Developing a Sermon Calendar

I believe the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the holy, undivided Trinity. Therefore, I believe the Holy Spirit is sovereign. God the Holy Spirit has unimpeachable authority over the times, details, and circumstances of our lives. He (not “It”) operates with perfect wisdom, eternal purpose, and infinite goodness. With this confidence, I plan my preaching in advance. Well in advance.

In the name of honoring the Holy Spirit, some inadvertently dishonor him by thinking and acting as if the Spirit’s work is someone quenched if he is not free to work spontaneously. They treat the Holy Spirit as some harried housewife, overwhelmed by a lazy husband, overactive kids, and dirty dishes and clothes, who gets everything done just in the nick of time. Barely. This is foolish thinking. The Holy Spirit of God can lead just as effectively a year in advance, as he can days in advance.

What an encouragement developing a sermon calendar!

God knows if there going to be some tragedy that needs to be addressed. God knows when there will be a death that rocks the congregation. God knows if a crisis will arise in the church that will need to be addressed. God knows what the individuals and families are going through in your congregation. God knows what you do not know!

The fact that God knows our story – individually and corporately – from beginning to end means we need not specialize in “Saturday night specials.” We do not have to start our studies at the end of the week. We do not have to spend more time each week deciding what to preach, rather than actually preparing our messages. We can and should plan our preaching in advance with confidence that God is at work in and through and beyond this process to ensure our congregations are shaped by the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Why develop a sermon calendar. There are several reasons why you should plan your preaching.

Getting on top of your schedule. I am a sinner who needs to constantly take heed of his life and doctrine. I am a husband of one wife. I am the father of three children. I am the pastor of an active, growing congregation. I travel to preach away from home at times. I am a human being, who needs food, sleep, exercise, recreation, and fellowship, like everyone else.

I simply cannot afford to wait until Thursday afternoon to determine what I am going to preach Sunday morning. I need to be able to redeem the time in my sermon preparation. This can only happen when I replace the time I would be spending each week thinking about what to preach with time thinking about the text and the sermon.

Shepherding the church. Your preaching is the most effective way you can impact your congregation. Sunday morning is when you can touch the most people at one time. You must be a good steward of your opportunity. This happens, not just by how you preach and study, but also by how you plan. You can easily start following the parade, if you wait until the end of the week to choose your text for Sunday. Your preaching will become too reactionary. By planning your preaching in advance, you can strategically lead your church forward in thinking and living biblically.

Maintain doctrinal balance. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul declared, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27, ESV). This is how I want to end my ministry. So should you. However, this cannot happen if you are only riding your theological “hobby horses” from week to week.

Your congregation needs a consistent diet of God’s word, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). It also needs a balanced diet. Your people need to hear Law and Gospel. They need to be taught Christian doctrine and Christian living. They need to be exposed to the various forms of literature in the Old and New Testaments. Planning your preaching helps you to be guard against “vain repetition” in your preaching. It helps you to establish a strategy for declaring the whole counsel of God.

Planning corporate worship. The pastor is the worship leader of the church, whether he knows music or not. Hearing the word of God is the highest form of worship. It also feeds the other elements of worship. Our worship will go higher only as we deepen our understanding of God’s word. Everything that happens in worship – in the body-life of the church, for that matter – should be viewed as an extension of the teaching ministry of the church. Planning your preaching gives a pastor a practical tool by which to oversee corporate worship and to plan more meaningful times together in worship.

When the preaching has been planned ahead, you can assign appropriate scripture readings that support the message. Music can be selected that highlights the theme of the message. Special, creative elements – readings, videos, testimonies, bulletin inserts, or follow-up commitments – can be planned the worship services. You can decide that every thing in the service one Sunday will be on prayer. Or you can cross themes, preaching on the grace of God and singing about the holiness of God. Generally, your people should know what to regularly expect from the worship service. But every now and then you should knock their socks off with something special. Developing a sermon plan can be a great catalyst to accomplish this.

Making best use of your time. One of my associate pastors acts as a research assistant for me. He does not do my study for me. But he helps me to access what I need for study. He has my preaching calendar and access to my library. Each week, he pulls the major research material and commentaries that I will need and prints them out for me. I like hard copies I can mark up and file for future reference. At this point, he stays several weeks ahead of my preaching. So when I finish preaching one sermon, I am able to pick up the next file and take it with me. Having this file always with me gives me an opportunity to take advantage of “stolen moments” to read, research, and reflect on the text for my next sermon. This would not be possible if I did not plan my preaching.

Likewise, when you plan ahead, you can collect resources without the pressure of last minute preparation. Because you know what you are going to be preaching on, you can scan your library for illustrative material in advance. You can have a mental trigger that notes things you may read in a blog, paper, or magazine that may be useful later on. You can scan the web for material related to your text or subject. And you can give your subconscious time to “marinate” on the text, deepening your thoughts and sharpening your creativity. You can also have an advantage when facing the busyness of life and “interruptions” of pastoral ministry. Having a sermon plan acts as a magnet to draw material together for your preaching.

How to develop a sermon calendar. There are different ways to develop a preaching calendar. Some pastors plan for the month ahead, ensuring that they will at least be several weeks ahead of the game. Other pastors plan for the next quarter. This is a good start for many. It plans out the next three months. It is not as intimidating as planning for a year. It also forces you to think and pray about your preaching every several month.

I recommend that you try establishing a preaching calendar for a whole year.  Planning your preaching for the year can make it easier to plan the rest of the program of your church. You can establish tools and goals and service opportunities to coincide with your preaching for the year. You can even organize Bible study groups around the Sunday morning preaching.

Planning a sermon calendar for a whole year may seem like a daunting task. But it really is not as hard as it seems. You can start now and plan for the next twelve months. You can pick a time, say October, and begin planning for the next calendar year. If your schedule permits, you can go on retreat for several days and plan your preaching. If that is not possible, you can schedule specific times during your regular schedule when you will focus on planning your preaching.

Here are several practical suggestions for working through a process of planning your preaching a year in advance.

Start with prayer. Preaching the word of God to the people of God is a sacred, serious task. You do not want to decide what to preach in a cavalier manner, which is why you should consider developing a sermon plan in the first place. Approach this process with a conscious sense of dependence upon God to lead and guide you.

Pray about potential books of the Bible, themes, or series to preach. What truths would the Lord have to teach your people in the coming year? Pray for and about your congregation. Pray about the spiritual condition of your congregation. Pray about their needs, individually and corporately. Pray about the future. What is your vision for the church? Pray for yourself! The things you have been studying personally and devotionally may become feeder for your pulpit work. Is there something you need to learn? I have found that the best way for me to learn a subject is to preach it. It forces me to study it diligently.

