What Does It Mean to Preach the “Gospel”?

TheGospelImagine for me a preacher who is about to step onto a platform with a microphone over his ear and a Bible in his hand. A couple of friends approach the preacher, asking if they could pray for him. The preacher, grateful, nods solemnly and says, “I need it; I’m going to give them the gospel.”

Pause that scene for a moment. What do you assume the preacher is going to be preaching about? For most of us, what comes to mind is likely a message that centers around our sin, our need for redemption, and Jesus’ crucifixion. And such a message is absolutely the gospel, a message that we all need to hear, understand, and agree with in our own lives.

But is that all the gospel is? Or is there more that we sometimes leave out? The “gospel” is multi-faceted, able to be viewed from a variety of angles, each with its own beauty and magnificence. Each angle is important, though none gives us a clear picture of the gospel on its own. When we boil the gospel down to one simple message, we miss out on a large part of it.

It’s not that one can’t have a saving relationship with Jesus without a full understanding of each angle. In fact, no one this side of heaven could possibly have a full picture of the “good news.” Just as we grow in our understanding of who God is, we can grow in our understanding of the gospel. And doing so should give us a fuller appreciation of the beauty of a God who rescues us. Here are a few angles we can view the gospel from:

God planned

Ephesians 1:4 says, “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Before we ever were born — indeed, before the creation of the world — God planned to rescue and redeem us.

In fact, throughout the Old Testament God points to Jesus and the redemption that would come through him. Abraham was counted as righteous not because of his actions, but because of his trust in God (Genesis 15).Continue Reading

Video: Noah and the Ark Narrated by Kids

The awesome video production team at The Heights Community came up with a hilarious way to introduce each week in our current sermon series, “Kids’ Stories.” Think “Kid History” meets the Bible. This past week we covered Noah, and the intro video is epic. Enjoy:

Insider Communication vs. Guest-Friendly Communication

WelcomeBlueClouds636363-1How you speak to guests can make a huge difference in how they experience your church during their first visit. Chances are, they’re unsure of what they’ll find when they walk through the doors of your church. How you communicate with them can either lower their defenses and help them enjoy their time at your church, or it can raise some walls and keep them from being remotely open to what God might have in store for them. Does your language and culture make them feel like an honored guest or like an awkward third wheel left out of an hourlong set of inside jokes?

Use everyday language to describe everyday things

When you go to a baseball game and get a little booklet that includes information about the home team and that particular day’s game, it’s called a program, not a bulletin. Use language that your guests will be familiar with. It’s not that you can’t use creative branding that enhances your church’s atmosphere; just don’t use cute names that can only be deciphered by long-time members.Continue Reading

How to Be a Great, Expendable, and Unimportant Leader

14639958316_d659227eba_bWhen it comes to leadership lessons in the Bible, few Old Testament figures get more press than Nehemiah. Nehemiah had his heart broken for his home country Israel and how Jerusalem and its wall had fallen into disrepair. Though he was in a position where it seemed impossible he could do anything about it—he lived hundreds of miles away and was in service to a foreign king—he sought God’s direction and leveraged his position of influence at his job to take on the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he dealt with workers who were less than courageous in the face of difficult circumstances and encountered opposition from other leaders who had much to lose should Nehemiah’s mission succeed. In the end, Nehemiah and his followers prevailed. Effective leadership carried the day.

Depending on which historian you read (or what kind of point the author of the leadership book you’re reading is trying to make), Nehemiah either 1) Left a cushy job where he was a major leader in Persia with all the perks that go with it in order to fulfill a God-given vision that only he was in position to accomplish, or 2) Nehemiah was an expendable part of Artaxerxes’ court (since his job was to die instead of the king should someone try to poison the king’s cup), and it’s incredible that such an expendable figure accomplished all he did. Both are great storylines, and both are inspiring. However, we don’t have to choose between the two, because both are part of Nehemiah’s story: Being a leader means making as big of an impact as you can while realizing that you’re not all that important at all.Continue Reading

Video of the Week: Hilarious Jonah Flannelgraph Video

This is an amazingly hilarious video made by a youth ministry in Indiana for an “Epic Fail” series. Love the creativity:

You can see all four of their Epic Fail videos here.

