Nelson Searcy is the founding pastor of The Journey Church, which began in 2002 in New York and now has more than 2,000 members and locations in New York; San Francisco; and Boca Raton, Florida. Through his live events, seminars, webinars and other training events, he has trained more than 50,000 leaders. He’s the author of more than 85 books and other resources, the latest of which is The Renegade Pastor (Regal Books). He recently visited with Executive Editor Michael Duduit.

Preaching: What is a renegade pastor, and why do I want to be one?

Nelson Searcy: First of all, a renegade pastor is not a rebel, not a lawbreaker. A renegade pastor, by my definition, is someone who will refuse to settle for average. We’re living in a day when average just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s a really bad place to be if you’re average. I don’t want pastors, church leaders, to settle for an average church. The average church, particularly here in North America, is behind on budget. The average church isn’t growing. The average church is shrinking. [The average church is] losing more people than [it’s] reaching, so average is bad.

For me, a renegade pastor is someone who has made an intentional decision, by the grace of God with the power of the Holy Spirit, to say, “By God’s grace, I am not going to settle for average.” They want to fulfill their callings. Most of us, when we went into ministry, went with this idea that we were going to reach people. We were going to disciple people. We had slogans such as “fulfill the great commission.”

The idea of the renegade pastor is to reclaim some of that. If you look at pastors during the years as a student of church history, which I know you are—as a student of great preachers—these are preachers and leaders who call people to go beyond, to call people to a higher level, to be beyond average. I call that a renegade pastor.

Preaching: In the book, you talk about seven commitments. Could you share those?

Searcy: If you look at the seven commitments in the book, just on paper, they sound so normal: things such as loving God. Well, who doesn’t love God? I mean, what pastor doesn’t say he loves God? I talk about things such as putting family first.

In the book, I try to teach the renegade way, because a lot of times what we think of as putting family first actually just further propagates the mediocrity that we experience in ministry. So we have a misunderstanding about what that means. We might say we love God, but what does that mean as pastor? We teach people to love God, but what about our own spiritual habits? What about our own spiritual lives?

In the book, I teach seven ideas that probably every pastor would agree with, but then I give them a twist of how you live that out in a non-average way, a renegade way.

I’ll give you one example that’s been rather controversial from the book. There is a little acrostic that we often teach about joy—and it’s a great acrostic because it fits joy so well—but we say if you want to live a properly prioritized life, it’s Jesus, others and you.

Well, I not only failed to find scriptural support for the O and Y, but we see every day how that plays out in ministry. It hurts pastors and hurts churches. So, what I teach is Jesus, you and then others. Now that’s the renegade way, and it doesn’t make a nice acrostic. The truth is, you cannot take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself means you put Jesus first in your life.

I try to combat some common things, some everyday beliefs, some more secular beliefs that we have about ministry, and take us back to what I think is a more biblically based ministry, but also a path God can bless.

Preaching: In the book, you deal with a lot of different topics: time, stress, family and a host of others. In your own life and ministry, what is the area where you have struggled the most?

Searcy: Time management is always an issue for me. I think when you have a desire to fulfill a calling and you’re called to plant a church, or pastor a church…turn around a church, or you just experience the week-to-week mentality that all of us face—which is we have to come up with sermon every single Sunday—that creates a time crunch. Most of the pastors I’ve worked with or coached feel called to certain things, but there are the time demands of being a pastor.

So I’ve tried to be a student of time management. In fact, I joke that one of the first books I read on time management was called The 90-Minute Hour. While that was a pretty bad book—I wouldn’t recommend it—the idea of that has stuck with me. We all know people who seemingly get 90 minutes of work done in an hour. I’ve had to look at those people, Christian leaders and business leaders, who seem to accomplish more than the average person. They are renegade time managers. So I asked, “What do they have in common?”

I was talking with you before we went on the air, about you as a professor, editor, speaker and preacher. I said, “How do you get it all done?” You just replied, “I don’t play golf.” While we chuckled, there is tremendous wisdom in what you said there, because you’ve prioritized the main things.

