Sermon Prep Teams [1]

troy —  November 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

i’ve been teaching weekly for about 16 years in the church context as well as conferences/camps/etc. this has ranged from junior/high school ministry to college ministry to sunday morning services, from a mega church to a church plant. i’ve tried many different things in my prep, done my notes a multitude of different ways…on and on. in my pursuit to continue learning i recently tried something new: i put together a sermon prep team. this team is made up of 5 other people that i meet with every week (i want to add some others too, actually). so, i thought i would do a short series here about what i’m learning about using this format. hopefully it will cause you to consider it at some level. i think i will break this series up in the following ways:

1. benefits of using a “prep team”
2. types of people to have on a team like this
3. the format of our meetings – what we actually do

today i will simply start by listing out some benefits i’m finding with using a team to help me prepare:

1. train people. it’s not too often people see how a pastor preps for a message. and it’s far less that they actually get to be a part of the entire process. i’m finding this tremendously helpful for training others.
2. unity of the team. my team is made up of staff and non-paid interns, so doing this together keeps everyone dialed in and totally on the same page. i’m finding this to be very helpful with culture building. we are all a deeply in tune with what God is teaching us and what we are teaching the people in our church.
3. immediate feedback. i’ve always prepped for my messages alone. i don’t read books on the subject and actually try to limit my reading of commentaries (i can explain why that is later). i’m finding it to be a huge help to be able to bounce ideas off the team and get immediate feedback on it. the truth is a lot of my ideas are not good…and this way i get to find that out before i walk on stage!
4. amazing ideas. i lead the discussion and guide the thought process and ask the questions, but the bottom line is the people in the room come up with some brilliant thoughts that i’m pretty sure i would not have. and this isn’t just ideas for illustrations or creative things, but also ideas on how to articulate thoughts precisely and in a way that is truly helpful. we all feed off each other and collectively get to places that none of us would have alone.
5. less prep time in general. because we are all in it together i’m finding the time it takes me to prep for a message is far less than it used to be. this is a big benefit that i frankly did not see coming.
6. less stress. it’s interesting that this approach lessens the amount of pressure or stress i feel. the weight is ultimately on me (i guess) but it’s entirely freeing to have a team that is taking this seriously to the point of collectively taking responsibility for what i will be teaching.

i’m sure there are more benefits i’m finding than this, but those are on the front of my mind right now. i’ll continue in the next post with the types of people i’m finding to be helpful to have in the room and a part of this team. the bottom line is, i don’t see how i can ever go back to prepping in silo.

a little thanksgiving…

troy —  November 27, 2012 — 1 Comment

being thankful over thanksgiving weekend is easy. it’s every other week that my sense of gratitude can be lost.

i would love to be able to say i never take things for granted, but am instead grateful.

but i can’t if i’m honest.

this past sunday at Colossae i taught on Romans 5:12-21 paul here is comparing the man Adam with Jesus his point is clear: they are different people and each leads us in a different direction. here is the comparison he makes between these two in this section:

Adam led to: sin and death (12, 17, 21); Condemnation (16); Disobedience (19)

Jesus led to: Justification (16); Righteousness (17, 19); Obedience (19); Grace (15, 20)

polar opposites. here is what i know to be true about gratitude in my life: when i take my focus off man (which includes self) and put it on Jesus gratitude is a part of my life additionally, when i look at where i came from (i.e. the life of Adam) to where Jesus has brought me, i’m grateful and it’s when i can keep these things at the front of my mind that i remain thankful more than just a weekend a year.


on saturday i was speaking at the You Lost Me LIVE tour with my good friend David Kinnaman. he had asked me to speak previously at their Seattle event and then again to join them here, in Portland. if you haven’t read his book, You Lost Me, i would recommend doing so.

anyway, he asked me to speak about reaching Millenials in the church context. i shared 4 thoughts. here they are in summary:
1. View them as people, not a stat.  this may seem obvious, but it’s sadly not as common as it needs to be. this generation is talked about (which means they are looked upon) as more of a demographic than human beings. i get how talking about a generation in general terms can be helpful and even necessary, but this balance needs to be watched very carefully. if you view them as a target to hit, you will surely miss.
2. Give them belonging.  a sense of belonging only comes in/through the context of relationships. no sermon, no programming, music, black clothe or candles…none of this gives a sense of belonging to a person. people feel like they belong when they are relationally connected to people. period to reach them there must be a relational focus of ministry. millenials go missing when this type of connection is missing.
3. Blame it on the gospel.  we must continue to call people to embrace the gospel, which at its very core, is a life of selflessness (Mark 8:34). we tend to be good about teaching the benefits of the gospel, but not as good as pushing people to embrace the call of the gospel (self denial and actually following the selfless example of Jesus). embracing the call of the gospel is the only thing that will serve as a motivator for people to focus on others, reach out, and adapt where necessary so that others can become more like Christ (1 Cor. 9:22).
4. Embrace accountability. holding people to the standards of scripture is not an option for spiritual leaders. investing in other people (i.e. discipleship) is not an option or a good suggestion in scripture. it is, in fact, a command as a lead pastor this is part of how i’ve asked to be evaluated by my elders. if i am not helping older adults invest in younger people, i need to be fired.