H/T: Love God Love Students

Why I Choose to Teach Topically in Youth Ministry

When I was a new follower of Jesus, I loved sermons and couldn’t get enough of them. I knew that I didn’t really know much about what it means to follow Jesus, and since I was a slow reader, I much preferred to listen to sermons than to read the many books people recommended to me. So, I started listening to preachers on my city’s local Christian radio station (this was in the days before podcasts). The preachers to whom I gravitated were ones who tended to preach through books of the Bible. The reason I loved those kinds of sermons was that the preachers walked me through the Bible in a way that made what the Bible says seem plain as day. In addition, I gained an appreciation for the fact that by listening to sermons that walked me through different books of the Bible, I understood to some extent how all sixty-six books of the Bible form a cohesive whole, even though they were written by several human authors spanning thousands of years. I thought that one day I might do the same thing as a pastor.

Then I became a youth pastor.

Now that you see where I’m going with this, let me hit the pause button and tell you what I’m not about to say. I won’t tell you that I don’t think teenagers are capable of hearing messages that walk them through entire books of Bible at a time. I know that’s not true, because I’ve done it and seen teenagers gain an appreciation of God’s word because of it. One year I led our high school ministry verse-by-verse through the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Mark. This summer, our youth ministry staff is preparing four messages on the entire book of Habakkuk to go along with a sermon series our lead pastor has planned. I know teenagers can handle it–some of them even love it and ask for it when we haven’t done it for a while.

What I am about to tell you is why I believe that teaching topically works best for youth ministry. Now, understand that when I refer to topical teaching, I’m not talking about a hap-hazard approach to preparing messages where you decide on Wednesday morning what topic you’re going to speak about at youth group Wednesday night. That’s not teaching topically–that’s being lazy. Just because you’re not preaching through books of the Bible all the time does not mean that you are teaching topically. When I refer to topical teaching, I am talking about a well-planned approach to preparing your messages that allows the Word of God to speak powerfully to real and important issues teenagers face on a regular basis. It’s not the approach I use 100% of the time, but it’s definitely the one I use the majority of the time. Here’s why I think it’s the way to go:

The purpose of a sermon or a message is Bible action, not Bible study.
I know that many will disagree with me on this–I certainly would have until just a couple of years ago. We can be so passionate about filling students up with as much Scripture as possible that we make it nearly impossible for them to know what to do with it. Again, I’m not saying that teenagers can’t handle a ton of Scripture. I’m saying that when we focus only on transferring information (even GREAT information like the Bible), we often forget to help them be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22). And before I move on, I’ll concede that there are people who can preach through books of the Bible verse-by-verse and do a great job emphasizing real, life-changing application. I just know I’m not one of ’em and that they are the exception rather than the rule.

Teenagers are begging you to answer their questions.
Really. If you don’t believe me, hand a sheet of paper to every teenager at your next youth group, and tell them they have five minutes to write down as many questions they can think of that they would love to have answered about God, faith, and life. You’ll likely end up with far more unique questions than people in the room. Use this fact as an opportunity to invite your teenagers to open up the Bible and bring their questions to God. No, you can’t (and shouldn’t) address every question or felt need in a message, but you can use issues that are important to them as a starting point to submitting to God and his Word as a group.

There are topics that you need to address head-on with teenagers.
While I have known many intelligent and capable teenagers, here’s one thing I have learned in over ten years of speaking in front of teenagers: because of where they are developmentally, you have to connect the dots for them and make your point crystal clear. You may be a better communicator than I am, but for me, I know that if I want the teenagers I serve to really understand the gift of sexuality and its destructive power when mishandled, I can’t just speak about it in passing on my way through 1 Corinthians. I need to do a series on it every single year. This past fall, we did perhaps the most powerful series I’ve been a part of as a youth pastor when we spent six weeks unpacking secrets about ourselves we hope no one will every find out about. I would not have been able to do that if I was committed to preaching through a book from start to finish.