Talk to your team. You may be the senior-pastor of your congregation. But you are not the only person of influence the Lord has placed in the body life of that church. There may be associate pastors, church officers, or ministry leaders who have helpful recommendation for your preaching in the year to come. Or there may be non-official leaders in your church whose opinion you value. There may even be new or young members who you can talk to as plan your preaching. Indeed, there is wisdom in having a multitude of counselors. Take advantage of the perspectives of godly people you trust to plan your preaching.

Go through the calendar. At this point, I print down a blank monthly calendar for the coming twelve months. I then mark the holidays that fall on Sundays or impact Sundays. I also take note of the special days in the life of the church that will guide my preaching. For instance, our Prayer Emphasis Week is every January. I use those two Sundays to preach on prayer. October is our Stewardship Emphasis Month, during which I will preach on financial stewardship.

I also put down the Sundays that I do not intend to preach. It is probably best that a pastor to be in his pulpit about forty-five Sundays of the year. But the hard number is not most important. What matters is that you plan certain Sundays when you will not preach. The bow that is always bent will soon break. You need to be delivered from the sweet bondage of weekly preparation occasionally. You may not be able to take an extended sabbatical, as some do. But have a mini-vacation from the pulpit. Use special days like church anniversaries, missions emphasis days, or whatever, to bring in a guest speaker. Preach some of the young men around you. By any means necessary, take a break to recharge your batteries!

The biggest part of my sermon planning is choosing the series I am going to preach. My custom is to preach through books of the Bible. (I try to stick to a pattern: OT book, thematic series, and NT book.)

Many teachers of preaching recommend that you preach short series (4-6 weeks, at the most). But I generally preach longer series. I don’t spend years in books. But I do try to preach them in their natural divisions, which sometimes requires twenty or more sermons.

Consecutive exposition through books aids sermon planning. I pre-study the book enough to divide it into divisions I will preach. I may even pick a title for each sermon. I determine my start date. Then I start filling in the blanks in my calendar, skipping over holidays, special days, or Sundays I am out of the pulpit. The calendar fills up quickly.

One more thing…

Be flexible. Like the Sabbath, the preaching plans are made for the preacher, not preachers for the preaching plan. Don’t be a slave to a preaching calendar. If a natural disaster or tragedy takes place that should be addressed, do it. If there is an issue in your community or city or the larger culture that needs a Christian perspective, do it. If you are led, for whatever reason to ditch your plan for a week or two to preach something else, by all means, do it.

Once your complete your sermon calendar, your work is not done. You must review it continuously. Think about where you may need to change courses along the way. Ask the Lord to edit in what he wants in and edit out what he wants out. A bad page is better than a blank page. The fact that plans may need to change is not a reason not to plan at all. Your sermon calendar is a plan to work from throughout the year. Trust God to use your planning to strengthen your preaching, nurture you congregation, and honor the scriptures.

Remember, one who fails to plan plans to fail.

What steps or tools have you found helpful in developing a sermon calendar? 

Please, Just Sing!

A national Gospel Music conference begins here inJacksonville today. It will meet for the next several days.

I have not been invited to speak at this conference. Infact, it would be a safe bet that virtually no one who will attend thisconference even knows that something called H.B. Charles, Jr. exists.
But I have something important to say to the hundreds, maybethousands of Gospel music artists and attendees who are influenced by theirrecordings. I have a message to deliver. I have a class to teach. I have a wordto give.
Here it is: Please, please, just sing!
I say this in the most loving way I can say something thatreally irks me. Please, for God’s sake, just sing!
I do not know who started this trend in Gospel Music. And Ido not know who popularized it. But I am begging someone to take a stand andstop it. Anyone, start a new trend by just getting up and singing.
It is not edifying for singers to get up and talk beforethey sing. You don’t need to introduce yourself. You don’t need to tell us topraise the Lord (We will if you sing!). And you don’t need to mention yourproject or material that is available (That goes for preachers, too. We deservea post entitled, Please, Just Preach!”) Just sing.
And it is most definitely not edifying for you to talkduring the song! If you wrote the song but cannot sing, let the singers sing.Don’t compensate for your inability to sing by talking through the whole song,or worse, talking over the people who are actually singing. You know who youare!
This is called “music,” isn’t it? Then sing it. If you wantto preach or exhort or whatever, then acknowledge your calling, get sometraining, and be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved (2 Timothy2:15).
I am targeting Gospel artists, because what you do on yourecords has great influence on what local church musicians, directors, choirs,and soloists do. It shouldn’t be that way. It may be better if hymnals –representing music that has stood the test of time – have more influence. Butit is what it is. However, you can at least use your power for good. Don’t justthink about how many CDs you can sell. Think about those who are influenced bywhat you record.
To be fair, there is a place for spoken communication inmusic ministry (Col. 3:16). Exhortations and encouragements are fine. But muchof the talkativeness seems to be unprocessed, insensitive, and not helpful.
When I was a boy preacher, my dad taught me to do what youare asked to do. If they ask you to pray, pray. Don’t sing. If they ask you toread the scripture, read the scripture. Don’t give a sermonette on it. Peoplemay not be impressed with you, he said, if you just do what you were asked todo. But they will respect you. And you may get an opportunity to do more at alater date. I still think this is good advice.
So, please, just sing. Is that asking too much? 

On Long Series and Short Attention Spans

People have short attention spans. You cannot preach long series any more. It is best to keep sermon series short – six weeks at the most.

Many who preach and many who teach preaching have concluded that society in general and congregations in particular have short attention spans. Churches cannot endure long sermon series anymore, they say. This conclusion is stated as an irrefutable fact. And it goes unchallenged. But is it true?

Every pastor must make a personal decision about how long to spend on a particular book, theme, or biography. And there are many factors that go into this decision.

A sermon series can definitely go too long. Genesis and Psalms and Matthew and Romans and Revelation are great books to preach. But it may not be wise to spend multiple years analyzing the details of them. You may cause your congregation to miss the forest for the trees, if you go too slowly through a book.

But who determined that a pastor had better keep a series under seven messages or risk experiencing a mass exodus of protesting members?

There are many good preachers who preach long series. Expository series. Doctrinal series, even. When I hear this short series theory stated dogmatically, I smile as I think of strong preachers in growing churches around the country who do not subscribe to this theory.

Let me offer an alternative theory: People will endure whatever they become accustomed to.

If you only preach short series, the idea that you can only preach short series becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if you take a shot at a longer series, making sure that every sermon is a solid biblical message that can stand on its own, your congregation very well may keep coming and keep growing.

