treated it as a gospel issue. And gospel issues are always big issues.

Even though there was a history of political, cultural, social, and economic alienation that fed into and reinforced ethnic divisions between Jews and Gentiles, Paul chose to go straight to the heart of the issue—the gospel.

The Point
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26).
For Paul, it was simple. Though there was a long history of division between Jews and Gentiles, the gospel had changed everything. In Christ, we have all been adopted into the family of God—and family members eat together.

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Ethnic Diversity & Sunday Worship

May 10, 2017

Bethel diversity

NASHVILLE—After a long flight from Johannesburg, Deborah and I arrived back in Nashville early Saturday morning. The next day, as we walked into Bethel World Outreach Church, I was struck once again by the logo of praying hands (one black, one white) that appear on everything Bethel produces.

Many people don’t realize this, but Bethel borrowed that logo from our churches in South Africa many years ago. For them, it was a symbol of what the church should look like as South African society tried to heal after decades of Apartheid. Similarly for Rice Broocks and the Bethel leadership, the black and white praying hands represented what church in the American South ought to look like after its own painful legacy of racial segregation.

The praying hands are symbolic. They point to something. They remind leaders and members of the churches in both Cape Town and Nashville that God has called us to into a new community. One where ethnic, social, cultural, and political differences are subordinated to the central reality of the gospel: that in Christ, we have all been adopted into the family of God.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Colossae, put it this way: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

This verse, like the praying hands logo, reminds us of what the church ought to look like, who the church ought to be: a diverse people, united by the gospel.

And yet, so often our experience falls short.

Some churches simply aren’t diverse. And other churches, if they’ve achieved a level of diversity, struggle to find unity.

How can we pursue diversity and keep unity in the church?

In Colossians 3, Paul gives us the answer. After showing the church in Colossae what they ought to look like in verse 11, he then tells them how to do it. In verses 12-15, Paul lists the virtues that Christians need to cultivate in order to live in diversity and unity: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love, peace, and thankfulness.

And in verse 16, Paul describes two central activities that diverse church communities need to do in order to stay unified: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

For Paul, the answer to the diversity and unity problem in the church was simple: word and worship.

In order to be the church that God has called us to be, we need to be a people who read, study, and meditate on the Word together. And we need to be a people who worship together.

Why does Paul emphasize the Word and worship?

Because the Holy Spirit does something unique in His people when they gather around the Word and when they join together in songs of worship to God.

Like a tuning fork, the Word gives God’s people the right pitch to which they must all tune their hearts and minds. Without the Word, we have no unity. Without the Word, we are like a band trying to tune their instruments to one another rather than the tuning fork. (In case you’ve never tried. It doesn’t work.)

Similarly, when we sing together, we are once again allowing the Holy Spirit to do a work of divine tuning. But this activity not only engages our hearts and minds, but our bodies as well. When we sing, clap, and dance, God engages our vocal chords, our hands, our feet. And when we do this together, we are reminded of what—actually who—matters most.

We are reminded that only redeemed people can sing like this.

Though we are from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, one day we will all stand before the throne of God and cry out with a one voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

 

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Racism, Segregation, and Bad Theology

May 2, 2017

white-areaJOHANNESBURG—After a week of ministry in Australia and New Zealand, Deborah and I flew across the Indian Ocean to Johannesburg, South Africa, to preach at our Every Nation Word and Spirit Conference.

Before our meetings started, we visited the Apartheid Museum, a moving and powerful reminder of the ugliness of racism and the beauty of reconciliation. It was a humbling reminder that Christians in every age have blind spots that can only be identified and fixed when we intentionally walk in multiethnic and multigenerational Christian community.

Like the Jim Crow era segregation in the American South, Apartheid in South Africa was propagated, supported, and defended by Christians. Often our knee-jerk reaction to these painful realities of church history is to assume that the “Christian” defenders of Apartheid or Jim Crow were not real Christians. Maybe they were just cultural Christians; or maybe they were theologically liberal Christians who didn’t actually believe the Bible.

Unfortunately, history won’t let us off the hook that easily.

I am sure that some defenders of segregation in both South Africa and America were only nominal Christians and others may have been a part of churches that stopped believing the Bible. But many defenders of segregation on both sides of the Atlantic were members of churches that we might have attended had we been around in those days. To put it bluntly, many of them were Bible-believing Christians.

