On Whooping

BusinessMan with MegaphoneThe first preacher to influence me was my father. He was more of an orator than a whooper. His preaching had a rhythm and cadence. But he, and most of his preaching colleagues, were not real whoopers.

Then it happened.

I heard whooping. Real whooping. At the conclusion of the sermon, the preacher turned his words into music. In a real sense, he started singing his sermon.

I immediately determined that was the way I wanted to preach. So I began to practice. And I started listening to good whoopers. Being able to sing a bit, I was able to imitate what I heard. And it wasn’t long before I developed my own whoop.

My father was not pleased with this development at all. He allowed me to preach occasionally. But when I finished, he would publicly chastise me for whooping. He did everything he could to get me to read good books, rather than listing to preaching tapes. My dad constantly warned me against being a stereotype. He wanted me to be able to stand anywhere and preach.

But I was like a tree planted by the waters. I would not be moved! I kept working at it, until I became an above-average whooper. And it became a featured part of my preaching. Over time, however, my thoughts and feelings about whooping changed.

Several factors broadened my perspective.

First of all, changes in my voice forced me to less dependent on my voice. More importantly, I became a student of expositional preaching. And if you are trying to be faithful to the text, every sermon cannot end with a celebration. Likewise, I started becoming a pastor. I increasingly wanted to see my congregation grow spiritually. This requires more than “having church.” They needed teaching. And because the majority of my people did not come to Sunday School or Bible study; I decided that my Sunday morning preaching had to have a strong teaching element.

I was also encouraged to be more than a whooper by listening to very strong African-American preachers who did not whoop. Some could not do it. But they didn’t need it. Others were good whoopers, but de-emphasized it. I once asked a preacher I looked up to what he did to protect his voice. He bluntly said that he didn’t think about stuff like that. “You young preachers worry about stuff like that,” he said. That rebuke caused me to grow up quickly.

I began a new pastorate a few years ago. And the church had a TV broadcast and live streamed its services. Consequently, more people had the opportunity to hear me preach on Sunday mornings. Some preacher friends claimed I got to Jacksonville and stopped whooping. But most had only heard me preach on the road. They had not heard my Sunday preaching in Los Angeles, even though several years of my Sunday sermons were online. Most weeks I preached for an hour. But I did not whoop. And I believe the church was better for it.

As I chat up preachers around the country, I am asked, “What do you think about whooping? I often answer that question in two sentences.

There is a legitimate place for whooping in preaching. But the place of whooping in preaching is not central.

The Legitimate Place of Whooping

Emotionalism is dangerous. But emotional is natural part of true worship. Jesus taught that God desires to be worshiped in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). Objective truth is essential to worship. But so is sincere, personal, heartfelt experience. God is not honored by worship that is all head and no heart.

I don’t feel the need to defend passion in worship. The burden of proof is on those who think otherwise. I dare you to read the psalms and make a case for subdued worship. Most arguments against passion in worship are cultural, not biblical. So I have no problem with people saying “Amen” to the sermon, giving verbal affirmation of the truth. And I don’t have a problem with the preacher and congregation celebrating the truth at the end of the message.

Admittedly, it is a part of the culture I grew up in. But a biblical case can be made for both light and heat in worship. Worship should consist of both sound doctrine and high praise. In a real sense, whooping can be an intersection where the two meet.

The Limited Place of Whooping

It is not true worship if it is all head and no heart. But the opposite is also true. Singing and shouting is empty if you don’t know what your singing and shouting about. Real worship is about more than how you feel about God. It is our total response to the biblical revelation of nature, character, authority, goodness, and purpose of God. This kind of God-centered praise cannot happen without sound, faithful, biblical preaching and teaching.

There is a place in worship to shout for joy. And there is also a place to sit down and listen. But whooping can potentially crowd out the space designed for quiet, prayerful, and diligent reflection. The truth of the text should govern your message. But so should the tone of the text. If the preacher is doing his job, some weeks the congregation should go home rejoicing over God’s goodness some weeks and go home wrestling with their conscious as they look into the mirror of the word.

My advice is that you don’t worry about whooping. It’s just not that important. Focus on getting the text right. Focus on making your message clear. Focus on giving a compelling argument.

It’s okay if people are moved to celebrate the truth. But don’t confuse the congregation’s response to your presentation – be it with humor, sad stories, or whooping – with repentance, faith, or obedience to the truth.

