Monday Ministry Tip: Seeing God’s hand at work

One of the most difficult endeavors is to wait on God’s provision.  I know that there is a huge temptation for all of us in ministry to just go out and make things happen for God.  The problem is that in doing that we leave God out of our plans.  Ministry just becomes what we can scheme or pull off.  There is very little room for the invisible God to direct or interfere with our work.  Instead of ministry we are left with a church business.

Henry Blackaby talks about seeing God at work and joining Him.  That is an amazing view of ministry.  Coming to a realization that God is at work all around us and if we choose to follow his leading he will make what we are doing flower and produce great fruit.  The scary thing about seeing God as the primary cog in our ministry is that you have to wait on his timing and provision.  

God’s timing and his provision is usually what I fret about most.  I want God to provide on my timetable and in the way I want him to work.  But God isn’t a predictable and controllable being.  Thats what makes serving him so exciting.  I was reminded about this the other day.  We were excited about starting a new ministry in our church.  We felt that God was leading us in starting this ministry but the catch was we didn’t have the money or volunteers to pull it off. 

We decided to wait on God’s provision and pray about it instead of pulling it off ourselves.  It has been so exciting to see God work in this time of waiting.  It has been a couple of months of us waiting on God but in that time we have seen God donate the equipment, and volunteers we needed.  We just needed some computer software to be able to pull it off.  Last Friday, I got a message from an old friend who told me God had laid it on his heart to provide the computer software we needed and he purchased it for us within the hour.

Through all this I have been humbled.  I got a chance to see God once again as provider and his way of providing was so much better than my sterile plans.  So the tip is this:  prayer and waiting on God is the best way to find success and fulfillment in ministry.

Monday Ministry Tip: Finish Lines

I know that every person who is in ministry feels like they work all the time.  Serving in a ministry entails a lot of energy and personal investment.  Along with all the personal, hands on ministry and teaching that everyone sees, there are countless hours of hard thankless administrative and preparatory work. If you aren’t careful, you can easily burn out and become emotionally and physically drained.  

A couple of years ago I had a friend who introduced me to the idea of implementing finish lines.  A finish line is a moment that you designate as quitting time.  When you cross the finish line it is a moment of personal Sabbath.  You cease from working, thinking about work and talking about work.   It can be a time of day every week, or a once a week finish line, but it is important to define when your finish line exists.  It is even more important to keep your finish lines every time. 

In my life, I have an off day (Friday) that I don’t keep and technically Saturday is not a work day, but I usually find something work related to do on both those days.  Usually I am working on a message or some important task, and even though I should honor Friday as a day off, its really hard not to get sucked into work.  

But, my finish line is Sunday after Lunch.  We often go to lunch with people from Church so that technically still is work because I am still in Pastor mode, but after lunch on Sundays I am done.  I can completely rest.  I stop thinking about church, I stop thinking about work and I just rest.  I can hang out with Tabitha and Bailey and enjoy life.

I encourage you to pick a finish line.  Its not an easy thing to do but it is very worth it.  Even God took a Sabbath after creating the world.  Its a great example of how valuable rest can be.  I hope that you too can choose a time and a day where you say, my work is done.  Now I can focus on family, fun and God.

Monday Ministry Tip: Sermon Study Tools

Everyone who prepares messages on a weekly basis knows how difficult it is to continue to bring fresh insight and background information to a message.  So to all you faithful students of God’s word and practitioners of the sweet science of preaching I thought I would pass along my 4 favorite resources for NT study.  

“Jewish New Testament Commentary” By David H. Stern

The Jewish New Testament Commentary

David Stern is a scholar who attempts to keep the Bible in its traditional Jewish roots instead of westernizing it.  He does a great job of giving the true meaning to idioms and sayings that get lost in translation, both in the translation from Greek to English and from Jewish to American culture.

Here is his Wiki Bio:  David H. Stern (1935 – ) born in Los Angeles is an Israel-based Messianic Jewish theologian.

Stern’s major work is the Complete Jewish Bible, his English translation of the Old Testament and New Testament (which Messianics refer to by the Hebrewphrase from the book of the prophet Jeremiah/Yirmeyahu chapter 31, “B’rit Chadashah,” New Covenant). One of the ways in which he treats the issue is to leave most of the proper nouns in their transliterated form, and for the New Testament to replace Greek proper nouns with transliterated Hebrew or words. He calls this the ‘cosmetic’ treatment. Other decisions include translating Greek phrases about ‘the law’ as having to do with ‘Torah-legalism’ instead. More explanation is found in his Messianic Jewish Manifesto (now out of print) and his Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement With an Ancient Past (a revision of ‘Messianic Jewish Manifesto’).

