Brad (bltitus.com) and I have been discussing the possibility of incorporating a segment into the Podcast on Scriptures that are often used out of context. I don’t know of a preacher who isn’t guilty of that from time to time, including yours truly. With that in mind, I was elated and a little frustrated to find that my friend Pastor Timothy Hadden (www.antiochnorthwest.com) has already beat me to the punch. Full disclosure, I have never considered this passage in the way he breaks it down. It is well worth the read. And while you’re at it, check out his new commentary on the book of Exodus on Amazon.
In this latest episode of AVP’s weekly podcast, we conducted an important interview with Pastor Steven L. Showalter author of Escaping Fantasyland – Overcoming Pornography One Decision at a Time. I consider this to be one of the most important books of our time. Pastor Showalter not only diagnoses the problem; he gives helpful and relevant advice for breaking the addictive grip of pornography. A copy of Escaping Fantasyland should be in every Apostolic family’s home (you can purchase here). As always, thanks for listening to AVP. We appreciate your prayers, support, and feedback.
In episode 1, Ryan began an interview with producer Brad Titus about his story. In this episode, Brad concludes his testimony, and the guys discuss the right and wrong ways to respond to backsliders, and ways to help a prodigal return home.
We recently launched our very first episode of Apostolic Voice The Podcast titled The Broken Prodigal. Brad Titus, AVP’s producer gave an unvarnished testimony about his prodigal journeys – yes, more than one journey – home. It really is a gripping story that I believe everyone should hear and share with a friend. I really wanted to address the issue of backsliding because every Apostolic has backslidden family members, friends, or acquaintances who they care for deeply. Helping them can seem like a daunting task. Sometimes, if we’re being honest, we simply quit hoping they will ever come back. My conversation with Brad solidified several things to consider while trying to help the prodigals we know and love.
- There are at least five stages in the process of a returning prodigal. One, The Leaving Stage is often completed with a flourish and a demand (Luke 15:12-13). It’s tempting for the brothers and sisters to take this personally (Luke 15:28-29), but this stage is actually a rebellion against God. Two, The Riotous Living Stage where the prodigal’s inheritance is energetically squandered (Luke 15:13). To onlookers, this season appears fun and carefree and the prodigal’s return seems highly unlikely. Three, The Crisis Stage where all the consequences of the previous stages start piling on (Luke 15:14-16). Four, The Broken Stage where the prodigal hits rock bottom (Luke 15:16). This is the stage where prodigals seriously consider going back home (Luke 15:17-18). Five, The Decision Stage where the prodigal decides to go home with humility and contrition (Luke 15:18-19).
- Most prodigals need to complete the process of becoming broken before they will remember the bread from their father’s house (Luke 15:16-18). As difficult as it may be, sometimes you do have to give prodigals space. Chasing them down the road as they’re leaving rarely makes a difference.
- However, you should be loving them and waiting for them with open arms and a hopeful heart (Luke 15:20).
- Don’t compromise for the sake of the relationship. In other words, don’t follow them in their rebellion or do anything that could appear like an endorsement of their lifestyle.
- Two things can be true at once, you can disapprove of someone’s lifestyle, and love them at the same time. Jesus demonstrated this in the ultimate fashion in that while we were yet sinners He died for us (Romans 5:8).
- It is imperative that we join the celebration when prodigals make their way home. That sounds easy, but prodigals often burn bridges when they leave. They genuinely hurt the people they leave behind. For those of us that have stayed and worked in the House of God, it might seem unfair when a returning prodigal receives the royal treatment. Swallow that resentment, forgive, and celebrate.
- Let’s talk about the nitty-gritty for just a moment. We all know backsliders who come home a few times a year and cry and speak in tongues but never stick around. It really can be disheartening watching that cycle of failure. But there is a common thread that I’ve noticed among those cyclical prodigals. They feel sorry for themselves rather than feeling godly sorrow over their actions (2 Corinthians 7:10). They subtly blame others for their failures and bad decisions. They shift blame faster than a trial lawyer. But truly broken prodigals accept accountability for their actions. They feel genuine godly sorrow over their failures. And they decided to come home even if it meant spending the rest of their lives as a “lesser brother” (Luke 15:18-19). Thankfully, God doesn’t brand us a backslider for life (Luke 15:32). And that’s good or the apostle Peter would not have been able to preach on the Day of Pentecost and usher in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the early Church (Acts 2).
