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.

5 Changes to Become a “Going” Church

The Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28 is familiar. Too familiar. With its familiarity, we face the temptation of it losing its impact. Let me remind us what it says,

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Recently, I shared with our church five changes and one empowering reminder that we need to keep in mind if we are to follow Christ’s commission to us.

Change #1: Move from working as campus chaplains to advancing as kingdom missionaries

  • Churches are not to hide on campuses.
  • We are told to “go” or “as you are going.”
  • Wherever people are is where we are to be.
  • The church campus and gatherings serve as launching pads, not as a monastery.

Change #2: Move from participating in religious programs to becoming lifestyle disciple-makers

  • Programs are the paths of least resistance because disciple making is mess.
  • Programmatic growth is the last vestige for sterile ministries.
  • We want relationships that result in eternal transformations.

Change #3: Move from a perceived home field to active global engagement

  • The mission of God includes our community but does not end with our community.
  • God calls the church to the world.
  • God calls our church to be a global sending center.
  • God calls every believer to be a global missionary.

Change #4: Move from creating consumers of religion to community builders of the church

  • Baptism is the public declaration that you have surrendered your life before God’s sovereignty.
  • It is secondarily a public alignment with the church family.

Change #5: Move from being knowledge junkies to Jesus followers

  • Too often, our knowledge has outpaced our obedience.
  • It is easier to desire behavior modification from masters of biblical trivial pursuit. But that is not discipleship.
  • “The gospel of sin management has produced vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else.” – Dallas Willard
  • Jesus wants followers. He began the apostles’ work with “Come” and ended his training with “Go.”
  • The gospel gives us the beautiful potential to be people who imitate Jesus.

 One Empowering Reminder: The authority and presence of Jesus is what makes all of this a reality.

  • Jesus has all of the authority and promised to never desert us.
  • None of the five changes are possible by our own wit and self-determination. Jesus, however, loves to do the impossible.

8 Keys to Recognizing Spiritual Growth

An assignment without a means of measuring success normally ends in frustration or abandonment. In the church, our work is to make disciples. But can you really measure discipleship?

A strong case can be made that it is ludicrous to attempt to measure transformation in a person’s life. Nevertheless, there are biblical injunctions that halt our progress into sin and prescriptions that lead us toward spiritual maturity.

In the Transformational Discipleship project led by LifeWay Research, we did not set out to randomly create objective measurements against which a person’s life would be deemed infantile, growing or mature. However, we did uncover attributes that indicate spiritual growth and/or the desire that growth is occurring.

The research revealed eight factors at work in the lives of believers who are progressing in spiritual maturity. We refer to them as the attributes of discipleship. They are not necessarily new ideas, but they stand out as key ideas in the lives of North American Protestants.

1. Bible engagement

It should go without saying believers will be engaged in studying the Scriptures. However, leadership must often begin restating the obvious. Transformation can be recognized in people when their minds are sharpened by the Bible, their perspectives are shaped by the Bible and their actions are directed by the Bible.

2. Obeying God and denying self

Discipleship is the process of obedience to one who is in authority over you. In our study, we found people progressing in their faith prioritize God’s desires over self-will. Transformation can be seen in them, because they progressively set aside earthly delights for Kingdom priorities.

3. Serving God and others

Just as Jesus said He had come to serve and not be served, so must believers. The choice to serve others is just that—a choice. It highlights a maturity of soul that we allow the needs of others to trump our own. Transformation is evident when personal needs, and even life goals, are set aside for the needs we see in others.

4. Sharing Christ

Inherent in being a disciple of Christ is the making of other disciple makers for Christ. Even with the need to live out the effects of the gospel, maturing believers know speaking about the message is a necessity. Transformation is evident when we talk about the source of it.

5. Exercising faith

Can you measure a person’s faith? Probably not. But you can see it when it is put into action. Believers participating in the research noted they knew the importance of living by faith as opposed to living by personal strength. Transformation is seen in believers when risk aversion is set aside and lives are characterized by faithful obedience to God’s will.

6. Seeking God

People become disciples of Christ because they intend to follow Him and become like Him. A continuous hunger should arise from this life. It is referred to in Scripture as our “first love,” and believers are commanded to return to it. Transformation is seen when our desire is to know God more deeply and experience His work more fully.

