3 Weird Things To Avoid Doing on Social Media

SocialMedia2It is easy to live in the moment and lose perspective.  For instance, let’s think about social media.  As a preacher or church leader, just press rewind and imagine doing the following things back in the old days (i.e. even the 1980’s or 1990’s).  What would it look like if we went back in time by a generation, thus removing social media, but still acted the same way?  Would we really do the following?

1. Mundane Info Sharing.  It’s Monday morning.  You had a busy Sunday and are not feeling too motivated to dive into another week.  So you are running a few errands for the family and decide to sit down at a cafe for a cup of (in those days) regular coffee.  Before you do, you take out your church phone list and drop a load of coins into the public phone just outside the cafe.  “Hey, Roger!  I am just going to sit down for a coffee and unwind for a few minutes.  I might look at a newspaper.  I’m just a normal person!  Thought you’d like to know!”  Several hundred calls later, you get your coffee.  Weird.  Sharing mundane info should have died out after the first six months of Twitter.  It mostly did.  Facebook is another story . . .

2. Retweeting Praise of Your Preaching.  Just as the crowded church is starting to head for the door, would you rush back up to the podium, tap awkwardly on the microphone and get everybody’s attention . . . “Hey folks!?  Before you all head for home, I just wanted to share with you what I heard Tom saying in the lobby.  He told a couple of his friends that my sermon was the best he’d ever heard!”  And would you stop on the way, get the sound guy to press the record button on the cassette, then make copies of it and send it to everyone you know?  Probably not.  It is weird. Social media doesn’t make this kind of self-promotion any more appropriate today than thirty years ago.  If other people praise you, be thankful.  But a retweet smells a lot like self-praise.

3. Name Dropping.  As you walk into the dining hall at the conference venue, you spot a “celebrity” Christian.  So you squat down next to their seat and have your friend snap a picture.  Immediately you rush to the nearest one-hour photo place and have a few hundred copies made, before posting them to everyone you know with the note, “Guess who I just met?”  Would you have done this back in the day?  Probably not.  This is also weird behaviour.  There is certainly a place for public acknowledgement of people you appreciate, but sometimes it can feel like the smiling you is the real centrepiece of the picture.

Bonus – Time Wasting.  You have two hours before your next appointment.  So you sit down to read a book.  You never get to it.  This may have happened back then, but maybe less than today?

I am sure all of us fall foul to this list now and then, but are any of these things your standard way of functioning? Social media is an amazing resource, but as preachers and church leaders, let’s be sure to use it well!

Any other weird behaviours you would add to the list?

7 Ministry Diet Tips, From David Murray

71BuO-qnfHLI have been really enjoying reading through The Happy Christian, by David Murray.  When I finish it, I will offer a review, but meanwhile I will post some highlights along the way.  Murray suggests rebalancing the diet we are taking for ourselves, and offering to others, in the following ways:

1. More Salvation than Sin

“…the gospel message must begin with “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But we don’t want to linger there any longer than we have to.  Some preachers, teachers, and parents love to dwell in the smoke and fire of Mount Sinai more than the love and grace of Mount Calvary.”

2. More Truth than Falsehood

Here Murray suggests we learn from banks who train their workers to spot counterfeits by handling the real thing.  It is easy to give ourselves to critiquing and spotting the errors and heresies around us, but we need to enjoy the truth of what is right and good.

3, More Wooing than Warning

Murray is right to urge us to offer more of Christ than the devil, more of “the attraction of heaven than the fear of hell,” and more of the beauty of holiness than the ugliness of sin.  He urges us to show people “how much Jesus is willing and able to save and how much He desires and delights to save. He does not save because He has to but because He wants to and enjoys to.”

4. More Victory than Struggle

Do our sermons, blog posts, prayers, and songs reflect the biblical emphasis on the power of life in the Spirit, or do we lean more toward a primary focus on the struggle and difficulty?  It is right to highlight the sufferings of persecuted Christians around the world, but let’s also be informed about the number of people coming to faith and the impact of the gospel in the world.

