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Serving Broken People Is Beautifully Messy

Broken Guy

“I’m not broken. Get off my Facebook.”

Our church uses a lot of sponsored Facebook posts. Aside from attenders bringing friends, it’s the primary way that people in Northwest Arkansas discover us and check us out on Sunday. One of our posts referenced an upcoming message about brokenness and that comment was left by someone, annoyed that our ad showed up in their newsfeed.

I’m okay with that. I don’t like annoying people so we always apologize and offer a quick instruction for removing us permanently from their content stream. But I have to respectfully disagree with the comment’s author. There are actually two kinds of people in our culture.

  1. Those who are broken and don’t know it or won’t admit it.
  2. Those who are broken and do know it.

There are no unbroken people. Of this fact, Scripture is quite clear. It may help for me to define what brokenness is all about. We’re all broken because of sin. Universally, we’ve walked away from God, which has left a crack in our identity that can only be cured by the blood of the cross via repentance. And almost as universally, most of us are also broken by the sins of others who have hurt us, intentionally or not.

Jesus was pretty clear about brokenness. Just read the beatitudes. Acknowledgement of our brokenness is the only way to get started healing.

Here’s the problem. We don’t like to talk about our brokenness. It’s painful. It’s awkward. It opens us up to judgment and criticism. If we start a conversation about it, things will get… messy.

When we start talking about brokenness and sharing authentically about our struggles, suddenly people start showing up, and they aren’t all the neatly packaged perfect people we’d prefer. And they’ll bring their friends.

And when they show up, they’ll want counseling.

They’ll look for small groups that are safe places.

They’ll expect sermons about real, actual issues with solutions found in the cross and in repentance.

They’ll want to hear from teachers who acknowledge their own imperfections.

Ministry to broken people is messy. And there’s no more beautiful ministry to be involved in! In fact, we leaders, we teachers, we pastors need it way more than we’re willing to admit. It’s the best way to extend the ministry of Jesus through the church as we “bind up the brokenhearted.”

Photo by Thomas Chevalier.

The Pleasure and Power of Preaching with Sincerity

imagePaul addressed the issue of sincerity in preaching on several occasions throughout the New Testament. One such instance is 2 Corinthians 2:17, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” As I have reflected on this verse, it’s given me some comfort to know that the issues that plague modern Christianity also faced the apostles. I’ve also found an important value in preaching – sincerity.

Sure, there are false teachers, hucksters, and impostors in pulpits across the land today. There were in Paul’s day too. It’s nothing new. But the contrast to this trend is a revival of sincerity in the pulpit. Preaching has been defined by D. Martin-Lloyd Jones as “the communication of God’s truth through human personality.” So we preachers get to represent God’s truth through our very personality. The prayer, “hide me behind thy cross, O Lord,” doesn’t reflect an accurate understanding of what preaching is all about. God has called me to represent Him as only I can, and for you to do the same.

So sincerity is a key to effective communication. You can’t fake sincerity for obvious reasons, but you can certainly do a self-test to ask the tough questions…

  • Do I really believe what I’m saying?
  • Do I live what I’m asking others to live?
  • Am I preaching as me, or as Billy Graham?
  • Am I wearing a mask or being transparent?
  • Am I preaching at people, or having a teaching conversation?

I greatly appreciate fine oratory. Two generations ago and further back, oratorical skills were at the top of the list of qualifications for great preaching. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, if preaching can be viewed as a creative art, then we certainly ought to make it pretty for God’s glory. And words are certainly the tools of our trade, so we should study them and utilize the power of them. Nevertheless, preaching is still a conversation that takes place between a preacher and each member of his congregation. It ought to come from the heart.

One of my own heroes was W. A. Criswell, who often referred to himself (making light of what others were already pointing out) as “a holy roller with a Ph.D.” I’ve listened to hundreds of his messages over at WACriswell.org and I can tell you, this genius of a man involved his emotions in the communication process, as should we today. It’s part of sincerity – bearing all.

Sincerity is one of my own core preaching values as well as somthing I continually have to fight myself for. And it can’t be faked. So how do you bear your honest heart for a greater impact in communicating the gospel?

