Young Preachers, Pay Attention To Donald Trump

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If you want to learn something about longevity and effectiveness as a preacher, keep your eyes on Donald Trump.

Love him or hate him, the Donald is on quite a roll these days.  He’s surging in the polls and his face seems to be everywhere.  It almost seems like the more outrageous his statements become, the bigger his brand gets.

He has become the poster child for a culture that rewards shock value, at least in the short run.

His rise is emblematic of a trap that snares so many young preachers.  It’s one I’ve fallen into from time to time.  If you say some outrageous things, tell some borderline stories and use some edgy language to “keep it real”, you’ll probably get some attention for yourself.  It’ll feel great in the moment and you’ll laugh at voices that urge you to build your ministry on something deeper.  After all, your numbers are soaring.

That’s where Trump comes in.  He’s headed for an implosion.  His campaign is a lot like spring break – short, raucous while it lasts and filled with regret afterwards.  You don’t want the same thing to be said of your ministry!

Don’t settle for short term notoriety when God wants you to have long term impact.  Real impact is rooted in years of faithfulness, humility, work and grace.  It doesn’t come through one killer illustration.  It comes through dozens of faithful sermons.  Real impact requires a deep foundation in the Word of God.

It’s the Word of God that revives souls (Ps. 119:25), is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16).  The gospel doesn’t need gimmicks, only faithful heralds. Yes, tell the story of grace creatively, authentically, engagingly, winsomely and with every ounce of strength God provides.  Great truth deserves a great presentation.  But keep Christ the center, feed your sheep the eternal words of God, root them in the gospel and pray God would be pleased to bear fruit.  Teach them that good theology and the abundant life go hand in hand.

Don’t be the Donald Trump of preachers.  Learn patterns when you’re young that pave the way for decades of effective, gospel shaped preaching.

Riding The Bus To Preach

IMG_2690I ride the bus to church every Sunday and absolutely love it.  As strange as it may sound, it’s become a small but significant part of my sermon prep.  Those ten minutes on the bus remind me of my goal for the morning: to show people how the eternal truths of God’s Word transform our day to day lives in such a way that we are inspired to worship Jesus.

A sermon is so much more than a Bible study.  It can’t ever be less but it should be so much more.  The call of the preacher isn’t simply to present accurate information about the Bible or God.  It’s not enough to say, “here’s what this passage means.”  Don’t get me wrong (or call me a heretic), that foundation is indispensable.

But as preachers we must build two more layers on that foundation: application and worship.  Show people how the glorious truths of the Bible cause them to live with more joy on a Monday afternoon.  Show people how the gospel gives hope even when hospice has been called.  Show people how Jesus wants to use them in His plan to redeem and restore the world while they work as a cashier in a retail store.  And do it all in a way that makes Jesus, not us, the center and hero of the story.  The goal of a sermon isn’t life management tips.  It’s worship.  It’s people walking out so enthralled by Jesus, the simple beauty of the gospel and the hope we have that everything changes for them.

So, I love my friends on the bus.  They’re often tired, coming off the night shift or heading in to work the weekend.  Sometimes they’re headed to the airport.  Sometimes they’re brimming with hope but oftentimes they’re in need of hope.  They’re living life to the best of their ability.  Probably not doing as well as they would like or as bad as they fear.  And Jesus has something for each of them.

The great privilege of a preacher is connecting God’s Word to our world.

Audience

If you don’t have an audience in mind when writing or preaching, odds are good you’ll end up without an audience at all.

This simple truth has done more to help me as a communicator than any other principle I’ve learned over the years.  Writing and preaching aren’t just about creating a great piece of work.  They’re about leading an audience to the response you want.  They’re not about impressing, they’re about connecting.

The importance of audience was beaten into me by an English professor I had as an undergrad.  Before we wrote a paper, he made us write a short paper about our audience!  Who did we want to read this paper?  What did we know about them?  Why were they reading this?  What did they want to get out of their reading?  What did they understand about the topic already?  How old were they?  Were they going to like what I had to say?  What was I trying to accomplish?  And the list would go on and on and on.

The funny thing was, the more we defined our audience, the better our papers got.  By the way, I don’t just mean we get better grades.  I mean we wrote more clearly and effectively.  And I was hooked on the power of understanding an audience.

So, before you write that next sales pitch, sermon, blog or email, think about your audience.  Ask yourself some questions about them and then write to them not for them.  That simple pattern will pay huge dividends in your communication.