J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

How Seizures Led Me to Write a Book on Sermon Writing

Simple Sermon Solution

Part of my purpose in writing “Simple Sermon Solution” was to share what I learned as I struggled with seizures.  There was an intense time in my life when coherent thought was no longer a given.  The Simple Sermon Solution was created out of that time. 

 

In this excerpt I explain how my typical pattern as a preacher was to preach with a “Big Picture Question” – each sermon attempting to answer that question from the text.  Post-seizures, that pattern changed a bit.  Let’s pick up during that time.

 

Enjoy…

 

Soon after arriving in Virginia, I began to struggle with seizures.  These were silent seizures that would nearly paralyze me and leave me unable to speak and at times uttering nonsense.

 

I could still preach, but concentration in preparation was hard.  I was on an ever-changing cocktail of meds to stop the seizures.  At times, coherent thought was a challenge.

 

I needed to refine both my preparation and delivery style, otherwise I wasn’t going to survive. 

 

The church was off to a good start, but I wasn’t.

 

So, I took a season to analyze my sermons, and I realized a few things.  Despite the Big Picture Question, I had fallen into the pattern of being a living commentator again.  I wanted more for my preaching and for my church, and organizing my sermons was getting harder and harder for me to do.

 

So, I did what every good pastor does:  I started studying, and this time, the topic was preaching.  It took every bit of my brain to do this.

 

I walked away from that season of study knowing that I needed to be more organized, and greater organization would enable me to be more comfortable, more fluent, and be a better preacher.  It would also save me a ton of time.

 

My studying, my experience, and remembering my dad gave me the organization I needed.  Here is what I decided:

 

I would stick with the Big Picture Question, and I would offer 3 points from the text to help answer it.  This would help me hone the question down all the more and make sure it was specific to the texts because there would be 3 points from the text.  I couldn’t just ramble, and I couldn’t include too much data.  I just kept reminding myself that keeping it simple didn’t have to mean my sermon lacked depth. 

 

But then, I had another question.  How do I make sure everyone could remember the answer to the Big Picture question?  Basically, what would make the sermon memorable?

 

After a few weeks of preaching with the 3 points, it came to me.  My conclusion wasn’t helping my folks remember the answer to the question.  Something more was needed for them, and something more was needed for my raddled brain….

 

If you want to learn more about what happened next, just download your free copy of “Simple Sermon Solution” at www.simplesermonsolution.com.  I hope it as much a help you as it was to me.  If you just like to hold a book in your hands, you can find the paperback at Amazon.

 

Gordon Duncan is the pastor of Evident Grace Fellowship in Fredericksburg, VA.  He is the author of numerous religious book and also writes for the business and optometric world.  You can find his resources for both on Amazon.

 

 

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November 13, 2017 Posted by | father, health, love others, men, missional, publishing, self-publishing | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Excerpt from Simple Sermon Series: Micah

I’m releasing my 3 part “Simple Sermon Solution” series in just a few days.   The idea behind the books is to help preachers and Bible study leaders better organize their thoughts so they can deliver their messages in a clear way to bring people closer to Jesus.  The 3 books are:

Simple Sermon Solution – a practical how to on organizing and delivering effective messages.

Simple Sermon Solution:  Micah – a devotional commentary that also demonstrates those simple, effective messages.

Simple Sermon Solution:  Easter – a devotional commentary that demonstrates how I used to organize messages and how I organize them now.

Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, these books should encourage everyone and draw them nearer to Christ.  They are readable as devotions.

To give you a taste, below is a excerpt from Simple Sermon Series:  Micah.  I hope you enjoy it.  Full release details will be available soon.

The pain and dryness of this world is to be met by a refreshing water of life, Jesus Christ, as demonstrated by the mercy He has shown us in our lives

We can’t ignore this promise and this injunction. God calls you to refresh the world., but we struggle.

However, as my mentor, Terry, often said was guilty of Little Bo Peep evangelism.  He used to quote, “Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, and doesn’t know where to find them; leave them alone, and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them.”

He rightly said the church wrongly just assumed the lost would find their way to the church eventually.  In studying for this, I decided to look up the story of Little Bo Peep and found this.

Here is the whole rhyme.

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, and doesn’t know where to find them; leave them alone, And they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them

Little Bo-peep fell fast asleep, and dreamt she heard them bleating; but when she awoke, she found it a joke, for they were still a-fleeting.