As the old preachers used to say, good meat makes it own gravy.

What do you think? Feel free to comment. 

A Neglected Key to Effective Ministry

I studied what scripture teaches about spiritual leadership. And my eyes were opened about how the Lord governs his church.

But I hit a sticking point. I had not seen what I was learning done in any church that I knew. I needed some advice.

So I made an appointed with a pastor I respected. I told him what I learned and asked how he viewed the issue. He agreed with me, clarified my thoughts on some points, and affirmed that I was headed in the right direction. In fact, I discovered his congregation was operating according to the principles I had just learned.

I was so grateful for his perspective and excited to get back to my church to start making changes. But he warned me not to move on what I learned any time soon.

I didn’t understand. If this was the truth, why wait?

The seasoned pastor cautioned that if I tried to make changes too quickly, he would have to hire me once my congregation put me out!

But what should I do with what the scripture clearly teachers? He pointed me Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:

“Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” – 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

I did not know why he pointed me to this verse. In fact, I was a little offended that he felt the need to quote this verse to me. In my mind, this verse made my case, not his.

What did 2 Timothy 4:2 have to do with what we were talking about?

Then he hit me with a right hook. I had my defense up against the first part of the verse. But he threw a knock out punch from the end of the verse.

As pastors, we submit to the charge to preach the word. We even embrace our duty to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. But we struggle with carrying out these sacred tasks with complete patience and teaching.

“Complete patience” is longsuffering. It is patience with people. And “teaching” implies doctrine. In other words, change does not happen by “casting vision.” It happens by faithfully doctrinal truth. This is an essential but neglected key to faithful and effective pastoral ministry.

I have complete confidence in the sufficiency of scripture. The word of God works! It just does not work according to our timetables.

Truth is not a weapon for us to wield. It is a seed for us to plant. And the cultivation of truth in the life of believers and congregations take time.

Harvest doesn’t happen in a hurry!

So as you lead your congregation to be a biblically functioning community of followers of Jesus Christ, heed the wise advice a godly pastor gave me years ago…

“Teach it. Then wait. Teach it again. Then wait. Teach. And wait.”

Recommended Resources:

A Strategic Part of Your Ministerial Call 

In Praise of Long Pastorates 

Prominence and Significance Are Not the Same Thing

If You Catch Him Right…

There was a pastor I listened to during the early days of my ministry. I really enjoyed his preaching. And I would commend him to other preachers.

This pastor was not well-known to many of the preachers I talked to. And they would ask me what his preaching was like.

“He can say it,” I would respond, “if you catch him right.”

A friend gave me a lot of tapes of this pastor over the years. Some of the messages were stellar examples of Bible exposition. Others, not so much. He sometimes used the text to make a point the text was not actually saying. Other times he would preach Charismatic ramblings. On one tape, he admitted to making false prophesies in the past. At that point, I asked my friend not to give me any more tapes of this pastor.

Yet, when he decided to preach the text, it was exceptional. If you caught him right, he could preach. I didn’t see any problem with this qualification, because it was honest.

Until someone asked an obvious but stunning question: “What if you don’t catch him right?”

Cue the crickets.

I stopped commending this pastor. I change my view of good preaching. And I started to check myself.

I don’t want people to have to catch me right. This has nothing to do with how clever the message is. It has nothing to do with how smooth my presentation may be. And it has nothing to do with how the congregation responds. It has everything to do with how I handle the word of truth. I want to get it right every time I stand to preach.

A faithful preacher must be consistent. It is not enough to get it right now and then. Who cares if you know how to preach the word if you choose not to for whatever reason? That’s treason. It’s prostitution. It’s just plain wrong.

There’s a word for a man who is only faithful to his wife when you catch him right: UNFAITHFUL!

The congregation should not have to catch us right for us to faithfully preach the scriptures. If we do not have the text right, we should not get in the pulpit until we do. And we should not compromise once we get there. The crowd, event, or atmosphere must not be an excuse to compromise your charge to preach the word.

There may be times when the preacher does not catch the congregation right. After all, preaching is out of season at some times and in some places. Some people would rather hear an ear-tickler, rather than a gospel herald. But it should never be said that the congregation did not catch you right.

