Meet Will

June 7, 2017

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Serving as preaching intern this summer at Levy is Will Brannen. Will will be a junior at Harding University in Searcy, AR studying Bible and ministry. He is from Houston, TX. He and his family worship at the Bammel Church of Christ.

I have known Will since 2003 when my family and I moved to work with the Gateway congregation in Pensacola, FL. Will and his family were living there then.

Will has an amazing God story to share about his life. He had a heart transplant as an infant and is a two-time cancer survivor. He plans to tell us a little more about that soon at Levy.

In spending dedicated time with Will–studying text; talking ministry and preaching; visiting people–I am deeply impressed by Will’s desire to serve God, his genuineness and his maturity.

I am thankful that Will is with us for six weeks and I urge everyone at Levy to pray for him, encourage him and support him in his pursuit of a life of ministry.

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FIVE PREACHER FAILS

October 26, 2016

I am intimately familiar with preacher fails. I have lived through a host of my own. Here are five common ones.

  • Lack of discipline. Usually the church world allows quite a bit of daily freedom for preachers to be about their ministry. This freedom can be easily taken advantage of—preachers staying at home and away—not being fully engaged in productive ministry. We preachers already put up with the “you only work three hours a week” barbs. Let’s not allow laziness and lack of discipline to give that any credence. Instead let’s fully “carry out the ministry God has given” us (2 Timothy 4:5 NLT).
  • Inattention to study. Lack of discipline can also lead to sloppy study habits, which in turn damages our ability to effectively speak truth in love. Don’t take shortcuts on sermon preparation. We should put the proper study time in—so that we can be both confident in our presentation and content; that we are in fact handling correctly the Word of God.
  • Inability to listen. I once was convinced that I pretty much had all of the answers and I was eager to share them! Failure on my part to appreciate and to listen to other’s council, to hear proper constructive criticism, to simply learn from wiser and more experienced people hurt my ministry at times. Let’s be quick to hear and slow to speak!
  • Complaining. Everyone needs a place to vent on occasion—the same is true for preachers, but be very careful not to be seen as a whiner or complainer. This can undermine ministry. I have participated in and heard my fair share of elder roasts, how-terrible-my-church-is conversations, and complaints about everything from salaries to worship style. If things need improving usually complaining or whining is not the catalyst to make it happen. Instead let’s try to do all things without complaining and grumbling (Philippians 2:14).
  • People Pleasing. We all desire affirmation—preachers are no exception. And as preachers we certainly want to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I may save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), but not to the point of compromising personal or biblical integrity. Ultimately we will give account of our life and ministry to God. We simply cannot allow a desire to please people set the agenda for our work. It can be harmful to us, to our families and to our ministry. There is a balance here that we all must find.

Preaching is one of the most noble and needed callings! Let’s do it with a passion for excellence. I praise God for good preachers!


Preacher-to-Preacher: Do’s & Don’ts

October 19, 2016

From one preacher to another I gently offer this advice for building stronger relationships within your church and with other preachers.

  • Don’t go all robo-preacher. A while back I was a guest at a church. I was acquainted with the preacher, but had not talked with him recently. So I asked the “how are you” question—genuinely wanting to know how he personally was doing. I got back what I call the “robo-preacher” answer. His church was doing incredible and was growing. They had recently added more leadership and renovated their facility. He was in more demand than ever as a guest speaker at other churches and conferences. God was good! Well, okay. Glad to hear it, but that was not the question I asked. Being a preacher I recognize the tendency we have to attach our value to the good things God is doing through our ministry and those around us, but perhaps this information does not always need to be in the foreground and we need to engage others in a different way. Opportunities to share good news about our ministry will happen.
  • Don’t start posturing. In one city as a new preacher I arrived late (had to find the place) at a graveside funeral service. It was raining. As I made my way to join the crowd a man kindly shared his umbrella with me. After introductions I discovered he was a fellow-preacher in town but at a church that I soon found out that was suspicious of mine. His entire demeanor changed and he began to posture over certain biblical theological positions. Later when encountering this brother, he would barely acknowledge me. I have never understood this. Even if we disagree why this treatment? Wouldn’t it be healthier and more productive to engage each other as brothers and perhaps even enjoy open dialogue about different viewpoints?
  • Do Reply. Maybe this just happens to me (or maybe all of this just happens to me—I could be the common denominator creating all of these situations! LOL) but often when I email and/or call other preachers I never get any reply. Nothing. Not even a “no thank you—not interested.” It is puzzling. I know everyone is busy, but try to reply. It is the gracious thing to do. Speaking of…
  • Do be gracious—to all and specifically toward other preachers. We are a brotherhood within one, you know. All preachers are not gifted the same. We all have made our mistakes (The reason I can write this post is because I recognize myself in it). Let’s be kind to each other even if and especially if—I go all robo-preacher on you or start posturing or whatever. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, encourage one another, and help each other grow in the gift of preaching. It is a gift God values highly.

