photo: audio-luci-store, Creative Commons

photo: audio-luci-store, Creative Commons

Do you remember public speaking in school when you were growing up? Maybe there was a class specifically dedicated to it, or maybe it would just roll around every once in awhile when projects were due or presentations were required.

The words themselves, “public speaking,” seem to carry an immense amount of pressure. They connote sweaty palms, cracking voices, and hours practicing in front of the mirror.

For some people, those words are about as welcome in their lives as a spider or a confined space.

Public speaking isn’t easy, but it is necessary—especially as a pastor.

So I’ve compiled the advice I’ve heard over the years into a quick, simple list.

Here are the three things every great public speaker knows:  

1. Telling a story is the best way to engage an audience. 

Telling a story is your best bet for not only connecting to and engaging your audience, but also for ensuring they’ll retain the information you give them. For some reason, our minds are wired to remember stories more than any other method of information delivery.

We can listen to facts all day and rarely remember more than a few of them.

But when we hear a story, we absorb nuances and the details with remarkable accuracy.

When you’re preparing a speech, or a sermon, tell your audience stories. Weave your message through with anecdotes and examples, both from your own life and from the people around you. You’ll keep your audience engaged and help them remember what you told them.

2. Focus on giving a complete message, not filling the time.

Have you ever listened to a TED talk? They’re remarkable aren’t they? They’re some of the best speeches given by some of the most fascinating people and they’re only 20 minutes long. Does that seem strange to you? The most fascinating people in the world are giving a speech and yet they’re restricted to 20 minutes.

But it makes sense and here’s why:

Our attention spans max out at about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, we have a much harder time paying attention and retaining information.

Now, I’m not suggesting that our sermons should all be cut to 20 minutes, but what if we focused on being intentional with our words and direct in our message—saying what we mean to say in the most effective way we can possibly say it?

When you’re preaching, focus on making your point—not filling the minutes. Your speech will be better, and your audience will appreciate it.

3. Tell your audience exactly what you want them to do next.

When we listen to a speech, we only retain about 30 percent of what was said. This is a combination of a limited attention span as well as the fact that we’re taking what the speaker is saying and applying the relevant parts to our lives.

So when you’re speaking or preaching, it’s important you are extremely clear about what you want your audience to do with the information you’ve given them. Don’t expect them to remember or to figure it out on their own. Tell them explicitly, and don’t be afraid to repeat it. Your clarity and repetition will help your audience remember and act on the point of your speech.

Keep practicing, trying new things, and seeking wisdom from excellent communicators. Public speaking is an art, and just like most things, you get better the more you practice.

photo: Richard Freeman, Creative Commons

photo: Richard Freeman, Creative Commons

There’s nothing with the power to encourage or discourage pastors more than reports of their church’s attendance.

It’s the church equivalent to a report card—letting you know if you’ve improved, if you’ve stayed the same, or if God forbid, you’ve gotten worse. It’s the way we know if we’re doing well, if we’re staying on track, if the message we’re giving is being received, and if people are connecting to what we’ve helped create.

In a business, all you have to do is look at the bottom line to see how you’re doing.

In churches, our measure of success isn’t quite so cut and dry.

Numbers give us the tangible rewards we lack so often in ministry. They tell us how we’re doing. It’s important to pay attention to our numbers, because if they’re decreasing—if fewer people are showing up at church each week—chances are we’re doing something wrong.

But the inverse isn’t always true.

Just because your church is growing doesn’t mean you’re on the right track. I’m sure if you stop for a minute you can think of a few corrupt pastors, just off the top of your head, who have run massive churches but haven’t done it for the Kingdom of God.

Numbers can’t and shouldn’t be the only way to measure our success.

So what else do we look at? What else should we be focusing on, other than growth, to achieve and measure our success as a church body?

One word: Quality.

Let’s look at the Gospels for a minute. While there are several instances when Jesus addresses a crowd, there are even more when he addressed one person or his small group of disciples. If Jesus was all about numbers, he would have been doing three or four Sermons on the Mount per day—as many services as he could cram in, just like we often do on Sundays.

Instead, he had conversations with people.

He met them face to face, over dinner, around a table. He mentored his disciples— teaching them, guiding them, and correcting them.

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, it seems he was much more about quality and less about quantity.

To some of us, in our mass-media packed-auditorium world, this seems inefficient. 

Why wouldn’t Jesus try to speak to as many people at once as he possibly could? I think it’s because he was much more interested in a ripple effect than he was a big splash. Jesus invested deeply in the hearts and minds and lives of a select group of people because he knew they would go off and do the same.

And they did.