Your people should not wonder what they are going to get from you from week to week. Strive to be as clear, compelling, and creative as you can. But not at the expense of the truth. Sure, you shouldn’t have to choose between truth and passion. But if I had to choose, I would rather my pastor’s preaching be faithful though boring, rather than stirring but inconsistent. Needing a Red Bull before church is better than needing a spiritual antidote to save you from doctrinal poison after church!

Don’t be a schizophrenic in the pulpit. Don’t be Rev. Jekyll and Bishop Hyde. Don’t be a preaching chameleon.

Be consistent. Be faithful. Be right whenever they catch you.

Do You Want To Be SOMEBODY?

One of my pulpit heroes preached at my church. We didn’t really know one another. Yet he agreed to come. I was beyond excited.

I have absolutely no recollection of the service or sermon that night. But I will never forget the conversation afterward in my study.

Food had been prepared. And a few preachers hung around to eat and chat, including several denomination leaders that had come to hear our special guest.

The denominational leaders began to encourage me to get more involved in the work. It felt more like pressure. They dropped the hook with tempting bait. If  I would do this and that, it would make sure preaching opportunities, important positions, and other “benefits.”

As a young pastor, and being new to all of this, my eyes were big.

My guest speaker was not in this conversation. But he overheard and pulled up a chair right next to me. He then began to tell me about denominational horror stories he had experienced.

The denominational leaders’ eyes got big.

I tried to head off an incident by (half) jokingly saying, “Doc, you know there are denominational leaders at the table with us, don’t you?”

I don’t care,” was his firm response.

Some of the men at the table were his friends. He was not trying to disrespect them. He was trying to get my attention.

It worked.

He began to list all the conferences and conventions he had where he had recently spoken. He asked, “Do you know which one I am a part of?” I already knew the answer. None of them.

He kept talking, challenging me to live for God, preach the word, and serve my congregation.

The room emptied out. But he kept talking, assuring me that God would open doors of opportunity for me if I kept my priorities straight.

It was way past midnight. But he was still talking. I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t. I was too busy crying. He was saying what I desperately needed to hear. More than he could know. I had been too focused on where my “gifts’ could take me. I needed to be slapped in the face with a reminder that my only responsibility was to be faithful. The Lord is in charge of personnel placement.

He finally let me up for air. Sort of.

After challenging me for several hours, he ended the conversation dismissively.

“I hope I have not just wasted my time,” he said. “I hope not. But I think you want to be somebody. I don’t want to be somebody. I just want to preach. But I think you want to be somebody.”

Through tears, I finally responded. “I don’t want to be somebody, either,” I whimpered. “I just want to preach.”

That life-changing conversation took place twenty years ago. But I still wrestle with the temptation to want to be somebody. May the Lord continue to help me to be content with the high calling to preach the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Do you want to be somebody?

An Essential Part of Planning Your Preaching

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-pulpit-view-2-image1432660I am a proponent of planning your preaching.

I plan out my preaching a year in advance.  And I urge other preachers to do the same. But any plan is better than no plan. It may be a plan for the coming quarter or month. Or maybe for the next two weeks. Anything beats the pressure of looking for something to preach each week.

There are multiple benefits to developing a preaching plan. It saves time. It relieves stress. It allows you to work ahead. It enables you to be intentional about the diet you feed your congregation. And it gives you the opportunity to collect resources for effective preparation.

But there is another reason for planning your preaching that may be most important: A preaching calendar helps you to plan when you are not going to preach.

In the first church I served, I had scheduled times when I was not to preach. For instance, I had the month of August off. I rarely sat it out for the month. But the freedom to pick several weeks when I was not in the pulpit was refreshing. I have not been as good about this in my present assignment. Both the congregation and I have suffered for it.

It is not preaching that so drains preachers. It is the sermon preparation process. Sermons don’t grow on trees. If you take your preaching seriously, it will cost you labor in the study. It is like preparing a term paper for every sermon and giving an oral presentation of it. That joyful burden grows if you preach multiples times each week. And it doesn’t include the other personal and ministerial responsibilities the pastor-teacher has each week.

The preacher’s health – both physically and spiritually – requires that he break the routine at intervals. A bow that is always bent will soon break. Muscles grow through a cycle of exercise and rest. If you burn the candle at both ends, you are not very bright.

In a recent conversation with several pastors, one mentioned that he has an agreement with his congregation to preach forty weeks a year. That’s a good plan. But not every pastor can get away with being out of the pulpit that much. Others may not want to. You must determine what is a reasonable amount of time for you to be out of the pulpit.

