Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Faith that Works – A sermon based on James 2:14-27

Click here to review part one in this series (James 1:1-8 – Maturing Through Difficulty)

Click here to review part two in this series (James 1:9-18 - We Don’t Want to Be Rich!)

Click here to review part three in this series (James 2:1-13 – Treat Everyone the Same)


• James 2:14-27 is one of the most controversial passages in scripture because it seems to say that people are saved by their works, though many other verses say we are saved by faith.
• The famous theologian Martin Luther hated the book of James because of this portion of scripture. He called it a book of “straw,” meaning it was useless. He wanted to cut it out of the Bible!
• We must remember two things when looking at a controversial passage of scripture: the context in which it was written and how it relates to other parts of the Bible.
• We know from the context of the entire book of James that James was primarily interested in moving people from a passive faith to an active faith. That was why he said to be doers of the Word, not hearers only in James 1:22.
• Therefore, we must look at this scripture from a more practical perspective than a theological one.
• We know from other passages of scripture, that salvation can only be gained through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8-10, Galatians 2:16, Romans 4:2-5, Acts 16:30-31).
• Since God does not contradict Himself, James must have meant something other than what it appears at first glance.

Verse 14 - What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can his faith save him?

• James dives right into the middle of the controversy by asking a hard question about faith.
• Most of us do not like questions about our faith, especially hard questions.
• But James asked an honest question: What good is a faith that does not produce good works?

Verses 15-16 - If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you don't give them what the body needs, what good is it?

• James gives an example of how our faith might result in good works, which is helping the poor.
• Note that James is referring to a poor “brother” or “sister.”
• The term “brother” and “sister” is used by James to refer to other Christians in our community of faith.
• James is saying that as a church, we have an obligation to help each other.
• This does not mean that we should not also help those outside the church, but the reality is that no church will have the resources to help everyone.
• We must help our own “family” first.
• If someone in the Christian family is in need and we say nice things to them, but do not offer them help, James wants to know what good our nice words are.
• ANSWER: Not much good at all!!!!

Verse 17 - In the same way faith, if it doesn't have works, is dead by itself.

• James takes his one example and expands it to the rest of life.
• If our faith is not backed up by works, then our faith is dead.
• Does this mean that a person who does not do good works is not a Christian?
• God is the only one who knows who His true followers are, but people whose faith is not backed up by works are not GOOD Christians.

Verse 18 - But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.

• James knew there would always be someone in the crowd who wanted to argue theology.
• Every church has at least one person who considers themselves an expert on matters of faith (they are usually self-proclaimed experts).
• Those “experts” want to talk about their faith in terms of doctrine and theology.
• James is not in any way saying that theology and doctrine are unimportant.
• James is simply saying, “Put your actions where your mouth is!”
• Don’t just tell others about theology, demonstrate theology through action.
• Richard Gotthardt of Chrio Community Church says:
“I can no more earn admission into heaven than I can teleport to another galaxy. God alone by His grace saves us, and that grace is experienced through faith in Jesus Christ. But that faith must lead to change, to transformation. If I was talking to someone who was betting their eternity on a brief prayer they said years ago that seems to have no relevance to their current life I would not want to offer lots of assurances to that person. Faith has to mean something– and it must lead to something. Faith that leads to nothing– it’s just lifeless, dead, empty. And who wants a faith like that?"
• Nathan Gitter, pastor of the Saginaw Community Christian Reformed Church says:
"Friends of Jesus Christ, if you have faith it is because God has reached down to touch your heart and give that faith to you. Faith starts with God. It is a gift from him. And it saves us. And then it works! The same God who has reached down to give you faith and save you has prepared works just for you, just for your personality and experience, and giftedness."
Terry adds: You can’t have one without the other!

Verse 19 - You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.

• James then refers to some deep theology, that of the Trinity. Few people can adequately explain how the Father, Son and Spirit all relate to each other.
• But even if a person thought they were an expert on that piece of deep theology and could espouse belief in it, if they cannot act on it, it would be of little value.
• James points out that the demons understand the Trinity very well.
• The demons can probably explain it better than most Christians.
• But demons cannot “act” on the Trinity in faith, because they are not the children of God.
• If our theology is to have any meaning, it must be acted out in real life.

Verse 20 - Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless?

• People who think they understand deep theology but are unable to act on it are being foolish.
• They are fooling themselves into thinking more highly of themselves than they should.
• They are acting “rich” like James warned about in chapter 1.
• The “expert” in theology needs to be become a student again and learn how to put his faith into practice.
• Faith without action is useless faith.

Verse 21 - Wasn't Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

• James then refers to an event in Jewish history, when Abraham was tested by God.
• God told Abraham to offer his only son on the altar.
• God does not actually accept human sacrifice, so it was a strange request for God to make.
• But God was testing Abraham to see how much faith Abraham really had.
• But just as Abraham prepared to kill his son Isaac in obedience to God, God stopped Abraham and told him he had passed the test.
• God then provided a ram to be sacrificed instead.
• Abraham had faith, but it needed to be tested.
• Read the entire story in Genesis 22.

Verse 22 - You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected.

• Abraham had faith and he proved his faith through his actions.
• Who was Abraham actually proving his faith to?
• God already knew Abraham’s faith was real.
• Abraham was actually proving his faith to himself.
• We often doubt our faith and wonder if we are really Christians.
• We are often our own worst critics. But if we are acting out our faith with joy and happiness, it demonstrates to our own spirits that our faith is real and makes us stronger.
• One way we can verify our faith in our own hearts is through our obedience to our faith.

Verse 24 - You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

• This verse is probably the most controversial verse in the entire passage.
• The reason this verse is so controversial is because if we just read it outside of its context, it seems to clearly say one thing.
• It seems to say that we must have faith AND works to be saved.
• But when this verse is looked at in the context of the rest of the passage and then compared with other scriptures, it says something completely different.
• Scriptures on Works and Salvation:
• Romans 3:28 - For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
• Ephesians 2:8-10 - It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
• When read in the context of the passage, and when compared to other scriptures, this verse means that real faith produces real works and we should not declare ourselves Christians only because we can quote a set of Bible verses or recite a doctrinal creed.
• If our faith is real, then our faith will have changed us in some significant way.


• Scripture must be interpreted in context and in relationship to other scripture.
• Faith is a gift from God, but real faith produces real works.
• Faith is not just words, it is action!
• If our faith has not changed us in a significant way, we need to ask ourselves hard questions about how valuable our faith really is.

Anyone can learn to develop a sermon outline like this by reading the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Treat Everyone the Same – A sermon based on James 2:1-13

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett is a church planter in New England. He also leads seminars to help churches of all sizes, but especially smaller ones, reach people of all ages, but especially the next generation.

Click here to review part one in this series (James 1:1-8 – Maturing Through Difficulty)

Click here to review part two in this series (James 1:9-18 - We Don’t Want to Be Rich!)

Verse 1 - My brothers, hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ without showing favoritism.

• When James uses the term “brothers” he is referring to Christians.
• This passage is telling Christians how to treat other people.
• How we treat other people is an outward demonstration of how we “hold to our faith.”
• If we were honest, we would have to admit that we tend to let go of our faith when it is convenient and then take it up again when we need something from God.
• The word “favoritism” is the Greek word “prosopolempsia” which means “receiving a person because of one’s outward appearance.”
• We often pick our friends by the clothes they wear, or the style of their hair, or how they look.
• The Lord chooses people by what He sees inside of them.
• 1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said …Do not look at his outward appearance or his stature…Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart."