Believe the truth

It’s my strong opinion that those who do not trust the entire Word of God as the whole, pure, and perfect book that it is, should not be in a preaching ministry. Period. We may not understand it all, but we can certainly take God’s Word at face value if we’re going to claim to represent it.

Prepare Well

Preparation prevents faking it in the pulpit. One HUGE rule of preaching is “don’t just make stuff up!” So study, prepare, work hard. Every Sunday is a test of your dedication and commitment to the Word.

Preach With Few, If Any Notes

This adds time and energy to preparation. You not only have to compile material and arrange it in a way that makes sense, but you must commit it to memory. If I’ve studied well, the sermon flows from the heart rather than having to leap off of the page. Having said that, some of the greatest preachers in history have been those who utilize manuscripts, so this is admittedly my own angle and not prescriptive for everybody.

Make Eye Contact

See the eyes of your people when you preach to them and you’ll see a piece of their heart as well. Of course, preaching without notes helps this process a great deal, but even if you use notes, glance at them and then return your attention to those from whom you’ve asked attention.

Tell Your Story

Every sermon represents biblical and doctrinal truth, but it also says something about your life, so tell your story. Your testimony and experiences mean a great deal to your congregation. They know you more by hearing about your personal life, so let them in and they’ll trust you more and respond well when you have to apply the truth in highly convicting ways. And, humorous and painful stories create highly teachable moments with our fellow human beings.

Live It Out

Jesus embodied all of God’s truth. He “tabernacled” Himself among us. He is God wrapped in human flesh. We ought to follow in His steps and be God’s truth, wrapped in flesh. Sermons are not just taught on Sunday, but demonstrated daily as we are observed by those who listen to us. We live life in a fish bowl, to some degree, so put on a show – not the kind where you act like a believer, but where you become a trophy of God’s marvelous and powerful grace.

Love Your Listeners

One of the things I pray before every sermon is “Lord, help me love people as I preach.” It’s easier to get messy in ministry when we love people the way God does. And what we say matters to people only when we’ve loved them in saying it.

Do It All Over Again

Sincerity goes along with consistency. We must be sincere week in and week out. There must be a pattern. Sadly, one mistake can blow our testimony for a long time into the future, so we must live consistently, prepare consistently, and preach consistently.

Sincerity matters in preaching. It’s a key value, a core component of effectively representing the gospel and communicating God’s truth in this present age. In fact, we need it more than ever!

58 Practices Of a Healthy Church Community

Group HugIt’s impossible for a Pastor or even a church staff to care for the spiritual, emotional, and social needs of every individual and family in a congregation. Expecting them to do so places an unscriptural and undue burden on them and creates unrealistic and bound-to-be-unmet expectations in the minds of church members. I mentioned this in a post I wrote last weekend about how I’m sorry when I let people down. In that post, I raised a question. Who then cares for the individuals within a church family? And I answered it. “The individuals do.”

The New Testament is stuffed with pertinent verses about how relationships within the body of Christ should work. We often refer to these as the “one another” passages of the Bible. According to Carl George, there are at least 58 of these “one another” challenges in the New Testament. Just read through them…

  1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
  2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
  5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
  6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
  7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
  8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
  9. “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
  10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
  11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
  12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
  13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
  14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
  15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
  16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
  17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
  18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
  19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
  20. “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
  21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
  22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
  23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
  24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
  25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
  28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
  29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
  30. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
  31. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
  32. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
  33. “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
  34. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
  35. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
  36. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
  37. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
  38. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
  39. “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
  40. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
  41. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
  42. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
  43. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
  44. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
  45. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
  46. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
  47. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
  48. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
  49. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
  50. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
  51. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
  52. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
  53. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
  54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
  55. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
  56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
  57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
  58. “…Love one another.” (II John 5)

As I said in the previous post, new believers need the care and leadership of others within the church, but as a believer grows, they begin to “own the mission” of “being the church” (or at least this is the expected path of growth and progress). Just imagine with me for a second what it would look like for a Spirit-filled church to practice even half of the one another’s on a consistent basis.

And how? How can people care for others at this level when they only see each other at church on Sunday? And that is part of the problem! We often never move beyond spectator status in the weekend service. We need to go deeper with God and with each other. I think the church becomes family as we get closer in proximity to each other, do life with each other, and relate to each other beyond Sunday’s service.