Teenagers should be diving deep into Bible study elsewhere.
One reason some folks love to teach through books of the Bible or have a teaching plan where a teenager will be taught an overview of the entire Bible over the course of three or four years is because they want to build a firm foundation of faith in their students. That’s a wonderful goal. However, helping teenagers become biblically literate doesn’t need to just happen in youth group. Maybe your lead pastor preaches verse-by-verse through books of the Bible and you want your teenagers to benefit from that kind of teaching; make every effort to get your teenagers to the main worship service. Maybe you recognize that your teenagers don’t have a basic handle on how to read and study the Bible on their own; train your small group leaders to teach some of those basic skills in their groups. For students who have parents who are plugged in at your church, help those parents lead their teeangers in Bible study. When you realize that it’s not entirely up to you to make sure your teenagers know the Bible, you are freed up to tackle issues that teenagers are trying to figure out how to navigate as followers of Jesus.

What do think? Agree? Disagree? Not Sure?

Four Things That Should Be in Your Next Message

If your ministry role requires you to speak, preach, or teach on a regular basis, you probably find yourself speaking on a wide variety of topics. Whether you’re a small group leader, a Bible study teacher, or a pastor who speaks in the same venue every week, it can be hard to know what to include in your message or lesson each week. After all, you have a limited amount of time to say what you have to say, and if you’re like me, you often prepare more content than you’re able to deliver. So what should you keep, and what should you leave out? I can’t help you with the specifics of your particular message for this coming weekend, but here are four things I believe should be a part of it:

Your message is nothing if it isn’t true. Many communicators can be engaging or captivating on the spot, but it takes hard work during your sermon or lesson prep to ensure that what you’re saying is true. You don’t need to be a full-fledged biblical scholar, but make sure you take the time to handle carefully issues such as context, word meanings, and historical background. There are times when we think a passage means one thing, but after some study we find that it actually means another thing.

If the lesson or message you’re communicating is worth anything, you should care about whether or not people hear it. Don’t be afraid to let your tone, body language, and facial expressions know that you believe that what you’re saying matters. Keep in mind, you don’t have to yell to convey passion. You just need to let a little bit of emotion shine through. If you care about what you’re saying, others will be more likely to listen.

You’re not perfect. You’re not sinless. And you sure don’t have following Jesus down to a T. So when you’re speaking on a tough topic or pushing your audience in a direction that’s not entirely comfortable for them, have some compassion. Share about some of your struggles, or let them know that you’re in the same boat as them. Remember, you’re a sinner, trying to point other sinners toward redemption.

Next Steps
Since you’ve spent what might be a considerable amount of your week preparing your lesson or message, it might be crystal clear to you what you’d like your audience to do next with the content you’re presenting. However, the application is not nearly as clear to everyone else who is hearing your message for the first time and who only have one shot to take it all in. Make it simple, make it clear, and don’t be afraid to overstate the obvious. And if you have to cut out some content to spend enough time explaining to your audience how to live out what they’re hearing, that’s okay. It’s better to have someone understand how to put a biblical principle into practice than know the Greek root of a word they won’t remember in a few days anyway.

Free Easter Lessons and Devotions from youthministry360.com

My friends (and I really do mean friends…this isn’t a sponsored post, just something I think is worth passing along) at youthministry360 have just launched another round of free resources, just in time for Easter. They’re giving away three different Easter Bible study lessons, PLUS a set of 10-day Easter devotions for your students. It’s solid stuff that will help your teenagers prepare their hearts and minds for Easter. Easter is such a powerful time for Christ-followers. These tools will help you lead students to both reflect on and celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.

To download these free resources, head on over to the ym360 Easter Vault at https://youthministry360.com/blog/youthministry360-easter-vault.

And if for any reason you need help or have questions, their team is great about helping out. Really. This isn’t some big publishing house, they’re actual youth workers who love Jesus and love teenagers, and they want to help you in any way they can. Like if you took the church van on a trip and you need someone to wash it for you, they’ll make it happen. Just ask, and tell ’em Benjer sent you.

Video of the Week: Matt Chandler on the Gospel Project

This video’s not necessarily an endorsement of The Gospel Project curriculum from LifeWay. It’s not that I don’t like the curriculum–I think it’s a good idea, and I need to look into the project a bit more. The point of posting this video is that Matt Chandler really expresses one of the mistakes we make in treating the Bible primarily as a road map or instruction manual. Check it out: