First Sermon

In the spring of 1991 I was asked if I would be willing to preach a sermon even though I was a freshman who had never preached a single sermon. The whole story is that my girlfriend at the time was on a traveling music team at the college I attended and she asked their leader if I could preach the sermon that week. The leader and I agreed and I had about a month to prepare a sermon. I prayed, I studied the scripture, I thought and I wrote. Like most 19-year-old college freshman, I had the world figured out and had a complete grasp on what the world needed to hear.

Eventually the sermon was written by hand a several pieces of paper. I preached through it again and again in my room. I asked a fellow student to read it and give me his thoughts. I do not remember what he said but I am sure it was something like, “Brilliant. Simply brilliant.”

The Church was a couple of hours away and we actually drove up the night before. I stayed in a house with a couple of young children. I remember making small talk with the parents while keeping my thoughts on the sermon continually. The next morning I practiced and prayed one final time. Then off to Church to unload my brilliant ideas in a sermon that I was sure would be talked about for years in this congregation.

After arrival the team sang and played and led the congregation in worship to begin the program. Finally, I was up. I walk to the podium and hung on for dear life. I almost threw up. I felt light-headed. I forgot most of what I was going to say and started to wing it. I explained everything I knew about God, the Bible, Jesus and the Christian life. Glancing up at the wall clock I saw it had only moved about 8 minutes. Reaching deep in my soul I found myself telling the congregation about the death of my best friend and how God had given me hope through my faith. Three minutes of emotional story telling and I was done. I preached or spoke or rambled something for 11 minutes. Those poor people had not been treated to the best sermon ever, but rather the exact polar opposite.

When the service was over I hung my head, swallowed my pride and walked sheepishly to the back door to shake hands. I heard things like, “I like short sermons.” I heard small talk about the weather and sports. No one really knew what to say to me. It was difficult and embarrassing for everyone like a bad first date. Then after everyone appeared to have left but the music team and myself, one couple came up and said, “We want to thank you for your sermon today.” The woman was crying and told me about how she had recently lost a sibling and was struggling to make sense of it. She appreciated what I had said and it was a comfort to her.

I was shocked. Really? That sermon helped? I hadn’t even planned to tell that story, but thought it might generate pity if they congregation thought I was grieving. That sermon? Yep. That sermon help.

On the ride home I remember being amazed at my God. He took that awful sermon and touched someone’s life for good in that congregation. He took that sermon and touched my life.

That experience has led me to believe that God will take anyone willing to speak for Him and use their words for good. God does not require perfection to serve Him, simply a willing heart. In the end, we may feel like we have failed when in reality God succeeded through us. Making an effort for God is always a winning move.


Today is the 15,705th day of my life. I figured this out by basic math and the help of Google (for leap year additions).

There are reasons to be sad about today. With each passing day my kids get older, I gain more weight, lose more hair, have more aches & pains while I am slowly losing touch with pop culture.

But I am thankful for today – because it is a gift from God.

The Bible says in James 4:13-14 “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ (14) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

My mist may be vanishing into thin air, but God gave me today. For today I am thankful.


It was my second year of college and one of my older classmates had invited me to the Church he attended. Since I did not have a regular preaching gig yet I accepted the offer and visited his Church that Sunday morning. He not only attended but was teaching a Sunday School class before the worship program. I must admit that I have sat through some terrible Sunday School lessons in my time but this one lesson he taught made a deep impact on my life. For part of the lesson he talked about a book he was reading for a class written by William Law called “A Serious Call To A Devout And Holy Life.” It was originally written in 1728 and was then given a new forward by Elton Trueblood in 1951.

I remember very specifically his lesson was about chapter two of the book. That chapter is entitled “The Importance of Intention.” It is only 4 pages long and can be read very easily. My friend and my teacher took this one chapter and explained it and then attached it to one story in the bible that he applied it to. I can’t remember the exact Bible story he used but I do remember the beginning of the lesson. He focused on the concept that Law had taught hundreds of years before on the matter of intentions.

Here is the simple principle – Our intentions guide our actions. Intentions are those attitudes that guide our emotions and actions. People who intend to run a marathon will begin training for a marathon. People who intend to read the Bible will develop a plan to read the Bible. The opposite is also true. The reason many people never change their actions is that they never intended to. I am not training for a marathon because I have no intention of running one. People who never read the Bible have no real intention to do it.

