You Can’t Outwork Your Mouth

After my annual physical, I’m newly motivated to get serious about my health. So, I’m working with a trainer again twice a week, and I’m trying to get to the gym at least 5 days a week, if not 6. According to my doctor, I’d be in great shape if I wasn’t so fat.


As my trainer and I were talking about my goal to lose weight, he made a remark that caught me off guard: “You can’t outwork your mouth.” At first, I thought he was making a snide remark about me talking too much (I’ve been accused of that before), but he wasn’t. He was talking about nutrition.

Now, most of us know that a healthy lifestyle involves both nutrition and exercise. We know we should eat better and work out more. Here’s the mistake most of us make. We think if we work out harder, we can make up for eating poorly. Our thinking goes like this: “Sure, I can eat this piece of cake. I’ll just run it off later.”

It doesn’t work like that. In fact, of the two, nutrition is probably the more important part of this equation. By dropping our consumption of fat, processed food, and refined sugars, we can go a long way toward becoming a more healthy us. Exercise is certainly an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but here’s the hard truth: we can’t undo what we do to our bodies through poor nutrition with a few hours of exercise—no matter how vigorous that exercise might be. The body will already have been damaged by the poor nutrition.

That got me thinking. In church, especially in Baptist churches, we talk a lot about repentance. This is right and good. But I was wondering—what if we, like good nutrition, put more emphasis on doing good things rather than just feeling bad about the wrong things we’ve done? What if the emphasis was on doing good things for our souls and world rather than talking about how many mistakes we’ve made?

Like nutrition, by the time we repent, the damage has already been done. The emphasis of a maturing disciple is less about avoiding wrong and more about doing right—being actively obedient to Jesus’ teachings and commands. Like my trainer said, “You can’t outwork your mouth.” Fill your life with good things and good things will pour out of your life to the ones you love.

Preach Like TED

“The point of a talk is to say something meaningful, but it’s amazing how many talks never quite do that.” —Chris Anderson

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One of my friends is a very successful author and public speaker. He’s very good at what he does. Recently, he was asked to do a TED talk at the TEDX conference in Nashville. In case you don’t know, the TED conference began as a gathering of creative leaders in the fields of technology, entertainment, and design. Chris Anderson, the Curator of TED talks, has transformed the event into a series of culturally impactful speeches given by some of the most important and interesting people in our world. In fact, you know you have arrived when you’re asked to do a TED talk.

Anyway, back to my friend. One day we were talking about his experience in preparing to give a TED talk. According to him, you don’t just stand up and give a TED talk. You have to hand in a manuscript, rehearse in front of them, and then, change your speech or presentation after they critique you. Then, you have to do it all over again. TED was making him work harder on this speech than he had worked on anything in his life.

Here’s what got my curiosity going. My friend is a very well-known author/speaker. He’s one of the top people in the nation doing what he does. If TED was that hard on him, what would they have done to me? That led me to the next question: “What does TED know that every preacher should know.” So, I started my research on TED talks.

Here’s a few—though certainly not all—of the things I have found out.

1. TED talks are rarely over 18 minutes long.

Why? Thinking is hard, and most people can’t do it for longer than 18 minutes. Besides that, thanks to the Internet, people’s attention spans have dropped precipitately. And if you can’t say it in 18 minutes, you’re probably not going to say it any better in 30.

2. Stories rule.

Every preacher knows this. We’ve always known people remember our illustrations much longer than our points. Our failure as preachers is that we don’t make this knowledge work for us. We’ll still give our people 3 points to remember, but it’s stories that change lives and move people to action.

3. People love learning new things.

Great sermons, like great TED talks, surprise us with truth. This creates an unforgettable moment of delight that fires up the brain to pay more attention to the material being presented.

4. Use all of the senses.

Stories that evoke smells, sounds, and descriptive sights are more moving than a bland list of facts. Preachers, like great TED speakers, have to learn to be multi-sensory, multi-level story tellers.

5. Practice.

Most preachers think that once we have the sermon written, we’re done. Not so with TED talks. Now the hard work begins. Vocal pacing, gestures, learning to use pauses and anticipate audience reactions are critical moments in any great TED talk…or sermon. Once the sermon is written, great preachers rehearse and then, rehearse some more. The way you say it can enhance or ruin what you’re saying. So, practice, practice, practice…

Of course, there’s a lot more, but here’s what I find fascinating. In a time of digital and virtual realities, what’s changing the world is 18-minute talks by one person to other people.

I’ve been doing what I do for a long time. Every so often, someone will come out with a book that says, “Preaching is dead.” Well, it hasn’t died yet. I don’t think it ever will. There’s something about that moment when, as one great preacher described, “One beggar tells another beggar where he found bread.”

Great preachers work hard and pray harder to make sure these great moments are never wasted.

What Kind of Leader Am I? Well, It Depends

When people hear that I’ve been the pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church for twenty-five years, they want to know how I’ve managed to stay at one church that long. My honest answer is, “I don’t know.” I went into work every day, and there was always something to do. We just did the next thing we knew to do, and before I knew it, twenty-five years had gone by. It’s not quite that simple, but almost.


In reality, I’ve have been the pastor of about five different churches and all of them have been at the same address. I came to a community church and now, I’m the pastor of a multi-site megachurch (just going by the definitions of the “experts”). Each “church” I have led has required a different type of leadership. Sometimes, I was very hands on. Sometimes, not. Sometimes I was deeply involved in the pastoral care expressions of our church. Now, we have a highly trained counselor and a deacon ministry that handles most of our pastoral care ministries.

Each time the church grew and changed, I had to grow and change. If I hadn’t, one of two things would have happened. Either the church would have stopped growing, or I would have had to leave and let someone with the necessary leadership skills come in. The process wasn’t always smooth. Sometimes I’ve been ahead of the curve and anticipated the necessary changes in the church and in me. Other times, things got a little rough because I was clueless to the new realities of the church, and therefore, the new leadership that was needed from me.

The irony of all of this is we’re going through another transition right now. In the last two years, we’ve gone from 2 campuses to 6. That’s a lot of change and of course, another change for me. We’re still working through the process of trying to understand this new reality and the appropriate response from our campuses and our leadership.

Being a pastor is lot like being a parent. I love being a dad. When my boys were little they needed me in one way. As they grew, they needed me in different ways. Now, they’re grown, and they need me in even different ways. They still need me, but they need me very differently now than they did when they were little. Good parents adapt.

So do good leaders. Every day, another book on leadership comes out and promises that if we learn to lead in this way or that way, we’ll be able to lead our church from now on. That’s only true if our churches don’t change. The world has a word for things that aren’t growing or changing—dead.

But if you’re serving a growing, thriving church, change will be the only constant. That means your leadership will be constantly changing as well. Great baseball pitchers always have more than one pitch. Great leaders do as well.

Why I’m Stepping Down from Kairos [Podcast]

Today on Creating Real Marriages that Last, I discuss some of the reasons I’ve chosen to step down from my role as the leader and teaching pastor of Kairos. I’ve been part of this young adult ministry since it began 11 years ago. However, a few years ago I began to realize it was time to pass the leadership on to another person. Now, Chris Brooks has transitioned into the role, and he’s already doing a great job. In this episode I also share my advice to leaders as they consider the future of their ministries and determine when it’s time to pass the baton to someone else.