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How I Develop a Sermon – Part IV: Adding Lessons


Parts I, II and III discussed steps one through four…

  1. First, I read over the passage a number of times.
  2. Second, I copy the verses to Word with spaces between them for the notes I’ll add.
  3. Third, I begin looking at commentaries.
  4. Fourth, I determine the number of verses to cover.
  5. Fifth, I add lessons

This step takes place throughout the week as opposed to one point in the process. There might be times during Step I when I’m reading over the passage and something strikes me as significant and worth emphasizing, so I’ll make a lesson for it. Then I put the lessons on an insert for the congregation to fill out while I’m preaching. I decided to try this for one of my earliest sermons at WCC and I’ve been doing it since. Here’s the interesting – and somewhat ironic – background…

My previous church, Grace Baptist in Lemoore, CA, is where I began paid ministry (first part-time, and when the church grew they hired me full-time). The senior pastor, Joe Gruchacz, who was also my mentor, used inserts with lessons, but I thought it was unnecessary – and honestly – somewhat silly. Why? Because I spent my Christian life at Calvary Chapel where I hadn’t seen that done, and I was convinced what CC did I should do, and what CC didn’t do, I shouldn’t do. My suspicion is Pastor Joe probably got tired of hearing me say, “That’s not what Calvary Chapel does!”

I also thought the best approach to preaching looked like reading a verse, explaining it, reading a verse, explaining it, etc. with very little organization or structure to the message. Early on Pastor Joe shared a quote with me from Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

“A sermon is not a running commentary on a passage. I emphasize this because there are many today who have become interested in what they regard is expository preaching, but who show very clearly that they do not know what is meant by expository preaching. They think it means making a series of comments, or running commentary, on a passage. They take a passage verse-by-verse and they make their comments on the first, then they go onto the next, and when they have gone through the passage in this way they imagine they have preached a sermon. But they have not; all they have done is make a series of comments on the passage. I would suggest far from having preached a sermon such preachers have only preached the introduction to a sermon.”

Occasionally I preached for Pastor Joe and these words were meant as a criticism of what I was doing. I have to say this quote was perfectly fitting, it has really affected my preaching, and I’m very thankful Pastor Joe cared enough about me (and those I’d be preaching to over the years) to share it with me. Even though I still generally preach verse-by-verse and probably always will, this motivated me to ensure the material in my sermons was arranged in such a way that it wasn’t simply a “running commentary.” Part of that has been the addition of lessons that I try to relate to an overall theme.

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Pastoring (Shepherding) and Teaching

NOTE: Most of my posts come from letters I write to the congregation on the back of the bulletin each week. As a result, some of the posts apply more to people attending WCC, and this is one such post.

pastoring (speherding) and teaching

Ephesians 4:11 and 12 says Jesus “gave some to be…pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.” The Greek construction of “pastors and teachers” puts the words together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher. Since pastor means “shepherd”, Ephesians 4:12 combines the pastor’s dual responsibility of shepherding and teaching. This has made me appreciate my church background…

I was saved in Calvary Chapel, which places a strong emphasis on teaching. 2 Timothy 3:17 says “Scripture equips the man of God for every good work.” If pastors are supposed to equip the saints, and saints are equipped with Scripture, it only makes sense pastors focus on teaching. As a result, I’m thankful for the emphasis on teaching I observed at CC; however, CC didn’t have membership and as a result didn’t seem to emphasize shepherding.

When I received a youth pastor position at Grace Baptist – which has membership – my pastor and mentor, Joe Gruchacz, placed a strong emphasis on shepherding: counseling, discipling, following up with people, etc. Basically he functioned as much as an overseer as a teacher. In Acts 20:28 Paul told the elders to, “Take heed…to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church.” Peter also told elders to, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Pet 5:2). Since pastors are supposed to oversee or shepherd in addition to teaching, I’m thankful for the example I learned from Pastor Joe.

The church backgrounds God afforded me allowed me to observe the dual roles pastors have teaching and shepherding (or overseeing). With Pastor Doug’s arrival the two of us have been able to split these responsibilities with me focusing on teaching and him focusing on shepherding.

