Monday, March 25, 2013

6 Critical Steps To Take In the First 90 Days As Pastor

by Michael Watkins

A couple of years ago I read the book the First 90 Days. Michael Watkins unpacked the important considerations for a manager moving into a new leadership position. Today I'd like to offer my own suggestions for a new pastor.

With over 20 years of experience as a senior pastor and almost a decade in ministry-equipping academia, I have often reflected on the most important first considerations for a new pastor. The first great task of the Church is to fulfill God's command to take the Gospel to the world. Coupled with that is the mandate to bring those who come to faith into Christian maturity. In light of these two priorities, what are the most important first steps for a pastor to take when he begins work with a new congregation? 

1. Clarify expectations. A new pastor needs the church to be clear about what he expects from them, and clear on what they expect from him. The lack of understanding and clarity on the front end has created unnecessary difficulties for way too many churches and pastors.  

2. Encourage the church family to embrace their responsibility to invite lost and unchurched people in their spheres of influence to join them for worship. The most effective outreach for any church is the satisfied member who cares about the people inside their circle of influence.

3. Study the church and seek the Lord to know what messages need to be preached. Even as Jesus had a specific word to and for each congregation addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, He has a special Word to each congregation today.

4. Challenge each member to take seriously their role in the church. This would include encouragement to be faithful in their daily devotions, witness, character development, stewardship, and consistency. Each member is either building up or tearing down the Body of Christ (the Church) by their attitudes, actions, behaviors, participation, and words. Personal responsibility must be taken seriously!

5. Be diligent to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to effectively support the ministries of the congregation. Without the supporting team, any organization can collapse under its own weight.

6. Ask yourself and the church tough questions. For each congregation, the questions must be asked: 
  • What does God want us to be and to do? 
  • How are we gifted to fulfill the will of God in our locale?
  • In what areas does God want us to minister and serve?
  • What does God want to accomplish through us in this time and place?
  • What potential does God want to birth into reality here and now?
  • How can we effectively cooperate in fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation? 
  • What does God want to do in our midst that will help the watching world know that God is real?

These are the six steps I think are critical for the first 90 days in the pastorate. What do you think? Do you have anything to add to the list? 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are We Playing Church or Being the Church?

If you’ve found my blog, you may know that I’ve written two textbooks on Baptist history. The Baptist Reformation is the interpretive history of the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. A Matter of Conviction is the history of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Baptist influence in helping to shape Western civilization.

I haven’t spent much time in recent years poring over Baptist historical texts, but in recent weeks I’ve been preparing to teach a course at Lenexa Baptist Church on "The Baptist March Through History: Who They Were and Why It Matters," so the history of the denomination has been on my mind.

While at Cross Church in Rogers, Arkansas last week, Dr. Ronnie Floyd asked me a salient question: "Who are we as a denomination and what are the critical issues that we must face?" I answered that we are a denomination in search of an "identity." Across the board, I am not convinced that we really know who we are, what we should be doing, or why it matters.

Peter Drucker, famous business thinker, is known for stating,"The first question is this: what business are you in?" I am not at all convinced that the vast majority of our 40,000+ churches and our 16 million+ members of the SBC know how to answer that question. Many might tell you that we should be fulfilling the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Great Contrast (being salt and light in a decaying culture). But the issue, however, is in what we DO; everything else is just religious talk. 

When everything is said and done, there is a lot more said than done. 

Until each local congregation determines what business it is in and aligns its actions with its answers, I see a continued drift.

If the goal of a local congregation is simply to keep the institution from going under, pay its bills, take care of itself, and perpetuate its old guard leadership structure, it is not even in its essence fulfilling the biblical definition of church. The first step in helping the denomination clarify its identity, is to help local churches clarify what business they are in.

If a local church is not thinking and acting strategically on how to:
-Win the lost to Christ
-Disciple those who are won
-Worship God authentically
-Minister to its people and community in which it resides
-Participate in the great task of world evangelism
-Engage in cultural renewal
it is not only falling short of its biblical mandate, it may be simply playing church without being the church. 

These things delineate the business we are in. So, how about your church? Are you being the church, or playing church? 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

7 Steps to Becoming Spiritually Prepared to Preach

It was said of Charles Spurgeon that he was more concerned with preparing himself than his sermon before he preached. Today I want to address the issue of preparing yourself and your congregation so that the Lord can use you to maximum effect. What should you do by way of preparation?

1. Be studied up. Paul wrote to Timothy,"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). When you stand to speak, are you confident that you have adequately prepared? That is a spiritual matter!

2. Be prayed up. James 5:16b declares, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." Have you prayed over your message, your people, your prospects, against the devil's work, pleading with God to move in the hearts of the people? We even prayed for decent weather. If something is big enough to worry about, it's big enough to pray about!

3. Be confessed up. No preacher in their right mind expects God to use a dirty vessel. We get cleaned up as we confess up! John wrote,"If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"(1John 1:9). Let's do what God said and trust Him to do what He said! We cannot preach with power if we are holding on to unconfessed sin.