All this begs the question: “What do I intend to do with my life?” Do you have any intention to serve, to read, to study, to attend, to become, to do anything for God? The harsh reality is that you and I will never accomplish anything we do not intend to do first, because intentions guide actions.

After his lesson I went out and bought the book. To be honest, it is the only chapter I have ever read completely in the whole book. That’s okay, that single concept has helped me to get a handle on my spiritual growth. Start with an idea, develop an intention and start working on the action. It’s that simple.


A conference speaker made a statement that has influenced my life and ministry beyond what he could have ever imagined. Maybe it touched me so deeply because I was new into marriage and new into ministry. His words were clear and true and have helped to guide my life. He said, “Anything that truly exists can be measured.” That may not sound like much to you but he went on to explain what he meant. I can talk about my Church and say it has a “heart” for evangelism and if that is true I will be able to measure it by the number of visitors my Church has, the amount of money spent on outreach, the number of personal invitations offered and several other pieces of information. Then he continued his line of thinking. I may say I am a good husband and if that is true I will be able to measure it by the number of times I tell my wife I love her, by the gifts I purchase her, by what I am willing to sacrifice for her and the way I respond to her love language. Then he took it one step further. I might say that I am a good Christian and if that is true I will be able to measure it by the fruit of my life, my obedience to God’s word, my commitment to Christ’s Church and a number of other metrics.

Edwin Louis Cole underlined this same truth to me a couple of years later in his statement, “We tend to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.” I have also heard it asked another way, “If I was put on trial for being a Christian (or good husband or good parent or good anything) would there be enough evidence to convict me?” Unfortunately, I meet people who frequently view themselves as devoted followers of Jesus despite all evidence to the contrary. I meet men who claim to be a good husband or father whom I have never seen do anything to demonstrate that characteristic. Their ideas and intentions are always good but there is no action to validate them.

It is a slippery slope of the mind. We convince ourselves that we are something and then we ignore all evidence to the contrary. We base our ideas about people on our feelings rather than real action. So I must continually ask myself, “Is this real information based on facts of just a figment of my imagination?” Because anything that truly exists can be measured.


Yesterday morning I felt awful. I am very sorry for that. I was unable to carry a train of thought, keep focused or do any of the things I wanted to do on a Sunday morning. Today I am feeling better but I am still fairly weak and tired even after roughly 16 hours in bed. During that time I did have a thousand thoughts go through my head that I wanted to share this morning. Years ago I used to do a “Monday Morning Mind Dump” on my previous blog. It was just a bunch of random disconnected thoughts about life, the Church and all things Christian. Today I thought it might fit my last day by calling it a purge 🙂

– Thanks for being so kind and patient with me yesterday. In more than 20 years of ministry I have only been sick on Sunday morning 4 times. I am sorry, but it happens.
– Thanks be to God for getting me through the sermon. Twice I almost got sick, but managed to make it through. (Did you notice the long pause?)
– I am glad the Holy Spirit is not connected to how I feel. He can work through words even when I am struggling.
– Ministry is very personal to me, I find no way to separate it from my life.
– Praise God for the Baptisms lately. 3 in the last 3 weeks and I have a couple more being discussed. 1 re-dedication. 2015 has had a great start.
– Why don’t people take advantage of all the Church has to offer – like Children’s Church, RUSH youth group and Sunday School?
– Last week’s posts on A Small Church in A Small Town had some positive feedback. Lots more I could write. I hope you read and enjoyed.
– Never say “Hello Stranger” to anyone at Church – its offensive even if they laugh.
– Pray for our leadership as we start into our time of leadership selection.
– I am looking for anyone with computer skills to help me/the Church.
– Watched several movies lately. Most were not that good. I did find it interesting how the movies portrayed the Church and Christians. It is never very positive.
– I hate Tax Season. Even with a return I still hate all the paperwork
– When you’re a preacher and you get sick, a day off is not really helpful. Sunday is always coming.
– The only time I was too sick to preach on Sunday morning I showed a video of a sermon. Better make sure I have another one setting ready.
– Thanks to Adrian Christian Church for your support of me and my ministry. May God bless you all.

That’s it for now. Until next time. Thanks for reading.

A Small Church in A Small Town – The Outreach

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town (Under 10,000). I have already wrote about the Pastor, the Past, the Leadership and the Senior Adults. Today I want to talk about the outreach of a smaller Church.

