Philip Nation

Philip Nation

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. He earned a master of divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a doctor of ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as teaching pastor for the The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville, Tennessee.

His works include Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. He is also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, he has written the  small-group studies Compelled by Love: The Journey to Missional Living and Live in the Word, plus contributed to The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Lifetime.

3 Small Group Myths that Need to Go Away

Small groups are an essential part of church life. It goes by a multitude of names–Life Groups, home groups, Sunday school, Bible fellowships, and the list goes on. When a ministry is so important, for some reason, myths begin to swirl around it. Here are three of the myths about small groups.

1. Small groups are just for fellowship. Small groups must be an environment where people grow closer, but not just for the sake of friendship. As believers, our fellowship deepens when it is centered on the truth. Fellowship is one of the functions of the church, but it is not the ultimate reason for small groups. Transformation is. Small groups draw people together with a higher purpose than just hanging out in the name of Jesus. We want to draw people around His Word so they can be fed and then transformed by it.

2. People in small groups should stay together indefinitely. In other words, breaking up a group is bad. The argument is made that “our healthy small group should not be separated.” But healthy group members will want to share with others what’s occurred in their lives. Conversely, it is also a myth that leaders just want to split every group for an underhanded reason: control, spitefulness, power-grabbing. In reality, we all know that healthy things grow and then multiply. As leaders, we also know that when things don’t grow, then they begin to drain energy from other parts of the body. Small groups are the same. Now, this is not to say that a small group that does not multiply is moldy, rotten, or cancerous. But it can be reveal an inward-facing spirit that runs counter to the mission of God. By engendering a spirit of multiplication, small groups will eventually reach more people for Christ and help more people mature in Christ.

3. Anyone can lead a small group. I want to tread carefully in this one because it is so close to true. If the statement read, “Anyone can learn to lead a small group,” then we’ve got it. But, as it stands, it is a bit naïve. It comes back to purpose. If you buy into myth #1, then anyone can lead a small group. Just be there to host everyone for a good time and a quasi-spiritual conversation. But if you want to lead people toward transformation, then as leaders, we need to produce leaders. Rather than just throw people into the situation of handling whatever comes up on their own, teach/train/prepare them to be a great small group leader.

If you would like to see more about the strength of small groups (no matter what you call them), I suggest that you check out two new resources. First, Transformational Groups by my friends Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer. Using data from the largest survey of pastors and laypersons ever done on the condition of groups in the church, they define a simple process to lead your groups from where they are to where God wants them to be. Second, take a look at the new site Groups Matter. It will help you dig deeper into how groups can be healthier and you can see how churches across the world are committing to staring 100,000 new groups this year. Fun stuff!

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

Our Mission Begins with Jesus

The person and work of Jesus is essential to our exploration of the mission of God. In fact, without Jesus, the exploration would be fruitless as He is the central figure of the redemptive work of God. When we discuss the gospel and God’s mission, it is tempting to focus solely on theological statements and activities done by the church. However, at the core of the gospel is not an idea but a person—Christ. At the core of God’s mission is not an action by humans but the work accomplished by God the Son through His incarnation. Christ is the center of God’s mission and we are the beneficiaries of who He is and what He has done.

The Incarnation of Jesus

In Colossians 1:15-20, we are brought face-to-face with the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. The man born in Bethlehem and reared in Nazareth is “the image of the invisible God” (v.15) and had the fullness of God dwelling in Him (v.19). The incarnation is a nearly impossible idea to comprehend. The fact that the eternal God chose to live in a human body is amazing and mind-boggling. Yet, for God’s mission to be accomplished, this was the necessary action.

The incarnation is both merciful and necessary. It is merciful in that through God’s arrival on Earth in human form, He will take up the sacrificial work that is impossible for everyone else. For thousands of years, blood had been spilt upon the altars of the Temple in Jerusalem and the tabernacles of worship used by the Hebrew people. They had placed their faith in the Lord that He would accept them and deliver a Messiah to set all things right between God and man.

In the incarnation, God Himself takes up the work. It is a task that no mere mortal can accomplish. Thus, God humbles Himself and condescends to our level of existence. He was born as we are, lived as we do, experienced life in the same manner as us all yet without sin. He was born as a man but He never—not once—succumbs to temptation. He is a man but has the very nature of God.

Uniquely Capable of Reconciliation

It is only through the work of Christ that people and creation can be reconciled to God. There are a number of reasons for His solitary ability to accomplish this task. As 1:16 states, He is the One who created all things and holds all things together. As the only One with authority over the created order, God is the only One capable of redeeming us since we have fallen into sin. Though we might be puzzled by all of this power residing in this one Man, it is vital to remember that Jesus is not whom we often make Him out to be. Though He taught, He is more than a great teacher. Though He performed miracles, He was not just a magical figure. Though He lived perfectly, He was not just an ethics professor. Jesus the Messiah is the Creator God in flesh and was the only One capable of reconciling creation to Himself.