Verse 2 - For suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring, dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in.

Read Bill’s story . . . .
• It is so easy to look down on those who we perceive as being “lower” than us.
• But how does God want us to treat others?

Verses 3-4 - If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes so that you say, Sit here in a good place, and yet you say to the poor man, Stand over there, or, Sit here on the floor by my footstool, haven't you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

• When we treat people differently because of how they look, we are discriminating against them.
• The word “discriminate” comes from the Greek word “diakrinomai” which literally means “wavering or doubting.”
• Remember, verse 1 said hold to our faith by treating people correctly.
• When we discriminate against people because of how they look, we waver in our faith and doubt God’s creation.
• God made us the way we are, who are we to doubt God’s wisdom?

Verse 5 - Didn't God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?

• Remember James 1:10 taught us that the “poor” are those who have been through difficulties in life but remained faithful while the “rich” are those who think they are powerful and in control of everything around them.
• God choose the “poor” to be rich in faith.
• This means God choose those who have been through difficulties and trials to have a faith that is powerful and can change situations through their trust in the Spirit.
• The verse also says that God choose the poor to be heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
• This does not mean that people who have had difficulty in life automatically get to go to heaven.
• This verse is referring to the reality that many people come to Christ in a time of difficulty in their lives. Once they come to Christ, then they get to go to heaven.
• Difficulties in life will either be a stepping stone to God or a stumbling block to faith.

Verse 8 - If you really carry out the royal law prescribed in Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.

• James reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:39, that we should love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
• If we do that, then we are doing well.
• Imagine a world, a nation, a community, a church, a family, where we loved each other as much as we loved ourselves.

Verse 9 - But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

• When we judge people by how they look on the outside, we sin.
• God takes sin seriously.
• So while we are busy judging others, God is preparing to judge us.
• We might want to think about this some.

Verse 10 - For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.

• James points out that sin is sin.
• Though we like to create categories for sins that we think are worse than others, God does not have such categories.
• God is so holy that He cannot tolerate any level of sin in His presence.
• Therefore, the sin of favoritism is just as serious as any other sin.
• This means that not only must be make sure we do not judge others by how they look on the outside, we also need to be careful about judging others for sin that we perceive to be worse than our own sin.
• This does not mean we have to ignore sin.
• It simply means that we must all acknowledge our own sin before pointing out the sins of others.
• Matthew 7:2-5 - For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye but don't notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and look, there's a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.


• Christians should not discriminate against others based on outward appearance.
• Christians should realize that those who have gone through great difficulty in their lives may have much to teach us about faith, even if they look a bit beat up.
• Christians should love others as much as they love themselves.
• Christians should only point out sin in others after we have acknowledged our own sins before a Holy God, who will judge us all.

Anyone can learn to develop a sermon outline like this by reading the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We Don’t Want To Be Rich!!!! - A sermon based on James 1:9-18

Click here to review part one in this series, James 1:1-8 – Maturing Through Difficulty

Verse 9 - Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation . . .

• Notice the terms “lowly” and “brother.”
• “Brother” refers to a believer who is part of the family of God.
• “Lowly” refers to a believer who has been through the fire of difficulty and decided to trust God no matter what. He has humbled himself before God.
• God will exalt the lowly.
• People who have struggled through hard times in life and learned to endure difficulty often have a deep faith and a close relationship with God that few understand.
• They may not be able to articulate their faith with fancy theological terms or explain complex doctrines, but they know the deep love of Jesus and they trust that love to carry them through the hard times in life.
• An example of enduring suffering with grace . . . .
• Maxim Toussaint is a Haitian Christian working through the Presbyterian Church. Though no year is easy in Haiti, 2010 was particularly challenging. Toussaint describes 2010 as ‘a year of trials’ after losing his house and job due to the January earthquake, then watching his community flood after Hurricane Tomas hit in November and he has now seen 3400 people die from the cholera epidemic. Yet, his faith in God remains strong.
• Maxim Toussaint is not boasting about his ability to survive.
• Maxim Toussaint is boasting about the power of God to help him endure the trails he has experienced and live for the Lord in spite of his circumstances.
• As Christians, we should give God glory when our circumstances force us to draw closer to God. We should exalt Jesus in hard times.

Verse 10 - but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.

• When James uses the term “rich,” he is not referring to a person’s economic status
• James is referring to how a person views himself in relation to the world around him.
• A “rich” person thinks he is in control.
• A “rich” person thinks the world revolves around him and his goals and ideas.
• A “rich” person cares little for others.
• When a hurricane strikes, or a flood happens, or the doctor uses the word “cancer,” we realize we are not in control after all.
• In that moment, what matters is how much faith we have in God.
• A “rich” person should rejoice when their illusion of control is ripped away because it allows him to focus on the Lord better.

Verse 12 - Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

• Natural disasters, physical illness or financial issues are not the only hardships we face.
• Some of our greatest struggles are the temptations we fight in our own minds.
• Each of us has our own unique issues, but all of us have some sin we struggle with (Hebrews 12:1).
• Part of growing in our faith is learning to overcome the temptations that so easily overtake us.
 • Sometimes temptations disappear on their own over time, but often we have to learn how to endure temptation without giving in.
• The “crown of life” refers to a reward God will give to all Christians who love Him.
• Though scholars have various opinions about exactly what this crown represents in eternity.
• Many think that it symbolizes the freedom to live life fully once we have finally overcome the temptation for our “pet” sin.

Verse 13 - Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

• When we think about temptation, we often love to blame others.
• Sometimes, we even blame God by saying “This is just the way God made me.”
• God never tempts us to do wrong.
• We cannot blame our faults on God.

• Verse 14 - But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

• We are sometimes tempted by Satan.
• But most of the time, our temptations come from our own desires.
• When our attention is drawn away from Christ and toward ourselves, we are easily enticed.
• The Greek word for “desires” is epithymia and it can also be translated as “lust.”
• Though we often equate lust with sexual attraction, we can actually lust after anything.
• Lust is a natural desire that we have allowed to become an unnatural obsession.
• We may not be able to stop a natural thought from entering into our minds, but we can keep from dwelling on those thoughts by focusing on Christ and His Word.

Verse 15 - Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

• Once we allow those natural thoughts to have an unnatural control in our lives, what was first a simple desire, becomes a sin.
• Sin, when it is finished with us, brings death.
• Remember that the first century view of death was separation.
• Sin always separates us from God and people.

Verses 16-17 - Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

• James did not want us to be tricked by our own lust.
• James did not want us to play the “blame game” and try to blame our sin on other people or on God.
• James wants us to accept the reality that most sin comes from our own natural desires that we let have an unnatural control over us.
• James also wants us to realize that anything in our lives that is good, is a gift from God.
• God gives us good gifts, because it is in His nature to do so.
• The phrase “there is no variation” means that God does not have “good” days and “bad” days. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is always good. (Hebrews 13:8)


• “Rich” people falsely think they are in control.
• When bad things happen in our lives, we realize that God is the one who is in control.
• We often make our lives more difficult due to our sins.
• When we learn to allow God to control us, instead of blaming our sins on others, we begin to see God’s goodness all around us, even in things that did not look good at first glance.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Effective Use of a Sermon Series

While some scripture texts and topics can be adequately dealt with in a “stand-alone” sermon, other texts and issues are better suited for a sermon series. A sermon series allows you to delve deeper into a text or subject than a stand-alone sermon. A sermon series is used when the material is simply too much to be covered in a single sermon.

