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Getting honest about life behind the podium

I’m off today to speak at another Youth Specialties conference – Pittsburgh this time. If you’re at the conference, give me a shout and we’ll do coffee.   I don’t particularly enjoy speaking. It’s not my highest and best, but God uses it sometimes to connect me to people and he’s given me …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I’m off today to speak at another Youth Specialties conference – Pittsburgh this time. If you’re at the conference, give me a shout and we’ll do coffee.
I don’t particularly enjoy speaking. It’s not my highest and best, but God uses it sometimes to connect me to people and he’s given me a place of influence, so I dutifully get on these jets and go talk to groups of people I don’t know.
I tell them stories of folks whose lives have been radically changed by a great God and I challenge them to throw caution to the wind and start living out of a posture of faith rather than risk-aversion. I try to be earnest, but at the end of the day, it’s still just an introduction to a few concepts and the possibility of relationship.
And they look at me, occasionally yawn, take a few notes, and then a few come up afterward to talk. That’s how the thing goes down.
One of the reasons I’m not enamored of a life behind the podium is that, if life-change is the goal, then sharing information is only a start to the process.  People have to decide to do something with that information, then they need to be trained in how to use it to effect change, and then they have to stick with it long enough for the neurological connections in their brains to be re-wired. It took Jesus about three years with his disciples to change their thinking from self-sufficiency to kingdom-first.
So, I don’t have many illusions as to how much good a talk from a random stranger will do. Evangelism is important, but without discipleship, it produces orphans and cynicism.   When I asked the great pastor and author Peter Lord (now in his 70’s) what he would do differently with his life, he said, “I wouldn’t give so many sermons.  Instead I’d meet with 12 disciples over a long period of time.”
In general, sermons and talks like the ones I’m going to give may encourage you and provoke you, but they do little to change you.  That’s why many of you are disenchanted with the institutional church – you walk away from church services the same as you entered.  And yours is just an honest response to reality.  Because change is so hard, you have to figure out if you can even trust the information coming out of a speaker’s mouth.  And if you can, then there’s the question of how do you disengage from your current set of behaviors and establish a whole new set of behaviors?  That requires seeing someone else model the behavior and then giving you the chance to try it out for yourself. It’s not easy – we’re wise to be gun-shy about it.
So many of us speakers trot out our little three-point outlines and call our audiences to change.  If we’ve established some kind of repartee with the audience, some may commit to change, but then what are they to do when we hop on the plane the next day?  They don’t know what it looks like or how to get there. That’s why I say, there’s no replacing discipleship.  People need time.  Goodness sakes, I look at myself and I’ve needed lots of time.  See you in Pittsburgh.

Comments (6)

  • Very good thoughts here, Seth. The longer I am out of church attendance, the more futile it all looks from here. I know the writer to the Hebrews urges us not “to give up meeting together” and I know you can get huge strength and help from other followers of Jesus. It’s just the huge amount of energy and preparation poured into singing a few songs, listening to someone talk for half an hour, drink coffee, shout at the kid, go home ready for a rest…….it seems so incongruous when we walk out the same as we went in. What was all the work for?

    Don’t get me wrong, I know corporate worship can be godly and powerful stuff, I know teaching is hugely important. It just seems to me you’re right that the only way to walk it out is to do it in company with other people who want to learn how to follow Jesus every day too. Hard to find though sadly. Most of the “on fire” people I know spend most of their energies on church meetings and lead such busy lives that such a thing would be impossible. Love that Peter Lord quote. Speaks volumes. Hard to know how to find mutual discipleship when you want it though! Think I’d better go and ask God what He thinks…….

    Hope Pittsburgh goes well. lol Cx

  • I remember when this pic was taken! It was a speaking engagement, but it was more than that. I loved seeing you respond to the Lord’s leading and how it touched the people you were speaking to. I pray for the same kind of prophetic insight for P’burg.

  • the part will be in my thoughts today “Evangelism is important, but without discipleship , it produces orphans and cynicism.”
    agree with this post!

  • Good Morning Seth! You will be in my prayers today as you deliver words of encouragement to some of the most under-valued people in ministry…youth pastors and workers! (spoken like a true youth pastor’s wife, huh!!)I have been to a Youth Specialties conference and wish I could be there this weekend! I am always so flabbergasted when I hear the words of someone like yourself expressing their humble thoughts on themselves and their influence to the people around them. It just reminds me of each one of our “jars of clay” status in the Kingdom. I agree, totally, with your words on the need for discipleship and ongoing relationship. But please don’t underestimate the importance of being the seed planter, the vision caster, the speaker who might just deliver a word or an idea that breaks through to someone at just the right time! I trust you are right where you are meant to be this weekend! Hear these words from Exodus 4:10-11 and may they give you what you need today. “Moses said to the Lord, ‘OH Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The Lord said to him, ‘ Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’ ”

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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