Glimpsing Revival: The Haystack Prayer Meeting – How a Campus Revival Birthed American Foreign Missions

It was on a Saturday afternoon during the month of August 1806 that five young men from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, met together to pray near a grove of maple trees north of the campus. As a thunderstorm rolled in overhead, lightning and rain forced the students to run and take shelter in a haystack. As the storm raged, the students prayed that God would send them across the seas to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a lost world. God heard their prayer.

Six years later, the first missionaries from America set sail for foreign lands.

The leader of the Haystack Prayer Meeting was Samuel J. Mills, Jr.  Born in 1783, Samuel grew up in a minister’s home in Torringford, Connecticut, the youngest of four living children born to Samuel and Esther Mills. His father, Samuel Mills, Sr., pastored the same church for 64 years.

Prayers for revival—for God to make His presence real to His people—were common throughout New England in the 1790’s. In 1798 revival broke out in Connecticut and Massachusetts, affecting over 150 churches. In the 30 village churches of northern Connecticut, over 1,700 converts were added to the membership rolls in less than 24 months. Samuel Mills witnessed the impact of that revival.

In 1806, Mills entered the all-male Williams College at the age of 23. Like many colleges in the 1790’s, the spiritual and moral conditions at the school were tough for Christians. Believers were often ridiculed and ostracized from the social life of the campus. The French Revolution and Enlightenment ideals ushered in a wave of skepticism towards God and the Bible. Several church-based colleges completely lost their theological moorings. One pastor wrote, “It seemed as if God had almost entirely withdrawn His gracious influence. We were left to mourn an absent God, barren ordinances, an unsuccessful Gospel and cold hearts.”

In 1805, revival broke out at the congregational church in Williamstown pastored by Seth Swift, deeply affecting a number of students, including a junior named Algernon Bailey. Bailey was repeatedly threatened and harassed by his fellow students for his faith, but his patient endurance only served to draw other students to Christ. The revival spread from the church to the campus.

By the summer of 1806, Mills and others were meeting twice a week for prayer and Bible study. Normally a dozen or so students would attend the meetings. But on one particularly hot Saturday in August, Mills was joined by a childhood friend, Harvey Loomis, and three others: James Richards, Francis Robbins, and Byram Green.

Years later Byram Green recalled that it was during this meeting that Mills first proposed that as students, they could be the first to carry the Gospel to Asia and the Middle East. He writes, “We first went to the grove, expecting to hold our prayer meeting there, but a dark cloud was rising in the west, and it soon began to thunder and lightning, and we left the grove and went under the haystack to protect us from the approaching storm… The subject of conversation under the stack, before and during the shower, was the moral darkness of Asia. Mills proposed to send the gospel to that dark and heathen and; and said that we could do it if we would.”

In 1810, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was launched in response to a petition for assistance coming from Mills and his prayer partners, now students at Andover Theological Seminary. The ABCFM was the first Christian ministry in the United States devoted to sending missionaries overseas.

On February 12, 1812, the first missionaries from America set sail for India. On board that ship, the missionary roster included Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice, who would become founders of the modern missionary movement among Baptists.

Samuel Mills went on to become a missionary promoter and statesman throughout the United States. He conducted two missionary surveys of the Mississippi River, including the western territories belonging to the young United States. He helped start a training school for internationals, American Indians, free slaves, and Polynesians. He helped organize the American Bible Society in 1816. He died in 1818 on a return voyage from a mission trip to West Africa. Samuel Mills was 35 years old. He never married.

Why did it happen?  What caused the explosion of American interest in global evangelism and missions after 1810? Was it the students under the haystack? Not quite.

It was a few people in the presence of God.

What happened to those students who completely sold out to God in the summer of 1806 was simply this: they experienced the presence of God. In the presence of God, the students at the haystack took personal responsibility for the lost souls of their generation.

Today, in His Presence, we too can hear the heartbeat of God for lost souls around us—and our heart will begin to beat with His heart—and we will cry out “Here am I, send me!

