Pastoral Leadership Means Sharing Your Life Message
by Rick Warren
“Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word. ... The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore — you’re the message!” (1 Thessalonians 1:8, The Message).1
God has put a life message within you.
When you became a believer you also became God’s messenger. God wants to speak to the world through you. Paul said, “We speak the truth before God, as messengers of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17, NCV).2
You have a storehouse of experiences that God wants to use to bring others into His family. The Bible says, “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony of God in them”(1 John 5:10, GW).3
There are four parts to your life message:
- Your testimony:The story ofhow you began a relationship with Jesus.
- Your life lessons:The most important lessons God has taught you.
- Your godly passions: The God-shaped issues you care about most.
- The good news: The message ofsalvation.
God Wants You To Share Your Testimony
Your testimony is the story ofhow Christ has made a difference in your life. Peter tells us that we were chosen by God “to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you” (1 Peter 2:9, The Message).
This is the essence ofwitnessing — simply reporting your personal experiences with the Lord. In a courtroom, a witness is not expected to argue the case, prove the truth, or press for a verdict; that is the job ofattorneys. Witnesses just tell what happened to them.
Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts1:8).
He did not say, “You must be my attorney.” He wants you to tell your story to others. Sharing your testimony is an essential part ofyour mission on earth, and I believe it is an essential part ofbeing a pastor.
In many ways, your personal, authentictestimony is more effective than a sermon.
Personal stories are also easier to relate to than principles, and people love to hear them; they capture our attention, and we remember them longer. Unbelievers would probably lose interest if you started quoting theologians, but they have a natural curiosity about experiences they have never had. Shared stories build a relational bridge that Jesus can walk across from your heart to theirs.
Another value of your testimony is that it bypasses intellectual defenses. Many people who will not accept the authority of the Bible will listen to a humble, personal story. That is why on six different occasions Paul used his testimony to share the gospel instead of quoting Scripture (Acts 22 to Acts 26).
The Bible says, “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15,16, TEV).4 The best way to be ready is to write out your testimony and then memorize the main points.
Divide it into four parts:
- What my life was like before I met Jesus.
- How I realized I needed Jesus.
- How I committed my life to Jesus.
- The difference Jesus has made in my life.
You have many other testimonies besides your salvation story. You have a story for every experience where God has helped you. List all the problems, circumstances, and crises that God has brought you through. Then be sensitive and use the story that your unbelieving friends will best relate to. Different situations call for different testimonies.
God Wants You To Share Your Life Lessons
The second part of your life message is the truths that God has taught you from experiences with Him. These are what you have learnedabout God, relationships, problems, temptations, and other aspects of life. David prayed, “God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course” (Psalm 119:33, The Message).
Sadly, we never learn from a great deal of what happens to us. Of the Israelites, the Bible says, “Over and over God rescued them, but they never learned — until finally their sins destroyed them” (Psalm 106:43, The Message). You have probably met people like that.
While it is wise to learn from our own experiences, it is wiserto learn from the experiences of others. There is not enough time to learn everything in life by trial and error. We must learn from the life lessons of each other. As pastor, you can lead the way in this regard. The Bible says, “A warning given by an experienced person to someone willing to listen is more valuable than ... jewelry made of the finest gold” (Proverbs 25:12, TEV).
Write down the major life lessons you have learned so you can share them with others. We should be grateful Solomon did this because it gave us the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which are filled with practical lessons on living. Imagine how much needless frustration could be avoided if we learned from each other’s life lessons.
Mature people develop the habit of extracting lessons from everyday experiences. I urge you to a list your life lessons. You have not really thought about them unless you have written them down.
Here are a few questions to jog your memory and get you started:
- What has God taught me from failure? (Psalm 51).
- What has God taught me from a lack of money? (Philippians 4:11–13).
- What has God taught me from pain or sorrow or depression? (2 Corinthians 1:4–10).
- What has God taught me through waiting? (Psalm 40).
- What has God taught me through illness? (Psalm 119:71).
- What has God taught me from disappointment? (Genesis 50:20).
- What have I learned from my family, my church, my relationships, my small group, and my critics?
God Wants You To Share Your Godly Passions
God is a passionate God. He passionately lovessome things and passionately hatesother things. As you grow closer to Him, He will give you a passion for something He cares about deeply, so you can be a spokesman for Him in the world. It may be a passion about a problem, a purpose, a principle, or a group of people. Whatever it is, you will feel compelled to speak up about it, and do what you can to make a difference.