Sermons Don’t Grow On Trees

I am a husband, a father, and a pastor. These are my primary responsibilities. And these central roles, and all that go along with them, do not include the other responsibilities and opportunities the Lord has entrusted to me. I have a full and busy life. But there is one responsibility that is the more demanding than them all. Bar none. Without question. Sermon preparation! The wonderful privilege and terrible responsibility of weekly preparation is bondage. A sweet, rewarding bondage. But bondage nonetheless.

Most other things in my life are shaped by this primary task. That is, I am convinced that you must live the life of a preacher in order to do the work of a preacher faithfully and fruitfully. Preaching cannot be a “back burner” issue in your life, if you are going to preach with skill and power and diligence. You must have your priorities straight.

When the apostles were forced to deal with an issue of growing pains in the early church; the set a group of godly men over the pressing matter, rather than handling it themselves. The apostles stated their ministerial priorities in clear and simple terms: prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Now it seems that we who are pastors are most concerned about the “table” matters that the apostles sought to avoid. We love to serve, plan, organize, manager, and administrate. And in the process, the ministry of the word is left unattended.

The point I want to make, however, is not really meant for those who preach. I want to say something to those whose task it is to listen to those who preach from week to week. Sermons do not grow on trees! Biblical preaching is hard work. Indeed, there are preachers who do it well and make it look so easy. But in most instances, the good preachers work very hard to make it look easy.

Before I go any further with this, let me admit that sermons do grow on trees for some preachers. Those who find sermon on trees fall into two categories. First, there are those who do not take preaching seriously.

A friend recently told me about a visionary pastor who is doing great things in the community. I was genuinely impressed, until I asked what kind of preacher the guy was. He told me that the guy’s goal is to preach as rarely as possible. I replied, “Don’t tell me any more about him.” I lost all interest when I discovered this brother did not make preaching a priority in his pastoral work. A pastor who does not preach is an oxymoron. Faithful biblical preaching is my primary, central, and definitive responsibility as a pastor.

Likewise, sermons grow on trees for those who take preaching seriously, but are not serious about preparation. For some men, the work of preaching is pretty easy because all it requires is that they find someone else’s work to steal. Without a doubt, no preacher is original. And if we are not learning from others, we should not be teaching. I would advise a man to milk a lot of cows, but churn your own butter. But beware. Pulpit plagiarism makes lazy preachers! And it cheats the congregation, no matter how well it is received. Not to mention, it’s unethical!

May we who preach take heed to Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, ESV). If you are a senior pastor, or a associate pastor who has weekly preaching duties, make sure you do your best to prepare yourself to rightly hand the word of truth. Plan your preaching. Delegate. And study. Think yourself empty. Read yourself full. Write yourself clear. And pray yourself hot. Then go to the pulpit and preach as a dying man to dying men, as Thomas Baxter said, as never to preach again.

If you are a leader or a member of a local church, do all you can to encourage your pastor to spend the needed time in the study to get himself ready to preach. Pray for him. Thank God for the shepherd God has given you to feed you with knowledge and understanding. Encourage him as you see his diligence in study is evident in his pulpit work. Make sure your pastor has the tools (translated: “books”) he needs to do the heavy lifting of Bible exposition. Do not call on him to kill cockroaches (thanks for the line, Tony Morgan). That is, do not consume him with so many secondary matters that he does not have the time or energy to give to the study of the word of God. Consider him worthy of double honor if he labors in preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17). Above all, remember that sermons don’t grow on trees!

What Made You Move?

“What made you move?” is the provocative question I was asked this afternoon. “I heard you mention that you recently relocated,” he continued. “What made you do it?”

The inquirer did not know me personally. He has heard me preach and teach over the past several days, I presume. At the least, he had just listened to me lecture for an hour and a half, during which I compared my pulpit work in Los Angeles to my new work in Jacksonville several times. And without knowing anything about my story, he was curious. So he asked. He went on to explain where he was going with the question. And he told me a bit of his own story, which made the question relevant to him. And he confessed that he was just curious.

I was only able to give him a sixty-second answer. About a minute into my response, several brothers approached with questions and comments. And we were unable to finish our conversation. But after we parted ways, the question was still on my mind. What made you move? And a larger question emerged. What practical steps should one take in seeking to discern the will of God in an important decision?

My situation is unique. And you should never follow the advice of someone just because it is they way they did it. But there may be some helpful principles you can glean from my experience and process of decision-making, as I was considered a major relocation of my family and ministry.

Admittedly, I was not conscious of most of the things I will mention as they were occurring. It is only now, some months removed from these events, that I can begin to make heads or tails of some of these things. If you didn’t know, I am a retro-prophet. I have no power to foresee or foretell. But I can predict yesterday with great accuracy.

Here is what I would recommend to someone who desires spiritual direction for an important decision.

Pray. James 1:5 says, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV). This is an important and faithful promise that too many believers fail to take advantage of. But I would encourage you to start here as you process important decisions. Do you need wisdom? Ask God for it. Tell the Lord all about the situation. Pray for his guidance, leadership, and direction. Then trust that God will keep his word to give you wisdom with generosity and without chastising you for asking.

Trust the providence of God. I am not one of those persons to whom God reveals what’s coming way down the road. I cannot see what is around the corner. And I don’t have a sense of what is on the other side of the present obstacles. The Lord usually deals with me by simply directing me to the next step I should take. And when I have taken that step, he reveals the next step. And it is only over time that I am able to look back and see where I have come from or look ahead and get a sense of where the path will end. This is how it was for me as I was considering the possibility of relocation. If you would have asked me flat out if I was going anywhere, I would have told you no. But I was pretty clear about the next steps I should take. And at some point, I could tell that things were going in a certain direction.

Likewise, there is a sense in which I was putting God to the test. I do not recommend this. And there have been only rare occasions in my life when I have prayed like this, typically when I did just did not know what to do. I would say to God, “Lord, if you are in this, do this or don’t do that.” And each time, God did it. And it is as if he would say afterward, “Okay. Now what?” And I would find another condition. And every time I came out of the huddle, I would look up and God had moved the ball down the field. Let me be clear. I do not recommend that you deal with God this way. But this is what happened in my situation. I was Peter in a storm, asking the Lord, “If it is you, bid me to come to you on the water.” And he did.

Know your Priorities. I had a lot of voices with many different opinions, as I was considering if and/or how to proceed with the possibility of a call being extending by the Shiloh Church. I would have been absolutely dazed and confused, without a personal anchoring point. And you should be careful of armchair quarterbacks, who know how the game should be played, because they are fantasy football champions. It’s a whole different matter when you are actually on the field and the defensive linemen are charging after you. You need to have a game plan that reflects who and what and where you are.

