Category Archives: Teaching

Pulpit, Podium, Music Stand or Bistro Table

When you enter a church for worship, what piece of furniture do you expect to find on the elevated platform?  What you expect to find often speaks to what you believe about the importance and role of the preaching and teaching ministries in the local church.

When I say platform furniture, I am speaking of the wooden, metal, or Plexiglas structure that the pastor/teacher uses during the message.  I am talking about the pulpit, podium, lectern, or other make shift device that they stand behind.  Some call it the sacred desk; others refer to it as the hunk of wood that will never go away.

These furniture pieces have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  These days you basically have eight options to choose from.

pulpit potters house

The Potter’s House Pulpit. Dallas, TX

1. The Wooden Pulpit.  The wooden pulpit can be natural, stained or painted wood.  It is usually equipped with a hidden storage space, sometimes a clock, maybe even a lamp.

The wooden pulpit establishes a high view of preaching authority.  Since the Reformation, wooden pulpits have been placed front and center to project the importance of the preaching/teaching moment in the worship service.  In predominately African-American churches, pulpit are becoming larger and more elaborate.

2.  The Plexiglas Pulpit.  plexiglas pulpitFor those who wanted to move away from the behemoth wooden pulpit, the Plexiglas pulpit became the preferred choice.  It was lighter, easier to move, and allowed for the church logo to be etched in the front, creating a branding opportunity.

The Plexiglas pulpit is see-through, breaking down some of the distance between the pew and the pulpit.  For the first time in years, you could see the pastor’s legs while they preached.  It was meant to make the pastor more tangible, more human, more accessible.

3.  The Cellphone Tower.  A new addition to modern pulpit design is what a dear friend of mine calls “The Cellphone Tower.”  This pulpit is portable, modern, and gives the appearance of being industrial.  It basically a podium made of piping or stage rigging.

cellphone towerBoth the Plexiglas Pulpit and the Cellphone Tower communicate something different than the Wooden Pulpit. They communicate innovation and an appeal to close the gap between the preacher and the pew.  Most pastors bemoan the large, wooden pulpit and tend to move out from behind it while they preach.  They believe coming out from behind the pulpit make a closer connection with their hearers.  These newer designed pulpits attempt to do the same thing.

4. The Music Stand.  The thought behind this piece of furniture is ease and utility.  The music stand is already on stage, nearly invisible and projects that the sermon/message is more about the communicator than anything else.

Consider the musician or soloist who uses the music stand for their sheet music – no one notices the stand, they focus on the artist.  The same thought is at work when the pastor preaches with a music stand – focus on the message, not the furniture.

5.  The iPad Pulpit.  ipad pulpitEven newer than the cellphone tower, the iPad Pulpit has entered the church marketplace as more and more pastors toss out the paper notes and go fully digital.  This pulpit looks sleek, modern, and like a control panel on the USS Enterprise.

As with the music stand, the iPad Pulpit places more focus on the communicator than the furniture piece itself.  It can be moved to and from the platform with ease, making transitions seamless, perfect when the stage hand has to place stage props or move band instruments.

For younger generations, the idea of packing a leather-bound Bible to church and scribbling out notes with pen and paper may seem antiquated.  Everything is digital these days.  Open your Bible app, use Notes to keep ideas, Tweet good ideas.  If the hearers in the pew are going digital, maybe the pastor should as well.

bistro table6. The Bistro Table.  In the world of conversation and dialogue, a new pulpit concept has emerged.  Enter the Bistro Table.  The bistro table says to the hearers, “Welcome. Pull up a chair.  Let’s chat.  No judgment.  No tradition.  Just conversation.” 

Bistro tables are present in your local restaurant or sports bar, why not at church.  They are cheap, sleek, and very easy to move. They are high enough to hold your notes and Bible with without problems seeing what you’ve written down.

As with the music stand and iPad pulpit, the view of the preacher/teachers is more casual and laid back.  No suit and tie.  No formal robes and vestments.  We are here to worship God and to be in community together.  There is no better way to communicate community than to preach with a restaurant table.

7.  The High Chair and Monitor.  Tossing aside the podium, lectern, stand or table, the high chair and flat panel monitor are growing in popularity.  Probably made most famous by Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church, this removes the pulpit furniture altogether and embraces a communicator-teacher-presenter effect.

The pastor/teacher interacts with the stage props, the audience, and the monitor all in real time.  There are no notes, no Bible, no manuscript. The message is memorized and rehearsed. The sermon is a talk.  The pastor is the presenter.  This is conference style communication. There probably isn’t much of an invitation or call to publicly repent, but that is not the design of the service.

