Finding a Part of Myself that I had Lost

I preached my first sermon when I was 17.  The youth group at my church put on the sunrise service for Easter Sunday.  Afterwards my senior pastor asked me if I’d be interested in preaching again.  I’m not sure what possessed him to ask that of a cocky 17 year old. That summer I interned with him and preached twice more.

Fast-forward eight years.  As a Protege at NCC I was asked to serve as one of two campus pastors for our largest location.  I was honored, and while I was pretty good at some parts of the role, I wasn’t so hot at speaking in front of the congregation.

I wasn’t preaching, but I handled the rest of the up-front pastoral duties: delivering announcements, praying, giving the benediction, receiving the offering, administering communion, all of that.  I didn’t have a lot of public speaking experience, so it took a few minutes to calm my nerves and get into a groove, which obviously never happened as none of those things took longer than five minutes.  At the same time, I was struggling with mild depression, which made the job of pastoring exceptionally hard.  To top it off, part way through my eight-month tenure I got some (probably deserved) negative feedback that absolutely killed my confidence.

That was two years ago.  After that I was pretty hesitant about getting back in front of people.  I had been far more confident at 17 than I was at 27.

My job now is such that even though I’m a pastor I could avoid public speaking if I tried and have to some degree, but I’ve been making an effort to get back on the horse. Last fall I spoke at one of our Alpha classes and addressed a gathering of NCC leaders.  In January I did some vision casting to our leaders at our annual Leadership Retreat.  In February I emceed a men’s event.  In March I gave two theology lectures, and this May I recorded a couple of short teaching videos.

I’ve felt like I’d been getting better and gaining confidence but still had pretty significant doubts and tended to be somewhat stressed in the hours leading up to speaking.

Until Saturday.

Last Saturday was our summer Leadership Summit.  It was probably the calmest I’ve ever been before speaking.  I was given a six minute slot to talk about the rhythms of a leader’s life, and for probably the first time in my life I got off stage and said to myself “Nailed it.”

My evaluations of my own speaking tend to be filled with self-doubt and questioning, but I felt good about both what I had said and how I said it.

It’s been a long process, a process of getting comfortable in my own skin, a quality I had at one point but had long lost.

So, what’s the take away for you?  I don’t know exactly.  This is one of those insecurities that I need to grow through as a leader.  Maybe it’s encouragement to you to keep at it, whatever it is.  Maybe it’s me being honest about my own self-doubt.  Maybe now you know me a bit better than you did before.

Pete Briscoe – RightNow 2010 – Preaching Breakout

Colossians 1

Two days ago my dad, Stuart Briscoe, turned 80 years old.  He’s been preaching since he was 17.  He’s my preaching mentor.  He preaches all of the time.  I was on a walk with him a couple of weeks ago, and I remember thinking that his sermon that day was off.  And he asked me, "Have you ever been half way through a sermon and thought. Man, this is going no where."

It’s comforting to know that the greatest preachers really struggle with this.  It’s hard.  It’s challenging.  I’m going to argue a little later that it’s a supernatural event.  The devil hates it.

I asked my dad what the secret to successful ministry is.  He said, "Preach the Word.  Take care of their kids."  Another time he responded with, "Preach the Word.  Love the people.  Pray that the Spirit moves."

Did you notice the common denominator in those two answers?  Preach the Word.

Twenty years ago I was the senior pastor at 28 years old.

There were five times previously I had preached to real people, not in seminary. That’s not real. I kept going back to when Paul told Timothy not to let them look down on him for his youth. The other place I went was Colossians 1. I’ve read a ton of books on preaching, been to a ton of seminars. This is the best text I have ever found.

  1. Service – The posture of preaching. I am its servant. Most of us hear about the visionary, Bill Hybels style of leadership. Few of us are Bill Hybels. Paul talks not about leadership but about service. They’re not exclusive, but it’s servant leadership, not lead servants.  It doesn’t get any better than preaching.  We need an attitude of grateful service.
  2. Commission – It’s the same word as stewardship.  The steward was entrusted with the masters things, and there would one day be an accountability conversation.  How did you do with what I gave you?  Preaching is an enormous responsibility.  It is a stewardship.  There are two aspects to it.  One is that we steward the Word of God.  The other is that we steward the time of God’s people.

