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The Best Tool for Writers and 5 Dangers of Expository Preaching

Scribble: The Best Tool For Writing

“It usually helps me write by reading — somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear.” -Steven Wright

Reading is fashionable. Again. It’s cool. We bet you all can find many statements about how good and useful reading is, how much it can influence a person and his way of thinking, and how awesome it is to sit on your cozy sofa, reading your favorite book and diving (not literally of course) into this imaginary and so wonderful world…

And all such statements are true, actually. Many famous writers, singers, politicians, and even movie characters prove the fact of reading’s great influence on people’s mind: if you take a look at their bookshelves, you’ll definitely be surprised. (Check out the infographic at the end of this post.)”

Read the post and see the infographic here.

Preach: Murray on 5 Dangers of Expository Preaching

“In a number of circles today ‘expository preaching’ is in vogue, and it is being urged on preachers as the way to preach. If this means that the preacher’s one business is to confine himself to the text of Scripture, and to make the sense plain to others, there is nothing more to discuss; who can disagree save those who do not know that the Bible is the Word of God.

But ‘expository preaching’ has often come to mean something more. The phrase is popularly used to describe preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week. This procedure is compared with the method of preaching on individual texts that may have no direct connection with each other from one Sunday to the next. The latter is discouraged in favour of the ‘expository’ method…

…In our view, however, it is time that the disadvantages of this view of preaching are at least considered.

Read the 5 reasons here.

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How to Preach Courage for Mission: The Red Rag Principle

Today we’ll start our series, “Preach Like a Missionary”, looking carefully at the life of Paul the missionary as he speaks about his own ministry in the book of 2 Corinthians. We’ll start with verses 1-7, using the ESV translation of the text:

“1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

My Selfish Non-Evangelizing Students

When I started ministry years ago, I had a plan. I knew how to get students in the door – I would give them some amazing Bible teaching, tell some funny stories, develop small groups, and BADA-BOOM! The thing would take off like wildfire.

But it seems as hard as I urged our students to reach out to friends, they just wouldn’t.

“They’re stubborn! They only care about themselves, and their youth programming! They don’t want to reach out to anybody else!” Eventually, I started to tailor our meetings to something I thought would “work”, since scripture wasn’t doing its thing.

I planned big events. I gave kids free pizza. I used fog machines, and loud music. I told them to greet people at the door. Nothing.

It was frustrating, and discouraging. I had come into this ministry gig thinking I was the next big thing, and if I showed up Wednesday night with my Bible and a hot message, outsiders would flock to me. Then I sacrificed all my idealism for programming and still…nothing.

Then, one day as I harped on my student leadership team for being unfriendly and failing to spread the gospel with zeal, one of my students asked me:

“Nick – how do YOU reach out to people? I just don’t know how to do it.”

It was an honest question. And can I be quite honest?

I didn’t have an answer.

Looking Inward

See, I’d been so consumed with crafting perfect sermons and programs, I’d neglected what Paul makes so explicit in this passage in 2 Corinthians: I myself was not suffering for the sake of the gospel. I wasn’t on the front-lines. I wasn’t being a missionary.

Notice, when Paul talks about suffering, he’s not talking about getting the flu. He’s not talking about his grandma passing away. He’s talking about “Christ’s sufferings”, specifically those he had endured in Asia for spreading and proclaiming the gospel. And while it’s true that we can comfort others when we’ve experienced non-gospel related sufferings, that’s certainly not the MAJOR point of this passage.

The major point is this:

   “Missional pastors preach through blood wrung on the front-lines.”

The Reason for Bloody Preaching

Why is this true? Paul makes it explicit in verses 5-6: because preachers who suffer for proclaiming the gospel encourage their flock that Christ is sufficient. If we tell our flock to be on mission without ourselves being on the front lines, we’re sending a mixed message: “Christ is sufficient for YOU to be on mission, but not for ME.”

I wonder how many pastors, like me, proclaim a mixed message to our congregations. I wonder how many of us set up programs and pamphlets and professionalize our pulpits without ever moving to the front of the line and winning our sermons through blood.