Dr. Stern’s background includes a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, graduate work at the University of Judaism, and a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. He taught the first course in ‘Judaism and Christianity’ at Fuller Theological Seminary and at UCLA he was a professor.

I hope you enjoy him!

“Jesus the Messiah” By Alfred Edersheim

Jesus the Messiah

This is a great book to get a very Jewish perspective on Jesus’ ministry.  It was written by a Jewish scholar in 1183.  I have found that it doesn’t talk about everything in the gospels but it has a lot of very important information that can help fill out a message nicely.

 

 

“The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament”  By Cleon L Rogers Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III. 

The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New TestamentThis resource is very helpful when it comes to understanding the Greek and parsing your verbs.  I have found it to be great in checking my Greek work.  Ok I usually look at this first instead of trying to figure out if  the scribble I am looking at is an imperfect participle or an aortive verb.  Surprisingly Rogers and Rogers also has some commentary insights that are very helpful.

 

 

 

“The New Daily Study Bible” By William Barclay

New Daily Study Bible

 

Ok so this is really not a study Bible but it is a 17 volume commentary set.  Barclay has some interesting tendencies and some people may not like him  because he was an admitted universalis.  But his work on the New Testament is amazing and he tries to address every view that you may come across in a passage.  Barclay is really insightful and practical.  

Here is his Wikipedia bio:  William Barclay (5 December 1907, Wick – 24 January 1978, Glasgow) was an author, radio and television presenter, Church of Scotland minister andProfessor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow.

While professor, he decided to dedicate his life to “making the best biblical scholarship available to the average reader”. The eventual result was the Daily Study Bible, a set of 17 commentaries on the New Testament, published by Saint Andrew Press, the Church of Scotland’s publishing house. Despite the series name, these commentaries do not set a program of regular study. Rather, they go verse by verse through Barclay’s own translation of the New Testament, listing and examining every possible interpretation known to Barclay and providing all the background information he considered possibly relevant, all in layman’s terms. The commentaries were fully updated with the help of William Barclay’s son, Ronnie Barclay, in recent years and they are now known as the New Daily Study Bible series.

While this detailed approach is not to everyone’s liking, the 17 volumes of the set were all instant best-sellers and continue to be so to this day. A companion set giving a similar treatment to the Old Testament was endorsed but not written by Barclay.

Barclay wrote many other popular books, always drawing on scholarship but written in a highly accessible style. In The Mind of Jesus (1960) he states that his aim was “to make the figure of Jesus more vividly alive, so that we may know him better and love him more”.

Hopefully these books will be helpful in your future studies!!!  Let me know if you have a particular resource to share with others.

Monday Ministry Tip: Encouragement

Ok so this is really a Tuesday morning Ministry Tip, but I got bogged down in meetings yesterday.   

Today I want to give some tips on encouragement.  Doing ministry is really hard and as leaders we need to be aware of the fact that both we and the people who work alongside us get tired and worn out.  A key role in the life of any leader is to encourage himself/herself and to encourage those around them.  So I am going to drop a few ideas out there on how to encourage yourself and how to encourage others.  Hopefully this will be helpful.

Encouraging others:

Encouragement is vital to any ministry.  This is because every ministry thrives on happy volunteers that are able to unlock and use their spiritual gifts and natural talents.  Serving God is exciting stuff and we need to continue to foster a passion for that service through our encouragement.  Here are 3 ways to encourage others.

1.  Write notes.  Yes I know it is tedious but it is the most effective way by far to encourage others.  Writing a personal, hand written note on paper is volunteer gold.  I prefer to keep it short, personal, up beat and encouraging.  Its great to share an inside joke, remark about something specific that they did that was above and beyond ordinary, and then tell them how you have seen God use them and how they are growing.  I cant tell you how encouraging a not can be to someone who is struggling. 

2. Throw a party.  I think that having an annual party is a wonderful way to say to your volunteers that you value them.  I like to do this at Christmas.  Having a dinner and a time of sharing is a great way to cast vision and make your volunteers feel like they are serving with a family of friends not alone on an island.

3.  Individual verbal pep talk.  I think one of the most valuable ways to encourage people is to praise them in front of their peers or to point out something they are doing well.  For many people words of affirmation are a huge need and I have found that people dont get enough positive encouragement and crave it.  Just telling people that they are awesome and you are thankful for them goes a long way.  I try to tell everyone that is serving on Sundays how much I value their service to God.

 

Encouraging yourself:

Sometimes it is tough to keep serving God without having a perspective of what He has done through you.  I often see many of my fellow co-laborers struggle with being positive.  Here are a couple of ways I manage to keep motivated and encouraged.