    1. My dad works really hard on his sermons.  I asked him about it.  He said the average person works about 2800 hours.  If I preach 45 minutes to 6000 people, that’s about 2 years worth of one person working.  I’d better be prepared.  Is it getting the best of my week or the scraps.
    2. There’s the source.  What does Paul say, to present the Word of God in its fullness.  Are we just commenting on current events or making the word of God fully known.  When we preach, we preach the Bible.  We preach the Word of God. If it’s not the Bible, it’s not preaching.  My dad said this, you give them what they need in the guise of what they want.  People talk about felt needs.  That’s really more about what people want.
      The seeker movement is great.  It refocused us on the lost, but along with that came a movement away from the Bible and towards topics with the occassional Bible verse thrown in.  This leaves people starving because they’re not being heard.  I’m convinced that seekers want to hear the Bible and believers need to hear the Bible.  God initiates the whole salvation journey.  Seekers are seeking because God is calling them to.  Can you imagine that God would want to use the Word he wrote to speak to the seekers He is calling?  Seekrs all the time tell me that they want to here the Bible.
      We have to preach the Gospel whether people respond or not.  I had a guy who came to church a couple of times, came to our seeker group but never accepted Jesus.  I mentioned him in a sermon, not by name, but I said this happens some times.  He heard my sermon on the Internet and called me up.  He had just accepted Jesus three weeks earlier.  He had moved to the East Coast, believe it or not, the Spirit was still there working on him.  The Spirit is on the East Coast!  I thought we had lost him.
      The responsibility to steward God’s Word is enormous.
  3. Mystery – The sermon without Christ is no sermon.  I fear our preaching is more about what we want to do for God than what he wants to do in and through us.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience… It’s not the fruit of your labor.  It’s the fruit of the Spirit.  I fear a lot of our sermons are not a faith walk but a work walk.  We give people 10 things to do in a week.  They’ve done three.  We give them 10 the next week.  Now they’re 17 behind.  We wear them out.  Christ is the center.  Christian ministry is Christ expressing himself through us.  Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Preach Christ.
  4. The Practicals – The PAT Process

    1. Proclaim – To declare plainly, announce, celebrate.  Note what we are celebrating.  We are proclaiming Christ.  The Church grew because the apostles preached Christ.  This upset some people so much they got thrown into prison.  People will get upset when you preach Christ.
    2. Admonish – This same word means "To Warn."  Paul says, remember, night and day I never stopped admonishing (warning) you with tears.  This last summer I took a trip to Africa to visit some friends with my daughter.  One of these friends is the Anglican Bishop of Uganda.  He oversees 1300 pastors, some of whom aren’t even believers.  There are more Anglicans under his care than in the entirety of the US.
      We attended a service where Michael was preaching in a packed mud church with 600 people.  The smell was amazing.  It was 120 degrees.  THe service last 4.5 hours.  He was preaching about people in Corinth trying to take advantage of the Church.  He looks at the congregation of sustanence farmers and tells them that there are wolves trying to take advantage of you.  He warned and cared and shepherded these people about this for 15 minutes.  Our people desparately need protection and care and warning.  There are traps all over in this world.  People will fall if we don’t warn them.
      Have you talked to people about schemes trying to take advantage of them.  Have you told them about the consequences of backing out of their marrige.
    3. Teach – To instruct by word of mouth, to tutor, direct, advise.  The idea is to change the way people live.  Teaching is training people how to act.  We know that people learn when their behavior changes.  If the behavior doesn’t change, there was no learning.  You know you’re preaching because you see lives transformed and changed.
  5. Goal – So that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  Of course the word perfect means compete and full, wanting nothing.  It’s maturity in Christ, not in works.  This is where we stand next to the people and say, "Here you go, Jesus" and take a step back.  If this doesn’t humble us, we need to reevaluate our ministry.  We need to quit whining about how immature our people are.  That’s on us.  If God’s Word is not showing up in our people’s lives.  That’s on us.  There’s something wrong with our preaching.
    Bill Hybels asked a number of years ago what preceeds a vision. His answer, “Sanctified Discontentment.” That’s what makes you want to do something. Here are my sanctified discontentments.

    1. We’ve forgotten Jesus in the Church.
    2. The western Church has forgotten the rest of the Church.
    3. We’ve forgotten how to preach.

    Our goal is to present everyone compete in Christ.  It’s an enormous goal.

  6. Struggle – To this end I labor.  The word means to take a beating.  To labor full of grief.   The word struggling is to angonize, to toil, taking great pains.  If you don’t know this, you’ve never preached.  Preaching is hard.  Bad preaching isn’t hard.  Great preaching is hard work. Good teachers teach content. Great teachers teach students. I had teachers who looked at me and decided they were going to teach me, not just the content but the essence of what they wanted to get across. It’s not that hard to teach content. It’s hard to teach students.
    The preacher should never be dull, heavy, or boring.  The dull preacher is a contradiction in terms.  If he’s dull, he is not a preacher.  It’s not that hard to produce a dull sermon, almost anyone can do it, but to produce one that draws people in is hard work.