Andy Stanley

8.  Nothing at all.  Consider the apostles, the disciples, or Jesus himself who preached to thousands with no platform furniture at all.  No pulpit.  No cellphone tower.  No monitor.  The founders of our faith preached on hillsides, from fishing boats, seating in synagogues and in open public squares.  They preached without notes, without furniture, without iPads, yet they preached with passion, vitality, and full of God’s spirit.

All in all, whatever platform furniture piece you use, remember these items are not essential, nor are they sinful.  They are tools to use.

Simply put: don’t let platform furniture become a sacred idol.  We can preach the Gospel with or without them and be perfectly biblical and Spirit-led.

Cross Vocational Ministry Demands Organization Skills

cross vocationalIn recent months, my role as a cross vocational minister has changed. If you are not familiar with the term “cross vocational,” it’s because I made it up.

Cross vocational ministry is my invented term for what was once called bi-vocational ministry.

I prefer the term cross vocational because the ministry leader has an everyday, normal job and a ministry calling which are constantly crossing over one another.  At times, the day job is the primary focus and at other times, the ministry role is primary. The cross vocational minister is constantly attempting to balance the two.

I also like the idea of “cross” vocational in the implication of Jesus Christ, who went to the cross, dying for sin, making a bridge for mankind to “cross” over from death to life.

In recent days, my day job at Campbellsville University has become quite a bit more demanding. After seven years of full-time teaching faculty, I have now taken on a role in academic administration in addition to teaching.  Whereas faculty members have flexibility in their weekly teaching schedule, academic administration is more of a 40 hours per week, 8 to 5, kind of job.

What I am now facing is what most cross vocational ministers have faced for years.  They work a full-time job, then switch, or cross over, to the ministry in early mornings, evenings and on weekends.  The time demands are pressing when it comes to sermon preparation, church leadership, communicating vision, and attempting to perform some level of outreach and pastoral care.

The main lesson I am learning in balancing these demands is that organization and preparation must be way in advance.  Time is limited in a full daily schedule, therefore the cross vocational minister must use every free moment to be planning, preparing, and working far in advance.

You never know when your schedule is going to change at the day job.  You might be called in for training or need to make a business trip or be given an assignment that must be finished by Friday. In order to meet these demands and the ministry tasks, you have to utilize every tool available to be organized, prepared and focused.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered for organization and preparation in cross vocational ministry.

1. Use your breaks wisely such as Christmas break, spring break, or long holiday weekends.  Use these extra days off to plan ahead.  I know there are other things on your agenda, but this “free” day might be enough to prepare several sermons or put together a major outreach effort.

2. Be constantly taking notes and jotting down ideas.  Use your smart phone or iPad to track thoughts that might come at the gym, on the road, at a lunch break, or even in the shower.   Carry a ministry journal with you everywhere working on upcoming sermons or to-do lists for ministry projects.  Pack a few blank note cards with you and when you are waiting for a haircut or a doctor’s appointment, write a note to a new member or a family that is struggling.

3. Communicate using web-based tools.  Use group emails, group texts, and group document sharing tools to keep everyone in the loop.  The more you communicate digitally, the more your team (who is probably cross vocational as well) will be able to do their work without a face to face meeting.  Social media and email can also help you connect to the wider church family without being “physically” present for everything.

4. Plan worship services collaboratively using Planning Center Online (planningcenteronline.com).  If you are the primary teaching pastor (as I am), use Planning Center Online to let other worship leaders including your worship minister, media team, vocalist, ushers, etc., know what you are planning far in advance.  You might not get the opportunity to do a sit-down worship planning meeting, but at least they will know where you are going and what you are expecting weeks (or months) in advance.

I plan on writing more this week about cross vocational ministry and several new implications for this type of ministry in the days to come.  From all indicators, cross vocational ministry is going to intensify and grow in the coming decade.

The 6 Gotta-Haves in Student Ministry Today

ministry_logo-01In a few days, I have the privilege of representing the Campbellsville Univ. School of Theology at the 2015 Winter Jam Tour “Jam Zone” at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY.

Thousands of students, leaders, parents and ministry volunteers will descend upon Lexington to hear great Christian artists in a one-of-a-kind concert venue.  I have been to Winter Jam numerous times as a youth pastor and volunteer and have always had a blast.  We are bringing our boys this year…and ear plugs.

During the Jam Zone, I have chance to spend time encouraging parents and leaders in a training session called “The 6 Gotta-Haves in Student Ministry Today.”  This session is designed to encourage, inform and equip parents and leaders while they are waiting for the concert to begin that evening.