I’ll admit that for me, this little passage is extremely convicting. I have a difficult time connecting with the lost when I’m balancing seminary and ministry, along with two boys and a writing career.

But so long as that’s my excuse, I can’t be upset with my flock for thinking the same way.

Are you preaching through blood?

Here are some question I’m asking myself in light of this passage. Let me invite you to join me:

  • Can I honestly say I’ve suffered for Christ this week for sharing the gospel?
  • Do I strategically say “No” to activities that further hole me into my Christian bubble, so I can have more opportunities to be on the front-lines?
  • Do I understand the kinds of objections and criticisms congregants will receive by my interaction with the lost in my community?
  • Have I shown the people I minister to what it looks like to be on the front-lines through one on one or small group interactions?
  • Do I really believe Christ is sufficient to comfort me in my suffering for the sake of the gospel? Is my justification enough, or am I still trying to please men rather than God?

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, make me a missionary pastor. Let my sermons be wrung through the blood of the front-lines. Give me faith that through Calvary, you have united yourself to me, and through that union I have access to the comfort of the Spirit in suffering. Give me a heart that beats for the lost, as your heart beats for me. Amen.

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How to Tell a Story and The Preacher’s Cheat Sheet

Scribble: How to Tell a Story

“Donald Miller has been writing best-selling books for years and in this free eBook he tells you his little secret. It’s a 7-part story structure he developed based on hundreds of Hollywood movies. It’s easy to learn and easy to use. Read the eBook today and become a better storyteller. No hitch. No gimmick. Why are we giving it away? Because the world is a better place when great people are set free to tell their stories. How to Tell a Story is our gift to you. Enjoy.”

Get the FREE download here.

Preach: The Preacher’s Cheat Sheet

“Preparing a sermon is one of the most gratifying and the most difficult tasks you’ll ever face. There is joy in finding meaning in the text, in finding structure, in developing just the right outline, in discovering the perfect illustration. But there is also labor and, at times, intense spiritual warfare. I am a relative newcomer to preaching and as I’ve prepared sermons I’ve relied on others to teach me how to pray and how to prepare. Here are two lists that have been very helpful to me. I combine them into what I affectionately call my Preacher’s Cheat-Sheet.”

Read the rest here.

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A Glimpse of Truth: The Brothers Karamazov

“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to the passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself.”

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An Unlikely Writer’s Story and Assumptions Preacher’s Can’t Afford

Scribble: Robert Greene’s Unlikely Writing Success Story

 

Preach: The Assumption We Cannot Afford

“We ended another year of women’s Bible study last Tuesday: eleven weeks in the epistles of John and eleven weeks in James. Fifty-four different churches were represented in our enrollment this year. A couple thousand more women podcast from around the country. At the conclusion I was deluged with cards and e-mails from participants expressing their gratitude, reflecting on what they had learned, and, almost uniformly, uttering a confession I have heard so often that it no longer surprises. I still waver between joy and discouragement as I read that confession on card after beautiful thank you card. I still vacillate between celebration and grief each time it turns up in my inbox. I still hesitate between thankfulness and frustration every time it is spoken to me over coffee. Their confession is this:

I’ve been in church for years, but no one has taught me to study my Bible until now.”

Read the rest here.

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12 Ways Churches Can Reach Out to Artists.

If there’s one crowd that’s conspicuously missing from the church, it’s artists. Few artists feel understood by the church, and fewer feel the church has anything to offer them as artists. But artists have incredible potential to influence our society. By providing a framework within which they can work, not only will you be reaching an untapped people group, but you’ll multiply God’s glory in your church as you express Him clearly through art that worships.

Here 12 simple ways we can affirm the place of artists in the church, and encourage them to use their work for God’s glory:

1. Purchase art. Affirm artists by buying their work. Put it up in your home. And put it up in your church, even if it doesn’t have a Thomas Kinkadian/ethereal-Jesus-with-outstretched-arms-in the-background feel to it. If it’s good art, let it be beautiful because it is.

