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If you’re a pastor, then you have inevitably been asked “what do you do all week?”  Besides all the meetings, counseling, coaching, visiting and administrative stuff, we still must spend time preparing for a message each week.  And in today’s society, everyone expects the message to be inspiring, motivating, funny, and challenging.  I wanted to share a little about my planning and preparation process. I don’t know if it will help anyone, but this is how I get ready for Sunday each week. For me, this process typically takes 10 to 20 hours each week, depending on how much research I’ve done in advance.

And before we begin, the most important thing for any pastor is to stay in God’s Word. If you want to share a fresh message from God each week, you must hear from God and have the courage to share whatever God tells you.

Picking a topic

I like to preach in series. When you plan for 4 to 6 weeks at a time, it keeps you from trying to say too much each week.  I typically get ideas for sermon series from books I’m reading, from Bible passages that speak to me, and from messages and series that other churches have done.  At Cornerstone, we typically rotate between topical series and book series. We like to mix things up to keep sermons from becoming too predictable and boring. Once the series are picked, they are shared with the elders and with the worship team. Currently, we have outlined our series through the first of next year, which is about 5 to 6 months out.

Research

This is where it all begins. I start by reading Bible passages that communicate the principle or truth that we want to convey. I’ll read through several versions and start highlighting key words and phrases. I rely heavily on Evernote to collect and organize my research notes. For key words, I’ll do word studies so that I can understand the context and meaning of the original text. After this is done, it’s time to read through different commentaries to gain insight about each passage. I’ll also read other books that may help me understand concepts or gain additional insight.

Organizing

This is the point where the message starts taking shape. I’ll read back through my research notes and start organizing my key thoughts. From this, I will determine the main points of the sermon and start forming them into a logical progression. My brain is really wired to keep things in logical order.   I have to understand how all the points and thoughts tie together. If not, I feel like I just ramble. Once the main points are written out, I try to write my opening, closing, and transition statements. These will set the tone of the message and determine what I really want to focus on.

Adding Creative Elements

By this time, I pretty much know the direction and tone of the message. I like to start adding in personal illustrations and ideas that others have shared with me. I prefer illustrations from the real world instead of illustrations from books or guys that lived hundreds of years ago. By sharing stories from my life, I feel that I am able to let people know that I am not a super preacher man. I’m a real person, with struggles and successes, and I try to give people a glimpse into my life. I’m also talking with the worship team thinking through the flow of the entire service. If we can use a video to help communicate the truth, then we will add it in. But I don’t want to use a video just because it is funny or creative. The first week of any new series is tough, because we’re finishing up all the sermon graphics used on the screens, in the bulletin, and on the web.

Condensing

My biggest problem each week is that I end up with too much information. So the last thing I do is go back through the progression and organization of the sermon and cut out anything that takes people’s focus away from Christ. This is tough, because it may mean taking out something that I really felt strongly about in the beginning of the process. It also helps focus the message on the main point I want to share each week.

Preach It!!

The last step is to boldly proclaim the message that God has given you. And it may even change while you are preaching. If you are prepared, the Holy Spirit can and will change your message on occasion to bring out information that you may have left out. It’s an awesome feeling to see God’s Word transform lives. And for the pastors out there reading this, don’t take lightly your responsibility to proclaim and preach the Gospel. Be bold, be courageous, and be obedient!

Managing Money

July 14, 2010 — Leave a comment

Nobody likes to admit that they are greedy and materialistic, yet that is one of our biggest problems in our society today.  We buy stuff that we don’t need with money we don’t have. And then we expect someone to bail us out when we get into financial trouble. We are in the middle of a series called In God We Trust at Cornerstone. We’re taking a hard look at how we can really honor God with our possessions and our finances. To help show how easy it is to manage money in a way that honors God, I recruited some high powered help. Check out this video from my little man.