7. Building relationships

Our faith is personal, but it is not intended to be private. Jesus established the church for our collective good and our collective growth. After all, humans are naturally relational. Spiritually, we are no different. As believers, our horizontal relationships with others should develop just as our vertical relationship with God does. Transformation is occurring when relational maturity is evident in our lives.

8. Unashamed

The research noted believers felt it appropriate and even necessary for others to know them as Christians and be held accountable for a life exemplary of that name. Transformation is evident when a believer is unashamed in presenting his own life as being aligned with Christ.

The adage is “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” At the very heart of Christianity is the work of making disciples for Christ. It should never sit at the fringe of our lives or the church. Through work like that of Transformational Discipleship, we are able to better recognize when we are effectively reaching toward that goal.

This article first appeared in Facts&Trends magazine. For more information visit

Transformational Discipleship Assessment

The Transformational Discipleship Assessment crafted from LifeWay’s discipleship study is being used by churches in urban, suburban, rural, domestic and international locations to discover how their church is doing in the realm of discipling believers. To learn more, visit Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

3 Tips for Borrowing in Your Sermons

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Alistair Begg preach. It was a beautiful sermon, rich with doctrine and encouraging to the soul. He was preaching in our chapel at LifeWay to the employees and took a bit of time to discuss life in the ministry. Since many are serving in some capacity in local churches (either as a staff member or volunteer leader), he encouraged us in our work away from office hours. Alistair is quite witty and is apparently fond of limericks. To poke a bit of fun at the ministers in the room, he recited a poem he had heard some time ago about the great preacher Charles Spurgeon.

There once was a preacher named Spurgy,
Who really detested liturgy,
But his sermons are fine
And I take them as mine
And so do most of the clergy.

With Charles Spurgeon being known to many as the “Prince of Preachers,” it is obvious why so many of us have learned from him over the years. However, the idea of quoting, borrowing, and (dare I say) stealing sermons is a sad delineation that must be made over and over again. In order to keep myself in check as I prepare messages each week, I try to operate by these three ideas.

1. It is wise to quote from spiritually mature and intellectually sharp leaders to your sermon. I find that using a short quotation from another pastor or scholar bolsters people’s confidence in what we teach. Additionally, it allows them to hear the same truth with a different verbal flair. Quoting from wise believers allows your church family access to the great spiritual wealth of those who have gone before us.

2. It is okay to borrow from another person’s sermon outline. However, you should always tell the congregation who you are quoting. There are times when getting to the right sermon outline is just tough. On top of that, if you read enough commentaries, there really are no new outlines for passages that have existed for thousands of years. So, as you borrow from other pastors and scholars, tell the congregation about those who are helping you better understand and teach the Word.

3. It is always wrong to plagiarize another person’s sermon and preach as your own. I would also add that is is pointless to do so. If you find another person’s sermon to be exactly what you need to teach, then allow the Lord to teach you the truth and then contextualize it for your church family. Every pastor or scholar that you plagiarize worked diligently on the material as part of their daily labor before the Lord and the church. By using it without attribution, we create three problems. First, you commit the sin of stealing. Second, you puff up your ego by creating circumstances whereby you can sound more spiritual than you are. Finally, you rob the church from knowing that there are many spiritual leaders from whom they can learn.

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

Can I Know God's Will?

Wondering if one can know the will of God is an age-old question. The story contained in 1 Samuel 16 gives us principles that we can observe about knowing and following God’s will.

In the chapter, God commands Samuel to travel to Bethlehem where he will anoint one of Jesse’s household as the next king over Israel. He goes but Jesse only brings out his seven older sons. After none of them are found to be the one, Samuel asks if there is anyone else left. Jesse brings his youngest son David who is out tending the sheep. God chooses David and he is anointed to succeed Saul as king of Israel. The scene then switches to the king’s palace where the Spirit of God has left Saul. In its place, an evil spirit now oppresses Saul. Only music soothes his mind and heart. The court attendants tell Saul of the young David who is valiant and a skilled musician. Saul brings David to his court to serve as his musician and armor bearer.

