Lessons from Toastmasters


As you may know, we're starting a new church in Liberty Village, Toronto. Liberty Village is an old commercial part of town that's being transformed into a new community. I'm trying to get to know people, so I attended a Toastmasters on Wednesday night. Toastmasters is an organization that helps people build their communication and leadership skills in a club environment.

William Mounce, an author of , wrote this about Toastmasters:

I find myself wondering if every preaching pastor should not aggressively make Toastmaster part of his or her weekly experience. They would learn a lot about preaching, and they would foster positive relationships with non-believers … I would like to attend a church that shared more in common with Toastmasters than it does with traditional church life.

My observations after Wednesday night.

  • It's scary to attend the first time. I imagine that's how people feel attending church for the first time. That was a good thing for me to experience.
  • I loved the environment, and I get why Mounce longs for a church that's more like Toastmasters than traditional church life. They're supportive and welcoming. They have a way of getting you involved without overwhelming you.
  • This is a great way to get to know people and what they're thinking. Give people a platform and let them talk, and you soon discover what they're thinking and what drives them.
  • Most preachers don't get good solid evaluation. Going to Toastmasters is a great way to get honest, constructive feedback in a safe, supportive environment — something that's hard to find for pastors.
  • As someone who teaches preaching, I learned lots about how to give supportive feedback. I'm going to incorporate some of what they do in my preaching class this Fall.

I'll be going back.

What's Your Issue?

I'm struck by this list of twenty issues that Christian leaders face. It's found in an excellent new book called Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God.

  1. I'm really just average in my skills.
  2. I'm often not sure what I'm supposed to be doing.
  3. I have hidden emotional issues, some of which are derived from my relationship with my father and my mother
  4. I'm often motivated by self-glory.
  5. I'm battling sin constantly (and losing occasionally).
  6. I work too much
  7. I have an inconsistent spiritual life.
  8. People get on my nerves.
  9. My marriage is average.
  10. I'm not sure if I'm a good dad/mom/husband/wife.
  11. I really don't find joy in my job.
  12. I'm too young and inexperienced/my best days are behind me.
  13. i'm really uncomfortable around unsaved people.
  14. I don't have a close friend I can trust.
  15. I rely on my position and guilt to get people to do things.
  16. I make decisions without prayer or consulting others.
  17. I waste my time on trivial matters.
  18. I am often more concerned about myself than others.
  19. I'm struggling financially.
  20. I'm often tempted sexually.

I doubt that many of these issues are unique to pastors. The problem is when pastors feel they have to struggle alone.

Three observations:

  • Pastors need to be appropriately open about these struggles. It's time to climb off the pedestal.
  • Pastors need the gospel.
  • Pastors need community.

Check out Gospel Coach. It looks like a fascinating and helpful book.

A Few Good Men and Women

I don't know exactly who is reading this. But I do know that everyone reading this can respond to what I'm posting today.

liberty villageWe're in the process of planting a church in Liberty Village, Toronto. This is a downtown community that is exploding with growth. The potential there is staggering. We held a prayer walk there on Sunday night, and it got me even more excited about what God is doing there.

So here's what I'm asking.

It may be that you live in Toronto, and God is prompting you to be part of this new church plant. If you're not sure, Justin Buzzard has a couple of good lists that will help you begin to sort it out. Would you consider joining us and being part of our launch team? I am so excited about the people God is going to bring together to be part of launching a church in this area, and you can be part of this. Please prayerfully consider this if you're anywhere near the Toronto area and sense that God may be leading you to do this. Please contact me to chat about the possibilities.

Even if you're not in Toronto or you're not interested, there is something you can do. Please pray right now as you read this that God will send workers to join us. Read Luke 10:2: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." The harvest is ready; we just need workers.

God is up to something. I can't wait to see what God is going to do in Liberty Village!

Deeper Application

I have a problem with application in sermons. It's often poorly done. Granted, this is because application is actually one of the hardest parts of preaching. I agree with what Haddon Robinson has said: more heresy is preached in application than in any other part of the sermon.


One of my main problems with application is that it starts too soon. If a preacher is too practical, the listener can develop application fatigue. Every week there are 5 practical applications to take home. Over the course of the year, this will amount to some 250 practical steps. Most listeners will not succeed at accomplishing more than 10%, leaving the listener feeling overwhelmed and with a sense of failure. When done poorly, application can be the giving of more law, leading to more condemnation and failure. Who needs five more practical steps to apply every week? Not me.

The answer isn't to ditch application. That's not helpful either. Instead, we need to back up and look at the groundwork necessary for application. We need deeper application, consisting of three things:

1. Human Need

Our preaching needs to identify the point of need in our lives. Until we've shown people our need, we're not ready to move on to application. Our need falls under two broad categories: our finiteness and our sin. We are finite, and we are sinful.

George Whitefield preached about the need to raise human need in one of his famous sermons. "Before you can speak peace to your hearts, you must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God." If we don't raise our need (what Bryan Chapell calls our Fallen Condition Focus) we haven't set the stage for application.

2. God's Provision

Good preaching shows how our need is met in God. I said that our need falls into two categories: our finiteness and our sinfulness. God's sufficiency meets us in these two areas: he is infinite, and he is gracious.

We are finite, but he is infinite. We are limited in our power, understanding, and time. He is not constrained in any of these areas. Where we fall short, God is more than sufficient.

We are sinful, but he is gracious. We deserve his punishment, but have instead received grace through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Before we can apply a sermon, we must raise human need and God's provision of that need. We need a vision of God and his gospel.

3. So What?

Once we've shown people our need and God's provision, we can get to the "so what?" question. Application fails if you begin here; application can be very effective if you land here after showing our human need and God's provision.

We don't need less application. We need deeper application. We need application that identifies our need and God's provision, and then explains the difference that this makes in our lives. Effective application really requires that all three take place.

Does this make sense? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Worship Without Evidence

Today is Pentecost Sunday. I'm haunted by these words by Oswald Chambers, which remind me of how much I need the Holy Spirit.

Beware of worshipping Jesus as the Son of God, and professing your faith in Him as the Savior of the world, while you blaspheme Him by the complete evidence in your daily life that He is powerless to do anything in and through you.

I long for evidence in our lives and churches that the Spirit is at work through us. I'm praying that it would be so.