Brian Croft

Brian Croft

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  He is the husband of Cara and adoring father of four children, son, Samuel and daughters, Abby, Isabelle, and Claire.  He has served in pastoral ministry for over fifteen years and is currently in his eighth year as Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church.  He was educated at both Belmont University and Indiana University receiving his B.A. in Sociology.  He also undertook some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He is also the author of Visit the sick: Ministering God’s grace in times of illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and Test, train, affirm, and send into Ministry: Recovering the local church’s responsibility to the external call (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Both of these volumes are published by Day One in their pastoral series designed to serve pastors, church leaders, and those training for local church ministry.  Brian has also published Help! He’s Struggling with Pornography and Conduct Gospel-centered Funerals (co-written with Phil Newton).

A Faith That Endures: Meditations on Hebrews 11 is Brian’s newest book, released in fall of 2011. His next book on The Pastor’s Family, co-authored with his wife, is due to be released by Zondervan in Fall 2013.

Brian is also a guest blogger at both The Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks.

To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Pastor Help His Children Not Become Disenchanted with the Church?

This is a question that should be on the minds of every pastor. It is certainly on mine. Every pastor’s family is at risk at becoming disenchanted, even hostile to that church and ministry that so often takes their father away. How can a pastor help, not hinder his children to grow in love for the church?

A better, more effective counselor to us on this matter than I am is to hear from those who have lived it: Pastor’s kids who have lived their whole life under this tension and came out more grateful for their father, his ministry, and their church. They do exist, you know. I recently met one such pastor’s kid and he has graciously offered these kind words of testimony about his father and his faithful efforts. Pastor’s take note…

1)  He was home in the evenings, physically and emotionally. Not all evenings of course, but most evenings, and we knew it was important to him to be with us.

2)  He talked with us. I think men and women are different. Generally, women talk more than men, and that is fine and even good. But pastors talk to other people all day—what does that communicate if they then don’t want to talk to their kids? Other people are more important. The job is more important.

3)  He was hurt more than any of us when ministry would detract from family time. In spite of the safeguards of the evenings he set up, emergencies came up. People died when we were on vacation several years in a row, weddings sapped his energy for the entire weekend, a heavy counseling situation meant he came home more tired than usual. But because his heart genuinely wanted to be with the family and he communicated this, we saw it was not his choice; we saw that it bothered him even more than us.

4)  More than anything else, he was not a hypocrite. He lived consistently with what he preached. He did not put on a show when he was in front of people and when he was with the family, and he did not feel that he had to portray ministry and serving the Lord as fun and joyful all the time--sometimes it was not fun, sometimes it was just rough. He was honest about that, and we could tell he was not trying to pretend.

Excellent wise words.... Thanks for your contribution to serve us. Thank your father and his faithful example for those of us still trying to be faithful. Pastor’s take this to heart as you wrestle with this tension that will always remain. Let us be faithful to do our part and trust our great and powerful God who works in our children’s hearts for the rest.

Discouraged by the Size of Your Church?

I get it. I pastor what most would say is a small church (about 100 members). I feel the pressure from certain voices in the American evangelical movement that something is wrong as a result. For other pastors like me who are feeling this pressure as a result of pastoring a smaller church, there is some helpful counsel for us.  However, I had to find it from outside the American Church scene and from a different century altogether. The 19th century Scottish pastor and trainer of pastors, John Brown, wrote a letter to one of his students newly ordained over a small congregation and extended this word to him:

I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough. 

Pastors, regardless the pressures you face in your congregation to “produce the numbers,” focus on caring for souls. Be faithful to evangelize, preach the gospel every week, pray for conversions, but make sure your primary focus is on caring for souls. When we stand before God to give an account for the souls of our flock, God will not be concerned with our increased numbers, as much as how faithful we cared for the souls of those that make up that number.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Do You Prepare a Boy for Manhood?

Many of you knew I was on a trip with my 13 year-old son recently. What was the occasion? My wife and I promised each of our children when they turned 13 years old, they would get to take a special trip with one of us. My son with me and each of my daughters with my wife. The purpose of these trips is to first have fun and enjoy each other’s company, which is why they each get to pick the destination (must be within a day’s drive) and determine much of the agenda.

