Eyes Wide Open: Searching for the Right View of Stewardship

“Dad, what is 365 times 8 times 24?” my oldest son asked from the backseat of our car, about as nonchalantly as if he were asking for the time of day or what was on the menu for dinner.

“I don’t know buddy, let me see,” I replied as I reached for my phone/calculator.

“Looks like 70,080. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just curious how many minutes I have been alive. Dad, how many minutes have you been alive?”

“Ugh, a lot more, buddy … (punching numbers in the calculator) … looks like 324,120 minutes.”

“Dad! That is a lot of minutes. What are you going to do with the rest of them?”

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Remembering Our Hope

God, give me the courage to walk through this. Give me the faith to rely on you. I can’t do this on my own. I need you.

Those words appeared in my journal almost eight years ago today. I am also certain I prayed these same words yesterday, as I cried out to God for the umpteenth time during this coronavirus quarantine.

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Leading Your Newly Remote Team During COVID-19

If you are anything like me, you’ve been on more Zoom calls in the past two weeks than in the previous two years. COVID-19 and the social distancing we are all living through has changed the way we work with each other. It has been quite a learning curve for me as I figure out how to keep my staff team of nine people connected, motivated, and encouraged in their work in this season.

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Political Possibilities for an Exhausted Evangelical

Ross Lester, West Congregation Pastor, kindly allowed us to republish his thoughts on how faith can inform our politics. If you enjoy this article, consider joining us to hear from Dr. Russell Moore next month. He will address faith and politics at our seminar on April 16. 


I am an exhausted evangelical, and I don’t think I am alone. Between the constantly churning news cycle about the 2020 election, the political feuding on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and conversations participated in or overheard at church, coffee shops, and grocery stores, I am weary. Worn out. Exhausted. But I am not prepared to leave the fold of evangelicalism, because rightly defined it is a camp to which I belong based on creedal beliefs. That is how the group was always defined. It had more to do with doctrine than it did to do with politics. It is morphing into a hot-button, describe-all term for a broad political block that I can’t be part of, but my beliefs are evangelical in nature, and my tribe is with the people who adhere to those beliefs regardless of their political convictions.

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This Black History Month Learn About the Contributions of Africans in the Bible and Church History

I remember having a conversation with a Christian brother who was curious about why I’m so passionate about racial justice and the lack of multi-ethnicity within local churches. At one point in the conversation he asked, “I get as a minority you care about other minorities, but honestly what have people of color contributed to Christianity and theology?”

The question shocked me. After a moment of stunned silence, I said, “Besides the Bible, core theological doctrines, and defending orthodoxy, I’m not sure.”

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Sanctity of Life in the Workplace

 

In many Christian circles, conversations about the sanctity of life wend toward abortion and the pro-life movement. That application of the sanctity of life isn’t wrong. God cares about all life, including the lives of the unborn. It is, however, limited. Sanctity of life refers to more than the unborn. It covers the expanse of human life, from the baby arriving in four months time to the woman with dementia. It concerns men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian, White and Black. Sanctity of life includes every human, because every human receives inherent dignity and worth from being made in the image of God. His image sanctifies life, every heartbreaking and heart-lifting moment of it.

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Work Hard, Rest Well

Many leaders, myself included, aspire to follow the philosophy to “work hard and rest well.” Most of us have no problem following the “word hard” part of that statement. Unfortunately, we often find it much harder to “rest well.”

But the holiday season is when work rhythms typically slow down, giving us an opportunity for rest and restoration. In these seasons it is wise to resist filling that time with work and investing it in some downtime.

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How I Write Sermons

I don’t know how long it takes to write a sermon. When someone asks, I usually say something like, “Somewhere between 13 and 50 hours.” I mean this sincerely. When I know I have to preach in the next 5 to 10 days, I am always thinking about the sermon. My mind is constantly moving back and forth between the text, possible illustrations, main points, and ways to apply the sermon. Whether I am in a meeting, driving to the office, working out, or doing yard work, the sermon is always in the background of my thoughts. My wife can tell you plenty of humorous stories of catching me talking to myself or mumbling something under my breath on the weeks I am preparing to preach. If you count all of these hours of thinking about the sermon as official “sermon prep,” then the time it takes to write a sermon is very long, indeed.