A series can be as short as three sermons or as long as eight. Less than three is just not enough to make a real series. More than eight is probably too long for people to connect all the parts to the whole.

A series should have an overall theme. Each sermon in the series will address some aspect of that theme. For maximum effectiveness, some sort of review will be necessary during each sermon to connect the individual sermons to the whole series. Handouts tend to help the series be more effective because it provides a written summary of the entire series after it is completed. If the series would interest the community, it can be used as an outreach tool.

Creating a strong series of sermons is a lot of work. It is easy to question the validity of all that work once the series is over, especially if there were no immediate results from the series. However, a sermon series can continue to be useful long after all the sermons have been preached.

Ways to use a sermon series after it is complete:

1. Use CDs/DVDs of the series to give to church visitors as a welcome gift. This is especially helpful if it is a series that explains what the church believes.

2. Use CDs/DVDs of the series as an outreach tool to the community. This is especially helpful if it covers some topic that might be of interest to the greater community, such as how to be an effective parent, or how to have a happy marriage or how to manage personal finances.

3. Use CDs/DVDs to build a “library” of the church’s teaching on a particular subject. This is especially helpful if the church has a lending library so that people can check the series out.

4. Distribute CDs/DVDs to those who have become home bound temporarily or are residents at a nursing home. This allows them to keep up with what is being taught at church.

5. Use the series to provide theological training to others. This is especially helpful if others in the church want to become pastors or lay ministers.

6. Convert the sermon series into a weekend seminar or week long revival so it can be used again.

7. Publish the series on YouTube so that the general public can have access to the information as well.

8. Convert the notes from the sermon series into a booklet that can be mass produced and distributed widely.

Though creating a strong series of sermons can be a lot of work, by using the series in other ways besides the original intent, it can be well worth the effort.

If a guest minister or lay preacher only has to fill the pulpit from time to time, then each sermon might be independent of the others. But when a person becomes part of a pastoral leadership team and begins to preach on a more regular basis, then it at some point that individual will end up either preaching an entire sermon series or preach one sermon in a series that the rest of the team is helping to preach. Therefore, understanding the value of using a sermon series is important.

This is an excerpt from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use training sessions that helps lay people assist their pastor in leading the church.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to Conclude a Sermon Effectively

The key purpose of a sermon is to persuade, convince, or motivate a person to do something, believe in something, or make some other type of spiritual commitment. Therefore, an effective sermon must have a conclusion that invites the congregation to greater belief or to commit to some action. How such an invitation is given will depend on the theme of the sermon, the personality of the preacher, the traditions of the particular church, and the leading of the Spirit in the specific situation.

Learning to conclude a sermon well is both an art and a science. It is like science because there are some specific ways that a preacher can plan to conclude a sermon that will be conducive to the learners being impacted by that sermon over the long term. It is like art from the perspective that sometimes a preacher may plan to conclude a sermon in one way, but in the circumstance of the moment, it becomes obvious that the sermon should instead be concluded in a different way. Learning to listen to the Holy Spirit and read the responsiveness of the congregation during the sermon will allow a preacher to know which way a sermon should be concluded.

Some ways to conclude a sermon might include asking the congregation to:

1. Pray a specific prayer or type of prayer. This could be done in the pew, at the altar, or at a kneeling bench.

2. Make a private commitment to God to take some suggested action.

3. Make a private commitment with the minister to take some action suggested by the sermon by raising a hand when only the minister is looking or by handing the minister a note at the end of the service.

4. Make a public commitment to take some action suggested by the sermon by raising a hand, standing, or “coming forward.”

5. Fill out a response card which may have a variety of responses and turning that card in to an usher or putting it in the offering.

6. Meet with the minister or other trained person after church in a prayer room or office for further discussion.

7. Take some immediate action that correlates with the sermon, such as taking up an offering or some other action that can be done as a part of the service or immediately after the service.

8. Think about something for a specific period of time and then make a formal commitment of some type at a pre-announced later date.

9. Think about something for an unspecified time and make a personal commitment privately when the individual is ready.

10. Take part in some additional spiritual discipline that will help clarify what commitment needs to be made at a later time. Examples of such disciplines might include fasting, tithing or taking part in a deeper level discipleship course to prepare a person for some greater level of commitment that will be made in the future.

The preacher should never attempt to force a person to respond. Forced responses seldom have a lasting impact and may even have a negative impact on the person’s overall spiritual journey. All a preacher can do is to preach the Word and then offer an invitation to respond. It is the Spirit’s job to actually bring that response to pass. Understanding this truth is vital to learning how to conclude a sermon well.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Deliver a Strong Sermon

Many sermons with good content are less effective than they could be because of poor delivery. Once the sermon is prepared, the preacher’s work is not yet complete. Additional effort must be expended to think of ways to deliver that sermon so that it catches the attention of the congregation. Though nothing can replace the power of the Holy Spirit, good rhetorical skills are important for effective preaching.

When considering ways to keep the audience’s attention, preachers would do well to realize people learn in different ways and what helps one person learn may not help another. In a classroom teaching environment, there are dozens of teaching methods that might be used. In the church setting in which a sermon is normally delivered, there may be fewer options available, but variety can still be effectively utilized.

Some people are auditory learners. These learners listen carefully and comprehend the spoken word easily. One might say their motto is “tell me.” These are the learners who gain the most from a traditional sermon that is delivered via lecture method.

Some people are visual learners. These learners rely on pictures to help them learn. One might say their motto is “show me.” They will enjoy a graph, diagram, chart, or other such visual aids that help them “see” what is being talked about. These are the learners who gain the most when a preacher uses a power point presentation, provides a handout, or uses an object lesson as a part of his sermon.

Some people are kinesthetic learners. There are the learners who need to do something physically. One might say their motto is “let me do it.” They want to get out of their seat and take part in the learning experience. These are the learners who gain the most when asked to give a testimony or sing a piece of special music that illustrates the truth of the sermon. They also learn more when the preacher asks the congregation a question for which he wants some type of actual response (i.e.: verbal answers, clap, saying “Amen,” etc), or when the congregation quotes something together. They are often more moved by some of the liturgical aspects of worship, such as taking communion or lighting candles. They need to “experience” something that drives home the point of the sermon.

As the preacher moves from the study of the text to logistics of how the sermon will be delivered, the following principles can be helpful:

1. A well delivered sermon will have a strong central thesis that can be easily communicated to the audience. That thesis should be communicated early and often using a variety of ways so that auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners can all understand it.

2. A well delivered sermon will include facts, dates, figures or other objective points of information that can be verified by others. This gives credibility to the sermon and shows that the preacher knows his subject well. Document those sources if it is appropriate. These can be passed out in printed form, or included in a power point presentation.

3. A well delivered sermon only uses sources that are reliable. Avoid using commentaries or study Bibles that are known to contain incorrect material or poor translation/interpretation techniques. Individuals in the congregation may know more than the preacher realized and stop listening if they perceive he is using inaccurate materials to make his points.

4. A well delivered sermon has a good flow of logic without huge gaps in thinking. The congregation should be able to follow along the minister’s flow of thought without too much difficulty.

5. A well delivered sermon uses body language and tone of voice to project the right message at the right time.

6. A well delivered sermon is articulated clearly and the words are pronounced correctly. Otherwise the audience will tend to focus more on the lack or articulation or poor pronunciation instead of the point that is being made. They may even conclude the speaker does not know the subject matter very well that has serious long term implications for a preacher.