Editor’s Note: Would you like to view a 15-minute documentary of the 1806 Haystack Prayer Meeting and the birth of American foreign missions? Produced for Arkansas Baptist Collegiate Ministries, this video (click here) was created by a wonderful team of talented friends, and written and narrated by yours truly. Enjoy! – DP

8 Principles for Launching a Prayer Ministry

In 1979, they met in a church classroom early on Sunday mornings to pray.  A small group of older men and women would gather, encouraging a group of students to join them as they interceded for Sunday services, church leaders, and lost souls. As the church grew and lives were changed, lessons were learned. Listening to their prayers, those students learned how to pray and call on God.  I was one of those students. Those men and women had an effective prayer ministry!

How do you start an effective, life changing prayer ministry? Here are eight principles to consider:

Model. Long before Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, He modeled a lifestyle of prayer (Mark 1:35). Similarly, you want to carefully examine your own prayer life before launching a prayer ministry. Do you have a daily time alone with God? Do you pray for the needs of others as well as your own? Do you seek God’s will in your decisions? Have you experienced and worked through some of the basic difficulties of prayer (e.g., dry spells and unanswered prayers)? Your experience with God will help fuel the interest of others in a prayer ministry.

Discuss. Connect with your pastor and other church leaders to talk about your interest in launching a prayer ministry. Ask for their input and ideas. Listen carefully to their responses. If the church has a defined process for launching new ministry organizations, be sure to work as much as possible with the pastor and leaders to gain the support and approval of the new prayer ministry. If you encounter resistance from someone, exercise patience.

Learn. Go to “school” on the subject of prayer: read books, attend conferences, and listen to messages. Build relationships with the praying men and women in your own church. Contact prayer leaders in other churches to learn what they are doing. Become a student.

Strategize. A well-rounded prayer strategy will provide church members with opportunities to learn about and participate in at least three kinds of prayer:

Corporate Prayer. Is your church known as a “house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13)? It ought to be. Somewhere in the life of every church there needs to be a time set aside strictly for prayer. If Wednesday night prayer meeting is really a Bible study (that people are enjoying), don’t feel like you need to change it. Set aside another time and dedicate it for prayer: a time anyone who needs to be prayed for can come and find the support they need.

Small Group Prayer. Jesus is present when a small group prays together (Matthew 18:20). Faithful friends will pray for one another and the special needs of their church and community. Everyone in the church needs someone praying for them (Ephesians 6:18). A small group prayer strategy will make sure that no one is left out.

Individual Prayer. Many church members do not know how to spend time alone with God in a quiet time: they have never been taught. On a regular basis, offer churchwide opportunities to learn about an individual prayer life. Challenge church members to form a new daily prayer habit.

Calendar. The launch of a new prayer ministry needs to be planned and coordinated with other churchwide events. Working with the existing church calendar, identify the dates for your regular prayer meetings, special events, and training classes. Allow ample advance notice so church members can plan their participation.

Enlist. Who will join you in this effort? Identify specific men and women to help you lead and host the different parts of the new prayer ministry. Write out a brief job description for each role you are seeking to fill. Meet with each individual, sharing your passion and the specific tasks to be completed. As you assemble your team, be sure to meet with them on a regular basis for information and encouragement.

Launch. Highlight the launch of a new prayer ministry with a special churchwide event or emphasis. Communicate the new prayer opportunities with announcements, signs, flyers, and church mail. Visit Bible Study classes and other church groups to discuss the prayer ministry launch. Be brief, but enthusiastic.

Support. Working with your leaders, plan a full year of activities and emphases. Meet with your leaders regularly to hear their needs and concerns. Pray with them and for them. Be a cheerleader. As you find new resources, secure copies and share them with your leaders.

Although these eight principles represent the practical steps involved in launching a new prayer ministry, be assured that God will be working in ways you never dreamed or imagined (Ephesians 3:20). Some will be learning how to pray by witnessing the prayer life of others—that’s what happened to me. Others will form new friendships that will encourage them through dark and difficult periods in their lives. All will experience the mighty acts of God!