While I don’t know how long it takes to write a sermon, I do have a pretty good answer for a person who wants to know the process for writing a sermon. I have been in ministry for 19 years, and I estimate that I have preached somewhere around 1600 sermons. Through lots of trial and error, I have found a method of preparation that works for me. Let walk you through a week of sermon prep and describe what I aim to do each day of the preaching week.

What follows is a normal week of sermon preparation where I am preaching the text our preaching team has determined for that particular Sunday. Space will not allow me to go in-depth into the methods I use for researching the text, looking at the original languages, and the particular commentaries or resources I prefer. All I want to show here is what happens each day and the high-level goals I have for each session in the process. In addition to what I describe below, I start and end each session with prayer. 

Monday – Kick Off (1-2 sessions)

Monday is the lightest day in terms of preparation. My only goal on Monday is to read the text as many times as possible and make a few notes. I generally do this in two 45-minute sessions on Monday, one in the morning and one in the mid-afternoon. That’s it. Again, I am likely thinking about the text on the way home in the car, listening to podcasts with an eye toward the sermon, and maybe even doing some open-air preaching in my office, but as far as actual study, I am just reading the text.

Tuesday – Heavy Lifting (3-4 sessions)

Tuesday is the heavy lifting day. My goal on this day is the research the text as in-depth as possible. This involves doing word studies, looking at the original languages, reading commentaries and background material, and doing what is called exegesis. Exegesis is the process of seeking to understand, to the best of my ability, what the original author meant when he wrote the text. I am not looking to understand what the text means to us today and how we can apply it to our lives. Rather, I am only wanting to understand what the original author, such as Paul or Matthew, meant when they wrote a particular passage. Once I feel like I have accomplished this, I will write one or two sentences that summarize what the text meant. Most often, this takes me three or four 50-60 minute sessions. 

Wednesday – Outline and Introduction (3-4 sessions)

Wednesday is outline and introduction day. Once I have established the meaning of the text and worked through the author’s flow of thought, I then write down what the main point of the sermon (MPS). The MPS takes the original author’s meaning and applies it to today. It takes what was written and intended in the past and seeks to bridge the gap into the present. Once I’ve established this, I make an outline where each of the 3 or 4 points further explains and serves the main point. For example, recently I preached from Matthew 5:6-8. The MPS of that text was: The church must understand the wrong way to pray in order to learn the right way to pray. With my outline I showed three wrong ways to pray:

  1. Avoidance of Prayer
  2. Appearance Prayer
  3. Performance Prayer

My intent with each of these points was to establish the claim of the MPS. This work is done on Wednesday in 3 or 4 50-60 minute sessions. 

The final session of the day, usually in the afternoon, I will begin writing the sermon by trying to nail down an introduction. My introductions have two simple goals: where and why. I want to establish where we are going in the sermon, and I want to show why it’s important that we go there. Pretty simple. This might involve an illustration, a personal story, or some need or issue in our lives, or in the world, that demands a response. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said the introduction should be like a doctor diagnosing a patient. Before the doctor can cure the patient, he must know what his problem is! Introductions of sermons show the problem and establish why a person should listen to what the preacher has to say.

Thursday – Rough Draft

The goal for Thursday is simple: Get a rough draft done. This might take me 2 hours or 7 hours. I never really know. Sermons tend to have a mind of their own! I simply write until I am done. Now, you might be asking, what does a “done” rough draft look like? For me, it’s two things: balance and word count. I want each outline point to have balance and symmetry. I don’t want to write 1000 words for 2 of the points and 300 words for the other point. I like for each point to carry roughly the same amount of weight in the sermon. Second, because I have preached for almost two decades, I know the correlation between the length of my notes and the length of my sermon. Yes, we preachers do take sermon length into account! My goal is to preach somewhere around 36-42 minutes. Anything longer feels like too much. Anything shorter feels like I’ve left too many things unsaid and you as the hearer didn’t really get their money’s worth that week! This length requires my notes to be somewhere around 3300-3500 words. I stay pretty close to my notes when I preach and rarely deviate. So, the goal for Thursday is to complete a balanced rough draft of 3300 or so words. Once I am done, I send my draft to other members of our preaching team for review and await their verdict. 