5. More Celebration than Lamentation

Just as there’s a time to mourn, there is also a time to laugh.  “When we consider how many blessings we have compared to so many, we must sometimes sound like spoiled children, whining, whining, and whining for more. . . . Remember the apostles even managed to celebrate that they were counted ‘worthy’ to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake!”

6. More Life than Death

Murray points to the missionary death and martyr story emphasis in books, rather than the inspiring stories of lives being changed.  We need more life narratives than death narratives since most people will live ordinary everyday lives for the vast majority of their lives!

7. More Strengths than Weaknesses

It is easy to focusing on fixing weaknesses, but why not give more energy to cultivating and developing what is working well already?  Murray doesn’t deny the call to complete transformation, but he has a point in respect to where we put our energies.

While our ministry needs to include a certain amount of deconstruction and helpful critique, let’s make sure that the balance leans more toward offering the Good News of Jesus in all its richness.  Less of me and more of Him.  I imagine Murray’s list might feel quite convicting for some of us.  Let’s pray through this and be thankful that we have something infinitely constructive and helpful to meditate on ourselves and offer to others!

Last 5 Itchy Ear Preachers

Presenter4People are prone to collect preachers to suit what they want to hear.  Paul warned Timothy about this.  We’ve seen a first set of five, followed by a second.  Here’s the last:

11. Preacher Passion – it doesn’t matter what this preacher says, the listeners just love the passion. The preacher could present the telephone directory, just as long as it is done in his passionate style.  Why?  Perhaps the listeners live in a blah world of the daily mundane so much that this provides welcome relief.

12. Preacher Now – this preacher can say whatever he wants biblically, just as long as he is sure to mention the latest movie that was released yesterday.  These listeners get a sense of tribal identity from listening to a cutting edge preacher-ista who has his finger on the required sub-cultural pulse.

13. Preacher Nationalist – this preacher would fit on a soapbox in the town square and treats the church as a safe alternative.  Ears are scratched as the preacher rages against the oppressive enemies and foams in zeal for their particular political ideology.  It doesn’t take much to tie this to the Bible and therefore call it preaching.

14. Preacher Self-Esteem – this preacher has a life mission to make you feel better about yourself.  Never mind that the Fall in Genesis 3 curved people inwards and made our sinful default a me-centred universe, this preacher reinforces your me-centredness with liberal amounts of biblical misquotes to stroke your ego and build your self-esteem.  The crowds will flock to hear this.

15. Preacher Nice – this preacher thrills people by a gracious demeanour, good looks, attractive accent or some combination of these.  The perfect hair and rich Scottish accent makes the ladies swoon.  Doesn’t matter what he says, they love to listen.  Or maybe he is a surrogate spiritual leader (unlike the weaker man they married).  Or maybe he is the cool friend people want to have on Facebook and count as their’s.  This preacher is the local touch of Hollywood glitz and itchy ears love to have him around.

As before, take stock, and take any nagging similarities very seriously.  These alternatives to genuine biblical preachers can do inestimable damage to the church.  Have I missed any?  Which do you think are more prolific in our generation?

5 More Itchy Ear Preachers

Presenter3Paul warned Timothy about the time when people would gather teachers to suit their own passions and preach to itchy ears.  We already considered five last time.  Here are five more:

6. Preacher Worm – this is a variation on Preacher Hard.  Unlike the spiritual personal trainer, this preacher meets people needs simply by making them feel bad.  Woe is me!  I am a worm.  Bizarrely, this can be attractive to human flesh (sort of spiritual masochism)

7. Preacher Prof – some people love listening to an apparently intelligent and well-informed preacher.  I say apparently because they don’t necessarily need to be able to understand, but it does something for them to watch a scholar in action.  Strangely, this kind of intellectual curiosity, even when bereft of life and relevance, can scratch some ears.

