Three Questions I Evaluate Sermons By

I have heard a lot of preaching. As a Youth Pastor, I trained multiple interns to teach the Bible and listened carefully to all their messages. As a Professor, I teach a course on teaching the Bible where I evaluate dozens of students’ teachings each semester. As a Christian, I listen intently every week to my pastor open and expound the Scriptures. If sermons were cake, I’d be fat.

Not only have I heard a lot of preaching, I have heard a lot about what people think about preaching. In the youth room, the classroom, the church, or out in public, many people have shared with me what they thought about certain sermons or preachers. By listening to these sermon evaluations, I’ve come to realize that many people have very different standards for sermons than I do.

To stimulate faithful thinking, I thought I’d share the most common ways people evaluate sermons and then share my own.

The Most Common Ways People Evaluate Sermons

Without giving too much comment, here are the most common ways I have heard people evaluate sermons they’ve heard.

“Was It Funny?”

Lots of folks want their preachers to be comedians. They aren’t looking for sermons to be edifying as much as they are entertaining. If it makes them laugh then it was worth the time.

“Was It Uplifting?”

Did I walk away with a positive outlook on myself or my life? Did I feel like I was given new vigor chase my dreams or fulfill my duties? Or, did the sermon make me feel negative or bad? The better I feel about my self and my life or the more Tweetable quotes I’m given, the better the sermon.

“Was It Engaging?”

In this mindset, no sermon should ever take any effort to listen to. I’ve heard many celebrate a sermon because the speaker was passionate (i.e. he yelled a lot) or attention-grabbing (i.e. he flailed around a lot) or earnest (i.e. he walked around a lot) or reletable (i.e. he told interesting stories) regardless of what he taught or how he handled the Bible.

“Was It Emotional?”

Recently, I heard a student evaluate a camp speaker by saying, “He was OK, but he didn’t make me cry.” She had nothing to say about what he taught from the Bible or even how he taught it. She just wanted to feel emotions. Since he didn’t lead her to #thefeels, #hefailed.

“Was It Short?”

People are almost personally offended when someone preaches more than 30 minutes. Apparently, many folks have much more important things to spend time on than hearing God speak (that was snark, but I make no apologies).

“Was It New?”

Just like I hate watching the same movie twice, many people can’t stand to hear a truth said more than once. They think the preacher’s responsibility is to bring some brand new idea they never heard before each time. The true is upstaged by the new.

I think it is helpful to note that, though I don’t think these are the best ways to evaluate a sermon, none of these are intrinsically evil. I appreciate a good sense of humor or even someone that knows how to say a lot with few words. However, I think there are better ways to evaluate sermons that have more to do with the nature of preaching and the responsibilities of a preacher.

Three Ways I Evaluate Sermons

There can be much more said here, but in light of what I know about preaching and the preacher’s responsibility, here are my three main questions I ask of any sermon I hear.

“Was It United?”

I ask this question for two reasons: helpfulness and faithfulness. First, scattered sermons are just plain unhelpful. Even when a preacher unpacks true, biblical ideas, if the sermon isn’t united under one controlling thesis, no one will remember it. If they don’t remember it, they won’t be changed by it. As Spurgeon once quipped, preachers must give their people a loaf of bread to carry home, not a field of wheat to leave behind.

Second, sermons that are united by one controlling idea are faithful to the Bible. God is not a scatter-brain and his Word is not scattered. Therefore, sermons that are disjointed, scattered, or littered with disconnected rabbit-trails are standing in the way of the united and coherent Word of God. They’re hurting, not helping. In order for a sermon to be faithful, it needs to highlight the one controlling idea of a passage and not obscure it.

“Was It Faithful?”

Did the pastor actually say what God said in the Bible? Often times I have witnessed pastors open a text, read a text, and preach some other idea that is decidedly not in the text. It’s like being spiritually Rick Rolled. Or, for those not saavy to internet-humor, it’s a bait & switch. We’re told that we’re going to get one thing and then given something different. Even worse than this are the preachers that only ornament their sermons with random texts, indifferent to their contexts, so they’ll fit what they want to say.