Okay, I think this will be my last post for this series.  Here are some final little random tips.  I hope this series has given you some decent ideas for you trip this winter.  If you would like more information on this, see College Ministry From Scratch.  Here is my last bit of tips:

• Let students lead aspects of the trip. Leaders in your ministry will naturally take on things, but make sure to use this as an opportunity for others to step up and take on responsibility as well.

• Choose an age range for the trip (like 18-25), make it clear, and make no exceptions. Make sure you think through how you will address those outside of this age range beforehand. There can be some sticky situations, so make sure you think through your reasoning for the range you give.

• Have a theme and use that theme in as many aspects of the trip as possible (shirts, messages/studies, decor, etc). Have one thing you want people to embrace and then make sure that one thing intermingles in between everything.

• Do activities that everyone can participate in.

• Make sure any promotional material is clear and precise. For instance, if you’re not covering all meals, specify which one’s you will be and what they should expect for the others.

• Utilize internet based advertising. This can really save a lot of money. Having fliers can be beneficial, but maximize the tools available at no cost.

• If you’ve never done a trip before, use pre-registration as a tool to get an idea of how many people will attend. A good thing to do is have them make a non-refundable deposit by a certain point. It doesn’t have to be much, but this can give you an idea of how many people to expect actually going. But, be prepared for anything.

• Be careful with “mixers.” I’m not saying don’t do them, but for some people these can be very uncomfortable and feel forced. On retreats we don’t need to push relationships, they will happen naturally.

• When it’s time to clean up, make sure you do the bulk of it at a time when the most people can pitch in and help. For instance, have all the clean up take place right before the last meal or meeting.

Well, here is my second to last post in this series!  Here are tips numbers 8 and 9.

Tip #8: Have little surprises.

 It’s great to start off with a bang. On our Utah trip we used to bring in fresh, hot, Krispy Kreme donuts immediately following our first night meeting. Other nights you can do very inexpensive things like provide popcorn while watching a movie. Beyond this, I also sought sponsors that might want to give away things as promotion for their company. For our Utah trip I simply went around to local sporting good stores, skate shops, etc. let them know we were doing a trip with college-age people, and asked them if they had anything we could hand out to the people in our meetings. We got everything from stickers to hand warmers to snowboards. It’s crazy how easy it was when I just took a few minutes and personally asked the owners. Anyway, having some very small things like this to give away in meeting times or on the bus can go a long way.

Tip #9: Provide Clear and Helpful Information. 

When the buses pulled up to the hotel for our Utah trip, we had registration ready to go. Students walked in, got their room key, a schedule for the week, and other pertinent details. Having a schedule printed on a half sheet of paper or on the back of their name tag is not expensive. We listed out what times things were, we provided bus schedules to the resort, city bus charts, times certain shops or restaurants were open in the area, movie times, and even gave them a list of options for them to do. Making this short and concise is best. In other words, don’t overwhelm them with a book, but provide clear information so you limit the amount of ongoing information needing to be relayed in your meeting times.

Because this idea is a bit long, I decided to issue one tip for this post.  I hope Tip # 7 is helpful:

Tip# 7: Keep the Big Picture in Mind 

There is a lot of value in getting college-age people away, by themselves. The atmosphere is conducive for hitting core age-stage issues and it can be a great time of getting connected with peers. On the other hand we can really use these times to help them have a deeper connection with the larger church body. This is of course crucial in college-age ministry and retreats can be one of the best ways to naturally accomplish this.

Here are some things you can do to help this connection happen naturally:

• Pick one couple for every 25 college-age people and ask them to come on your trip. Their job is NOT to chaperone, it’s just to hang out. This couple has to be hand picked by you! Age doesn’t matter, but there are some basic characteristics you want this couple to have: solid in their faith, honest and willing to speak their mind, fun, relaxed, and willing to hang out late at night playing cards, board games, etc.

• Have the couples host breakfast. Buy some breakfast food (cereal, fruit, bagels, etc.), give the couple a suite in the hotel or a designated area just for them, and have them host breakfast each morning for your students. The couple will simply set out the food each morning and the students can go to their suite to eat and hang out. Some will come, eat, and then leave. Others will hang out for a very long time just talking. The couple has to be relaxed during this time . . . just hanging out, laughing, eating.

• Don’t give the couple ANY other tasks. Their job is to hang out and be available. If they ski or snowboard, let them go all day. If they don’t, encourage them to go to the lodge and hang out around lunch time, have lunch with people that stay behind, or cruise around the mall with someone they clicked with. Remember, the goal is relational connection, so make sure they have time and space to build relationships. If necessary, have students who needed scholarships help with details before you ask the adults. These adults are friends of yours, there to hang out. It’s important you set them up as “normal” people, not chaperones or staff.