I love the preaching life even with all of the insecurities and bumps along the way. The rewards far outweigh those temporary challenges. I also appreciate the work of my brothers in the pulpit. Let’s always strive to learn and grow as preachers and always try to be encouragers of each other to preach the Word!


Four Ways Not To Treat Your Preacher

October 26, 2015

Churches and their preachers–always an interesting relationship.

I know of wonderful stories and of horror stories. I have experienced huge doses of the former and a small taste of the latter. As a result of the latter category here are a few things I have learned–four ways not to treat your preacher.

  • Do away with the comparisons. I suppose it is human nature to make comparisons. We do so consistently with almost everything, but it is not always wise–especially when it comes to preachers. We come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and most importantly–giftedness. We are most definitely not in competition with each other. That comparing/competitive spirit got one New Testament church in bundles of divisive trouble (see 1 Corinthians 1-2). Instead of comparing your preacher to your favorite past preacher, how about accepting him as he is and appreciating his giftedness? This will encourage him to grow in his ministry.
  • Avoid foyer ambushes. Every preacher knows about these. This is when some good church member takes issue with a sermon point and decides to air it out immediately after worship in the church foyer. Never really a good idea here. Regardless of the point being made, it becomes an embarrassing situation that puts the preacher on the defensive. Trust me, he will not hear much of what is being said and instead feel like he is being attacked. Try to speak with your preacher in a more private setting and you will likely be surprised about how cordial and profitable such a conversation can be.
  • Stop the demeaning jokes. It may seem funny to tell your preacher that perhaps “he will make a good preacher one day.” Or to rib him about his salary. Or to say that he only works a few hours a week. Or to introduce him as your “little preacher.” Every preacher everywhere has heard versions of all of these and every preacher everywhere really does not care for them–even if they grin and go along. Overwhelmingly preachers take their calling seriously. It is not just a job for us–it is who we are. While we work in congregational settings with our greatest desire being for our church to be healthy, to grow, and to make a difference–we still answer above all to God. Most of us love to joke on occasion, but do not consider our calling a joke.
  • Do not make your preacher starve. Okay, admittedly this is an extreme way of saying honor your preacher and his family with a fair wage and benefits. From what I understand generally we are at a much better place here then in the past, but still be sensitive to your preacher’s financial needs. Providing a comfortable salary, health insurance and retirement benefits, etc makes a major supportive statement to the preacher and his family. It messages to them that the church is investing in the preachers success and expects a prosperous, healthy relationship. Preachers can flourish in such an environment.

This is not a comprehensive list of course–just four things that can commonly happen.

Here is my favorite Bible verse about preachers. It demonstrates the high value God puts upon us. It is also incredibly humbling.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Value your preacher. It will be a blessing to him that will return to you many times over.

*To be fair my next blogpost will address the ways preachers should not treat their churches


Five Things Preachers Would Like You to Know

February 10, 2014

preaching_cartoon_1*The following information is based on years of conversations with preachers; years of being a preacher; and a more focused dialogue I had with a select few preachers. It is not a scientific study, nor does it represent all preachers. 

