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I recently met with a pastor who leads a thriving church in my area. He planted the church in 2003 and it has grown from three families to 2,500 people in attendance today. He spent an hour sharing a lot of fantastic insights about casting vision, setting direction, and bringing people along on mission to reach the community. I want to share with you one of the most valuable things he told me: Tell your church what they are.

Tell Your Church What They Are

Tell your church what they are and eventually they’ll become that. These words rang inside my head as he explained that his job as a pastor is to set the expectation high and let his church know he believes that’s who they are. Eventually, they will become that.

Great leaders set high expectations and truly believe their church is capable of meeting them. This principle is the same in school teaching. If a teacher expects a lot out of a student, the student will likely rise to the occasion and deliver. If the teacher expects very little from a student, the student will meet the low expectation every time. Very few will rise above low expectations.

During our conversation this pastor told me a story from the early days of his church. It was Christmas Eve and they had one service in the elementary school where their church met weekly. They ran out of space and it was standing room only – wall to wall, packed with people. The fire-code was exceeded and they were completely at capacity. There were a few dozen people that could not fit inside the building and were gathered outside in the cold winter weather.

At one point during the night he went outside and realized the people bearing the cold were the regular attenders. They had given up their seats to let the guests have the good seats inside. He often tells his church this story and says, “Let me tell you what you did. You gave up your seats so that people far from God could hear the truth of the gospel and follow Jesus! That’s the kind of church you are!”

He said to this day it’s part of their church’s culture to be hospitable. When they run out of room (which happens often), the regulars give up their seats. His job is to remind them constantly who they are as a church. He gave a few examples:

• You’re the kind of church who gives up their seats so others can meet Christ.

You’re the most generous church in the world.

You tell your friends about Jesus and invite them to church.

Preaching is the best opportunity to tell your church what they are. Last week I gave a sermon on serving. At one point I said, “You are a serving church! This is who we are as a church. We serve one another above ourselves.” I said it both because I believe it and because I want them to believe it.

Rather than saying, “You need to serve more” or “This church doesn’t serve enough” I would much rather point out where it is happening and invite others along.

Andy Stanley says it’s better to inspire people to do what’s right than to tell them that they’re wrong. Telling your church what they are invites and inspires people to be a part of the amazing work to which God has called them. It inspires them to become the hospitable, generous, serving people you see in them.

Try this in your next sermon. I believe you’ll see some of them come alive and be inspired.

What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments.



Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created PreachingDonkey.com, a site to help preachers communicate better.  He has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. He lives in the Northern Virginia / DC area with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Olive. You can connect with him at twitter.com/PreachingDonkey and facebook.com/PreachingDonkey

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E L Zacharias

commented on Oct 23, 2015

I agree that telling the people "who they are" is effective. If the pastor reminds them that they are the friendliest church around or the hardest working church, they may come to believe it. (I'd work with them a bit, if in fact they were the meanest bunch around: ) But let us not forget what God says about his church: they are His People, Chosen and Loved by God. Let's not forget that while, in fact, we were yet sinners God had given his Son to be our Savior!

E L Zacharias

commented on Oct 23, 2015

Perhaps this goes without saying, but we should also be careful not to put the congregation on a pedestal, causing them to think themselves above sin or weakness: ?In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin? (Psalm 36:2), proving that ??a flattering mouth works ruin? (Proverbs 26:28). The pastor who ??rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue? (Proverbs 28:23).

Rodney Lasalvia

commented on Nov 4, 2015

Preach it brother, God's word must go first and is more powerful that positive thinking

Scott Bostwick

commented on Oct 23, 2015

Thank you for this post. In God's perfect timing, it is something that I needed to hear today as I was struggling with visioning with my people.

Mallory Horne Jr

commented on Oct 23, 2015

Thank you Lane! Wonderful reminder the Holy Spirit gives us through you. ,

Lawrence Webb

commented on Oct 24, 2015

Two contrasting examples: A well-intentioned pastor sends periodic devotional thoughts by email. Most of them start on a positive note, but they almost inevitably end with a negative slap at the reader. On the other hand, in a church I used to visit regularly on Sunday nights, the pastor always made it a point to end the service by saying, "It's been a good day [in our church]" and then proceeded to tell or remind the people of good things that had taken place that day. This pastor was capable of addressing issues the church was facing or needing to face in the community, but he wanted his people to see themselves in a positive light such as Lane suggests here.

Mike Pratt

commented on Oct 24, 2015

Awesome article! This was exactly what I needed to hear at this critical time. Next Sunday I'll be delivering my first sermon to our church as their new lead pastor. I intend to cast vision and "tell them what they are!" Thanks for a wonderful article!

Rodney Lasalvia

commented on Nov 4, 2015

I agree 100 that we should encourage and affirm always. But I really have a problem with affirming something that is just not there. I like the article, but it lacks biblical substance. We cannot encourage or affirm things that are not there because that makes us liars. Jesus doesn't tell you that you are without sin, he tells you He loves you and is willing to forgive and transform you, but the battle won in the cross continues in the life of the believer and only clinging to Jesus (not to words of affirmation) we can truly overcome sin. Be careful of what you say!

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