8. Preacher Cliché – this preacher is neither intellectually rigorous, nor homiletically purposeful.  Rather than seeking to preach meaningfully, this preacher satisfies listeners by parroting clichés and stock phrases in Christianese.  What they say may amount to nothing, but they may thrive on the praise that comes their way after they finish.  Some listeners love a good dose of clichés.

9. Preacher Deep – this preacher may or may not say things that are deep and spiritual, but this preacher sounds deep and spiritual.  Their poetry helps.  And their frequent references to their own amazing times with God.   Listeners feel the inadequacy of their own spirituality and so love to be in the presence of one so deep and spiritual.  The anointing is tangible.  The preaching is almost irrelevant.

10. Preacher Bash – all this preacher needs is a target that is acceptable to the listeners. It could be the enemy atheists, or the pagan culture, or people of a specific race, or another denomination . . . as long as the listeners appreciate hearing a good bashing of absent enemies, the preacher will scratch itchy ears time and again.

Just like before, if any cap fits, quit the ministry for a while and get sorted.  Next time, another five . . .

5 Itchy Ear Preachers

Presenter2Paul urged Timothy to preach the word in his final letter.  One of the reasons he gave was that the time would come when people would not endure sound teaching, but instead would accumulate teachers to suit their own passions.  Itchy ear preachers.  Here are some possible itchy ear preachers:

1. Preacher Myth – this is one Paul referenced, preaching that strays into the realm of speculative mythology.  We have our own versions of this today.  Sensational, conspiratorial, and often offering insight that nobody else can offer.

2. Preacher Fun – this is always going to be attractive to people, the preacher who is just plain fun to listen to.  There is nothing wrong with your humour coming through as you preach, but if that is your defining quality, perhaps something is broken?

3. Preacher Easy – this is the preacher who makes the listener feel like life and Christianity is without cost, an easy road.  The Gospel is a message of cheap grace that does nothing to a life except take away consequences.  The listener can be what they like and do what they like, because it doesn’t matter anyway.  In reality the Gospel transforms lives and following Christ can be extremely painful at times, but this preacher seems oblivious to that.  (Please note that I wrote the Gospel transforms lives.  It is not up to the preacher to twist arms and achieve conformity, although that is an itchy-ear option…)

4. Preacher Hard – hang on, isn’t this contradicting number 3?  In reality, no.  Preacher hard is like an old school personal trainer at the gym.  This preacher piles on the pressure and appeals to the religious fleshliness of the listeners.  They will typically walk out after being burdened with duty and responsibility, stretch their arms and grimace, “Wow, I needed that!”  Our flesh loves the idea of our autonomy, which means we love the idea of being pressured to be better people.

(Both Preacher Easy and Preacher Hard are essentially appealing to the flesh of the their listeners, speaking of which…)

5. Preacher Rich – this is the preacher who loves to highlight out of context promises of blessing for the nation of Israel under the Palestinian Covenant and promise the listeners that God wants nothing more than for them to be ridiculously wealthy and perfectly healthy.  (The pressure is on them to believe enough though, so it ends being combining both types of worldly fleshliness – both the desire for pleasure/possession and the desire to self-strive and be independently religious).

Do you see yourself in any of these categories?  If you do, please take a serious time out from ministry, soak in the Bible and get together with God . . . you don’t want to be the kind of preacher Paul was warning Timothy about!  Next time we’ll consider a further five . . .

10 Pointers for “Untrained” Preachers

10 target nonsemLast time we looked at some pointers for preachers who have had formal theological training.  This time let’s ponder the situation for those that haven’t.  There are many, many preachers, in many denominations, in many cultures, that are doing wonderful ministry without ever having had the privilege of formal training.  Here are 10 pointers for the “formally untrained” preacher:

1. Don’t wallow in insecurity because of a lack of formal training – Most of the “formally untrained” preachers I have met would love to be able to study in a Bible College or Seminary.  There are undoubtedly great benefits from being able to do so.  However, God knows the circumstances of your life and He is thoroughly committed to developing your character and ministry.  There is no need for insecurity because of a training path you have not been able to take.