4. Be filled up. Concerning the early Church, on the heels of persecution and prayer, Scripture records, "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word with boldness." Paul instructed the Ephesians to, "be filled with the Spirit." To be filled in both of these contexts means to be controlled by the Spirit. This requires intentional surrender and submission. "Lord, I surrender myself afresh to you today" is our hear's cry!

5. Speak up. Again in the early Church, the Disciples proclaimed, "for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). And earlier, we read of Peter asserting,"let this be known to you and give heed to my words" (2:14b). When you stand to preach, act like you own the place. You represent the One who does!

6. Look up. Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." I remind you that Jesus Himself promised, "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive" (Matthew 21:22). And again from Hebrews, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (11:6). When we preach, it is absolutely necessary that we hold to a confident expectation that God will move. He will do what He said! "Lord, I thank you and praise you in advance for the people who will be saved and the lives that will be impacted today" is our constant cry of faith!

7. Gear up. When Jesus fed the multitudes, he had the Disciples prepare for the distribution as well as the collection of leftovers "so that nothing will be lost" (John 6:12b). Jesus demonstrated a confident expectation of the increase and conservation of the Father's answered prayer. If you had 5,10, or 50 responses to your message the next time your folks gather to worship, would you be prepared to conserve what the Lord gave you? Perhaps He would give us more fruit if we were geared up and prepared for His harvest.

Let's be spiritually and organizationally prepared for God to use us! A holy and prepared man is an awesome instrument in the hand of God!

Dr. Sutton is the author of A Primer on Biblical Preaching. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Habits of Effective Communication

As a second installment on effective communication, I want to continue sharing some principles on preparation from my text, A Primer on Biblical Preaching. To be an effective communicator, preparation is not a luxury but a necessity.

My first post discussed preparation from the macro perspective. Now, I would like to address the issue from a micro perspective. How can a speaker, a minister, or teacher approach his or her task on a week by week basis?

I teach my students that if they desire to be effective in the pulpit, they must cultivate a rhythm and a discipline in their preparation. Again, remember, there is no substitute for planning ahead. My desire is to help you work smarter not harder although preparing to speak on a regular basis is hard work. I point out to my students that all great communicators have a method of preparation. Probably, no two communicators have the exact same method but each has method nonetheless. I teach my students my method then encourage them to adjust it according to their schedule and demands. Remember, any method is better than no method when it comes to sermon preparation. Here's mine.

I spend all day on Monday working on four items. Assuming I am preparing two messages for next weekend, I prepare two exegeses, one for each message, and two outlines. Again, one for each sermon. Normally, this work would take me all day on Monday and at times the early hours of Tuesday.

In the exegesis portion, I work through all the materials in my file folder designated for the week's messages. At this juncture, I am light years ahead of the guy who wakes up on Monday morning wondering what he will speak on next weekend.

I will read through the text 15 to 25 times before I do anything else. I will attempt to grasp the flow of the text's meaning and message. I will examine the genre and the context. I do word studies and try to grasp the essence of what the text says and what it means. When the exegesis for each message is complete and I have that grasp of the text's main theme, I begin to break the text down into bite-sized bits as I outline it. Honestly, at times I have produced twenty or more outlines for one sermon before I am satisfied with it.

First thing in the office on Tuesday, my outlines are typed and copied for a 9:30 Worship Team meeting. In that meeting, we do three things. One, we critique last Sunday's services. What went right? What went wrong?  Where can we improve? Did we start and conclude on time? The goal is to have a seamless service with no dead time while being sensitive to the Spirit's leading. Second, I do a Bible study on my sermons with the worship team. At its conclusion, I solicit age appropriate feedback from the team. They give me insights, illustrations, or
applications that are appropriate for children, students, or single adults for example. I play scribe and take notes as the worship team provides feedback. I use their feedback as I continue to craft next weekend's messages. We conclude the meeting by having the music team share the music packages planned for the upcoming services. Because we planned ahead, all of our services were themed. Everything said and done revolved around the one biblical theme of the service. Note, at times, my team would say they did not like the outline and I would solicit suggestions on how to improve it.

By the end of the day on Tuesday, I have final outlines completed. Then, I go through the outline placing checkmarks where I think I need illustrations. I spend time Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday looking for appropriate illustrations. The purpose of illustrations are two-fold. First, they are like windows that let light in thereby clarifying what is being taught. In essence, we learn through analogies. Second, illustrations are like mirrors that help us see ourselves.

On Friday morning, I have an interactive outline prepared and reproduced. This is "fill in the blank." I always place the answers on the back page of the notes. Also, a powerpoint is prepared so that those in the services can follow through the outline as the message unfolds.

This is a snapshot of how I work on a micro or week by week basis. I hope it helps. The next post in this series will not be about preparing your messages, but about preparing yourself.

How do you prepare the week before you speak?