For me, there were several key priorities for me to factor in as I processed things. But there was one most important personal priority, after the ultimate goal of doing what is pleasing to the Lord. Crystal Reanne Charles. More than any human being, my wife Crystal knows me. We have spent a decade together as husband and wife. And we share three children together. Crystal knows my strengths and my weaknesses. She has great respect for me but is not impressed with by me as the same time. She is honest with me and forces me to be honest with her.

God has entrusted Crystal and my children to my spiritual oversight. My family is my congregation, if I do not pastor anywhere else. So Crystal’s view of things was paramount. If she was not on board, that was the decision. But as we would talk about it, she kept saying, “For some reason, I think you should remain open to this.” After Shiloh voted, I was still not sure what to do. I bought a ticket to go meet with the leaders, looking for an excuse… I mean reason to tell them I was staying in Los Angeles. But I was still not sure. I reached my decision as I was flying to Jacksonville. Crystal’s affirmation was an important element in my being able to reach that decision. We really didn’t say anything to each other on the way to the airport. But as I was getting out of the car at LAX, she kissed me and prayed and told me, “Whatever decision you make, you have my full support.” I cannot tell you how that simple statement cleared away some many clouds that were hanging over my decision.

Get godly counsel. Along with Crystal’s vital input, I was blessed to have a multitude of godly counselors (Prov. 11:14; 15:22). My pastor’s advice was invaluable. (By the way, if you do not have a pastor who’s counsel you respect, I pity you.) I also have several mentors and colleagues whose advice I trust. I talked to family members and friends. I even sought the advise of several people in my life who are not into the things of God, but who care about me. However, I did try to avoid talking to people who would respond to the situation emotionally. For instance, anyone who I felt was going to talk to me about what my dad would think was someone I avoided. That kind of emotional pressure would not have been helpful to me.

Interestingly, most of the people I talked to did not try to tell me what to. They listened. They gave their opinions. And they talked to me about the situation in light of what they know about me. Most encouraging were those who told me they were confident that the Lord would continue to bless my ministry if I decided to stay in Los Angeles or move to Jacksonville. But even those who had a specific opinion of what I should do, one way or the other, thought enough of me to state their viewpoint carefully, rather than acting like they had the final word of what the Lord wanted me to do. What a blessing!

Consider what fits you. I would have never considered the pastoral opening at Shiloh had it not been for several respected friends who told me that they thought it would be a good fit for me. I remember responding to the first three people who told me this by laughing. Long and hard. In fact, I responded to the first person that said this to me by saying (after I stopped laughing), “You would be a better fit than I would!” But after hearing this from so many different people, Crystal and I concluded that it was something we should at least consider and pray about. At this point, I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that they think me and Shiloh are a good fit as pastor and people. When I hear this, I inwardly smile, considering how God has a way of showing others things about you that you cannot see for yourself. This is why you should not make major decisions in a vacuum. You need people who know you well to serve as rear view mirrors for you to help you see the things that your blind spots prevent you from seeing about yourself and your situation.

Follow the sense of divine calling. I had no reason to leave Los Angeles and every reason to stay. Crystal and I had just had our third baby. And MSMBC had just purchased new facilities, something we had been praying for and working toward for several years. As we moved, I was convinced that the Lord was putting my roots deeper in the ground at MSMBC. Looking back, I think it may have been the direct opposite. I think the decision to move would not have been something I would have been able to consider if the church was still at 1800. Too much attachment. But the Lord forced me to deal with that before Shiloh was ever in the picture. I think I was divinely set-up. But only God knows.

Anyway, after we moved, I prayed a prayer that I regularly prayed over my almost eighteen years at MSMBC. I would offer God my resignation, as it were, and give God his church back. It would go something like this: “Lord, I am your servant. You are in charge of my assignment. And this is your church, not mine. Do whatever you want to do with me and this church. But do not let me forget that I am yours and this church is yours.” I am not sure. But I think this effort to be open to God helped me to be ready to discern the call of God when it was time to move.

I remember the day I met with the pulpit committee at Shiloh. I said to the deacon who was escorting me that I thought this was a complete waste of time. He stopped in the hallway and pleaded with me not to play the Jonah. Defiantly, I replied that I could not be Jonah, because the Lord had not told me to go anywhere! But less than three months later, when I was convinced that I was to go to Shiloh, I refused to play the Jonah. Honestly, I felt the Lord was sending me on a suicide mission. I did not want to go. And I could not understand why the Lord was doing this to me. But none of that mattered. I finally knew that it was the will of God that I move. And God already had my “Yes.”

A pre-commitment to say, “Yes.” Throughout this entire process, I had to deal with confusion and uncertainty and doubt. But as I prayed my way through, I regularly began my prayers with a statement of commitment. I would pray, “Lord, before I say or ask anything about this situation, I want you to know that you already have my yes.” Then I would pray about whatever was on my heart and mind. I had my concerns. But I was not trying to negotiate with God. More than anything, I did not was to miss God. I could not afford to miss God. Who cares if I looked foolish to people in any of this? I just wanted to make sure I did what was pleasing to God. God does not reveal his will for entertainment purposes. God reveals his will to those who had a precommitment to obey. So I wanted the Lord to know that whatever way he led me, my answer was yes. And I am so glad I said yes.

What’s your answer?

Should Young Children Receive Communion?

Like many Baptist congregations, the church I serve practices what is called open Communion, rather than closed Communion. This means that every professing believer who is present for our Lord’s Supper services is welcome to participate, whether they are a member of our local congregation or not. By extension, it also means that every true believer is welcome to participate no matter what his or her age may be. Any and every child who has received the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord and sincerely intends to follow Christ is encouraged to commune with us at the Lord’s Table. And we do not have any examination process to determine a child’s readiness for Communion, as we do with baptism. We simply leave it up to the parents to determine whether a child should receive the elements of the Supper.

That’s the issue that I want to address in this article. When should parents allow their children to receive the Lord’s Supper?

Let me preface my answer by clearly stating that when it comes to the spiritual development of children, parents (with the partnership of their local church) should be very aggressive. The flesh, the world, and the devil do not wait to corrupt our children and lead them away from God. And we should not wait to sanctify our children and lead them to Christ. So I would say to parents do not wait to teach your children the importance of regular church attendance, the priority of prayer, the blessings of generosity, and the duty of service to God and others. But I believe that the Lord’s Supper is a different matter. I think that parents should be slow, cautious, and prayerful about when and how they introduce their children to the Lord’s Supper. I believe this is the proper approach, because of the nature of the Christian ordinances.