• Pray for natural connection to happen. I’ve found that when we expose college-age people to older mature believers in these types of ways natural mentoring relationships form. We don’t need to over structure it, we just need to pray. Set aside some times where you pray for the relationships and connections. Frequently check in with the adults you bring and ask them if they’re getting to know some people. Typically, if they’re just hanging out anyway and are simply available, you don’t even need to ask because it will be obvious.

Winter retreats can be fun no matter what, but we can also be very intentional with making them a part of our goal of assimilation. It’s not rocket science, just do a few things, keep it simple, and watch things happen.

In this series I’ve been issuing some thoughts/tips/ideas as you plan for a winter retreat.  So, here are tips #5 and #6!

Tip #5: Give freedom. 

It’s important to trust people. These are college-age people, not junior high students. They have freedoms in every day life that you don’t want to impede on. For instance, they don’t have a bedtime at home so don’t give them one on the trip. They live with some standards, but their parents aren’t likely asking them where they’re going every time they leave. It’s important to watch the amount of things we require of them. For example, on our Utah trip the only things we asked people to be at was the dinner and the evening meeting. That was it. They had a schedule for the next day so they knew what was available and they had freedom to do what they wished. Buses left for the resort at different times so if they wanted to sleep in, they did so. If they wanted to wake up early and be the first on the lift they could do that. They had freedom and this is very important on these retreats. At the end of the night meeting I would announce some night options available to them and then simply say, “We’ll see you tomorrow night at dinner, if not before!”

Tip #6: Minimize and maximize meetings. 

Many times we feel like we need to fill the schedule with a ton of meetings and seminars for it to be meaningful and worthwhile. I couldn’t disagree more! Of course there might be certain retreats you do for a certain type of person that can be designed around meetings and imparting a bunch of information, but if it’s open to everyone you want to avoid this tendency at all costs. My recommendation is to minimize the amount of meetings, but maximize what you do in them. I’m not saying make them long and do a bunch of different things. I’m talking about making them meaningful, in-depth, and worshipful. Do a few meetings and do them well. Again, using our Utah trip as an example, we only had one meeting a day. It was after dinner and it was about an hour and a half long. We had a worship band and we had someone teach on the theme. We wanted our students to think through one thing all weekend, process it with others, and think about how to embrace that idea in their life. That was it. We minimized the amount of meetings, but sought to maximize the impact by concentrating on one theme. The last thing you want to do is exhaust their time with giving them a bunch of information. Give them some, but make sure they have time and space to process what you give them. Most people don’t drink from a fire hose. Drinking from fountains works much better.

Okay, so here are two more ‘quick tips’ with a bit of wisdom [again, term used loosely] learned from my experience:

Tip #3: Eat well.

I’m not saying be extravagant on this, but make sure you provide at least one good meal a day. It doesn’t matter if you cook it yourself or have it catered, but having one really good meal, like dinner, all together can make all the difference in the world. On our Utah trip we had dinner together each night and it was catered by the hotel. After a long day on the slopes people were able to come back to a nice room, sit down with eight or so other people, and have a sit-down catered meal. For college-age people this is a great thing and it doesn’t cost much more—especially if you’re already staying in the hotel. Believe me, it’s worth the extra $2-3 a meal. On this trip we provided a sort of continental breakfast for everyone (I’ll include some details on that in another post) and they were on their own for lunch. Logistically this worked better since everyone was scattered around the ski lodge over the course of the day. Providing the two meals a day, verses three, also helped keep the overall cost down (see tip #2, above).

Tip #4: Stay at a decent place.

Don’t go for the cheapest hotel in the area. Again, I’m not suggesting a five star hotel, but it should be a nice place. You can always negotiate with the hotel sales people on prices and, of course, the more people you bring the more you can talk them down. Plus, when you put four people into a room, the price per person isn’t that much—especially with a group discount. A tip: if you’re staying at a hotel make sure you put a place on the registration forms for students to put a roommate request. They will likely be sharing a bed with someone so make sure they can have at least one person they know well in their room. For those who may feel uncomfortable about sharing a room with others (especially for guys), a staying in a nicer hotel helps them see past that. Some things you want to look for in a hotel are:

• A room to meet in—and possibly other rooms to utilize for night options.  These are usually offered at reduced prices if you are staying in the hotel.  Make sure you talk with the marketing/sales department people!  They will be able to give you the best deals.

• A nice lobby, conducive for hanging out.

• A hotel staff that doesn’t mind if people are playing board games until midnight, or later.

• A place with a pool or hot tub. For winter retreats having an indoor hot tub is great. Of course encouraging modesty is beneficial, but this is a very big attraction. Plus, we even used the hot tub for a baptismal at times.

• A good location. The closer you stay to things like a mall, movie theater, or restaurants the better. It at least should have a bus stop nearby so people can get around on their own. For trips like our winter retreat where some people don’t purchase lift tickets (see Tip# 2 above) there should be things for them to do. So, location is key.

Lastly, if you have the opportunity to stay in a nice house or cabin this can be a great option as well. Having everyone in one location for everything is great, and this of course can help keep costs down. But with everyone altogether, it’s even more important to make sure it is nice, comfortable, and has what everyone needs.