There is, however, another purpose for these trips: to celebrate that our son is growing up to be a man and likewise our daughters into women. Becoming a teenager can be a scary prospect (for both child and parent) and this often mutes both parent and child from obvious changes taking place. Yet we want it to be something we all would celebrate. We also want to communicate the responsibilities that come with this different life stage as well as some of the developmental aspects of it. Therefore, these trips are also designed for us to have very intentional conversations about life as men and women. Many of these conversations had been already taking place for quite a while, but it provides an atmosphere to delve into them a bit more and reaffirm what has already been said.

Since several of you asked about how I led my son through these conversations on our trip, I thought I would explain it here for others interested in some of those details. The theme of the trip revolved around this biblical manhood template: Protect, provide, and lead.

1)  Protect. We read 1 Peter 3:1-7 about how I am called by God to protect my wife and children from any physical harm. Then we discussed how my son could engage in this activity in our home. We discussed the practical ways he too could protect his mom and sisters from harm from killing bugs to locking doors at night when I am out-of-town. We also read Proverbs 5 and discussed the need to protect ourselves from the adulterous woman who is after every man to steal him away from his wife. This allowed a fruitful discussion about sexual impurity and the destruction of pornography that we as men are surrounded by and how we protect our hearts and minds from it.

2)  Provide. As men, we are called to provide for the needs of our families. We were made to work (Gen. 1-2) and to care for our families by providing the physical, emotional, and spiritual support that each family member needs (1 Tim. 5:8). Because of this, we discussed ways my son could accomplish this, even though he does not have to work to support a family at this time. We talked about how he needs to work hard now at school, competitive swimming, cutting grass, chores, and whatever else in his life now that will help develop a work ethic that he can later take into his job that he would use to support a wife and family one day, Lord willing.

3)  Lead. We read and discussed many implications to our call as Christian husbands to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her from Ephesians 5:22-33. One of the central ways Christ loved was through humble sacrifice. We talked about how my son could sacrificially serve his mom and sisters to develop that instinct to lead by humble service in the home. Also, we discussed the times I asked him to lead us on a family walk, or when he would pick where we go to eat, thinking of everyone in the family for the best place to go. Those are little ways for my son to lead now (and teach my daughters to follow) and think of how his decisions impact others.

Parents, I don’t think you have to take a trip as we have planned to do with each of our children. If you are able to afford it and do it, great. Regardless, I urge you to be very intentional about not waiting on these kinds of conversations that should be taking place much earlier than 13 years old. Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t run from them and wait because you anticipate them being uncomfortable. I promise you, it will be too late if you wait until the last possible moment. Our trip was a joy, very fruitful, and I am sad it will be my only one.

Parents with older kids, what have you done that has been fruitful in this preparation for your own children?

4 Tips for Pastoring Women

There are commonly two extremes that accompany this question. The first represents a pastor who carelessly sees his role to pastor women as no different than men. This is a pastor who thinks the same blunt conversations he has with men in the church can take place with women in the same way. This mentality has led to many pastors, several I have personally known, to lose their marriages and ministries because they foolishly placed themselves in compromising positions with women in their church… in the name of caring for them.

There is, however, another side that is a growing extreme among younger pastors especially. It is the pastor who so fears the foolishness of the first extreme that he completely neglects the pastoral care of women in general in his church. Motivated by fear or unwilling to make the extra effort to understand a certain kind of woman different than his wife, some pastors deceive themselves in the name of being “above reproach” that God will not still hold them accountable for the souls of these women entrusted to their care.

Because of these two extremes, the first thing to establish in a pastor wisely thinking through caring for women in the church is the need for balance. Wise, thoughtful, discerning, and balanced parameters needs to be at the heart of every pastor’s approach. So then, here are four suggestions I have found helpful over the years in avoiding these extremes as I personally try to care for women in the church, yet being very wise and aware of the biblical call to be above reproach:

1)  Old enough to be your grandmother rule.

I feel a freedom to visit an elderly widow in her home or the hospital alone if there is a sizable gap in age, versus going to visit a needy, flirtatious, recently divorced woman who is my age, which I NEVER do alone! Be wise not to compromise this rule. Remember, the rule is “grandmother” not “mother.”

2)  Copy the woman’s husband and your wife in emails.

I do think it is perfectly acceptable to communicate through email with women in the church. Many email exchanges are solely administration issues (“Would you please put our women’s event in the bulletin?” type emails). However, if you intend to send any email to a woman in the church, or receive one that involves anything of a personal nature, a pastor’s wife and the woman’s husband can be copied in it. It can be in the (cc) section so all corresponding can see the spouse’s involvement. There are certain private counseling matters that would prevent someone else to be copied in on email, but this is a good practice in general. This may seem tedious, but can be helpful for accountability when appropriate.