Also, Christ is stated to be the “firstborn over all creation” (1:15). The phrase means that Jesus, as Messiah, ranks as preeminent over all other people. By virtue of His divine nature, He is the greatest of all who have been born among humanity. Being in very nature God, Christ has the unique character to reconcile us to God. “Firstborn” is also associated with His resurrection in verse 18, describing Him as “the firstborn from the dead.” He is supreme in His place not only among the living but also in His place among those who have died. Jesus is solitary in His ability to defeat death and thus bring peace to those who trust him.

Making Peace Through the Cross

The life of Jesus is without doubt the most important period of time in history. As He is central to the mission of God, His life is central to our existence. However, we can hone in even further to say that it is the death and resurrection of Christ that are the key events within the existence of our created order. Paul wrote in 1:20 that Jesus makes peace between Himself and people “through the blood of His cross.”

The crucifixion and resurrection event in the life of Jesus is central to the mission of God because it is through this unique work that God reconciles us to Himself. He is the only person born before, during, or after His time on earth that can accomplish the work done through the cross. Throughout the passage, it is important to note how the personal pronouns are used in reference to Jesus. From the act of creation to the work of making peace between God and man, it is only possible through Jesus because He is the Messiah, fully God and fully man.

Head of the Church

The passage points to one other central role held by Christ: “head of the body, the church” (v.18). As we begin to act upon the mission that has been entrusted to us, we do so with the understanding that it is an inherited mission. We are given the work of proclaiming reconciliation that was accomplished by someone else, namely Jesus. He has completed the work and we now bear witness to that work under His direction.

As members of the church, we should be encouraged that He has not left us to our own devices. Rather, Jesus remains engaged with the reconciling work still to take place between God and individuals who hear the gospel. He fits believers together as members of the church, indwelt by His Spirit, to proclaim His salvation and serve so that others might see a portrait of His grace in our lives. The mission is accomplished because Jesus is uniquely the Savior who has died in our place and empowers His church.

Taken from The Mission of God Study Bible

Sermon Prep for the Bivocational Pastor

Over the last two weeks, I have offered up my thoughts about serving bivocationally in ministry through my Reflections and Navigating posts. After both posts, I have had friends ask specifically about how I prepare for sermons with a full-time job. Most of the time, I want to say: poorly, by the skin of my teeth, barely in the nick of time.

Recently, Thom Rainer released some research he did on the amount of time that pastors spend studying for one sermon. He stated that it was unscientific in the classic sense as it was a survey done through Twitter. Nevertheless, I think that it represents the reality I experienced when serving as a full-time pastor and church planter.

The key points that I take from Rainer’s post are: took from his post were these:

  • 70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.
  • The median time for sermon preparation in this study is 13 hours. That means that half of the respondents gave a number under 13 hours; the other half gave a number greater than 13 hours.
  • Most of the respondents who gave a response under 12 hours indicated they were bivocational pastors.

I did not participate in the survey and I’m not sure how I would have answered. I prepare for one sermon that I preach twice each Sunday (in two locations). In thinking about my amount of preparation, it is difficult to land on how many hours it takes. The main reason is that it feels as if every spare moment often leads to thinking about the next sermon.

Please know that I’m going to state all of the following about how I prepare for sermons with two assumptions in mind. First, your personal spiritual formation is foundational for all of the rest. No amount of sermon prep can make up for neglecting your personal time with Christ. Secondly, sermon prep must be done with an ever-deepening prayer life. Martin Luther reportedly first said the axiom, “He that has prayed well has studied well.”

So with the hope of bringing some sense to it all, I’ll give to you some of the method to my particular madness. First, my schedule and then a few final thoughts after the photograph.

Start with planning months in advance. Currently, I have my series planned for the next six months including passages, themes, main points that need wordsmithing, and tentative titles. I have met with our elders, ministerial staff, and worship leader to test out the ideas and ask for their input. It is critical for me to know where I am going for an extended period of time. And, it helps me to spiritually prepare for more than one message at a time.

Weekly planning begins at the end of the sermon. Believe it or not, I begin my sermon preparation on the front row during our response time. As soon as one message is done, I’m praying about how the next message intersects with what God is doing in that moment. My drive home from church each week also gives me a chance to meditate on how one sermon follows another; how the next sermon can dovetail on what I just witnessed the Spirit do in our lives together.

Sunday night, read. I read the passage for next week and just sit with it for a bit.

Monday night is normally my heavy preparation time. It is when I outline the passage, extract the key points again, review academic resources, and begin thinking about illustrations.

Tuesday morning is meditation time. Before I leave for work, I go over the passage and ask for God’s guidance on whether or not I’ve hit on the right theme and principles to teach.