There is no redemptive value in the ordinances. God saves sinners – both children and adults – by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, plus or minus nothing. So baptism and the Lord’s Supper have no saving power. But these Christ-instituted rituals are symbols of salvation. That is, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are divinely revealed pictures of what it means to be saved. Through these ordinances, we identify ourselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, along with all the redeemed saints of God. They mark us as saved people; they do not bring salvation. For this reason, it may be best that parents keep their children from participating in the Lord’s Supper until they are old enough to understand the meaning of it and can receive it with faith, repentance, and thanksgiving.

In 1 Corinthians 11:28-30, a corrective against the abuse of the Lord’s Supper, Paul says, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (ESV). These are stern warnings and exhortations about the importance of the Lord’s Supper. And it would be foolish to fail to factor them into your family’s deliberations about when young children should receive Communion.

Now, if you decide that your young children should participate in the Lord’s Supper with you, you are not violating the scriptures. There is no direct statement in scripture to regulate what age children should be when they receive Communion for the first time. So that decision really is left to the discretion of the parents. But I commend to you that the wisest thing for your child’s spiritual development may be to wait to receive the Lord’s Supper.

Wait until your child understands the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the broken body and shed blood of the Lord Jesus. In other words, the elements of the Supper point us to the cross, where Jesus became our substitute and died to pay the penalty for our sins. So I would recommend that parents wait until their children have a basic and clear understanding of the gospel, before they give them Communion. Don’t give it to them if they are not able to relate to the elements beyond having juice and crackers in church. Wait to make sure they understand that the “juice and crackers” point to what Jesus did on the cross. And wait for them to understand more than the facts; wait for them to understand the meaning of the cross.

Wait until your child professes saving faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian ordinances are just that, Christian ordinances. So the best standard for when a person should receive the ordinances is when they have become a Christian through saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t confuse your children about salvation, give them a false confidence of salvation, or lead your children to discount the value of Christ’s atoning work, by allowing them to take the Lord’s Supper before they are able to receive it in a meaningful way.

Wait until your child is mature enough to make an independent and credible decision to follow Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper bids us to live in a way that honors the great price that Christ has paid for our salvation. This is why we are commanded to examine ourselves before we receive the Supper. We play the hypocrite, dishonor Christ, and invite judgment on ourselves when we take Communion, but live in contradiction to the spiritual values that the Lord’s Supper symbolizes. And when parents allow this to happen with their children, they inadvertently teach their children how to “play church” without being a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. So wait until your child is ready to live for Jesus before you allow them to take the Lord’s Supper.

Don’t be in too big a hurry to have them participate in the Supper that you don’t seriously process the spiritual implications of their participation. And if they ask you why they can’t have the juice and crackers like everyone else (and, at some point, they will), tell them why and explain to them the wonderful plan of salvation through faith in the cross of Jesus Christ. In fact, tell them about the meaning of the Supper as often as you can. Pray diligently for the salvation of your young children. Make sure that you live before them in such a way that your lifestyle does not contradict your witness. Lead them to participate in the elements of corporate worship and ministry programs in your church that are appropriate for your children. And wait with confidence for God to work.

On Church Hopping

A certain woman who jumped from church to church decided that she was not at the right place. She informed her pastor, “Well, I believe it’s time for me to move again.” Mustering a rare forthrightness, he replied, “That’s okay. It does not matter that much when you change labels on an empty bottle.”

Of course, there are legitimate times and reasons to move your membership from one church to another. Conscience and conviction may require you to leave a church. In most instances, relocation results in the need to find a new church home. And there is a list of other situations in which it is appropriate and acceptable to transfer your membership. Let’s face it. We live in a mobile society. It is normal for people to change residences, jobs, cities, and churches. It is what it is. But it is wrong and irresponsible to accept this reality without scrutinizing it in light of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the church.

Our failure to diligently pursue New Testament Christianity in congregational life has resulted in a phenomenon that would have been totally foreign to the early church – church hopping. You know what church hopping is, don’t you? It is when a person habitually jumps from one church to another.

Some do it in search of that elusive perfect church. Some do it to avoid accountability and responsibility. Some do it because they are bandwagon Christians, following whatever is considered new, exciting, or successful. Some do it because they view church to be like a buffet restaurant. In their selfishness, they design their own multi-site membership to satisfy their tastes. “I like the preaching here,” they say. “And I like the music over there. But I think that the other has a better youth program than all of them.” Still others do it because… Well, I think some people do it without really knowing why they do it. It is like a disease. Let’s call it CHS – Church Hopping Syndrome.

For the record, I am not talking about people who attend events or participate in worship services at different churches. I actually think it is beneficial to be exposed to what God is doing in other Christ-exalting, Bible believing churches. As long as it does not interfere with your commitment to your church, there is nothing wrong with visiting other churches. But it is wrong to be a resident visitor at several churches. For that matter, it is wrong to be a member of more than one congregation at a time. That is congregational polygamy. And it is wrong to jump from one church to another, just because you don’t like some things about our present church or you have found some things you like better at another church. This is serial monogamy. And it cheapens the bride of Christ.

How should we respond to the pervasive and spiritually counterproductive reality of church hopping?

The primacy of the pulpit. The number one reason people give for leaving a church is (insert drum roll): “I am just not being fed.” I could say the same thing about my wife’s cooking. But if I said that to Crystal, she would tell me, “I cooked a healthy meal. If you do not want what I cooked, you are on your own.” This should be how we respond to those who give this spiritual sounding excuse for church hopping. I accept the fact that there will be people who leave my congregation. But with God’s help, I am determined that they will not be able to legitimately say they left because they were not being fed. They will have to come up with some other excuse… uh… I mean reason. A strong pulpit has a way of anchoring a church and holding a congregation together. So by all means, preach!

There is another side of this coin. While biblical preaching will draw and keep people, it also has a way of driving people away. In 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (ESV). If you are committed to sound doctrine and biblical exposition, be prepared for some people to avoid or leave your church. They will find themselves a place where the preacher is saying what they want to hear, rather than what the word of God teaches. But play the man and stay the course. 2 Timothy 4:5 says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In short, be faithful. And the Lord will reward your faithfulness.

Pastoral ethics. There was a time when it was harder for a person to jump church from church to church, because there was a certain code of conduct among local pastors. If you left my church and went to a church across town, the pastor over there would call to inform me and ask some questions about you. You could not cause trouble in one church and then pop up somewhere else without the pastor asking why you left your previous church. In fact, when I was boy, it was customary to hear pastors say during the invitational period, “You can come as a candidate for baptism, by your Christian experience, or by letter.”

That’s right. If you were joining from another church, many churches would require that you have a letter of recommendation from the church you left. That may sound like some crazy tradition. But it was the practice of the New Testament church. But now pastors are so busy competing with one another that we do not care where people come from or why. We only care about whether people are coming down the aisles and the membership roster is increasing. But if we as pastors would be more intentional about how we receive new members and more careful about how our policies demonstrate respect for other churches, it would disassemble the launching pad for many church hoppers.