Protecting Your Church from Predators

Following months of false rumors and verbal attacks, the deacons and their pastor had arranged to meet with the man whose actions and words were deeply dividing their church. The ensuing discussion was frustrating to everyone involved. After several attempts to uncover and address the man’s core complaints, the pastor finally asked, “What would it take for us to satisfy your concerns and to put an end to this conflict?” Moving within inches of the pastors’ face, the man harshly replied, “I won’t be satisfied until you’re gone!”

Bullies, antagonists, and predators aggressively pursue their own self‑interests in the church, influencing others through various forms of misinformation, manipulation, or intimidation. Left unchecked, an active predator will entangle members and pastors in a never‑ending series of conflicts, leaving behind a trail of wounded souls and a damaged church.

Predators represent an ancient threat to the body of Christ. Speaking to church leaders in the first century, the apostle Paul warned, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert. . .” (Acts 20:29-30). How can deacons stay “on the alert,” protecting the church from predators?

Build Strong Fences

Make it tough for potential predators to establish a base of operation within the church. Just as strong fences can hinder or prevent wolves from gaining access to a defenseless herd or flock, wise preventive measures discourage church predators. The more effort you devote now towards constructing “fences” in your church, the less energy you will spend warding off predators in the future. What are those “fences”?

Loving Relationships. When deacons allow the Holy Spirit to produce Christ’s love in them, they will prioritize relationships whenever conflicts threaten the fellowship (Galatians 5:22-23). Although predators thrive in “loveless” churches, they find it difficult to work with people who have learned that loving one another through a disagreement is more important than winning a debate.

Local Mission. Predators maneuver easily in self-absorbed congregations (James 4:1-2). But what is the local, God-given mission of your church? In Jeremiah 29:7, the prophet told God’s people in exile to “pursue the well-being of the city. . . for when it thrives, you will thrive.” Deacons who encourage church members to selflessly “exit the building” in order to bless the people in their local community are helping to build a strong fence against predators.

Individual Ministry. God has given your church all of the people it needs to accomplish its mission (1 Corinthians 12:18). Pastors are called to equip the members to fulfill their call to ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Consequently, deacons should be encouraging every member to become a minister! Predators are drawn to churches where pastors and a handful of members do most of the work. Hungry for control and power, predators will seek out important positions for themselves, or challenge anyone that gets in their way!

Spiritual Maturity. The heart of the Great Commission is to make disciples. A disciple is more than a church attender. A disciple is someone who is being transformed into the likeness of Jesus by following Him in a daily, intimate relationship (Colossians 1:28; Galatians 4:19). Spiritual maturity is seeking to please the Lord in every area of life, especially in relationships with others. In a church where deacons are encouraging people to love and follow Jesus, predators struggle to mask their selfish motives and immature behaviors.

Guiding Documents. If your church has a set of bylaws and policies, observe them carefully, being sure that they adequately and accurately reflect the way your church conducts its business. Predators love to use obsolete or ignored documents to create confusion and to get their way during a church conflict. Updated documents will clarify how decisions are made and who has the right to make them.

Leadership Training. Although most pastors spend years in formal ministry studies, deacons often receive little or no preparation for their work. Contact your pastor, associational missionary, or one of your state convention employees for information concerning training opportunities designed to equip you to handle conflict in the church. Consider starting a study group with other deacons, reading scriptures and discussing books to help you grow as spiritual leaders. When a predator begins to disrupt the church, you will be prepared to respond with biblical truth and practical wisdom.

Stand Against the Predators

What if the “fences” are inadequate to stop the advance of a predator? You need a good guard dog! Used for centuries in Europe and Asia to protect sheep and goats from wolves and bears, “livestock protection dogs” are now being bred for use in the United States. Similarly, the church needs spiritually mature men who will place themselves in the path of a predator. When a predator attacks the church, how can deacons stand with their pastor and guard the flock of God?