Here are 11 lessons we can observe from this passage.

1. It’s okay to ask questions. When God told Samuel to anoint a successor, Samuel asks about the repercussions. He did not ask out of rebellion but to have an informed obedience.

2. God often reveals the next steps, not the entire plan. God told Samuel to go to Jesse’s household. But he did not tell him who would be chosen. We need to trust God in the next step even when we don’t see the whole plan.

3. Rely on God’s character because it never changes. Knowing God’s will is about relying on God’s character because of God’s activity. Samuel was conceived by God’s grace, dedicated to serve in the Temple, called as a child, & empowered as a prophet. He had no reason to doubt what God was doing in the present because of what He had done in the past.

4. Success to us isn’t necessarily success to God. Samuel’s eldest son was the natural choice. But God tells us in verse seven that He holds to a different standard than the world.

5. The condition of your heart is more important than the contents of your resume’. We must align ourselves with God’s desires in order to know and follow His will.

6. Faithfulness in the moment is greater than our best-conceived strategies. When David was anointed, no one told him what would happen next. He was not warned of the future temptations, battles to be fought, or the patience he would need. David had no long-term plan and did not need one. He needed to be faithful in the moment of God’s call.

7. The calling of God is always accompanied by the power of God. When David was anointed, he was also filled with the Spirit. God does not call the equipped. God equips the called. It causes us to love what God loves and hate what God hates.

8. God is preparing us for assignments, relationships, roles, and moments that are better than we could ever hope for or imagine. The providence of God had prepared David for the one skill he would need to have access to Saul’s court: playing the lyre. No one could have ever guessed that to be the pathway. Faithfulness in your responsibilities today are about more than current obligations. They are refining you for the next assignment from God.

9. Knowing the will of God comes with the willingness to serve until asked to lead. David was the heir apparent to the throne but that was not the task he was given. He was first to be a musician and then an armor bearer. He was called to serve an ungodly, depressed, spiritually-oppressed, rebellious king. Later, he would be asked to lead the people.

10. God’s call will be confirmed by God’s Word. God never contradicts His Word. David had to trust that the word that came from God through the prophet Samuel could be trusted. We need to read, study, consume, and trust God’s Word.

11. Immediate obedience to God’s call is always worth the cost. There is nothing that you need more than God’s will. Hesitating because it is not exactly what you thought it will be is foolish and dangerous. Follow God’s will and find the blessing of the close journey with God.

12 Principles for Fast Leadership

As a leader, one of the many factors you must consider is how fast to move.

Whenever I interview candidates for positions, I usually ask the question, “Is your work style one of slow progress or go fast and break things?” Most people do want to be on the extremes of slow or fast but opt for somewhere in the middle. The point of the exercise is to get a sense of how they make decisions and will they be comfortable with the pace set by our leadership.

Churches are infamous for not being nimble. It is the old aircraft carrier versus speedboat image that often comes to mind. There are good reasons why churches do not often embrace change quickly. We are protective of our doctrine; which is ancient. We are protective of people’s lives; who already face the deluge of societal change. We are sentimental about the methods that were used to win us to Jesus and grow our faith.

Leadership involves guiding people in their ongoing sanctification and mission engagement. To do so, leaders must decide how quickly to initiate this progress. Because we are dealing with the issues of eternity, some people will want to plod slowly in order for no one to be left behind and everyone to be fully engaged. Others will see that dealing with eternal matters cannot wait and we must act immediately.

Leaders must move past the emotions that often hold power over church members and see a clear path forward. Once you do, it is time to move your people forward.

So how does a leader go fast? Here are 12 ideas.

1. Be the pacesetter. If you are the leader, then be out front on all of the issues and in all of the work. It does not mean that you personally handling the work but you must be informed.

2. Know where you are going. The temptation is to just be mad with a church system that is not working so you start breaking things without a clear goal of what comes next. Know where you are leading people and have a way to articulate it.

3. Be a historian. Every congregation has a history that affects even those who are new. How decisions have been made, who made the decisions, and the aftermath of bad decisions hang over congregations. If you will take time to understand the history of the congregation then you can solve some of the “why do we do this?” riddles.