As a believer in Jesus I feel I am commanded to share the gospel of Jesus with the whole world. I take that command seriously as a person but also as a Church leader. Now, I also believe there is no one way to share our faith. That belief has led me to try everything I could to reach out and tell people about Jesus and the ministry of the Church I was leading. I have held revivals, put an ad in the phone book, held big events, done mailer cards, participated in community service and the list could go on and on. Some of these have been a great success, we brought people in the door and introduced them to the Church and to Jesus. They returned and eventually gave their life to Jesus. Unfortunately some things did not work too. I once held a coffee night outreach and had set up for over 50 people to arrive to only have 6 people show up, none of whom every attended my Church.

With all that said, I have found that in a smaller Church there is one form of outreach that always works. It is the single best way to share the ministry of the Church and introduce people to Jesus. In fact, I think this might have greater impact in a small town than anything else the Church can do.

What is this magic outreach system? WORD OF MOUTH.

Small Churches in small towns grow when people start talking about their Church. I would take it a step further and say that many other events have had success only because people invited their friends and family. I think that in a big city a Church needs to make a statement that says, “We are here, do not ignore us.” In a small town everyone knows the Church is there people just need to hear that they are invited to be a part of it.

The question for each one of us is very simple, “Am I telling people what is going on in the Church for the Lord, and then inviting people to come and be a part of it?” It is still the best way to reach people with the message of Jesus, especially in a small town.

A Small Church in A Small Town – The Seniors

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town (Under 10,000). I have already wrote about the Pastor, the Past and the Leadership. Today I want to talk about the Senior Adults in a smaller Church.

When I was first entering ministry my fellow students, and honestly some faculty, told me that I should be wary of the senior adults in my congregation. I was told that they will not want anything to change and they will fight you at every turn. I was given the impression that senior adults would hold back ministry while secretly plotting against me. As a result I was skeptical of all seniors adults, questioned their motives and built up barriers between myself and them.

Through the years I have learned a couple of big lessons that have changed my view of senior adults and my relationship with them.

1. All Ages of People Have Deeply Flawed Individuals. I will be 100% honest, I have met some really mean and hurtful senior adults. I will also tell you that I have met some really mean and hurtful teenagers, twenty year olds, thirty somethings and even those in their forties and fifties. There are people with huge character flaws in every age group. Because people had warned me about seniors I began to paint all of them with the same brush and that was simply not fair to them. Most of the seniors I have met are generous, kind, thoughtful and loving.

2. Everyone Resists Change. Through the years I have had more resistance to change from younger adults than older ones. In fact, many times younger adults will not want to change and they blame the older adults to make themselves feel better and look better. The harsh reality is that all people resist change, even when it is good for them. Maybe this gets magnified for senior adults because they have seen so many changes, but I am still not sure that is true. There are senior adults who change more quickly than younger people because they have already seen change over and over again and do not fear it.

3. Senior Adults are a Great Resource to a Church. Leadership guru John Maxwell said that he once held a leadership conference that was mostly for senior adults. He quickly changed his sermon once he saw his audience. He said that he reminded them that they are in best position to help the kingdom of God at their age. They have more free time than ever before, they have more resources than ever before and they have more knowledge through experience than ever before. He says that at the end of conference more than half of the crowd committed to some type of ministry.

Through the years my disdain for senior adults has changed into joy. I love sharing my life and my ministry with older members of my congregation. Sometimes it is hard to visit as much as I would like as my family pulls me different directions then their lives. I find myself closer to people whose kids are in the same activities as my kids simply because of proximity. That does not mean that I do not care, I care greatly and I am glad they have been a part of the Churches I have served. I wish all Churches and Church leaders would show their appreciation to their senior adults not for what they have done but for what they are doing. My experience is that most Churches would fall apart without them.

A Small Church in A Small Town – The Leadership

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town (Under 10,000). I have already wrote about the Pastor and the Past. Today I want to talk about the leadership in a smaller Church. I am not talking about paid staff, I am speaking of the volunteer Elders and Deacons who led the Church – many of whom have led for years.