Tuesday evening is just more study. How much study is determined on family time, work needed to be done from home, and other responsibilities. When able, I will further shape the outline and begin looking for a key illustration.

Wednesday evening, it is time to finalize the major points. Before I go to bed, I finalize the theme and main points of the outline. When it goes fast, any sub-points that will show up on the video screen also come together by this time. I email all of this information to our church office by noon on Thursday. However, I shoot for doing so on Wednesday night before I go to bed. My friend Tammi in our church office will tell you that I probably hit it early only 50% of the time.

Thursday and Friday, it is with me all of the time. I awake with the sermon in my head, go to bed thinking about it, and catch moments to reflect on it throughout the day. Somewhere in these two days, I usually finish the sermon notes.

Saturday, normally in the evening, I edit. It is when tweak my sermon notes a bit and print them out. I print out an outline to preach from and keep in my Bible with a rubber band when preaching.

Sunday morning, I scribble. Any last minute edits or thoughts are written in the margins. Stuff gets circled or underlined. It is not a perfect system but it is the one that works for me. Here are my preaching notes for a message on Nehemiah 8.

Now, here are three other ideas that I want to encourage my bivocational tribe about:

Don’t steal time away from your full-time employer. If you have an office, don’t close the door and do sermon preparation unless your employer has given you permission to do so. Many of us take lunch hours at our desk to study, read, and work on the outline; even if it is just in our heads. Don’t give in to the temptation that preparing for a sermon is a worthy excuse to be an unproductive employee.

Preach a trial run. Make a time to actually say your sermon out loud before the worship service. When you are full-time, it is a bit easier (only a bit) to make this part of your preparation time. When you are bivocational, it is a bit harder to find time to do this. But we are better off if we do.

Have trusted advisors. Ask for help from friends who can give suggestions during the preparation phase and feedback after Sundays.

The process described will likely change in the months ahead. I know this because it has been changing over the last few months. And that is fine. We have to prepare for the future and be dependent during the present 24 hours. Find a process that works now but do not become a slave to it. Just stay in love with the Lord and the work He has assigned to you. Then, it will more likely be a joy than a duty.

Equation of Hope

Robert was a regular guy suddenly confronted with the needs of children in his city. What is someone supposed to do with that feeling? He decided to go the difficult way… change their lives.

Working as the editor of the local newspaper, Robert regularly helped families forced to live in “workhouses” and visited people in prisons. One day he discovered that young boys were being forced into labor at local mills. The country’s laws were no help. The best scenario was that the number of hours a child could legally work was limited to 12. They suffered through deplorable conditions and under tyrannical bosses. It is a hopeless scenario we expect to see in the worst of Third World conditions.

Robert saw the outcome of the equation.

Children + illiteracy + slums + unyielding labor = poverty, hopelessness, death

With no hope of escape and no chance of education for the children, he decided that something had to be done.

With only one day of the week that the boys were not allowed to work, Robert asked a friend to open her home to a group of them. He had access to only one book to use as a textbook – the Bible. So, once a week, the boys would gather in the morning to learn reading and writing. In the afternoon, they attended a worship service. Some of the boys even began learning the catechism from Robert’s church. By some miracle, many of their parents began attending the group as well. Robert’s vision to help boys from the slums began to make a difference.

He was changing the equation.

Children + love + small group + gospel = Hope

Changing the variables was changing their lives.

The small group Robert began for the poor, disenfranchised children began to grow. Not just in size but in vision. Others heard about the simple and focused idea. Help the poor in your city. Invite them into your home. Educate them for a better life. Introduce them to the hope of the gospel. According to one historian, within four years, over 250,000 people were attending these small groups.

There is a power to investing in the people around you. It is the key element of leadership to which we must all give time. Without relationships with those who have little, we’re just Monday-morning quarterbacks screaming from the cheap seats. Leadership means getting your hands dirty. No… messy. Better yet… grimy with the people of your city.

Robert’s story happened in Gloucester, England, a city 100 miles west of London. It was the late 1700s. Many refer to it as the birth of Sunday School. The man who started it all was Robert Raikes.

You’ll not be surprised that some of the other leaders in church and culture did not like the idea. After all, these were the undesirables of the city. He was mocked and the movement was called “Raikes’ Ragged School.” Why would a respectable man with a nice job bother other nice people to care for the street rats of the city?

Because relationships matter. Especially, relationships with those who have no hope.

I think that our small group ministries could use a large dose of Robert Raikes’ passion again. Why do I think this? Because I serve a local church part-time and I work for publishing house full-time. Every week, I see the effect that a church could have and that many do have when the decision is made to connect with the needy among us. The Scripture tells us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien within the gates of our city. God’s clear objective is that those who have hope should care for those who have none.

