Category: Leadership

Preaching Under Pressure and the Sovereignty of God

(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)

The God who allows pressures to come your way is the God who will be there when you need Him:

  • When you are weak, He is El Shaddai, the almighty God
  • When you are feeling low, He is El Elyon, the most high God
  • When your world feels like it is crumbling, He is El Olam, the everlasting God.
  • When your resources feel like they are at the end, He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who will provide.
  • When you feel like crawling away to hide, He is Jehovah Nissi, the Lord is my banner.
  • When it feels like your life is consumed by conflict, He is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is peace.
  • When it feels like you are all alone, He is Jehovah Sabbaoth, the Lord of Hosts.
  • When you feel tainted by sin, feel that God can never use you, He is Jehovah Maccaddeshcem, the Lord your sanctifier.
  • When you feel lost, He is Jehovah R’oi, the Lord your shepherd.

He is Father and He is God. He is Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Judge.

He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

He is your Advocate and the Anointed One.

He is the Bishop of your soul and the Bread of life.

He is your comforter and cornerstone.

He is the Deliverer and the Desire of Nations.

He is Emmanuel and the End in whom all things will be reconciled.

He is the Foundation and the Fountain from which flows living water.

He is the Horn of Salvation and the Holy One of Israel.

He is the Lamb of God and the Light of the World.

He is Master, Mediator and Mighty God.

He is the Passover Lamb and the Propitiation for our sins.

He is your Refiner and your Refuge.

He is your Rock, and He is the Resurrection and the Life.

He is the Suffering Servant and the Savior of the World.

He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Word.

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He is all you want and all you need.

He is the God who takes your pressures and turns them into diamonds. So preach His name, proclaim Him to the nations. When things are good, preach! When the pressure is on, preach! Preach in every time, every season, every situation, until He calls you home or He returns in Glory. Let God take your pressures and transform them into His diamonds.

Preaching Under Pressure Produces Diamonds

(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)

Like me, you probably saw those Superman shows where the Man of Steel would take a piece of coal and squeeze it and create a diamond. (Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that? No more budget problems at your church!) But did you know that diamonds are not actually made out of coal? Most coal is nearer the earth’s surface, but diamonds are made deep beneath the surface of the earth, as carbon comes under great pressure and great heat, ignited by volcanic activity. Then the rock containing those diamonds makes its way toward the surface through those volcanic eruptions. So a diamond is only brought into existence through great pressure and great heat – and the higher the pressure, the larger the diamond.

God wants to use the pressures you face to produce diamonds in your life and ministry. Like Paul, you and I must come to realize that God’s power is not realized through our oratorical power or our leadership skills or anything else we can put on display; God’s power is realized in our weakness. It is preaching under pressure that makes the difference – not because of what you and I bring to the pulpit, but because of what God does in and through our weakness.

Over 25 years of editing Preaching magazine, the most common question I am asked is, “So who do you think is the best preacher?” Usually the questioner expects me to name some well-known preacher that they’ve heard on TV or radio or at one of the great preaching conferences. But I typically answer in this way: “The greatest preacher in the world is someone you and I have never heard of. Right now he is toiling away faithfully in a small town where the main factory just closed, or he is pastor in a village church in the African bush, or he is right now sitting in a Chinese jail cell because he refused to stop preaching the gospel. We don’t know who he is, but someday as we are gathered around the heavenly throne, all the other preachers and leaders who were so well known will stand to one side as the Father calls this humble, faithful servant into His presence, and says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You withstood the pressures, and though you never saw them with your human eyes, I took your weakness and from it produced diamonds that will last for all eternity.”

God wants to use the pressures you face to produce diamonds in your life and ministry. Don’t be afraid of the pressures, because God will use them to ultimately display His power and glory.

Preaching Under Pressure and Power

(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)

Paul knew what it was to preach under pressure. Paul has been outlining his struggles, then he speaks briefly (at the start of chapter 12) about the visions and glories he has experienced in Christ. But now he goes on to point out that the pressures of his ministry had a purpose.  Pick up in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)

Paul tells us that one of the great burdens of his life was some physical impairment or limitation. The tradition in English translations has been to call it a “thorn in the flesh,” but the word could just as easily be translated a stake. We don’t know what it was – you get your choice of maladies that have been suggested by the commentators, from poor eyesight to epilepsy – but whatever it was, it was a constant, nagging reminder to Paul of his own weakness.

Even in the midst of spiritual victory, there was this thorn, this stake, reminding him that he was a fragile, earthen vessel. With the powerful spiritual experiences he has had, and the role he has played in spreading the gospel, it would be easy for him to begin to glory in himself – to let his ego become inflated. This thorn in the flesh reminded him of his own weakness and limitations, and kept his ego in check.