7. A well delivered sermon shows genuine emotion in appropriate ways and at appropriate times.

8. A well delivered sermon has been practiced out loud before being preached to others. Even though the sermon may change some during the actual presentation, hearing the words spoken will make the preacher more confident. It will also help determine the length of the sermon and adjustments can be made beforehand if needed.

A key concept to remember when preaching to adults is that they want to know “WHY SHOULD IT MATTER TO ME?” Often sermons contain theological truths but fail to explain why that truth is relevant in daily life. A well delivered sermon seeks to think of ways to make the truth come alive for daily living. Delivering a sermon is often as hard as preparing the sermon. But when a good sermon is delivered well, it can be life-changing for the hearers. Therefore, it is worth the extra effort to deliver the sermon well.

This material is adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the
Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Prepare a Sermon

The strength of a good sermon lies in the preparation. Though experience is its own teacher, sermon preparation will go more smoothly when a new preacher learns to use certain skills correctly. A new pastor or a lay person preparing for lay ministry can prepare an effective sermon by following these steps.

1. Pick a legitimate text. The original biblical writer wrote the text in units of thought; follow them as closely as possible and a stronger sermon will result.

2. Use inductive Bible study to explore the meaning of the text that has been selected for the sermon. Inductive Bible study is when we give careful examination of all the details of what the original writer intended to say before drawing a conclusion about the meaning of the text. Inductive Bible study begins with the parts and then moves to the whole, as opposed to starting with the whole and then examining the parts. Expository preaching allows the text to shape the sermon. Dig into the text. Analyze the parts and let the whole slowly form in your heart and mind. Even if we are using a type of sermon other than expository, we must still let the scripture fully grip our own hearts before preaching it to others.

3. As one uses inductive Bible study certain key words will begin to emerge. Focus on what those key words mean. This method allows the preacher to focus on key words that will explain the text part by part, slowly building an understanding of the whole text.

4. As we engage in inductive Bible study, we begin to discover the biblical writer’s intended theological meaning in the text. We do this by a careful analysis of all facets of the text. Only by understanding the theological meaning of the original writer will we be able to offer appropriate application of the text to a modern audience.

5. Give careful consideration of the context in which the text was originally written. Knowing the context means understanding what is said before and after the text. It also means understanding the history, local culture, economic conditions, and geographical facts. These are not just extra bits of knowledge; they are often the key to fully understanding why the author wrote what he did.

6. Remember that sermon preparation is a supernatural endeavor. We must be prayed up and confessed up, as well as studied up. Therefore, as the sermon begins to build, we must be sensitive to what the Spirit may be saying to our own hearts about the truth of the scripture we are studying.

7. As the sermon begins to build, think of ways to influence the audience through the use of the rhetorical elements common to persuasion.

8. As the sermon continues to build, remember to think of a way to aim for a response of faith and obedience to the biblical truth on the part of the audience. Remember that we cannot force the audience to respond; we can only aim for a response.

9. Remember that the great weakness of preaching is fuzzy, ill defined ideas. If we have not thought it out completely for ourselves, we probably will not be able to explain it well to others. Therefore, take the time to learn the text and study it until the ideas portrayed in the text are clear.


Above outline adapted from: McDill, Wayne, Twelve Essential Skills for Great Preaching (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2006), pages 3-17.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Examples of How to Make Hospital Visits as a Deacon or Lay Minister

In a previous blog I mentioned the importance of lay people serving alongside their pastors in offering pastoral care to church members by making hospital visits to members in the congregation. While this kind of teamwork is important in churches of all sizes, it is even more vital in smaller churches where the pastors may work second jobs in addition to serving their churches. In smaller churches where pastors are likely to have additional jobs, it is unlikely that those pastors will have the time to make all the hospital visits that are needed, which is why teamwork with lay people is so important.

Though I have written about this issue before, I realize that different people learn in different ways. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to give two brief scenarios of hospital visits. They are both obviously oversimplified and a real visit would probably entail more, but I am simply trying to use these scenarios to help make some points about effective hospital visits. One scenario below demonstrates how an effective visit might look. The other demonstrates now NOT to make hospital visits. Though the two scenarios below are made up, they are based on parts of actual visits I have observed over the years. Enjoy reading it and I hope they make the points in a way that is fun to learn and easy to understand.

A deacon or lay person making an effective hospital visit might have a conversation something like this.

Visitor: Hello, Brother Smith. I wanted to stop in and say hello for a minute and pray with you. Is that okay?

Patient: Yes, please do. I have been so lonely and worried while I’ve been in the hospital and I really need the prayer.

Visitor: We have been praying for you at church.

Patient: Thank you. I received the lovely flowers from the Sunday School class, which really made my day.

Visitor: Is there anything we can do at the house for you while you are in the hospital? I can send one of the teenage boys by to cut the grass and my wife can collect the mail and newspapers for you if you would like us to.

Patient: The grass was pretty high when the ambulance brought me to the hospital. If one of the boys cut the grass, it would be wonderful. My cousin is collecting the mail and papers for me, but thanks for offering.

Visitor: Would you like me to read you a scripture before I pray for you?

Patient: Yes, that would be a blessing.

Visitor: Do you have a favorite scripture you want me to read?

Patient: I always feel comforted when I hear Psalm 23; how about that one?

Visitor: Okay, and then I’ll say a prayer for you and let you rest.

Patient: Thanks so much for coming by.

A deacon or lay person making an ineffective hospital visit might have a conversation like this.

Visitor: Hello, Brother Smith. I wanted to stop in and see if you were going to make it. I heard you were real bad off.

Patient: Ah, yes, it has been a rough few days.

Visitor: From what the ladies said at church, the doctors do not give you much hope.

Patient: Well, they have said that my chances are not as good as they had hoped.

Visitor: You know my cousin Tom had the same thing and he suffered for months and months before he finally died. But he was a Christian so we knew he went to heaven, so it was okay.

Patient: Well, I am a Christian; I came to know the Lord ten years ago, so I guess I will be okay if I do not make it.

Visitor: Well, I hope you are a Christian. But if you have ever doubted it, now would be the time to make it right. Can I share the Romans Road with you?

Patient: Well, I guess, but I am kind of tired; maybe you can come back later.

Visitor: Don’t you want to hear the Gospel? It’s what you need most of all, especially if you are doubting your faith.

Patient: I do not doubt my faith, but I am worried about how my wife and kids will get by if I die.

Visitor: I am sure they can get welfare; the state will not let them starve.

Patient: Ah . . . . , well . . . ., I guess that’s reassuring. Thanks so much for coming by. I think I need to rest now.

Visitor: Okay, well, it was good to see you, and I will tell everyone all about your situation so they will know just how bad it is. That way they can pray better about it.

For further reflection: What made the first scenario more effective than the second one? Read through the second scenario again. How many things are wrong with that visit? What could have been done differently to make the second scenario more effective?

The above is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors and many lay people are finding it equally helpful.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Steps for Effective Hospital Visits by Deacons and Lay Ministers

When people are in the hospital, they are often scared, lonely, and in need of encouragement. When they receive a well timed spiritually based visit in that time of difficulty, not only does it meet their spiritual need, but a growing body of evidence also suggests that they also recover faster physically. Therefore learning how to make a good hospital visit is important for lay people who want to help their church become more effective in caring for its members.

Many lay people hesitate to make such visits because they are not sure what to say or do. By following these simple points, a visit with a hospital patient should be happier and more effective.

