3 Resources to Add Spark to Your Sermons

3 Resources to Add Spark to Your Sermons

 

Does preaching every get dull to you? Better yet, do you feel your sermons are making folks a little too comfortable in the pews? Here are 3 of my top posts on preaching to help you remix things up a little. Each one of them is a little different, from the practical to the unorthodox (with a little non-traditional preaching environment mixed in). The biggest tip I have found to keep your sermons running great is to always be working on making them better!

3 Resources to Add Spark to Your Sermons

serial podcast

3 Things the Church can learn from the Serial Podcast.
Did you get sucked into Serial last year? We certainly did. One of the best things about Serial is how it showed a dramatic amount of social change-and this is good for preachers and anyone else who is a narrative communicator.

These 3 things make us ask these two questions:
1. How can my church create or adapt a content strategy influenced by power watching/listening and the consumption of narrative media.
2. Do we speak the communication language of Generation X and the Millennials or are we still directing our digital media towards the style of engagement created by older generations.

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Productive Pastor 20: 5 Keys to Effective Sermon Preparation
How do you prepare a sermon well? There are plenty of ways. These are the five tips I like to give people.
1. Read
2. Have a Holding Tank
3. Have a Preaching Calendar
4. Ask Others
5. Find/Build a Preparation Rhythm.

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Teaching a Retreat? Here’s How I Plan
Have you ever taught for a retreat? Or maybe preached a quick succession of sermons?

Prepping for these type events can be stressful or it can be really cool. Let me clue you in on a few tips and ideas. Many of these will also work for planning an entire season of preaching…although since folks are hearing them several days apart you won’t get the level of familiarity.

Hacking Facebook Lists for Ministry Effectiveness

Hacking Facebook Lists for Ministry Effectiveness

I have been using Facebook for ministry since 2005. I was a ministry intern at LaTech Wesley. At that point in time only .edu email accounts could get a Facebook profile. Half of the interns had it and the other half hadn’t signed up when they were in college. Those of us who used Facebook for ministry had a much easier time connecting with students and discipling them.

Things haven’t changed.

I want to share a little hack built inside Facebook that will seriously help you.

Do you know about lists in Facebook?

Facebook organizes your friends into lists based off of area, schools, jobs, etc. The built in lists are great-but you can totally take it one step further. (here is Facebook’s list FAQ for those of you unfamiliar)

Creating and organizing your own lists can really help you put groups of similar people together. Lists are private (unlike twitter) and can only be seen by you.

Using Facebook lists for ministry is a killer time saver. One of the best reasons to use Facebook for ministry is to be able to keep up with folks. The only issue is Facebook as an algorithm they use to show you others posts in the news feed. No one really knows exactly how this works, but we know they try to intelligently keep people you regularly interact with in the news feed as well as throw curve balls in as well to see if you will interact with that person.

I have over 2000+ “friends” on Facebook, so this means I am only able to see around 10% of them in my newsfeed regularly.

Lists allow you to select different groups in the newsfeed. I can select the “Monroe, La” group Facebook automatically makes to see what my friends in Monroe are doing.  I can view just their posts or I can send a status update directly to them.

Hacking your Facebook lists and take them to the next level

The basic Facebook created lists are great.  They can be serious help for ministry.

But I encourage you to create your own lists. Besides creating a list for your church, think of the places you spend time and minister to folks?

Are you friending them on Facebook? You should be. Facebook is such a low level of relationship for the average person it won’t be weird. If you have interacted with them enough to get a first and last name, add them on Facebook. Then you need to add them to a list.

I have lists for people I meet at different meetings, the coffee shop I hang out at, the cigar store I hang out in and at just about every place I interact with people. I probably have around 15+ lists I have built with people around my community in them. It makes it really easy to keep up with people.

I am able to see JUST their posts when I want to and interact JUST with them. I can share updates specifically designed for those people. It makes connecting much easier and lets all of us get to know each other better.

Lists are a great hack for Facebook. I encourage you to begin building a few of them and start utilizing them in ministry.

Do you want to create valuable change? Use better assumptions.