What I teach in the book is that you have just enough time to do God’s will. So if there’s something you’re not getting done that is God’s will, it is because you have misplaced priorities, and you’re doing something that is not God’s will. People sometimes ask, “How do you write books? How do you turn out resources?” I say, “I don’t play golf,” but I also say, “I don’t do social ministry. I don’t do cell phones.” Because you strategically have to say no to what might be some good things in order to say yes to what are some God things.

Preaching: Are there tips or ideas you’ve found helpful in terms of keeping track or managing those priorities?

Searcy: There’s a couple I really love. One is a called living off peak. Living off peak is an old time-management concept that you might find in books from the ’40s or ’50s; the basic idea is whenever everybody is doing X, you do Y. Then, when everyone else is doing Y, you do X. For example, everybody goes to the DMV on the first of the month. So if you have to go to the DMV and renew your license, if you go on the first day of the month, you’re going to have to stand in line forever. The renegade way is to plan and go toward the end of the month, as well as find a time when everyone else is doing something else, you go and get whatever it is done that you need to do. Everybody goes to the dentist on the first appointment of the day. I found the best time is the first appointment after lunch, because they always come back from lunch on time.

There are a lot of things we do as ministers that we can do at off-peak times. If you have a dinner meeting, don’t schedule it at a peak time. If you have a call meeting, don’t schedule at a peak time. You’re there to meet, not to stand in line at the Starbucks. I love the concept of off-peak.

I also love this little prayer—it’s sort of a prayer you would say under your breath, a prayer you might say through the day—which is, “Lord, what is the best use of my time right now?” When I wake up in the morning, “Lord, what is the best use of my time right now?” For me, that first hour of the day, that belongs to the Lord. It doesn’t belong to my phone, social media or email. The best use of my time when I wake up is to give it to the Lord. After that, “What’s the best use of the time?”

If I’m with my family, and it’s family time, the best use of the time right now is to be focused on my family. I’m always looking and asking God for wisdom to say, “What’s the best use of the time right now?” I’ve found if I’m constantly praying that prayer and adjusting my priorities, I am getting the main things done, and the priority things done. The truth is, if you get four or five big priorities done every day, you’re very effective.

Preaching: How does being a renegade pastor impact your preaching?

Searcy: When it comes to the renegade way, we often have to look at how most people measure the success of something, and then we have to ask if that measurement is correct. A lot of us have fallen into traps with our preaching of measuring our preaching by how many compliments we get at the end of a sermon. We measure our preaching by how we think people felt at the end of the sermon.

I believe there are some legitimate ways to measure a sermon. How many people were saved? That doesn’t have as much to do with your sermon as the presentation of the gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is a proper way. To preach an evangelism sermon, you expect the Word will impact people’s lives, and people get saved. That’s a measurement.

One thing I’ve tried to do with preaching is help people change the measurement. Don’t measure your sermons now by what people said or how they felt on Sunday, but measure your effectiveness by what they do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday—to live out what you preach.

When I look at a sermon, I ask some of the classic questions as I build a sermon, as I execute a text, as I decide what to say or not to say from the pulpit. I ask, “What do I want people to know? What do I want people to feel? What do I want people to do?” I try to keep a balance of the know, feel and do in the sermon. At the end of the day, if I just teach them, and if they just feel something, I don’t feel that’s gone far enough, because I want people to do. I want them to live out the biblical values, to repent of the way they are living, and come into alignment with the way God calls them to live. So I measure a sermon, not by Sunday, but what people do with it Monday through Saturday.

Preaching: How long is a typical sermon for you?

Searcy: For me, it’s 33 minutes, sometimes it’s 31; sometimes it might be 35. Occasionally, if the Lord’s Supper and other things are going on, it might be as short as 25; but 33 is my average.

Preaching: Do you preach mostly in series?

Searcy: I preach almost exclusively in series. We basically go from series to series. Sometimes there is a series that is more of an attractional series, which doesn’t mean it is designed only to attract lost people, but it is a series that might create a lot of buzz. That would be a series that would go around the natural growth times of a church such as Easter or when people are coming back to school in the fall.

Other times, there are series designed basically as an insider series, to bring balance to our preaching, or balance to the people in the church. The title of the series may not be buzz worthy or attractive, but it is a necessary part of the life of the church. Other times, we have a series that is for growth, for what we need to do to grow our people at that stage of the life in the church.