Don’t you like when a disclaimer starts things off! It was necessary, however. Each preacher’s experience–while sharing many similarities–is also unique. Just like each church is unique. So, I am not pretending to speak for all preachers in this post. The five bullet points I share do, though, speak for many (including myself).

  1. Preaching is our calling. For most of us, preaching is not just a job. A job is usually something you can take or leave. It is necessary, of course, but not necessarily life-defining. Preaching is life-defining. It is not just what we do; it is who we are. Preaching knows no nine-to-five mentality. It is not something we can leave at the office. It is what we feel compelled by God to do. Ask your preacher about this. He will tell you.
  2. Our goal is to “preach Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is a part of our call. We must be faithful to Jesus; to preach him; to have a cross-centered message. It is not primarily about preaching church. It is first and foremost about preaching Christ. He is our main agenda. For some preachers this, unfortunately, has brought them into conflict with their churches–when other agendas developed within those churches. As preachers, we realize that ultimately it will be Christ who will hold us accountable for what we preach (James 3:1). So, our aim is to lift him up in order for all to be drawn unto him.
  3. We love the church. Most preachers of my acquaintance would do everything in their power not to bring harm or disunity to the church. It is the precious bride and body of Christ. Our desire is to see the church flourish and grow; to see it be relevant to its community; to witness spiritual lethargy turned into spiritual energy; to be a part of changing lives; of renewal; of revival. This is one reason why we do what we do.  Few things matter more to a preacher than the health of his church.
  4. We often feel insecure. Preachers feel vulnerable quite frequently. It seems to come with the territory. Whether it is connected to our own personal weaknesses; our own perceived feeble efforts in the huge responsibility of proclaiming the gospel; or the atmosphere and attitude within our congregations; preaching does not usually come with lots of job security. Most preachers agree that it is better than it used to be, but still insecurity lingers.
  5. We just want to be accepted as family. It may come as a surprise to non-preachers, but many preachers (and families) find it difficult to make friends. One preaching brother told me that one of his college professors (who had been a preacher) expressly told his class not to make friends where they preached! Even though I do not agree with that reasoning, I understand it. The best thing you can do for your preacher is make him feel at home. Get to know him. Spend time outside of the church building with him and his family. Trust me on this one.

God places an extremely high value on preaching and preachers:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Value your preacher. Let him know you appreciate his efforts to preach “Christ and him crucified.”

 


Changes Along the Way

November 5, 2012

As a young preacher I was preparing to preach a gospel meeting. In a conversation with the older local minister he shared his conviction that unless a sermon had at least twenty-five biblical verses in it– it really was not a true “gospel” sermon. Absorbing that bit of wisdom I revisited each planned sermon and added more verses to ensure I had my twenty-five. After all, I wanted to preach the gospel! 🙂

Well, that was then. Since, that time I have made some changes along the way in my approach to preaching and ministry:

  • I no longer have twenty-five verses in a sermon. Usually, I concentrate on trying to teach one text. Not only is this easier for the listeners to process, the value of stopping to unpack one section of Scripture is tremendous.
  • I try to go into Bible study unfiltered (I say “try” because this is never totally possible. We all bring along preconceptions to the study process.) Earlier in my ministry I quite frequently went to text to prove a point or reprove a doctrinal position. While reproving is still profitable when needed (see 2 Timothy 3:16) I no longer believe it should be primary in approaching Scripture. Now I do my best to let a text inform me (rather than me inform it) by spending time with it in context. It takes more time then the “concordance” approach I used to take, but it is so much more valuable.
  • I no longer obsess over Sunday attendance or bang the congregation up over it. Sure, I still want as many as possible every Sunday, but instead of getting upset over who isn’t here, I rejoice over those who are. Attendance remains a gauge, but not the only or even primary one. Had I understood this earlier I would have spared myself (and my church) major grief!
  • I finally figured out that what worked so well at that workshop speaker’s or famous writer’s church usually did not work so well at mine. There simply is no “one size fits all” church growth plan.
  • I learned that God is much broader, bigger, more awesome, and encompassing than the little box I kept him in for a while. Along the way I constructed bigger boxes until finally realizing I had to throw them all away. Then I begin to see how truly little I am and how incredible it is that God has been mindful of me.
  • I try to no longer take myself and what others say (positive or negative) as seriously as I once did. What I try to take more seriously is that whatever I do or say, I do it to please God and to his glory.
  • More and more I embrace Paul’s approach to teaching and preaching and that being to simply preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The scandal of the cross was his solution to the Corinthian situation and it remains central to redeeming our human condition. In the end it is that empty tomb that matters most.  That is where I want to take people in my preaching. I cannot always say this has been so.
  • Finally, I have discovered that the more I learn, the less I know. Although occasionally I long for the days when I knew it all. Life was easier then!