Friday – Sabbath

Friday is my sabbath. I try to get as far away from the sermon as possible. I don’t want to think about it, talk about it, or look at it in any form. There was a time when I would use Friday’s for sermon prep, but those days are long gone. I’d rather work as hard as I can to make the Thursday deadline, and then be able to relax and rest before Sunday. 

Saturday – Edits and Memorization (2 sessions)

Saturday involves two main sessions: final edits and memorization. I wake up early on Saturday and work through any feedback I’ve received from our preacher team and bring the sermon to its final form. This might take me 15 minutes or 2 hours depending on how much I need to change. 

Later in the evening I’ll begin the process of memorization. This typically involves reading the entire sermon 6-8 times. I’ll also make notes in the margins where I want to emphasize something or potentially mention another passage of Scripture that hits me as I visualize preaching the sermon. Usually these changes are minimal. I am mainly attempting to make the sermon as “preachable” as possible. Once I feel like I have memorized the sermon I put it away for the night and try to get some rest. 

Sunday – Pray and Preach!

While I try to make prayer a priority all throughout the writing and planning process, I spend the most focused time in prayer for the sermon on Sunday morning. I wake up early, read through the sermon one last time, and then I pray for our church, for any unbelievers or seekers who may be present, and for my own heart to love and believe what I am preaching. At this point in the process, I have done all I can do. I then attempt to preach with as much zeal and conviction I as can, and trust that the Lord will attend to the preaching of His Word, and that it will accomplish all that He intends.



ASI Seminar Recap: Kindred Allies

The Austin Stone Institute’s (ASI) 2019 “Learning to Listen” seminar series is designed to encourage us to consider other people’s perspectives, to give us a theological foundation for speaking with grace and truth about topics such as gender, race, and politics, and to empower us to engage with people who are not like us.

Our first seminar “Kindred Allies” with author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin occurred on September 12 at our West campus. We were delighted by how many people came—we saw nearly 200 people gather in the auditorium.

Men and Women Are More Alike than Different

The seminar featured two teaching components and one Q&A panel. During the first teaching, Jen explored how men and women are more similar than different. She started by debunking the idea that men and women cannot be platonic friends. Jen undergirded her position with Genesis 1 and 2, saying that God did not provide Eve because Adam felt the lack of a sexual partner. Rather, God provided Eve because Adam was lonely and needed a companion who shared his language and abilities. God made them to “image” Him together, not separately. 

Jen then turned to the New Testament and discussed how Jesus redefines and expands the definition for “family.” She referenced Mark 3, which says: 

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

In the family of God, relationships between men and women are not based on husband and wife, but on brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. And, Jen continued, this family of brothers and sisters is told to “one another” over and over in the New Testament. Men and women are to love one another (1 John 4:7), serve one another (1 Peter 4:10), encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), etc. Men and women are not to divide by gender, with men in the living room and women in the kitchen, but to pursue friendship and unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

But that is not how life typically plays out in the church or the larger culture. Men and women fear each other—a natural state of affairs considering humanity’s sin and a hyper-sexualized culture. Relationships between genders become fraught with tension. And yet, some relationships transcend it: the bond between a father and daughter, for instance, or a brother and sister who defend each other no matter what. Such relationships give a glimpse of what friendships between men and women can look like. It is possible to be friends with the opposite sex without sexual temptation running rampant.

Men and Women Should Consider the Other’s Perspective

But for that possibility to become a reality, Jen suggested men and women needed to do some reconditioning in terms of not only how they saw each other but also how they recollected stories in the Bible. She addressed the former in the first session of the seminar and worked through the latter in the second. In it, Jen walked seminar attendees through the example of David and Bathsheba. 

Many readings (and commentaries) of the text depict Bathsheba as a “loose” woman delighted to capture King David’s attention. A close textual reading, though, offers something different. It displays an unequal and unbreachable power dynamic, with David having all the agency and Bathsheba all the vulnerability. Reading the text with that viewpoint can be uncomfortable but ultimately healthful; it teaches people to reconsider their assumptions about both the Bible and the opposite gender, to reexamine their understanding of situations, and in some cases, to initiate conversations with men and women about their experiences.  