Not only did they defend racial segregation on national and cultural grounds, they defended it on biblical and theological grounds. They were wrong. They were sinning. And they didn’t see it.

It was a blind spot.

There were certainly many white South African Christians under Apartheid who were kind and loving to people of other races and did not personally discriminate against those from whom they were legally segregated. And yet, many of those same people saw nothing wrong with the Apartheid system they were living under. It was a blind spot.

The same could be said for my upbringing in Mississippi. I grew up in a white neighborhood, played golf at a white country club, played baseball on a white Little League team, and attended a private white prep school. In my world, segregation was normal, until I got involved in a multiethnic campus ministry and traded my white world for a world with color. As I developed friendships with people who did not look like me, I could see in their faces the pain of discrimination and the folly of segregation.

The sinful tendency to segregate on racial, ethnic, and cultural lines is not new.

In the first-century church, Jewish disciples often excluded Gentile believers from fellowship because they held to a cultural notion that Gentiles were unclean. This meant, among other things, that many Jewish believers refused to eat with Gentile believers. And this was not just a practice of a fringe group of Jewish legalists in the early church.

Peter and others among the original twelve participated in the segregation of Jewish and Gentile believers. For Peter to repent and change, he needed a powerful encounter with God, an unlikely friendship with a Roman soldier named Cornelius (see Acts 10-11), and a very public rebuke from Paul (see Galatians 2:11-16).

In every time and place, the local church has blind spots—areas of both personal and public sin that to them look less like sin and more like the status quo, that look less like oppression and more like law and order. Things that should break our hearts but don’t even catch our eye. Things that should be shocking but seem mundane. Things that will make future generations of Christians wonder: How could they call themselves Christians and not see that?

This sobering reminder from church history should remind us that planting multiethnic and multigenerational churches is not just an option for the ambitious church planter. Diversity is not an option. It’s a necessity. If we only build with people who look just like us, we will exclude the very people whom God has ordained to help us see our blind spots.

In the words of C.H. Mason, a Pentecostal saint of old: “The church is like the eye. It has a little black in it and a little white in it, and without both, we cannot see.”

Blog / Church / Discipleship

How Worship Works

April 25, 2017

Communion Table

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Last weekend, Deborah and I were in Auckland, New Zealand, for our Every Nation Oceania conference. This week, we are in Sydney for our annual Asia & Oceania Regional Leadership Team meeting.

Traveling around the Every Nation world, I have the privilege to participate in Sunday worship services in many different cultures and languages. I have worshiped with our brothers and sisters in Chinese house churches; I have worshiped in a converted cockfighting pit in Colombia; I have worshiped at medieval cathedrals in Europe; I have worshiped in contemporary megachurches in the Philippines. Just last weekend, I worshiped in a small Pentecostal church in rural Georgia. The cultural contexts of these worship services vary wildly—and this affects things like worship language, worship style, worship environment, meeting size, and service flow.

However, whether we are in Shanghai or Fusagasuga, Oxford or Nashville, certain core elements of Christian liturgy transcend cultural variation. Through singing, preaching, communion, giving, and fellowship, churches around the world and across the centuries have been participating in the same liturgical practices that emerged in the earliest days of the New Testament church in Syria-Palestine.

Why or how have these elements of Christian worship persisted across time and space for over 2,000 years?

First, we find these liturgical elements practiced in the Bible (especially in Acts). Second, Christian leaders recognize that worship is not ultimately about expression; it’s about formation.

If unique cultural expression was the primary goal in worship, then it wouldn’t matter if churches in twenty-first century Lagos continued with ancient liturgical practices developed in first-century Jerusalem. They could find their own ways to express their love for God, which may or may not include singing, preaching, and communion. But for some reason we continue to worship in the same ways that Christians throughout the ages have done.

Why?

As beautiful as it is hear God’s praises sung in hushed Chinese in a house church and as powerful as it is to hear the word of God preached by our young Colombian leaders in a cockfighting pit (formerly owned by Pablo Escobar!), diverse cultural expression is a secondary goal in worship. The primary goal is spiritual formation, or discipleship.

In other words, the most important actor in worship is not us (as humans) but God.