4. Choose clarity over cleverness. Word-oriented people will often hesitate in leading out until they have three points, a logo, and an infographic. Leading fast requires clarity about the why and how. Stop wordsmithing everything to death. Say what you mean in a way that everyone can remember.

5. Infuse urgency into the culture. Members don’t move quickly because they have not been told why they need to move quickly. Many are not being rebellious. They just don’t know what the big deal is about the issue. As you live, teach, and lead with urgency then the light bulbs will come on for them.

6. Allow unimportant issues to be just that… unimportant. Fast leadership must let secondary issues fall to the side. You cannot fix everything at once. Not everything is the number one priority. In fact, most of what is deemed as priority by members is not a priority at all. Lead people to see why moving fast “with this one thing” is critical. Don’t disregard people or their emotional attachments. Assure them that they’ve been heard and you’ll be happy to visit with them about it later.

7. Teach your way forward. People move quickly when they are informed. Remember that you are thinking about these issues on an hourly basis. Most church members interact with the methods and issues of the church once or twice a week. Whatever you taught last week is barely remembered. Keep teaching the why and how about moving on this issue with speed.

8. Go with the “go-ers.” When you find a willing group of people, get moving. Church leaders want to be shepherds to everyone. But you should not interpret that as needing 100% buy-in before you begin working. If you are initiating a new discipleship model that some are hesitant about, start with those who have said “yes.”

9. Consistently tell victory stories. Leaders who go fast and are change agents often celebrate by moving on to a new thing to change. Most people are not like that. They need to take time to celebrate what is happening because of their investment and risk. You can keep up a fast pace of leadership by consistently feeding stories of victory that the church is experiencing. People will go fast with you when they know that results are happening.

10. Keep inviting the plodders. You will have those who like to consider options from hundred of angles before they make a move. Know who they are and do not discard them. Instead, keep inviting them to jump into the work. Be their pastor and find out why they are hesitant. Help them know that you are not disregarding their beloved memories but looking for ways that they and others can establish new ones.

11. Use the language of development and experimentation. I am thankful for Larry Osborne’s book “Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret” for helping me get on this train of thought. Most people are afraid of change and fast-paced leadership. But they are not afraid of a church that experiments with new methods or is concerned about developing people. The language you use about forward momentum will either attract or repel.

12. Know when to slow down. Fast leadership must have breaks in the action. If you move at full speed nonstop, you will wear out even those who love going fast and breaking things. Every now and again, you have to stop and fix the minor things you broke. People need a break to enjoy the results of where they have been led. Plus, even fast-moving leaders need a break. Take time to enjoy those lead as friends and not followers. Make a journey for everyone to enjoy.

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

8 Ways to Teach Leadership from the Bible

It is a foregone conclusion by many believers that leadership is easily taught from the Bible. It is and is not a true idea.

Leadership is definitely put on display and explicitly taught in the Bible. But, like all other subjects, it requires careful interpretation and handling with nuance. It is, in fact, a spiritual discipline for believers. Here are eight principles that you can use when going to the Scriptures to teach leadership.

1. The Bible is not a leadership manual. It is unhelpful to define the Bible as something less than God revealing Himself. Though a divine leadership manual sounds like a great statement to make in a sermon or training event, it diminishes the Scriptures. We need to state that in the Bible, God includes authoritative teaching about leadership.

2. Identify the prescriptive teachings on leadership. The Bible contains a great many passages that directly address leadership and how leaders are to do their work. For example, in Titus 1:5-9, Paul gives the qualifications for a man to serve as an elder in the church. It is a prescriptive passage about who can lead and how they are to do it.

3. Help people understand the descriptive illustrations of leadership. Nehemiah, King David, Gideon, Simon Peter, and a host of other characters give us examples of godly leadership… sometimes. We must be careful to not take a point-in-time occurrence and use it as an eternal principle. Nehemiah is a prime example of how this can be used and misused. It is an epic story of how God used Nehemiah to complete a necessary task for the Kingdom of God. We must be careful to not simply turn the thirteen chapter book into a corporate leadership manual for success.