In an effort to ensure we’re fulfilling our roles and serving the congregation well, we decided to use Sunday night’s Evening Service to provide  updates on a few individuals. We haven’t done this before, but we (the elders) see this as a good practice and one we expect to repeat in the future. Considering the number of verses in the New Testament discussing the responsibilities believers have to each other, we think the only way these commands can be fulfilled is by being aware of how others in the congregation are doing, how you can pray for them, and whether you need to reach out to them.

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Learning to shepherd from being shepherded

We can all think of people God has used in our lives. Often when some time has passed it becomes even clearer why, and just how much those people were used. Pastor Joe is one of those people for me. In many ways I feel like God built my life around preparing me to be a pastor: the military, teaching elementary school, coaching, etc. all gave me skills I’d regularly use in the ministry. There was something really important missing though – something I didn’t even know was missing – and that was learning what it means to be a shepherd. If I had to briefly summarize what Pastor Joe did for me, I would say he is the man God used to show me how to be a shepherd. Many pastors might be great Bible teachers, leaders, organizers, visionaries, etc but they might not be great shepherds. Pastor Joe is a great shepherd.

Something occurred to me recently as I was reflecting on everything I’ve learned from Pastor Joe. I saw his patience and graciousness toward all the people in his care. That’s how I learned from him: watching his example…watching him shepherd others. Then it hit me: I think I learned the most about shepherding from the way he shepherded me. I learned the most about how to treat people from the way Pastor Joe treated me. It was the patience and love he showed me that really taught me.  When I started at Grace Baptist (GBC), you could say I was fresh out of Calvary Chapel. There was the way CC did things (aka: “the right way”) and the non-CC way (aka: “the wrong way”). Now don’t get me wrong: I like CC. I learned a lot at CC, especially how to teach God’s Word, but just like other churches, including WCC and GBC, CC isn’t perfect. I had lots of rough edges. I can hear some of you saying, “When you got to WCC you still had lots of rough edges” or “If Pastor Joe was such a great shepherd then why didn’t he get rid of those rough edges?” That’s fair…but believe it or not, my rough edges used to be even rougher. Pastor Joe was the very loving and patient shepherd God used to work on those rough edges. Something funny is now I deal with people and I think, “God, you do have a sense of humor, because this person is acting toward me exactly like I acted toward Pastor Joe. Please help me to be to this person like Pastor Joe was to me.”

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Our time in CA with old friends

Katie and I are having a wonderful time in California. Every day has been packed meeting people in the morning, then for lunch, dinner and evenings as well.

We’ve been staying with Dave and Naida, our very good friends that spoke at our Sunday School some months back. When Dave and I are together, I feel like we can spend hours talking; it’s like no time has passed between us. I feel like we’re constantly sharpening each other discussing the Bible and practices in the church. It’s been great for me to be able to share things with him from WCC and get an outside, objective opinion.

Tuesday night we surprised the home Bible study I used to lead. It was great to see a lot of the same people as well as some new people. Dave leads a Bible study on Thursday night that I also used to teach, and he invited me to lead it like old times. A number of our very good friends were in attendance. Friday night we spent the evening with Pastor Joe and his family. He promised me (again) he would visit Woodland! They said they’re going to make it up this summer. I told him we go to camp twice, so maybe he could join us for that. Actually, I’ve told a number of people about our summer camps and invited them to join us. Last night (Saturday) was Grace Baptist’s annual Christmas dinner where Katie and I were invited to provide an update on our ministry at WCC.

Seeing all these great people has been bittersweet as you can imagine. It’s wonderful to see everyone, but it will be a pain saying goodbye to them again. A number of times in Paul’s letters he talked about the longing he had to see other believers (Rom 1:11, 15:32). I think visiting California sort of gives me an idea what that was like for him. In many ways, all of this makes me more excited about heaven, because that’s when we’ll finally be united with all the great friends and family we’ve come to know in this life.