I am reminded of this quote from Augustine: “The Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them.” I do pray that my changes along the way reflect this.

Or it could be like a friend tells me, “Just because you are older does not mean you are wiser!”


When Church Makes You Sick

February 21, 2012

Ephesus was a tough assignment. The church was broken. False teaching poisoned the atmosphere. There was an intimidation factor among the leadership. Young widows were being manipulated, creating havoc in benevolent efforts and overall church affairs. They dressed scandalously and spent their time gossiping while on the church dime. The church treasury was being plundered by greedy preachers who also served as elders. In fact it was they who were stirring up the women and poisoning the church- guys like Alexander and Hymenaeus.

Into this mess Paul sent young Timothy.

In reading the two letters that bear his name, you get the impression that he was not quite ready for it. Repeatedly Paul had to prop him up. Paul knew of the fire-pit Timothy had been thrust into and knew the tremendous task that awaited him- as well as the great need for Timothy to succeed in leading this church back to good health. (Just read 1 Timothy 1). But Timothy seemed to struggle.

So Paul urged him to “fight the good fight.”  He reminded him to live up to the anointing he had received. He counseled him not to be intimidated because he was younger than the treacherous Ephesian church leadership. He encouraged him to overcome his shyness and fear to speak boldly and fearlessly for God. He repeatedly used words like “command” to nudge Timothy to be more forceful in carrying out his work as an evangelist- while at the same time providing him meticulous instructions on how to proper handle himself to best guard his reputation in the volatile climate of that church.  Paul even continually reminded Timothy of the kind of healthy teaching he was to share in order to counter the popular but unwholesome fables which were wrecking that church- almost as if Timothy was himself in danger of being sucked into these controversies.

Among all of this advice, instruction, reminders, warnings, and encouragement is this:

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and frequent illnesses- 1 Timothy 5:23

So Timothy had stomach problems. Really? It should come as no surprise considering the pressure he was under. The church had made him sick!

Outrageous? I don’t think so. If you have ever been involved in anything like what he was dealing with- you can relate. Could it be that Paul’s teaching to men about “raising holy hands” in prayer was meant not only just to teach a prayer posture, but to prevent them from using their hands to harass and hurt each other?

Yes, the church can make you sick,  Not the beautiful bride of Christ in all of her splendor and glory, but the weak, misguided, flesh-bound folks who, by grace, make up this church. We can make that much of a mess- and when we do it ain’t pretty. Timothy lived it in Ephesus.

So what did he do?

He hung in there. He endured hardship. He did the work of an evangelist. He continued to emphasize healthy teaching. He avoided being sucked into foolish and empty discussions. He demonstrated a better leadership model than previously seen in Ephesus. He worked to squash quarrels. He unashamedly testified about Christ. He knew Jesus was the answer to make that church whole again. He leaned on what he had known since his infancy- God’s Word. He never gave up, quit, ran away, or considered a job change. He guarded what Paul had entrusted to him. He gave it all he had- for the kingdom’s sake. Ephesus was, after all, still God’s church.

It wasn’t easy for him. Who likes to be sick? But he endured and by the time we read about Ephesus again- it was a healthier church.

So remember Timothy if the church ever makes you sick. Don’t give up. Rather work to bring healing. It may be why you are there.

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”