Have you ever thought that Sister Lulu could be your thorn in the flesh? That the struggles you face in ministry, the pressures you encounter in preaching, could be the stake that reminds you of who you are and whose you are? On good days in ministry, it is very easy to get an inflated view of oneself. When the folks line up at the door after Sunday service and tell you what a powerful message you preached, it’s not hard to start thinking, “Yeah, that was pretty good if I do say so myself.”

It is said that John Bunyan had preached a great message and was greeted by a layman who told him, “That was the most powerful sermon I have ever heard!” Bunyan replied, “You need not tell me that. The devil whispered it to me before I was well out of the pulpit.” Could it be that there are pressures in your ministry that are there precisely to remind you that you that Jesus didn’t just get into town when you showed up?  To remind you that you are a poor earthen vessel that has the privilege of proclaiming the treasures of God’s Word.

And then Paul shares with us one of the most vital insights in all of the New Testament – and an insight into why God allows pressures to come our way. Paul says he has prayed and prayed, asking God to remove this physical limitation, but instead of doing so, God has assured him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Did you get that? God said, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

The world’s power is power in strength, in self-exaltation – but that is a fleeting power, here for a moment and then gone. Christ’s power is power-in-weakness – it is the power that comes when God reaches into a life that is faithful despite the trials, a life that perseveres despite the pressures, and God produces a glory that can only come from on high.

We preach under pressure because the world doesn’t care

(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)

There was a time when the church was at the center of most American communities. Sunday morning was reserved for the worship services in the churches, and even Sunday night was a time that few activities were planned, because so many churches still had services.

Today, the culture acts as if the church doesn’t exist, or at most is just one more special interest group. Soccer games, school events, community celebrations – why wouldn’t you do those on Sunday morning? Church? Oh, do you still go to one of those?

In his book Lost and Found, Ed Stetzer reports that in the vast group of younger unchurched adults, more than 80 percent believe in God, though most of those believe that “the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism.” (And that is in spite of the fact that more than 60 percent said they attended church when they were growing up – did we teach them anything?)

Stetzer notes that 90 percent of those young unchurched adults believe “they do not need the church in order to have a good relationship with God or to learn what it means to be a Christian.” And only one in six said they would seek out the church if they needed inspirational guidance. So for the next generation coming along, church is something that plays no role in their lives.

We preach under pressure because the church is struggling and the world doesn’t care.

(more on this tomorrow)

When Leaders are Disillusioned

(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)
The church is struggling because the numbers are declining, the people are demanding, and the leaders are disillusioned. Pastors and church leaders are frustrated by the pressure of declining numbers compounded by the increased demands of people in the pews. No wonder that nearly half of all seminary grads will be out of pastoral ministry within ten years of graduation. Part of that is the poor job that is often done educating pastoral leaders – we teach them how to write a theology paper but not how to write a budget; we teach them how to parse Greek verbs but not how to manage staff. In fact, when I was invited to start a graduate school of ministry three years ago, one of my goals was to develop a program that would develop ministers who know how to lead as well as how to think theologically – both skills are essential to effective ministry in the 21st century. Theological education should be both biblical and practical if we are going to equip leaders who will last in a challenging age.
But where we stand today, it is a time of frustration and disillusionment for pastors. Focus on the Family has done research that shows that as many as 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are dealing with discouragement or even depression. Part of that is because we know that when the church struggles, the pastors catch much of the blame.
• If my child isn’t maturing spiritually and gets in trouble, it must be the pastor’s fault – never mind that the child never gets any spiritual training at home and watches the parents soak their minds in R-rated television shows and devote their lives to materialism and entertainment instead of walking with Christ. Hey, pastor, how did you let this happen?
• If a new church opens down the street that has contemporary music and appeals to young adults, who start leaving the church to go to the new place – well, that must be the pastor’s fault. Hey, pastor, how did you let this happen?
• If Sister Lulu and Sister Jezebel get into a spitting match with each other, and their families and friends inevitably line up in factions to support them, embroiling the church in tension and conflict — Hey, pastor, how did you let this happen?
A further pressure we deal with today, that can lead to frustration, is the ready accessibility online of the greatest preachers in the world. In years past, you were typically only compared to the best preachers in your town or state; now your folks are measuring you against Tony Evans, Chuck Swindoll, Stanleys (Charles and Andy), and any number of others!
So here we are: the numbers are declining, the people are demanding, and the leaders are disillusioned. As a result, we preach under pressure because the church is struggling.
(more on this topic next week)
   

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