Jen ended her teaching with a panel. Todd Engstrom, Executive Pastor of Ministry Strategies, John Murchison, Managing Director of The Austin Stone Institute, and Lindsay Funkhouser, Program Manager of ASI’s Writer Development Program, joined her. They answered questions from the audience regarding how men and women can be “kindred allies” and gave advice on how men and women can relate to and support one another. For example, Jen and Lindsay said men can open up opportunities to women, while women can remind men that emotions are not weaknesses. Men can also encourage women toward speaking up for themselves, and women offer insights into men’s communication styles.

God designed men and women complementary. Each gender has something the other lacks. By coming together as friends, they can discover how the qualities that seem to separate them enrich each other’s lives and unite them as one body in Christ. 

 

Join us for our upcoming seminar with Dr. Gregg Allison on October 25. He’ll be answering the question, “Are you your body?”



Seven Questions from the Kindred Allies Seminar

In our most recent ASI Seminar, Kindred Allies, we heard from Jen Wilkin how men and women are designed by God to work together for the glory of God and the growth of His kingdom. She encouraged us to think more about how men and women are similar, both being made in the image of God, than to think about how we are different. She also challenged us to grow in acting like the family of God, treating each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We were not able to get to all of the submitted questions during our Q&A time, so we compiled a few of the most popular questions into this post. Todd Engstrom, elder and Executive Pastor of Ministry Strategies, and members of our Austin Stone Institute staff team worked together to provide brief answers below. If you attend The Austin Stone and would like to know more, I encourage you to speak to your congregation staff and elder team, or to reach out to us at asi@austinstone.org. We would be happy to talk to you more about this important subject.

1. What wisdom or guidance would you give a male believer who, in the corporate workplace, encounters many non-believing women who subscribe more to female empowerment to the detriment of the biblical vision of deep mutual male-female respect? For example, when encountering ideas like only women can lead, toxic masculinity, it’s women’s time now, the future is female, etc.

A helpful place to start is to remember that your worldview as a believer is likely going to be different from a non-believer’s worldview. Your authority and framework for honoring male-female relationships will naturally be different,

Approach this situation the way you would any other – remember that Jesus is our model for interaction. We see many examples in Scripture of Jesus actively seeking to employ empathy in trying to understand others and speak life into their stories. If you believe female coworkers are striving for control, power, or recognition, consider that perhaps it’s because they have a history of not feeling valued, heard, or recognized. Though they may be striving through means different than what you think is best, you can be a powerful example of how Jesus would listen and speak value into them. They don’t know Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, advocating for His children, but you can be their advocate and encourager. You can speak light into darkness and healing into wounds. You can model the fullness and joy of the family of God, and by His grace, maybe one day they will become your sisters in God’s Kingdom.

2. When it comes to women teaching and/or leading men, what do you believe, and how do you discern what is appropriate biblically?

This is an extraordinarily difficult topic to handle within a short paragraph. Theologians have debated this topic for a very long time, and our elders have also wrestled with this very question since the earliest days of our church. And we are still wrestling with it!

Biblically, we should consider that the Spirit of God has poured out gifts on all saints, and both men and women receive those gifts (Joel 2:28-29, 1 Corinthians 12:7). We also must consider that Paul prohibits the exercise of those gifts and authority through teaching or speaking in the church (1 Timothy 2:12-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35). So, we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which include leadership and teaching, being given to women, but a constraint on how those gifts function in the church from the apostle Paul. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation, distinction, and confusion!

At The Austin Stone, we do not have a formal position with respect to how this would play out, and instead, allow for discernment through our plurality of elders on how to navigate this within each congregation. In this discernment, we would specifically be asking “does this expression of female teaching or leadership contradict a clear text of Scripture?” This will help us discern and understand the question of whether or not something is permissible. The next question would be, “For what people might this be a beneficial expression of the gifts?” This will help us move forward in expressing the gifts the Spirit gave to our church.

In practice, we know that it is biblically right for women to teach women (Titus 2:3-5), and therefore love it when our spiritually gifted women impart grace through their gift to other women. In mixed environments, we consider the conscience of those who might be in attendance, factor in the cultural perception of authority and use wisdom and discernment as to when this might be appropriate.