Jesus’ disciples took the word of God he shared with them and shared it with more people than Jesus did. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus equipped his disciples with truth and love and sent them off to proclaim the message of the Gospel. And that ripple has continued ever since.

Yes, growth can be a great indication of success, but it is not a universal one. 

A different way to look at success is by looking at the quality with which we’re investing in the lives of our congregation. Because when we invest in someone like Jesus did, we can watch them go off and do the same, the ripple stretching far past any distance we could ever reach on our own.

photo: Moyan Brenn, Creative Commons

photo: Moyan Brenn, Creative Commons

Today I want you to take a moment to reflect on how you and your staff spend your time. Think of this as taking inventory—something we as churches don’t normally have to do. Consider this taking inventory of your time.

  • What takes up most of your week?
  • What conversations dominate your staff meetings?
  • What tasks overwhelm your time?
  • What to-dos are on your list?

Inventory is easier for a company that creates and sells something. They invest time and money into a product, and the amount that product earns determines whether or not their investment was worth it. They go back, evaluate the process, and figure out ways to shave down the investment and increase the return.

But taking inventory of our time—figuring out our where our effort and energy goes—is just as important.

So I’m going to take you through several steps today—you can either do them on your own or with your staff. But I hope, by the end, you’ll have a better idea of what you should do more of, what you should do less of, and what you can scrap altogether.

Grab a large sheet of paper, or a whiteboard, and several different colored markers. Don’t worry about being neat, think of this as a brainstorm.

Lets get started.

  1. What is your goal as a church? Define it as succinctly as you’re able because this is the measuring stick we’re going to use to evaluate your efficiency.
  2. Make a list of all recurring tasks and meetings. Write down everything you can think of – don’t skip an item, no matter how small it is.
  3. Organize those tasks into categories. The categories might be administrative, marketing, service planning, service executing, relational, etc.
  4. Next to each item, write how long it takes you or the member of your staff responsible. How much time does it take someone to make the bulletins? How many hours a week are spent on social media content creation? How many hours do you spend physically setting up the sanctuary for services? This list goes on…

Now comes the evaluation. Remember, the goal here isn’t to do away with tradition, but rather, to make sure we’re being good stewards of our time and money, using each to work towards the realization of our main goal.

So now, with a different color marker, here’s the next step:

  1. Go through your list and circle all items that don’t directly serve your overall goal.
  2. Now, with a different color marker, circle the items that take more time than you think are necessary.
  3. Now, in a separate space, brainstorm a list of new ideas, new projects and new events that would directly serve to accomplish the goal you set out in step one.

It’s easy to get so used to spending our time and our energy and our money in certain ways that we forget there was ever a different way to do it. We avoid trying new ideas. And when we look at our weeks, months, and years as a whole, we realize we’ve spent a lot of our time working on things that really didn’t matter, that didn’t serve to accomplish our goals at all.

It’s also how we get stale.

The rest of this inventory is up to you.

As a staff, take a look at the tasks you’re completing that have nothing to do with your goal. It may feel uncomfortable, and you may ruffle a few feathers, but what would happen if you streamlined those tasks, or did away with them altogether?

It would most likely free up your time and your resources for something with a greater, more far-reaching impact.

We have been given an amount of time and money and people and it’s up to us to use them well, stewarding them in the best way to make the maximum impact for the Kingdom of God.

photo: Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons

photo: Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons

You’ve heard the verse, “We need to be in the world, not of it.” You’ve heard we are aliens in the world, and we can expect to be hated for our beliefs. Christians and “the world” feel like oil and water, two separate things that can’t and shouldn’t be mixed.

But you’ve also heard that Jesus came for the sick, and we should love the least of these. You’ve seen Jesus’ example of how he ate with sinners, talked to people who he culturally shouldn’t have, and loved people others had forgotten.

This seems like a hard balance to walk doesn’t it? 

As followers of Jesus, we know we’re supposed to love. But we also know the ways we’re taught to live are so different from the ways of the world. We end up navigating a tricky space in between:

How do we love the people in the world without becoming a part of it?

It’s not an easy thing to understand, and, unfortunately, we’re not very good at it.

As Christians, we have a bit of a bad reputation, and I think this tension contributes to it greatly. To the outside world, and to our own world as well, we sometimes look like jerks.

We don’t mean to, usually. 

We’re just attempting to navigate this tension. How do we live in the world but not of it? How do we love people in the world without compromising all that we believe in?

But in the process of navigating that tension, we end up alienating the very people we are aiming to love.

Trying to maintain our distance from the world and love the people in it at the same time looks like trying to love someone from the opposite side of a thick wall. It looks like trying to tend to someone with a bad cold, wanting to take care of them while avoiding getting sick.

