How to Increase the Spiritual Return on a Sermon

Every Sunday something happens over 400,000 times in North America:  A pastor preaches a sermon. Have you ever wondered, though, how much impact sermons really make? Consider these shocking statistics.

bible-preaching

If an average sermon lasts about 30 minutes and if roughly 56 million people attend on an average Sunday, then church attenders in North America’s churches spend this amount of time listening to our sermons each week.

  • 23,000,000 man hours
  • which equals 958,000 days
  • which equals 136,904 weeks
  • which equals 2,632 years

And if the average pastor spends 10 hours preparing a sermon, all together pastors will spend the following amount of time in weekly sermon prep.

  • 4,000,000 man hours
  • which equals 166,666 days
  • which equals 23,800 weeks
  • which equals 457 years

Adding it all together, each week sermons gobble up three centuries of man-hours. If you multiply that over a year’s time . . . well, you do the math.

When I calculated this number, it boggled my mind. That statistic then begged this question.

What spiritual return is our preaching giving us?

I know we can’t measure the eternal impact from our sermons. However, the amount of time we invest in them and the time people invest in listening to them should cause us to pause and evaluate.

Take a few moments and consider these ten questions. As you read them ask yourself if should make some changes to maximize your sermons’ spiritual impact.

  1. Do I spend sufficient time preparing my heart to preach (ie: spiritual disciplines, stillness, character development)?
  2. Do I spend sufficient time with people to understand the issues they face that need a word from God?
  3. Am I being true to what the biblical writers intended when I preach?
  4. Am I willing to get honest feedback from people who can help me improve my preaching?
  5. Do I make my preaching more about Him and less about me and what others may think about my preaching?
  6. What am I doing to improve my study and presentation skills?
  7. Am I willing to preach on unpopular subjects about which the Scripture speaks?
  8. Do I spend sufficient time thinking about ways that could maximize the listener’s attention to increase their retention of my sermons?
  9. Do I always tie my sermons to the overarching redemptive theme of the Gospel?
  10. Do I approach preaching as a hallowed trust?

Perhaps the venerable Haddon Robinson captured the essence of good preaching when we wrote this in his excellent book, Biblical Preaching.

When you get right down to it, preaching is like farming. I often say, “Lord, here I am. As far as I can tell, I’ve tried to fill my sack with good seed. I’ve done my homework, I think my attitude is right, and it’s the best, most interesting seed I’ve got. I’m going to scatter it now, Lord. So here goes. We’ll see what comes up in the field.” Then, once I’ve sown the seed, I do what farmers do: I go home and rest.

What questions would you add to this list?

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10 Signs a Leader May Need a New Challenge

One of my favorite writers is Liz Wiseman. She has spoken at the Willow Creek Summit a couple of times. She has authored these two great books that I love… Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. In one chapter of Rookie Smarts she lists 10 signs that might indicate you need a new challenge. As you read these, ask yourself if they reflect your current world.

goldfish jumping out of the water

10 Signs a Leader Needs a New Challenge*

As you read each one, mentally check the ones true of you.

  1. Things are running smoothly.
  2. You are consistently getting positive feedback.
  3. Your brain doesn’t have to work hard to be successful.
  4. You don’t prepare for meetings because you already know the answers.
  5. You’ve stopped learning something new every day.
  6. You are busy but bored.
  7. You’re taking longer showers in the morning and you take your time getting to work.
  8. It makes you tired to think you could be doing the same job a year from now.
  9. You’ve become increasingly negative and can’t identify why.
  10. You’re spending a lot of time trying to fix other people’s problems.

So how many did you check?

Liz says that two or more of these experiences indicate you need to, ‘renew your rookie smarts,’ (approach your ministry with a beginner’s mindset to become a better learner). And if three or more are true of you, you need a new challenge.

When I read this list, it made me think deeply about how I approach my role as a lead pastor.

  • I don’t want to get stuck on cruise control because things may go well.
  • I don’t want to look back one day and realize I squandered God-given opportunities because I was taking the path of least resistance.
  • I don’t want to get too comfortable by using what worked well before.
  • I don’t want to become so drained by other people’s problems that I have little energy to think into the future.
  • I do want to approach each day from a possibility mindset, how God can use me to make an eternal Kingdom impact.

As you lead, guard against becoming complacent and comfortable.

Relish your wins.

Enjoy the successes God gives you.

Take joy in God’s pleasure in you.

And ponder and heed these words of Joshua.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Josh. 1.8, NLT)

What would you add to this list that might indicate a leader needs a new challenge?

*list from Wiseman, Liz. Rookie Smarts (Enhanced Edition): Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (p. 165). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Rejection: How if Affects Leaders

Disapproval and rejection can sting and wound. We’ve all felt it. What do we do when important people in our lives (or even those that we don’t deem important) reject us? How do we respond as did Jesus when he was rejected and scorned? In this post I unpack this painful thing called rejection.