When I sit to hear a sermon, my one demand of is this: tell me what God has said. Other things are fine as long as they don’t obscure or upstage the Living Word of God. Why do I demand this? I can answer with Peter’s words to Jesus, “Who else has the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)? Jokes can make me laugh, but that can’t make me live (1 Peter 1:23). Emotional stories can cause me to have feelings, but not faith (Romans 10:9). Engaging tricks keep my attention, but they don’t change my heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Only God’s Word can do those things. Time is too precious and life is too short to have sermons filled with Man’s words rather than God’s Word.

“Was It Christian?”

Jesus taught that the entire Bible points to Him. He alone fulfills all the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the writings (Luke 24:44). All the Scriptures testify about Him (John 5:39). Therefore, any sermon is not organically connected to the person and work of Jesus as foundation or focus or finale of our faith is not a Christian sermon, let alone a good sermon.

My pastor offers a good example of this done well. Currently, our church is working through the book of Proverbs and each week is focusing on a theme that is substantially unpacked therein. In the second week, he preached on the topic of the heart. He showed how Proverbs teaches the heart is the source from which all our words, feelings, desires, and actions come from and then he showed how Proverbs continually says our hearts are broken and rebellious in nature. Then, as he helpfully worked through those points, he finally led our church to the incredible truth that we cannot change our hearts but Jesus can through the gospel. It helped all of us understand the nature of our hearts and the hope given us in Jesus. It was faithful both to the book of Proverbs and the gospel of Jesus. My church family was both instructed for earthly life and encouraged by eternal life.

This last point can be summarized fairly easily in this: if your sermon could be well-received in a synagogue, then it missed the mark. A Christ-less sermon is an unChristian sermon and therefore a bad sermon. We must grow to demand our preachers to preach Christ or go home.

There are definitely more evaluations to be considered in sermons, but I would argue that there cannot be less. In order for a sermon to be truly good it must be united in thought, faithful to the Bible, and centered on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

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7 Schedule-Friendly Ways to Serve Your Church

Most of us are busy. Between our responsibilities at home and at work, we’re at maximum capacity. So, the idea of serving at church can easily be overwhelming and quickly dismissed with the thought, “I wish I could, but I just don’t have time.”

But, that doesn’t need to be.

There are numerous ways we can significantly serve our churches without carving out loads of extra hours each week. To help, here are 7 simple and schedule friendly ways you can serve your church family.

7 Ways to Serve Your Church

1) Show Up 15 Minutes Early

Instead of showing up to church 15 minutes late or even right on time, love your church by showing up 15 minutes early. Be available to catch up with church members. Be present to warmly greet new visitors. Honor your pastors and leaders preparation for service by being there to receive it all, from the very beginning. Instead of rushing to church in anxious haste, show up early.

2) Own the Greeting Time

As an introvert, I am predestined to see greeting time as a time of misery, but as a Christian, I am trained to see it as a time of ministry. Instead of greeting people you’re already comfortable with or hiding in the bathroom, use greeting time to prove to visitors that you’re happy they’re there.

There is a wonderful sister at our church who seeks out new comers like a heat-seeking missile. One time, I even saw her walk across the room to say hello to a young, single Marine who was at church by himself for the first time. After introducing herself and seeing he was alone, she invited him to come and sit with her and her family. After service ended, he stuck around talking with her family and others. Now, he is in the process of becoming a church member and is being discipled by other men. Don’t underestimate the ministry opportunities at greeting time. The harvest is plentiful, but the greeters few.

3) Stay 15 Minutes Late

Instead of racing to your car after the final “Amen,” stick around for a hot second to bless and be blessed. Ask Suzy how she is holding up with her sickness. Hear the latest about Billy’s last football game. See how John’s new job is going. Take a moment to follow up with the new person you met at greeting time. Make them feel wanted and welcome. It’s almost too basic to say, but show your love for your church family (1 John 4:20) by actually offering them your time. Lunch will wait.

4) Sing With Gusto

The Scriptures command us to sing with one another and to one another (Ephesians 5:19; Col. 3:16). Nick Aufenkamp helpfully applies Colossians 3:16 verse when he says, “By singing of your sin and salvation, you are instructing your church, spouse, children, friends, and neighbors in gospel truth.” When you sing, “You are good! You are good!” you encourage the heartbroken. The guilt-ridden are strengthened when they hear, “Jesus paid it all!” Children are instructed about Christian joy when they watch you happily sing, “In Christ alone my hope is found!” Your church may never hear you preach from the pulpit, but they definitely can hear you sing from the pew.

