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.

Come out into the Tempest of Living

In his book Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer included a poetical series in the introduction entitled “Stations of the Way to Freedom.” The poems included themes of self-discipline, action, suffering, and death. Though all four sections are written in such a way to demand a response, there is something about the second section that has always drawn me in. It reads:


Do and dare what is right, not swayed by the whim of the moment.

Bravely take hold of the real, not dallying now with what might be.

Not in the flight of ideas but only in action is freedom.

Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living.

God’s command is enough and your faith in him to sustain you.

Then at last freedom will welcome your spirit amid great rejoicing.

The phrase “come out into the tempest of living” captures my imagination. We work so hard at making life easy when it never is. And the moment that it is easy, then we have likely stepped into no man’s land where meaning and purpose are lost for us. It does not mean that every day is a decision to leave hearth and home for a wild, safari-like adventure. Rather, we should see life as a series of dares and whims and bravely taken steps. Otherwise, what is the point?

As you go about work and chores and the occasional adventure, remember that it is in the storms of life that we can catch the wind and experience God’s pleasure in our days. The moment that you feel as if control as slipped from your grasp, rejoice. It is likely the moment that you are in that great tempest that brings joy.

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

Speaking and Understanding

Leaders speak. It is a natural part of the leadership process to communicate what the group is to do and where the group is to go. Though leadership can happen by influence through the actions of the leader, nevertheless, verbal communication is always necessary. In one form or another, leaders must also be teachers. They are not necessarily teachers in the classic form of classroom instruction, but it may occasionally take that form.

Leadership requires that you speak in a way that is understandable. It also requires having the discernment to know whether or not you have been understood. It is a lesson driven home to me when I traveled in 2013 to teach for a course at the Kiev Theological Seminary. While teaching in their church planting school, all of the lectures were translated into Russian for the students. Some of them preferred Ukrainian, but all of them spoke Russian. As in any teaching, I lectured, asked questions, interacted with the students, and engaged them in various learning activities. It was during those days of teaching that these four principles were driven home to me about speaking and understanding.

  • Just because you speak does not mean that they heard you.
  • Just because they nodded their heads in affirmation does not mean they understand.
  • Just because they said they understand does not mean that they agree.
  • Just because they agree does not mean that they will do it.

Take an international setting combined with educational course and throw in a translator, and you will have a recipe for a great deal of miscommunication. During the course, I learned when the students were nodding to be polite and when they were smiling in disagreement.

As a church leader, it is a distinction you must learn as well in your own setting. How many times have you given a rousing vision-casting sermon that was met with “Amen” and “Good sermon, preacher” statements? But then no one followed through on the vision. They all nodded in agreement. They all affirmed the worthwhile nature of the goals you laid out. They all heard you… but that does not mean they understood you.

Leading the church into its mission, vision, core values, or whatever else you may call it is more than just blurting out words to inspire. It requires that you know the people whom you lead well enough to know if they understood a word that you said. And, having understood it, knowing if they will go in that direction. There are no easy answers to this issue. It is the place where we learn just how fictional “positional leadership” really is in most of our churches. Ultimately, the speaking you do must be backed up by the influence you have. Then, and only then, can there be true understanding.

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

5 Ways Leaders Can Make Sure They Hear the Truth from Their Team

Leaders must ask questions. In fact, asking the right questions is an essential skill to being an effective leader. Parallel to that skill is the ability to own the answer.

Let me illustrate what I mean. In an organization in which I was the leader, we needed to make a decision that would affect the future state of our work. The one decision that was about to be made would determine our goal for the next few years, what work we would embark upon, the systems we would need, and who we would recruit into leadership. With all of that in mind, I began to gather information that would facilitate the process of making the decision. In the process, I needed to ask one of the key members of the organization about their perspective on the potential change. His response was simple: “Do you really want to know my opinion?”

I suspect that many of us have either heard that response, gave that response, or have wanted to give that response.

In leadership, we must ask the critical questions that moves the organization forward. But we must also be willing to own the answers that we are given to those critical questions. So how can that happen?

Never surround yourself with “yes men.” It is a basic premise of leadership to which we should often be reminded. Sycophants who lurk behind us like Igor saying “yes, master” to our every whim do not help us, themselves, or the organization. The type of employee, follower, or member of the organization that agrees with everything you do with such speed will eventually be a drain on the work.

Beware of the hidden “yes men.” Carefully guard against the organizational members who always, in the end, agree with you. We tend to recruit people who think like us, work like us, and see life like us. It is natural because we are trying to build an organization and lead it toward a goal. Therefore, we need commonality of thought. But this type of employee can be a hidden “yes man” and they are just as dangerous. You don’t want an Igor, but you also don’t want a clone.

