The life of a pastor is often filled with struggles.
No, I’m not talking about an intense deacon’s meeting or an arm-wrestling match in the youth group. A struggle transpires in the pastor’s study.
Preparing to preach is a call to war. A pastor preparing to preach God’s Word will face an intense battle. However, not all battles pastors face should be viewed negatively.
Sermon preparation is a glorious struggle. Pastors who do not struggle to prepare the sermon miss bypass numerous blessings and growth opportunities.
By understanding and responding to the various struggles in sermon preparation, pastors can become more effective in their preaching and better equipped to lead their congregations. Let’s dig into the four struggles pastors need each week.
First, pastors battle with themselves - While devotion to sermon preparation is admirable, sermon preparation does not replace personal devotion to God. Pastors face numerous demands in ministry, and there is a daily temptation to neglect personal quiet time for sermon preparation and ministry demands. However, the strength for ministry must come from the pastor's overabundance of worship.
In his book Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery, Greg Heisler wrote, “You will never deliver in power what does not first reside in you with power. Praying, agonizing, repenting, thinking, changing, growing, worshipping, transforming, submitting, delighting, consecrating— all of these internal struggles in the study are what make for powerful preaching in the pulpit, and you cannot borrow them from somebody else.”
Next, pastors battle with Scripture - I print a copy of the passage I’m preaching the upcoming week before sermon preparation. Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings are set aside for passage observations and praying for God’s leadership in sermon preparation.
Examining the passage, I connect words and phrases and write personal observations about the text. I also ask questions like,
H.B. Charles, Jr. wrote a helpful book titled On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights for the Preparation and Practice of Preaching. Regarding commentaries, he wrote, “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. So take advantage of the wisdom of diligent Bible commentators. Don’t treat commentators as if they are divinely inspired, but be humble enough to learn from the wisdom of others. Read exegetical commentaries for insights into the text. Read homiletical commentaries with a view toward shaping the text for the pulpit. Read devotional commentaries to get at the heart of the text for application. Read the commentaries to sharpen your thinking, not to do the thinking for you.”
As you consider commentaries, wrestle with the authors with questions like,
Finally, pastors battle with the enemy - Pastor, you have an enemy that does not want you to preach God’s Word! Ephesians 6:12 says (English Standard Version), “For we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Your enemy will attack you with self-doubting thoughts like,
We’ve identified four struggles' pastors face during sermon preparation. How should pastors respond to the struggles they face each week?
Surrender to God: Every morning, pastors are called to surrender their church, ministry, sermon preparation, and struggles to God in prayer. Isaiah prayed in Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am! Send me.”
Consider the Results: Struggles in faithfulness to God help shape pastoral ministry. James 1:2:4 says, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
As pastors stand before God’s flock, weary from the struggles, consider the journey that led from text to proclamation. Consider the joy of preaching Jesus. Consider the joy of opening God’s Word with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Consider the joy of those who hear the Gospel for the first time.
The journey to the pulpit does not display pastoral wisdom, strength, or work ethic, but the pastoral journey magnifies God. Soli Deo Gloria.
What struggles do you face when preparing to preach? Share your sermon preparation process in the comments below.
Why is a biblical strategy critical for the church?
The word strategy has a strong military history. The Greeks developed military strategies. The Art of War has guided military generals and soldiers throughout the years. Even the Old Testament reveals various military strategies from Abraham to Joshua.
However, with the growth of the industrial revolution, strategic planning for organizations escalated. Organizations developed strategies to increase profits, develop employees, and drive sales.
Soon, the church growth movement would usher in an era of strategic planning for the local church. Strategic planning for increased budgets, oversized buildings, marketing campaigns, and worship attendance became the norm. Annual ministry evaluations focused on analyzing the strategy designed by the minister and grading the minister based on performance.
In the book Future Church, Will Mancini states the Great Commission given by Jesus has become, “Go into all the world and make more worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of small groups and teaching them to volunteer a few hours a month.”
After reading a brief history of military and local church strategy, is a strategy necessary? Jesus has given the true, glorious mission in Matthew 28:19-20. Isn’t Go and make disciples all we need?