To be truthful, I am a little nervous.  I have been out of the student ministry game for sometime. The last time I can say I was an official youth minister on a church staff was 2003.  That’s 12 years in the rear-view mirror.  Wow, time has flown by.

Even though I teach a Youth Ministry class every two years at CU, I am recognizing how quickly student ministry is changing around me.  I do my best to stay up on all the changes, reading books, engaging in the online discussion, tracking trends and demographics, yet I still find myself scratching my head when someone asks, “What do we need to do to reach teenagers today?”

So to frame that answer (and prepared for the upcoming conference), I believe I would reply “You gotta-have six ‘Gs.’  Six gotta-haves in student ministry today.

1.  GUTS – Student ministry is not for the faint at heart.  You have to have passion, conviction, courage, and determination to enter into this ministry field.  Teenagers and their parents can be wonderful to serve, but they can also be complicated and complex to understand.

2.  GAMEPLAN – Student ministry does not work without a strategy, a calendar, and a system of organization.  Unfortunately many student pastors have attempted and failed to lead their students by the seat of their pants.  In the end, the students are frustrated.  The parents are put out.  The church staff is wondering how to move this leader on.  Nobody wins, everyone looses. So we much have a plan.  Work the plan.  Adjust the plan.  Evaluate the plan.

3.  G-PAs & G-MAs (aka Grandparents) or better yet GENERATIONS –  You gotta-have other generations speaking into the lives of our students.  Our American culture is fragmenting young people more and more.  They desperately need intergenerational relationships to grow up more balanced and capable of social interaction.  There is no question, students need their parents to be invested in their lives.  However, they also need other wise, non-family relationships just as much.  One of the great failures of youth ministry of the 90’s & early 2000’s was isolation from other generations.  Thank goodness we have corrected that terrible mistake.

4.  GOALS – Along with the game plan, student ministry leaders must have goals they are working toward.  Ministry leadership is easily swayed by the emergencies of life and the bumps along the road resulting in leaders who cannot stay focused, cannot complete a task, and cannot work through a to-do list.  Those “interruptions” are part of the deal; everyone in ministry knows this.  But quality leadership also requires diligence, excellence, and persistence. Having 3-5 God-directed goals each year helps focus your attention and your mission.

5.  GOSPEL – This should really be first on the list.  You must have a ministry centered in the Good News of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation.  We gotta-have the Gospel that clearly states God is holy, we are sinful, and Jesus is the only answer.  In a world of rampant relativism, pluralism, secularism, postmodernism, and every other “ism” you can imagine, student ministry leaders can never shy away from the Gospel of Jesus.  It is why we do what we do.

6.  GROUP – The term “youth group” seems out-dated and cheesy to many of us.  We always wanted our student ministries to be more than just a “group” of kids that met in the church basement and played a bunch of games.  We wanted the student ministry to have substance, meaning, purpose, intentionality and value to the larger congregation and the kingdom of God.

Yet, no matter how much you dislike the word, the student ministry still needs to be a group.  A group that is open to unbelieving students.  A group that is welcoming to parents and grandparents.  A group that is focused on discipling younger believers toward maturity in Christ.  A group that find strength from being together.  A group where honest questions can be asked and honest answers given in return.  A group that functions within the larger body of the church, but also has a uniqueness to it as it ministers to teenagers.

As much as we may want to get away from the word “group,” student ministry is still a very important group within the family of God.

Six gotta-haves.  Guts.  Gameplan.  Generations.  Goals.  Gospel.  Group.  This is what I will be sharing at Winter Jam.  I hope the leaders are encouraged and challenged.

__________________________
G-words that didn’t make the list and probably should be banned from student ministry altogether: gimmicks, goofiness, gag-gifts, and game-show host youth ministers.

Personal Journeys Off the Map

vbs 2015The LifeWay Christian Resources VBS (vacation Bible school) theme for 2015 is “Journey Off the Map.”  The  theme captures the heart of adventure, unchartered territories, unknown places and dangerous challenges. I have been on the road with LifeWay the last couple weeks and have loved challenging leaders about what it means to follow God on a journey into the unknown.

The theme has got me thinking.  What is it about human nature that loves a good journey?  Why are we drawn to adventure novels, movies and stories?  Why do little boys and girls love to pretend to find hidden treasures in the backyard that can only be discovered with an ancient map?

Apparently God has implanted the desire for journey into our soul.

As I look back on my life, I have been on some great journeys.  They may not seem great to Mt. Everest climbers or Appalachian Trail trekkers, but they have been amazing journeys for me.

