What is your title in the church?
How big is your church?
We have about 230 members, but we run about 120 in Sunday School and Worship.
How far in advance to you prepare for services?
During November or December of the year, I begin to prayerfully seek God’s direction for a new plan of discipleship for the coming new year. I distill a central theme or principle for the Christian life from what God impresses upon my heart. As I think through the different aspects of what I believe God wants His people to learn about this particular subject, I begin to plan a sermon schedule for the first quarter of the year. This involves selecting passages and developing sermon ideas to explain the central theme or principle. As each quarter ends, a new sermon schedule is developed for the next quarter with the central theme or principle in view.
About two weeks before a sermon is presented, I outline the passage that the sermon is based on and do the background study needed to better understand the truth of the passage. In developing a sermon, I search for commentary, stories or illustrations that might help others understand the main idea of the sermon. The week before the sermon is presented is a time for prayer about the subject of the sermon. I ask God to help me prepare the message in a way that speaks His truth to the congregation. I try to complete a sermon for Sunday by Thursday afternoon so that I will have additional time to pray and listen to God’s heart about the message. I have come to know that if I do my part and prepare, God will be faithful to do His part and He will give me exactly what His church needs.
What do you do if you feel stuck, creatively?
Sometimes, a pastor feels stuck creatively because his congregation is slower to respond to his vision than he had hoped. When this happens, there are some things a pastor can do. He might talk about the ministry often and introduce his congregation to other people who are being blessed by their active participation in the ministry. If a pastor is authentic in his passion about a ministry, the members of the church may begin to sense that this is something God is calling them to do too.
A pastor might be trying to lead his congregation to worship in a new way or to explore new methods of discipleship. Some people may feel unhappy because a pastor tries to force them to change by imposing his will upon them. This does not endear a pastor to his people or create an atmosphere of cooperation. If a pastor is needing to lead a church in a new direction in worship or in discipleship, he needs to remember to go slow. Part of removing the emotional resistance to something new is to give people time to adjust or to accept what is being done. They may know that the pastor is right, but it takes a while to let go of familiar things. To avoid feeling stuck, a pastor needs to stay focused on the change that is needed. It takes time to grow a church and to make needed changes. Special services or special times for a new ministry to happen can be planned to help a church accept change. By giving people time to think through something and to have an experience they have never had, they gain appreciation for what the pastor is trying to do and they might just get unstuck. If a pastor focuses on people who don’t seem to want to follow him, he may feel stuck. To avoid this feeling, a pastor must remember that he is in the work of God for the long term and stay focused on what God called him to do.
What is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on the pulpit and how did you recover?
The worst thing that ever happened to me was trying to preach after a motorcycle accident. I had a dislocated shoulder and lots of road rash for a few weeks after the wreck. When people heard about it, there were a number of reactions. One lady immediately volunteered her walker for me to use. This walker had a seat in it so that I could turn it around and sit on it while speaking to the audience. Others found a portable stand that was short enough to keep my sermon notes at eye level so that I could continue to preach to the church while seated.
I guess in a lot of ways, I have been blessed to have people who, when they saw my weakness, helped me rather than wait to see me flounder. After all, isn’t that what brothers and sisters in Christ are supposed to do?
What is one ritual that keeps you sane in busy times?
One of the things that I enjoy doing is walking. When I am working at peak capacity, I love to take a break for just a little while and go for a walk. I have walked around the church and I have walked all through the church. The benefit to walking for me is the time I get to sort out all of the things that are making demands on me. I can organize my thoughts and determine what really needs to be done. A walk of about 15 to 20 minutes can really clear my mind and give me the new spark of energy I need to handle the stress of a busy schedule.
If you could give one piece of advice to those graduating from seminary, what would it be?
One thing I would tell a new graduate from seminary is remember all that you have been taught, but never take yourself too seriously. If you try to demonstrate your newly acquired intelligence, people will just not be that impressed that you are smart. In fact, some people may turned away from you because you are someone who is highly educated and they do not have an advanced education. Others may hesitate to approach you and tell you what is going on in their world because they see you as someone who has no time for them because you are so important. One of the first things new graduates do is hang their diplomas on the wall in their office and without really knowing it, they are communicating the fact that they are above everyone else. I know you worked hard for your degree, but in ministry never forget that people are the focus and do whatever it takes to meet them eye to eye.
So, learn to laugh and especially at yourself. Laugh when people tell a funny joke on you and laugh when they pull a prank on you. When they see that you are a real person, they will accept you as a friend, a confidant and a person they can turn to for spiritual matters.
Greg Bell serves as the senior pastor of Fall Creek Baptist Church in Norene, TN. He has pastored churches in Texas, Alabama, and Tennessee. He holds a Master of Divinity degree with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Maleah, reside in Middle Tennessee.