Do you want to create valuable change? Use better assumptions.

People don’t like assumptions. We’ve all heard the joke. It goes something like this.

“You know what happens when you assume…you make and ass out of you and me.”

I have to admit, I probably laughed the first time I heard this.

But I assume things. We all assume things. We walk into situations with our own experience, knowledge and beliefs.

The Power of Assumptions

I want to share with you two assumptions I carry with me everywhere. Whenever I step into any leadership position, whether it is permanent or just a conversation with someone, I assume two things. I call them my “guiding principles”.

1. The best indicator of a future reality is past and current behavior.
2. You or your organization is designed to get exactly the results you are getting.

Before you begin thinking Chad has descended into corporate leadership mumbo jumbo, let me tell you why these two statements are so important to me.

I am a Wesleyan, and more specifically a United Methodist pastor. I come from a faith tradition that lives in the tension of the dramatic power and influence of grace over each persons life and a sense of personal responsibility once grace is encountered. Organizationally, it could be said John Wesley’s (the founder of the Methodist movement) entire revival hinged upon careful examination and a theological commitment to organizational clarity and purpose. It even applied down to individual persons, with the Wesleyan discipleship system (arguably the most influential by-product of the movement) focusing almost entirely upon person examination and purpose.

If you are a person that believes life is divinely called and directed by God, and I am, we need to always be focusing on how clear we are following God’s vision and purpose is our areas of influence.

So let me unpack why these two statements matter to me.

1. The best indicator of a future reality is past and current behavior.
Have you ever stepped into a situation where you know things need to change? It might have been personally or as part of a church or other organization. You need new outcomes in life. This change can be many different things, from personal development or shifting the entire culture of a group of people.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard stories of folks realizing things aren’t the best, and are hoping for a different future, but are unwilling to deal with the present and the past. If situations haven’t been perfect…the chance is they won’t be that much different in the future.

The only way to dramatically change the future is to dramatically change the present.

2. You or your organization is designed to get exactly the results you are getting.
This is the second questions. It usually makes the most sense when people are debating the merits of their current practices. It is never hard to get folks to realize there are problems…what is hard is getting them to own up to how they are responsible for the problems.

Call it blame shifting, lack of awareness or education if you want.

We simply have to take personal responsibility for whatever our current outcomes are. If things are flourishing…something is going on right. If we feel we are our of the rhythm of ministry (or just life personally), out of the presence and power of God…we need to change things.

Sadly, I have talked with to many church leaders who acquiesce to the problems and simply think greater faith and prayer is going to flip around the ministries they are part of. Yes-faith and prayer should be the cornerstone towards what Jesus calls us to do, but we have to join that with responsibility and vision. We have to be willing to own exactly what is going on and to never stop.

One of the the marks of the presence of God is forward motion. Jesus moving us closer towards making each place we live in a better example of what life looks like with Him in control. Closer towards justice and peace. Closer towards people making Jesus decisions and not self decisions.

So think about those two assumptions. I have found a discussion centered around the two statements is an amazing jumpstart towards following the mission of Jesus closer and aligning our own personal and church decisions with what Jesus is calling each of us to do.

Avoid worship catastrophe with the Jurassic Park principle

Avoid worship catastrophe with the Jurassic Park principle

As a geeky kid growing up in the early 90’s, nothing hit my radar quite like Jurassic Park. (well…maybe Wayne’s World). I remember when the cool guy who helped me earn my Science merit page in Boy Scouts took me to the opening night of the movie. I had already read my paper back copy of the book several times and was excited about seeing the story brought to the big screen. Jurassic Park was a movie that EVERYONE saw.

I think there is an important lesson church leaders can learn from Jurassic Park when planning worship. I would even go so far as to say it is a timeless message. It is a lesson both worship leaders and scientists creating large and destructive living beings from fossilized DNA should understand. I call it the Jurassic Park principle.

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD.

You never know when things might get out of control.

Maybe your lighting crew can make a holographic depiction of the Death Star and your Youth Pastor can make it into an illustration on the one Sunday they teach at traditional worship…but should you really?