2. Don’t be proud of your lack of a degree – Some of the strongest critiques of the arrogance that can result from formal training have come from people who reek of pride.  Why the pride?  Because they haven’t been “formally trained.”  They are self-taught.  They are self-made.  Sadly, they are often also self-absorbed and self-deceived too.  The “formally untrained” preacher can be wonderfully godly, but this person can also be horribly arrogant and painfully unaware of what they don’t know.

3. Recognise the first of two big weaknesses of “self-taught” ministry: a lack of exposure – It is hard to know what you don’t know if you have always chosen what you have read and studied.  A formal curriculum helps to force exposure in areas you might never choose otherwise.  I remember a conversation with a man who claimed all he needed was his “library of 66 books” (i.e. just his Bible).  In the same conversation he revealed his commitment to a major heresy, but he had no idea.

4. And note the second of two big weaknesses: a lack of critique – While there are a lot of problems with Bible schools, there are some great benefits.  One is to have your thoughts challenged.  You have to express your thinking on paper, and you then get those thoughts shot at by someone who knows a lot more than you.  You get to discuss with fellow students over lunch, who also are happy to test your thinking with alternative viewpoints.  A “self-taught” preacher is in real danger of carrying untested thinking through life, into the pulpit, and straying theologically as a result.

5. Beware of trying to sound educated in ways you are not – Actually, this could have gone in the list for the seminary trained preachers too.  It is tempting to try to sound more knowledgable than we actually are.  For instance, having read some commentaries, it is tempting to drop a Greek term and its definition into the message.  Please don’t.  Anyone who has studied Greek will spot a lack of awareness, anyone who hasn’t might be impressed by your knowledge and there is a chance you will preach error.  The goal in preaching ministry is simplicity that communicates truth and serves the listener, rather than complexity that communicates nothing and serves the preacher’s ego.

6. General critiques of people with training are unbecoming – Some trained folks are worthy of great critique, but don’t generalise (and typically, don’t verbalise either).  I remember one preacher I used to enjoy who suggested that everyone with a PhD is insecure and gave a harsh alternative for what the three letters stand for.  I am not sure what benefit his listeners derived from this critical spirit, but I know his shelves were full of the fruit of the labour of numerous PhD’s.  Tearing others down to strengthen your own position will always come across poorly.

7. Grow – Lean into your walk with Christ with an inquisitive spirit, a disciplined reading schedule, a passion for ministry and you will grow.  Do that for a decade and your ministry impact will add up to much more than a highly educated, but spiritually stagnant minister down the road.  (And if the highly educated individual is not stagnant, but is also growing and thriving?  Then praise God and press on!)

8. It is hard to know what you don’t know – I’ve met many people who assume seminary is a place to learn obscure theological trivia.  Actually, the best theological training is not about probing the frontiers of obscure theoretical theology.  Rather, it is about probing the very foundations of our faith and discovering the richness of the Gospel.  There are a lot of people with a very “thin” Christianity who are convinced they know all there is to know (that is worth knowing).  They are wrong.  There is a rich Christianity that standard fare evangelical preaching knows all too little about.  Perhaps you could get a taster in Mike Reeves’ The Good God, for instance.

9. Get training – Don’t miss opportunities to attend training courses, seminars, workshops, etc.  Is there a Bible school where you could take a single course?  Diligently hunt the best books to read, as well as well-informed people to engage with in conversation.  Pray about finding someone who can mentor you in some way.  Not going to Bible school is not a commitment to solitary learning – look for conversation partners who can help you think, and nudge you to read things you never would otherwise (Luther, Sibbes, Edwards, etc. or maybe a book about early church history like JND Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines).

10. Being in a seminary is a privilege, so is being in God’s school – But taking pride in either is dangerous.  Be sure to keep up your conversation with the ultimate conversation partner – God himself.  Ask him questions, write them down, see how you learn and grow.  Pride always manifests in an “I don’t need you” attitude.  It is ugly irrespective of educational opportunity or lack of it.  Humbly walk with Christ, prayerfully engage with him through your study of the Bible and he will equip you for every good work.