  • At the weekend gathering, we practice the one another’s very briefly and with many people.
  • In small groups, we practice the one another’s more in depth, with fewer people, and outside the service and even the group meeting.
  • One-on-one, over coffee, playing golf, or serving in a soup line with close friends, we practice the one another’s even more in depth with just one or two people.

It is the role of church leaders to try to create a church structure that opens up the capacity for the one another’s to happen, but ministry leaders can only do so much. The whole body, however, when it is fitly framed together, grows up into a mature family.

Go love one another deeply, from the heart. (It’s #46.)

photo credit: super.heavy

A 4-Part Definition of Ministry

Here it is:

Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.

– Warren Wiersbe, On Being a Servant of God

According to Warren Wiersbe, one of America’s long-term leading thinkers on ministry issues, this definition consists of four vital parts. Our church staff just walked through his definition of ministry this morning, which includes…

  1. Getting to know the divine resources God has made available,
  2. Compassionately seeing the real needs of people,
  3. Being a willing channel of God’s resources to people in need, so that
  4. God alone is ultimately glorified.

And Wiersbe also points out a prime scriptural example of this definition in action:

1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

– Acts 3:1-10 (NIV)

Notice that Peter and James compassionately saw the lame man’s need and became willing channels of God’s divine resources. As a result, this man and the surrounding crowd gave glory to God and many more people were brought to faith in Jesus.

It’s easy in ministry leadership to check off the next to do list item. But people matter far more than tasks. So open your eyes to the needs around you and be ready to be the channel through which God sends His resources. This is the essence of ministry and servanthood.

Photo by Emmepi79

Discipleship Is a Catch-and-Release Process

Fishing NetJesus stopped a few fishermen one day in the Sea of Galilee and challenged them to turn the world upside down by issuing a simple call… “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19, NIV)

Many have taught about how the disciples left their careers behind to follow Jesus into full-time ministry that day, but they forget the other instances of the disciples fishing for fish later in the gospels. It wasn’t a career change or the sacrifice of a job to which Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John that day. He called them to fish for people, and to make people a superior priority to fish.

One of the mistakes we make in modern ministry leadership is to see people who walk through the doors of our churches on Sunday mornings as potential helpers, come to assist us in the fulfillment of our mission. If we’re not careful, we begin to assess the usefulness of people based on their appearance, their talent, or their apparent zeal and commitment to spending time doing churchy things.

What if instead of seeing people as a means to accomplishing our mission, we viewed people as the mission. The difference is subtle but important between “thanks for coming to help us grow” and “thanks for coming so that we may help you grow.” Does this mean we don’t expect believers to get involved, invest their lives, and serve others? Of course not. There is no real spiritual growth without serving others. It’s simply a matter of being sure we aren’t inadvertently using people for our purposes rather than helping people discover the purposes for which God wants to use them.

At Grace Hills, one of our core values is,

We will bring out the best in people. We don’t use or control people. Instead we will involve, empower, and release people to do great, world-changing things for God.

Our leaders look back to this core value when we need to be reminded of the differences between using people as a means to our mission end and seeing people as our mission. Let me highlight some differences…

  • We want to include people in our family whether or not they are “useful” in the traditional sense of ministry. Jesus hung out with the lame, the blind, and the broken, not because of what they might do for Him as a religious leader, but because of what He could offer to them.
  • We want to involve people in a God-sized vision and mission in the world. And everyone is valuable to that mission, regardless of their appearance or apparent skill set.
  • We want to empower people to grow spiritually as they get involved in ministry. In the business world, we’re concerned with production, but in the church world, we’re concerned less with how much gets done and much more with how people are growing.
  • We want to release people, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide them as they attempt big things for a big God. That means granting them the freedom to be themselves, to take risks, and to fail. It even means releasing them to another church in the Kingdom when God calls them elsewhere, and investing all we can into them while they’re under our care.

Everyone who walks into your weekend service can probably do something for you. The real challenge is figuring out what you can do for them. It’s a matter of changing our question. Instead of what can you do? let’s ask what can we help you become?