Then up she took her little crook, determined for to find them; she found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed, for they’d left their tails behind them

Even Little Bo Peep eventually went after those lost sheep at appears.

God has called you to be a dew to this world.  It is your right, your privilege, your duty.  How do we do that? We show mercy to those in need. We offer Jesus to those who do not know Him.  At the very least, we invite them to worship where they can experience mercy.

I know this can be scary, but don’t let every other love of your life be what you tell people about (movie, food, drink).  You are a refreshment to the world, but remember, we are talking about how God protects believers.  Being a dew unto the world is going to open you to criticism and persecution.

November 8, 2017 Posted by | church, church planting, entrepreneur, family worship, gospel, men, publishing, self-publishing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Must Have an Urgency to Create Personal Churches

Acts 2: 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Our communities need personal churches.

What is a personal church?

A personal church is one where intimacy with Christ and each other is emphasized and strategically created within a community.

A personal church is one where it is easy to break into communities (small groups, women’s/men’s groups) that already exists.

A personal church is one where the leaders intentionally seek time with each family or single in the church so as to know them, encourage them, and love them.

Why do I say this? I’ll tell you why. I think our communities need personal churches because I see so few of them and their lack is inhibiting growth with Christ and growth in the church.

Two things helped me realize this.

First, the elders and I at Evident Grace Fellowship decided that we were going to try to do home visits (or at least get one on one time) with every family or single in our church over the course of 3 months. My elders raced out ahead of me and returned with encouraging stories or prayer, honesty, and appreciation. Real steps of intimacy in Christ were taken. As I began to make my visits, I experienced the same. One family was overwhelmingly appreciative that the pastor would visit without something being wrong. I could sense God moving in people’s lives. Once the elders and I visit everyone, we are going to try to just keep it up (visit everyone every 3 months). Real face time created open avenues for growth.

Second, I’m witnessing the damage done by the impersonal nature of some churches. Listen, I understand that needs go unmet in churches. Leadership is imperfect like church members and attendees. But people are walking away from worship because too many churches are too impersonal. They are either too big or they just yell theology without any personal care attached.

So, how do we create personal churches? Here are 3 steps.

One: Leadership must meet with their people. It doesn’t have to be home visits (though that is pretty effective). Day to day discipleship or lunches or whatever work. Genuine questions of care from leadership to the crowd make a huge impact.

Two: Discipleship must be encouraged. Conversations about prayer, book studies, etc have got to be emphasized. Testimonies of discipleship have to become common place. People meeting with people over the cause of Christ creates a personal church that is welcoming and open to growth.

Three: Small groups are essential, but not just 8 people studying a book. Small groups centered on the word of God that encourage real-time application and accountability create a personal church.

Hey, I’m an imperfect pastor leading an imperfect church, but let’s get beyond the showy, impersonal, facsimile of church that is passing today. If we have a personal Savior and a personal salvation to offer, then we must create a personal church to proclaim Him.

Gordon Duncan is the pastor of Evident Grace Fellowship in the Spotsylvania/Fredericksburg, VA community. .

August 1, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

July 4th Ruminations

July 4th 2013

This morning, I ran the Lions Club Heritage 5 Miler in downtown Fredericksburg, VA. It was a true convergence of the many things I care about it my life.

I ran with two friends from Evident Grace – or at least I chased both of them as they ran their races faster than I did. I’m thankful for people like Chris and Danny. They keep me humble and inspire me to never accept anything but hard work and discipline in my physical fitness.

The race benefited the Lions Club’s sight and hearing programs. I’ve been in the eye industry as a manager and consultant for nearly 20 years. I never set out to be in the eye care profession, but I am thankful for it and love the simplicity of the industry: care for people’s sight, early detection of so many health issues, and make people feel good about their appearance.

I last ran this race in 2013 soon after my family and I moved to VA. The photo above reminds me of the many folks at EG who I love, but it also reminds me of my health. That race was just weeks before my seizure diagnosis. I had no idea I was about to endure months of testing out meds. God has brought me so far since 2013, and today’s race is a reminder of His grace in my health as I ran a PR for 5 miles.

And today, of course, is the 4th of July. I am thankful for the freedom to write this blog without fear. I am thankful that God has blessed me, my family, and my church to worship and proclaim Jesus openly without fear. And I am reminded that so few Christians enjoy this freedom throughout the world.

