Do you agree with the line, “I’m only responsible for my actions, but I’m not responsible for people’s reactions”?

It’s a commonly repeated idea, particularly in Christian circles. The last time I heard it, it was phrased, “we should only measure the things we do, we shouldn’t measure the things other people do – because we can’t control it.”
So, first of all, yes. I am responsible for my actions. No amount of circumstances or “you made me do it” takes away from the fact that my decisions are mine, and I wear the responsibility for what I say and choose to do. Even if I didn’t mean to act that way–even if what I did was unintentional–I have to wear the responsibility for it.
Ok, what about the idea of being responsible for other people’s actions?
I think the best way to answer this is to say that we are “reasonably responsible” for other people’s actions. I do not believe this is a on/off idea, but rather a spectrum from “in no way responsible” to “significantly responsible” but never “100% responsible”.
If I do a bad job as a salesman, I’m partly responsible for you not buying the car. If I do a good job pitching and convincing you of the value of the car, then I am partly responsible for you buying it. I could do a terrible job selling it, and you might still buy it despite me–in which case there was probably some other factor partly responsible for your decision.
We ought be careful not to over-spiritualise Christian ministry away from this idea completely. If I do a bad job preaching, I’m both responsible for my words, and I’m partly responsible for the poor response it gets. If I do a good job, I’d be using the gifts provided by God as a good steward, and would be partly responsible for the results.
Isn’t this why Paul regarded the Thessalonians as his “reward”? They were the ones God used him to save, and Paul busted his gut to do it clearly and well. Not saved by Paul, but certainly saved through Paul’s actions to some extent.

If people are most likely to remember the last thing you say, wouldn’t you want to end with…

Grace?
There seems to be a common formula in modern preaching, it’s not bad, but it’s just worth thinking about. Often a preacher will apply a passage in two ways. First for the non-Christian, and then, once they’ve been invited to trust Christ, there’s a second application for the Christian. It goes something like, “ok, what does this mean for you if you’re a Christian then?”
There’s some very good reasons for doing it this way… It models the right thing to the right people. It says that you come to Jesus first, trust him, and in response to his grace, you live a certain way. All good.
However, I wonder if people are just more likely to remember the last thing they hear?
I also wonder if even our Christian brothers and sisters need to be reminded of grace again and again?
What if we applied the passage to our lives, and then said… “That’s a tall order isn’t it. In fact it’s impossible for us. But God forgives in Christ. God transforms in Christ. God helps through Christ’s spirit. Does that make you want to try and do it all the more?”
Does ending on grace show that we’re all in the same boat, needing to be saved?

Debunking the need to preach a book all at once

There seems to be an idea that exegetical preaching means more than simply walking through a book with your congregation. Somewhere along the line, we started to think that you had to do that entire walk in the space of a school term – 10 or 11 weeks.

And that works semi-ok for some books; Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, etc. And it works ok for some sections of the gospels or other narratives; Gen 1-11, Exo 1-12, Mark 1-8, Rev 1-7, etc.

But the reality is that these these two ideas “preaching thru a book well” and “only doing a book for a limited number of weeks” have two very different intentions, and they end up hurting each other. On one hand, there’s so much in Colossians, Ephesians and others that breaking them up into 10 parts STILL glosses over heaps of really amazing ideas. 10 weeks still isn’t long enough for these books. On the other hand, apart from the Pastoral Epistles, you’re still going to break up a book to preach it in 10 weeks. Preaching Mark 1-8 is not preaching Mark.

Here’s two things we’ve started:

  1. Preach slowly through a book over years. We’ve started Romans a few years ago, just working through a few verses every term 2. If we had our time again, I reckon we’d move through it even slower.
  2. Give your less-often preachers a book/series that they can do over years, a few weeks at a time. I’ve been working through Acts 4 weeks at a time. When else would you get to take your congregation through Acts??
    The other value of this is that it makes each of your staff an “expert” in a book. It deepens the exegetical scholarship of your staff team.

You’re not embarrassing, you’re just surrounded by embarrassiable people

Most of the embarrassing situations you’ve been in have only been embarrassing because of what “you think” other people are “feeling”.