1. Do not wear cologne. Cologne can gag even healthy people and those in the hospital may be extra sensitive to smells because of the medicines they are taking.

2. Leave the gum at home. No one likes to listen to people chew and smack gum.

3. Always check with the nurse before bringing food to a patient, even if the patient asks for it. It might be a detriment to the patient’s condition if his or her diet has been restricted for medical reasons.

4. If a gift of food is taken, it is extremely rude for the person bringing the gift to eat it. Remember, it was brought for the patient and he and she cannot get any more of it once it is gone. Never eat the patient’s food from his or her tray, as the nurse may be monitoring how much has been eaten.

5. When greeting the patient, if it is physically feasible, take his or her hand gently. When people do not feel well, they often do not want to be hugged, especially if they have had surgery.

6. Be polite and stand if there are not enough chairs. Remember, the visit will only last a short time.

7. Never sit on the bed; it cramps the patient. If there is a second bed in the room, do not sit on it, even if it is not being used. The staff may have it ready for a new patient and may not have time to freshen it up before a new patient needs it.

8. Talk audibly, not too softly or too loudly. Increase volume if the patient does not seem to be able to hear while remaining mindful of other patients in the room. Sometimes, when people are sick, their minds are a bit fuzzy from pills and pain, so their hearing may be less sharp than normal.

9. Only stay a few minutes. The point of the visit is to wish the patient well, not to spend a long period of time with him or her. Extended visits often tire a patient more than he or she realizes.

10. If a gift is taken, make sure the gift is appropriate for the situation. For example, if the patient has just had eye surgery, then he or she will not be able to read a book.

11. Only talk about happy situations, not about bad news. Never talk about one’s own past illnesses or operations.

12. If there are relatives present, say a quick hello, leave your gift, wish the patient a speedy recovery, and then leave. The relatives will want quality time and privacy with the patient. Sometimes they come from quite a distance and may not be able to come back soon, but a local person from church can always return at a later time.

13. If either the nurse or doctor enters the room to do something for the patient, be polite and leave the room while they are attending the patient. Do this even if the patient says it is okay for you stay.

14. If the patient wants to go for a walk, check with the nurse first. The same would be true if the patient asks for assistance in getting out of bed or in using the bathroom.

15. If the visitor does not know how to respond to something the patient says, sometimes it is better to say nothing at all. Just express concern, offer a prayer, and graciously make a polite departure.

16. Remember that patients are in the hospital because they are sick. Use common sense, smile, and be positive during the visit. If the visitor becomes upset, they should excuse themselves until they can regain control of their own emotions. Be aware that conversations in the hall can be overheard. The whole point of visiting patients in the hospital is to cheer them up. So do not do anything to make the situation tenser than it already is.

17. Every hospital has guidelines they ask visitors to follow. Those guidelines have been put in place for safety reasons. Please be respectful of them.

18. Remember to maintain the confidentiality of those who have been visited. Do not share details of their situation without permission. Do not speculate about their future with others at church.

By following these simply guidelines, lay people can make a positive spiritually based visit to someone in the church. Such a visit can be a great encouragement to a person in the hospital.

These ideas have been adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the
Bivocational Church.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to Select the Scripture Text for a Sermon

I have written previous blogs on the six types of sermons and on the importance of expository sermons. No matter which type of sermon is used, it is important to start with scripture and build a sermon based on scripture instead of deciding what we want to say and then finding a scripture that supports our opinions. Scriptural based sermons are very powerful over the long run, while opinion based sermons may be inspiring at the moment, but seldom have long term impact. Since strong sermons begin with scripture, the selection of the scripture text from which to preach is very important. Evan Williams’ classic book, How to Prepare Sermons, offers a number of ideas when selecting a scripture text on which to build a sermon.

Advantages of Having a Specific Text for Each Sermon:

1. It awakens the interest of the audience and grabs their attention.

2. It gains the confidence of the audience because they know the preacher will not just be sharing his own opinions.

3. It gives the preacher authority and boldness in the proclamation of the message because there is supernatural power in scriptural texts.

4. It will keep the preacher’s mind from wandering by forcing him to make all his comments around that particular text.

5. It will keep the preacher biblical by not allowing him to interject too much human opinion or cultural prejudices into the sermon.

Principles Regarding the Choice of the Text:

1. One must carefully consider the spiritual needs of the people to whom one is ministering. What does the congregation need to hear at this moment in their spiritual walk?

2. There should be a careful consideration of the cycle of truth preached. Are we preaching the whole counsel of God or just our favorite sections of scripture?

3. There should be a careful consideration of one’s ability to deal with the text and the subject derived from it. Do we know enough about this subject to offer real insight and applications from the text?

4. The preacher must practice a regular reading of the Word of God. This is of utmost importance before one can preach to others. This does not mean that we use our personal devotions as sermon preparation, but we should not be surprised when a sermon evolves out of our personal devotional time.

5. The preacher is encouraged to use a notebook or some computerized form of record keeping to record what the Spirit is saying about various passages of scripture. These records often become the building blocks for future sermons.

6. Reading good Christian books provides rich sermon material.

7. Following the guidance of the Holy Spirit is very important.

Precautions Regarding the Choice of a Text:

1. Be careful about using odd or questionable texts. Though all scripture is from God, some are easier to preach than others. Some are better suited for a teaching environment. Others are better handled by a scholar in an academic setting. Others are better handled in a conference or seminar type of format. Some scriptures simply cannot be explained adequately in the context of a sermon during a typical church service.

2. Do not choose a text that will look ridiculous because of extenuating circumstances in one’s own personal life or the church situation. There is a moment to preach a particular passage, and there is a time to put that passage off to a later date.

3. Do not choose texts that create expectations which neither the sermon nor preacher can fulfill.

4. Do not mutilate a text by using only a portion it out of context.

5. Though it is often easier to preach from the New Testament, remember that Old Testament texts should not be neglected.

Preaching can be extremely fulfilling when one has taken the time to select the proper text, studied that text thoroughly and then preached the text under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Using the guidelines above can help both lay preachers and professional ministers be more effective in their pulpit communications.


Above outline adapted from:
Evans, William, How to Prepare Sermons (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1964), pages 20-31.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three Important Theological Books Every Lay Minister Should Own

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a big proponent of lay ministry. I believe that healthy churches are led by teams of lay leaders working in partnership with their pastors to provide for all the ministry needs in the congregations they serve.

For those leadership teams to be the most effective, lay people should be included in the teaching and preaching ministries of the church. If lay people are going to teach or preach only on rare occasions, such as once a year when the pastor is away on vacation, the selection of the text from which to preach might be based on a favorite scripture. But if lay people begin to teach and preach on a more regular basis, perhaps once every month or two, it becomes more of a challenge for those lay people to find a scripture text from which to base a sermon or lesson that is fresh, relevant and theological balanced.

Though lay people may not have as extensive a library as pastors, any lay person who aspires to preach with any degree of regularity should have at least three types of books in their theological library. Those three types of books are a concordance, a commentary and a Bible dictionary.

A concordance is a reference book that includes key words in the scripture. Each of those key words has the scriptures listed in which that word may be found. Many Bibles have a simple concordance in the back. However, a lay person who aspires to preach or teach regularly will want a concordance that is much more complete than what may typically be found in the back of a Bible. Some concordances have almost every instance of every word in the Bible referenced. These are the most helpful types of concordances for lay ministerse to use. Most concordances are based on a particular version of the Bible, so endeavor to find one that coordinates with whatever version is used most in the context of a particular local church. Lay ministers who do a lot of pulpit supply in a variety of churches may need a collection of concordances to help him reference key words from various versions of the Bible.