A mission without a strategy is a slogan. Not only does your church have a biblical mission given by Jesus, but your church also has a biblical strategy for the mission. A biblical strategy is critical for the local church because a strategy creates order, provides intentionality, and is clearly practical.
A Biblical Strategy Creates Order
Aubrey Malphurs wrote a book titled Advanced Strategic Planning. Defining strategy, he wrote, “The strategy tells how to do what we’re supposed to do. It is the overall process that enables a church to accomplish its mission. (Page 169)” Strategy provides clarity for the mission.
Guiding the Corinthian church, Paul wrote in First Corinthians 14:40, “All things should be done decently and in order.” An orderly approach to accomplishing God’s mission for God’s glory is wise and honors God. Without an orderly process to achieve the mission, each church member can design their own method.
So how can you begin developing a biblical strategy for your local church? First, prayerfully consider organizing a team to develop a strategy. A team of church members who are bought into the local church's mission will work together to design a strategy specifically for your church.
Next, lead the team in exploring the biblical strategy together. What does the Bible say about the mission? Does Jesus give a strategy for implementing the mission? Some passages for your team to consider are Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, and Acts 2.
Finally, rely on prayer. A strategy not centered upon prayer and depending on the congregation's strength will not succeed in the mission God has for the local church. The mission of God is spiritual work, and the strategy design must rely on prayer.
A Biblical Strategy Provides Intentionality
Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Obviously, the local church will not fail. Jesus said gates of hell will not prevail against the church. So, whether your church has a well-defined strategic plan will not matter in the end. Jesus is leading His Church to fulfill His mission, and the Church will not fail.
Still, you have the freedom to consider your community and evaluate why your church exists. A church that develops its strategy focused on itself will stray from the mission given by God and only exist to please its members. However, a local church that designs its strategy led by the Holy Spirit, centered on prayer, and strives to focus on others, will cheerfully submit its strategy to God.
The local church that desires to fulfill the mission God has revealed in His Word will begin with outreach in the local community. A local church that does not have a heart for the local community will have trouble reaching the community. But a local church with a passion for reaching the community will intentionally make disciples. The biblical command states plainly the call to make disciples, not simply worship attendees.
A Biblical Strategy is Clearly Practical
Finally, a biblical strategy is clearly practical. Acts 1:8 gives a practical strategy for any local church to implement the mission given by Jesus. First, a local church strategy must be Holy Spirit-led. Without the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the local church is headed in the wrong direction. Acts 1:8 begins, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” A strategy that the Spirit of God does not lead may have ambitious goals, but the strategy will not be Christ-centered.
Next, a local church strategy must be a witness to the resurrected Christ. A local church that doesn’t include telling others about the powerful resurrection of Jesus in their strategy misses the mission’s goal.
Finally, the local church must take the message of the resurrected Christ globally. Starting in their own community, Jesus instructed in Acts 1:8, “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This passage reveals a geographical strategy for the local church to begin the mission within the local community and expand the mission into the entire world. A strategy that is Holy Spirit empowered, focused on telling others about Jesus, and eager to share the message to the entire world gives a practical strategy for the entire congregation to grasp.
The mission is the same for every church; however, each church's strategy may look different. But a strategy is critical for a church of any size. Prayerfully consider developing a strategy for your congregation. If you would like more information about creating a strategy for your church, I would be honored to help. Please scroll to the bottom of the page and contact me through email.
Does your church have a strategy? If so, share in the comments below the link to your church. Share ways the strategy has been helpful in living for the mission Jesus gave.
Churches are seeking significance.
Local churches are tempted to allow the drive for bigger to become the mission. Capacity has become significant. Congregation size, social media followers, and massive facilities are relevant criteria for modern church culture. However, the local church misses the mark when it seeks significance in real estate, not the community’s eternal state.
Your church can find significance in the mission God has given the church.
The question that can define the organizational mission of your church is, What are we supposed to do? It is crucial for local churches that want to answer this question to direct their attention to the Bible. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus provided the biblical mission for the church through the Great Commission. By passionately embracing the biblical mission, the church will see three outcomes.