What would you add to this list of pointers for preachers who have not been “formally trained?”

10 Pointers for Seminary Trained Preachers

10 target semThe periodic 10 Pointers series is going to add two more posts this week.  Previously we’ve considered younger preachers, older preachers, and preaching teams.  Here’s a set of 10 pointers for those of us who have had the privilege of studying in a Bible College or Seminary.  Next time we will offer 10 pointers for those without formal training.

Disclaimer – I get frustrated with articles written about “all the things I never learned in seminary.”  I really praise God for the time I got to spend at two great seminaries and feel they prepared me very well for ministry.  This post is not intended to critique formal training, I believe in its value, but I also want to be honest about its dangers.

1. Graduation is not the end of learning – I am so thankful for the years I was able to spend in seminary, but I have learned a lot since.  Seminary equipped you to some degree for ministry (some institutions do better than others at this), but most of all, it equipped you to keep on reading, studying, learning and growing.  You cannot have a fresh and vibrant ministry today based on how good your Romans lecturer was back in the day.

2. Don’t treat your pulpit as a surrogate classroom – Academia has a habit of stirring a desire in some, though not all, to pursue further degrees and to aspire to teach in the classroom.  I am probably right in stating that you didn’t yet get hired by the seminary of your dreams to join the faculty.  Please don’t impose that aspiration on your church by turning your preaching ministry into pulpit lecturing.  Create venues to train, accept invitations to lecture, but when Sunday comes, be sure to preach the Word!

3. Seminary is a glory environment, but ministry is done in the trenches – I loved my years in seminary, but it is clear that academia has the poison of human glory in its very DNA.  There’s the prestige of the institution, regular praise from feedback on projects, peer competition via grades, ego stroking through certification and awards.  Everyone in seminary should ponder the last verses of John 5 at least twice each day.  If you are now out of seminary and in church ministry, welcome to the trenches.  Ministry tends to keep its servants wounded and humble.  This is probably healthier than the intoxicating glory chase of academia.

4. Education can undermine authentic spirituality – Having left the institution of learning, you probably need to detox.  I am being provocative, even though I loved my seminary years.  However, the human glory DNA can really undermine a close daily walk with Jesus.  Our spirituality can grow sophisticated, our theology can grow heady, and our Lord can seem to grow distant.  Beware of plastic spirituality. Your church needs you walking closely with Jesus more than they need your great learning.

5. Pray for God to develop a loud pride radar – You may have thrived in studying languages, or theology, or whatever.  Perhaps, post-Seminary, God needs to help your character catch up with your learning.  One helpful tool would be a loud radar that beeps whenever your fleshly inclination toward pride rears its head.  Pray for this.  And speaking of pride – don’t name drop.  You may have learned Romans from Professor Doctor Exegenius, but people probably don’t need to know that.  Just give them Romans!

6. The Bible says more about the heart than a lot of academia does – Due to a potent combination of emphasising the intellectual, mixed with some philosophical assumptions, and buried in dubious exegesis, many in academia turn the biblical emphasis on the heart into a matter of cognitive processing.  Good preaching, good counselling, and good living, all requires a spirituality that is hearty, not just heady.

7. Make sure your learning closes the gap through clarity, rather than extending it through impressiveness – Watch you vocabulary as well as your attitude.  Technical terminology is typically unnecessary.  Grammatical and original language references are almost always unhelpful.  The best athletes make their sport look easy.  The best preachers don’t obfuscate.

8. Good classrooms include robust discussion, but good ministry requires Christlike love – So perhaps you formulated a watertight theological position on divorce or whatever.  In church world you need to be able to lovingly shepherd real people with real pasts and real struggles.  You will need the biblical basis, and you will need a heart of love and compassion.

9. Incidentally, your listeners are typically not as interested in your Bible school experiences as you are interested in telling the stories – They need to know that the Gospel works in real life, so don’t keep talking about how good it was when you were in seminary.  That can seem like a bubble to those who’ve not experienced it.  Instead, talk about how good God is in the midst of the life experiences you share now.