 

Look back on how far you have come.  One of the things that breeds frustration more than anything else is to feel like you are wasting your time.  When I look back at how far God has led me and how I have grown over the last year, or several years, that is a source of encouragement.  Knowing that God is developing me to be more like himself and that I am in the process of becoming keeps me from feeling like my life is stagnant.  Often the best growth is the slowest and by looking backward we can see how much God has been developing us.  Keeping a journal is a fantastic tool to be encouraged by what God has done in and through you.

Celebrate Lifechange.  Nothing motivates me more than to see people that I have been praying for and serving grow in their faith.  I try to keep my eyes on the people I am loving and notice that God is using me to make a difference.  

Look at some stories of Bible characters who encountered adversity.  Many times it is hard to remain upbeat when you don’t know how things will turn out.  I have found that God has encouraged me to continue to have faith by looking at the lives of Joseph, Abraham, David, and Job.  

Talk to an encouraging friend.   Sometimes the best medicine is to pick up the phone and talk to someone who believes in you and loves you.  God puts people in our lives who can lift our spirits and speak words of wisdom and advice to us when we really need it.  

I hope these ideas are helpful to you.  I know that encouragement is a discipline we all need to grow in.  Let me know if you have any other tips that would be helpful to pass along to others!

Tune in next monday for next week’s tip.  I am going to be talking about Volunteer recruiting.  If you have any ideas of some things you want me to address let me know.  By the way, I am going to attempt to post more often so stay tuned.

Monday Ministry Tip: Journaling

For this Monday Ministry Tip I wanted to focus on Journaling.  What is Journaling?  It it the discipline of keeping a written record of your thoughts and experiences.  The journals I keep are very personal and are slanted primarily towards a devotional life.  

Personally I have found Journaling an essential spiritual discipline.  I have found it to be extremely helpful to focus my thinking, have greater insight and stay on task in my quiet times.  I have also found it to be a great tool to see how God has been faithful in the past, and to remember key important information.  I also hope that someday this will be an insight into my life for my children.  

So here are some tips on Journaling.  It is a tough discipline to keep up because it is easy to start and then stop and never pick back up. 

Tip 1:  Get a Nice Journal.  I have found that I value journaling more when I like my Journal.  It shows that I value the discipline.  I am a little weird in that if I spend money on something it makes me want to use it more.  I was given a really nice journal by an old mentor of mine and it was really expensive.  It has kept me wanting to use it to value that gift.  Levenger has some great journals.  If you want to look at some check them out here.  HTTP://www.levenger.com/PAGETEMPLATES/SEARCH/SEARCHRESULT.ASP  I use the Infinity Journal.  You can get refills for it, and all my journals look alike now.  

Tip 2:  Keep it with you as much as you can.  You wont use it if you don’t have it with you.  I keep my journal in my bag all the time.  Having it convenient keeps you disciplined.  

Tip 3:  Journal about all sorts of things:  write out observations from quiet time, write sermon notes in it, use it to store best practices that you come across, brainstorm in it, write down your life values.   Basically put your brain on paper.  

Tip 4:  Ideas for your quiet time journaling.  This is the discipline of journaling that is the classic example of a journal.  I would do the following.  First, make a timestamp and a title for your entry.  That will let you know what each page is talking about.  Secondly, as you do your quiet time, write out your thoughts.  Write your observations of the passage, write out your prayers.  Write out what you have seen God fulfill as a result of your prayers.  All these things will make you slow down in your quiet time, and yes that is a good thing.  You also will find yourself becoming less distracted by other thoughts as you focus your thoughts by writing them.

I am sure there are other things you can do in your journaling.  If you have other tips, please post them here.  I know Journaling is a tough discipline, but it is a powerful tool to have a strong relationship with God.

Monday Ministry Tip: praying for guidance

In ministry you find yourself praying many times for divine direction.  Of course you should always be seeking God in all parts of your life and ministry but sometimes there are things that weigh particularly heavily upon you and you need to think and pray through them.  These topics include, new ministry start ups, changing ministry direction, or conflict in ministry.  Often we feel frustrated when we have a lot of details that hang in the balance and we can feel very confused and timid.  Here is a process that I have found helpful to hear the voice of God and clear my head.

1.  Get alone with God.  (find a place you wont be interrupted and can have privacy.  Start by praying and asking God to illuminate your thoughts)

2.  Write it down.  Having a journal is very helpful.  I find that when i write stuff down that I am feeling then I find clarity in my thoughts.  I also can then compare them easily.

3.  Define your options.  Write out each possibility going forward that you can foresee.  Put a rough plan together of how you see each option coming into reality if you went forward.  Write down positive and negative consequences to your decision.