Maybe you really are getting into ancient liturgy and your community has gotten down reciting the Apostles Creed, but jumping straight into the Rite of Constantinople might go over their heads.

You have a great preaching illustration taken from The Age of Ultron, but the last movie most of your congregation saw in the theater was Driving Mrs. Daisy, will it truly work?

For younger ministers, there is a huge temptation to delve off into unknown creative waters when leading our congregations in worship. We might have seen something cool at a conference or around the internet and think it will be the thing that catapults our worship into truly skinny jean worship leader status…but are we willing to experiment at the expense of those we worship with? How far does that truly lead our churches into a deeper and more incarnational aspect of faith?

What might seem really cool to us and a few others could be the theological equivilent of unleashing a pack of velociraptors in the sanctuary. Remember the most important word in Worship Design is context. Sometimes innovative things will match our ministries well. Other times we need to step back and realize something might not be best for our church. This is all part of the process of discernment. Our job as leaders, whether music, logistics or preaching is to present Christ to people and facilitate the worship of the Triune God in the most approachable and accessible way for the people we worship with.

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

 

3 Things the Church Can Learn from the Serial Podcast

3 Things the Church Can Learn from the Serial Podcast

At the end of 2014, Meredith and I traveled. We probably spent close to 20 hours in the car driving. Both of us love podcasts and we decided to power listen to Serial, the breakout podcast hit of the fall.

If you aren’t familiar with Serial yet, it is a long form, narrative style podcast from the This American Life family. In 12 episodes it told the story of a murder suspect and the crime information that didn’t necessarily match up. The New Yorker called Serial “the Podcast to end all podcasts.”

It was a break out hit and one of the most innovative pieces of media in 2014. There are several lessons the church can learn from the podcast. I think now is the time for any local church to begin learning some lessons from new media.

3 Things Churches Can Learn from the Serial Podcast

1. The new media critical mass has been reached.
For the last 10 years people have slowly been learning to get news, build opinions and discuss things in alternative ways. According to Everertt Rodgers’ research Diffusion of Innovation, we have reached critical mass. New media has reached the late majority level. This means the average amount of persons might not have actually engaged in a tremendous amount of new media communication styles, but they are familiar enough with them to hit mainstream. The more narrative, people based storytelling is now accepted and understood easily (rather than tolerated and confused). The 20th century was primarily a knowledge based society. In many ways it was the apex of the last 500 years of a new system of innovation begun with printing press.

If we look at communication development, the last 5 years have been a shift of innovation away from knowledge/information and back towards narrative as the dominate holder of truth. This written -> oral cultural shift doesn’t downgrade knowledge…but instead shows a development of both together. The storyteller no longer is simply a transmitter of previous information, but now holds authority by not just the truthfulness they tell…but how they tell it.

This means people have now changed the way they digest and listen to media. Think of the communication potential your church now has. Instead of reaching people living inside a knowledge based culture,we have to shift to a narrative based. But isn’t that what the gospel really is? The story of many people being reconciled to the Father, through the sacrifice of His Son and then grasped and empowered by the Holy Spirit?

2. Podcasts have now reached mainstream
Podcasts have been around for 10 years in some medium or the other. Apple iTunes has had podcast delivery built in since 2005. Even though it was almost 9 years ago, this was the first step in accessibility. In the last 5 years, the technology for listening to podcasts has changed dramatically. With the advent of smartphones (and the iPhones ability to download/stream podcasts natively) the accessibility was easier than ever before. In the past, you had to search through the store, download to iTunes and then upload the podcast to your iPod.

Serial broke iTunes download records. They reached 5 million downloads quicker than any other podcast. 15% of our population has listened to a podcast in the last month. People are moving towards podcasts as a primary source of information and entertainment. The hardest part about a podcast is finding the best way to listen.

In the last 10 years, vehicles have slowly started making connecting an auxiliary device to the stereo easier. At first it was auxiliary jacks and now it is bluetooth. I don’t think I have had a rental car in the last 5 years that doesn’t have the ability to route my iPhone audio through the speaker.

