These are articles to help you make the most out of every message.

It Only Takes a Spark

Every week there’s a Sunday. It’s guaranteed. But what we can’t guarantee is that you’ll have a spark of inspiration every week. So how do you keep your messages fresh week after week without running dry in the inspiration well?

Fresh inspiration gives you the fuel to make your message matter to people each week. Let me give you some tips on how to keep the sparks flying.

1. Have a Team Ready

Teamwork is so essential to being a consistently masterful message maker. When you’re a lone wolf, the weight of the world falls on your shoulders. But when you’ve got a team around you – people who love to research deep texts, who love to flow creatively, and who love to give great feedback – you can lean on them as a continual pool of inspiration.

The fact is we can’t all be inspired every day or every week. But when you have a team around you, chances are someone will have a good idea that will spark inspiration for you.

2. Keep a Notebook Handy

When I was fresh out of college I went to work at a church with one of my friends. He kept a little 2” by 3” notebook in his back pocket at all times. I asked him about it one day after I saw him take it out and scribble down some notes. He told me that he picked it up from a mentor of his to always have a notebook handy because you never know when inspiration will strike.

When you get that spark of inspiration, don’t wait – write it down! And you don’t need a little notebook anymore. Apple has so graciously provided plenty of ways to do that with our iPhones (or whatever smart phone you have). Whether you use the factory installed notes app or some other app, like Evernote, use it like you would a notebook. There are even some apps that take dictation so no typing on a small screen needed.

Even if you have a notebook handy, that doesn’t mean you’ll get the spark. You have to keep your eyes peeled for when inspiration is ready to strike. It could be while you’re in a meeting, running errands, or playing with your kids at home. If you take thirty seconds to write it down right then – or type it out, or record it – you won’t go looking for it later in the sea of thoughts that swirl through your mind daily.

3. Give Yourself a Break

Feeling drained by the day? Go outside and get some fresh air. Turn off you phone for an hour. Shut down you email and disconnect. Taking a walk around the neighborhood will do wonders for helping you find new energy and inspiration.

Another way to take a break is by scheduling regular intervals when you don’t speak on a Sunday. Make a yearly calendar and find five, six, ten, or more weeks where you aren’t the main communicator. You don’t have to take the week off and go on vacation. In fact, if you’re the lead Pastor of the church this is a great way to check in on other areas of ministry to see how well they’re doing.

4. Take a Dip in the File Cabinet

If you’ve been speaking regularly for a while I’m sure you’ve built up a reservoir of great messages. Don’t be afraid to take a dip into your past material. I know what you’re thinking, “Sister Ethel is bound to remember when we did this ten years ago.” And that’s true. But for every member who remembers, there are twenty who have forgotten. And those who do remember may need a good reminding.

When you find a good message from the past, use that same spark you got years ago to reignite some passion today. Maybe you’ll be inspired to go down a different track than you did before. Or maybe you can repackage the message with fresh illustrations. This is why keeping your notes as detailed as possible is so important. If your notes only consist of three lines and scripture reference, it will be hard to figure out where the inspiration came from years ago. But holding onto all your research notes will give you an idea of the path you were on and what you can do different next time.

One final word for those who feel like the spark of inspiration is going dim: Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a great communicator, so just go and communicate. If you ever feel like sparkless, just go back to what you know – the mission and vision of your church. That was the original spark that got you going in the first place. And if you’re church is still alive then that spark is still glowing.

Let’s Talk about Talks…Again.

On Tuesday I wrote about this whole idea of what a sermon is. I didn’t completely answer the question. I really just gave my ideas on how the words of ministers should lead people to see Jesus clearly. Sermons should be windows, not walls.

It occurred to me that this isn’t just for ministers. My good friend Tim Patrick once told me that we’re all preachers, we just preach different things. Paul called us “living epistles,” meaning that we all sort of share a message with those around us. What is the message? Paul was pretty clear the message was Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:10

10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

I think that’s pretty central to our “sermons.” We walk around and let people “read” them by seeing Jesus through us. And what do they see? It’s the death of Jesus. He laid down his life for us so that we could live.

That takes a lot of love. Especially to do it for people who didn’t want his help, didn’t care about him, or didn’t love him back.

That love is a great challenge for us as we try to be windows and not walls.

When people see you, can they see Jesus?

Let’s Talk about Talks

When I was growing up they were called sermons and pastors preached them. That’s changed.

One Wednesday night during my time as a youth pastor, a young girl asked me if I was giving “the talk” that night. No, not THE talk. She meant the sermon…or message…or the talk that night. Was I the guy that was talking? If so, I was giving the talk.

I soon learned that all types of churches call all types of sermons all types of things. Message. Lesson. Discussion. And pastors didn’t preach any more, they just spoke. “Who’s speaking this weekend?”

And with that, I want you to think about this.

It was so simple when I was younger. Pastors preached sermons. But now, directors conduct discussions, ministers present messages, or leaders lead lessons.

But what is it that we mean when we talk about all these…talks? What is a sermon? And is it any different than a message or a lesson?

I think one reason the waters have been so muddied is because the church, in seeking to be relevant, has stirred them up. The word “sermon” may make some feel uncomfortable, so let’s change the word. But if only the words change, the comfort level won’t. And if the content changes so that those who wouldn’t normally listen now do (and their lives are changed!), then why change the word?

Another reason this gets so muddy is our use of technology. Now, I love technology – especially videos and funny pictures and great graphics. But if that’s the hallmark of a sermon is technology, if people only remember that you showed a Dumb and Dumber clip, then what impact did your words have?

The goal of a sermon is to change lives! The content of a sermon is the person of Jesus living among us! That’s a simple enough idea that often gets murkier and murkier as we add lights and sounds. And it’s not that lights and sounds are bad – they’re great! But if that’s the only way to be creative, then we’re not being all that creative. The greatest speakers of the human race never knew PowerPoint. But they sculpted great words together into sermons that moved the hands of nations.

One more reason – and then I’ll get to answering that question about what a sermon really is. Speakers run the risk of becoming idols to their audience. And that makes perfect sense, I get it. We put them on a stage, elevated above everyone else, give them a microphone, and put a spotlight on them. All those things are so that it’s easier to see and hear them. But the result oftentimes is that their egos enlarge. And why not? If you have a mic and a spotlight and everyone is hanging on your every word, wouldn’t you get a big head? It takes a great level of humility to do that and not let your ego run wild. But it also takes a fair bit of ego to even stand up on the stage in the first place.

So, how does that balance even work? It’s a constant struggle that ministers must navigate all the time. Confident enough in their own God-given abilities, yet humble enough in their man-made faults to understand “it’s not about you”…even when it is all about you. Even when everyone is watching and listening and laughing and clapping. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. And a minister’s number one job is to point people to Jesus.

Ministers should not be so arrogant as to believe that their sermons are more than mere suggestions of what Jesus looked like. That’s what a sermon is – a clear representation of Jesus Christ. Sermons should be windows not walls. They are a way to view God through the incarnation of Jesus – the God who became flesh and lives with us (John 1:14). When we hear the words of a minister, can we see through their words to see Jesus? A minister’s sermon is only effective as it is transparent.

So, as a pastor/minister/leader who preaches/talks/leads, here’s what I have to ask myself: When I speak, can you see Jesus?

But what do you think? How would you define “sermon”? Is it more than – or less than – just showing people Jesus?