While we often think that Sunday worship is primarily about expression (what we do to/for God), it is actually more about formation (what God does to/in us). Why? Because when we gather together as a church to worship God, He comes by His Spirit in our midst and changes us. He doesn’t just transform us in a nebulous way, but rather, he comes and transforms us through the repeated “rituals” of Christian worship. Singing, fellowship, preaching, communion, giving—these powerful liturgical practices are God’s way of revealing Himself to us and transforming us by His Spirit.

In communion, God engages our eyes, our hands, our mouths, and our stomach, and reminds us in very tangible ways of his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

In preaching, God engages our ears and our minds—and through His spirit, He convicts us of sin and calls us to repentance and faith.

In singing, God engages our vocal chords and our emotions—and trains us to love Him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.

In giving, God engages our material possessions, the bills and cards and accounts in your back pocket—and trains us to trust Him and His provision and to denounce the idol of Mammon.

In fellowship, God engages our social lives—and reminds us that our primary group identity is not our nation or our ethno-linguistic group or even our natural family. But rather, it is the people redeemed by Christ’s blood from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

This is how worship works. And whether we realize it or not, this is what God is up to on Sunday morning.

Blog / Church / Family / Miscellaneous

An Easter Funeral

April 18, 2017
 Tuckers Grove United Congregational Holiness Church

 NASHVILLE—Late last night, we arrived home from the funeral of Deborah’s grandmother, Sara Nell McAfee, known to her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren as Mama Mac. In sermons and at parenting conferences, I have often talked about Mama Mac and the godly heritage she left behind for her four children, nine grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren (Jo and Liam).

The funeral service was held at Tucker’s Grove United Congregational Holiness Church (see picture above)—the Pentecostal church where Deborah’s great grandfather was the pastor for fifty years and where Deborah’s grandmother attended all her life. As a pastor, I normally speak at the funerals I attend, but at this one, I sat in the pew with my wife, adult sons, daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, Josephine.

The funeral service was led by the new pastor of Tucker’s Grove, a young preacher who had only been in this church for five years. He was brief, but he said a few words that I’ll never forget. Standing in this rural Pentecostal church that was founded in 1923, the pastor said of Mama Mac and her generation: “Today, people go to the house of God. But in the past, people had an encounter with the God of the house. Lord, we need an encounter with the GOD OF THE HOUSE!!!”

As he said this, I began to think about all that Mama Mac had seen and experienced in this small brick church building during her ninety-four years on this earth. Weddings. Baptisms. Funerals. Communion. Prayer. Foot washings. Baby dedications. Healings. Signs and wonders. Church plants. Church splits. Church growth. Church decline. Church renewal.Since 1923, each generation of believers has had to have their own encounter with the God of the house. I thought about this as I looked at Deborah and reflected on the profound spiritual influence that Mama Mac had on her life. I thought about this as I looked at my adult sons, whose own spiritual lives owe much to their mother’s example of fervent prayer and unwavering faith. And I thought about this as I looked at my granddaughter, Josephine, who at three is now beginning to ask questions about Jesus (she even recognized him somehow on the stained glass windows at Tucker’s Grove).

As I thought about my own family, I also thought about my Every Nation church family around the world. My prayer is that after our founder generation is gone, subsequent generations will have their own encounters with God in some of the very churches we are planting and in the buildings we are building. My prayer is that my generation will not make it hard for future generations to meet Jesus and join His mission. My prayer is that, like Deborah’s grandmother, we will model a vibrant faith and love for God’s word and mission that inspires future generations to take the gospel to every nation in their generation.

Blog / Church / Leadership

Worship, Discipleship, & Church History

April 10, 2017
Photo: Ryan Daly

Photo: Ryan Daly

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN—Every year, our International Apostolic Team (IAT), which includes regional leaders from all over the Every Nation world, gathers together to fellowship, pray, and plan for the coming years (and even decades). Every Nation Church Yokohama hosted our 2017 IAT meeting.

One of our conversation topics last week was liturgy and how we can equip our pastors to think critically (and even creatively) about the relationship between worship and discipleship. Working as we do in so many different cultural contexts, we recognized the need to better equip our missionaries and church planters to think through how worship works in general and how it works in their particular context.

One of our starting points was a discussion about the role of different liturgical practices in church history.

