How I Prepare to Preach

I could never be a lead pastor. It’s not that I don’t like the idea of leading or rallying people around a vision. I love doing those things. It’s just that I couldn’t handle the stress and pressure of putting together a sermon week after week. Luckily for me, I’m only called on to preach between 8-12 times a year.

Preaching used to scare me to death. We probably all remember those first experiences being some of the most traumatizing of our lives. For most of us, it meant shaky knees, sweaty palms, and a feeling of nausea.

I was relieved to hear that Pastor Craig Groeschel used to puke every week before he took the stage. It’s always good to know you’re not alone.

Thankfully, those days are behind me, and I believe the biggest reason is because of preparation.

I believe ninety percent of nervousness can be eliminated if you are well prepared. The other ten percent is between you and God.

Here’s my process for preparing to preach a sermon. Keep in mind, I’m constantly in prayer throughout the process.

  1. Gather the Big Ideas (2-4 weeks out)

In this step I want to answer three questions.

  1. What is the main thought/idea I want to convey?
  2. What is the main scripture(s) I want to use?
  3. What is the next step I want people to take?

You may also want to include the main points if you’re used to preaching that way. For example, “Three Steps to Discover God’s Purpose for Your Life.” Go ahead and list out the three steps here.

  1. Write a Transcript (1-2 weeks out)

Once you have these questions answered, you can begin writing out your sermon. I write out my entire sermon word for word from the welcome to the closing. This helps me be very intentional with what I want to say, and writing it out helps me to memorize it. I shoot for a word count between 1,800-2,400 words because in my experience this equates to about a 35-40 minute sermon.

  1. Preach the Transcript to Yourself (Monday-Tuesday)

I will then preach through the transcript by myself at least twice, making changes and adjustments as I preach. I also time myself to make sure the sermon is fitting into the 35-40 minute window.

  1. Condense to Notes & More Practice Preaching (Wednesday-Friday)

I will then condense my transcript into the notes I’m going to use to preach from. Once I have my notes, I will use them to preach to myself another two to three times and make any last minute changes.

  1. One Last Look then Preach (Sunday Morning)

I will look through my notes a couple more times, pray one last time, and then take the stage and preach to the congregation.

By the time I take the stage to preach to the congregation, I’ve already preached the message out loud to myself four to six times. This may seem like overkill, and it may be, but this is what it takes for me to be prepared to give my best.

I hope it helps some of you.

What does your sermon prep look like? I’d love to know that I’m not the only crazy one in the bunch, so leave a comment below. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about preaching subscribe to the blog to get my free ebook “8 Steps to More Impactful Preaching.”

Who are You Listening to?

Part Two: Church Conversations

In my last post, we talked about those random conversations that happen before and after services, on phone calls throughout the week, or through Facebook messenger. We discovered to make the most of our time, there are some people we should listen to and some people we should ignore. In today’s post, we want to move from the non-church related conversations to the church related.

If you’ve been a pastor for any time, you know that everyone has an opinion on how you should do church or how you should do your job.

The sad thing is, in many churches the person who farms all week has as much power to speak into how the church is run as the pastor who spends sixty to eighty hours a week working for the church.

This is why congregational voting is a terrible idea. You would never let the passengers tell the pilot how to fly a plane, but you’ll let them run a church. No wonder so many churches are in a free fall.

Hopefully, your church is not one of these churches. If it is, then it’s going to make who you listen to and who you ignore a lot more difficult.

For those of us who’ve managed to get out of the 1800’s, you should know that who you listen to is just as important as who you ignore.

Andy Stanley says, “Listening creates a culture that attracts and keeps better leaders.” And we all know, everything rises and falls on leadership. So, who should you be listening to?

Here are my suggestions.

  • Listen to those who are invested. Those who are serving and giving to your church.
  • Listen to those who are closest to the action. Sometimes talking to a volunteer is better than talking to a team leader.
  • Listen to those who love Jesus, love you, and love the church.
  • Listen to those who are smarter than you. If you’re the smartest person in your church, that’s an issue. Surround yourself with men and women who challenge your thinking.

One of the greatest qualities a leader can have is listening to those around him or her.

But make sure you’re listening to the right people because there are some others that you should ignore or at least redirect to someone else.

Here are my suggestions for those.