In my latest work, we are trying to hold up three ideas as to what a small group should do. They are summarized in nine words: Connect the unconnected – Strengthen families – Disciple people with wisdom. Brilliant, right? Not really. A newspaper editor thought about it over 200 years ago. Before that, Timothy was sitting at his grandmother’s feet learning about it a couple thousand years ago (2 Timothy 1:5). About 6,000 years ago, God told the Hebrews to make sure they cared for the youngest in their families by constantly recounting the works of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Our small groups are not a new idea but the best of the older ideas. It is the time where connections are made, lives are mended, and eternal hope is transferred. Leadership begins and ends with a relationship that meets needs; both immediate and eternal.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

Discipleship Takes Time

Discipleship is a word that continues to be applied in a multitude of ways. To some, it is the process of growth for a believer. To others, it is how we bring someone to faith. The word is used to describe both blocks of time in church programming and the whole foundation of a church’s ministry. It is intensely personal and broadly congregational. However the word is used, there is a base understanding that it carries. Discipleship is the word that we associate with a person learning from, following, and obeying Jesus as Lord.

Gaining understanding, maturity, and any level of accomplishment for all disciplines require time. Our faith is no different. No matter how you think about it, discipleship takes time. But time is a precious commodity. In fact, oftentimes, it is my most valued commodity. We are rushed to accomplish more in less time and sacrifice any time for rest. Additionally, through digital means, we have instantaneous access to more information than we could ever consume. For the life of the church, in any given city, there are more hours of church ministry and programming than is possible to be involved in during any given week. All of this often adds up to a feeling of hurrying through discipleship.

My encouragement is to realize that growth takes time. Lots of time. Why? Because you are dealing with relationships. As I wrote in Transformational Discipleship, it is more than merely consuming information and modifying your behavior. It is relating day-by-day to Jesus and His church. To think about this more clearly, I put down these five principles to carry with us as we think about discipleship.

1. Slow learning. The new show Intelligence features a soldier who has a chip implanted in his brain so that he can access the information grid of Internet, surveillance cameras, cell phones, and all the rest. He can access all information on the planet instantaneously. But that is not all there is to learning. Learning from Jesus takes time because it requires us to process what we learn and apply it to our lives.

2. Crockpot community. In a recent gathering of church planters in Nashville, one of the guys used this phrase to describe how they establish relationships. It is a brilliant phrase and accurate. Discipleship is highly relational and we need to allow time for those relationships to form, develop, and bear fruit. We would be wise to stop randomly throwing people together into groups and, instead, allow for deep friendships to form over time.

3. Messy relationships. Ministry, in all forms, is messy because people are involved. Being in a discipling relationship requires you to enter into the mess of another person’s life. It also requires you to allow others into the mess of your life. The truth inherent in that mode of living takes a great amount of time to form, develop, and sustain.

4. Authenticity. It is a principle that is under the surface in the last two ideas but needs to be stated plainly. Sadly, though, the term authenticity has almost fallen to the place of a buzzword in our churches. You can be honest in the flash of a second, but to be authentically relating to other people takes time. The one being discipled and the one doing the discipling must prove to be trusting and trustworthy over the long haul. It must move beyond quips of self-deprecating humor to the honest conversations about the state of our souls.

5. Delayed gratification. The great key for many of us in discipleship is the willingness to delay instant gratification while we and others are in the growth process. If maturing were easy, everyone would do it. But it is not and so many fall away from the journey. As a leader or a follower, we need to show patience as the Lord shows it continuously. As we delay our infantile need to gain complete satisfaction by our own efforts and the efforts of others, then we will better enjoy what God is currently doing among us.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

That’s My King. Do You Know Him?

S. M. Lockridge was a powerful preacher. Among his powerful life as a pastor, he is perhaps best known for several litanies during various messages. One of those is a message when he repeatedly used the phrase “That’s my King!” Below you will find the transcript of the full 6-minute section of that sermon along with the audio of it as well.

My King was born King. The Bible says He’s a Seven Way King. He’s the King of the Jews—that’s an Ethnic King. He’s the King of Israel—that’s a National King. He’s the King of righteousness. He’s the King of the ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of glory. He’s the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords. Now, that’s my King.

Well, I wonder if you know Him. Do you know Him? Don’t try to mislead me. Do you know my King? David said the Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. My King is the only one of whom there are no means of measure that can define His limitless love. No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of the shore of His supplies. No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing.

He’s enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere. He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful. That’s my King. He’s God’s Son. He’s the sinner’s Saviour. He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He stands alone in Himself. He’s honest. He’s unique. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He’s supreme. He’s pre-eminent. He’s the grandest idea in literature. He’s the highest personality in philosophy. He’s the supreme problem in higher criticism. He’s the fundamental doctrine of historic theology. He’s the carnal necessity of spiritual religion. That’s my King.