In other words, it’s only “assumed empathy” that makes things embarrassing. The fact you tripped up the stage is only a cause of embarrassment if you think other people will be imputing embarrassing feelings onto you. If you were totally convinced that no-one saw you, or that everyone thought you didn’t trip, would you be embarrassed?

The trick to dissolving an embarrassing situation is convincing other people that you’re not feeling embarrassed… to stop them feeling empathetically embarrassed on your behalf.

One way is to simply laugh it off. Another way is to tell them that your not embarrassed.

I do this with my stutter when preaching. I tell people that I’m not embarrassed about it, I make them feel at ease – not about my stutter – but about how I feel about having a stutter. Once they know that I’m really not embarrassed about it, neither are they.

Modern Day Gifts: The Illustrator

You work at the text, you see it from every angle, you explain it in every detail, you apologise for its complexity, while encouraging people to work really hard at understanding it…

And then “the Illustrator” arrives and says, “Oh, so it’s kinda’ like how…” and proceeds to come up with a BRILLIANT illustration for what you’re trying to say, such that everyone just goes, “Ohhhh!! right!”

And it all seems so simple.

When was the last time you asked someone to help you come up with an illustration?

Tone vs. Mood

A helpful category of thought for reviewing and planning sermons…

What is the tone and what is the mood?

Tone describes the voice used by the preacher. It could be a calm tone, an angry tone, a concerned tone, a joyful tone, etc…

Mood describes the general feel in the room. A calm mood, a tense mood, a guilty mood, an excited mood.

But it’s not as simple as you’d think… one tone doesn’t always produce the same mood. Watch comedians to see this… each comedian uses different tones, but they all aim for a similar mood.

So be intentional about your tone, and be even more intentional about your mood.

Modern day gifts: The Applicator

Ok, I know that just sounds weird, but hear me out.

Some people have a unique and amazing knack at hearing a sermon, reading a passage and just nailing what it practically means for themselves and people around them. They can apply the bible so well.

They may not be great teachers or preachers, but they see what the implications of the gospel message are in very real terms. They make great advisors for sermon applications.

1 to 1 the best training for preaching

Keen to do FT ministry? Want to become a great preacher? Want to see 100s, nay, 1000s of people saved? Great! Do 1 to 1 ministry.

Why?

It helps you to develop trust for God working through his word to change people.

It helps you understand how – so often – people don’t understand the bible when they read it.

It helps keep you humble as you see how people don’t change just because you tell them to.

It helps you understand the bible really really really really really really really really well as you think about teaching people in other ways – like preaching.

Of course, this is assuming you read the bible with people when you do 1 to 1. So do that.

Try teaching the opposite

How do you get people to wrestle with the Bible, not just nod their head without thinking?

One way is to show them they assume the opposite. Lead them down the path of thinking A only to show them God says B.

For example, if they were a shepherd and they lost one sheep, would they really “leave the 99 in the open field” (vulnerable to lions and bears) to find one sheep… One sheep that’s probably already dead, or will turn up soon on its own anyway!?! People don’t go looking for lost coins!! They don’t celebrate when their fortune-wasting son returns!!!

Once people realise they don’t actually agree with the assumptions in the bible, that’s when REAL thinking and character development take place.

Before you teach your next thing, ask yourself whether you need to show people they don’t actually believe it.

Let the meeting preach the gospel

Sometimes sermons don’t hit the spot, they don’t resonate, they don’t touch a nerve, they don’t point to our sin and Jesus’ grace, etc…

So make sure the gospel is in your meetings.

Use the gospel to explain why you meet. Use the gospel to explain why you pray. Use the gospel to shape your songs, and the welcome, and the farewell, and the interviews. Just a sentence here and a mention there. Wrap Jesus into and through everything.

And one step further; shape the whole meeting on the gospel. Start with the good God who we’ve rebelled against, hear his word — that he initiated for our sake — respond to his word in prayer and songs. Encourage each other to live in line with the gracious calling we’ve received.

And not just Sunday meetings; youth group, Growth Groups, special events, 121s, etc…