4. Deny the temptation to proof text clichés and moralisms. If we lose sight of its nature, the Bible becomes a fable intended to make bad people behave better. The Scripture is the eternal truth of God that is rooted in the gospel. As it is addressed in the Bible, leadership must do the same. Root it in God’s transforming work of the heart so that lives can be changed.

5. Keep the goal of leadership true to the Bible’s goal. No subject included in the Bible can have a different goal from the Bible. God reveals Himself for His own glory and He can consequently change us for our good. In teaching leadership, it is not to simply make a leader better, more competent, or nice. The Bible addresses leadership so that we can understand how God should be glorified through the person who is leading and the work that they lead.

6. Teach offensive and defensive leadership. Leadership must be proactive. We take God’s truth out to the fields of people’s lives and apply it before trials come. Spiritual leadership also defends God’s people and His work against the assaults of the God’s enemies. Teach both sides of this equation without diminishing the other. Help leaders go on the offensive against evil and know how to defend the faith when attacked.

7. “Servant leadership” is a thing but not the only thing. In teaching, we tend to over-complicate mattes or simplify them to their base part. The model of “servant leadership” is often proposed as the ultimate way of defining leadership. It is a way but not the only way. Many of the descriptive and prescriptive passages regarding leadership show us that leaders confront sin, stand against earthly structures of power, and challenge believers to press deeper into God’s mission. Teach that leaders serve within the context of all that they do.

8. Urgency is a hallmark. The godly leaders included in the pages of the Bible were people of action. They discerned the need for God’s transforming work to take root in the lives of those who followed them. Wasting time is evidenced in the lives of those disobedient to the mission of God. As you teach leadership, infuse the urgency of the unfinished task we face to deliver the gospel to the nations.

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

Can God Save My Marriage?

Can God Save My Marriage?

I’ve heard that question posed in so many different ways. The answer is a solid “yes.” But the real question people want to know is not “Can God…?” but “How can God…?” My answer to the how is that God will save your marriage but only along with you as His grace empowers confessional and redemptive living.

As we look at the Bible, there are no explicit passages that give a seven-point plan for saving a marriage that’s in trouble. Instead, we have various beautiful passages that deal with the foundation, roles, and reason for the marriage relationships. We find very quickly from scripture that the core of marriage is simple: it is a covenant of love. So, let me point you to two passages as reminders of this core.

1. The Source of Love — 1 John 4:7-12
The passage from John teaches us that “God is love” (v. 8). You and your spouse did not dream up love. Neither did Shakespeare for his plays or the latest Hollywood romantic comedy movie. Love originates from the very character of God and would not exist if not for Him. Of course, our love for our spouses is horribly flawed. So, we must allow our character and thus our love be defined by the character of God. You must not allow the latest self-help book, the sappiest made-for-TV movie, or any episode of Dr. Phil define love for you. It is only from God’s nature that we learn about love.

In the passage from 1 John 4, we learn that God’s love transforms us (v. 7). Love is revealed most perfectly in Christ’s sacrifice (v. 9-10). It calls us for an action from us (v. 11). True love is defined by our Creator and revealed by our Savior. We must reject the silly notions of the world that love is only sappy emotions, romantic gestures in the dark, and a spouse who will serve you day and night. It is defined by the very nature of God, who is redemptive. Can God save your marriage? Yes… so do this: Define, refine, and/or redefine marriage by the character of God through the gospel’s power.

2a. The Context of Love — 1 Corinthians 12 and 14
2b. The Activity of Love — 1 Corinthians 13

The two ideas of love’s context and activity are too closely related to separate. The three chapters of 1 Corinthians 12-14 describe how the church relates together. Put it in the funnel and let it become more specific for marriage and we discover powerful truths for troubled relationships. Chapters 12 and 14 describe how any spiritual gifting and power is to be used for the benefit of other believers. Love is active, not sappy.

In another book, Paul reminds us that marriage is a mysterious relationship (Ephesians 5:32-33) but there is a reason for it. Marriage is a temporary picture of an eternal reality. The covenant relationship we have with a husband or wife displays God’s grace available for salvation through Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. 1 Corinthians 13 warns us against ego, seeking only self-satisfaction, and just being religiously busy. Instead, we are to use our God-given, grace-induced gifts for building up others and caring for their needs. Service is the context and result of love. Clearly from 13:4-7 we see that love starts with the heart and chooses to make service a priority.