Periodically recruit a rogue. Every now and again, you need to recruit someone into the organization that aspires to the same dream but will be the wild horse that you must constantly reign in. They will talk to you in ways that others will not. They will push you to go faster, pull you into unsafe territory, and make you nervous on most days. But they are often necessary. You can often guess what the answer will be to most questions from most team members… but not from this one. It is good to have an outlier on the team.

Give permission for people to disagree with you. Actively tell your team that disagreement is expected. Debate can be healthy as long as the goal of the organization is preserved. Once we’ve determined what must be accomplished, then all bets are off in terms of how we get there. The discussions that must happen need to be passionate. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one many sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, HCSB). It is the idea that sparks are going to fly and friction is going to happen. When we ask critical questions, expect critically thought through answers. The answer might even sting a bit, but if you have recruited well, then it will be worth it.

Know how to process an answer that runs contrary to your expectations. When you eventually receive an answer that runs counter to what you hoped to hear, learn what to do with it. It could go something like this: Shock, horror, anger, outburst, discord, communication blackout, retaliation, and refusal to change your mind. Or you could have a different approach. Reception, discussion, reflect, consider options, gratefulness, and discovery.

Owning the unexpected answers from our team gives us options. It allows us to discover new paths to the common goals we hold together. The weak leader will rebel against anything they did not think of first. The strong leader learns the power held within a group of like-minded teammates. Today, ask the hard questions and be ready to own the unexpected answers.

Developing Yourself in Bivocational Ministry

Leadership development must move in two directions for all leaders: internally and externally. It is no different for bivocational pastors. You need an intentional plan for personal leadership development and developing others as leaders. In fact, my hope as a leader is that I will be able to fulfill a 1 Corinthians 11:1 vision for myself and a 2 Timothy 2:2 vision for others. But to do so as a bivocational minister takes on a different track.

Even though we are not the ones working in full-time vocational ministry, all of the qualifications for serving in this role still apply. Paul’s admonitions in his three Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus include the spiritual and ethical requirements for a person to serve as an elder or pastor in a church

For the purposes of this post, allow me to give both spiritual and practical advice about developing your own leadership skills.

Spiritual disciplines of the Word and prayer. Depending on how you count, there are probably a couple dozen “spiritual disciplines” used throughout church history. However, I would encourage you to focus on the two core disciplines of biblical engagement and prayer. In your own personal devotionals (which you need to have), ensure that you are reading biblical texts beyond what you teach for the church.

Additionally, through prayer, you will need to consistently deepen your level of discernment for the Holy Spirit’s movement. In your life as a bivocational minister, time is a commodity that seems to slip away quickly. One of the great temptations you will face is to let go of time for intentional and intense prayer. You’ll hear yourself say, “I can pray while I drive to work” and “I am praying all the time. The church is always on my heart.” Both of those statements may be true, but they do not substitute for the work of prayer that you should love as much as any other pursuit.

Learn to hate sin as much as God does. In my book Compelled: Living the Mission of God, I wrote: “Sin is not a pet to tame but a beast to slay.” You must not toy around with temptation and sin. Whether it is lust, envy, deceit, anger, or whatever else, deal with it forcefully. If you do not, it will deal forcefully with you. Look at the results of sin as God does. Once you gain His perspective, it will not be so enticing

Holy Jealousy. Jealousy is normally associated with sin. Paul reminds us that we need to be jealous for the church like a husband is for his wife. He said, “I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me. For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-2). Show your church what it looks like to have a leader who deeply cares for their holiness. It is a powerful role that they will want to repeat for others.

Leaders are readers. Now, I’m not saying you should not have hobbies and go outdoors, but what I do want to say is that your mind is critical to leadership. Find the right books, magazines, journals, and blogs that will challenge you. I would suggest that you read in three areas.

First, read about leadership itself. You need to sharpen your understanding of leadership. So read about it from all directions; church, family, business, marketing, tech, etc.

Second, read great fiction and biographies. Stories that are told well will develop your own creativity. Plus, I find that my brain needs a break oftentimes from the seriousness of my world.

Third, find a subject that has nothing at all to do with your life and read about it. We all have some curiosity about a random subject matter. Periodically, read about it. It will help you develop a process for critical thinking.

Develop a network. You need people around you who will speak the truth to you. Friends that you can trust are invaluable in bivocational ministry. They are the ones that you can seek advice from and dump your emotional truck in front of without fear. Find a group of peers, novices, and mentors that are in the thick of ministry in your area and stick together.

I’m sure that there are dozens of more ideas that could be added to this list. Leadership development is a never-ending process. So, no matter what, find a track for personal development and get on it. Use these ideas. Find new ones. Lean on old, trusted ones. But whatever you do… develop as a leader.

