During the annual Sermon Seminar last week in Austin, Texas, I had the privilege of visiting with Jim Martin, the Preaching Minister for the Crestview Church of Christ in Waco. Jim is an outstanding speaker and was a presenter at last year’s Sermon Seminar. His presentations on 2 Corinthians were the best I’ve heard in the two years I’ve been to the Sermon Seminar. In addition to preaching at Crestview, Jim mentors preachers, like my friends Allan Stanglin and Jason Reeves.
Jim is currently blogging on the lessons he’s learned over the past 19 years of preaching at Crestview. I’ve found his insights to be especially helpful and am sharing them here with you.
In August, I will have been with the Crestview Church in Waco, Texas for 19 years. This is 19 years of preaching, teaching, leading, serving, funerals, weddings, and going to many, many elders’ meetings. Through these experiences, I have learned a number of lessons.
When discouraged, remember this too shall pass.
When I was much younger and just starting out, I would sometimes be devastated by things that happened. At times, I came I away from a discouraging meeting and wondered if the church wasn’t about to come apart. I wondered if we didn’t need to move somewhere else. Yet, I learned time after that, that one bad season of ministry does not mean everything was coming apart. God was faithful and saw us through.
Preach what matters.
A congregation needs to hear the gospel. Don’t assume they’ve heard it all before. Preach the gospel and show them how the story connects with their demands, fears, and concerns. Help them see these connections and the place of Christ in their lives. Do not be intimidated when you overhear someone say in a conversation, “When was the last time you heard a sermon on _________?” (Just fill in the blank with someone’s pet peeve.) Be slow about reacting to such a statement. Sometimes, the reason a subject has not been addressed in a sermon is because it is not worthy of the time or venue. Some matters are more appropriate for Bible classes or small groups. Others matters are so trivial, they are not worthy of a church’s focus or attention.
Look for the reason behind the behavior.
In any congregation, there is a variety of personalities. Each one of these people has his or her own story. When someone behaves in a way that is highly reactive or emotional, consider what might be in this person’s background that in some way might contribute to such a response. Forgo the temptation to respond to them with your own reactivity. Instead, be self-differentiated, choosing how you will respond instead of reacting. For example, suppose a group of people from your church comes together for a meeting. Consider some of their stories.
One woman has a son in prison. This heartbreaking situation is always on her mind. One man grew up with a distant and aloof father. Now the son, married and the father of two, also tends to be distant and aloof with others. Yet, he cannot understand why he has not close friends. One woman is not on speaking terms with her daughter. It has been almost a year now since either have spoken to one another. This mother has a history of emotional cut-offs with people. One man lost his job three months ago and has been unable to find another. The family has been making significant financial cut backs. Meanwhile, his marriage had become quite strained. One man hates conflict. As a child, police were sometimes called to break up an argument. Now, years later, he tends to withdraw whenever there is conflict.
These situations and backgrounds can help to explain why certain people behave the way they do. Good leaders learn to look for the reason behind the behaviors.
Read well and read widely. Far better to read two books that are significant, than eight books which are average or mediocre. Read widely. Be aware of what others are reading. I regularly glance at the New York Times Best Seller Lists. Read the Bible. Read through the Bible. Maybe this is obvious but it is easy to get caught up in the demands of life and ministry and neglect reading the Bible.
Pay attention to people in pain.
Be fully present when you are with people who are in pain. Use few words. Turn off the phone. Think about how you feel when you are trying to have a significant conversation and that person continues to send text messages while you are talking. People in pain need for you to be a listening presence.