3)  Counsel with the woman’s husband or someone else present.

I NEVER counsel a woman alone. I know, that sounds extreme to some of you. Even if there is glass between us and the church secretary, I will not meet alone with another woman. I will, however, meet to counsel a woman with her husband present. This has borne good fruit, as the husband learns how to better care for his wife as he sits and listens. Besides, many times the husband is part of the problem! I’ve learned that in my own marriage.

Something else I have learned is that sometimes a wife is not comfortable sharing some things with her husband in the room, which is why another woman or even another trusted pastor can be that extra person in the room. This even becomes essential for marriage struggles where a husband is controlling and domineering and a wife is afraid to share openly. If I am trying to care for a single lady, my wife is my preferred choice of counseling companion, but I am open to allowing another leader or trusted friend of the single lady to be present. I’m flexible, but will not counsel alone.

4)  Pass off long-term discipleship and counseling to other capable women.

Pastors need to deal with pastoral matters with everyone in the church. However, long-term issues that will require years of care and discipleship should be eventually handed to mature, godly, and capable women in the church who would then report to the pastors on their progress, which still allows some kind of pastoral oversight and soul care.

Alright, there is my attempt at balance.

Pastors, any wise counsel you have to add that helps capture this balance?

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

5 Powerful Ways You Can Encourage Your Pastor

Based on the emails, notes, and phone calls I continue to get, trust me… your pastor needs encouragement. He needs to know that what he does week in and week out means something to God as well as those for whom he labors. Here are 5 suggestions to accomplish this:

1) Share appreciation for how hard he works

Maybe the most hurtful words a pastor and his wife can hear are not “bad sermon” or “that was a dumb decision” or “I don’t like the way you do that.” Rather, words that imply this message can be the most hurtful: “You are lazy.” Because of this, some of the most encouraging words a pastor and his wife can hear are words of gratefulness for how hard he works to preach faithfully and shepherd their souls.

2) Give specific feedback to a sermon

I’m not talking about the slap-on-the-back, “nice sermon” comment. Instead be specific: ”That insight into the text was really helpful” or “That application really met me where I am struggling.” Don’t underestimate how impactful just one thoughtful, specific comment about your pastor’s sermon can be to him… especially on Monday.

3) Acknowledge the sacrifice of his family

This will encourage his wife and children, but it will also be very meaningful to the pastor. The pastor knowing you are thinking of his family can often mean more than you thinking of him. Some of the most meaningful encouragement to me has been efforts like a card or gift to my wife and children thanking them for their sacrifice in allowing me to do what I do. My kids especially always remember those things.

4) Reveal how you have spiritually grown under his ministry

This is one thing a pastor labors to hear and hopes is taking place all over his congregation. Stop keeping him in suspense and tell him so he knows. The Lord can also use these words to help a pastor learn what he needs to change or adjust in the way he is preaching or caring for people.

5) Tell him how you specifically pray for him

Your pastor of all people should know the significance of prayer. The most meaningful thing I hear isn’t, “I prayed for you,” but “I prayed that your sermon would be powerfully preached and eagerly received” or “I prayed God would protect you and your family from the enemy through this important week.” Write your pastor a text or email today and tell him what you prayed for him or how you will be praying for him this week.

If not in these ways, find some way to encourage your pastor this week. Never underestimate how meaningful and well-timed it can be when God would so lead you to do so… especially on Monday!

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Do We Evaluate the Call to Ministry?

The answer to this question is at the heart of what I am teaching today to these precious pastors at the Copperbelt Ministerial College in Ndola, Zambia. Pastors from 4 different countries have journeyed to attend this week.  Very humbling.

The Apostle Paul instructs his young protégé in the faith and writes, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer (pastor); it is a fine work he desires to do (1 Timothy 3:1).  The great nineteenth-century Baptist Charles Spurgeon lectured young men preparing for the ministry in this way, “The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” There must be a strong, unquenchable desire to do the work of a pastor—a desire to preach God’s word, shepherd God’s people, evangelize the lost, disciple the spiritually immature, and serve the local church.

Spurgeon confirms that this divine aspiration which comes from above can be known through a desire to do nothing else:

If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fullness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants. If on the other hand, you can say that for all the wealth of both the Indies you could not and dare not espouse any other calling so as to be put aside from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, then depend upon it, if other things be equally satisfactory, you have the signs of this apostleship. We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister.