7 Tips for Creating Time to Think

In our hectic world of go, Go, GO!… it seems difficult to simply find time to sit down and think. In my own life over the last few months, I have felt the pressure of three different jobs, being overrun with the need to produce content (which I have not), and not abandon my family in the process.

Oftentimes, I do not have time to sit and think simply because I overcommit. Being a publishing director for LifeWay is my full-time job. Being a teaching pastor and elder of The Fellowship is my bivocational ministry. This summer, teaching Christian Leadership as an adjunct professor for Union University has been an addition to it all. So, when you are busy… and we’re all busy… we need principles we hold to in order to simply think, dream, and strategize.

With some of my team, I recently shared seven ways that I am trying to implement more brain time into my life. Here they are:

1. Make it part of your job. “Thinking is necessary for your job” seems like a silly statement, but it’s a necessary one. Otherwise, we simply complete tasks non-stop and never come up with a new idea.

2. First things first. Don’t allow the menial tasks of the day to take precedence over the opportunity to see ahead, hear what’s really going on, and think through priorities.

3. Reframe circumstances by asking “Why?” five times. Work is never done in a vacuum. When we experience success or failure, we need to know what contribute to either. Asking “why” at least five times will show you the context, circumstances, and contributing factors as to how you got to the end result.

4. Create a “thinking hour.” The concept comes from this article by Scott Young. He encourages one hour per week. It should be doable, but I try to do it every other week. You have to schedule it and keep it on your schedule.

5. Hibernate. Multitasking is one of the great enemies of thought. If you need to put in some brain time, close down email, power off your cell phone, and shut out the world for a time.

6. Get moving. Physical activity often provokes new thinking. Simply take a walk around the building or around the block. Give your physical vision, hearing, and other senses a workout so your brain can reframe what you need to dwell on.

7. Have loose & tight goals. If you set aside time to think, have an idea about what you’re thinking about. I encourage our team to know the difference between daydreaming and strategy. We need both. Go into your thinking time with a view of which you need at the moment.

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

3 Questions for the Hard Work of Evaluation

The process of setting goals is a common theme in the training, books, blogs, and every other place that leadership is discussed. I believe that we need to put an equal weight on the process of evaluating those goals after the work is completed.

But, to be truthful, evaluations are hard, messy, and often gut-wrenching. It is the path of least resistance to simply say “It worked” or “It didn’t work” and then move on to the next thing. The responsible leader needs to help his or her people dig in to discover the lessons to be learned and the changes that need to be made.

Recently, I’ve watched one of our teams at work move through this process fairly well. They asked pointed questions of one another. No one was allowed to have a “sacred cow” that could not be evaluated. Emotions were checked at the door so that the conversation could be honest. The evaluation was about the work and not the personalities of those leading it – unless a personality trait got in the way. It was healthy and helpful.

But for the moment, I want to offer three questions that you should ask after every work is completed. Think about these:

Was it a worthy goal? The people in your organization, business, or church are giving their time, energies to the work so asking if it was worth their time is appropriate. But beyond their energies, knowing that this is the work that will make a lasting difference is critical. Sure, there is a place for short-term, quick wins but you cannot base people’s lives or your organization on it.

Did we achieve the goal? Only when you set clear measures at the beginning can you get a clear picture at the end. But even if you did poorly in setting up the goal, you can decide postmortem if you achieved anything. We must have the guts to look around the room at one another and say what was accomplished – or what was not. Sometimes, this is the beautiful time when we realize that something was achieved that was better and unexpected than what we planned.

Could we have used our energies and involved people into a different work with a better goal? In evaluating what we did, we need to ask if we should have even done it. One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from Jurassic Park. In a discussion about the cloning of dinosaurs for the park, Dr. Ian Malcolm said: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We need to ensure that what we’ve done is the right, necessary, and proper work to have been done. Not simply the clever work that is possible.

Each of these questions can be personalized to your own work. As one who teaches on Sundays, I evaluate my messages and series in a similar way. I need to ask myself:

Was it a message that revealed the heart of God?

Did the message connect in a transformative way?

Could the message have been delivered differently (outline, style, demeanor, illustrations, etc.) to have lead people in a better direction?

Oftentimes the third question is the most difficult to wrestle. To ask, ” Could we have used our energies and involved people into a different work with a better goal?” means that you must be willing to admit that you were off-course from the beginning. Perhaps ego got in the way or you were just distracted by a new idea. But no matter what the cause, we must have enough integrity to admit when we chose to lead in the wrong direction. It is the only way to then chart a course in the right direction.

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

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.