These planned breaks are not just for the preacher. Your congregation needs a break from you, too. If your church is nurturing young preachers, they need opportunities to preach. It is also beneficial for your congregation to occasionally hear invited guests. If your congregation cannot or will not listen to anyone but you, it is a cult of personality, not a church.

I hope you will seriously consider planning your preaching. As you do so, don’t forget to plan not to preach. Pastoral ministry is a marathon, not a sprint Pace yourself for the long haul. Stay in the race. And finish strong.

How do you schedule your preaching? Do you plan no to preach? What advice would you give on this subject? 

Two Great Reasons to Preach the Bible

In my pulpit I preach from the Bible for two reasons. First, I am not smart enough to preach anything else. If I were to preach on social issues, there are sociologists in my congregation who would know far more about them than I. If I were to preach on political issues, there are politicians who would know more than I do in that field. Second, I am too smart to preach anything else because I know that God blesses his Word and it will not return void. – O.S. Hawkins, Jonah: Meeting the God of the Second Chance, p. 90

“That’s Not My Crowd.”

iStock_000013250669SmallMy pastor rebuked me yesterday.

We spent most of the phone conversation catching up. And we exchanged prayer requests for upcoming speaking engagements. Then Pas brought up an event I preached not too long ago. He told me he was proud of me. He also asked me about my observations of the event. I answered the same way I answer anyone who asks me about it.

“That’s not my crowd,” I said.

Pas interrupted me. He firmly told me that he did not ever want to hear me say that again. He knew what I meant by the statement. And he understood. The crowd to which I preached did not share my more conservative theological convictions. And there were things that happened in the service that I did not agree with.

He wasn’t finished.

I was not invited to prepare the order of service, he asserted. They invited me to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. If they had asked me not to preach Jesus, I would be obligated to decline the invitation. But if they actually invited me to talk about the cross of Jesus Christ, my singular focus should be on carrying out my assignment faithfully.

There was more.

Dad then reminded me that any group that needs to hear that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came in the flesh, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the day with all authority is my crowd. If I am a herald of the gospel, any group that needs to hear the gospel is my crowd.

I stand corrected.

I claimed those who I preached to that night was not my crowd, because I think they were not used to my attempt to preach the scriptures in an expositional manner and did not receive me well. But that is not my business. It is not about how they received me. It is about whether I faithfully preached the blood and righteousness of Christ that the hearers might have an opportunity to receive him by faith.

May the Lord help me to stop focusing on how a congregation receives me and start focusing more on doing what I have been called to do.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

A Simply Example of Pulpit Integrity

I studied Daniel 3 to preach last week. During my reading and research, I take note of every homiletical outline I come across. It helps me in sermon preparation to see how others organize the text for preaching.

I was particularly curious to see how others preachers have treated Daniel 3, for several reasons. First of all, it’s Daniel 3 – the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace! If you mess this story up, someone should revoke your ordination! But Old Testament narrative is not my strength. And I had to find a way to put my arms away around all 30 verses of the chapter.

As I was studying the text, I ran into the same outline repeatedly. As far as I could tell, Jerry Vines’ Exploring the Book of Daniel commentary with John Phillips is the original source of the outline. But a lot of guys use it. It’s in commentaries. It’s in books of sermons. And it’s in various sermons I found online.

  1.  They would not bow.
  2. They would not bend.
  3. They would not burn.

When I first read this outline, I thought it was a perfect summary of the chapter. I fully understood why many guys use it. But I couldn’t bring myself to just lift it for my preaching.

Toward the end of my work, I read Ray Pritchard’s sermon on Daniel 3, entitled, “A Time to Disobey.” Pritchard used the bow, bend, burn outline, but with a difference.  It is a simple example of pulpit integrity. When he transitions to his outline, Pritchard writes:

“With all of that as background, let’s turn to the text itself. I am using a simple outline I borrowed from Jerry Vines. When I saw it, I realized I could not improve upon it. It goes like this: They would not Bow, They would not Bend, They would not Burn.”

“Other Little Ships”

It was early in my first pastorate. There were two Sunday morning worship services. My father’s custom had been to preach two different messages. So that’s what I did.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in a jam. Before I started pastoring, I wrote a new sermon every couple of weeks. But it was a whole another thing to produce two new sermons every Sunday.