  • Ignore or redirect those who aren’t invested in your church. If they’ve been attending for a while but haven’t ever given or served, that should be a red flag.
  • Ignore or redirect those who are trying to speak into a situation that they know nothing about.
  • Ignore or redirect those who love their preferences over loving those who don’t know Jesus.
  • Ignore or redirect those who are constant complainers or critics.

Too often pastors get caught up listening, worrying, and stressing about something someone said that they should have been ignoring. Your mission is too important to get sidetracked by these people. Learn who to listen to and who to ignore.

Have you ever been guilty of listening to someone you should’ve ignored? We’d love to hear about it, so drop us a comment, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Who are You Listening to?

Part One: Casual Conversations

In a given week, I have a handful of conversations outside of those with my spouse, family, and very close friends. I think that’s pretty normal for most people but not for senior pastors. If you’re a senior pastor, you know that number jumps exponentially. The problem is, you only have so much time. So how do you decide who you should listen to and who you should ignore?

Let’s break our conversations down into two categories.

  1. Casual Conversations
  2. Church Conversations

We’ll tackle casual conversations in this post, and then church conversations in part two of this post.

Today, we’re talking about the conversations that happen before and after services, through telephone calls during the week, or Facebook messages in the middle of the night.

Most of these conversations are harmless, but that doesn’t mean they’re beneficial. With a limited amount of time, you need to prioritize who you give your time to.

So, here are my suggestions.

  • Listen to those who are seeking God.
  • Listen to those who are new to following God.
  • Listen to those who are new to your church.
  • Listen to those who are genuinely hurting.

Get to know them, learn their names, and answer any questions they may have.

This would be a great investment of your time, but there are some other conversations that aren’t a great investment.

There are just some people you should ignore or redirect to someone else.

Here are my suggestions for those.

  • Ignore or redirect those who catch you every Sunday and just want to “shoot the bull”.
  • Ignore or redirect those who are just looking for attention.
  • Ignore or redirect those who are weird/crazy. They’re in every church.
  • Ignore or redirect those who are looking to get into a theological debate.

I know this can seem unloving or uncaring and as a pastor you don’t want to come off that way, but if you really want to make a difference in people’s lives, you have to learn who to listen to and who to ignore.

What’s the weirdest conversation you’ve ever been a part of between services? We’d love to hear about it, so drop us a comment, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss part two of this post and other great tips on church growth, leadership, and more.

Some Churches Don’t Need to Change

I gave my life to Christ fifteen years ago in a traditional church in the middle of nowhere. My church experience before that day was limited to say the least. It could be better described as non-existent.

So, I really didn’t know the difference between traditional, contemporary, or modern church. I just knew that I was missing something in my life and that something was Jesus.

Really, at that time the only type of church that existed in my town was the traditional church. And that was fine by me.

They taught me spiritual disciplines, the importance of community, and how to sing the first, second, and fourth stanza of the hymns.

For that, I will be forever grateful.

I visited there recently on a Wednesday night to hear a friend preach. There were around twenty adults there, they didn’t turn all the lights on, and the worship team didn’t bother to show.

My friend did a great job, and I believe God was glorified.

Does this church need to change? Yes and no.

Yes, they need to get better at some of the things they’re already doing.

No, they don’t need to overhaul their entire ministry strategy.

Modern worship and bright lights would hinder this church more than help.

They’re perfectly aligned to reach the people in the community God has placed them in. They just need to improve upon that.

I feel like some of us believe our churches need to do a complete 180 in order to reach our community, when the truth is, we just need to get better at the things we already do.

If you preach, preach with passion and give the audience one thing they can apply to their life each week.

If you sing, sing praises to God and try to keep it in key.

If you serve kids, spend some time praying for those kids each week.

If you’re opening a door for someone, make sure to put a smile on your face and try to remember their name.

Most churches don’t need an overhaul. They just need to be inspired to care.

Did you grow up in church? Has that helped or hindered you in your ministry? Leave a comment and let us know. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

5 Reasons Your Church is Stuck

Statistics have been pretty clear over the years that the percentage of Americans attending church is on the decline. In fact, around 90% of all churches in America are either not growing or declining. Whether these pastors want to admit it or not, they’re stuck.

There are a variety of reasons why this seems to be happening.

Some small town churches have suffered because the people in their communities are moving to bigger cities.

Some of it is because kids activities are now spilling over into Sundays.

Some people are traveling more.

And some people just don’t see the value in attending church anymore.

With all of these reasons, it would be easy to make excuses, and I have been guilty of making some myself.

But the truth is, Pastor, it has a lot more to do with you, and a lot less to do with what’s going on around you.