Despite how enjoyable things have been, California isn’t our home anymore. We’re looking forward to getting back to our friends and family in Woodland (aka: each of you). Philippians 1:3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.

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Update on our trip to CA – Part II

Hello Everyone,

We made it back home safely from our trip to California on Monday evening about 5:00. My wonderful parents came over to our house before we got home to build us a fire and prepare us dinner. The church made a sign welcoming us back that hung in the kitchen, and a friend of ours got us flowers and some nice bread. It was very good to be home.

So here’s another day-by-day recap of our time in Lemoore/Hanford…

  • We arrived at Dave and Naida’s house Tue afternoon, Dec 4th. Dave and Naida have been two of our best friends since we first met them in 2005. Katie and I started attending a home Bible study Dave was leading, and in a few months Dave invited me to start leading it. Although I’d led Bible studies for kids and young adults, that was my start having my own study to lead each week. In the evening we had dinner with Dave, Naida and their daughter Danielle and her husband Charlie (two other good friends of ours before we left) and this was the first time we’d been able to see their son Levi. After dinner we surprised a home Bible study that I used to lead. It was great to see more old friends and see the study was going well.
  • Wed, Dec 5th I studied in the morning and went out for lunch with Dave. Katie stayed home and relaxed with the kids, and then met up with some girlfriends. Wednesday evening Charlie and Danielle came over for dinner again, and Katie went to a women’s study with Danielle, and Dave, Charlie and I hung out at the house watching kids and talking about ministry.
  • Thur, Dec 6th I met Pastor Joe in the morning at 9:00 until we met Dave for lunch. It was great to be able to discuss our churches, sharpen each other and share stories about how things are going. That evening we attended Bible study with Dave and Naida, which happened to be another Bible study I used to lead. Again, it was great to see so many old friends and meet some new people.
  • Fri, Dec 7th we met our good friends the Shifflets for lunch, and in the evening we went to Pastor Joe’s for dinner.
  • Sat, Dec 8th, I attended Grace Baptist’s men study in the morning, then we went back to Dave and Naida’s house. Charlie and Danielle came over again and in the evening we attended Grace Baptist’s Christmas dinner, during which I shared a devotional and provided an update on our ministry in Woodland. The highlight was being able to see so many wonderful friends.
  • Sun, Dec 9th was obviously church. I went early with Dave for prayer, then I preached at both services. The message isn’t on Grace Baptist’s website yet, or I’d provide the link, but you can probably check back in the near future and it will be up. It was wonderful being able to see everyone and see how the church has changed (and stayed the same) over the last two years. I only wish I would’ve had more time with everyone. We left after church so we could make it to Redding at a decent time. We stopped in Yuba City on the way to have dinner with Elwyn and Britta.
  • Mon, Dec 10th we left Redding in the morning and made it home in the afternoon.

It was a really, really great trip. I have to say it was somewhat bittersweet, seeing so many awesome friends, but knowing we wouldn’t see them again for a while. Glad to be back in Woodland though. Thankful to have so many great friends here too.

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Update on our trip to CA – Part I

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to provide an update on our trip to California, which basically consisted of two purposes/parts:

  1. Attend Katie’s father Rick’s wedding reception in Roseville (which is near Yuba City where I used to live/teach and is where I became a Christian; therefore, a number of important people in my early Christian life are in this area, including people who served as mentors to me).
  2. Since we were in CA for the reception, head further south to Lemoore to visit our previous church Grace Baptist and see all our friends.