So, however you choose to spend your day, I pray it is spent in thanks. Look for things that remind you of God’s grace and goodness in your life. And share your gratitude with as many people as possible.

 

 

July 4, 2017 Posted by | business, church, church planting, entrepreneur | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Glorious Burden to Care for Others

Psalm 122: 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. 7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” 8 For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.

 The expression “glorious burden” describes the privilege that those in places of authority have to seek the good of those under their care.

Pastors have this as they shepherd and preach to their people.

Parents have this as they raise and teach their children.

Teachers have this. Politicians have this.

Essentially, all who have the privilege to care have this.

In reading David’s prayer in Psalm 122, you see a clear love for His people. He wanted their security. He wanted their peace. He wanted families to be safe. He wanted the prosperity of all of the people of God.

Today, each and every one of us bear this same glorious burden. It is neglected at times as we seek our good above others under our care, but we must always right ourselves to the heart of Jesus.

Hebrews 12:1b And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

 Our perseverance in loving and caring for others comes from Jesus’ love and care to joyfully endure the cross for our sake. So then…

Pastors, pray for the ongoing needs of your people asking God for mercy at every turn.

Parents, pray for the safety and godliness of your children in a world where both are rare.

Spouses, pray for each other as the road of lifeline companionship is fraught with obstacles.

Business Owners, pray for your employees to serve with dignity in an environment that you have created that enables it.

Teachers, pray for learning and appreciation in what you teach.

Children, pray for you parents and their perseverance in the long road of caring for you.

Pray for all who you love and even your enemies that they may be blessed.

 

May 17, 2016 Posted by | church, church planting, family worship, father, gospel, men, mission, missional | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Open Letter to Seminary Graduates

graduateWith multiple seminary graduations around the corner in the Washington/Richmond/etc., my mind returned to 11 years ago when I was preparing to walk up to the podium and receive my sheepskin. I was fortunate enough to have a ministerial call in hand the day I graduated, so I knew where I was going, to whom I was going to minister, and I even had a sense of how much money I was going to make.

My oh my, how times have changed.

Most of the seminary grads I know are presently without a formal call meaning, that they do not have a secure job in the ministry. At best, some of them have part-time youth or part-time music positions. I even know a couple of grads who have multiple part-time ministry positions. It would appear the day of giving newly graduated seminary students full-time, full pay ministry jobs has come and gone.

So, what to do? Let me offer a few practical suggestions.

Don’t mistakenly view seminary as the end of the struggle and your first job as the opportunity to exhale. Ministry is never easy even if you do receive full-time pay. Many of you have worked multiple jobs, put off having children, missed family events, and experienced a host of other sacrifices in the past 3 (or more) years to get to this point. The temptation is to think that now that you have graduated, you can exhale, get one job, and that life will smooth out a bit for you. Wonderful though that might sound, that view of ministry is idealistic and even a bit naïve. The freedom to eat pizza and laugh with your spouse or friend (and a host of other freedoms) without the worry of someone calling you on the phone with an emergency shouldn’t be taken for granted. The ministry is the most joyful, rewarding vocation of them all, but it will not be the period of your life where you all of a sudden get to exhale and take it easy. More thank likely, it will be the time where every aspect of you (physical, mental, spiritual, etc) will be demanded. More than likely, these same things will be demanded of your family to some extent. A fulltime ministry position may help alleviate your financial situation (maybe), but that doesn’t mean it will be the panacea for your ills.

The most practical advice I can give any seminary graduate is to find a paying job with benefits along the lines of a Starbucks or something similar. Starbucks offers benefits with an insanely low hourly commitment coupled with a decent wage. If you are applying for a part-time position and can express a willingness to work said job until a full-time ministry position opens, you will instantly become one of the more attractive candidates. Scripturally, we call this “tentmaking” as Paul provided for his income by making tents on the side, and worldwide, more pastors probably do this than receive full-time wages from their ministry. Coupling part-time ministry with another job allows for a larger mission field and offers the opportunity for your brain to think practically about ministry in the day to day. It also gives a church’s committee the opportunity to see your willingness to sacrifice, your maturity, and your heart in a way that they cannot in a candidate who is not willing to tent-make.