Leadership guru John Maxwell once said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” While I believe that is an overstatement, because I believe everything rises and falls based on God, I do understand his insight. Leaders can move a Church forward or they can hold it back. A good volunteer leader is a valuable asset to a Church. I have made three observations about leadership in a smaller Church

1. Many Churches are held hostage by one big bully. A wiser, older minister once told me this truth. After my experiences in Church and in talking with other Pastors I am convinced he was exactly right. While I believe this is true, I really have no definite answer why this happens. Maybe it is because of sin, maybe because of personal insecurities, maybe because of a lack of faith, or maybe a dozen other reasons. For some reason many smaller Church have one person (usually an older man) or a single family (usually the wealthiest) who hold the Church hostage to their own agenda. These Churches usually have a strong sense of family since everyone is committed to this one person or family, but the faith to attempt new things is often squelched in favor of the tradition this leader likes the most. So the Churches last forever but always remain small. Pastors come and go quickly as they learn they are not allowed to lead in new directions. Unfortunately because of their size many of these congregations hire newly graduated Bible College students and scare them or even hurt them. The damage these congregations can inflict is both local and global for that reason.

2. Many Churches have weak leadership who are doing their best. I have met some very wonderful men in smaller Churches who are trying to lead, but have no gifts of leadership. They are not very decisive, they try to make everyone happy, confrontation is avoided, and vision is non-existent. These Churches usually grow to 100-175 because of the friendly nature of the leadership but they rarely get bigger because of the weakness of the leadership. Something new gets tried and someone complains and the Church abandons the activity to keep existing people happy. This type of Church often has a high turnover rate. New people are coming all the time while other people are quickly slipping out the back door. Strong leaders (and often men) get frustrated and leave looking where they can use their gifts and stretch their faith. People are often proud that they are not like those “big unfriendly Churches” and are very content to not reach out with the gospel in new and exciting ways. The people who attend these Churches are wonderful individuals they have just never had a leadership that could lead them anywhere better.

3. A few Churches have strong leadership. Once in a while a new believer comes to Jesus and he has leadership gifts that he uses for God’s glory. These Churches are stepping out in faith and trying new things. They are reaching new people and building disciples. This type of Church often grows out of the smaller Church definition quickly and into a medium Church category. Sometimes the new leader walks in from the outside as a transfer to the congregation. Sometimes he is the hero who confronted the bully and won. His leadership is attractive to other men, especially younger men, and the Church moves forward in strength and faith. I have seen these congregations go from attendance in the 70’s for years to suddenly over 200 people. I have seen one Church grow to 600 in a town of 1,000. I also notice that these Churches begin producing Bible College students and leaders for the future.

Now, I do believe that God is in control of the world and I have seen Churches with poor leadership experience amazing growth and Churches with strong leaders takes years and years to see any growth. But those are the exception to the rule. Most Churches grow both spiritually and numerically based on the leadership.

So what does that mean for you? Here are a couple of closing thoughts:

Pray for your current leaders. Pray they will listen to God and grow in their leadership.
Pray God will raise up strong leaders. Pray for people to lead the congregation well.
Show appreciation to those who voluntarily lead well. Send an email, a text or a card to that Elder or Deacon and say “Thanks.”
Praise God for the leadership of the past. Someone’s leadership got your Church to this point. Thank God for them.

A Small Church in A Small Town – The Past

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town. The Church I currently serve is in a town of 1,600 people who are mostly rural in nature. Life here is different from life in a Church of 300 plus or in a town of 20,000 plus. It is really different from a Church of over 1,000 people or in a community of over 100,000 people.

Yesterday I looked at the role of the Pastor and today I want to look at the past of a smaller congregation. Every congregation I have served had a strong history. The Churches had been around for a long time in their communities. One in northern Indiana was not only the oldest Church in town but one of the oldest in the state.

One thing I have noticed about smaller Churches is that they have a sense of stability. Nothing really seems to faze a smaller older congregation. That is because they have been around long enough to see it all. The Church has had high and lows and they have had difficult times and wonderful times throughout their history. They have survived through all of those experiences and they believe they will survive long into the future.

In fact, one common conversation has occurred in every congregation I have served. That is the talk about “good old days.” Every Church has told me about the time their attendance was the highest in worship, the time their Sunday school was averaging the most people and the time their VBS had every kid in town. Without exception, every Church I have served had some glory day that everyone remembers fondly.