Can God save your marriage? Absolutely. You must take the long view of life so that you will opt for service over a demanding attitude. A love born from God’s character will allow you to see your spouse through the lens of eternity; knowing what lasts and what does not. You will see your husband or wife not just in the current circumstances but as a person to serve and help be more like Jesus Christ.

Choose love. Choose service. Choose Christ. The covenant of marriage displays the saving work of Jesus. Your marriage will be constantly on edge until you root your life in the eternal reality of God’s salvation.

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.

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.

8 Church Ministry Trends to Consider

I watch church trends. The last few years have been an interesting journey for the church in the United States. As I observe the work of the church in our country, I’ve noticed eight trends that we should all consider. Many of these are difficult to quantify by a research project, but they are all having an impact on the landscape of ministry.

1. Multisite: According to the findings from Leadership Network/Generis, there are more than 8,000 multisite churches in the United States. Whether you consider a digital form of circuit-riding preachers, a new form of church planting, or just a healthy model—it is going to be with us for a while. We can learn a great deal about how to multiply leaders in our churches as a result of this movement.

2. Deeper divides: With the same new tools that are being used to call for revival, they are being used to deepen the divide between various streams of Christianity. Simply addressing the realm of Evangelicals, I can regularly find voices shrieking over several discussions: between the theologically-driven and the methodologically-driven church, Calvinism and non-Calvinism (though we struggle for a name for it), worship wars (yes, this is still a thing), and highly programmed versus highly organic church models.

3. Teaching Teams: Churches are doing more to access the giftedness of those in this membership when it comes to the Sunday preaching or teaching in worship services. The rise of teaching teams is harder to track, but we are seeing more churches rely less on one super-preacher and more on how God has gifted many people in the body. Personally, I lead a teaching team in our church and find it to be a healthy way to study better.

4. Tribalism: Because we have moved far past the constraints of geography dictating association, tribalism is, in some ways, overtaking denominationalism. Formerly, if you were a Presbyterian in Kansas City, then you associated with others of your denomination in the region. Now, you can join any tribe you wish based on ministry methodology, social cause, missiological orientation, and an endless list of factors. Networks are now the “cool kids” that everyone wants to sit with at the lunch table.

5. Bivocational staff members: Bivocational ministry has been around since the apostle Paul was making tents to earn a paycheck. But today more mid-sized and larger churches are staffing with bivocational ministers. Similar to teaching teams, it is a way to leverage the giftedness of people in the church in a renewed way.

6. Smaller facilities: Anecdotally, it seems as if adult Bible study groups meeting in homes is on the rise while groups meeting on campuses is on the decline. Local congregations will have to determine if that is good or bad for them. However, fewer churches are investing large sums of money to build traditional education buildings. In some cases, churches are using facilities that intentionally put them into multiple worship services so that they can save on building and/or build-out costs.

7. Continued growth of parachurch ministries focused on global justice: Denominations have systems by which their congregations can do mission work domestically and internationally. However, with limited funds, most have chosen to focus on a precious few goals; like church planting, evangelism, and disaster relief work. It leaves a wide field of work to parachurch groups that have a laser focus particular issues. Orgainzations like the Gideons International exist to distribute Bibles. Groups like Compassion International dedicate their work to releasing children from poverty and introducing them to the gospel of Jesus. More congregations are working through such groups to accomplish their church’s mission.

8. New ways to call for revival: Many local pastors have renewed their call, prayers, and work for a sweeping revival in the United States. It is a great thing that seems to always bubble under the surface for the church. With new tools like social media and electronic books, the call is taking on a new form, which is good.

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

5 Simple Strategies for Better Communication

Communication is a key component to leadership. If you are communicating, then you are leading in some way. Here are five principles that you can begin using immediately to help you communicate, and thus lead, better.