Paul writes that the man who desires to do this divine work is pursuing a fine work. Nevertheless, an unquenchable longing for this work is required, for it is a work fraught with struggles, challenges, discouragements, pressures, and spiritual battles that can cripple the strongest of men whose desire for this divine labor is ordinary. It must be a desire that cannot be stolen when your brother betrays you; a desire that cannot be weakened when your job is threatened; a desire that cannot be quenched when physical, mental, and emotional fatigue firmly take root. This desire must so define the individual that the reality of an internal calling is unmistakable.

My prayer is this unmistakable calling will be confirmed in the hearts of these African pastors I will be addressing this week. My hope is also that this post in some way will serve you, dear brothers, if you are trying to sort through you own calling to pastoral ministry and that you would find this unquenchable desire in your heart for this fine work.

2 Practical Tips When Considering a Fast

Fasting, when combined with the practice of prayer, is a powerful tool God uses to increase our desire for him and to focus our prayers for greater effectiveness.

A basic definition of fasting is…

“the withholding of food for a certain amount of time for the sake of creating a more disciplined and earnest attitude of prayer.”

How does this work? The simplest way to explain it is to say that the moments we inevitably feel unfulfilled hunger pains of food should instead move us to pray. We translate our natural hunger for food, which is necessary for life, into prayer. Our physical yearnings are transferred into spiritual hunger for God, for the life we have in him, and for him to do what only he can do.

Consider these two simple guidelines if you are new to fasting:

1) A fast doesn’t always have a particular time limit on it or specific rules you must follow about what to give up. You can fast for a day or for a month. You can do a water-only or a juice-only fast. You can fast one meal once a week or one full day every month. You can abstain from certain foods like desserts, and when you feel the urge to reach for a cookie, your desire can be channeled into an urgency to pray. There are no rules. Do what will create in you a greater urgency and hunger to pray.

2) Be mindful of any health issues that could make a fast unwise. For example, if you are a diabetic or have any other physical condition that requires a strict diet, be especially mindful not to put yourself in a compromised position as a result of a fast. I also discourage the idea of fasting for those who struggle with eating disorders that are making intake of food a challenge and concern in their daily living. The point of the fast is to combine it with a more intense, focused time of prayer that brings a greater communion with God, a greater empowerment of the Spirit, and a greater earnestness in your soul.

There is a time to feast. And there is a time to fast. Make sure both fosters a greater awareness to pray without ceasing.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Busy Pastor Plan His Daily Schedule?

Everyone is busy. This is the reality of our modern culture. There is work that needs to be done, a family to care for, a house and car to maintain, friendships to cultivate, doctors to visit. There are kid’s activities to schedule and guests to host. For those of us who are Christians, you can add to the normal busyness of life attendance at church, possibly volunteering once a week. Life in the twenty-first century feels like an unending rat race. We only slow down when crisis and sickness force us to take a break.

Those who pastor God’s people experience many of the same pulls, pressures, demands, and responsibilities as other Christians. And because a pastor is called to be involved in the lives of the people in his congregation, he must learn to juggle his own schedule with the busy and hectic schedules of his church members as well. Their busy lives create additional tension in ministry, setting many pastors up for failure—even before they begin.

Many pastors fall into two traps here…

In some cases, a pastor quickly realizes that he cannot provide adequate care for his congregation, so he doesn’t. Even with a smaller congregation, it’s not possible to be at every surgery, ball game, funeral, doctor’s visit, home invitation, church work-day, and counseling request. Discouraged, some stop trying altogether. A pastor may choose to focus more broadly on administrating large activities, managing busy programs, and overseeing the general functioning of the local church, leaving the work of “ministry” to others—or neglecting it altogether.

On the other hand, some determined pastors recognize that they can’t do it all, but they commit to pushing through the pain. They set an ambitious hand to the plow and hope that with enough effort they will at least please some people. This approach has its own dangers, though. The pastor is now enslaved to the demands and needs of his church. The congregation, whether directly or indirectly, largely determines how his time is spent. His ministry faithfulness and fruitfulness will be based on how happy his congregation is with his efforts, and while some will be pleased, there will always be people who can never be satisfied. Satisfying people becomes his way of measuring faithfulness, yet this will leave him feeling exhausted and empty.