4.  Ask God what He is leading you toward.  If you dont feel anything don’t be alarmed.  God may be waiting to move you forward in his timing.

5.  Ask wise counsel.  Bring in unbiased, wise people who have been in your shoes and get their insight.  Sometimes God speaks strongly through them.

6.  Come back to it.  Sometimes it is best to take some time to think about it and then make a decision.  The best decisions are not made emotionally.  Coming back  to a problem a couple of days later, usually brings fresh insight.

Let me know your thoughts and any other best practices you may know of.

Monday ministry tip: Sermon Writing Tip 1.0

As a young communicator I struggled with trying to connect to an audience.  I received some great advice from some more experienced friends.  One of the obstacles in teaching is being able to connect with everyone in your audience.  Most groups have all kinds of age ranges and interests.  However there is a way to direct your teaching to meeting people where they are.  Adrian Rodgers said something very wise concerning the Bible.  He said that it is always relevant because it addresses the human condition.  It answers the questions of Sin, Sorrow and Death.  Those are issues that connect to all people.  The Bible answers the questions that everyone asks, “How do I deal with pain and suffering and why life doesn’t work out?”  

The way to present the problem that you are going to solve with your audience is to aim your message at what people deal with emotionally.  That way you deal with something that everyone deals with and not just something that is confined to a specific demographic.  For example talk about fear of failure, or frustration or loneliness instead of specific frustrations.  You can then personalize it after you identify the major emotional issue you are working on to give your audience a platform to personalize it by listing some specific ways your issue presents itself.  If for example you are talking about loneliness you can paint the picture of how they may experience it by talking about how when you are young you are lonely for your future mate, when you are middle aged you may feel lonely for your lack of relationship and the comraderie with friends like you had when you were younger, and when you are in the twilight of you life you may feel the pain of moving on with life when your friends have crossed beyond death’s line.  

Connecting with an audience is an art, not a science.  These are just some ways to make your message ring true with your audience.  It takes a lifetime of teaching to become great at connecting with your people.  Let me know if you have any other ideas on how to connect when you are speaking.

Monday Ministry Tip 10/13/08

Prayer is vital to ministry.  I don’t know anyone who disputes that fact.  Interacting with God through prayer with the people you are ministering to is an essential goal in ministry.  The problem is that even though we know that prayer moves the hand of God and it changes our own perspective we struggle in daily life how to bring prayer out of the philosophical sphere into practical reality.  Most of us wish we knew how to pray for more people without coming off as being creepy.  

So how can we pray more with our people?  I am going to go old school with this Ministry Tip.  My dad has been a pastor for the last 38 years and he gave me an easy tool for prayer.  Sometimes the most obvious prayer techniques are the best.  So here it is:  pray personally with as many people as you can.  I know that this is an obvious goal but here are 2 ways to actually pull that off.  First, When someone tells you something they are struggling with, pray with them right then and there.  Just pull them to the side and ask to pray with them.  My father actually told me that this is the best way to initiate a spiritual tone in a friendship with people far from God.  I have found that this is also the best way to make people feel that God is close even when they are in the midst of pain.  Secondly, set prayer reminders on your cell phone or watch to remind you to pray.  When the alarm goes off invite whomever is around you to pray with you.  I have 2 timers set.  One is at 10:02 AM where I pray for the Harvest worldwide and here in Nashville.  I choose that time because it reminds me of Mark 10:2b which says to pray for workers of the Harvest.  I heard that Neal Cole does this as well.  I also have my alarm set for 2:07 PM when I pray for my brother who is struggling in life right now.  

These are great ways to pray without ceasing.  Let me know if you have other ways that you creatively use to pray in ministry.  I am always looking for ways to get better at prayer.

Great Book about being a Christian who engages culture

Ok so i am reading a very cool book these days.  A buddy of mine Jonathan lent it to me.  It is called “Too Christian, Too Pagan” by Dick Staub.   I have to admit at first i was a little skeptical.  I thought ok, another book on living in a post modern world.  Big deal.  I have read lots of books like that and honestly they were neither motivating or challenging.  Just regurgitating old knowledge.  But this book is very insightful and practical.  You need to get it and read it if only to read the quotes he uses.  I think this guy must be a reading maven.  He quotes pretty much everyone.  One of the things I was challenged today with was this quote from C.K. Chesterton.  “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and not tried.”  Staub continues to say that it is better to aspire to living the gospel and fail, experiencing and giving witness to God’s wonderful grace and forgiveness in the process, than to settle for mediocrity.  Check the book out and let me know what you learn and what you think.