I figured the easiest way to provide the update would be with day-to-day info:

  • Thur, Nov 29th we left about 11:00am and headed to Redding, CA to spend the night with the parents of Katie’s high school best friend. This served as a nice halfway point for us. Although there was a lot of rain, this kept the roads fairly clear and made a relatively comfortable 8 hour trip with the kids.
  • Fri, Nov 30th we left Redding and headed to Roseville, CA where we stayed with Kathy and Barry Branaman. I became good friends with them in 2003 while living in Yuba City when I became a Christian. I met their daughters when I started attending a young-adults’ Bible study, and soon after Barry became a mentor to me. Our time with Barry and Kathy was really, really wonderful. Katie gets along very well with Kathy and I love spending time with Barry. I wish we could have spent more time with them, and hopefully there will be more opportunities to see them in the future despite the distance. We stayed each night with them from Friday to Monday.
  • Sat, Dec 1st was the day of the wedding reception. We spent a lot of time with Katie’s family who were in the area from out of town. When I lived in Yuba City, my best friend was a fellow teacher named Elwyn Ordway. He taught next to my classroom and he was very instrumental in me becoming a Christian and in mentoring me, especially in regards to reading my Bible. We were both single at that time, but since then we’ve gotten married and God’s blessed us with wonderful families. Elwyn, his wife and two kids came to the wedding reception, which was really great because it allowed me to spend the evening with him. Plus our kids get along well and were happy to be together. There’s something very, very satisfying about being with Elwyn and having our wives and children together, because of the years of singleness we spent wondering if we’d ever get married. I don’t think it would be too much to say it’s a real blessing to me just to see him with his wife and children.
  • Sun, Dec 2nd Katie’s father had a large breakfast for all the friends and family in the area. After breakfast we went back to Rick’s new wife Kathleen’s house where we hung out for a few hours with family before going back to Barry and Kathy’s house. One of the real difficulties with traveling back to California is the limited amount of time to spend with numerous close friends. Barry and Kathy knew this and graciously invited us to have a potluck at their home Sunday night and invite some of our friends from the area. At one point Katie was sitting at the table with three of her girlfriends she lived with in Chico when they were all single, and now they’re all married with children. One of Katie’s girlfriends married one of my groomsmen. They were actually part of our wedding party, and Katie and I joked that one day maybe they’d get married and we’d be part of their wedding party…which is exactly what happened. Sunday night we said goodbye to all our friends, including Barry and Kathy as they’d be getting up early for work the next day and we’d leave before they got home.
  • Mon, Dec 3rd we headed to Yuba City to stay with Elwyn, his wife Britta and their kids. I got to see Elwyn’s classroom and probably one of the highlights of the trip for me was a walk we went on together, talking about what God has done in our lives since the years when we taught next to each other as single guys. Now we’re able to look back on how gracious He’s been to us and how much He’s blessed us despite the stupid things we’ve done at times.
  • Tue, Dec 4th we left Elwyn’s house in Yuba City and headed to the Hanford/Lemoore area where we’ll be through Sunday. Dave and Naida Gomes were our best friends during our years in that area and they invited us to stay with them for the next five or six nights.

I’ll probably provide another update when we get back to Woodland. Our week is already filling up with Bible studies, dinners, and speaking engagements the entire time we’re here. Going back to Grace Baptist, our previous church, preaching there and seeing everyone is something I’m looking forward to more than I can put in to words. GBC is where I entered full-time ministry under Pastor Joe’s leadership and it was two years ago this week that I made the announcement that I was transitioning to Woodland. In other words, I’ll be be back at GBC preaching on the two year anniversary of when I announced I was heading to WCC!

I need to wrap this up as dinner will be soon, then Bible study tonight that we’re looking forward to crashing. This is actually the home fellowship I used to lead before passing it on when we moved. We’re going to show up and surprise everyone.

Will write more when we get back to Woodland :).

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A pastor's honeymoon period

This past Sunday was our church’s annual meeting. We go over the budget for the new year and the different offices (like elders and deacons) give a report regarding their activities for the past and upcoming year. Of course I present a report too, but Jim Donald, one of our elders said, “The church really just wants to know how you’re doing, how the ministry is going, etc.”

I thought I would put my notes into a blog, and I decided to give it this title because I’ve heard more than enough times something like, “For the first few months after you arrive at the church you’ll enjoy a honeymoon period with the congregation. Then the real work will begin.” You hear it so many times you almost start to wonder, “Do things really have to stop being enjoyable?” I don’t think they do. This isn’t to say there aren’t problems or difficulties – there have been some, and I’m sure there will be more – but I don’t think it can’t continue to feel like a honeymoon. Maybe it’s like marriage: it can stay enjoyable…even after the first few months.