When we look back through history, we find that though the core elements of Christian worship have remained consistent (fellowship, singing, preaching, communion, offering), different elements are emphasized at different times.

For example, in medieval Europe, the climax of the liturgy was communion. Services still featured singing, fellowship, preaching, and offering, but the greater emphasis was on the celebration of the Lord’s table. In Reformation Germany, the emphasis shifted back toward the preached word. Again, the other elements of Christian worship were still present, but the shape of Protestant liturgy emphasized the importance of the preaching. Fast forward another 500 years to the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and 70s. Though Charismatic churches valued the preached word and the celebration of communion, their worship services emphasized singing and experiencing God’s presence during longer worship.

Today, if you were to attend churches with roots in these three traditions, you would still notice the different points of emphasis in the worship. Though some people would argue that one worship tradition or style is better than another, it’s more helpful to realize that in every time and place, pastors and leaders have adjusted or emphasized elements of the liturgy in response to three impulses: missiological context, theological tradition, and practical necessity. Let’s look at those reasons.

1. Missiological Context. Medieval catholicism, for all its faults, emphasized certain very visual liturgical practices (like communion) because church leaders were communicating the gospel to highly illiterate European populations—many of whom (at least initially) did not speak the same language as their priests. Hence, the emphasis on communion, a highly visual liturgical practice that powerfully represents the core truths of the gospel to people who can’t read (or maybe can’t even understand the sermon).

2. Theological Tradition. Protestant churches during the Reformation, because of their theological emphasis on Sola Scriptura, felt that the preaching of the Word needed to be the main focus of corporate worship. Though they appreciated the ways that other liturgical practices, like communion, gave worshippers a visual representation of the gospel, they felt that the Word of God had too often been absent from medieval worship practices, resulting in disciples whose knowledge of the gospel was real but underdeveloped.

3. Practical Necessity. During the Charismatic movement, many pastors and leaders (who were part of mainline cessationist denominations) were kicked out of their churches for their insistence on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, out of both practical necessity and a theological conviction about the continued work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, Charismatic churches—and their particular liturgy—were birthed. While valuing the preached word, this tradition places a great emphasis on sung worship, with the expectation that people will encounter the living God in profound and unique ways as we come into His presence with singing.

As you think about liturgy and your own missiological context, remember that worship is not primarily about what we can do for God; it is about what God does in us by the Holy Spirit as we gather in His presence.

Blog / Church / Leadership

9 Tips for Young Preachers

February 6, 2017

pulpit-web-versionSAGADA, PHILIPPINES—The pastor of a large church recently asked me if I would be willing to provide sermon coaching to help his youth pastor. After a couple of phone conversations about ministry and preaching, I sent a stream-of-conscience email to the fledgling preacher that included nine somewhat random preaching tips.

1. INTRO. Concerning a sermon introduction, shorter is always better. Get to the text as fast as you can. Long introductions are rarely helpful, and often become a distraction. Move all non-essential stories, words, ideas from the intro, and if those stories, words, or ideas deserve to be in the sermon, you can always insert them after reading the text.

2. READ. While preaching, never speed-read your text, or shorten it by only reading a small portion. Read the whole text with passion, pauses, emotion, energy, and emphasis—with no comments until you finish reading the whole text. Let the text speak. Approach the reading of the text as the most important part of the sermon.

3. TEXT. After reading the text, preach the text. Stay in the text. Go deep in the text. Make sure everything you say is coming from the text. Remember that life-changing power is in His word, not in your words.

4. CONTEXT. Do not bore your audience with contextual trivia. While explaining the context is necessary, resist the temptation to say everything you now know about ancient Middle Eastern food, geography, and religion.  Delete every context comment that does not directly contribute to the your main point. Leave it on the editing floor, or save it for another message.

5. STOP. Prepare how you will stop your sermon, and plan to stop five minutes before your time limit. A rushed ending is not a good ending, so make sure you plan plenty of time to end properly.

6. HEART. It is more important for people to catch God’s heart about the text/topic than to remember your points. If they catch God’s heart, they will be transformed. If they remember your points, well, they actually won’t remember them, so focus on the heart.