2. Pay artists for their contributions to the church. I’ve had folks tell me they’re disgusted that some ministries would pay Sunday morning musicians for their music. Why? Are we disgusted that we pay a pastor for preaching? The disgust comes from the idea that musicians and artists are the church’s rightful slaves, whose work is sub-par to “gospel work”. If we’re going to have a church open to artists, we need to communicate that what they do is meaningful. Being an artist doesn’t pay much, so we as the church can affirm artist’s work by giving them an outlet for expression, along with a much-needed stipend.

 3. Let artists take charge of church art. If you’re a pastor – and I’ll only say this once – don’t design your church bulletin. Don’t design your sanctuary. Don’t decide how music ought to sound. Don’t create the advertising. Don’t design your power-points. UNLESS you’re an artist. Not only are you doing work you don’t need to do, but you’re sending a message to artists: “What you do is easy. I can do it, and I don’t need your gifts.” I had one artist recently tell me he walked into a church and the design of the bulletin was like a blaring siren to him saying, “YOU’RE NOT WELCOME HERE.”

 4. Don’t insist art = ministry. When artists do create art, don’t insist the art needs to contain special grace. In other words – not every piece of literature requires a conversion experience. Not every song needs to be about Jesus. Not every poem requires biblical allusions. Not every painting needs a crucifix. Art can be dark, or it can be joyous. Art portrays reality, and that is a gift of common grace to our world that has inherent value. If you don’t insist parishioners print John 3:16 on their business cards, don’t insist artists do their business in explicitly “Christian” ways either.

 5. Do insist art = ministry. While the work of an artist need not be “Christian”, Christian artists, by being good artists, have an inlet to a largely untapped/unreached people group: other artists. Affirm artists that create beautiful and true things, and also push them to reach the natural community they form with other artists.

 6. Staff artists. Since most pastors don’t have an eye for art or what might seem off-putting to artists, pastors ought to consider hiring artists on staff. It benefits our ministry to have a different pair of eyes and ears in everything we do, asking, “How does this sound? How does it look? Is it pleasing?” It also provides for a need (an artist’s salary) and sends a message to your community: We value artists in everything we do.

 7. Acquire a theology of art. Read some works on theological aesthetics, be familiar with great theologians and Christian artists – try to see the theological value of beautiful art, and how it images God in the world.

 8. Provide tools for artists. Artists need space. They need time. They need tools. They need communities of artists who will give them feedback. Churches have money, they have building space, they have community. Consider opening the door during the week or on the weekends for musicians, or having an after-hours artists coffee-shop one night a week. Clear a room in the church for messiness – let it be a place where artists can experiment.

 9. Create an artist mentoring system. Create a family of artists. Young business folks are mentored by older business folks. Young pastors, by older pastors. Why not young artists, by older, more stable artists? Artists tend to be eccentric, without a deep sense of identity. How great would it be to have older, more stable Christian artists guiding them personally and professionally?

10Allow artists to learn like artists. Take this as far as you will, but artists have a hard time sitting down and listening to sermons. They just do. Consider giving them a room to watch the sermon on-screen and create art that expresses their reactions. Consider incorporating visuals and keying in on the narrative aspects of certain passages. Use object lessons. Move around the room when you preach – look artists in the eye. Consider using drama in your pre-service presentation (something Stott recommends in “Between Two Worlds”). Give artists a forum in which they can respond to sermons – in small groups, Q&A, or through live tweeting. Let them be hands on.

 11. Provide theological structure for artists. One of the reasons pastors and artists don’t get along is that pastors tend to be linear, and artists tend to be connectors. We need to learn to treat each-other’s gifts respectfully. In other words, pastors can give to artists a much-needed theological structure for their work. They can give them a concrete meta-narrative from which to work, and theological boundaries that can guard artists from become experimental with truth. At the same time, Pastors can listen to artists’ challenges to traditional theological boundaries, and trust them to express these truths better than we ever could.

 12. Meet artists where they are. Finally – artists aren’t going to show up to church. The crevasse between artists and the church is too deep at this point. This means, churches need to take initiative with artists. We need to find out where they meet, what they talk about, and how they interact. Then we need to go to them. We need to listen to them. We need to invite them to participate in shaping our culture. We need to affirm them, and show them a church that is holistic in its approach to the world – and that includes the redemption of art for God’s glory.