- So many of you have corresponded after the first episode of AVP with heartbreaking stories about prodigals you love dearly. Please, keep the home fires burning for them. Don’t lose heart or give up hope. Love them no matter how difficult they might make it.
Podcast Questions Answered: For those who have asked about the format, AVP will be a weekly program. At this point, we plan to release a new episode each Thursday morning. We have interviewed several special guests (Evangelist Joe Campetella author of Your Campus Revival, Pastor Steven Showalter author of Escaping Fantasyland and recording artist Devin Cunningham). AVP is available on iTunes and Overcast just search for Apostolic Voice The Podcast. And finally, the recording quality has dramatically improved with each episode as we’ve worked out bugs and upgraded equipment. We are learning and growing as we go. Thanks for taking the journey with us.
My kids inherited their daddy’s deep love for music. Unfortunately, they’re also picky and opinionated about the music we listen to on a regular basis (also something they inherited from me). My iron-fisted reign over the music played in the car is being overthrown a little more each day. Complicating things even further, my kids aren’t in total unity about which songs are “super great”. So, when they both really like a particular singer a little shred of heavenly peace fills our daily commutes.
Recently, we accidentally discovered Matthew West, a Christian solo artist. His lyrics are godly and the kids are wild about it. Julia loves Becoming Me and Talmadge thinks Amen is the anthem of the ages. After about a week straight of playing the “Anthem of the Ages” and the “Sweetest Song Ever Penned” I simply couldn’t take it anymore. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So today, I gathered the kiddos around my outdated iPhone, fired up the iTunes store and started sifting through all the Matthew West songs available. Fifteen dollars bought us all a little much-needed peace and sanity.
For those that don’t know, when you’re searching for music on the iTunes store it allows you to listen to short clips of the songs before making a purchase. This had my kids up in arms. They reasoned that people can’t possibly decide if they like a song in just a few seconds. Which is kinda true. Their recommendation was to just buy every song, but Matthew West has a big musical portfolio and that was out of the question. So, we settled for doing our best to sort out which songs we truly enjoyed with limited information.
This whole process conjured up all kinds of happy memories from my childhood. Memories I happily shared with my kids. They were shocked to hear that in the good old days you couldn’t buy one song at a time and store them on your phone. They gasped at the concept of having to buy an entire CD and needed a detailed explanation of the word cassette tape. My eyes probably shined with joy telling stories of running into the Family Christian Store to buy the newest Steven Curtis Chapman album and listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. Not only would I listen to every word of every song, I’d open that slipcover and read all the lyrics, credits, and thank you’s too. Yep. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.
Those days are long gone. The only album I’ve purchased in full in the last several years is this one – and you should too. In fact, people typically buy one song per album. Usually, it’s a song they heard on the radio and anyone with any musical taste knows the radio hit is rarely the best song on the album (told you I was musically opinionated). We miss so much great music in the age of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and whatever the other newfangled digital platform is ascending nowadays. We bypass wonderful songs because the little five-second clip doesn’t do it justice. We totally ignore songs because they’re not on the local Christian radio charts. Charts that increasingly seem to only have about five songs in rotation.
I may be pining for the old days now but in reality, I love the convenience of not carrying 300 CD’s around in my car. Also, it’s nice having all my music available at the touch of a button. Music is much cheaper when you aren’t forced to buy the entire album. In other words, there’s no going back now. And musically speaking, maybe that’s fine.
Every cultural revolution and technological advancement has unintended (or at least corresponding) sociological consequences. For example, many people approach the Bible like an iTunes playlist. They get little biblical snippets here and there, mostly from easily accessible digital sources. They’re familiar with the top ten Bible verses, but rarely know the context or framework of their favorite scriptures. Their theology and resulting understanding of the Gospel is based on sound clips and abbreviated versions that sound great but lack depth and richness. This is evidenced by nationwide lagging attendance during midweek Bible study services. And further demonstrated by Christians who lack transformation and basic biblical knowledge. For unbelievers, they see and hear the lack of mainstream Christianity’s depth and want nothing to do with that slick, naive, cheap, polished brand of empty believe-ism.