7. LOVE. Effective preaching requires more than properly exegeting a text, it also demands a proper exegesis of the culture and community. In other words, good preaching requires loving the Bible and loving the people listening. Don’t preach until you are certain that you actually know, understand, love, and care for the people who will hear your sermon. Preaching is supposed to be a “speaking the truth in love” thing, therefore love is somewhat important.

8. ACTION. When we want to move people to action, especially evangelistic action, it is better to emphasize what Christ did for us rather than what we do for Him. My favorite seminary homiletics professor said it like this, “Preachers either guilt or gospel their people to action.” Since most church people already have more than enough guilt, preachers might want to pick the gospel option.

9. AUDIENCE. God is your ultimate audience. Preach to honor Him. Do not preach to please the senior pastor, the first-time visitor, the big tither, or the know-it-all critic. The best preaching is done to please the Lord, even if no one else is pleased.

 

Blog / Church / Leadership

Planning for Every Nation Theological Seminary

November 14, 2016

School classroom with school desks and blackboard in Japanese high school

NASHVILLE – Just got back from Manila this weekend, and I am looking forward to a full week in our Every Nation office in Nashville. One of my first meetings this week was with missiologist and (recently appointed) Billy Graham Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, Ed Stetzer. Ed has spoken at numerous Every Nation conferences and has consulted with us for many years. Today, we talked about theological education, and the future of Every Nation Theological Seminary. I loved hearing Ed’s wisdom on how to be successful at both theological education and leadership development.

Before heading into our meeting, I jotted down five words that have emerged in conversations with Every Nation leaders about what matters most for us in theological education and leadership development.

1. Missional: Our schools exist to inspire and equip people for mission. We are called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), and our schools of ministry are designed to serve that goal. Theology and mission are inseparable. If we do theology without mission, then we engage in pointless academic exercises. If we do mission without theology, then we will drift away from the gospel as we engage the culture.

2. Global: As a global family of local churches whose goal is to reach every nation in our generation, we need to remember to be “global” in at least two ways. First, we need to teach our students how to contextualize the truths of the gospel for their target culture and language. Second, we need to remind our teachers that our students come from a wide variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and our classes need to be accessible and engaging to students from every nation.

3. Practical: Though I hope that some of our students will pursue further study and become vocational theologians (and future teachers at ENTS), most of our students will become church planters, campus missionaries, and cross-cultural missionaries. We never want to lose sight of the practical implications of theological education. We are primarily training practitioners; and ultimately, all the head knowledge in the world means nothing if we can’t translate that knowledge into effective ministry practices.

4. Transformational: As a movement that believes in the present work of the Holy Spirit to transform us on the inside and empower us to witness, we believe that theological education and leadership development must go beyond the mere transfer of information. To produce students who are better informed is not enough. We want each of our students to be transformed as they engage their minds and hearts to learn about more God, the Church, and the Word.

5. Doxological: “We exist to honor God…” Those are the first five words of Every Nation’s mission statement, and they are the most important. They always will be. We hope that all of our students come out of our schools with a greater love for theology and for mission. But above all, we want to cultivate in our students a greater love for God. Ultimately, theology and mission share the same end—the glory of God. So we train leaders and send them to ends of the earth because we, like John, are captivated by the vision of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Blog / Church / Leadership

My Top 4 Weaknesses as a Preacher

November 2, 2016

pulpit-web-versionMANILA – In an Asbury seminary course on preaching, I recently wrote a reflection paper where I talked about my strengths and weaknesses as a preacher. In the interest of time, I’ll just give the weaknesses. Besides, as Michael Scott famously said, “my weaknesses are actually … strengths.” Not really. But here goes.

1. Blurring the line between personal devotions and sermon preparation. Though I have maintained a consistent habit of daily Bible reading for many decades, I must confess that sometimes the line dividing my personal devotional reading and my sermon study has been blurred by the demands of an overstuffed schedule. Whenever my daily devotions turn into a frantic search for sermon material rather than a search for God, both my sermons and my soul suffer. Whenever I see this happening, I need to stop and (re)establish a wall of separation between my daily devotional reading and my sermon study. This requires that I set and stick with specific times for daily devotional reading, as well as weekly sermon study times. How do you maintain this distinction between personal devotions and sermon preparation?

