I stepped into full-time ministry at the age of 19. Next month, on December 28, I’ll turn 44 (I accept gift cards, cash and checks!). Reflecting over 25 years of ministry experience, there are things I wish I had learned either from a text book, or seminar. Instead, I had to learn it by living it. This will be the first of a a few things I wish I had known when I began my ministry.
I’d like to start by giving you a 20 second test. Are you ready for that? I know you were simply surfing by and landed on my blog. The last thing you intended to do was take a test; but humor me.
Time yourself…20 seconds…ready? Here’s the question: When I say “Go,” you’ve got 20 seconds to write the titles of up to 5 sermon titles that have impacted your life. At the end of 20 seconds, stop wherever you are. Start immediately and don’t cheat now, or you’ll miss the effect. I’m trusting you. Are you ready? Go!
(20 seconds later) Well? How’d you do?
I tell you what, before we continue, let’s take another 20 second test. This time, when I say “Go,” you’ve got 20 seconds to write down the names of up to 5 people who have impacted your life. Once again, I’m trusting you. Are you ready? Go!
(20 seconds later) How did you do on that part?
Let me ask you this — how many sermon titles did you write down in 20 seconds? When doing this in seminars and other teaching settings, the average amount of titles I find written is 2 to 3.
But now let me ask you — how many people did you write down in 20 seconds? Without question, every time I do this in a teaching setting the majority of the people present have 5 names written down.
Think about that. Over your lifetime you have heard sermons that have inspired and challenged you. But when I asked for a quick response, you couldn’t recall 5 titles. However, people’s names come quickly.
What’s my point? CHRISTIANITY IS CAUGHT, NOT TAUGHT.
After 25 years of ministry, I’ve finally learned that it is not the words I say in the pulpit, but the life I live day-in-day-out. It is the Gospel lived out in shoe leather, rather than that preached out of book leather, that most impacts people’s lives.
I love preaching. Listening to great preaching is a high form of entertainment for me. Give me a master orator, who can bring the Word with life, revelation, humor and intrigue, and I’m totally mesmerized. But a few months later, don’t ask me the sermon title. I can’t recall. That moment is over.
On the other hand, ask me about Eddie Lowery. Eddie was my Boy Scout troop leader when I was a Junior High teen. Eddie lived a Godly Christian life in front of me and my pals and I’ll never forget him.
He let me work at his gas station once or twice on a Saturday. This was back in the day when a gas station was a gas station, not a department store. A full-service station meant you never had to get out of your car. I pumped gas, cleaned windshields, checked the fluids under the hood,and got to run the manual credit card machine that made the “shick-shick” sound as you pulled the handle back and forth. If you wanted gum, I’d have to give you the piece I was chewing. We only sold gas and oil.
There’s been other men and women who’ve also impacted me far beyond any sermon I’ve ever heard. The list is too long for a blog, but the results are the same. Each person invested time and interest in me. They walked out the Word. They encouraged me and shared life-lessons. They made sure I knew they cared.
Let me say it again, Christianity is caught, not taught. Live a life that brings glory to God and is an example to others.
Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice but set bad examples. Norman Vincent Peale
That is so true. Nothing negates the message and promise of the Word like an inconsistent life by the messenger. Don’t just tell me what to do, show me.
Areas to model:
a) Godly living.
Holiness is conformity to the character of God and obedience to the will of God. Rather than tell it, show others how passionate you are about Christ and how powerful the Christian by your own life.
b) Family first.
Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to the whole earth, but it was to begin in the simplest of ways. He started by putting family first.
He was called to teach his own household, who again would hand down the truth to their households. His being a blessing to the world depended on his being a blessing to his own home.
The list of casualties in pastors’ homes is too long and painful to think about. I have made a self-covenant that I will not lose my family while trying to when other families to the Lord.
c) Ministry excellence.
The first step to equipping others is excellence in ministry. I am of the belief that excellence honors God.
So I’m going to continue to work on my sermon delivery and style. I’ll keep studying and striving to be the best I can be in the pulpit. But along the way, I’m going to make sure I’m walking out what I’ve been talking about. Because I now know I will reach more by how I live than by what I say.
It’s the Gospel in shoe leather, rather than book leather, that will truly touch our world.
It’s my prayer that some day someone will list my name when they take the 20 Second Test.