It’s not possible to pick and choose the “highlights” or the “best of” moments of the Bible and leave the rest out. Jesus put it this way: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Many churches are filled with sincere unsaved people who have not truly obeyed God’s Word because they unwittingly settled for an iTunes version of the Gospel. And the world is full of people who have rejected the iTunes version of the Gospel because they easily recognized it as inconsistent, indefensible, and unsatisfying. You see, cheapening the Gospel doesn’t make it more palatable, it actually renders it worthless to the world. A little fly in the perfume gives the whole bottle a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1).
The saving power of the Gospel is more than mental assent, a moment of sincere belief, or an ecstatic emotional experience. Simply stated, the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before you can even enter into the plan of salvation you must believe that God exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in the idea of God but reject Jesus. But to embrace the Gospel we first must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31, John 3:18, John 4:42).
At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.
Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).
After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, He empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s really good news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.
I know that isn’t the slick version of the Gospel many people have seen on TV or heard on the radio. It doesn’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker. God didn’t design the Gospel to blend in with our overly commercialized culture. No. The Gospel is timeless, changeless, and sacred. Please don’t settle for an iTunes version of the Gospel that doesn’t save or satisfy.
I’m not a professional designer by any stretch of the imagination. Calling myself an amateur designer is probably an overly generous designation. This article is by an amateur for amateurs.
So why would an amateur write about anything: Because most churches simply can’t afford to hire out every little design project needed. Churches are fueled by passionate well-meaning amateurs who do their very best on a shoestring budget.
Not every church is blessed with a member well versed in graphic design. Meaning, someone is forced to wade into the murky confusing waters of amateur graphic design. If that person is you (or you know someone who fits that description), stick around (or pass this along) because listed below are several free resources that will make your (or their) life a lot easier. And as a bonus, the finished projects will be substantially more astatically pleasing than copy and paste clip art collections.
One caveat, amateur designers need to know their limitations. Many projects require more expensive computer software and/or skills then we possess. For those situations, you should bite the bullet and pay someone who really knows what they’re doing. For example, it’s probably best to have a professional design your church logo.
If your church isn’t connected to a good designer I highly recommend Joy Mills at Savvy Design Solutions. SDS is Apostolic owned and operated. The prices are reasonable, the work is completed promptly, and the finished product always exceeds expectations.
Social media has made the need for basic graphic design skills more necessary than ever. As I’ve written in the past, churches should do their best to have a presentable online presence. However, the general rule of thumb is that it’s better to have no online presence than a tacky online presence. Also, bulletins, flyers (digital and printed), sermon slides, announcements, and much more are often made much nicer with a few minor tips. And most of those things work best by starting with a high-resolution image for the background (if you don’t know what resolution means familiarize yourself with it here).
You may have noticed that stock images aren’t cheap and media resource memberships are pricey too. Listed below are five websites that provide free high-resolution stock images.
Creationswap.com used to be 100% free. Recently they added a subscription package that unlocks every resource. However, they still have free images, videos, and motion graphics available for download.
Pixaabay.com is probably the most popular of all the free stock image sites. It’s now integrated into many of the popular design apps listed below.
Fewer people seem familiar with Unsplash.com. Probably because its collection is smaller than Pixabay.com. But they provide a beautiful and unique selection of free images.
Freerangestick.com is one of the most practical free image sites out there. It’s less artsy than the others, which is nice for bulletin and announcement projects.
Stockvault.net is my least favorite of the five listed here. But it has been useful on occasions so it made the list.
Regardless of the computer program, you’ll add more oomph to your project by having great font options. The standard fonts pre-loaded in most software programs are pretty boring. Choosing the right font can make even a simple black and white flyer pop. Thankfully, the internet has made downloading free font varieties super easy. It’s a little overwhelming at first because there are so many neat fonts to choose from. But take heart, once you download a new font it will show up in your programs font window automatically. Over time, you’ll have tons of neat choices right at your fingertips. Below are three great free font resources that every designer should have bookmarked for quick reference. Oh, and they add new fonts regularly so check back from time to time.
Video, Graphics & Slideshow Resources
These next two websites are also available as apps on your tablet or smartphone.
Canva.com is completely free but priceless for the inexperienced designer. Basically, Canva.com provides free design templates for a wide range of projects. There are free customizable design templates for social media posts (literally all social media outlets), business cards, flyers, postcards, invitations, letterhead, programs, bulletins, and email headers. Or, if you know the necessary dimensions of your design there is a custom dimension option available too.