2. Being overly reliant on the ideas of others. In Victory-Manila, I am privileged to work with an amazing team of preachers who prepare sermons together so that everyone can be on the same page as we preach the same text in Victory-Manila’s 133 weekend worship services. I am certain that I write and preach better sermons when I work with the team than when I write and preach alone. However, there is a real temptation to lean too much on the team rather than doing the hard work of in-depth study myself. It is also tempting and easy to listen to the team rather than listening to the text or to the Holy Spirit. Whether you prepare sermons with a team or simply borrow from existig sermon materials, make sure that you spend time wrestling with the text yourself.

3. Consulting commentaries and study guides too early. A related weakness that can creep into sermon preparation is the tendency to consult the commentaries too soon in the process. As a new preacher, I couldn’t afford a large library, so I was dependent on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. But now that I have access to shelves of great commentaries, it is so easy to skip the crucial process of inductive Bible study and jump straight to the expert opinions. Expert opinions are helpful–they provide valuable scholarly insights and ensure that our interpretations are on track. But no commentary can replace the role of a preacher in finding fresh and timely insight from the Word for his or her particular local church context. This requires time and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

4. Paraphrasing rather than reading the Biblical text. For too many years, I have intentionally read only a short portion of my Bible text and explained the rest of the text as my sermon unfolded. In my summer homiletics class, I was repeatedly reminded that the reading of the text is a vital part of the sermon—not a preliminary to the sermon—and that the text needs to be read with energy, emotion, and conviction. If the reading of Scripture was good enough for the early church (see 1 Timothy 4:13), then it is good enough for the modern church. By paraphrasing rather than reading long portions of scripture, I realized that I was depriving my hearers of experiencing the Scriptures as they were designed to be experienced. Never forget that the Bible is the Word of God–and our churches need to hear it.

No matter how long you’ve been preaching, there is always room for growth. If you preach on a regular basis, I encourage you to make a short list of your own weaknesses as a preacher, and see how you can turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Post-Conference Thoughts: Back to Work

October 18, 2016

Every Nation World Conference

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA.  Deborah and I just got back to Nashville from Cape Town, South Africa, where we attended the Every Nation World Conference with thousands of delegates from fifty-eight nations. For those of you who couldn’t make it, check out the recap video(s) and mark your calendars for the next world conference—coming in 2019.

I often find that when I return home from a conference, I’m re-energized to pursue God’s mission for my life and my church, but sometimes I don’t know where to start. There are so many new ideas running through my head and so many pages of notes to sift through. How can I begin to implement the global vision and mission in my local context? And how can I convey the big picture to staff and leaders in my local church who weren’t at the conference?

As leaders, sometimes it can be difficult to translate the momentum of a world conference into concrete action in your local church context.

My advice: keep things simple. Channel all of your energy and momentum into building strong and healthy local churches and campus ministries. Building a strong, healthy church and campus ministry is not complicated. Difficult—yes. Complicated—no. The starting point for a leader is to focus on the few things that really matter: discipleship, worship, and leadership.

Strong, healthy churches and campus ministries must be great in these three areas:

1. Discipleship. As I’ve said many times before, God calls us to make disciples. When we do that, He will build His church. To assess how you’re doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively engaging our culture and community? Are we consistently establishing biblical foundations—in both new believers and old-timers? Are we effectively equipping every member to be a minister of the Gospel? Are we empowering disciples to make disciples?

2. Worship. Though I haven’t written this book (yet), you might say that there are 4 S’s to worship—singing, sermons, service, and sacrament. To assess how your church is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Do the songs we sing together as a church point us to Jesus and motivate us for mission? Are the sermons we preach theologically sound, culturally relevant, and Christ-centered? Does our “spiritual worship” (see Romans 12:1) include service outside the church walls? Does our worship prioritize and celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism—or have they become empty rituals?

3. Leadership. As I’ve written recently, leadership development is crucial whether your church or campus ministry is small or large, growing or stagnant, new or old. To assess how your church or campus ministry is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively identifying emerging leaders? Are we providing opportunities for instruction so that our emerging leaders can grow? Are we creating time for impartation so that we can pass on to future leaders the vision, values, and mission of our church? Are we making opportunities for internships so that emerging leaders can work alongside and learn from established leaders?

Allow these questions to help you focus your energy and post-conference momentum on the things that really matter.