The downside to this stability and glorious past is that there is usually no plan for the future. The Church once had a great ministry going and it slowly passed. Now there is no plan to try to get it back again. There is this thought that says, “Growth comes and goes and one day it will come again.” “If we are patient and keep doing things the same way, one day the glory will return.”

The hard reality is that this is simply not true. Growth both spiritual and numerical will not return without some plan to make it happen. You see, when I begin to ask more and more questions I find that those glory days of the Church were usually preceded by strong leadership, daring plans and leaps of faith. The Church tried contemporary music, they experimented with two services, they offered the most outrageous VBS ever or did some great event to shake things up. For a few moments the Church planned, prayed and served and something great happened. Then over time the Church lost that leadership, and sometimes the faith, to dare action and it slowly slid down into disarray. Now it looks backs happily into the past and backs blindly into the future.

After years of experience I have learned that it is great to celebrate the past. I deeply appreciate all those who have paved the way for me to be here as a Pastor at this Church. But in order for a Church to go forward it needs to turn itself toward the future and dream about what God can do based off of what he has done.

A Small Church in A Small Town – The Pastor

I am going to do a series of posts this week about being a smaller Church (under 200-300 people) in a small town.

First, you need to know a little about me. I grew up in a town of 500. We attended the local Church in that town until I was 5 and then we went to a nearby town of 15,000 for Church with a congregation of 200. On top of that, I have been a preacher/pastor since 1993 and every Church I have served has been under 300 people. In fact, the largest Church I have served averaged 278 in a community of 60,000 – but my average Church is 125 in a town of less than 10,000 and usually less than 3,000 people. You need to know that I write this material not as a large church pastor looking down on small churches in small towns but rather as a person who is living this reality every day of my life.

Second, you need to know that I feel God has called me to this community of people. Personally I have felt God calling back again and again to a small church in small town. His calling on my life has not just been to be a pastor but to help lead some of these congregations through difficult times and into new levels of growth. God has allowed me to lead 4 congregations to new growth levels in my time as their minister and I have truly been blessed on this journey.

With all that said, I have come to learn a few things about smaller churches in small towns that are worth exploring. Many of these concepts have a very big upside, but they also can have a big downside. I want to explore that in the coming week (or more).

The first issue that I would like to write about is the role of the Pastor. Being a pastor in a smaller congregation is completely different from being the pastor of a larger congregation.

1. Smaller Churches have only one staff member usually. Occasionally there is some part-time staff, but even those are students in a local college or just Church members with no formal training. This means that pastor is called upon to do more than one job. A small Church pastor is often called upon to be youth minister, children’s director, worship leader (at least planner), counselor, administrator and any other duties that needs filled. The upside is that the preacher can connect to everyone in the Church on a very personal level. We can serve side by side in almost any area. The downside is that some pastors are not good at other areas. Take me for example, one congregation had me leading singing. I can’t carry a tune, but the position needed filled so I did it. God bless those poor people.

2. Smaller Churches are dependent on volunteers. Since the preacher can’t do everything he needs reliable people to serve along with him. The preacher in a smaller Church is often pleading for more and better volunteers. The hard reality is that in a smaller Church the number to draw upon is very small. Many simply don’t want to volunteer, many don’t feel qualified, many are burnt out after years of service and many just serve because of necessity while waiting to quit. There is a great upside to this truth though. Everyone in the Church is needed and everyone has a chance to use their gifts and abilities. Ask me how you can help and I can give you a page of ideas. The number of volunteers in a small Church is usually well over 50% of those attending. The downside is that a smaller Church cannot offer the ministries a larger Church can offer. I often have to tell people I am sorry we do not have a ministry for 3rd graders who are left-handed and struggle with the onset of early stress related disorders 🙂 We struggle to have youth group and children’s ministry let alone specialized areas of ministry. I do not have volunteers and I do not have the time. It doesn’t mean that I, the Church leaders and the Church do not care – it just means we don’t have the manpower.

I tell you all of this because I listen to lectures on Church growth. I read articles about how to grow a Church. I attend conferences on how to reach the lost. And most of them leave me very empty because my Church is not like the larger Church and it is not like the Church in a bigger town. Being a Pastor/Preacher of a smaller Church in a small town is different from being anywhere else. In order for the Church to reach people with the gospel it requires everyone in the congregation working together as a team with all of their gifts and abilities. When a Church can grasp that concept, it finally starts on a road toward growth.