A commentary is a reference book that contains the scripture text first, followed by comments from a noted scholar about that text. The comments might contain an explanation of key words from the original language the scripture was written in. The comments might contain historical references to the culture that prevailed when the Bible was written. The comments might contain various ways the passage has been interpreted by others scholars through the ages. The comments will also contain the opinions of whoever wrote that particular commentary. Some commentaries can be found that cover the entire Bible in one volume. While those are helpful, it is better to invest in a commentary that has multiple volumes because it will contain far more information than a single volume commentary. Commentaries tend to lean toward the theological persuasion of whoever wrote it, so caution should be taken in selecting one that agrees with one’s local church. After a lay minister has gained a working knowledge of the Bible, it can be helpful to branch out and purchase some commentaries from viewpoints other than one’s home church, but this should only be done after the lay minister is well grounded in what he believes so that he does not become confused.

A Bible dictionary is a reference book that contains the names of people, places, customs and cultures found in the Bible. Much like a regular dictionary, a Bible dictionary will have a brief description of whatever term it is defining. This can be very helpful to lay ministers studying a scripture passage for the first time, especially if the passage contains names or places that he is unfamiliar with. Some Bible dictionaries have pictures, which help lay ministers visualize the person or place being described. Because archeologists are always discovering new things in the places where the events of the Bible took place, it is a good idea to purchase the most current Bible dictionary available.
Lay ministers may want to add other types of books to their library as time goes by, but having at least one good copy of the three types of books mentioned above will be very important in helping a lay person put together quality sermons and lessons.

This copyrighted material has been adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and should not be used for commercial purposes without the permission of the author. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors and lay leaders are finding it equally helpful.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I wrote in a previous blog about the six different types of sermons. Though all of those types of sermons are important and should be used in appropriate ways, the most effective style of preaching for the long term health of the local church is expository preaching. I encourage both laymen who aspire to preach and young pastors just starting out in ministry to pick up a copy of Evan Williams’ classic book, “How to Prepare Sermons.” Though it is an older book, the truth it teaches about expository sermons is just as fresh today as when Williams first penned it. For those who do not have access to a copy of his book, I have summarized his ideas about the importance of expository sermons below:

Williams defines an expository sermon as the type of sermon that deals more fully with the explanation of the scripture itself than any other type of sermon.

His suggestions for successful expository sermons include:

1. Use a portion of scripture that contains one leading thought or theme.

2. Consider preaching through an Old Testament book and then a New Testament book as a way to balance law and grace.

3. A thorough study of the entire text is absolutely critical for the success of an expository sermon.

4. The preacher must avoid being merely theoretical; he must be practical as well.

The advantages of expository sermons include:

1. It produces Biblical preachers and hearers.

2. It conforms to the Biblical ideal of preaching.

3. It is wider in scope than any other type of sermon.

The possible disadvantages of expository sermons include:

1. It can become monotonous for the congregation.

2. The preacher can become lazy if he does not actually dig into the meaning.

3. The text may be too long. Therefore, keep the sections short enough to deal with in one sermon.

4. Such sermons can become is too confining because they might ignore current events. To avoid this, utilize other types of sermons from time to time even if one prefers the expository sermon most of the time.

Though various styles of preaching should be used, the expository sermon should remain the "default" sermon that is used most often.

Above outline adapted from William Evans’ book, How to Prepare Sermons, published in Chicago by Moody Bible Institute in 1964. The outlined was adapted specifically from pages 92-97.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Six Types of Sermons

Recently I was leading a training session for a group of laymen in Central Vermont. Though no one in the group felt a particular call to ministry, they were all deeply committed to serving the Lord in their local church in whatever way the God opened to them. Part of the training included the possibility that they may be called upon at some point in their lives to preach a sermon. After some discussion, it was clear that many in the group thought there was only one kind of sermon. I shared with them this brief description of the six different types of sermons.

1. Expository Sermons – this is a style of preaching that takes the time to preach through an entire book of the Bible one verse (or passage) at a time. The preacher may teach several verses in a particular week, but he will deal with each verse one at a time. The following week the preacher would then go on to the next section. It may take the preacher several months to get through a book of the Bible. Each sermon is really part of a long series of sermons that gives in depth understanding of that section of scripture.

2. Textual Sermons - this is the style of preaching that focuses on a particular verse, or set of verses. The preacher may give the same type of explanation as one might hear in an expository sermon, but the next week the preacher does not go to the next section of verses. The preacher might go to an entirely different part of the Bible. Each sermon looks at that particular passage in depth but each sermon is a "stand alone" sermon and does not necessarily connect to other passages studied on previous or following weeks.

3. Biographical Sermons - this is the style of preaching that focuses on a particular Bible character. The preacher explains the successes and failures of that biblical character and what we can learn from his or her life. (Example: Lessons from the Life of David.)

4. Historical Incident Sermons - this style of preaching is similar to a biographical sermon except that this type of sermon focuses on a particular incident in the Bible instead of a person in the Bible. (Example: Lessons from the Fall of Jericho.)

5. Topical Sermons - this style of sermon uses many scriptures from different parts of the Bible to give a more complete teaching about a particular topic. (Example: What Does the Bible Say about Debt.)

6. Personal Testimony - this is when the preacher primarily tells the story of his life, or some portion of his life. The preacher uses scriptures to illustrate various moments in life when he learned some specific spiritual truth. Though it is a testimony, it still uses scripture to illustrate the points made. It is very tempting to leave scripture out of a testimonial type sermon. Leaving scripture out is strongly discouraged because even though a person’s story may be very inspiring, there is spiritual power in the Word of God. Therefore, the use of scripture in a testimonial type of sermon is critical to transforming it from an inspiring story into a powerful sermon.

Each type of sermon has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each can be used effectively and each can be abused. Though most preachers will have a particular style that they feel most comfortable using, the effective preacher will learn to use all the types above at the right time and in the right place. The key to creating a powerful sermon is to start with scripture and then build the sermon around that scripture instead of starting with human opinion and then trying to prove that opinion with scripture. Starting with scripture instead of human opinion keeps preachers from inserting too much of themselves into the sermon.

This copyrighted material has been adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership
Teams in the Bivocational Church, by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and should not be used for commercial purposes without the permission of the author. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors and lay leaders are finding it equally helpful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Worst Visit Ever

In a previous blog I mentioned the importance of lay people serving alongside their pastors in offering pastoral care to church members by making visits to members in the congregation going through times of difficulty. While this kind of teamwork is important in churches of all sizes, it is even more vital in smaller churches where the pastors may work second jobs in addition to serving their churches. In smaller churches where pastors are likely to have additional jobs, it is unlikely that those pastors will have the time to do all the pastoral care that is needed, which is why teamwork with lay people is so important.

Though I have written about this issue before, I realize that different people learn in different ways. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to give a scenario of how NOT to make pastoral care visits. Though the humorous scenario below is made up, it is based on parts of actual visits I have observed over the years. Enjoy reading it and I hope it makes the points needed.

A bird’s eye view of the worst visit ever:

Layman Making Visit: Hello, Mr. Smith, can I come in for a few minutes and talk to you?

Mr. Smith: Actually I am about to head out to watch my son play baseball. Can I call you tomorrow to set up a better time for you to come by?