You cannot keep yourself from talking about what you care about most. Jesus said, “A man’s heart determines his speech” (Matthew 12:34, TLB).5
Two examples are: David, who said, “My zeal for God and his work burns hot within me” (Psalm 69:9, TLB); and Jeremiah, who said, “Your message burns in my heart and bones, and I cannot keep silent” (Jeremiah 20:9, CEV).6
God gives some people a godly passion to champion a cause. It is often a problem they have personally experienced such as abuse, addiction, infertility, depression, disease, or some other difficulty. Sometimes God gives people a passion to speak up for a group of others who cannot speak for themselves: the unborn, the persecuted, the poor, the imprisoned, the mistreated, the disadvantaged, and those who are denied justice. The Bible is filled with commands to defend the defenseless.
God uses passionate people to further His Kingdom. Do not be afraid to preach on your passions.
God gives us different passions so everything He wants done in the world will get done. You should not expect everyone else to be passionate about your passion. Instead, we must listen to and value each other’s life message because no one can say it all. Never belittle someone else’s godly passion. The Bible says, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good” (Galatians 4:18).
God Wants You To Share The Good News
What is the good news? “The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself — that it begins and ends with faith” (Romans 1:17, NCV).7 “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19, NLT).8
The good news is that when we trust God’s grace to save us through what Jesus did, our sins are forgiven, we get a purpose for living, and we are promised a future home in heaven.
There are hundreds of great books on how to share the good news, but all the training in the world will not motivate you to witness for Christ until you learn to love lost people the way God does.
God has never made a person He did not love. Everybody matters to Him. When Jesus stretched out His arms wide on the cross He was saying “I love you thismuch.”
The Bible says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Whenever you feel apathetic about your mission in the world, spend some time thinking about what Jesus did for you on the cross.
We must care about unbelievers because God does. Love leaves no choice. The Bible says, “There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18, TEV).
A parent will run into a burning building to save a child because his love for that child is greaterthan his fear. If you have been afraid to share the good news with those around you, ask God to fill your heart with His love for them. The Bible says God “does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives” (2 Peter 3:9, NCV).
As long as you know one person who does not know Christ, you mustkeep praying for him, serving him in love, and sharing the good news. And as long as there is one person in your community who is not in the family of God, your church mustkeep reaching out. The church that does not want to grow is saying to the world, “You can go to hell.”
What are you willing to do so the people you know will go to heaven? Invite them to church? Share your story? Give them this book? Take them a meal? Pray for them every day until they are saved? Your mission field is all around you. Do not miss the opportunities God is giving you.
The Bible says, “Make the most of your chances to tell others the Good News. Be wise in all your contacts with them” (Colossians 4:5, TLB).
Will anyone be in heaven because of you? Will anyone in heaven be able to say to you, “I want to thank you. I am here because you cared enough to share the good news with me”?
Imagine the joy of greeting people in heaven whom you helped get there. The eternal salvation of a single soul is more important than anything else you will ever achieve in life. Only people will last forever.
God created you to fulfill five purposes on earth: He made you to be a member of His family, a model of His character, a magnifier of His glory, a minister of His grace, and a messenger of His good news to others. Of these five purposes, the fifthcan onlybe done on earth. The other four you will keep doing in eternity. That is why spreading the good news is so important; you only have a short time to share your life message and fulfill your mission.
Rick Warren, pastor, Saddleback Valley Community Church, Lake Forest, California.
Taken from Rick Warren, “Pastoral Leadership Means Sharing Your Life Message,” Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, http://www.pastors.com/RWMT/?ID=89 (accessed October 11, 2007).
1. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright Â© 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
2. Scripture quotations marked "NCV" are taken from the Holy Bible, The New Century VersionÂ®. Copyright Â© 1987, 1988, 1991. Used by permission of Word Publishing.
3. Scripture quotations marked “GW” are taken from God’s Word to the Nations. Copyright 1995 by God’s Word to the Nations. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
4. Scripture quotations marked “TEV” are taken from The Good News Bible : Today’s English Version, New York: American Bible Society, c1992. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
5. Scripture quotations marked “TLB” are taken from The Living Bible Â© 1971. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL 60189. All rights reserved.
6. Scripture quotations marked “CEV” are taken from The Contemporary English Version [computer file]: with Apocrypha — electronic ed. — Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995 by the American Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
7. Scripture quotations marked “NCV” are taken from the Holy Bible, The New Century VersionÂ®. Copyright Â© 1987, 1988, 1991. Used by permission of Word Publishing.
8. Scripture quotations marked “NLT” are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright Â© 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.