The Reality Gap (part II: the danger of Idealism)

Ever been to a perfect church?  Ever heard a perfect sermon?  Ever been in a perfect time of worship?  Ever received a perfect offering?  Ever had a perfect leader’s meeting?

I doubt it.  

Nothing done on earth is perfect.  You might as well admit it as the evidence is totally in your face screaming at you.  However, many Christians are looking for a perfect church or a perfect service or perfect sermon.  The problem is that the search is futile.  It is absolutely futile.  And because you are always looking at the ideal you will never engage with the real.

I know so many Christians who don’t go to church because it’s not the perfect church, they don’t go to a mid-week group because it isn’t perfect, they won’t teach a certain study because it is not perfect, they won’t serve in a particular department because it is not perfect.

Pastors can be the same.  They never delegate their leadership because the other person won’t do it as well as them (what a guy preaching the first week ever isn’t a good as someone with 10 years experience and 5 years training?! Duh!) even though they know they need to start delegating and raising leaders.  They get upset about a time of worship because it wasn’t swinging off the chandeliers.

There are three main problems with idealism:

1. You ignore the real.  You are waiting for the perfect guitarist to join your worship group, you will miss the guy who is practising really hard, full of life and full of energy and wants to serve and honour you and the church.  Now, I’m not saying appoint the guy who doesn’t turn up at practice, turns up late, runs down the church but loves their ministry, and generally isn’t a team player and lacks the character of Christ.  That’s just bad leadership!  But don’t let the perfect blind you to the good and improving right in front of your nose.  

Remember when doing this that gifting and ability is always easier to develop than character.  Put character first when choosing leaders.  There are 16 qualifications for leaders in 1 Tim. 3, and only one of them is about gifting and ability.  Loyalty to the church and to you, a passion for Christ, a heart for evangelism and discipleship – you cannot beat those in any volunteer!

2.  Idealism paralyses you.  If you are waiting for the best time to do something, YOU WILL NEVER DO IT.  I know so many people called to plant churches waiting for the right circumstances.  It will never come, just start.  Don’t strike when the iron is hot, keep striking until the iron IS hot.  Then strike some more.  Do it, do it, do it.  That’s how you start a church.  Right now, Tree of Life Network is starting a food bank.  We don’t have a building, things are going on right now, it’s not the perfect time, but if I wait for a perfect time I will be waiting forever.  Don’t wait for the ideal time, wait for a good time and do it.  Even do it in a bad time – God is bigger than the times!

3. Idealism causes you to become negative.  You hear a sermon with 99 good points but all you think about is the 1 point you don’t agree with.  You go to a church with 99 things you agree with but all you can focus on is the 1 thing you don’t like.  Idealism means you can never sweat the small stuff.  

Now I know everything should be Biblical but the truth is that no two of us agree 100% on anything.  Some things are no negotiable but other things are really not a big deal, even with the non-negotiables, we can endure a lot of give and take if we know someone is real and we know their hearts and we know they are for us.  People come to me after church sometimes and tell me what I said wrong, and what I said they didn’t agree with.  Other people get healed, get their marriages restored, get filled with the Spirit and get lifted and encouraged.  They chose to focus on the bits that lifted them.

Beware the dangers of idealism.  Sometimes it can take you away from interacting with and engaging with reality.

 

Advertisements

Planning Your Preaching (Benjamin Conway)

Planning Your Preaching!

preaching%20(1)

One of the things that I often get asked is “how can I preach better?” or “how can I preach with a better response or better results?”  The fact is that preaching the gospel is the power of God – that’s how people get saved, get healed, get transformed.  Preaching is one of the single most effective uses of your time as a pastor and leader.  It’s that simple.  There is a move in some churches today to denigrate preaching and to minimise it’s power – some people are maxing their preach time to 8 minutes.  Wow!  If you want to be soaked in the Word I believe you should take at least 45 minutes.  I preach over an hour nearly every single week because I know it’s the Word of God that lifts and transforms and builds people up.