He’s the miracle of the age. He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him. He’s the only one able to supply all our needs simultaneously. He supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He saves. He’s the Almighty God who guides and keeps all his people. He heals the sick. He cleanses the lepers. He forgives sinners. He discharged debtors. He delivers the captives. He defends the feeble. He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent and He beautifies the meek. That’s my King.

Do you know Him? Well, my King is a King of knowledge. He’s the wellspring of wisdom. He’s the doorway of deliverance. He’s the pathway of peace. He’s the roadway of righteousness. He’s the highway of holiness. He’s the gateway of glory. He’s the master of the mighty. He’s the captain of the conquerors. He’s the head of the heroes. He’s the leader of the legislatures. He’s the overseer of the overcomers. He’s the governor of governors. He’s the prince of princes. He’s the King of kings and He’s the Lord of lords. That’s my King.

His office is manifold. His promise is sure. His light is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His Word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I wish I could describe Him to you... but He’s indescribable. That’s my King. He’s incomprehensible, He’s invincible, and He is irresistible.

I’m coming to tell you this, that the heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, let alone some man explain Him. You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of your hands. You can’t outlive Him and you can’t live without Him. The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree about Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my King.

He always has been and He always will be. I’m talking about the fact that He had no predecessor and He’ll have no successor. There’s nobody before Him and there’ll be nobody after Him. You can’t impeach Him and He’s not going to resign. That’s my King! That’s my King!

Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Well, all the power belongs to my King. We’re around here talking about black power and white power and green power, but in the end all that matters is God’s power. Thine is the power. Yeah. And the glory. We try to get prestige and honor and glory for ourselves, but the glory is all His. Yes. Thine is the Kingdom and the power and glory, forever and ever and ever and ever. How long is that? Forever and ever and ever and ever... And when you get through with all of the ever’s, then... Amen!

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

4 Warnings about “Authenticity”

In our churches today, a premium is put on the idea of being:

  • Real
  • Transparent
  • Genuine
  • Heartfelt
  • Authentic

In years past, I remember hearing the arguments back and forth about how transparent should a pastor be about his personal life. As a young man, it seemed to me that leaders put a high priority on communicating how well everything was going in their lives and in the church. Many times, I witnessed church leaders putting a positive spin on very negative events. From my limited vantage point, the façade of “everything is just fine” was the priority. In the vein of creating a people who have an eternal hope for the future, leaders continually spoke positively about their lives.

Today, I think the winds are blowing in the other direction. The premium is now put on authenticity; especially from the pulpit. The drive to be genuine has become the willingness to describe church life, cultural events, and even personal experiences as unvarnished as possible. However, it has also become the opportunity to “air one’s dirty laundry” for the whole world. In the vein of creating a confessional people, leaders are at the forefront desiring to show what such a life might be.

With all leadership traits, cautions are needed. Moving to one end of the spectrum or the other has inherent flaws that we need to guard against. With the strong urge toward authenticity, we can eventually create such an environment that many will find off-putting. Leaders must guard the church’s authenticity from becoming an awkwardness that damages the very journey of faith we are trying to encourage. Here are four cautions that I would offer to church leaders.

1. Don’t be the class clown. Humor is hard. Leading with genuine heart is risky. When the two are unnecessarily combined by a leader, the result is the “class clown” who does not know when to be quiet. When uncomfortable, many often cover it up with an attempt at humor. But most of us are not very skilled at humor and, in the pulpit, we can drive the joke too far and come off looking immature. The sermon is not the place for a constant stream of jokes.

2. Self-deprecating humor that is a mask. Sarcasm is a prevailing mode of humor. If overly-applied to ourselves, however, it can get a lot of laughs at first and cover up a great deal of transparency in the end. In the bid to be authentic, we can find an issue in our lives that everyone thinks is humorous and continually make fun of ourselves about it. By doing so, we are just entertaining rather than being confessional about the true issues that we struggle with in life.

3. Revealing details that inflict pain rather than heal it. Every leader must find the line between being confessional and dredging up pain in the lives of others. It is a difficult decision but one that should be made. Should every pain in your life be available for public consumption? What will happen in the lives of those listening to you if you share “that” thing? The settings in which you are authentic about some arenas of life will differ from issue to issue. In our authenticity, we must never degenerate to being shock jocks.

4. Confession that borders on egotism. The biblical injunction that we are to be a confessing people is a life to be lived, not a point to be made. As a pastor, transparency should come with no ulterior motives. As those who stand with a platform and a microphone, we must constantly guard against our own egos taking control. A love for attention can drive us to an “I’ve been more real than anyone else” syndrome of arrogance.

The two solutions that can bring a resolution for all of these foibles are simple.