On to my notes from the meeting (NOTE: some changes have been made to the notes to change them into a blog).

First, I’ll say the greatest blessing associated with my job is the opportunity I have each week to study and teach God’s Word. You’re the recipients of my messages, but I’m the one who’s the most fortunate because I get to spend time studying the Scriptures for a living. I can truly say I have a job that I look forward to each day.

I see two reasons I’m able to invest the time in God’s Word…

  1. The leadership as well as some other individuals in the church have put forth tremendous effort to allow me to study each week and do the rest of the work of the ministry. I always had a fear of pasturing a church and having to be a deacon instead of a pastor being unable to study, meet with people, counsel, disciple, etc. I’ve said before that I have no excuse not to be able to respond to the congregation quickly, , because of the situation the leadership as well as a number of other individuals have put me in.
  2. Second, I’m only able to study the Word like I do each week because I’m at a church with people who desire to hear God’s Word and that’s something I really appreciate. I’m thankful that each time I stand behind the pulpit you desire to hear God’s Word as opposed to craving gimmicks or stunts with no sanctifying benefit.

I’d also like to share a brief story. When I was at Grace Baptist before coming here, my old pastor (Joe Gruchacz) would regularly take me to pastors’ conferences and retreats allowing me to spend time with a number of other pastors and hear about their ministries. I learned very quickly that many pastors in their ministries were at best struggling and at worst miserable. Their problems always related to two issues: their relationships with their congregations and/or their relationships with their leadership.

With that said I feel very blessed to be here…

First, b/c of the relationship I have with the congregation. It seems like every family God has added I keep finding to be a really wonderful addition to our church. Also, I’ve told Katie before that I feel like God has given me a real love for the people here. At the same time Katie and I feel very supported and loved. Some people in the church have made a point of being a blessing to us. I really feel like I couldn’t ask for a better congregation to pastor.

Second, I think it’s beneficial for a church to have a strong leadership team with good relationships. At Grace Baptist a number of people commented on the great relationship Pastor Joe and I had and I think it gave them more confidence in the church. You don’t attend our board meetings or Sunday morning leadership meetings so you might not know how we get along, but I really couldn’t imagine better chemistry with a group of guys.  I feel very fortunate to be able to serve with each of the men in leadership.

So those are my notes from the meeting. Hopefully I’ll be able to use the same ones next year J.

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Iron sharpening iron

This past week, Joe Gruchacz, my mentor and the pastor of our previous church, Grace Baptist, called me. It was a really great conversation and one part in particular stuck out to me. Pastor Joe and I always had a very good relationship. In the years we were together, I can’t remember even one time we didn’t get along. A few times we didn’t agree, but even then it was never tense. One thing we disagreed about – actually the thing we probably disagreed about more than anything else – was preaching. We both felt the same about the greatness of God’s Word, its power, importance, etc, but when we first met we believed very differently about the “best way” to preach.

Coming out of Calvary Chapel I was committed to verse-by-verse exposition that looked a lot like a running commentary on a passage without flipping around much to other places in Scripture. Basically, my early sermons consisted of explanations of the verses with some application thrown in. Pastor Joe’s beliefs on preaching were almost the opposite: he would tell me, “You have to drive home a nail” which for him meant gathering as many verses as possible from numerous places all over the Bible to support the point being made. Flipping around throughout his messages wasn’t uncommon…in other words, his sermons couldn’t look less “verse-by-verse.” He also used inserts with blanks, which I thought was unnecessary.

The funny thing is, talking on the phone I realized we both learned a lot from each other and since then we’ve basically met in the middle between our two philosophies. Pastor Joe just finished going through the entire Gospel of Mark, verse-by-verse, and I’m using inserts that resemble the ones he used to use, containing “nails I want to drive home” during my sermon. It was an enjoyable moment to discuss how we’ve each helped each other; a good example of “iron sharpening iron.”