In 30 Years How Will You Know?

A question worthy of consideration.

Senate confirmation hearing.

Senate confirmation hearing.

Senate confirmations hearings are not my typical prime time entertainment. I wasn’t really watching, but the hearings for President Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch was on. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) asked a question that was potentially one of the best questions I have ever heard at such a hearing.

“When you look back on your career, how will you know if you were a good judge?”

Gorsuch said he seeks that same kind of reflection from his students when he asks them to write their own obituary. It’s not about how large your bank account is, or how many cases you win, he said. It’s about how you treat people along the way. Gorsuch said he would like to be remembered as kind and mild in private life, and dignified and firm in public life (paragraph copied from abajournal.com).

It was a politically safe answer, but I doubt that it was what he would have told his children if they asked him the same question.

What about you? How would you answer the same question? Considering your career, your calling, your family, your service to your local church – in 30 years, how will you know if you did a good job?

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Who ultimately determines if you were successful or not? Is it history, co-workers, family, or your Creator?
  • What is your purpose? How have you grown toward fulfilling that purpose? What is the gap between where you are and where you could be?
  • To what degree should material gain factor in to your evaluation of success? To what degree should intangibles (respect, integrity, love) factor in?

This sort of question deserves more than a quick answer. Take some time, sit  back, pray, dream, contemplate – but do yourself a favor and answer the question. 

You Preach Too Much

Repetition of simple truths is your most powerful asset

youdeservelove andyou willget it.Pastor – you preach too much. I do not mean that you preach too many weeks out of the year, or that you preach too long (although, those are probably true as well). You preach too much content – so do I, but I’m trying to do better

Consider the advantage of identifying a few mega thoughts and drawing them out of every text you preach. Imagine the long term impact of repeatedly showing your congregation the same truths over the course of years in new and creative ways each week.

As I near 20 years of preaching I’m beginning to see that the dynamics involved in steering a large group of people are very unique.

Practically every sermon I deliver will expand on one or more of these issues:

  1. God – I want to present a infinitely high view of each person of the Godhead (Father, Son and Spirit).
  2. Man – More and more I am seeing the need of explaining who mankind is, unpacking the implications of the fall, as well as the fact the are image bearers of God. Implications of gender are becoming more important. Clarity in regards to marriage, homosexuality, gender roles is needed more and more.
  3. Gospel
    • Micro Gospel – Show how the text helps us understand the work of Christ and how we should respond by faith.
    • Macro Gospel – That is to show the overarching Meta-Narrative of scripture from creation, the fall, Christ, and culmination (second coming).
  4. Pre-Evangelism – This would include apologetic work that sets the stage for the Gospel. For example, we spent five weeks last year delving into why we believe the bible. This could also include arguments for the existence of God from a philosophical or scientific perspective.
  5. Mission – Stirring the emotions and educating the mind of the congregation to engage them in mission both personally and corporately.
  6. Embodiment – Show how the truth of God’s word and work is fleshed out through our life, career, family, hobbies, etc.
  7. Church – What are the unique implications of the text for the local community of faith?

As I think through the last couple of years of preaching, practically every sermon I’ve preached has sought to move the congregation in a certain direction on each of those issues.

Is there anything you would add to that list? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

EXAMPLES of preaching by Zach Terry may be found on our YouTube channel.

Preaching to Future Generations

How to preach sermons that will outlive the preacher

When I was called into ministry in 1995, my audience primarily consisted of Baby Boomers, my parents generation. I had to learn to preach God’s Word in a way that they could understand. As I grew older, I found that I was preaching to more and more of my peers – the Busters. Today, I’m seeing that an ever growing aspect of my congregation are the Millennials, my children’s generation.

There are a variety of nuances to how each of these generations receive the preaching of God’s Word. But essentially they are all sinners in need of a Savior and the rules of logic work the same for each. Presuppositions change.  I’ve noticed a need to do more “pre-evangelism” with Millennials that wasn’t required with Boomers. When I said “God” to a Boomer congregation, it was assumed I was referring to the Triune God of scripture. When I say “God” to a group of Millennials this isn’t always the case.  I have to back up a few steps and start the conversation at a different point.

However, it is important as we consider preaching to various generations that we remember there are a dozen more generations ahead of us if Christ doesn’t return before they are born. So our approach must be two dimensional.  We must reach out geographically AND generationally.

evergreenpreaching1. The Sermon must be Evergreen – 

Thus we must preach in such a way that our messages are “evergreen”. I borrow this term not only from the forestry world, but the world of blogging. A good blog post is considered “evergreen” meaning it will be just as valuable in six months as it is today.

An evergreen sermon is one that was just as true in the first century as it will be in the 31st century. Preaching evergreen sermons requires us to peel off some the cultural influences, references, and illustrations that we are accustomed to employing. Evergreen sermons will also be more effective at crossing ethnic and cultural barriers.

Think about the most popular podcast preachers or radio ministries.  Typically, communicators will be very careful to avoid references to recent events, cultural colloquialisms, and anything that could date the sermon or cause a barrier to comprehension.

2. The Sermon must be Deep – 

Evergreen sermons are also as deep as they are broad because the goal is to so develop the hearer into a true disciple that he or she will replicate themselves in others. This is the only way we can assume that the truths we proclaim will progress to a generation beyond us.

By deep I don’t at all mean beyond comprehension, but I do mean they must go beyond a surface understanding. When developing a thought from the text, take the time to mine out the theological concepts that are behind it.

3. The Sermon must be Available –

If your sermon is going to impact many generations, it must be available to them. It is believed that Apollos was a far greater preacher than Paul, but you can’t confidently quote a single sermon from Apollos. Why? We have no record of his sermons (unless he wrote Hebrews). The lesson is – write things down! Make sure you capture your thoughts in a way that will outlive you.

I see the ministry of the Word as fivefold:

  1. Discover – that is study the Word in a spirit of prayer.
  2. Develop – that is write sermons in a way that convey the truth of the text to your people.
  3. Deliver – that is preach the sermon in a way that taps into their mind, will and emotions.
  4. Disseminate – that is ensure your sermon is captured in print, audio, video and delivered on as many platforms as possible. If possible convert your sermons into book form.
  5. Devote – this is, “rinse and repeat”. This process should be done with great patience – trusting God to give the increase.

Theology in Ancient Graffiti

The Alexamenos graffito

2016-12-13_21-35-10The Alexamenos graffito is a piece of Roman graffiti scratched in plaster on the wall of a room near the Palatine Hill in Rome from around 200AD. The Greek inscription reads something like “Alexamenos worships [his] God.” While it was meant to demean Alexamenos, it perfectly communicates his theology and how it was received. He worshipped Jesus, as God, who died on the cross. This Gospel was not well received by his friends.

Have you ever considered the fact that some of the things people say about you may be around for 1,000 years. Will it reveal the sincerity of your faith? 

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Black and White Etching

Ironically, in the next chamber adjoining where the Alexamenos graffito found – another etching was discovered which reads –  Alexamenos fidelis, Latin for “Alexamenos is faithful”.

2 Corinthians 2:15–16 (ESV)

15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?