First, carefully plan your words. Revealing private details before your church family should be as carefully planned as the rest of your sermon. Secondly, put the needs of others before yourself. The feigned humility that comes from being the “most real” person in the room will help your leadership credentials for a very short season. We should consider how our candidness helps or hurts the church family listening to us. Our authenticity should never be used as an awkward crowbar to leverage the same from others. Rather, offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Christ first, and then allow Him to lead you into faithful community with the church.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

6 Marks of a Maturing Church

In Acts 9, we read the story of Saul’s conversion and beginnings of his ministry. It was a rocky start as the church was suspicious of his trustworthiness. But after the start of his public ministry, the church accepted him and began to saw additional growth because of what God was doing through Saul. In the 31st verse of the chapter, a description is made of how the church was beginning to mature and minister in a hostile culture. I find that there are six marks in this single verse.

So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers. -Acts 9:31

1. Widespread. It describes the church as having already reached “throughout Judea, Galilee, & Samaria.” It is both a comment on geographic boundaries and cultural boundaries. People were carrying the gospel to various regions and various types of people. To say that the church was in Judea was expected, but to see it spreading among the Samaritans was not. Many of the early believers were ethnically Jewish, and they did not associate with the Samaritans. It signals to us that we must seek to increase the borders of the kingdom on this world despite cultural, ethnic, economic, and social differences. Don’t ever be intimidated by the systems of the world when you are sharing the gospel of God’s kingdom.

2. Unity. The church “had peace.” I think this is a commentary on how they existed in the culture and how they treated one another. For the moment, think about what it means inside the church family. It is when you see unity among the diversity. Uniformity should discarded as useless pandering to control-hungry leaders. Instead, we need to pin our unity on the idea of working toward the gospel goal of seeing the world know Christ as Lord and experiencing Him as friend. When we all drive toward the mission of the church, then unity is easy.

3. Development. The verse also tells us that the church was “being built up.” The Greek words used in the phrase find their literal usage in the construction of a house. The church was growing up. The right pieces were being put in the right place. It is a sign that strength was being added to the structure so a healthy fellowship could continue. The outward ministry was being coupled with inner growth. For a church to mature, it needs both.

4. Holiness. As the church developed, it was “walking in the fear of the Lord.” I love the phrase because it signals the depth of what holy living truly is. Though holiness includes morality, it is not the sum total of holiness. Rather, it is a lifestyle in which the awe of God is carried with you at all times. The church, in these days and in our day, should be marked by the presence of God. Our behavior is changed by our view of how different God is from us. Consequently, our transformation by the gospel means that we are now set apart for the Lord’s purposes that we joyfully fulfill in our everyday living.

5. Momentum. Knowing that we are called to holiness, it becomes natural because the church receives “the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.” Unbelievable but true. He indwells believers so that, individually and collectively, we can be emboldened to ministry and mission. On your worst day when the whole world seems to be caving in, the Holy Spirit has the desire to encourage you. When church life is at its toughest because of temptations from without and trouble from within, the Holy Spirit never abandons us. The God of the universe wants to encourage the church.

6. Growth. From all of the rest that we see described, the church “increased in numbers.” Through the ministry and the investment in outsiders, the church grew. I am unashamed in my desire for the church to numerically grow. It seems to me that from the witness of the Bible that God wants more people converted, more people experiencing grace, more people ministering, and more people coming to know Him as Savior. The church should want the same and work with everything we have to see it happen. A mark of a maturing church is that it focuses on the ministry that will persuade people to the truth of the gospel and the beauty of knowing Christ.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

10 Questions Every Pastor Should Ask on Monday

Sunday is over. A new week of ministry has begun. If you are a pastor like me, here are ten questions we should ask ourselves.

  1. Do I pastor just for the emotional charge of preaching?
  2. How deep is my love for the people in my church?
  3. Are there members that I’m avoiding because I don’t like them?
  4. Are there issues in my church that I’m avoiding because they scare me or I’m intimidated by the people involved with the issues?
  5. Am I leading by the power of the Spirit or by my own cleverness?
  6. Is my prayer life intense or waning?
  7. When I study the Bible, does it include study that is purely personal?
  8. Are there people in my life who are able to hold me accountable for mistakes I make?
  9. Do I still love God’s calling to ministry and am I willing to give my everything to Him?
  10. If I had another pastor who had less than a stellar answer to any of the above questions, what biblical counsel would I give? Am I willing to follow the same truth I would give to others?

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

5 Types of Preaching

When preaching, I often try to measure up the listeners in the room. I want to know if they are engaged, bored, drowsy, or prepared for the time of worship and the Word. More often than not, my assessment should start with myself. As a pastor, I need to evaluate my own heart and preparedness for the moment of the sermon. In doing so, I’ve come up with five generalized styles of preaching: four of which need to be guarded against and one that I hope is the regular manner in which I preach.