  1. Use positive language. Draw people to your point by inspiring them. If you paint a brighter future, people will desire to listen and follow. A quick listen to great speeches like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech faced the difficulties of the present day. But they also move on to describe the promise of something greater.
  1. Avoid alarmism. Leading through times of crisis is necessary. Creating a constant environment of crisis is demotivating. Eventually, if every circumstance is a cause for alarm, people will stop listening and simply give up hope. Change is inevitable, and and it is always accompanied by a cost. However, you can help people through it by not sounding the crisis alarm with your language.
  1. State how it is easy to understand what we are doing. The constant use of phrases like “This is tough to understand” or “This will be hard for some people to do” becomes principles to follow rather than warnings to help. Instead, as you prepare, plan out simple steps for everyone listening to follow through on easy actions.
  1. Use more simple words. Speakers and leaders read so much on the subject matter in which they lead that the natural tendency is to get bored with the standard language and a slight obsession with new words that accompany their discipline. Remember that your audience has not done the same. It is fine to introduce a new vocabulary to your audience but you must do so in such a way that it does not distract from your core message. Instead, use more simple language than complex so that you are immediately and easily understood.
  1. Tell great stories. Everyone loves a great story, and stories are everywhere. You can write an original illustration, adapt a real-life situation, use a historical narrative, or find something from the recent news headlines. Telling great stories will help the audience connect all of the principles you teach to the every day life that they lead.

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

5 Mistakes We Make in Our Sermons

There are a multitude of mistakes that can be made in the delivery of a sermon. We can proof-text an idea or completely miss the point of a passage altogether. For the purpose of this post, I will not address the content of your expository work. Instead, I want to address the stuff that surrounds it and can help people hear the core of your message better. Here are five mistakes that we make and some encouragement about how to fix them.

1. Not preparing the introduction. A common mistake is to craft a great message and a great conclusion but stumble to get it all started. Oftentimes, we want to leave room to transition the congregation from the worship music we’ve been singing into the sermon. It is a good idea, so work with your worship leader to plan it out. Many of us have a standard opening that the church is accustomed to hearing and that works as well. Whatever is your comfort level, plan out something so that you are not fumbling with notes and searching for a transition in the moment.

2. Poorly planned illustrations. An illustration is only as great as its delivery. We’ve all found a great story or illustration, thought about it for a few moments, and written it into our notes. The problem is that we never thought about it again until the moment it needed to be said out loud in the sermon. With every illustration, you need to practice the delivery. Illustrations normally have a pivot point where you take people from the illustration to how it helps them apply the scriptural truth to their lives. Make sure you verbally work your way through it in your preparation.

3. Allowing your voice to fry. Recently, I had my voice go out on me about two-thirds of the way through my sermon. It is awful. I felt it coming on, and there was nothing I could do about it. But there is a way around it. Warm up your voice before the service. Don’t strain your voice while singing. And, for me, a significant key is to begin my message with a conversational tone. Whenever I start out with an uptight, overly-excitable, on-the-verge-of-shouting tone, then my voice is not going to make it. So… calm down.

4. Uh. Well. You see. If filler words and phrases are not the lowest form of communication, then they are in a close second to grunting. As you review your messages (and you should review the audio of them each week), discover why you tend to use filler sounds like uh, umm, and well. Make sure you mentally prepare for the transitions between points so you are not forced to make a grunt while searching for a transitional statement. It will also help if you will limit the number of last-minute edits you make to your notes. If you will finalize your notes in time to do a verbal run-through during the week, it will limit your filler words. Finally, don’t be afraid of a moment of silence. You don’t want it to be awkward, but there is also no need to create a continuous onslaught of sound with no audio break for the entire message.

5. Asking insulting rhetorical questions. Any time a speaker says “Do you hear what I’m saying?” or “Do you understand what I mean?” then the fault is most likely with the speaker. Of course they hear you. You’re standing right there talking. Of course they understand what you are saying. They are reasonably intelligent people. As speakers, we normally use such phrases when we are not getting the feedback we’re hoping to receive. It is more of a sign of insecurity than anything. To counteract it, plan out your statements and rhetorical questions that will draw the church into discovery rather than push them toward a defensive posture.

I am sure that there are many of verbal miscues that we make while delivering our messages. As I stated earlier, take time to listen to your messages each week. If your church does not record them, then use an app on your smart phone or a digital recorder. Preaching is a sacred and spiritual endeavor but that does not limit us from being disciplined in honing our craft.

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