10. Own what you preach, and be owned by the One you preach about – Don’t regurgitate your class notes.  People can tell.  Instead preach out of the overflow of a present day walk with Christ that is vibrant and vital.  Be thankful for your seminary years, but never despise where you are now.  God has brought you to this point to know Him now and spill that goodness onto others as you preach.

I am sure there are many points that could be added.  I probably should have written that you should wear your learning like your underwear: It is important that you have it on, but don’t let it show.  Maybe I should have nudged you to pray about paying off any education debts.  But, I ran out of points.  What do you think should be included here?

3 Ways Preachers Fear Listeners

Fear2Preachers can fear listeners.  When they do, the ministry suffers.  Here are three ways preachers fear listeners:

1. I am scared because you are there!  This “deer in the headlights fear” is typically an issue for the beginner preacher.  Actually, the fear is usually of public speaking.  Seeing all the faces looking toward them, the preacher freezes and goes into a restricted function coping mechanism.  Vocal range becomes limited, pauses disappear, body language gets stuck, the mind struggles to think clearly.  This can occur for more experienced preachers under specific circumstances (perhaps a special event, preaching in a new venue, preaching after illness), but typically preachers who have moved past the deer in the headlights fear will be able to adjust fairly easily to new circumstances.

2. I am scared of what you might do!  The itchy-ear-scratching fear can occur for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the preacher wants to keep listeners happy rather than stirring any controversy.  Maybe the preacher feels their position or even salary is being threatened (after all, churches can become hideously political environments).  The result of getting the gaze fixed on the listeners evaluations will be preaching that is stripped of its potential.  Sometimes God wants to stir up listeners, or challenge them, or change them.  Itchy-ear-scratching preachers are dull tools for divine purposes.

3. I am scared of what you will think!  This need to impress is closely related to the itchy-ear-scratching fear.  The preacher’s insecurity is more about self than about what the listeners want.  This is about what the listeners think.  Are they impressed?  Do they think I am clever?  Spiritual?  A good leader?  Because if they think that, then maybe I am.  All fears are forms of insecurity, and this one is certainly a matter of insecurity.  This is a preacher whose identity is found in what others think rather than in what God says to be true.

There are other fears too.  The fear of consequences if we preach certain things will probably only grow as culture “progresses.”  What fears would you add to the list?  What fears do you sense in your own heart when you preach?

What Are You Giving Away?

“The value of a life is always measured by how much of it is given away.” – Andy Stanley

Any preaching ministry involves giving.  You give of yourself in preparation.  You give of yourself in delivery.  And often you feel spent when you are done.  But the relationship between visible ministry and giving is a complex one.

The value of a lifePublic ministry is certainly demanding, but it can also come with its own rewards.  People see you.  People may respect and appreciate you.  People may even pay you.  Once there is reimbursement in the equation, then the giving nature of ministry can become murky.

This is why I think Andy Stanley’s quote is so important for those of us who are involved in visible ministries – whether that is preaching, or teaching, or leadership, etc.

What are you giving in secret?

Please don’t comment and answer that question!

Here are some quick thoughts to ponder:

1. If all your giving in ministry is public, then your giving is not secret.  There is something about giving of ourselves without attention that is so important.

2. If all your giving in ministry is public, then your giving is being rewarded.  There is something about rewarded giving that somehow undermines the reality of the giving.

3. Even if you ministry is public, there is plenty you could give that is not.  Obviously there is financial giving, but there is a lot more too.  What about mentoring other preachers and leaders?  What about leveraging your contacts and resources for the sake of others in ministry?  What about strategizing together with others about their ministry?  What about dreaming together with an individual and believing in them as they launch something you aren’t associated with?  What about encouraging folks by private message, personal phone calls, etc.?  What about praying – and not just for your own ministry and its multiplication?

The value of your life is not measured by the profile you achieve in ministry, but by the reality of how much of it is given away.