I needed a second sermon idea one week. Reading through a book of sermon outlines (Can one actually read a book of sermon outlines?), I stumbled across one entitled, “Other Little Ships” from Mark 4:36. In the King James Version it reads: “And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.”

Jesus was on the main ship. But that there were other little ships traveling with Jesus to the other side. So it is in Christianity, went the argument. When you get on the ship with Jesus, there are other little ships that must go with him, like church membership, discipleship, worship, fellowship, and stewardship.

Get it?

I thought this idea was brilliant. I preached it confidently. And I thought it went over well. After the service, however, a sister walked up to me and showed me her Bible. I don’t remember what translation it was. But it read “other little boats,” instead of “other little ships.” I couldn’t say anything. She smiled knowingly and walked away.

I learned several lessons from this “shipwreck.”

* Do not preach someone else’s outline or sermon without giving him credit for the work. (After being embarrassed, I wish I had given the author credit for that outline!)

* Sermon outline books may be helpful to see how another preacher handles the text, but they should not be used to steal material. Warning: Sermon outline books thrive on lazy preachers. So do sermon websites.

* Do not preach a message that can be easily trumped by a just simple comparison of translations. Focus on meaning. Don’t play with wording.

* Textual preaching, which lifts words, phrases, or sentences from the text without considering the context of the passage, is not the most faithful way to preach the word of God.

* Do your homework. Study hard so that you will be fully ready to preach and will not have to take shortcuts.

Have you ever had an “Other Little Ships” moment? What do you do to avoid taking shortcuts in preparation? Join the conversation in the comments section. 

The Bottom Line of Christian Ministry

In the business world, the bottom line is the last line of a financial statement that shows profit and loss. It is about whether the company is earning or losing money. And, as they say, the bottom line is the bottom line.

Every field of life and labor has a bottom line. In business, it is making money, earning profits, and increasing revenue. In education, it is passing tests, making grades, or earning a degree. In sports, it is winning games, awards, and championships. Everything has a bottom line.

What is the bottom line of Christian ministry?

You would think the answer to this question would be assumed. A ground ball. A no-brainer. Unfortunately, many pastors and churches suffer from an identity crisis, a lack of gospel mission, and misplaced priorities. We need to get back to the basics.

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handing the word of truth” (ESV).

The bottom line of Christian ministry is to please God in everything you do. Ultimately, the only thing that truly matters is whether or not you will be able to end your ministry by hearing the Lord say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).

God pleasing ministry requires personal earnestness.

Paul instructs, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Tim. 2:15a). Christian ministry deserves your best. You should live and minister with the blood-earnest conviction that if it bears God’s name, it deserves your best. The goal is to present yourself to God as one approved. God is the final, ultimate judge of the success or failure of your ministry. He is our target audience.

Note that Paul did not challenge Timothy to be better than anybody else. He says, “Do your best…” You don’t have to compare yourself with others, compete with others, or come in ahead of others. Just give God your best – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. If you give God your best, it will sustain you when the work is difficult, frustrating, and tiresome. And you will be an approved workman.

God pleasing ministry requires ministerial excellence.

As Christian workmen, we must be on guard against ministerial sloth. Ministers often fail not because of a lack of giftedness, opportunity, or resources. We fail many times because we are lazy about the things of God. Godly living, humble service, wise leadership, unconditional love, steadfast endurance, sound doctrine, intercessory prayer is hard work.

Paul exhorts Timothy to be “a worker who has not need to be ashamed.” The concern is about shame before God, not man. You can be a smashing success with man and a horrible failure with God. You can be a famous minister and yet stand before the Lord and have to introduce yourself (Matt. 7:21-23). So live and teach as a workman that can present his finished work to God without shame.

God-pleasing ministry requires faithful exposition.

The pastor’s primary and central work is stated in 2 Timothy 4:2a: “preach the word.” The imperative is all-important: “preach.” So is the object: “the word.” We must not preach personal opinion, trendy theology, political viewpoints, motivational speeches, self-help advice, popular psychology, or sociological theories. We are called to preach the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. To do this faithfully we must be “rightly handing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15c).

God’s word is marked “Handle With Care.” The way you handle God’s word is the way God will handle you. Proverbs 30:5-6 says: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” So labor not to mishandle God’s word. Cut it straight. Don’t add to the word. Tell the truth on God! Fully give yourself to diligently explain and exhort the truth of scripture to the glory of God.