Membership matters. We can discourage unnecessary church hopping by striving to make membership more meaning in our local churches. It begins with the new members class. First of all, we should make sure that we have one. Then we should make sure it clearly presents the gospel, affirms a biblical statement of faith, explains the church’s mission, clarifies local church dynamics and distinctives, and clearly states what new members can expect from your church, as well as what your church expects of them.

We also need to make sure that our congregations are governed by a plurality of godly men. Call them what you will – elders, associate pastors, or whatever. But a healthy church needs a team of godly men who are keeping watch over the souls of the membership (Heb. 13:17). This is not the biblical responsibility of deacons. And with all due respect, trustees don’t actually have any biblical responsibilities. Churches have them to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Even when trustees are charged with the administration of church finances and facilities, they should not be considered the board that runs the church. The gospel mission, disciple making work, and spiritual health of the church must be the unmolested priorities – not church business. Without a doubt, people are more prone to stay at a church where there is not political infighting over who is in charge.

Since I am wading into controversial waters, let me dive in and add that meaningful church membership also requires that we practice church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). I know that our natural inclination is to avoid joining a church that will try to hold us accountable for our actions. But you really shouldn’t be a part of a church that does not love you enough to kick you out if you are unrepentant and stubborn about your sinful lifestyle! This is not religious legalism. It is New Testament fellowship. And church hoppers would have few places to hop to if more churches would strive to nurture biblical community where mutual submission to one another is expected and practiced.

Our churches also need to develop vital ministry programs that draw people closer to Christ and to another. No, I do not think we should facilitate the consumer mindset many people have by treating them as if the church exists for them. But we should be about meeting needs, not just doing church. More specifically, we should help people for Jesus’ sake. This means that the church should not be a charity, social club, political action group. There are plenty of organizations that are not Christ-centered to do these things. Let the church be the church! We should be our exalting Christ, reaching the lost, and nurturing disciples. This is all the more true when it comes to our children, youth, and young adults. We are rapidly losing the next generation. So it is essential that we cultivate ministry in a way that is meaningful to young people and that assists families in bringing up their children in the training and admonition of the Lord.

Sheep Stealing. All statistics report that the Christian church is in decline in America. For the first time since the birth and early development of this nation, the trend is that more missionaries are being sent to American than from America. The condition of the contemporary church in the states can be best described as a falling away. But you would not get this indication by watching Christian TV or reading Christian magazines. Just look at all the popular Christian performing artists, large conferences being convened, and so-called megachurches sprouting up all over the place. You would think that a true revival is sweeping across America. But the reality is a lot of churches are growing through transfer growth, rather than conversion growth. Many have abandoned the disciple making process and think they are fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) through the circulation of the saints. Sheep stealing has become our church growth strategy.

I sometimes hear pastors say, “If you are not growing where you are going, you should not be going there.” I agree, in principle. But I do not think the question of whether you are growing where you are going should be emphasized in our appeals for membership. It sends the wrong message and assumes that if a person is not growing where they are going, it must be the fault of the pastor or the church. Could it be that you are not growing where you are going because of your own selfish and sinful behavior? 1 Peter 2:1-3 says: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Maybe you are not growing where you are going because there are some attitudes and habits you need to put away.

Get over it. People leave churches all the time. Some have legitimate understandable reasons for why the leave. Others leave for silly reasons. But don’t let it stress you out. You are not the only show in town. Praise God for that! We are not in this by ourselves. God has seven thousand knees that have not bowed to Baal and tongues that do not sing his praises. You are not in this thing alone. God raises up all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

The church I serve is surrounded by many other strong and stable churches in town that do ministry differently than my congregation. That’s a good thing. We have no reason to be jealous of any church. We should be very careful about criticizing other churches that the Lord is using to exalt Christ, teach scripture, and reach people. And we should learn to celebrate what God is doing in other congregations. After all, we are all on the same team. And the Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory. Let us rejoice together whenever we are claiming territory for the kingdom, even if it is not my brigade that claims the hill.

On Formal Seminary Training

Over the years, I have been most embarrassed about the fact that I have not completed my formal ministry and theological training. I began my first pastorate during my senior year in high school. By the time I graduated, I was immersed in my pastoral work. It was not until a year or so later that I continued my studies.

I found a new Christian college in Anaheim (CA) that I attended. During my time there, I learned the principles of inductive Bible study and expository preaching. I studied biblical theology, pastoral leadership, and Christian counseling. It really did lay a good foundation for me. And my professors continued to disciple me outside of class for many years.

I had to quit school when my congregation entered a season of conflict. It lasted for more than four years! But although I did not have the opportunity to attend school during this period, I was still studying. I would even go to local seminaries and pick up the textbooks from the various classes and read them. And little did I know that the beat down I was taking in my church was actually my very own, God-designed seminary training! 

When the conflict finally ended, it was my task to lead the congregation through a period of healing and recovery. I married Crystal about the same time. A year later, our son was born. Plus, at this point I had also developed a larger speaking ministry. And my biblical convictions had begun to harden. So I could not attend any school that wavered in its commitment to the Bible.

I later attended The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley (CA). This was a remarkably enriching time in my life. But I made the big mistake of trying to do a full load of work, along with all of my other responsibilities. At the time, I may have been one of the only men at the school who was trying to study full time and pastor a church full time at the same time. I know others have done it. But it was a struggle for me. Then Crystal became pregnant with our daughter. The work at the church began to pick up. And I fell off the wagon and starting traveling to preach again! I had to push pause on my studies again.

One of my goals for 2008 was to resume my studies. But by midyear, I was engaged in the pastoral vacancy here at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church. And by the fall, I was moving to Jacksonville. So here I am again. One of my goals for 2009 is to resume my studies. I am enrolling in a school here that I am very excited about. I am also advising the men here at Shiloh, who are considering formal training for ministry. Moreover, it is important to Crystal and I that we both finish school to set an example for our children.

So I have been thinking a lot about seminary training and Christian ministry lately. Here are some of my thoughts about the matter. Of course, this is not expert analysis. Consider the following to be practical advice about formal training to those who in the ministry or considering the ministry. 

If you have the opportunity to go to seminary, by all means, take it. No, this is not a word from on high. And I understand that you must factor in your present family, work, and ministry responsibilities – not to mention the money. But if there seems to be green lights at these intersections, I would encourage you to prayerfully go forward and begin school.

There are some men who are very disciplined Bible students. And they are equipped for ministry through self-education. But most of us need the accountability and experience of actually being in a class, with all that requires. When you go into the pastorate, you become the resident theologian of your local church. You need to be a man of the Book to be a faithful pastor. And you need to learn how to exegete scripture accurately to be a faithful preacher. So by all means, go if you can go. And do it before life, family, and ministry catches up to you.