As a father, I’m incredibly proud of all my children, but seeing them learn from an early age about honoring God and saving money is awesome! I even want to share a little story about Drew, the six year old star of the above video.  About six months ago, while he was eating a snack in the cafe before the service started, he asked me about one of the offering boxes. I told him what it was and he went on to talk about something else. About 5 minutes later, I glanced over and saw him sneaking over to the box. He made sure no one was looking and he slipped some money out of his pocket and put it into the box.  I asked him about it later that day and he just said he felt he needed to give some of his “extra” money back to God. He had already tithed out of his allowance, but he wanted to give more!

If you want to teach your younger kids about handling money, one excellent resource is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Jr. For your high school and college kids, I highly recommend Joe Sangl’s book What Everyone Should Know About Money Before They Enter THE REAL WORLD. Let’s teach our families the true meaning of Proverbs 3:9 and let them learn the joy of giving.

Our local newspaper, the Galax Gazette recently launched a new website. As part of their new design, they invited community bloggers to submit posts. I plan on sharing at least one post per week about church life in a small town. Blogging is such a great way to interact and communicate with your community. I’m excited about this new opportunity to share online. Here’s an excerpt from my first post called Compete or Complete?

I can never understand why so many Christians spend time criticizing other churches.

Unfortunately, I think too many times it starts with a competitive attitude from the pastor. I will even let you in on a little secret about pastors. Whenever two pastors run into each other, one of the first questions that is always asked is “How many are you running now?” In other words, whose church is bigger.

Maybe I’m naive, but I think the better question is “How can we help each other?”

Truthfully, no two churches are alike. They may have different interpretations of some secondary doctrinal issues, and they will certainly have different styles of worship and ministry, but they each have a role to play in our community. Different types are churches are a good thing, because each church will be able to reach and minister to people that the others can’t.

Crab Legs and Fasting

June 20, 2010 — 3 Comments

As part of the One Prayer series that we are participating in at Cornerstone, we are asking everyone to go to the One Prayer website each day to read the devotion and prayer guide. Each Tuesday, I have asked that we join with other churches around the world and fast from Sundown Monday night to Sundown Tuesday night. Fasting is a powerful but neglected spiritual discipline that can transform our lives. Fasting helps us to focus on what is truly important and it can clear our minds of daily distractions.

On Tuesday of this past week, our family was at the beach on vacation. Here’s where it gets a little complicated. Even though I was on vacation, I wanted to honor the fast. So Jennifer and I went 24 hours with only liquids and we spent some extended time reading scripture and praying for our church and our community. But to end the fast, we decided to go to an all-you-can-eat-gorge-yourself-on-incredibly-insane-amounts-of-seafood buffet.  I literally ate 3 or 4 pounds of crab legs in addition to prime rib, shrimp, and fish. Now it doesn’t take a detective to see through the problem in that.

In our country, we are so used to excess that we don’t even realize what we are doing. The restaurant said they cook over 1800 pounds of crab legs each night! We let food dictate our schedules and we even plan our vacations around where we can eat. And even when we fast, we are thinking about where we can eat next. Lord forgive us for our selfish and extravagant lifestyles. What really bothers me is that most people never even see the problem. We pray for those who are hungry around the world and then eat like it’s our last meal. I am thankful that fasting is teaching me lessons and opening my eyes to where my faith and actions don’t line up.

I am also learning from my friends. Jennifer has also just completed a 21 day Daniel fast, and my friend Ronnie has been blogging and sharing about his 40-day fast. I’ve got to admit, God is really challenging me right now to get serious about prayer and fasting. And not just from food, but from other things that hold control over my thoughts and actions. I’ll be sharing more about my thoughts on technology and fasting as well.

But let me just stop and ask my readers, what have you learned from fasting? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

(if you want to learn more about fasting, check out this site from Campus Crusade. It has some great info on how to get started)

One Prayer

June 7, 2010 — Leave a comment

This week at Cornerstone we joined over a thousand churches in starting the One Prayer series. This is our third year participating in the series and it has been awesome to come together as we strive to be the answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-24.

I shared a message about Unstoppable Unity. Just imagine what would happen if our churches were fully united in purpose and in love. I also challenged our church to go online and read the devotions each day at oneprayer.com.  We will be praying and fasting together as a church during the month of June.