5) Give Generously

In thinking about ways to serve your church, don’t be so spiritual that you forget about the mundanely practical. Don’t just think about parking, coffee, and conversations, think also about stuff like equipment or even money. Does kids ministry need new toys? Is the hospitality ministry well supported? Is your church’s budget adequately supplied? Are your pastors compensated generously for their continual, crucial, and sacrificial work? Your church’s ability to serve its members and community will be greatly affected by the generosity of its people. God loves a cheerful giver and so do churches.

6) Ask, “Where Can I Help?”

If your church is like most, the odds are that the existing needs outweigh existing volunteers. Seeking needed places to serve and actually serving there will powerfully encourage your church’s leadership and bless your church family. Don’t wait to serve only in an area of interest or for a voice from the Lord. Serve wherever your church’s needs match your ability and you will be a blessing.

7) Open Your Home

Warmly welcoming people into your home is a powerful way to minister to their hearts. Invite people over for dinner. Host a board game night. Collect a group to enjoy a movie and snacks together. Doing something at your home with church folks provides opportunities for God to do something in their hearts. The strength of your church is increased by the strength of its people’s relationships with one another and those relationships will grow as hospitality is practiced.

There are many more ways to serve your church, but hopefully these simple ways help you get started without having to add to your weekly calendars.

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What Our Marriage is Built Upon

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Ole Hanson Beach Club | August 21, 2010

Today, my wife and I celebrate our nine-year wedding anniversary. This marks 17 years knowing each other, 15 years dating, and 9 years marriage.

Each year with her is a gift of which I am increasingly thankful for. Proverbs 18:22 has proven true with each anniversary, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.” Chawna is my good thing, a token of God’s favor toward me.

In our marriage, we have made a habit of reading through our wedding vows with each passing anniversary. Our vows are very special to us not only because they are the promises our marriage stands on, but also because they encapsulate our best understanding of what God calls us to be for one another. In creating our vows, Chawna and I did our best to scour the Scriptures for what God calls husbands to be and do for their wives and vice verse. Rereading our vows refreshes us in what God calls each of us to be.

So, this year, upon Chawna’s permission, I thought it would be fun to share our vows with whomever would like to read them. We hope they bless you as they do us.

My Vows to Chawna 

I, Dana take you, Chawna, to be my beautiful wedded wife and I promise before God, His Holy Church and all His Creation that…

I will make every effort to be used by God to make you more like His Great Son Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord.

I will labor to bring you happiness all the days of my life.

I will strive to lead our family to the heart of the Holy Trinity where there is unity undivided, peace undisturbed and love unsearchable.

I will sacrifice to put your needs before my own, honoring you as a daughter of the King.

I will protect you with all my might and power.

I will fight to provide all that you need even if it means I go without

I will love you with Christ as my example. As He has given Himself for you, so will I. As He has sought your growth in holiness, so will I. As He fights to protect you, so will I. As He cherishes and loves you, so will I.

Chawna’s Vows to Me

I, Chawna take you, Dana, to be my wedded husband and I promise before God, His Holy Church and all His Creation that…

I will be faithful to you all the days of my life.

I will respect you and keep an attitude of submission in everything as you submit to Christ.

I will strive to be the helper God has created me to be as I support, encourage, and serve you so you may be the man God has created you to be.

I will labor to bring you good and never harm as I walk beside you.

I will freely give of myself for your benefit all the days of my life.

I will labor to make our house a home; where peace is known, love is given, and Christ is honored.

I will love you with Christ as my example. As He has given Himself for you, so will I. As He has sought your growth in holiness, so will I. As He cherishes and loves you, so will I.

Nine years ago we promised these things to each other. Nine years later, they still guide, instruct, encourage, and correct us. These are the promises that fuel our love, guide our lives, and anchor our marriage. These are the vows our marriage is built upon. By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, these are the vows that will steer us in the years to come.

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Best Quotes from The Tattooist of Auschwitz

I recently enjoyed The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Here are some of my favorite quotes. Please note, I don’t necessarily agree with all the below quotes, but find them helpful, intriguing, or illustrative of certain ideas or points of view.