Remember that seminary does not make pastors and preachers. My father used to say that seminary just shines shoes. Guys who shine shoes do not make shoes. They just shine them. And if you don’t bring a pair of shoes, they don’t have anything to work with. Likewise, seminary does not make preachers. It doesn’t make pastors. School can teach a man the languages, systematic theology, church history, and even principles of Christian ministry. But if the Lord has not call you into his service, these things will not make you a pastor or a preacher.

Make sure you have a clear sense about the call of God on your life first. Get input from your pastor, congregation, family, and godly people you trust. If you not clear about your call, wait. I would not advise you to go to figure out God’s call. You may spend four years and end up even more confused! But if you have clarity about the Lord’s call, go to school and prepare yourself the best you can be for God (2 Timothy 2:15).

Do not go to a school that does not believe and teach the Bible. I know this may be hard for some of you to believe. Unfortunately, it’s true. Some so-called Christian professors and schools do not believe the Bible. They spend more time trying to undermine its authority than teaching its message. So do your homework. And do not waste your time on any school that it not totally committed to the Bible. I don’t care how famous or prestigious that school is. It is better to attend a small school where you will learn the Bible, than to have a degree from some major institution that teaches liberal theology.

On that same note, I would not recommend that a pastor go to school to major in business, economics, computers, or something like that. Of course, this is between you and the Lord. But if the Lord has called you to be a herald of the word, or to shepherd the souls that he has purchased with his own blood, you should use the opportunity you get to study to focus on “the Queen of the sciences” – theology!

Be a student – whether or not you are in school. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, did not have formal training. In fact, he was not even formally ordained. He considered ordination to be empty hands laying hands on empty heads. Yet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could name a person who could match Spurgeon’s mind for truth, preaching prowess, and pastoral vision.

True leaders are learners. Even if school is not for you now, keep studying. We really have no excuses these days for ignorance. For my father to learn the languages, systematic theology, and the other disciplines, he had to go to school. But we live in a day where there are so many resources available through various means. One of my favorite Bible teachers and authors admits that he is not a scholar in the languages, but he does know how to use the tools. And that would be my advice to you. You master a trade my learning how to use the tools. Remember, there are no better minds, just better libraries. Study hard and take every opportunity you are given to continue learning.

Do not go to school just because you want to pastor. Many churches require at least a Master’s degree in their pastoral search process. And the priority on having a prepared man is important and commendable. But it cal also be misguided. A degree from a school does not tell you if a man has a godly character, a pastor’s heart, or a gifting to preach and teach. I know men who have finished their formal training, but have been unable to find an opportunity for pastoral ministry. And I know men who have not finished their formal training, but have given opportunities to serve in the pastoral role.

I do not have any academic degrees. But the Lord has opened many great doors of opportunity for me to serve him and minister to others. Some people assume that I have finished my studies. And I take that as a compliment. But I have not. I do not say that as something to be proud of. I do not want to be a poster boy for skipping school. However, my story is a testimony to the fact that the Lord is the sovereign “Booking Agent” for pastors and preachers. He opens doors that no one can close and closes doors that no one can open. Trust the Lord to assign you where he wants you to be at the right time (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Reflections on a Year of Blogging – 2008

It’s hard for me to believe it. But I have been writing this blog since the summer of 2005. Like many other would-be bloggers, I began a blog… well, just for fun. I did not have a “voice” or cause or message. I just wanted to write. And I can still remember the exasperated look TaVon gave me when I told her to link my blog to the MSMBC website. But several years later, here I am – for better or for worse. I am still writing. In fact, I wrote more posts in 2008 than any other year – exactly 200.

As a new year begins, I thought it would be good to pause and reflect on the past year of writing this blog. You know, a “the best and worst of” kind of thing. Consider…

My new hobby. Sort of. I decided that I needed to develop some hobbies. And I concluded that photography should be one of them. So I bought a little digital camera and starting snapping pictures. Mostly, I took pictures of Crystal and the kids as we were leaving and returning home. My goal was to get in the habit of taking pictures and to get good at it and to start posting pictures once a week. It didn’t last long. And I cannot find my camera. Whatever.

The great “Underwear” scandal. It was Father’s Day. And my children bought me presents. The kinds of gifts children typically give their fathers – something we will never use! They bought be underwear. But not just any underwear. Superman underwear. And another pair with pictures of money on it. Go figure. Then they wanted their mom to take a picture. She did. I looked pitiful. And they kids were filled with excitement. And for some reason, I posted it. And the comments came fast and furious. I finally took the picture down. Again, the comments came fast and furious. For the record, the picture was not scandalous. Just kids having fun with their “old man.”

Twitter Comments. I had been hearing about Twitter and finally looked it up. I set up a page and starting writing comments. Then I figured out how to link it to my blog. And it has affected my blog in two ways. First, when I have moments to be online, I make a note on Twitter or Facebook. And I have been neglecting my blog somewhat. Plus, I can update Twitter from my phone. I have to actually be at my computer to update my blog. Secondly, I have found that people are starting to make comments in response to my Twitter updates, independent of the post the comment on. That is why you may read some comments on a post that really seem out of place.

Moderating comments. My blog has always been open for comments. And it was rare that I would read something that I thought should be deleted. Boy did things change in 2008. One comment caused me to close one post from any comments. A first. Then, after I preached at Shiloh for the first time, I thought it was best to start moderating comments. There was nothing bad at first, mostly kind comments that expressed hope that I would return to Jacksonville. But as things progressed, the comments became more direct. And after Shiloh voted, things turned nasty. I even stopped writing for a while. I have now become way more cautious. It has almost taken the fun out of blogging that I have to spend more time moderating comments than actually writing posts.

The deleted post from that Sunday. Most weeks I write “Notes from Sunday,” recapping the previous Lord’s Day. I did this the week I announced to MSMBC that I had accepted the called to Shiloh. In retrospect, that was not a good idea. Sometime after I wrote the post, Crystal convinced me to get out of the house with her for a while. We had lunch and hung out. And when we returned, I got back on the couch and went to sleep. The phone woke me up. It was Ronald. And his tone was very serious. He said that he couldn’t stand to watch me bleed in public and that I should shut my blog down. I didn’t get it. Then he told me about the comments that were quickly adding up. After our phone discussion, I went to the blog and read some of the comments for myself. I then erased the post (keeping a hard copy of it for my personal files, of course), shut down comments, and deciding quit writing. I was expressing myself. And I think it was good that I wrote that post. But it was not good that I posted it. Emotions all around were too raw. Another lesson learned.