3. Are our elders open to meeting with a woman one-on-one to discuss spiritual issues with women? Is this a policy for our church, or could this vary from elder to elder?

In the broader evangelical culture, this is often referred to as the “Billy Graham rule”, and has been a guiding principle for many men in ministry due to Graham’s tremendous influence. There are at least three predominant motivations for adhering to this rule:

  • Preventing temptation towards inappropriate emotional connections
  • Honoring the desires of a spouse who may not feel comfortable with this kind of interaction
  • A desire to ensure the comfort of the person with whom you are meeting

Our elders do not have a formal policy on this matter but instead allow for the freedom of conscience of each individual elder. While some elders will meet with a woman one-on-one in an appropriate setting, others on our elder team do not feel the same.

4. How do we take actionable steps to model this [kindred allies] in our church today?

Jen’s framework of emphasizing the similarity between the genders and focusing on agency and vulnerability as mutually beneficial distinctions is a great place to start. For the men in our church, asking the question, “How might I use my agency to serve my sisters in Christ?” would be a great starting point. For the women in our church, asking the question, “How might I foster vulnerability in my brothers in Christ?” is a good place to begin.

One way to start would be to intentionally interact with the opposite gender in our missional community family meals and gatherings. Asking simple questions like, “How are you?” and, “How can I pray for you?” are great, simple action steps to start living intentionally.

5. As a woman gifted with leadership abilities, how do I cultivate my gifts and serve appropriately? How do I seek mentorship? How do I promote health and healing between the genders?

This posture of humbly wanting to serve and grow is so encouraging! Your congregation leaders and elders want to know you and help you figure out how to cultivate your gifts and use them for the flourishing of the church. I would reach out to any leader at your campus and ask them to help you identify your gifts and how those can be used in your community or at that congregation. You are needed by the church, and we want to help you walk in obedience and joy through using your gifts.

As for mentorship, the best and often easiest thing to do is to identify a woman you admire and who is spiritually “farther down the field” and just ask if you can learn from her. Or if you’re desiring to invest in someone, ask them if you can walk alongside them and help them grow. It may seem scary to put yourself out there, but I’ve heard many stories of wonderful mentor relationships that happened because one of the parties was brave enough to ask the other if they could spend intentional time together growing in Christ.

It’s difficult to answer this last question in a couple sentences, but a great place to start in helping promote health and healing between the genders is to form friendships with people in your congregation and start to tackle these questions together. “What would it look like for the men in our community to help all the women flourish? For the women to help all the men to flourish? What are some things our community is missing when men and women aren’t acting like the full family of God we see in Scripture? What would these interactions communicate to the nonbelievers around us that wouldn’t be true in male/female relationships apart from Christ?”

6. How do you help people create appropriate boundaries while also stepping into better brother-sister relationships?

The first step in having healthy brother-sister relationships is having close community with a few people of the same gender. This close community can offer insight, accountability, and wisdom as you navigate how to work with your brothers or sisters in Christ to advance God’s kingdom. There is no “one size fits all” approach into what is appropriate for each person. Inviting others in your community to help you define what is wise and above reproach for you is an invaluable part of the process.

In addition, those who are married should also involve their spouses in this discussion and consider their input above that of their community.

7. If I grew up in a male dominated family/church, how do I start reframing my viewpoint? Some of these ideas/viewpoints are very challenging to hear.

It can be difficult to begin to shift our viewpoints from what was historically true for us or from what we experienced growing up in the church. Jen offered a lens through which to view this situation when she proposed that the church is experiencing a “diminished understanding of the concept of family.” As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a truer and better family than those in our own family units. And in addition to focusing on and nurturing our familial relationships within the body of Christ, Jen encouraged us to see that “there is more that we have in common than what separates us” and that when it comes to men and women in the Creation story, “the Bible starts with sameness.” God created man and woman so that there would be “completeness.” The truth is that we need each other, and the mission of the church cannot go forward without the complete body of Christ working together. Rather than a church functioning as a single-parent home, Jen encouraged us to “strive to make the church look like what we dream of in a nuclear family.” Jesus commands us to be the family of God. In light of this, we should each search our own hearts and ask, “Do we truly see each other as those with whom we partner to bring forward His good news?”