Here are 5 Reasons Your Church is Stuck.

  1. You Don’t Believe it’s Possible

Again, I have to plead guilty. When you’re doing ministry in a small town, it can be easy to make excuses, but as the saying goes, you can make progress or you can make excuses, but you can’t make both. The truth is if you don’t believe something can happen, you’ll prove it can’t. Many of us have convinced ourselves that growth isn’t possible.

  1. You Refuse to Change Your Structure

Structure is probably the number one reason most churches are stuck. If your church is still allowing everyone to vote on every decision, you’ll never grow past where you are now. Similarly, if you have a board that wants to micromanage instead of oversee the ministry, I hope you’re happy where you are. How you are structured determines how much you can grow.

  1. You’re Keeping People You Should Have Let Go

People who have positions, volunteer or paid, hold influence in your church. The smaller the church, the more influence they will hold. One of the biggest mistakes pastors make is leaving a person in a position they’re not qualified for. You can only extend grace for so long, and then you have to let them go. Otherwise they will poison your church.

  1. You’re Setting the Wrong Type of Goals

Or you’re not setting goals at all, which I think is the case for a lot of churches. The great thing about not having goals is you never fail. The bad thing is you also never win. Goals should be measurable and defined. Also, don’t just concentrate on outcomes like attendance and giving. It’s hard to control those things. Focus on things you can control that will result in the outcomes you’re hoping for.

  1. You Don’t Believe in Yourself

I think all of us lack confidence from time to time. Even the most confident pastors can struggle with anxiety and depression at times. But we should never doubt that Christ is with us and through Him we can do all things. Even those things that seem impossible.

Is your church stuck? If so, what do you think the problem is? Let us know in the comments, and if I can help in anyway please shoot me an email. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get updates on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

The Key to Unlocking Change

Want to know the fastest way to get fired as a pastor? You guessed it, try to change something. Sometimes anything, it could be as simple and silly as changing the carpet, the color of the walls, or how you take up the offering. Initiating change is dangerous, and there will be casualties. Let’s just hope you’re not one of them.

There are lot of pastors and leaders who like to teach on change, but I’ve found there are far fewer who’ve actually lived it.

Until you’ve taken a traditional church and changed everything about it, you don’t truly know the difficulties of change.

Until your life has been threatened by a church board member, you don’t truly know the seriousness of change.

Until you write a blog post that is the subject of an emergency board meeting…well, you get the point.

It’s different hearing it from someone who’s actually gone through it. I’ve gone through it, somehow managed to live to tell about it, and even got a job working at the church after it.

The three steps I’m going to tell you about initiating change I didn’t know about when my church went through it. If I had known about them, I have no doubt that the process would’ve gone smoother. It would’ve taken longer, but it would’ve gone smoother.

The key is to agree. Whoever is in control, whoever makes decisions, whoever has influence, you need them to agree with you in three areas.

  1. Agree on the Goals

If you’re pastoring a church, the main goal should be to see people give their lives to Jesus. That should be pretty easy to agree on, although you may have some people who would argue that the church primarily exists to teach and train those who are already saved. Many insider-focused churches will feel this way. I would disagree. I don’t believe Jesus came so we would know more about the Bible. I believe Jesus came to seek and save those who need a Savior.

  1. Agree on Reality

This can be much more difficult. People will often let their own personal feelings and bias determine reality. This is where you need facts and statistics because facts don’t lie. You may say something like, “You may feel like the church is doing well, but there wasn’t a single salvation last year and we can’t be ok with that.”

  1. Agree on Measurement

Once you agree on what the goals is and what the current reality is, you can now agree on what success looks like for your organization. So, you may say, “Our goal is to see twenty people give their lives to Christ next year.”

Now you have an agreed upon goal that you can measure, and you’ve all agreed that what you’re currently doing isn’t meeting the goal. So, you’ve basically all agreed that something has to change.

In light of our current reality and in light of our goals, we need to do x, y, z in order to meet these goals.

In order for our kids’ ministry to be a place where families want to bring their kids, we need to hire a kids’ pastor.

In order for our student ministry to grow by twenty percent, we need to increase the student ministry budget.

In order for us to better care for our church members who are sick and in the hospital, we need to develop a care team.

The key is to agree because, once you agree on your goals and your reality, you have no choice but to agree that change needs to take place.