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

Years ago I experienced deep disapproval and rejection from some key church leaders in the church I was in. Essentially they told me that I wasn’t a good leader nor could I inspire people when I preached God’s Word. I was devastated and the effects lingered for months. At the time I didn’t process this rejection well. In retrospect, however, I now understand why this hurt so much and what to do about it.

God created our bodies and our mental command and control center, our brains, with two overall systems that profoundly impact how we think and feel. Our refleXive system (think X-system) is the one that acts without thinking. When it controls, our emotions often take over. The other system, our refleCtive system (think C-system) is the one that helps us think clearly and biblically when our emotions want us to do otherwise. When our X-system controls, we become highly emotional and reactive which dampens our C-system’s ability to think clearly and objectively. However, when we submit our C-system to the Holy Spirit, we are able to think more in line with the Apostle Paul’s command in Philippeans 4.8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Because I failed to appropriately filter their disapproval with the mind of Christ (His thoughts and perspective), my response prompted my brain to release neurochemicals, called catecholamines, that revved up my X-system. This in turn further diminished my ability to think and lead effectively in these three ways.

  • Mental exhaustion: My brain’s check engine light was always on. One part of our brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) senses inconsistencies we detect in verbal or non-verbal messages we get from others. Because those leaders often gave me mixed messages about my performance (you are a great guy… you don’t inspire people), that part of my brain was constantly ‘on.’ I become mentally exhausted which bred even more anxiety about the situation.
  • Easily defensive: My brain’s impulse control brake pads wore thin. I’m usually able to control my emotions and avoid defensiveness. However, because the stress had tired my brain and body, the part of my brain that helps control impulses and emotions (the ventral lateral pre-frontal cortex) had little ‘brake pad’ left. As a result, I was not able to carry on objective conversations about their perspective, which would have helped. Instead, I became defensive, didn’t listen well to their viewpoints, and reacted to small irritations at home.
  • Inability to concentrate: My brain’s mental etch-a-sketch could not hold a creative thought long without losing it. An important part of the brain (the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex) gives us the ability to plan, hold items in memory, and think abstractly. However, I could barely concentrate which impacted my ability to think creatively when preparing a sermon or when planning a new initiative. My brain felt like an etch-a-sketch constantly being shaken causing the picture on it to quickly dissolve. I often defaulted to mindless activities such as looking at Facebook several times daily rather than focusing on the more important mind-taxing tasks ministry demanded.

When leaders feel rejected, these internal processes will occur unless with the Spirit’s power we proactively take action to counter them. In my next post I discuss how we can counter these tendencies when we feel rejected.

When others have rejected you, what negative consequences have you seen in your leadership?


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The 7 C’s of Great Ministry Leaders

I recently read a great article by Brad Powell on the 7 C’s of great ministry leaders. I’ve heard of the three C’s before, but his 7 captured the essence of great leaders. Here are his 7 C’s.

Leadership concept
  1. Calling: we must have a sense of God’s call where we currently serve
  2. Character: perhaps the most important, there is no substitute for integrity and a pure heart
  3. Competence: we need the right gifts and abilities to match the needs in our ministry
  4. Confidence: our confidence in the Lord gives us what we need to lead without hesitation
  5. Courage: we must be willing to take unpopular stands sometimes and remind ourselves that we play to an audience of One
  6. Commitment: if we are going to last for the long haul we must be ‘all in’
  7. Continuous growth: a good leader must constantly be learning and growing

What C’s for great leaders would you add (or any other qualities that don’t begin with C)?

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Not Motivated? Try a Simple Pleasure.

Every day we need something called motivation to accomplish what we need to do that day. Some tasks come with built-in motivation. I don’t need much motivation to eat thin-crust Canadian bacon pizza or watch Hawaii Five-O (I admit I’m hooked). But many tasks feel daunting and don’t look enticing, like doing your taxes, answering a bazillion emails after vacation, or fixing the toilet leak (I hate handyman chores). Yet those tasks need to be done. I’ve found it’s easy to get distracted and waste time when I’m faced with one of those tasks. So, how can we get motivated?

frog-and-carrot-motivation

Simple: get your brain working for you. Deep in our brain lie some structures called the basal ganglia. Within those structures is our pleasure center, the nucleus accumbens. When we do something that feels pleasurable, our brain gives a shot of a feel good neurotransmitter called dopamine. So whether you eat a candy bar or check off an important ‘to-do’ for the day, this brain chemical gives you a pleasant feeling. When that happens, we become a bit more motivated for the next task.

So the next time you find yourself unmotivated and procrastinating to avoid an unpleasant task, take 5 minutes to do something that brings you pleasure such as one of these.

  • Listen to some good music.
  • Eat a candy bar (or better yet, eat a handful of blueberries).
  • Read a few jokes and laugh.
  • Take a brisk walk.
  • Call a friend.
  • Read an uplifting Psalm form Scripture.

What are some ideas you have about getting motivated?

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