To read the full article click here…

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

The Stunning Truth that Allows Us to Endure

One of my pastoral teachers and heroes, Bill Hughes, said goodbye to his beloved wife of over 60 years this past week who met her Savior in glory and is no longer suffering. Bill spent most of his long and faithful ministry serving in Scotland. Thinking about and praying for Bill this week reminded me of a simple, but profound truth I learned from him about how to endure through the constant struggles of pastoral ministry. In an exposition of 2 Corinthians 4 I once heard Bill Hughes preach, he made this observation to answer the nagging question, “How do I endure through the difficulties of pastoral ministry?”

“Never forget the debt to mercy we owe.”

See what I mean? Simple. Stunningly true. Yet when measured against anything we might face as pastors, it produces endurance in every trial, struggle, and difficulty. Bill instructed that when we remember who we once were and the amazing debt to mercy we owe to our Savior, we will be more patient, gracious, and merciful to even the most stubborn and petty of conflicts and complaints we experience in the church. Likewise, if we forget who we once were and presume upon this debt to mercy in the gospel, those same petty people and issues will eat us up and will destroy us and our ministry.

Dear brothers, if you find yourself discouraged, angry, wondering why some of your people do and say what they do and you can’t take it any more… do not forget the debt to mercy you owe. It is a debt greater than you and I could ever pay back. It is a debt that should weigh heavier on our joyful hearts than the most difficult person in our church. Apply this truth that was so powerfully taught to me by this sweet and faithful man and see if you, then, find the hope and perspective you need for that struggling person or circumstance you face in your ministry.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Can a Pastor Guard His Heart from Neglecting His Family?

There is so much at work when a pastor neglects his family. There are pressures and demands of ministry. There are tensions in his relationship with his wife and children. There are ambitions the pastor has that go unfulfilled. Here are three ways a pastor can guard his heart from the decisions that bring neglect to the family in the midst of the pressures of his life:

1) Guard your heart from using ministry demands as excuses. What demands of your life and ministry are you most tempted to use as an excuse? In other words, which ministry demand do you most quote when your wife is frustrated you keep coming home for dinner 30 minutes late every evening? Which demands do you use as an excuse when you keep answering your phone on your day off in the middle of a family activity? For example, “So in so needed to talk with me and you know what grief I get from them if I don’t give them time.” Or “I don’t want to give the appearance that I am lazy, as they expect me to be at the hospital that day.” Call these pressures we so often use as excuses what they are… excuses that expose a greater problem.

2) Guard your heart from ignoring sin in your heart. One of the things that is so dangerous for pastors is that we take what is motivated by sin in our hearts and make it a ministry virtue. We work 70 hours a week thinking we are dedicated when it might be because we fear what other people think. We spend more time studying or visiting others because we want to be accepted and loved in a certain way, instead of focusing on what needs to be focused on for that week. We take a day off for our families and others praise us for that effort, only to approach that day with a selfish attitude thinking it is a time for our families to serve us because we have worked so hard during the week. Fellow pastors, ask God to reveal faithfulness where there is faithfulness and sin where there is sin. God’s Spirit is powerful enough to do that, but we first must desire to know the sin that hides in our heart that causes the neglect of our families and allow the gospel to root it out.

3) Guard your heart from dismissing your wife’s concerns. Many times our wives see us in ways no one else does, and when that happens they will say things to us others will not. In that moment, we are tempted to dismiss what they say because they are the only ones saying it. Those words are so often God’s greatest gift to us and warn us that something is out of balance. The best pastor’s wife is a wife that is supportive, but unimpressed. The reason I know what an invaluable gift it is to have a wife serve a pastor in this way is because I have a precious wife who is tremendously supportive and incredibly unimpressed with me.

Dear brothers and fellow pastors, pray your wife finds this balance. Open yourself up to her in such a way that allows her the freedom to play this role. It is for our good and growth that we cherish the gift of a clear, consistent, supportive, yet unimpressed evaluation of our ministry. There is no one better to play that role than the woman to whom you have given your life, lives with you in your darkest hour of discouragement, sleeps next to you every night, places herself under your care and authority, and sacrifices as much as you do for the sake of serving Christ in that local church.

Pastors, there is much going on in our heart and there is an enemy waging war for our souls every day seeking to destroy us, our ministries, and our families. One of the enemy’s cunning tactics is to subtly cause us to miss these warning signs in our heart that something is not quite right. Let your wife be the barometer on these matters. Watch for them. Pray and ask God to reveal them and guard your heart from them.

Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

How Does a Pastor Get Rid of the Unnecessary Filler?

Umm…Lord we just…you know…(lip smack)…Father God…uhh…and we just…Father God…(lipsmack)…umm…Lord we just…uhh…(deep breath)… you know… Father God…umm…you know… that we all have them. They come in different shapes, sizes, and expressions, but we all have them. Those who claimed to have never had them are in denial and probably are still unaware they have them. Those polished, seasoned preachers who appear to have none of them, once did.

They are such a part of our natural communication style that they can be difficult to identify and overcome, but there is hope. Here are a few ways I have tried to face my own unnecessary speech fillers and helped others identify and overcome their own:

1)  Create an environment in your local church to be critiqued. Whether it is someone preaching, praying, or leading a public gathering in our church, we have tried to create an atmosphere of humility and teachability in regard to each of us growing in these areas. This kind of effort can become hyper-critical and unhelpful very quickly, so we want to always maintain a spirit of grace and patience in this process.

A service review with those involved in the service has been a great way for us to facilitate these discussions where men come with a desire to grow. See these previous posts for more info on the purpose and process of a Service Review. If you have someone unconvinced of what you have observed, the next best option is to mention it to them, then challenge them to go back and listen to their own sermon in light of it.

2)  Ask those you trust to listen and give feedback. If a culture is not present to already be listening for these things, approach a few godly, gracious, but wise and discerning, men to try to observe you in these roles and see if they notice what your fillers are. It is amazing how noticeable they are when someone tries casually to listen for them for your benefit.

3)  Receive the thoughts of others with humility. We had a service review where it was brought to a man’s attention who had prayed that morning of an obvious repeated phrase he uses, of which he was completely unaware. He was surprised that it was affirmed by a few other men in the room, but he received it with humility and began to consider the thoughts of others.

So he did what most men do when they hear a critique they are oblivious to, he asked his wife later that night, “Hey, have you ever noticed that I repeat this phrase in my prayers?” His wife’s response was, “Yeah, you do it all the time.” He was amazed that he had not observed in his own life what others so clearly saw. He received that very well and quickly developed desires to improve on it.

4)  Try to prepare knowing which fillers you struggle with. Although this man was totally unaware of his unnecessary speech filler that had existed for a long time, he modeled how someone should respond to it. He received it in humility and teachability; then he instantly made efforts to try to overcome it. The very next time he prayed publicly, he cut his use of this filler at least in half. He hardly used it at all in his next sermon he preached at our church. It is amazing the progress we can make over our unnecessary speech fillers once we own them and begin to focus on working ourselves out of them.

I have watched these kinds of successes through the years. We really can make progress on these matters, but we must be aware of them, own them, then without putting too much focus on them, try to cut them out of our prayers and sermons, realizing perfect oratory skill is far from the goal as we preach God’s word and lead God’s people.

However, that does not mean we should not try to grow in all aspects of our preaching and public leading, including this one. My biggest speech filler for years was “Umm.” Although it still shows up most of the time in my casual conversations, this formula has been very helpful to me personally through the years.

So, own it. What was or is your greatest unnecessary speech filler?

What Produces a Powerful Sermon?

There are many correct answers to this question: the power of the Word of God, the filling and movement of the Holy Spirit, the giftedness of the preacher, the eagerness of the people to hear; all could be mentioned when this question is asked. Yet, I want to mention one answer that is commonly overlooked when considering the power of preaching and what produces a moving sermon preached that brings spiritual fruit from God. I think this one overlooked aspect of powerful preaching is best summarized by the 19th century English pastor Archibald Brown:

Oh, brethren and sisters, I would to God I could speak to you this morning as I would. I only wish I could make this text blaze away before you eyes as it has before my own. I would that its tremendous force might be realized by you, as it has been felt in my own heart before coming here. Oh, how it would shake some of you out of your selfishness, out of your worldliness, out of your pandering to the maxims of this world.

Brown’s words capture well an essential element to a powerful sermon, that is, the preacher first be deeply affected by the word he steps into the pulpit to preach. Before the preacher can persuade any sinner to turn to Christ, he must first be persuaded himself. Before the preacher can convince any Christian to trust in the promises of God, he must first believe those promises.

Pastors, as you prepare to preach God’s word and feed the souls of your people this week, make sure that word you study has changed you. Make sure it is a part of you and that you truly believe what you are preparing to preach so that you are able to preach with an earnestness that only comes from someone who has met with God and experienced his help.