Short-term international mission trips have been a journey.  Places like the Sinai desert of Egypt, the ancient city of Xian, China, all through rugged Latin America and modernized Europe.

The chance to go on three Bible land tours has been a journey.  Walking where Jesus, Peter, Paul, Luke, Timothy, Titus walked has been a real adventure.

Leaving my home in KY and moving to Dallas/Fort Worth for seminary was a huge journey.  Saying good-bye to the familiarity and comfort of the Bluegrass state in lieu of full dependence on God and willingness to do whatever He called me to do in the Lone Star state.  Looking back, that journey was really hard but ABSOLUTELY worth every minute.  Without leaving, I don’t believe I would have grown as much as I did.

There have been more relational journeys that have been just as adventurous.  Marriage has been a wild journey.  Standing with and loving my wife of nearly 13 years has been a journey into uncharted waters.  Parenting two sons has been a great journey.  Watching them grow, learn, explore has been filled with adventure, and at times, chaos.

Teaching and walking alongside college students has been a glorious journey. Seeing them walk into college fresh, eager, green and hopefully leaving more matures equipped, discipled, trained and properly launched.

There is one student, in particular, that has been a journey to say the least.  From his entrance into our lives four years ago to his recent exit, he has completely transformed.  There is still more for God to do, but the difference is radical.

I love the journey.  I love the adventure into the unknown. I love letting God Almighty set the course and take me and my family anywhere He wants us to go.  I wonder what journeys lie ahead.

Collegiate Ministry Students – Don’t Waste Your Christmas Break

keep-calm-and-make-it-to-christmas-break-120It was Christmas break 1996 – that wonderful four weeks off in the midst of the college academic year – when God’s call came crashing down on my life.

Having spent the previous summer as a summer youth director in a local church and swearing that I would never have anything to do with local church ministry ever again, I felt the rush of God’s Spirit break through my frustration and disobedience so that I finally surrendered to His divine call.

The actual date was December 28, 1996.  Nearly 20 years ago.

The college Christmas break is truly a winter wonderland.  Whereas elementary, middle and high school students have roughly 10 days off, college students have nearly a month in-between semesters.  This long break allows some students to squeeze in a J-term class, but most stay at home and veg out with family and friends.

For collegiate ministry students, I suggest you use your Christmas break differently.  I suggest you take this time away from classes and books and put it to use for God’s glory and for your future in Christian ministry.

Here are a few suggestions of things you can do over the break.

1.  Reconnect with your home church.  Offer to sing in the choir.  Be a part of the Christmas Eve service.  Ask to fill in for anyone out on vacation in the youth or children’s ministry.  If you are feeling a call to pastoral ministry, offer to preach a Sunday evening service for your pastor or cover one of the Wednesday night small groups.  Offer to go and serve communion in a nursing home or to shut-in members.

At the minimum, ask one of your pastors if you can shadow them for a day or two to learn.  Fold bulletins in the church office or sweep floors in the food pantry.  Get your hands dirty in some ministry function, even if it seems like nothing at the time, I promise you it is something in the kingdom.

2.  Update your ministry resume.  A ministry resume is more than a simple piece of paper describing your education and past experience, it is, in many cases, your first impression to a church or para-church ministry.  Therefore it is not something to be slopped together in one sitting.  It should be created and updated with excellence and diligence.  The Christmas break is the perfect time to sink some significant time into this document.

For help on this task, I have written several posts offering tips on creating solid ministry resumes. Find them here, here and here.

3.  Setup your summer ministry internship.  During the break, make a few calls, schedule a Skype meeting, even make a visit to the location of your summer ministry internship.  Talk at length with your intended supervisor.  See if there is anything that you need to prepare for during the spring semester.

Collegiate ministry students must, and I can’t emphasis must enough, take advantage of every summer to serve somewhere in ministry.  Three good summers in ministry will nearly assure you a ministry placement upon graduation.

4.  Visit a seminary.  Even if you are not considering seminary at the present time, make a visit anyway.  Take the tour.  Make a day trip out of it.  It will at least get you out of the house and possibly open your mind up to the possibility of theological education.  If you are already planning to go to seminary, these visits are huge in helping you discern God’s will for where you are to study.

I suggest to my students visiting at least three seminaries before making a final decision.  You can’t get the ethos or vibe of a school just by visiting a website or browsing a brochure, you must get on campus and pray onsite with insight.

5.  Network. Network. Network.  There is nothing more important in ministry placement these days than building your ministry network.  We all know the cliché, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”  I would add, “It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you.”