Unlike other competing free design sites, Canva.com allows you to upload your own graphics (like a church logo) and pictures to use within your project. It’s very user-friendly and they help take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation for amateurs like me. Also, they save all your projects and uploads for future reference.
One negative about this resource; there is a free Canva app available for download (Apple and Android), but you lose a lot of features in the app. The website itself is much better than the app.
Adobe Spark is a terrific resource for churches. The website is great but the app is even better (especially on a tablet). Among other great features, Adobe Spark allows you to create cool videos very quickly. It has integrated templates, fonts, and instrumental music. You can use it to create announcements, slideshows, tutorials, or even teach an illustrated lesson. It’s easy and fun to use. Plus, it stores all your past projects for you in their server saving you lots of space on your computer or devices.
App Resources for Phones & Tablets
For quick projects like social media announcements, sermon slides, or blog titles apps are time savers. But sorting through all the apps can really get annoying. In my humble opinion, below are the top ten must-have apps for anyone involved in church media design.
- Typorama is the absolute best text on photo editor, typography maker for the iPhone and iPad (sorry Android people it’s only available for Apple users). It is by far the easiest to use without sacrificing features. One of my favorite things about this app is the integrated ability to add tasteful overlays (like bursts of color or light leaks) to any image. Often, I will edit an image in Typorama, save it to my photos, and cycle the newly saved image back through Typorama a second (and sometimes a third time) adding new touches each time.
- WordSwag is very similar to Typorama only with fewer features. Even still, WordSwag is a must have app.
- Word Dream another app in the typography, photo editor family. I find it’s font choices a little too outrageous most of the time. Word Dream does have a superior filter selection than the others. Sometimes I will create a graphic in Typorama, save it to photos, and add a filter in the Word Dream app.
- Tangent advertises itself as an app that helps you easily turn your photos or graphics into one-of-a-kind works of art. But it’s also great for quickly adding a custom look to sermon slides, announcements, or social media posts right from your phone or tablet.
- Back Eraser allows you to literally erase the background right off any given picture. By erasing the background off, for example, a guest minister you can layer the image over another image and give a more professional look. There are several apps designed to erase unwanted backgrounds off of images. This one is the most user-friendly I’ve found so far. Warning, you’ll want a stylus for best results when using this app. Also, remember to save the image as “transparent” or your finished product will have a white background.
- Photoshop Mix is a powerful free app from the famed Adobe ecosystem. It can do many things but I use it primarily for layering images. For example, I’ll often use the Back Eraser app to remove unwanted background from a person and use Photoshop Mix to merge that image with a new announcement image created in Typorama.
- Pixlr is deservedly the most popular photo editing app across all device platforms. But it can be used for more than just editing selfies. If you create an announcement in Typorama (or anywhere else) you can add a neat filter to it in Pixlr for added color or texture.
- Aviary is just like Pixlr with fewer bells and whistles and a few different filter options.
- Dropbox is a cloud storage service that still provides free service up to a certain point (depending on how many gigs of storage you need). If you are creating things on your devices it really becomes important to save them to the cloud for quick access from all your other devices. Also, it keeps the storage on your phone and tablet from clogging up. Dropbox gives you the ability to share specified folders with other users so you don’t have to email files or pass them around on a thumb drive. Dropbox has a lot of great competitors to choose from but it just happens to be my cloud storage service of choice.
- Evernote is one of the most personally helpful services in my tech arsenal. Simply stated, after downloading Evernote on your computer, cell phone, and/or tablet you can write a note and it will be saved to each of those devices for future reference. In the bad old days, I would write something in iPhone’s notebook and wish I could magically make it appear on my desktop. Evernote does just that. You can save images, pictures, videos, websites, and written notes in Evernote. All these can be organized by topic and even favorited for quick reference. Most of my sermons begin as seeds of prayerful thought quickly jotted into Evernote to be revisited later.
I hope you found something helpful in this post. I’m sure the mega professionals quit reading a long time ago. Probably right after the word “amateur”. For those of you that stuck around, you might think some of these resources sound complicated or difficult to use. And they might be at first, but if you will play around with them it will become easier and easier. As you work, often with little to no thanks or remuneration, remember whatever you do for Christ is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
I recently published the 100th article here on Apostolic Voice. Considering AV launched in the summer of 2014 that number should be substantially higher. But I’m usually busier than Santa on Christmas Eve. In spite of my woefully slow output of material, we’ve covered quite a few topics over the years. It would take a newcomer several cups of coffee and multiple uninterrupted hours to read every AV article.