I asked our church to join together from sundown Monday to sundown Tuesday to fast and pray each week. This week we are fasting and praying for unity so that the lost can see Jesus through us.  I’m excited to see what will happen when God’s power is unleashed through people who have joined together to fast and pray.

Jennifer and I have slipped away for a few days of rest at the beach. So fasting for us is a challenge when you are surrounded by so many great restaurants :-). But rest assured, we are joining with you by praying and fasting for our church.  I can’t wait to see what God will teach us through this study.

Cornerstone has a very active and dedicated Missions team. From serving our community to multiple trips to the Gulf Coast to help with the Katrina devastation, to multiple trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, our church has a true vision for showing the love of Christ to our community and world. Our church even helped build a church in Nicaragua and starting paying the salary of their pastor before I was hired and before we moved into our own building!

One of the goals for our mission team has been to create a central website that lists mission and service opportunities for our area. We launched MissionCentral.net this weekend to our church and plan on sharing it with all the local churches and ministries over the next few weeks and months. Here’s the intro from the site:

This site was created by Cornerstone Community Church so local churches and ministries can share mission opportunities. We want to be a resource to help you learn more about how you can make a difference in the lives of others.

For this site to be successful, we need your help. Please submit information about local ministries, about upcoming mission trips, and about local service opportunities. We have even bigger plans for this site, so continue checking back as we make improvements and add information.

Check out the site and let me know what you think. I’m excited about the missional opportunities this site will provide to bring together churches to serve our community. Churches must cooperate more and compete less, and this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Missioncentral.net screenshot

for my technology friends, I created the website in WordPress on the excellent Diarise Theme by WooThemes

Photo: Matthijs Rouw

I had an interesting conversation last week with someone in the community who suggested that our church should change music styles so that more older people would start attending. According to him, “people” in the community had shared that our music style and volume discourages older people from attending. His reasoning was based on the fact that we need older people because they give more money. In other words, change our style and cater to those who have money.

It’s an interesting argument, and one that I have heard before. But his reasoning was faulty. Yes, we do want to be a church that encompasses and welcomes all ages groups.  But money is not the reason to be a multi-generational church. We need all age groups so that we can learn and grow from each other. Titus 2:1-8 is a good example of how old and young can learn from each other. But his reasoning was also faulty because it simply isn’t true.

Our church is an amazing group of people of all ages. We have young families and senior citizens and everything in between. Sometimes the perception is that if you have a contemporary style, then older people won’t like it. We have found the opposite. People who have grown up in church love the passion and energy of a new style, and they love seeing the younger generation hungry for God. Does it mean they have to put aside some of their personal preferences? Absolutely, but we do everything we can to make sure everyone feels welcome. They may prefer another style of music, but when they experience God moving and working, they can put their musical preference aside. The simple fact is that our church is growing and full of life, and our musical style does play a part in that.

We try to incorporate older hymns done in a new style, and we make sure to keep our volume to a reasonable level , but we know that everyone won’t like the style we choose. There are many churches that offer a traditional style of music and there is plenty of room in God’s Kingdom for all of us. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people, and I am not bothered if some people don’t like the way we do things. Because I know that as long as we continue to listen and follow God that our church will be blessed. It’s His opinion that really matters.

One Month To Live

April 19, 2010 — 1 Comment

We have started a new series at Cornerstone that challenges each of us to live as if each day might be our last.  If we want to live a life of no regrets we have to discover what is really important in life.  What if you only had one month to live? How would you make each day really matter? This question really forces us to re-prioritize our lives. For many of us, we realize very quickly that we lead selfish lives. Our challenge is to focus on the relationships that will leave a legacy that lasts far longer than our time here on this earth. I’m excited about what God is personally teaching me through this, and God is using this to stretch and grow our church as we take the challenge together.

We will be sharing how Jesus lived passionately, how He loved completely, how He learned humbly, and how He left boldly. This series is based on the best-selling book One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life by Kerry and Chris Shook.  If you want to watch or listen to the messages in this series at Cornerstone, you can check out the new sermon player we are testing. We will be integrating this into our church website in the near future.

So, let me ask my readers the question, “What would you do if you only had one month to live?” Would you change anything? Would you spend your time differently?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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