Personally, the years I have spent tentmaking benefited me greatly. They have taught me patience as I waited for the church to grow. They provided an avenue by which I could relate better to the people to whom I was ministering. They also guarded my heart against any sense of entitlement that my degree or ordination might tempt me towards. I view the days of working another job as a day for my heart and brain to be challenged in a way that full-time ministry cannot. I generally return refreshed and renewed.

And most importantly, I suggest you make the Gospel both your humility and your confidence. The wonderful truth that Christ has provided you with all the qualification before God that you will ever need should humble you to no end. You could never qualify for such status before God as a Christian much less as a pastor without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That heart attitude will also be your confidence. Knowing that you are loved and accepted as the Father loves Christ (John 17) gives you the confidence to do the work of ministry (in whatever form that God provides) without the fear of rejection or failure. All that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished on your behalf before day one of your ministry whether it be full or part-time.

Congrats to you and to your families for making it to this point. I pray great things for you as you seek to know and understand God’s will for you in future ministry.

May 6, 2016 Posted by | church, church planting, family worship, father, gospel, men, mission, missional | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listen to Your Feet and Grow Closer to God

How can listening to your feet improve running and your relationship with God?

On a recent mid-week run, I was cruising along listening to my favorite podcast.  There was the typical fatigue that mid-week anything brings, but this run was more difficult.  Something else was going on.  What was it?

In a rare moment of silence during my 1.5x speed podcast, I heard it.  The balls of my feet were striking the ground, not propelling me.  The way my feet were landing was actually fighting each step I took (that is a good way to get shin splints btw).  The correction for this is easy:  correct your posture, swing your arms like pendulums, and elongate your step.  The next thing I knew, I was running confidently, faster, and with less fatigue.

I would never have discovered these things had I not listened to my feet.

This is true spiritually as well.  In our relationship with God, lows are common, but we often don’t know the source.  And just like my running with podcasts, there are too many distractions for us to actually know the cause of those lows.

Recently, I enjoyed leading 7 couples of church officers, future church officers, and their families in a roundtable Q&A about life in church leadership.  We talked about time demands, family demands, church stresses, and unspoken expectations from church members.  In the evening, my lovely wife helped me process the conversations.  She highlighted that I missed stressing the joys of Gospel partnership and instead, over-emphasized the challenges.  As is typical, she was right.

How did I miss that?  I love preaching the Gospel.  The Gospel is the basis solution for everything we do and the drive of my ministry.  The answer?  I hadn’t taken time for silence to hear what was going on in my own heart.  Upon reflection, and in a bit of silence, I realized that I was struggling with ministerial disappointment and with my expectations with God.  That struggle affected the tone of my leadership in that conversation.

So, whether in running or relationships (with God or family), listen to your feet.  Where are you dragging them and where are you stumbling?  That time to listen will teach you much about your heart and will teach you where to make changes.

 

 

April 28, 2016 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, training men | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Does the Music Start Before the Sermon Ends…and Other Thoughts

confetti bombMorning Friends,

As of late, I have tried to expand my listening habits to take in pastors who I have typically neglected.  This list includes pastors of some of the megas who don’t usually show up on my “theologically sound” list but do show up on the, “Let’s grow big list.”  My motivation hasn’t been to try to jump into the megachurch arena but merely to know more about what is happening in our church cultures.

I don’t include their names here as I am not trying to take folks down but only learn.  My goals have not been to throw stones or even to disparage.  It appears that God is doing great things in churches that don’t run their sermons through a theological or confessional grid.  There are pastors gifted with incredible speaking skills.  There are pastors who have much to teach all of us.

And there are some who almost none of that matters.  To my ears, their sermons scream, “Run away.”

So, please allow me to run through some personal pros and cons that I have gathered lately.  I offer them as lessons that I have learned, and in the reading, you have the choice to throw out either the baby or the bath water.

Pros:

Every congregation needs hope.  No matter the text, no matter the passage, and no matter the church venue.  Hope is significant to the scriptures and significant to the human heart.  The pastors of the churches I have heard do a great job of offering hope.

Every congregation needs to be engaged.  These pastors do a great job at engaging their folks.  Preaching is different than teaching.  Lectures are not preaching.  If folks feel like they are listening to the pastoral equivalent of someone reading a dictionary (ala a list of facts to be assimilated), they will checkout mentally.  Their growth may very well be limited to the Biblical equivalent of a Fantasy Football League team.  You know a lot, but to what purpose?

