disastersThere are many events happening in the world around us and we would be remiss if we did not address them from the pulpit.  Some are good, some are bad.  The question is, how do we address them in a way that undergirds what we do in our preaching?

As I write this we are going through one of the most tumultuous Presidential election cycles in memory.  With less than a month to go until we vote, people’s minds and the news are occupied with the likelihood of one or other of the candidates getting into office.  On a local level, last week there was a horrendous traffic accident taking the lives of five promising high school kids.  Our entire state is grieving.  If I we to go into the pulpit and not mention any of these things people would be thinking, if not saying, that the sermon was detached from everyday life and the impact would be blunted.  On the other hand, if I simply preached using these as main points people would think that I was simply giving a secular speech.  There is a fine line to walk here.

First, do not ignore the events around you.  Whether it is a natural disaster such as a hurricane, a tragic accident or a nationwide occurrence such as an election, these are on people’s minds.  Jesus used current events as illustrations.  ‘ Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” ‘   Luke 13:2-5 (NIV)  Using current events keeps your sermon fresh in people’s minds and makes it relevant to their lives.

Second, use current events as illustrations, not the main point of your sermon.  The events should always serve a specific purpose in the sermon.  If they don’t, don’t use them or find another way to use them.  Maybe it would be better to mention them in the pastoral prayer rather than in the sermon.

Third, don’t go into more detail than needed to make your point.  Your congregation probably has enough knowledge of the events to know what you are talking about without too much detail on your part.

These few simple rules should help you as you make your sermons timely, pointed and relevant.  Have some more thoughts?  Please leave a comment!



Stamp CollectingHobbies.  The word itself conjures up visions of someone collecting coins or stamps.  Sitting in a quiet room, surrounded with catalogs, albums and other supplies, tweezers  and magnifying glass in hand.  And as we tend to think…wasting time.  Why would you want to do something so pointless as this when you can be out doing the Work Of The Kingdom?  You could be talking to someone about the Gospel, planning your next sermon, doing a Bible study or something that really matters!  What we fail to take into account is that without a sufficient time of rest away from all of our other concerns can actually be counterproductive.

A story related on storiesforpreaching illustrates this point nicely.  ‘A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.”  The young man stepped forward, and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your pay check on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your axe?”  The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!”Our lives are like that. We sometimes get so busy that we don’t take time to “sharpen the axe.” In today’s world, it seems that everyone is busier than ever, but less happy than ever. Why is that? Could it be that we have forgotten how to stay sharp?’

Have you forgotten how to stay sharp?  Staying sharp requires taking your mind off your primary tasks for a while, not to be lazy or inattentive to that primary task, but so  you can be refreshed.  Sometimes that very hobby you engage in will be a positive force in your ministry, as well.  A hobby…

  • It provides points of connection with people you might not otherwise meet.
  • It provides illustrations that can touch people.
  • It provides a three-dimensional aspect to your life that makes you seem more real and authentic to others.

In one case I am acquainted with, a pastor turned his enthusiasm for hiking into a blog, books and even more.  Donald Minter is a pastor at New Hope Community Church in Chandler, Arizona and also runs ‘Trek On Ministries‘, a ministry built entirely upon taking people on hikes through the Grand Canyon.  The experience of hiking as a hobby shapes much of what Don does.

The fact is, we as humans are not meant to perform one task repetitively over and over for years on end.  We are built in such a way as to need times of refreshing every now and then.  That is one of the side benefits of keeping the Sabbath…a time of refreshing in Him.   If we go without that time of rest, we will break as surely as an engine running non-stop for a long period eventually will break.

So…go get a hobby!


writing_storiesWorking a job outside of the church has many benefits, but probably one of the most under-rated is the potential for developing illustrations for sermons and devotionals.  Rich real-life applications can be drawn from almost any job, and these touch people in a way that illustrations from a book or from the internet simply do not.  Carry a small notebook or a computer tablet to jot down notes for things you might use later.  If you can, develop a file of illustrations and stories with subject categories so you can find them easily. Some guidelines may be in order, though.

First, look for stories and illustrations that touch as many people and circumstances as possible.  When you are preaching, writing or delivering a devotional to the men;s breakfast you don;t know who might be in the audience or what circumstances they may have in their own lives.  John Wesley would hone his sermons to be understandable to the lowest common denominator, and we would be wise to do the same.  Unless you are delivering an illustration to a particular audience, such as the time I delivered a devotion to a group of ministers, you should appeal to the widest audience possible.

Second, be careful to generalize your story to save embarrassment to other people unless you have obtained their permission beforehand.  One of the most frequent areas I have found to be at fault here is the story is about your own family.  Being transparent is admirable, but if you tell a story about your spouse in an unflattering or embarrassing manner you may end up sleeping on the couch!  Children are perhaps even more susceptible to feeling humiliated by a story than your spouse.  This is one area I find myself having to be conscious of when I speak (and I often fail!).

Third, be aware that drawing your stories from real life may open you up to other challenges.  Some of these might even be serious enough to warrant legal assistance.  If you tell a story involving your workplace improperly it may cause your employer to consider workplace discipline up to and including termination.  If you are talking about your work, be sure to avoid anything that could put your employer in a bad light or be a violation of workplace confidentiality.

With all of that said, you can feel blessed as a bivocational pastor in knowing you have expanded opportunities for developing real life, touching and impactful illustrations.