This makes it easy for your church to distribute content.

Instead of the old tape or cd based ministry, which necessitated changing delivery systems (tapes or CD’s), listeners now have the content at the same place everywhere. They can start and stop with ease.  The average commute is 25.4 minutes.

Podcast technology means your ministry can reach listeners who can subscribe to regular content and listen to it anywhere.And the average person now has everything they need to engage with your content and is probably familiar. Churches have used RSS (podcast code) technology for years to deliver sermons…but that is just the beginning. Read  “What’s Behind the Greatest Podcast Renaissance” and think about how you can take advantage of this medium

3. How Serial changed everything (in a great way).

Serial changed everything. Or maybe we can say it served as the example of the great change that has been happening over the last 2 years as far as podcasts are concerned. I have podcaster off and on for 10 years. For 8 of those it was a total bust. Getting 10 downloads was a success. No one knew how, knew what or knew why podcasts were great. It was a total niche movement.

But it was worth sticking with. Apple sat on it for years before it hit mainstream.

Serial showed us how everything changed.

It was a distinctly Generation X/ Millennial product. With the crime in Serial occurring in 1999, there are plenty of cultural references.

Sarah Koenig, the host and primary investigator speaks of adolescence not as a statistical fact, but as something mainstream.* It shows a completely perfect example of a secular moral structure…with casual drug use and sexuality on a sliding scale of acceptability. Language isn’t edited out. One particular person involved coined a phrase used through out the show featuring the F-bomb. It was referenced countless times throughout the show. Unedited. No apologies. Besides the moral framework, the style of reporting this has completely changed. It is no longer a disapproving adult, but instead someone who remembers (and even identifies) with the subjects. I can’t imagine Barbara Walters doing this style of reporting.

Serial also served as an amazing example of power listening. We have been familiar with power watching, the practice of back to back viewings of entire television seasons, ever since DVD sets became affordable. Netflix, and other streaming services, have made this a regular part of life.

Serial was the first podcast to seriously look at power listening. People would plan out blocks of time (the holiday season was perfect…because the show had just ended) to listen to the entire 12 episode season.

So ask yourselves this. Are you in the content business or the sermon business?** The church has used technological advances for years in media. If fact, it’s one of the areas we have done really well in.

I think this gives us two questions to ask ourselves.

1. How can my church create or adapt a content strategy influenced by power watching/listening and the consumption of narrative media.
2. Do we speak the communication language of Generation X and the Millennials or are we still directing our digital media towards the style of engagement created by older generations.

Serial has been a great example of the tipping point of new media and any church leader needs to be asking these questions.

*Note. I don’t agree with the information below-but it’s of the utmost sociological importance.
**But let’s think about what a sermon is. It’s an intentional packaging and communication of the Story of God. For me, the basic assumption of preaching/sermonizing is the assumption and goal of a person being affected and making intentional decisions because of the word of God. The lines between the sermon and content are decently blurry.

What I’ve Read in 2015

What I’ve Read in 2015

Last year I challenged myself to catalog my reading (and become more intentional about my reading). I was able to read more and read for more purpose. Here is my 2014 reading.

In 2015, I decided to chart out much of my reading. I have a few places I wanted to develop my personal life and leadership. You can read about that process here.

I will use this post to catalog my 2015 reading. Feel free to ask any question in the comments. The link will take you to an Amazon purchase link if you are interested in the book.

My 2015 Reading

1. Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter your Soul by Bill Hybels.
Over Christmas my Dad gave me a couple of books he was reading and using for some sermon preparation. This was one of them. It scratched my productivity itch as well as spoke to my soul. This is a great book. For anyone who might raise an eyebrow at Hybels-this is the perfect entry book. I highly recommend it.

2. Strange Leadership: 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization by Greg Atkinson
I first heard about this book from my friend Rich Birch over at the Unseminary podcast. Rich interviewed Greg and I immediately bought this book. Think of it as a modern Biblical theology of innovative leadership. It highly challenged me not to lead better (well actually it did)…but more so to fight for Jesus in my heart and to focus on following Jesus better.