Invite a ministry leader, denominational representative, former pastor, retired chaplain or missionary, whatever ministry you are feeling called to, to lunch.  Ask them question after question.  Bring a notebook and take copious notes or ask if you can record the conversation on your phone.  Before the lunch, write 10-15 good, thoughtful, insightful questions and then fire away.  Make it more about them and their experience than puffing yourself up.

If possible, do this a couple times over the break.  Most leaders, even if you offer to pay, will want to help a poor ministry student out and will pick up the check.  In the end, you glean from their knowledge, build your ministry network, and possibly even develop a new friendship and mentor in the ministry.

All in all, college ministry students, don’t waste your Christmas break.  Use it wisely and purposefully.  Besides, you can play Call of Duty and catch up on Netflix when you get back to campus.  This might be your only shot to get out in the world and make those critical ministry connections for the long haul.

LifeWay VBS Institutes and Previews Round 3

LifeWay VBS 2015 - Journey Off the Map

LifeWay VBS 2015 – Journey Off the Map

I am so thrilled to be back on the road again in January 2015 joining the wonderful LifeWay VBS team as we travel to three cities training thousands of volunteer leaders for this summer’s Vacation Bible School (VBS).

LifeWay’s VBS Institute and Preview events are really unlike anything I had ever been exposed to.  Imagine 500-700 VBS junkies filing into an auditorium excited and joyful about reaching out to spiritual orphans and families with the message of the Gospel.  For them, this is the Super Bowl of their summer.

They pray for, plan, prepare and organize all year long for this week of intense outreach and teaching.  They go all out in making every opportunity available for families and children to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a fun and creative way.

I am truly inspired by these heroes of the faith.  They give me hope knowing that I stand with thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ willing to go the extra mile in spreading the Gospel of Jesus to kids.  They believe, as I do, that young ones can hear, trust, and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and commit their lives to him fully.  .

We will be in three cities this year:

  • Jan. 9-10 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, NC
  • Jan.16-17 at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX
  • Jan. 22-24 at the LifeWay headquarters in Nashville, TN.

For more information on the VBS Preview events, click here.

A Local Phenomenon

A Local Phenomenon.  Written by Haley Dallas. Educational Ministries student.

Photo: The Ring By Spring movie. Hallmark channel.

Photo: The Ring By Spring movie. Hallmark channel.

The local “ring by spring” phenomenon is all but new to the students of Campbellsville University. This idea of getting engaged and settling down quickly seems to spread like wildfire when you step foot on this Christian campus.

But how local is this “local phenomenon” and why do we seem to obsess over its importance?  When a students makes the transition from high school to college they are faced with numerous new changes. These students have a new emotional and physical independence because of the distance they now have between them and the people that have taken care of them for years. Even kids that stay at home for college experience a new sense of taking control of their future. The parental unit these students have had holding their hands and walking them through this life thus far are now backing away and loosening their grips. This new independence leaves the college age student asking themselves “What is my next step.”

Many students at state colleges begin to find their identities in the major they have chosen or the sport they play or the organization they have pledged the next four years to. At a Christian university, students are thrown into an environment conducive to finding your identity in God and his love for us. This environment teaches a sense of community and love for each other that is not found widely at the larger state schools.

The Christian life is a huge advocate for “partners” and “teams.” We are taught about accountability partners and Adam and Eve and even the importance of the relationship between a husband and wife. For a Christian, the verse in Corinthians is a well known and used part of scripture. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends,” 1st Corinthians 13:4-9.

This verse can be used to make love and marriage seem like a wonderful way to spend your life. Secular and Christian culture both see this verse plastered on shirts, tattoos, websites, and Valentine’s Day cards. It is used in Sunday school teachings when portraying how to treat our fellow man and in small groups discussing the way to love your significant other. Bearing in mind the importance of this one verse on our secular and churched culture, you can only imagine how our Christian brothers and sisters are impacted by the plethora of verses just like this one modeling the importance and the greatness of love.

If I were to try and pinpoint one reason why the seeming obsession with early engagement is so prevalent at my little Christian college, and at all Christian colleges like it I would be at a loss. There are so many important factors that contribute to our love for love. The insane whirlwind of emotions and stressors and godly people mixed with the environment that is teaching us to work together and love one another and love our God seems to be the perfect recipe for a great relationship. We are taught to base our marriages and relationships on God and I don’t think there is a better place to start a godly unity than on a Christian campus, studying what you love, learning about God, and growing together.

I don’t think there is any sort of extra “rush” to get married on a Christian campus. I do believe firmly that a Christian campus is unwillingly creating the perfect environment for two God loving people to fall for each other and desire to start their lives together as soon as they can.