Layman Making Visit: Oh, it will only take a minute; I will just come in right now and only stay a short time.

Mr. Smith: Well, actually, this really is not a good time and . . . .

Layman Making Visit: Don’t worry; I will just take a minute of your time.

Mr. Smith: Ah, okay, sure, come on in.

Layman Making Visit: You know my son used to play ball. What position does your son play?

Mr. Smith: Well, he is the right fielder and he is . . .

Layman Making Visit: Right field, that is not a very important spot. My son was the pitcher. Your boy should learn how to work harder so he can get a better spot on the team.

Mr. Smith: Ah, I think he works hard; he’s just . . .

Layman Making Visit: Oh, that’s okay. Not every boy can be a star. By the way, I played ball in school too. I was the highest scorer in the league three years running. Now, if I recall, you were not much of a sports person yourself, were you?

Mr. Smith: No, I was more into academics. You know, I really need to get going or I will be late for the game.

Layman Making Visit: I need just a few minutes of your time for some important questions I want to ask you about your spiritual condition. You do care about whether you burn in hell or not?

Mr. Smith: Well, yes, of course I do; that is why I have been coming to your church lately. It’s just that my son’s game starts in ten minutes.

Layman Making Visit: Ah, ball games, I remember when I was a kid I loved to play ball. I will have to come by and tell you all about how great I was sometime when I’m not as busy as I am today.

Mr. Smith: Yes, maybe some other time, but right now I need to get going.

Layman Making Visit: Okay, well, let me just read you some scripture. I think one or two chapters from Leviticus might help you think about what is more important in life. Let me get out my Bible and I will read those two chapters quickly.

For further reflection: How many things are wrong with this visit? What could have been done differently to make the visit more effective?

The above is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors and many lay people are finding it equally helpful.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tips for Helping Lay People Make Effective Pastoral Care Visits

Many of us can recall a time when a minister visited us at a crucial point in our lives. Perhaps we were in the hospital, or perhaps had just lost a loved one, but in a moment of need, a pastor was there to comfort us and pray with us.

When a pastor makes such a visit in a time of need, it is called “pastoral care.” The main difference between a pastoral care visit and just a visit from a friend is that a pastoral care visit includes a spiritual aspect such a Bible reading or prayer. A mere “friendly” visit may involve discussion about family, or the weather, or who won the ball game. A pastoral care visit may discuss those kinds of things, but will also include scripture reading and prayer and/or other encouraging spiritual aspects.

Many pastors who are fully funded take time each day to make rounds to the hospital or to the homes of church members to provide pastoral care. Pastors who are bivocational, which means they work a job in addition to serving the church, have much less time to devote to pastoral care. This does not mean that bivocational pastors care less than fully funded pastors, it is simply a reality of the amount of time bivocational pastors have available due to their other jobs. When a church has a bivocational pastor, it is vital that lay people assume some of the responsibilities for pastoral care; otherwise this important ministry may be unintentionally neglected.

Lay people may feel intimidated about providing pastoral care to their fellow church members. But pastoral care is not as complicated as it may seem. Lay people can be trained to offer pastoral care effectively. In order to make effective pastoral care visits, lay people should follow these simple tips:

1. Focus on the person being visited, not our own stories or history of similar situations.

2. Keep the visit short. The visit should be a maximum of ten minutes unless it is a life threatening situation or the person clearly does not want you to leave.

3. Read a short scripture that is appropriate to the situation. Consider purchasing a Minister’s Manual or the Bible Promise Book that has appropriate scriptures organized in categories for easy use.

4. Ask if there is anything the person needs done. It is important to follow up on this need. If the person asks for something that is not feasible, it is better to tell them so and ask if there is anything else that can be done instead. Otherwise it might create a false sense of hope, which can cause greater problems later.

5. Close the visit with a short prayer for the person and the situation.

The above is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors are finding it equally helpful to training their lay people as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tips for Lay Preachers

While many pastors have years of schooling to help them understand theology and the original languages of the Bible, most lay people do not have that advantage. Therefore, when lay people are called upon to preach, it is often much easier for them to draw on their own opinions instead of the depth of theological training that many pastors rely on. While this may sound like a plausible idea, lay preachers need to be reminded that it is extremely important that sermons are based on scripture, not on personal opinions. Personal opinions may be interesting to listen to, but the power to change lives is found in the Word. 1 Corinthians 1:18 reminds us that “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." It is also good to remember Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Both of these scriptures emphasize the importance of preaching the Word of God instead of human opinions. These scriptures remind us that the Word has supernatural power, whereas human opinion has very little power.

Another temptation that lay preachers can easily fall prey to is the tendency to teach instead of preach. Few people understand the difference between preaching and teaching. The purpose of preaching is to persuade, motivate, and/or convince someone to believe a certain thing or to take a certain action. Therefore, good preaching has a persuasive or motivational aspect to it. Teaching, on the other hand, primarily educates, informs, and/or organizes theology or doctrine. Therefore, teaching tends to focus more on facts and details, with less of a persuasive or motivational aspect to it. While it is expected that preaching will include some details and facts and that teaching may include some motivational elements, the two modes of communication have separate and distinct purposes. Since it is so much easier to impact facts and details than it is to persuade or motivate, it is common for lay preachers to really be more lay teachers. But to be effective in the pulpit, laymen should make sure their presentation has a persuasive, motivational and/or convincing aspect instead of just seeking to transfer knowledge.

There are a number of resources available to help lay preachers learn how to preach. Lay preachers who want to be effective should invest in a number of them.

Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church

Lay Preaching

Successful Lay Preaching

Twelve Essential Skills for Great Preaching

The Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Joys and Burdens of Bivocational Ministry

Two of the most fulfilling ministries pastors participate in are preaching and pastoral care. The preaching of the Word of God changes lives and countless pastors testify to how God uses their preaching to heal broken hearts, restore marriages, comfort the grieving and challenge the saints to greater service to the Lord. Most pastors say that preaching is their favorite aspect of the ministry.

Pastoral care has many facets, but for general purposes, pastoral care is be defined as making a personal visit and/or connection to someone who is in need of spiritual comfort or encouragement. Good pastoral care can build a church even if a pastor’s preaching skills are still being developed. It is important to not confuse pastoral care with pastoral counseling. Counseling is a more directed ministry than pastoral care. Effective pastoral counseling requires a much greater degree of training than pastoral care. Many pastors are gifted at pastoral care but would not consider pastoral counseling their gift. Most pastors love to offer pastoral care to their congregation because of their deep love and concern for others.

While preaching and pastoral care are two of the most fulfilling aspects of ministry, they are also the most time consuming. Sermon preparation and pastoral care easily consume the greater part of the pastors’ week. While this may be fine for fully funded pastors, when pastors have to work an additional job to support their families, the time needed for adequate sermon preparation and effective pastoral care becomes more of an issue. Most bivocational pastors would agree that preaching and pastoral care are often the two ministry areas that they never feel that they have enough time to do adequately.