Missing Notes from Two Special Sundays. By far, two of the most special days in 2008 were my pastoral installation day at SMBC (11/14) and the opportunity I had to speak at George’s installation at MSMBC (12/14). However, I did not write one word about either of these days. For the same reason. In the days following my installation, I was spending time with family and friends who were in town and seeing loved-ones off. By the time I got to my blog, I had mentally moved on to something else. Likewise, after George’s installation, I spent the next several days hanging out with him. And by the time I got home and got to my blog, my mind had moved on to something else. For the record, both events were very special moments for me. And I regret that I did not take the time to share my joy about God’s goodness and faithfulness as demonstrated in those two special events.

My Thursday Article. I decided to write a “serious” post, whatever that means, once a week. And I decided to publish it on Thursdays. And being the creative genius that I am, I thought I’d call it, “My Thursday Article.” I think I wrote several interesting posts. But in the upheavals of this year, I was not consistent in writing it. As in my pastoral transition, I was no longer felt comfortable about writing on many of the subjects that I planned to cover. This post marks the resumption of the Thursday Article.

The new tribe of pastoral bloggers. I think it is pretty cool that so many young pastors I know started blogs this past year. However, I have some concerns about the tone and content of some of the things I read. But I guess that’s the nature of blogs – free expression. So I will keep my concerns to myself and strive not to let my bad example in writing to contribute to the delinquency of others.

My most controversial post. By far, the most controversial post I wrote this past year was on “Taking Back What the Devil Stole” (4/15/08). But I am not sure why this touched a nerve with so many people. I get a comment about that post once a week. But I choose not to publish most of them. In fact, most weeks I get a comment from someone who has gone back a read that post and has been angered by something in it. For the record, I stand by everything I wrote in that post. If and/or when someone makes a sound biblical argument, I will change my position… with one clarification. I have nothing against praying for deliverance and restoration and spiritual victory in areas of your life. I just don’t understand why this is spoken of in terms of taking something back for the devil. I still think this kind of talk just gives the devil way more credit than he deserves.

On Personal Devotions

What are personal devotions?
Personal devotions are intentional appointments in which you spend private time with God. Scripture warns us not to neglect the corporate meetings of God’s people (Heb. 10:24-25). But your faith will be shallow and your growth will be stunted if you only pay attention to God during public, corporate gatherings. In fact, you may need to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith if you have no desire for God outside of attending church services. After all, salvation is not just “fire insurance.” It involves a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And with all healthy and growing relationship, you must invest time into it. Call it personal or private devotions. Call it a quiet time. Call it what you want. You ought to spend time with God – just you and God.

Why are personal devotions important?
The best reason I can give you for having devotional times with God is the fact that Jesus did. There were times when Jesus would get up early in the morning, before daybreak, and steal away to some desolate place to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42). And if Jesus – the incarnate, eternal, and only-begotten Son of God – found it necessary to spend private time with God, who are we to think that we can navigate our faith walk without spending time with God? Beyond that, spending time with God will build your faith, help you to resist temptation, and provide spiritual wisdom for life. The spiritual benefits of personal devotions are great, diverse, and numerous. But James 4:8a may say it best: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (ESV)

When should I have my devotional time?
Let me answer that two ways. First, you should have a devotional time everyday. Consider the things in your life that you do not go a day without? Eating? Television? Surfing the web? Talking on the phone? Reading the newspaper? There are many things – some good and edifying and necessary, some not – that are a part of our daily routines. It just shouldn’t be that you do many things every day, but only spend quiet time with God once or twice a week. You should put on your schedule a quiet time with God every day.

Secondly, you should have your devotional time in the morning. This is not a hard and fast rule. And there are many for who deem it better to have their quiet time in the evening. Or late at night. That’s fine. But for must of us, it is probably best that do our quiet time in the morning. Most of us are more refreshed and focused in the morning. Having it in the morning also helps to prevent your quiet time from being squeezed off the agenda at the end of a long day. It also seems to be appropriate to begin your day by checking in with God.

What should I do during my devotional time?
I recommend that your devotional time should focus on two essential disciplines: Bible intake and prayer. By Bible “intake” I mean more than just Bible reading. But Bible reading should be primary. Get a plan to read through the Bible in a year. Or read through particular books of the Bible. Or read an Old Testament and New Testament passage. The plan is up to you. But you should be constantly taking in the scriptures. This includes meditating (thinking deliberately about a scripture to gain personal application) on what you read and memorizing specific passages of scripture.

Likewise, your quiet time should be spent in prayer. You should worship God and give thanks to him for his blessings to you. You should confess your sins to God and ask for his forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. You should bring your needs to him, seek his wisdom, and submit to his will. You should pray for others – family and friends, your church family, the lost, the sick and grieving. In fact, you should start a prayer journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complex. It can be a simple as getting a notebook to list the people and things you are praying for and the ways God is answering your prayers. This would greatly aide your personal devotions.

Now, there are many other helps I could recommend. But I think it is best that you view most other resources and practices as secondary to prayer and scripture intake. I will make one exception. It might help to also have a hymnal at hand during your devotions. Rather than just listening to CD’s of other people singing to God, you should get a Christian songbook and sing to the Lord in your quiet times with him.

What now?
In closing, let me appeal to take several action steps in response to what your have read above.

1. Make a commitment to start having personal devotions. Don’t think about having a quiet time. Don’t pray about making time for prayer. Don’t read on reading the Bible. Just do it! Make a commitment today to begin a quiet time with God.

2. Start now. There is really nothing holding you back. Set a time tomorrow to begin a quiet time with God. Put it on your calendar or schedule. Set your clock. Get your Bible, pen, and notebook handy. And start a quiet time immediately, if not sooner. Don’t give yourself time to make excuses for not doing it. Start now. Smart small, lest you set yourself up for failure. But start now.

3. Be prepared for resistance. The devil will do whatever he can to stop your personal devotions. The world will lure you with many enticements and distractions to keep you having your quiet or making it a priority. And your own flesh (or fallen, sinful humanness) will resist the development of this spiritual discipline. Even your blankets will attack you, when you try to get up 20 minutes earlier than usual to have your devotional time. Be aware. Be ready. Be persistent.

4. Make yourself accountable to somebody. Like with many things, it may help you to establish this new discipline if make yourself accountable to someone. Share your new commitment with someone who will pray for you, encourage you, and take interest in how you are progressing. Remember, two are better than one (Eccl. 4:9-12).

5. Don’t give up. There may be a day (or days) where you miss your quiet time. Don’t let the sense of failure cause you to give up totally. Just start over. If the Lord lets you live another day, then begin again where you left off. The Christian life is a series of new beginnings. So don’t be discouraged by failures.