“The tattooing has taken only seconds . . . He grasped his arm staring at the number. ‘How can someone do this to another human being?'”

“His breath catches in his throat. He presses his back against the building as the officers pass him . . . As they disappear into the darkness, Lale make a vow to himself, “I will live to leave this place. I will walk out a free man. If there is a hell, I will see these murderers burn in it.”

“”Do you have a sister?’ asked Lale. ‘Yea. Two.’ answered Baretzky. ‘Is how you treat a girl the way you want other men to treat your sister?’ ‘If anyone does that to my kid sisters, I’d kill them.’ Baretsky pulls his pistol from his holster and fires several shots into the air. ‘I’d kill them!'”

“Lale’s mother sat down and he took a seat across from her. ‘You must first learn to listen to her, even if you’re tired. Never be too tired to listen to what she has to say. Learn what she likes and more importantly what she doesn’t like. When you can, give her little treats: flowers, chocolates. Women like these things.”

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Best Quotes from The Silent Patient

I recently enjoyed The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.

Here are some of my favorite quotes. Please note, I don’t necessarily agree with all the below quotes, but find them helpful, intriguing, or illustrative of certain ideas or points of view.

“When we have sex, I always feel an insatiable hunger for him. For a kind of union between us. Something that’s bigger than me, bigger than us. Beyond words. For something that’s holy.”

“We’ve talked about this before, haven’t we? About fireworks. About love. About how we often mistake love for fireworks? For drama and dysfunction? But real love is very quiet. Very still. It’s boring if seen  from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm and constant.”

“Remember, love that doesn’t include honesty doesn’t deserve to be called love.”

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Best Quotes From Natchez Burning

I recently enjoyed Greg Iles novel, Natchez Burning.

Here are some of my favorite quotes. Please note, I don’t necessarily agree with all the below quotes, but find them helpful, intriguing, or illustrative of certain ideas or points of view.

“If a man is forced to choose between the truth and his father, only a fool chooses the truth. A great writer said that and for a long time I agreed with him . . . But, put into practice, this adage could cloak almost any sin . . . Perhaps we expect too much of our fathers. Nothing frightens me more than the faith in my daughter’s eyes. How many men deserve that kind of trust. One by one, the mentors I’ve most admired eventually revealed chinks in their armor, cracks in their facades, and tired feet of clay or worse.”

“He didn’t blame Peggy for their rather perfunctory sex life. He blamed her parents and the long line of ancestors who had blindly embraced repressive strains of Christianity with their puritanical separation of body and spirit. The equation of pleasure with shame and the near deification of guilt. All that had led to generations of frustrated, lying men and guilt-ridden women.”

“The faith of children is an awesome thing to behold. If only we could all be worthy of it.”

“Pen would learn the most painful of laws in his own time. If a man lived long enough, his past would always overtake him. No matter how fast he ran or how morally he tried to live subsequently. And how men dealt with that law ultimately revealed their true natures.”

“Men are men and gods are for story books. And if you read your Edith Hamilton or Jane Harrison or the Old Testament for that matter, you’d know that gods acted like men most of the time or worse.”

“Forgiving somebody doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay a price for what they’d done. That’s God’s business. Hating somebody just poisons you, not them.”

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Best Quotes From Outliers

I recently read the much appreciated and discussed book, The Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

Here are some of my favorite quotes and ideas. Please note, I don’t necessarily agree with all the below quotes, but find them helpful, intriguing, or illustrative of certain ideas or points of view.

“Living a long life, the conventional wisdom said at the time, depended to a great extent on who we were — that is, our genes. It depended on the decisions people made — on what they chose to eat, and how much they chose to exercise, and how effectively they were treated by the medical system. No one was used to thinking about health in terms of community.

Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health . . . in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that you couldn’t understand why someone was healthy if all you did was think about their individual choices or actions in isolation. You had to look beyond the individual. You had to understand what culture they were a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town . . . their family came from. You had to appreciate the idea that community — the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with — has a profound effect on who we are.”

“People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariable the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

“Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

“Successful people don’t do alone. Where they come from matters. they are products of particular places and environments.”

“The values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.”

 

 

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