Biblical Mission reflects God
Ministry leaders often want to replicate the next big church, YouTube celebrity pastor, or high-profile ministry. While replicating a specific ministry is not fundamentally wrong, your church's mission is not to reflect a mega-church but to reflect the Mighty God.
The local church is made up of image-bearers who have been designed to reflect God in the world. Psalm 96:3 says, “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples.” As your church grasps the biblical mission given by Christ, your church reflects God’s heart for the nations.
Follow this link for an excellent study of God’s heart for the nations.
Biblical Mission provides a Clear Focus
Genesis 3 makes it clear we are easily distracted. Distractions in ministry often lead to procrastination in the mission. However, clarity in the mission leads to missional urgency. A biblical mission provides a clear focus for the local church.
So, how can a church gain clarity in its mission? First, recognize distractions. Pray through Psalm 139:23 and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal your church’s distractions.
Next, avoid perfectionism in ministry. Perfectionism is the enemy of the mission. Many leaders fail to lead their church forward because they haven’t found the perfect strategy. God has not called you to unveil a perfect strategic plan. The perfect God has invited imperfect people to participate in His perfect plan of redemption.
Finally, celebrate the mission. Has someone shared the Gospel with a neighbor? Does your church have a baptism scheduled soon? Do you have members praying for the unsaved? Rejoice! Celebrating God’s work will provide a clear picture of the biblical mission.
Biblical Mission provides a Unified Direction
Unity in the local church begins with identity in Christ, not mission. Seeking Him and growing your relationship with Him brings unity within the local church. As you are united in connection, He will give your church direction. Unity in Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, motivates the mission.
So how does a biblical mission provide a unified direction? First, your congregation will be unified in their passion for glorifying God and reflecting Him in the community and the world.
Secondly, your congregation will be unified in prayer. The global expansion of the church started with a small group united in prayer. Acts 1:14 states, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer together.” Churches that pray together are united together.
Finally, your congregation will be united in their purpose. When the church is not united in mission, they are divided in direction. Even under the same roof, without a biblical mission, well-intended groups can pull the church in different directions. However, when a church submits to the biblical mission, every member, committee, council, and leader will be united in their purpose.
Ask yourself, “What is your church supposed to do?”
The significance of understanding the biblical mission of your church is not to find notoriety in your creative methods or crafty strategies but to magnify the great name of God together. A biblical mission magnifies God by making disciples of all nations.
Jesus provided the mission. What's the next step for your church?
Do you feel appreciated as a pastor?
Pastor Appreciation month comes and goes. Some pastors receive cards, text messages, gift cards, or an epic church potluck dinner. They feel appreciated and motivated to care well for God’s flock.
Other pastors? Maybe some pastors feel like their congregation participated in “Forget About Your Pastor” month. There was no celebration in the fellowship hall, no handwritten card, not even a simple “Thank you”. The thankless days pile up and the desire to persist in ministry plummets.
Whether you’re a pastor that feels appreciated or a pastor that experienced another thankless month, I want to encourage you to go forth and “Love Thy Members”.
Why should pastors love their members during the good times and the difficult times? Here are three of the many reasons why God has summoned pastors to love His people:
How do you care for the members of your congregation? Share creative ways you care for those God has called you to serve.
I have a million things to do today!
For those who serve in ministry, the daily responsibilities of church can be demanding, but do pastors really have a million things to do? Although pastoral obligations are many, a million things to do is quite an exaggeration. As the pressure of ministry and family life increases weekly, the temptation is to squander the time God has given you.
However, an ideal weekly calendar is not an exaggeration. The perfect weekly ministry calendar begins by recognizing God's authority over your daily life and resting in His strength. As you prioritize God's power, focus on managing your energy, loving your family well, and the essential tasks on your pastoral to-do list.
You can create an ideal weekly calendar in ministry, and I want to give you a step-by-step plan.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (ESV)” The true ideal week is the one that is surrendered to God. Plan your ideal week in pencil and trust God with the eraser.
How do you plan your weekly ministry calendar? Share in the comments below to help other ministry leaders.
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