Leadership, including but not limited to pastoral leadership, is a topic that surfaces a good bit around here. In fact, it’s not unusual to receive requests for an old leadership article that someone wants to revisit but they can’t remember the exact title. In the interest of full disclosure and total transparency, I typically can’t remember my titles either. I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast let alone something I wrote about two years ago. So, after rummaging around in the dark cavernous recesses of the AV vault I’ve rediscovered thirteen of the most requested leadership articles and niftily compiled them here for your reading convenience.
Much thanks to my friends and guest contributors whose articles made this list. Their written offerings are far superior to my own. Their contributions are appreciated, which is good because that’s their only remuneration. God bless and thanks for reading.
Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention largely because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry, this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is basically a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.
Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”
Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question. My kids use whataboutism all the time. Recently, while scolding my daughter because her room was a disaster she responded by asking, “What about Bubs?” At that point, she was smirking at the profundity of her own argument. She continued with what she considered to be the knockout punch, “You haven’t told him to clean his room, and it’s messier than mine.” And presto, she felt vindicated. In her mind, she had accomplished two things: 1) unveiled hypocrisy by pointing out a lack of consistency and 2) justified her own wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.
Every kid I’ve ever known skillfully employs the whataboutism technique. I certainly did (I can hear my mother shouting “Amen”). It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality. Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” And my response to them is the same response I gave my nine-year-old daughter, “Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.”
As I’ve said before, many Christians embraced gay marriage because they saw Christians committing adultery, divorcing, and fornicating. They said and still say regularly, “You’re against gay marriage, but what about that TV preacher who cheated on his wife?” Well, what about it? Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.
There’s an interesting case of whataboutism in the Bible involving David and his oldest brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:22-29). David had just arrived at the battlefield with food for his brothers only to find the entire army of Israel hiding from Goliath. David started asking around about the situation. He rightfully felt indignation that a pagan giant was being allowed to defy the armies of the living God. But when Eliab overheard David’s questions he grew angry. Probably because he was feeling a surge of guilty humiliation. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. And then he dropped the hammer, “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be watching?” And there it is, whataboutism on full display. Eliab didn’t stop there, “I know your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” he sputtered at his little brother.
Eliab resorted to a defensive posture when faced with his naked cowardice by insinuating that David was equally imperfect. He projected his own reprehensible character flaws onto his brother. Thankfully, David didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing. Whataboutism always carries a whiff of resentment with a dash of accusation. If there isn’t any actual hypocrisy for a whataboutist to exploit they’ll simply make something up.
The argumentative whataboutism spirit of Eliab is alive and well today. Christians must resist the pressure to succumb to this toxic brand of self-justification. Jesus addressed the natural human desire to justify our bad behavior with someone else’s bad behavior. He said:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”
The message is clear, just because your enemy was hateful first doesn’t mean you get to be hateful too or excuse hatefulness in others. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite either. He talked it and lived it. Speaking of Calvary, the Apostle Peter wrote:
“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… (1 Peter 2:23-24).”
Although unjustly judged, Jesus left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. The work of the cross gives us the opportunity to live unto righteousness. Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus.
Oh, and the next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin; just point them towards Jesus.
“For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”
I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities, however, God clearly ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is also Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.
Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.
My motivation for writing isn’t to berate the fallen, there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line, yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for certain if you labor in ministry long enough you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.
1. Success & popularity. Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. To this day, my brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.
Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.
Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure, but very little time preparing their heart to handle success and popularity.
2. Talent. The moment a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every single day without the help of the anointing. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I believe preachers have an obligation to work as hard as they can to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
3. Loving preaching more than people. This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.
Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased a lot of rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than true righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process I resisted the directing of the Spirit opting instead to build my favorite soap box or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.
To be clear, preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.
4. Forgetting the main mission. As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, interesting, inspiring, and fresh some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.
5. Valuing crowd size above the spiritual growth of the congregation. I’ve written a good bit on church growth here, here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Rather, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the actual spiritual health of the people.
Obviously, just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers. Which leads nicely to the next trap.
6. Willingness to sacrifice scriptural integrity for any reason at all. There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and of the trust placed in us by others.
7. Burnout. Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.
8. Ministering to others while neglecting family. I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others they lost sight of their primary responsibility.