In light of the amount of time that sermon preparation and pastoral care consume, if lay people really want to assist bivocational pastors, they need to be willing to share the burden of these two ministries areas with their pastors. Though some lay people may be intimidated by the prospect of preaching or offering pastoral care to their fellow parishioners, there are resources available to help train lay people in these areas. Lay people should carefully consider attending a conference, or purchasing training materials, in order to learn these skills. Lay people should meet with their pastor and offer to assist in these areas of ministry. Working together as a team, pastors and lay leaders can offer adequate pastoral care and effective preaching to congregations of any size, even those served by bivocational pastors.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Urban Bivocational Ministry is a Reality

For generations small rural churches have been faithfully led by pastors who worked other jobs. Such pastors were often local farmers, carpenters, or cowboys who felt a call to ministry and labored to serve the church while remaining in their previous profession. Because bivocational ministry has been so common in rural areas, many people have begun to equate bivocational ministry with rural ministry. But this is simply not the case.

There are many small churches in urban areas that are also served capably by bivocational pastors. This might surprise some people because urban areas typically have better jobs and more financial resources than rural areas. Since this is the case, why would urban churches need to be bivocational?

The simple answer is that though urban areas may have more financial resources, they are also much more expensive to live in than rural areas. Pastors must endure the same cost of living as everyone else; therefore, pastors serving urban areas may be paid more than rural pastors, but their expenses are significantly greater as well. A church of 75 committed adults with an average middle class income may well be able to fully fund a pastor in a rural area, but it is unlikely that the same size congregation in an urban area would be able to fully fund a pastor even though their budget might be significantly higher than a rural church. This is especially true if the rural church has a parsonage for the pastor to live in (as is often the case) but the urban church does not (which is also often the case).

Both urban and rural bivocational pastors are often neglected when it comes to finding resources, conferences and training materials that meet their unique needs as bivocational pastors. But since many people have equated “bivocational” with “rural,” what few resources are being developed to help bivocational pastors are typically geared toward meeting the needs of those in rural areas.

Denominational agencies, seminaries, conference leaders and church health consultants need to consider the needs of urban bivocational pastors when developing resources. Bivocational ministry is growing in America, so this is an issue that is not going away. The church must accept the reality of this and adapt current thinking on resource development and organizational structures of seminaries and training conferences so that ALL bivocational pastors can be resourced adequately.

Click here for an example of a resource that can meet the needs of both rural and urban bivocational pastors.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Is Bivocational Ministry Growing Across North America?

When a pastor is referred to as “bivocational,” it means that he works a second job in addition to his service to the church. Most often he earns more from his second job than he does from the church. Having two jobs puts a lot of pressure on bivocational pastors. Because of that pressure, most pastors would prefer to not be bivocational.

When churches have a bivocational pastor, that pastor is often less assessable to them because of the time the pastor must spend working at the second job. Since many churches like their pastor to be on call at a moment’s notice for emergencies, most churches prefer not to have a bivocational pastor.

Regardless of the preferences of both pastors and churches, bivocational ministry is a growing practice across North America. Patricia Chang, a research professor at Boston College, has studied many different denominations and written extensively about clergy issues. In an article in the Pulpit and Pew journal of Duke University, Chang concludes that “the majority of congregations in the United States is small, with fewer than 100 regular members, and cannot typically afford their own pastor.” Chang is but one voice in a growing chorus of voices to accept that bivocationalism is not only present in the North American church situation, but is growing more and more common. Chang’s research shows that “the current religious landscape is skewed towards a very large number of small congregations and a small number of large congregations.”

But why is this trend toward bivocational ministry growing? There are a number of reasons, but the three that are the most obvious are: the lack of stewardship training, the rise of the cost of living in North America, and the current economic situation.

A number of studies have demonstrated that older generations were more generous in their giving to churches than young generations. Part of this is that older generations generally carried as little debt as possible, while younger generations tend to want everything now and are willing to take on debt to get it. Once they have all the payments that come with debt, they have less money to donate to church than their parents or grandparents might have had. Churches must also take part of the blame because many churches are less comfortable teaching stewardship issues than in the past. Since churches have failed to teach on this subject, then even church members who are committed to their church may not be as generous as they would be if they had been taught better. As older generations have either exhausted their resources in retirement, or passed away, the younger generations that have replaced them have given less money to the church. Therefore, churches that may be relatively the same size as they have always been may have fewer resources than in the past. This often results in the pastor’s salary and/or benefits being reduced. When it is reduced to less than realistic levels, the pastor will have to seek additional income and/or benefits from other sources, which usually means finding a second job.

While younger generations tend to give less than their older counterparts, another factor impacting churches is that life has simply gotten more expensive. In the past, small churches often had a parsonage for the pastor to live in. Many people in the church were farmers and they kept the pastor supplied with vegetables from their gardens and meat from their livestock. The pastor only needed a small amount of cash to live. Health care costs were reasonable and the pastor would manage without health insurance if he had too. Therefore small churches could often afford a pastor even though they did not have a lot of cash flow. Fewer churches now have parsonages, so pastors must either rent or purchase a home of their own. This adds a significant amount to what the pastor requires financially. Even in rural areas, fewer people in America are farmers, and therefore fewer bags of garden vegetables or sides of beef show up on the pastor’s doorstep from church members. Health care costs are no longer cheap and trying to raise a family without health insurance is not a viable option. All of these factors add up to the pastor needing a much higher salary than what ministers may have needed in the past. If a church is unable to fully fund a pastor’s financial needs, then the pastor will have no choice but to seek additional employment that will make up the difference between what the pastor needs and what the church is able to provide.

Finally, the current economic situation has put a lot of people out of work and caused many retired people to lose income due to investment losses. Therefore, even people who are faithful and committed to the church and who love their pastor dearly, simply make less money, and therefore can give less money. Many churches have seen a significant drop in giving, especially in areas of the country most affected by the current economic situation. This has caused many churches that were already struggling to maintain a full salary and benefit package for their pastor to be unable to keep it up. Many pastors have been forced by the current economic situation to seek a second job. Though many churches anticipate that when the economic situation begins to turn around, they may be able to fully fund their pastor again, there is no way to know how long that may be. And with the other two factors mentioned above putting additional pressure on small churches, many small churches will never be able to go back to a fully funded pastoral position.

For these reasons, bivocationalism is a growing reality in America. Though some churches may have the goal of outgrowing their need for a bivocational pastor, most churches are going to have to accept this as their new reality. Pastors who find themselves serving such churches are going to have to think differently about how they do their ministry so they do not burn out trying to serve the church as well as work a second job. One of the best things pastors can do is develop a leadership team in the church so that they do not have to do the entire ministry alone. Pastors who are unwilling to invest the time in developing a leadership team will find themselves under increasing levels of stress, which they may be unable to endure. Therefore, the development of a leadership team in a small church is essential for the long term health of both the pastor and the church.

This is a new day in North American church life, but it does not have to be a negative day. There are a number of resources available to help pastors in small churches develop the laity to assist them in the ministry of the church. Consider these resources:

Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church

Dealing with Pastoral Burn Out in Bivocational Ministry

Bivocational Ministry is NOT Negative

Bivocational Ministry is Normal

Bivocational Ministry is Becoming More Common

Bivocational Pastors Burn Out if they Do not Delegate

Importance of Bivocational Pastors Sharing Leadership in the Church

The Bivocational Life

Healthy Bivocational Churches are led by Teams

Lay People in Bivocational Churches Will Help if Trained

The Local Church is the Best Place for Training Lay People to Help Bivocational Pastors in Ministry

Formal Theological Education is Helpful But Not Required in Bivocational Ministry

Real Life Challenges of Bivocational Ministry

Real Life Advantages of Bivocational Ministry

How Important are Lay Preachers in Bivocational Churches?

Helping Bivocational Pastors Avoid Burn Out

Helping Pastors in Small Churches Learn to Delegate