1. Pulpitainment: In this manner, being clever replaces stating truth plainly. The truth is in there, but you have to listen for it in the punchline, the video clip, or the story told by the preacher. We all know it is necessary to keep the listeners engaged in what we are saying. The glitch is that we think the Scriptures will not do so and therefore we have to drum up something more interesting to hold their attention. The right staging, songs, illustrations, and all the rest can be parts of a great worship service… as long as it is pointed to worshiping God. Don’t give in to the temptation to entertain the audience and forget that the time is primarily for the mission of the King.

2. Pulpiteering: The preacher becomes the point of the sermon. It happens when humility gets replaced by your ego. It is not done on purpose (I hope). However, there are times when the preacher wants to “assert his authority” in such a way that proves he is the leader of the church. This boisterous, blustery preaching exalts the man and loses the gospel message.

3. Over-Sharing: I’ve written before about how excessive authenticity leads to awkwardness. The preacher must present himself as a real person with real struggles. Any hint of a plasticized life will ring hollow. But a little authenticity goes a long way. You must know your congregation and understand how much to share before it all becomes awkward for the listener. We must not allow our transparency to become the only thing people remember when they leave the service. Be genuine but don’t use transparency and/or confession as a way to leverage a response from people.

4. Exegete-Only: Exegesis is a necessary part of sermon preparation. However, Hebrew or Greek word studies should not replace teaching the text’s truth and application. The exegetical process is wonderful for preparation, but in a sermon, it is quickly sterilized information. Plus, spouting off about your knowledge regarding ancient languages and customs can be a breeding ground for intellectual pride. Additionally, no one really cares about the eighteen derivations of that Hebrew noun. Use the information to give clarity to people, but don’t let Bible background information drive your sermon.

5. Passage-Driven Exposition: The preacher’s work is to expose the truth about God in the Scriptures to people in desperate need of transformation. To do so, it requires engaging people with the power of the Bible. In fact, the preceding list of possible speaking styles can all be effective when subservient to the scriptural text and used with wisdom. The preacher should be engaging and not boring because the text is alive with the power of God. The preacher should speak with a commanding demeanor because the subject matter is the commanding power of the gospel. The sermon should have a confessional attitude because everyone from the preacher to the listener is coming under the authority of God. Exegetical work and other preparation should show up in the content of the sermon because the pastor takes the work seriously to study diligently for the moment of preaching.

In the end, I want to preach a Bible kind of message in a Bible kind of way. If it is a narrative passage, I preach the story. When it is prophetic, I raise my voice and declare the oracles of God. As I cross into the epistles, I teach the principles. But in all of the various genres of the Bible, we must never lose the sense that we are communicating eternal truth in their temporary place to people who need gospel transformation. To that end, I am determined to let the passage God unveils before me to drive both the content and the manner of my preaching.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

Spiritual Warfare: Real Struggle. Real Victory.

Ephesians 6:14–17

  • Spiritual warfare. Sounds like a movie on the SyFy channel. Aliens vs. Predators or Sharknado
  • Whole concept seems strange and foreign to us.
  • But... we’ve sensed it; watched it; experienced it as a church; been attacked as individuals.

What is our problem with Spiritual Warfare?

Two polar opposite ideas have affected our approach.

1. It’s a Fairy Tale. Anti-biblical secular thought that deadens our thoughts.

2. It’s Spiritual Paranoia. Unbiblical hyper-spiritualized teaching that there’s a demon behind every corner. If I oversleep, it was a pillow demon.

  • One side mocks. The other side gawks.
  • Paul’s view… Ephesians 6:10–13
  • Spiritual battle rages around us. So fierce that God entered the battlefield to protect us: Warrior King!
  • In Joshua He is the Captain of the Army of the Lord.
  • In Isaiah, He is the deliverer who arms Himself to rescue
  • In the Gospels demons tremble before Him.
  • On the cross He delivers the deathblow to the darkness.
  • In the resurrection, He seals the fate of the evil one.
  • In Revelation, He is the conquering King who rides a stallion and has a flaming sword.
  • Not a sanitized, sappy Hallmark-movie-version of Jesus. Not a Hippie Jesus who dances around the countryside singing songs with the disciples. Not the pretty movie Jesus with perfect hair and Miss America smile.
  • We serve a Warrior King who does not fear darkness or death.
  • We don’t stand on the battlefield alone.
  • What is the truth about warfare? Christ’s Victory Is Our Victory.
  • We don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory.
  • We get this call to arms (v.13): “take your stand”
  • Don’t give in to fear because we are not left defenseless.

We stand with the Warrior King who prepares us for battle and fights with us.

  • Complete armor to prepare us with His work for us.

What is our stance in spiritual warfare?

1. Stand Confident in Righteousness – v.14

  • Leather apron hung under the armor to the thighs
  • W/O: vulnerable to the assaults of vital organs, chest
  • The gospel is the message that we’ve been transformed.
  • “Righteousness” = we are in a right relationship with God
  • Clothed in the righteousness of Christ—our robe of victory and our armor for battle.
  • You are not barely suited up for battle. God has put His good character on you.