What does your church need to agree on this year? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

6 Ways to Grow as a Leader this Year

Do you have goals for this year? Of course you do, you’re a leader, right? And as a leader one of your top goals should be growing your leadership capacity. But where do you start?

When I began serving in my church ten years ago, I didn’t know anything about leadership. A couple years in, my pastor introduced me to a book called The Creative Leader by Ed Young Jr., and that’s when everything changed. I discovered that I had a gift for church leadership.

Today, there’s a plethora of church leadership resources available, which means that we no longer have an excuse when it comes to growing ourselves as leaders.

Here are 6 Ways to Grow as a Leader this Year.

  1. Read the Bible

The number one source for growing your leadership is often the one most overlooked. The Bible is an incredible resource to learn about leadership. Just think about it, what other book can you learn from incredible leaders like Moses, Joshua, David, Nehemiah, and Esther? The list could go on and on. Ordinary men and women just like you and me who accomplished incredible things. And if that wasn’t enough, you have Jesus, the greatest leader of all time.

  1. Read a Leadership Book

I’ll be honest. I didn’t read as much as I should have last year, so one of my goals this year is to read more. If you’re looking for great leadership material, I would highly suggest picking up a book from John Maxwell, Patrick Lencioni, or Andy Stanley. Looking for more suggestions? You can find them here and here.

  1. Subscribe to some Blogs

This one would be a great place to start, especially if you’re pastoring in a small town. I would also recommend Carey Nieuwhof, Tony Morgan, and Ron Edmondson. Each of these blogs provides great content and give a great opportunity for discussion in the comments section.

  1. Listen to Leadership Podcasts

Are you starting to notice a theme? The amount of content available to grow your leadership is endless. If you’re a better listener than you are a reader, there are some great podcasts available to you. I would start with Andy Stanley’s and Perry Noble’s, and if you’re pastoring in a small town, definitely check out my friend, Jon Sanders.

  1. Hire a Coach

I wasn’t sure about this one until I decided to hire my own executive pastor coach last year. I’m so glad I did. Being able to talk to someone who’s been in your position about ideas, opportunities, and problems is so valuable. If you’re interested in coaching, and you think I could be of help to you, please send me an email through my contact page. I’d love to discuss the opportunity.

  1. Buy a Leader Lunch or Coffee

Maybe you don’t have the budget to hire a coach, but is there someone in your area you could learn from? Offer to take them out for lunch or coffee and pick their brains. You’ll be surprised by how many people would love to share their wisdom with you if you would just ask.

What other ways can you grow your leadership this year? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Top Books of 2016

Each year I release my favorite books that I’ve read. The only problem was this year, I didn’t read enough to have a good list. Feel free to publicly shame me. Leaders are readers, and this year I didn’t read as much as I should have.

Luckily God has blessed me with a network of pastors and leaders who did read this year. So, I asked them to share some of their favorites.

What were your favorite reads of 2016? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church leadership, growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Top Posts of 2016

2016 was an incredible year for me. My church launched a second campus, my wife and I celebrated ten years of marriage, and I went to Africa. So forgive me if I’m not quite ready to move onto 2017 just yet.

Before we move forward, let’s take a look back at the Top 10 Posts of 2016.

  1. 4 Types of Pastoral Leadership – What type of pastor are you? Are you a shepherd, teacher, entrepreneur, or administrator?
  1. Talent Isn’t Enough – But if you combine talent with knowledge, work ethic, and character, you have something special.
  1. Confessions of an Adulterous Pastor – An incredible guest post from my friend Jon Sanders, every pastor needs to read.
  1. Planning a Church Service – The basics of what my church service looks like. This is the same plan that grew my church from 70 to 700.
  1. Small Town Church Growth – The post that started it all continues to be one of the top read posts each year.
  1. A Christmas Conundrum – Do you have church on Christmas Sunday? If you cancel does it mean you hate baby Jesus?
  1. 4 Ways to Say I Love My Church – My favorite post I’ve ever written. I’m convinced if Christians would just do these four things our world would be a much better place.
  1. 5 Shots to Revitalize a Dying Church – Is your church stagnant or in decline? This post will give you some ideas on how to turn it around.
  1. The Best and Worst Ways to Recruit Volunteers – Having a hard time recruiting volunteers? We have too, here’s some ideas that my help.
  1. 5 Stages of Church Growth – Conception, baby, child, adult, and senior adult, what stage is your church in?

What was your favorite post of 2016? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church leadership, growth, and more delivered to your inbox each week.