I go series to series with the idea that it is interrupted with special guests, special concert, or maybe there is some breathing room between series’ based on holidays or whatever might be [happening].

Preaching: Tell me about the planning process you use to determine what is going to be done on Sunday?

Searcy: I heard somebody say once that every minute spent in planning will save you an hour in implementation. I found that [to be] an understatement. I think every minute spent in planning might save you multiple hours in implementation. So, we have a very strong planning culture at The Journey. You see that in my book, but you also see it in our preaching.

I believe the Spirit can guide us today regarding what we preach six months from now. We’ve adopted a very Spirit-filled, planned approach to our preaching; so we get together an annual preaching calendar.

Every October, our team from all the locations comes together for a time of prayer and fasting. This particular week when we meet is preceded by a series of spiritual steps, preparation, from our church and our own personal lives, to bring us to this week. We get together and seek God’s will for the next year; Lord willing, if everything comes together, we walk out of that week with as much as 80 to 85 percent of our preaching calendar planned. Rarely have we walked away with less than 50 percent of our calendar planned.

Preaching: As a pastor/preacher, who have been your influencers?

Searcy: When I became a Christian in college, I was assigned a local church in college by the evangelistic campaign that led me to Christ. That was an independent Baptist church; so the independent Baptist preachers have impacted me quite a bit.

Probably the most notable influencer would be Charles Spurgeon. Immediately after I went into ministry, someone gave me a copy of the Park Street Pulpit. Talk about an intimidation factor: me as a young pastor, looking at Spurgeon, thinking, “How in the world would you ever be able to preach a sermon like that?” Call it the gold standard if you will, but that idea of preaching to people and preaching in their language—though today we butcher Spurgeon’s English—the idea of speaking in the colloquial language of the people, and teaching the depths of the Bible so that everybody can understand, that’s always impacted me. My colleagues always joke that if I can’t come up with a Scripture, I will come up with a Spurgeon quote. I don’t think those are equal, but that thread has impacted my preaching.

Later, moving into the mid-90s and 2000s, clearly the preachers whom we all look up to—verse-by-verse preachers you might hear on the radio or those who write books—have impacted me. Also, those who come out of the contemporary church movement have impacted me. I use fill-in-the-blank notes, and I know people sometimes take shots at people who do that, but that’s a great way to help people remember what you teach…so my teaching is a strange mix of independent Baptists and contemporary church movement.

I think it’s still evolving because I’ve struggled through the years to find a voice for The Journey Church, and our church is primarily a city-oriented church. It is primarily a multicultural church, and it skews younger than average. I want to preach in that voice, deliver biblical truth, and bridge that gap between the Bible and where people are living today in the lives of the people who attend The Journey Church.

Preaching: You mention the fact that The Journey Church draws a lot of young people. This is an area where churches are struggling, losing the younger generation. Do you have any counsel for pastors about ways they can re-engage their younger people?

Searcy: Journey has been blessed with baptisms. We baptize on average 200 people a year between the ages of 18 and 40. It’s an area of blessing in our church, and I’m not always sure why God has chosen to bless us that way. One factor is that we are in areas with heavy concentrations of young professionals. We’ve tried to craft the sermon series in a way that would attract that group. Music is always a defining characteristic of any age group you’re trying to reach, so I can’t underestimate the music that reaches that age group.

I also think there’s an authenticity the church has to have in reaching that age group. I’ll give you one example. Early on, we made a decision that when we pray at The Journey, from stage, from the pulpit, we pray. There’s not a lighting change going on when we pray. We’re not resetting the stage during the prayer. We are praying during the prayer. That is a small thing. I think that authenticity of just praying when you pray, studying the Bible when you study the Bible, relating to one another in a godly way, that authenticity connects with a younger generation.

Preaching: If an angel showed up on your doorstep this afternoon and said, “Nelson, you have one sermon left to preach,” what would it be?

Searcy: If you’re really going to push me into corner like that…I would preach a sermon on tithing. I think that is a significant step of faith for anyone to honor God with their finances…[W]hen education debt is now the single greatest debt in society, especially with young people—the decision to put God first in our finances is second only to the decision to follow Christ.

I’m an evangelist at heart, and I love to call people to follow Christ, but if I had to deliver one last sermon to my congregation, I would challenge them with, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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