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4 Stages of Writing and 5 Errors to Drop from Easter Preaching

 

Scribble: 4 Stages of Writing and 3 Mistakes We Make

“I recently came across the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, a book that has a chapter on the four stages of the writing process. Reflecting on my experience writing blogs and non-fiction books, I recognized these stages even if I’d never consciously labeled them this way.”

Read the rest, along with 3 wrong-turns we can make along the way, here.

Preach: Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon

“1. Don’t say Jesus died when he was 33 years old.

The common assertion seems reasonable that if Jesus “began his ministry” when he “was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) and engaged in a three-year ministry (John mentions three Passovers, and there might have been a fourth one), then he was 33 years old at the time of his death. However, virtually no scholar believes Jesus was actually 33 when he died. Jesus was born before Herod the Great issued the decree to execute “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matt. 2:16, ESV) and before Herod died in the spring of 4 B.C. If Jesus was born in the fall of 5 or 6 B.C., and if we remember that we don’t count the “0″ between B.C. and A.D., then Jesus would have been 37 or 38 years old when he died in the spring of A.D. 33 (as we believe is most likely). Even if Jesus died in the year A.D. 30 (the only serious alternative date), he would have been 34 or 35, not 33 years old. No major doctrine is affected by this common misconception. But don’t damage your credibility by confidently proclaiming “facts” from the pulpit that are not true.”

Read the other four here.

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New Series: Preach Like a Missionary.

Last week, drinking my morning coffee, I stumbled across a book. I’d read through the book before, once or twice. But that was before ministry, mostly. I thought the book was “decent”, at the time. I’d have given it an obligatory 4 stars on Amazon, if someone paid me.

But last week – oh, last week – I cracked this little book open, wiped off the dust, and read. The words leapt off the page, screaming, sizzling and popping like firecrackers. I hadn’t realized the liquid gold I’d had in hand, sitting on the shelf, for years.

It was a letter from an old pastor. He’d been converted at a late age, then gone on to lead a church planting effort so effective it virtually upended the largest empire in history. He was writing to a struggling church plant in a major metropolitan city. They’d had back and forth before, and now it came down to it: apparently, some were questioning his pastoral competency.

So the pastor sat down, and composed a letter. It’s a letter about being a pastor on mission. The letter is part autobiography, part theology, and all practical. It’s dripping with untapped wisdom, from a man who was arguably the most effective missional pastor in history.

His name is Paul. The letter, “2 Corinthians”.

As I’ve gleaned over this little gem over the last few weeks, I’ve decided it’s worth a blog series. I’d originally thought to post once on some takeaways, but soon realized the book was too big for that. Every page is brimming with missional preaching wisdom.

So, you want to learn to preach like missionary? Let’s learn together, from the most effective evangelist the world has ever known.

The series will begin next Tuesday, 4/22/14. Installments will be one week apart, until we’ve finished the book together. So, gear up, read through 2 Corinthians, and let’s learn together.

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A Glimpse of Truth: Sherlock Holmes

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, Book #9

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“Frozen” Writers on Princess Mythology and 10 Ways to Kill Your Sermon Series

Scribble: “Frozen” Writers on Princess Mythology

“If you have young children, you may know by heart the songs from the Disney animated musical Frozen, including its massively ubiquitous “Let It Go.” The songwriting team behind the Oscar-winning hit includes Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (a married couple with two children), who each sing on the soundtrack.

Robert Lopez co-wrote the satirical Broadway musicals Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, which is now touring. He is now an EGOT, the acronym for the select few who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. Together, the two also wrote the songs for the 2011 Disney animated musical Winnie the Pooh. They tell Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross about the inspiration for the songs from Frozen, including “Let It Go” and a “very strong strike across the bow at all princess-myth things” song that didn’t make the film.”

Listen to the whole interview here.

10 Ways to Kill Your Sermon Series

By visiting churches across the country, I’ve learned that many churches use sermon series to hone their message and encourage people to invite their friends, not just for one week but perhaps for four or six. I’ve also noticed that some churches implement sermon series more effectively than others. And some series engage the unchurched better than others. You can learn how to do things right from the churches who are doing it wrong.

Here are ten ways to sink your sermon series: Here.

 

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