One of the strategies of preaching that I’ve really tried to learn from Jesus’ example was the ability to connect the Kingdom to present surroundings/experiences. He was a master at helping to give people understanding by turning people’s attention to things like fields, birds, lost coins, and sheep. A tangible metaphor helped explain the Kingdom in a way that people of that culture could understand and grow from.
It’s for that reason, most of my sermon illustrations come from personal experience and not a book. Jesus didn’t get his illustrations from hanging out at the Temple everyday. He walked around the local cities and villages. Jesus took notice of people and atmospheres. I believe if pastors/preachers are looking for fresh illustrations, the best ones are waiting for you…
- …outside of your office. Be a pastor who is in your community.
- …when you spend time with your spouse and/or family. My wife and children have taught me a ton of lessons, but remember, only use family illustrations with permission.
- …during times of leisure/fun. It’s amazing the things you can learn about yourself if you’ll stop taking life so serious and enjoy yourself.
- …on vacations. Usually, vacations help lower my guard a bit. And it’s in that place of vulnerability, where moments happen and God speaks.
If we’ll take a moment to listen, it’s amazing where the Lord will speak to us from. And for me, one of those moments happened in the Napa Valley. I’ll admit, I was nervous about being in a winery. I remember telling my wife and kids, “no one posts anything on social media” out of fear of what people would assume. In my denomination, there has been so much recent debate about alcohol and the last thing I wanted was a fantastic experience, on one of the best vacations of my life, to turn into a social media debate. I wasn’t there to drink. I was spending time with some amazing friends to experience a tour of a historic winery.
The guide walked us through a variety of locations. He would stop, tell us about the winemaking process, but also interject some history. The more he talked, the more notes I was typing into my phone. I remember, at one point, turning to my wife and saying, “Every pastor should take this tour.”
For example, I learned that the vineyard owner would find the most difficult soil and plant there. Finding easy, fertile soil produced fast growth but sour fruit. He discovered that the harder the plant worked, the sweeter the fruit. (Insert “church planting” or a “discipleship” lesson HERE.)
But apart from the vast amount of things I learned from the vine, I really grasped onto some Kingdom lessons that came from the history the man behind the vineyard. He has been referred to as the face of the Napa Valley: Robert Mondavi.
Here’s some simple pastoral lessons from Robert Mondavi:
1 – I am not here to build my empire; I’m called to build the Kingdom. Prohibition was devastating to the valley. Not only were their economics devastated, but people came to the valley and started burning the vineyards. Family’s whose livelihoods, not to mention their homes, were in those fields. People lost everything. Robert Mondavi was one of the few whose fields survived. When prohibition was lifted, he welcomed those who lost everything to come to work for him. He didn’t see others as “rivals.” He saw broken people.
For too long, we have treated the church across the street (or across town) as a “rival church.” The competition spirit amongst pastors has absolutely grieved me. Why? Because I was there. Other churches (namely youth groups at the time) were nothing more than the ministries I needed to “beat.” I get it. I’ve been at the place where coveting, envy, and frustration crowded out my passion and vision. I totally get being so frustrated with my lack of results that I pointed fingers at other pastors and churches instead of checking my own heart and seeing the Enemy for who he is.
The winemaker and his history was the reminder of the Pastor who took me in and showed me that the Kingdom always trumps Empire. He showed me that success wasn’t the size of my ministry but the expanding of the Kingdom of God. Pastors are co-laborers and not rivals; we, together, serve Jesus. Which leads me to…
2 – I am to freely pour out what has been poured into me. What Robert Mondavi had, he offered to others. This man gave displaced families and workers an opportunity to learn and engage in what he was doing. Nothing was hidden. He shared his methods and talents. And when they were in a place to move out on their own, he helped them to start their own vineyards.
This is a mentality I didn’t always understand. I think I was more worried about making a name for myself, my church, and my denomination than I was lifting up the name of Jesus. I think sometimes we’re more worried about branding OUR church that we’ve forgotten WHO we are doing this for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with branding, marketing, and doing things with excellence as long as it exalts the name of Jesus.
One of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made (and continue to make) is to chase mentors. If you’re waiting for mentors to chase you, you’re missing the point of it all. Growth comes when we lower our pride and admit we need help. It’s why, in the midst of my own ministry hurt, I ran after the “Robert Mondavi” type pastors who weren’t jealous of others but were zealous for the Kingdom. I desperately needed (and still need) pastors who were willing to share what they have without any worry of reciprocation. And because of their faithfulness, it increased my passion and filled me with hope for a future of healthy ministry.
And for that reason, freely I received, I want to freely give to anyone who comes to me as God gives the opportunities.
3 – Networking means “God is working.” God works in community. Our guide told us that when, Robert Mondavi learned something new, he would call together the local vineyard owners to share what he discovered. Why? He philosophy was, “When I help others, I raise the vintage of the Valley.”
This was completely contradictory to what my nature wanted as well as what I learned in ministry. In my broken pastoral mind, what I had was mine, and if I shared it, I then have to share the “success.” Not only that, but IF I shared it, I wanted to make sure I raised the “vintage of my reputation.” I was driven to build MY church not realizing that it wasn’t MINE to begin with.
I am eternally grateful for the healthy pastors who spoke into my life for the purpose of “raising the vintage of the Kingdom.” I’m thankful to the Paul’s (mentor) and Barnabas’ (encourager) who unselfishly poured into me from their own failures and successes, from their creativity and dreams. The more I networked with other leaders, the more health I began to see in ministry. The greater opportunities of allowing people to speak into me lead to a deeper move of God in my life. I don’t think that happens by chance. The scriptures are proof that God works through community. We just have to allow for that.
I seriously wish I could take pastors through that tour. Apart from leaning about wine, vines, and crop growth (which is brought up so often in scripture), the Kingdom lessons have transformed my ministry philosophy.
Today, purpose in your heart to take a new turn in ministry. Make the decision to raise the vintage of the Kingdom by taking strategic next steps to see Kingdom health in your life.
Repent of selfishness and give God your brokeness.
Chase a mentor. Be a mentor.
Share a some of your failures; Celebrate His victories.
And when God does/shows something new to you, call up another pastor to talk about it.
Raise the vintage of the Kingdom today.
Thanks for letting me ramble…