When you are accused by the enemy of being no good, useless, weak, and worthy of only being discarded—then stand up in the truth of God’s love and the righteousness that He has given you.

2. Stand Ready in the Gospel – v.15

  • Sandals improve mobility, stabilized, prevent sliding
  • Move surely—ready to plunge into battle.
  • Picture of readiness and preparation with message of peace
  • Hold fast to a position that’s already been won
  • Carry message of light into battle against darkness by proclaiming the good news
  • Ready to jump into the middle of battle
  • Illustration) Football player who has pads on and then goes home would be ridiculous.

When you see others under attack from sin and its devastating work, then stand up by living in and carrying the gospel to them.

3. Stand Protected in Faith – v.16

  • Qualifies this section with “in every situation”
  • The shield was designed to stop the fiery arrows
  • The shield covered the whole person.
  • Protects us INTERNALLY: from every temptation to ungodly behavior, doubt, and despair.
  • EXTERNALLY: Against persecution & false teaching

When the enemy comes after you with temptation and the world is hard (and those are constant), we must stand in faith. We must be reliant in faith that God is good, He will not abandon, He does not change His mind.

4. Stand Prepared in the Word of God – v.17

  • Helmet designed to withstand the heavy blows
  • Often decorative to indicate the army in which you belong.
  • Salvation protects us and shows off whose/who we are.
  • Sword is only weapon for defense and attack.
  • It is the Word of God.
  • Cuts people’s defenses, through their conscience, and awakens them.

When you are tired of the enemy making headway… and I hope you are… then take your stand in God’s Word. Read it, consume it, study it, discuss it. It is God’s gift of how He reveals Himself to us. It is the truth when the fog of war rolls around us and we are confused. Stand on God’s Word and declare salvation to others and remind yourself of God’s good work for us. 


  • We are dressed with Christ’s armor and, therefore, display the characteristics of the anointed one in our attitudes, language, and behavior. In this way, we resist the evil one, giving him no opportunity to gain an advantage over us.
  • Christ has already won the victory
  • Christ’s victory is our victory.
  • While God supplies the armor, it is our responsibility to take it up, put it on, and use it confidently against the powers of the evil one.

We stand with the Warrior King who prepares us for battle and fights with us.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

10 Ways to NOT Mess up Your Easter Service

The holidays are a time that we can sometime swing to extremes. As leaders in the church, we are not immune to the temptations. In fact, they seem to become heightened as we plan for the special services of the year. Questions are asked about maximizing impact and involving new people into the life of the church. Other questions sneak in such as how we make the music better, the service more memorable, and the like. It is all an exercise in understanding the “why” behind the “what.”

The “why” must be to introduce the greatness of Christ and the truth of His gospel to people’s lives. Here are ten ideas about how to not misstep on planning for Easter Sunday.

  1. Clearly make the whole service about Jesus. It is not about the children’s choir, worship band, cool sermon graphics, or any other such thing. Make sure everybody and everything points to Jesus.
  2. Don’t try to be so clever that people miss the message. At a holiday service, it is tempting to change how you preach for the nebulous goal of “connecting with new people.” Preacher, be yourself and teach like a normal human being.
  3. Do not brag about everything your church is doing in an attempt to win people into regular attendance. If you try to announce/cover/boast about the whole church calendar, you’ll just overwhelm and distract.
  4. Never, ever berate the listener. Tell them why Jesus is so worthy, why the kingdom is so wonderful, and why the life of faith is one of hope. Help them face the facts that the world is hard and sin is killing them. But don’t beat up people who are already beaten up.
  5. Offer hope. Life is hard. The faithful members of your church need to be reminded of the hope we have. The first-time guests need to be introduced to the fact that hope exists.
  6. Start preparing immediately for Easter Sunday. Pastors and worship leaders should already be discussing what will be the same and what will be different on Easter. Prepare your volunteers for any changes.
  7. Recruit extra volunteers now for the children’s and preschool ministries. You do not want to be the church that has to announce: “We don’t have enough workers in the Preschool classes today. Who will go help us out?” It signals to guests that you really don’t care about their kids and have low standards about who is keeping them.
  8. Make plans for announcing a new Bible study group (or groups). Help people understand the value of small groups for their spiritual growth.
  9. Decide how you will encourage people to make a decision in response to the gospel. However your church chooses to do it, make sure it is clear to the listener, easy to navigate, and any volunteers necessary are prepared for their ministry.
  10. Pray expectantly. In fact, you can probably discard the first nine items on this list if you will engage most aggressively in this one thing. In his book Preacher and Prayer, E.M. Bounds wrote:

What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men who the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow though methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer.

I hope you and your church will have an amazing Easter Sunday.

Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.