Cons:

A sermon that preaches change without addressing sin and repentance is just empty motivation speaking.  If the primary point of the pastor’s message is about your missing out on God’s blessing and your living at a higher level, but all the talk skips the issue of sin, be wary.  Believe me, I’ve been to the dour faced, “All we talk about is sin,” depressing churches.  That is not what I’m talking about.  Repentance is walking in one direction and then turning and walking in another.  That is how the scriptures define change, and offering grace in the face of sin to motivate and sustain is true change.  Not doing that is rah rah pep talk.  It only motivates for a season.

A Christian sermon must ultimately be about and point to Christ to be Christian.  Casual references to Christ are only casually Christian.  If Christ is unnecessary for a sermon, then anyone from any religion could preach it.

If the music starts in the background 5-10 minutes before the sermon ends and then rises to when the pastor gets to the frenetic, high energy climax of his sermon, you should feel emotionally manipulated.  That is just classic, emotional, crowd manipulation.  The Stones, Zep, Kiss, etc perfected that technique years earlier.  It might work in terms of crowd reaction, but be prepared for the drive home/post sermon emotional crash.

And so, I’ll listen to a few more sermons in the next few weeks.  As a disclaimer, I am not saying that only the pastors of the megas are guilty of these cons.  Many pastors are.  For example, I know the music starts early in tons of churches.  I just don’t trust why they do.  This was simply an exercise and a collection of observations of my own in the past few weeks.

Thanks,

Gordon

August 31, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Increased Communication Enables Greater Ministry

communication“Increased communication enables greater ministry.”

The thought is that as Evident Grace grows in communication, we will grow in loving and serving one another, and we will grow in learning how to love and serve our community.

This is what we want as we see our sermons and bible studies talked about and applied in our lives.  This is what we want as we learn how to help each other serve our neighbors.  This is what we want as we grow in serving our community as a church.  So towards those ends, we have established a few new avenues for us to communicate with each other.

We have a created a physical church directory that you can pick up on any Sunday worship.

We have updated our website http://www.evidentgrace.com with a ton of new information.

Audio of our sermons is now available in two places:  at http://evidentgrace.com/worship/sermons/ and at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/evident-grace-fellowship/id873994915?mt=2http://evidentgrace.libsyn.com/rss

Our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/evidentgracefellowship is continually updated.

You can now follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/EGFellowship

And we have launched the Table Project which is an online home to enable person to person communication.  If you would like to be part of the Table project.  Send a request from https://evidentgrace.tableproject.org/

Our goal is that these things will help us get to know each other and learn how to serve.

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Going to the Beach and Growing in Obedience

summer_rentalEphesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, and God went so far to insure that we become like Christ that He mapped out the whole plan for you to His glory.  This is an incredible hope for us to trust in, but sometimes, it feels ephemeral and far off.

I enter in this lightly, but let me attempt an illustration.

Most everyone loves going to the beach, but going to the beach as a parent is not like what it was when I was in college.  In college, all it would take was a couple of folks saying, “Hey, you want to go to the beach today?” 15 minutes later, we were on the road.

But now, with kids, it takes coordination with the NSA, FBI, and Homeland security to get out the door.  You have to pack bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, flip flops, paddle balls, umbrellas, coolers, juice boxes, food, and pretty much every other device imaginable.  And why do parents do all of that?  Pretty much so the kids can have hours of fun and you as a parent can enjoy the beach for about 30 minutes.  Maybe you are able to get a couple of cool pictures to post on Facebook and Instagram, but even that is not guaranteed.

That’s a shadow of what God has done for you.  Just as God chose you before “let there was light” was even declared, God also prepared beforehand that you would grow in good works and obedience.  Your obedience is just as sure as your salvation because God prepared for it.

The good news is that God never tires and He always enjoys the good works of His children.  Parents often wonder, “Why are we doing this” when they apply the tenth layer of sunscreen.  But your obedience is planned by a never tiring Father, your growth is secured by the work of Jesus, and your growth are essential elements of the masterpiece that God is creating in His children’s lives.

So, today, as you grow weary in wanting to mature in Christ, as you are tempted to give up, remind yourself that God has already made plans to grow you.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provide for both a sure forgiveness and a sure maturity for you.

There will be struggles, and there will be setbacks, but the Gospel of what Jesus has done, provides hope.

February 10, 2014 Posted by | church, family worship, gospel, men, mission, missional | , , , , , , | Leave a comment