It’s tough out there right now for pastors and church leaders. But I don’t need to tell you this – you are either experiencing it yourself or you have friends who are. I’ve been very burdened recently to come alongside pastors and church leaders in an encouraging role, having been through some pretty tough stuff myself.
I feel lately that I’ve been prompted by the Spirit to do three things for pastors and ministry leaders:
- To hold up the hands of those who are tired and weary, who need a friend, a coach, or a mentor.
- To build up those who need leadership and communication skills.
- To fire up those in need of fresh energy to fulfill the vision and pursue the mission of Christ with passion.
If I can help or encourage you during this season, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
And, check out the article I wrote recently on 5 Ways to Encourage a Pastor or Church Leader.
Lectionary Sermon Starters
For Sunday, May 14, 2022
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
The story of Peter, returning from Caesarea and the home of Cornelius, a Jewish proselyte “of the gate,” takes up a lengthy passage in the eleventh chapter of Acts. Why? What could be so important about a report?
We have to remember that, at this time in the early church’s story, the Jewish believers were coming to grips with the fact that God had opened the doors of his church to everyone, even to those we would overlook or deem unworthy. This is a major theme in Acts – the grafting in of the non-Jewish world into God’s plan of redemption, but it involved a steep learning curve for people who felt their ethnicity and the rules and rituals of their faith made them superior to other people groups.
As I soaked in this passage, I thought of three separate angles from which this passage could be preached.
First, a message about God’s heart for the harmony of all people in terms of ethnic differences and racial reconciliation. Pastor Derwin L. Gray shared on his Facebook page a couple of days ago:
A sociologist can tell you: Here are the trends of racial injustice, here are the trends of prejudice. That’s a good thing. But if I only point out the problem and don’t have a solution, I’m still stuck with the problem.
So what I want to present is a blood-soaked, spirit empowered, Gospel centered solution to the problem that creates sociological harmony.
Derwin just released a really good book on this subject, How to Heal Our Racial Divide, that might help if you go this route.
A second angle would be to zero in on the power of “the message” to accomplish the redemption and reconciliation of all people. In verse 2 and again in 14, the “word” (message of the gospel) was received and worked powerfully among the hearers. There is saving power in the story of Jesus because the Spirit of God accompanies it.
And a third angle would be about the humility necessary to see God work powerfully. It strikes me that Peter says, upon seeing God move powerfully upon the family of Cornelius, says, “who was I that I could hinder God?” And then the Jewish Christians listening to his report “were silenced, and they praised God.”
I’ve sometimes been guilty of declaring with too much certainty what God “wants” to do when the truth is, I’m not God. When God is acting to save humanity and reconcile people together through the cross, who are we to assess his plan or argue with what God intends to do?
When I read this psalm and see the diversity of people, animals, and all of nature praising God, I keep thinking of the question, who gets to worship? And the answer, of course is that all are invited, all are included, nobody gets left out. God’s vision for worship, from eternity’s perspective, is that we are all together praising his name.
This awe-striking passage sums up God’s vision for the world in the future where all that is lost has been redeemed and all that is broken has been repaired. What’s striking about this passage is that it’s not about believers escaping earth to go to heaven. It’s about heaving coming to a renewed earth.
If I were a futurist and saw this passage as purely referencing something still in the future (I’m not, but I used to be, so I can see this viewpoint), I would preach this passage as God’s ultimate vision for his people. And I would emphasize the renewal and renovation of all of the things we experience in such a broken way today.
While we fight cancer and heart disease and a thousand other illnesses, God envisions a future without sickness or pain. We attend funerals, but death will be no more. And the most important point of all is the very presence of God among his created people forever and ever.
If I were a preterist and saw this passage as symbolic of things having already come to pass primarily in the days of the early church (which I am, and do), I would focus on how God now dwells among his people. He takes up residence in a special way in each of his followers, and when we come together as a community, we are a massive temple for the Spirit of God through which he gets to do his renewing work.
To the early Christians, this meant an end was in sight to their persecution. And the principle for us is that our suffering is temporary and God has the ultimate and final solution in mind – a world in which everyone hears the saving story of the gospel and knows what life is like under God’s rule and reign.
Regardless of which view you take, the goal is that we become actively involved in the ushering in of heaven to earth. We get to bring Jesus’ kin-dom values to the world around us. We get to be part of the renewal of all things.
There are two different ways to interpret Jesus’ use of the phrase, “new commandment.” It’s possible he’s adding a commandment that wasn’t included in the Hebrew Scriptures. But personally, I think it’s more likely that Jesus is talking about a replacement commandment. That is, instead of trying and failing to keep a thousand different little rules and rituals, just love one another.
Andy Stanley, in his book, Irrisistible: Reclaiming the New That Jesus Unleashed for the World, makes the case that what Jesus was really trying to communicate was that the restrictions and rules and rituals of the old covenant (Old Testament) are being replaced with a single question – what does LOVE require of me?
To get practical in the message, I would reference back to some of the key teachings of Jesus and declare that every time we obey Jesus’ teachings in this area, we bring heaven to the broken earth that surrounds us.
I might even consider holding up in front of the congregation a multitool. I would explain that LOVE is like a multi-tool. While the Hebrew scriptures give us a thousand different ways to honor God and serve people, Jesus showed and taught us about love being the ONE tool we really need to bring renewal to the world around us.
Creative Sermon Series Ideas from MinistryPass
My favorite resource for sermon series and message ideas, complete series graphics, and video bumpers (but NOT full notes or sermon outlines) to get you started is MinistryPass! Each week, I’ll feature a series I would recommend checking out for the upcoming season of the church year. This week:
From the Description:
This 4-week series examines what it means to love our neighbors—what is love, how do I love, who do I love, and when do I love.
Books, Links, and Resources for Pastors and Church Leaders
I also want to share helpful and encouraging resources each week including articles I’ve read, books I love, and practical tools for leadership. This week:
- A recent article I wrote, 5 Ways to Encourage a Pastor or Church Leader.
- An article from LifeHack on 5 Ways Essential For Leading Change.
- An article by Pete Enns on Progressive No More: Brief Thoughts on Adaptive Christianity.
- This month’s InJoyBox for men, women, or children: See the InJoyBox!
- A book by Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.
- An article on 10 Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques.
A Five-Day Writing Challenge for You
I love writing and I’m always trying to get other leaders to write and blog as well. In a few days, hope*writers is hosting a 5 day writing challenge and they’ll send prompts each day. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just want to get started, this is a cool opportunity.
Support The Reflectionary
The Reflectionary is always free so there is never a barrier to receiving it, but if my writings, videos, or other resources help and inspire you and you have the resources, feel free to partner with me in any amount.
Or, if you can’t partner long-term but would like to so do, feel free to give a one-time gift in any amount.
Coaching for Pastors and Leaders
When a leader grows, the world gets better. Healthy teams, led by healthy leaders, create healthy organizations! Whether you’re going through transition, walking through discouragement, or pressing onward enthusiastically, I’d love to have a conversation with you about what leadership coaching can do for you and your church or organization.
Also, if your church needs help with communications, website design, social media, or marketing with paid ads to reach newcomers, that’s what I do full-time now and I’d love to help!