A lot of people spend a lot of energy and effort into planning the sermon, and absolutely that is correct, but planning a single sermon is great if you are a travelling evangelist, but for pastors you need to be planning more than one week in advance.

Firstly, as the lead pastor of a church, realise that you will always be and always should be in charge of the preaching in your church.  I have been to churches (and even pastored one) where the eldership or the deaconate were in charge of the preaching calendar, the rota of speakers.  One church I know pastored a council worker to come and “preach” about how awful his wife was for divorcing him.  No!   The lead pastor of the church is in charge of the preaching.  Absolutely, ridiculously in charge of the preaching.  No one gets to preach in the pulpit unless you give the say so.  It’s that simple.  The lead pastor is the shepherd of the flock and is the guardian of the sheep.

I take that approach in Tree of Life Church.  If I ask someone to preach, I am more than happy to ask them to preach on whatever I want, I am happy to ask for their notes before they preach.  Obviously with guest speakers like Arthur Meintjes who I have heard again and again and trust to bring a complete work message, I give a lot more latitude but to a new preacher within the church, I am ridiculously careful.  Why?  Because I am accountable before God regarding what is spoken at the church.

All preaching must be brought into the bigger picture of the church.  At Tree of Life Church our bigger picture is to “inspire people to dream, to challenge people to live the dream”, so I (Benjamin Conway) have to look at my preaching every week and ask myself – am I inspiring people to dream?  Am I challenging people to live the dream?  If not, chuck it in the bin as it is not helping the Tree fulfil God’s will.

So, preparation has a massive role to play: not just preparing the message, but preparing it to fit in with the bigger picture.  Then there is the theme for the season: what are we doing as a church right now?  So at the moment (May 2013) at Tree of Life Church we are hammering home the truth that there is a lot of deception in a lot of the church and that a great deal of this deception is basically obscuring the cross of Christ.  So, every sermon preached in May will be about deception and every sermon preaching in June will be about the complete work.

You need a preaching calendar.  You need to include important dates (not just Christmas and Easter, but Valentine’s Day, New Years’ Eve and September.  When the schools return after summer, lots of people come back to church and you need a powerful series to get them energised for church).  You must have a preaching calendar.  You must not just get in the pulpit and “allow the Spirit to lead you” – it will lead to the same message week after week and your church will have no direction.

I have already penned our preaching calendar for 2014.  Our theme is “Identity” and we have 12 months in which we are going to learn about our identity as reborn human beings.  Our summer conference for 2014 is sub-titled “We are Jesus on the earth!” and will be about our identity as the image of God on earth.  In August our worship leaders are going to find songs that fit in with our identity.  Our leadership conference will be grounded in identity.

Identity inspires people to dream, so the theme of the year fits perfectly with the overall dream of the church.  This planning is so important because to fail to plan is to plan to fail: so many charismatics just give us a piece of their mind when preaching – sort of a stream of consciousness from the pulpit.  It doesn’t help.

Then when planning the month around the monthly theme, I consider what the Bible says about the monthly theme and then consider what I want the people to know.  Good teaching should give information that people don’t have and press people to make a decision they haven’t made before.  So, for example, next Sunday morning, I am preaching on how it is deception to believe that you can have a harvest without a seed.  The information I am going to give people is show them all the different ways Christians try and get a harvest without a seed, and the decision I want people to make is to sow a seed into the kingdom (not necessarily money, but an action of faith and love).  Now I know that, putting the sermon together is much easier.

Not only that there is continuity from week to week.  If another person in the church preaches, they get to know the calendar and have to fit in with it.

Any questions about preaching or sermon preparation?  Please ask them below, I will answer all of them as best I could.

(Benjamin Conway preaches 3 times nearly every weekend, in Watford, Guildford and Dagenham.  Every month over 2000 people download or stream one f his sermons online from their church website, www.treeoflifedagenham.com.  These messages are free of charge because God’s Word is free of charge.)