    1. Exegete the Text – This includes making difficult decisions about the text to help walk people through it. Don’t you hate it when commentaries skip the hard parts of the text? That’s the whole reason we bought the commentary. Don’t just skip the hard parts. If you don’t know what it means, tell them that, but don’t just skip over it. This is the hard part. This requires a lot of work and prayer and reading, but you’ve got to have the guts to make a decision about what you think it means
    2. Exegete the Audience – You’ve got to know who you’re speaking to, be in their lives, understand what they’re going through  Speaking at things like this is hard because I don’t know you or your stories.  I love preaching at my church.  I know their stories. JI Packer said there are 7 or 8 different types of people listening to you preach.  You’ve done your job as a sermonizer if all 8 types of people think, "That part was just for me."  You’ve got to tie your illustrations to each of these groups of people.  It’s why I’ve got to go to the theatre, because I’d make all of my examples about sports.
    3. Make the Connection from the Text to the Audience – Three parts to any great sermon: What, So What, Now What.  What was the text saying.  What does this mean for our modern world.  What I am I supposed to do with what I’ve just learned.
      Most of the time we teach the what, what the text has to say.  We might even try to apply it a bit, but we don’t really tell them how this affects our lives.  We’ve got to get over the so what hump.
    4. Become a Scientist and an Artist – This is one of the reasons preaching is so hard.  It requires scientific work and artistry.  That’s what makes this so hard.  Some of us are analytical, others arty.  Preaching requires both.  This means there’s a whole chunk of preaching that will be unnatural to you.  The science part is the exegetical work, working with the tools, the languages, the commentaries.  Then there’s the artist, moving past the intellectual dialogue to the life conversation, using pictures and story and illustration that really connect with people.  Part of this art is appropriate self-disclosure.  My goal is to stay one week ahead of my people in spiritual growth.  Wesley said to "Get up.  Read the Bible.  Tell people what you’ve read."  People love to know you’re just on the journey to.  We don’t speak down to people.  We just take them on the walk.  You’ve had 37 seconds to grab your people’s attention.
      You’ve got to grab people’s attention in 37 seconds.  That’s all the time you’ve got.
      Think about an airplane.  You don’t want the plane to take off or land straight up or straight down, but we don’t want to spend 15 minutes taking off either.

    1 Cor 15:10 – Paul said, I worked harder than all of them.
    Paul ends by saying, "Struggling with all His energy," not our energy, His energy.  God has decided to use this form of communication to draw people to himself.  The Spirit speaks to us, enables both the presentation and the preparation.  The spiritual gift of preaching is not just about the presentation but the preparation.  The Holy Spirit is involved in the entire process.

So What? My question to you is, "How’s you’re preaching?  How are you doing?"  Some of you need to schedule differently so that preaching gets the best part of your week, not the last part.

Q&A

What would you say is the main difference between preaching and teaching?
I"m not sure there’s a huge Biblical differentation.  I think the Holy Spirit uses both.  Generally speaking I think teaching happens in smaller sessions where there’s more dialogue and less monologue, although I want my congregation interacting with me, mad at me, agreeing with me, etc.  Preaching is a dialogue but it’s 98% me, 2% them.  Teaching is more 60/40.

How do you decide where you’re going or what you’re preaching on?
I spend a couple of weeks planning. I have conversations.  I preach through books of the Bible.  I’ll come up with a theme so that people come.  My dad and I argue about this.  He says you can’t go longer than a 12 week series.  I spent two years working through Ephesians.  Not everyone left.  Don’t feel like you can only go 4 weeks.  People want the word.

How much help do you get from other people in preparation and research?
Zero. I tried that.  There was a researcher in my church who volunteered his services to me.  I got a bunch of information from him.  It was great, but none of it was what God was putting on my heart, and I felt bad he was spending all of this time compiling this information.

What do you think is the importance of Scripture as opposed to self-analysis?
An illustration is always a means to an end, to make Biblical truth make sense to people.  If I’m just talking about myself, I’ve crossed a line that is inappropriate.

What resources do you know about to help young pastors transition to a preaching ministry?
One of the things we have now that we didn’t have when I was younger is technological resources.  I grew up in a preacher’s home, so I got a lot of that, but I found three preachers I really respected who had different styles and filled my walkman with them.  Tommy Nelson is like a walking commentary.  He does the what so well.  Chuck Swindoll does the so what brilliantly.  I just listened to great preaching over and over again.  Part of it is a gift the Holy Spirit gives you.  Part of it is developing your gift.  Developing it is a lot about listening to great preaching.

What about translations?
I use the NIV because it’s easier to understand.  Sometimes it drives me crazy, but people can read it when they get home. And it doesn’t raise as many questions.  What I would encourage you not to do is to use different translations just to make your point.  If you’re constantly changing your translations, people will wonder what you’re trying to hide.