Our Trench Talk Podcast – Episode #1: Funerals

We are excited to announce the launch of our new podcast!  Practical Shepherding Podcast is entitled, “Trench Talk” where we tackle  the issues pastors face and provide practical advice and wisdom for them.  Practical Shepherding exists to serve pastors who are “laboring in the trenches of pastoral ministry.”  On this podcast, Brian Croft with a few special guests are asked the questions that you as pastors and aspiring pastors want him to address.  If you would like a particular question addressed, please leave it in the comments section of the main page.

Listen here: Performing Funerals

For further reading, look to this book.

Posted in Funerals, Training for Ministry

What if I preach a bad sermon?

Every preacher has preached a bad sermon.  If you think you haven’t, then you probably have preached a bunch of bad sermons.  It will happen to all of us.  Sometimes it won’t just be bad, but a disaster!  When a sermon doesn’t go well, most of us get very discouraged and if the despair is great enough, it might cause us to question whether we should continue to preach at all.  I bet no one can top the disaster of John Newton’s first sermon as he described it to a friend in a letter he wrote the next day:

I set off tolerably well though with no small fear and trembling…Before I had spoken ten minutes I was stopped like Hannibal upon the Alps.  My ideas forsook me; darkness and confusion filled up their place.  I stood on a precipice and could not advance a step forward.  I stared at the people and they at me.  Not a word more could I speak but was forced to come down and leave the people, some smiling, some weeping.  My pride and self-sufficiency were solely mortified.

Imagine if John Newton, one of the most celebrated pastors, preachers, hymn composers, and letter writers in the last 4oo years, took that one bad sermon as affirmation that he should not preach?  How tragic would that have been?  Most of our first sermons were bad, and most pastors “lay eggs” even after years of preaching.  Take heart, for our Sovereign God doesn’t use perfect preachers and sermons.  God uses imperfect, broken, jars of clay to proclaim his perfect word and the Spirit uniquely works through this design.

So, if you preached a bad sermon recently, welcome to the club.  God’s mercies are new every morning and that includes our preaching ministry.  Embrace your brokenness and need to grow.  Trust you have not ruined your church because of one bad sermon (or several for that matter).  Allow the grace of God in Christ to pick you back up and help you saddle up for next Sunday.  God used John Newton in amazing ways, despite this terrible experience and he will continue to use you in your ministry.

If you are just testing your gifts to preach, embrace any opportunity you get to preach and listen to the feedback of others.  Even if it is hard to hear, God will use that to help you grow.  Newton didn’t allow a really bad sermon to cause him to give up.  Nor should you.

Posted in Preaching

How should a pastor respond to an encouraging word said about his sermon?

“Great job…good sermon…that really spoke to me.”  The list of phrases a pastor may hear as church members exit the church goes on.  Inevitably, whether the sermon was good or not, these quick comments will be spoken to us with varying levels of sincerity and it is important that we know how to respond in a God-honoring way.  Here are 4 suggestions:

1)  Say Thank You

It is sad when a pastor tries to wear a false humility to hide either his insecurities or inability to know how to receive a kind word.  It usually shows up in a pastor’s response after a kind, encouraging comment in this way, “Uh…no it wasn’t a good sermon.  I missed it here, stumbled over my words here…”  Just stop it and say “thank you for your kind words.”

2)  Be grateful for the encouragement

Regardless the comment, if it was meant to encourage you, thank them for their encouraging words.  Be grateful that however small, simple, or even shallow the comment, someone took the time to share their thoughts with you.  Be grateful and receive it that way.

3)  Be Humble that the Lord would dare use you

What should humble us more than a hearer taking time to encourage us about our sermon, is the fact that God would choose to use broken vessels like us week after week, Sunday after Sunday to feed God’s people with God’s word.  That should amaze us with every kind word extended to us.  When it ceases to amaze us, then we should start worrying.

4)  Give God all the Glory

The great temptation when complimented about a sermon is to think the fruit of our labors ultimately is about us and because of us.  When a kind word is extended to us about our sermon, make sure God is credited and praised.  Not superficially, but sincerely.  We can give God glory with our lips in response, but inside be ate up with pride.

Suggested Responses:

In light of these suggestions, here are a few ways I think it is appropriate to respond to a kind word extended to us after a sermon:

“Thank you for your kind words, isn’t God good the way he speaks to each of us through his word.”

“Thank you for your encouragement, I am grateful to God he used his word in that way.”

“I am grateful you took the time to share the way God’s word has affected you.  This passage effected me in similar ways.  God is so gracious.”

Pastors, receive the kind words offered to you. Be encouraged by it.  It will help you through the discouragement that often comes on Monday.  And stay humble, for in 6 days you get to do it all over again.

Posted in Preaching, The Pastor's Soul

Why should a pastor use all his vacation time each year?

You may begin reading this post with the idea that I will suggest how many weeks of vacation you should be given by your church, or how much you should advocate to give your pastor.  Instead, I intend to answer this question a bit differently.  My concern is not about how much vacation time a pastor is given, but how he uses (or doesn’t use) what he is given.  In light of this being a common time where vacation time is used, I thought this post would be well-timed for many of you.

This is an appropriate time to pause for a confession.  I thought you should know, I often fail at my own advice.  I come to the conclusions I often write about on this blog because I have or are currently failing at them.  Just thought I would acknowledge that in case you think I write this way because I have figured it all out.  Far from it.   The stewardship of my vacation time was once a glaring failure in my life.

A few years ago, I was lovingly confronted by a dear friend and fellow pastor that I was not using all my vacation time.  In his rebuke, he explained to me the reasons I should be taking every day of vacation the church gives me, which I had never done.  Here was the basis for his thoughtful, insightful, and wise argument:

1) It’s for you

The pastor never gets a break in the regular routine.  We are constantly on call.  Vacation time is that time where you get time to breathe away from the madness, be refreshed, and rest.  All of us who are pastors know we are no good for our people when we are exhausted, distracted, and mentally and emotionally spent.   Use the time and use it wisely to achieve that end.

2) It’s for your family

Your family always has to share you.  Maybe just as important as the first one, this time is given so that your family has a block of time where they don’t have to share you with the church.  When you don’t use all your time that has already been approved by the church for this purpose, you rob your family from having your sole focus to care, fellowship, and enjoy them.

3) It’s for your church

How is it that many of our churches have somehow existed and functioned for the last 50 – 100 years without us, yet all of a sudden we come and develop this complex that our church can now no longer live without us for a week or two.  Using all your vacation time given to you forces others to step up in your absence, shows them they can make it without you for a time, and reminds the pastor most of all that God is not utterly dependent on him for this church to function.

We are expendable and we need regular jolts of humility to remind us of that.

As a result, for the last four years I have used my full year of vacation given to me by the church since I was called as pastor.  The reasons above that my friend confronted me with all showed to be true and fruitful in those ways as I did so.  What have I learned from taking all my vacation time these last few years…well, I plan on taking it all next year.  I am on vacation the next two weeks trying to practice what I preach (…write).

If you are a pastor, do what you can to use it all this year.  There is still half the summer left.  If you are not a pastor, do all you can to encourage your pastor to take it.  You, your church, and your pastor will experience multiple layers of benefit because of it.

Posted in The Pastor's Soul
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