I know it’s shocking to imagine, but this way of being “loved” tends to be offensive to the people on the other side. Nobody feels loved by someone who’s trying to keep their distance. And this is not what Jesus modeled for us.

Jesus loved the unlovable. 

He surrounded himself with people the righteous found distasteful. Those were the people he joined around the table. And although he got a lot of heat for it, those are the people he came for. He didn’t keep up a barrier of separation. He met people face to face, eating beside them and loving them without distinction. And they liked him and received what he had to say and the love he had to give them as a result.

I think this is where we go wrong. 

We invite people to come in, but not to come close, and we’re surprised when they don’t want to come. We love people but keep our distance, which makes us look like we don’t care; it makes us look like jerks.

And the response we earn is understandable. It’s hard to like someone who doesn’t seem to like you. And by isolating ourselves from the world, only to show up for a food bank or a charity function — that’s exactly what we’re communicating.

This is what I want to talk about in the coming weeks. We need to figure out how to relate to people better – how to care about people in a way that feels as genuine as the heart behind it. We have to figure out how to be more likeable as Christians because our likeability – or lack thereof – severely inhibits our ability to love people.

Jesus modeled what it looks like for us to love one another, and we’re going to be taking a deeper look into how we can do that in a way that is better received.

photo: Michael Ruiz, Creative Commons

photo: Michael Ruiz, Creative Commons

If you could write a letter to yourself 10 years ago, what would you say? What would you tell yourself to focus on or shy away from? What would you tell yourself to pay attention to or to let go a little more often?

Whenever you’re starting something new, there are always going to be tricks of the trade you haven’t learned yet. There are things you will know as an experienced pastor, with years under your belt, that you didn’t know when you were just beginning.

This is okay.

The maturation process means that as you go and as you move forward, you will continuously get better at your job. If you aren’t, you’re doing something wrong. The mistakes and learning experiences we have at the beginning of our careers are the lessons that make us into the great pastors we will be in 10 years, but aren’t quite yet.

But just because the learning experiences are good doesn’t mean there aren’t a few words of caution that could help you out today.

Here are five mistakes young pastors commonly make:

1. They lack a work-life balance

Being a pastor is an all-consuming job. It’s relational in nature and, therefore, hard to leave at home. It is easy to get so wrapped up in helping your congregation that you forget there are people waiting for you at home, other people who need you.

Even you need rest and care and attention.

A common mistake young pastors make is to overwork themselves. They overestimate how much they have to give. Overwork leads to burnout and is the cause of many young pastors quitting too early.

Take time for yourself and for your family and to rest. It will lengthen and strengthen your career and your ability to make the impact you want to make.

2. They don’t receive council from older pastors

The fact of the matter is that pastors who have been doing this longer than you have are going to know more than you do. Wise young pastors find someone well ahead of them in years and experience to mentor and teach them. You and your congregation will benefit greatly from wise counsel speaking into your life and your ministry.

3. They preach outside of their experience and understanding

A dangerous mistake young pastors often make is preaching about something they don’t fully understand. As a pastor, we have to be sensitive to the fact that we’re speaking into other people’s lives, and we have to do so with the sensitivity, tact, and empathy that often comes from experience and research.

Be careful when preaching about something you may not know enough about. Unfounded opinions and disconnected theology can be harmful to members of your church who are going through the things you’re preaching about.

4. Being driven to succeed more than driven to serve God

Leading a church, just like any other kind of leadership, is a great honor.

It’s encouraging to see people come into your church, for your numbers to increase, or for your Twitter following to double. It’s nice having people know your name and pay attention to you and care what you think. But it’s crucially important that we keep our heads on straight.

We need to remember why we’re doing this, who gave us the power and authority we hold, and what our purpose is. We are pastors to glorify the name of God, not the name of us. As young pastors, and old pastors, and everyone in between, it’s really easy to forget this.

5. Having passion without knowledge

Passion is important, and as a new pastor, I hope you have loads of it. But a great way to grow in your first few years as a pastor is to increase your knowledge.

Your congregation looks to you for biblical application and translation and nuance they wouldn’t understand on their own. And it’s up to you to learn those things so you can turn around and impart them. Read as much as you can—study, research, and listen to other kinds of teaching.

Immerse yourself in the knowledge of God so your congregation can too. It’s one of the best ways you can serve them.


Being a young pastor is a great place to be. It’s a season of excitement and fulfillment, of energy and of passion. Understandably, and blessedly, it’s a great time of learning, a time that will set you up with a strong foundation for the rest of your ministry. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s to be expected, but being mindful of these five things can help put you on a path to success you might have missed on your own.