Pray Together. Remember that all battles belong to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47). While the predator might consider you an enemy, you know that the real battle is not with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Set aside time as leaders to seek the Lord together, trusting Him with your need for wisdom and guidance (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Gather Facts. Predators can control some church leaders through intimidation. But if that fails, they will spread gossip and slander to influence the church’s perception of their leaders. Predators will filter and misrepresent their information in order to provoke negative emotions within church members. To establish the truth, deacons need to concentrate on gathering facts before taking decisive action (Proverbs 25:2).

Challenge the Sinful Behavior. When Paul encountered a deeply troubled and argumentative soul, he suspected the behavior might be due to demonic influence. Consequently, Paul encouraged Timothy to keep “instructing his opponents with gentleness” in the hope that they might repent of their words and actions (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Because predators will interpret gentleness and patience as weakness in a leader, pastors and deacons need to work together to communicate their unity and resolve.

Initiate Church Discipline. When should a deacon body pursue church discipline of a predator who continues to cause turmoil and division? Paul taught church leaders to issue two formal warnings to an individual creating division in a church. If the predator refused to repent and change, Paul directed church leaders to end the discussion and the relationship (Titus 3:10-11; Romans 16:17-18). If your church has adopted a process for church discipline, observe it carefully.

Dealing with church predators is extremely draining. Deacons might fear losing the respect of their family and friends by getting involved in the conflict. However, they are more likely to win their respect by standing against those seeking to undermine the ministry of the church. Paul promised that deacons who serve well will “acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13). Serve well!

For further reading:

Sheffield, Robert, and James E. White. Equipping Deacons to Confront Conflict. Nashville TN: LifeWay Christian Resources, 1986.

(Written to encourage deacons, this article was originally published as Protecting Your Church from Predatorsin the Fall 2017 issue of Deacon Magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)

Deacons, Revival, and Spiritual Awakening

At 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening, a pastor and a small group of deacons met to ask God for a revival in their church. Their church was struggling. Church members felt spiritually dry and weak. Few people were coming to faith in Christ. Month after month that small group of deacons sought God together every Saturday night, and He began to work powerfully in their lives. One evening the pastor challenged the men concerning unconfessed sin in their lives. Something changed in the atmosphere of the room. In tears, the deacons began to reconcile with one another and the pastor. God was making His presence real to those men as they persisted in praying together.

Five years later in 1971, revival came to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, Canada, pastored by Bill McLeod and prayed over by that faithful group of deacons. The rapidly growing crowds forced the services to relocate multiple times. Finally settling into the local civic auditorium, the revival meetings continued for seven weeks as over four thousand people gathered together each night. Affecting the entire city, the revival would go on to influence churches throughout western Canada. However, this was not the first time God had used deacons to transform a church and its surrounding community!

Revival and the Forerunners of Deacon Ministry

People were upset. Hurtful words and accusations were exchanged. The church was dividing into two factions, and the community was watching. The very next step would determine whether the church would die or thrive. Sound familiar? Except this story isn’t one of many unfolding weekly across our country, but rather it describes a critical moment in the early church (Acts 6:1-7).

At the direction of the apostles, the church chose seven men to step into the conflict. As the forerunners of deacon ministry, “The Seven” were respected, wise, Spirit‑filled men. Ministering to individual members of the church, they were a catalyst for healing and spiritual growth within the body of Christ. The change was so profound, that the entire community noticed and became extremely receptive to the gospel. New Christ-followers were pouring into the church (Acts 6:7). When the early church experienced their first revival, spiritual awakening soon followed!

Far from being extraordinary, revival and spiritual awakening became normal experiences among the first Christians. Revival usually refers to an experience within the church, while spiritual awakening describes the impact of a revived church on the surrounding community. God never intended that His people would live and accomplish His mission apart from Him. When believers begin to think of the church as a human‑powered institution, rather than a supernatural body with Christ the King as their head, they will miss God’s plan and purpose for them as a church. A church without the presence of God may appear to be doctrinally orthodox and relationally healthy, but in fact, they have abandoned their first love (Rev. 2:2-4).

Revival is a fresh encounter between God and His people. As their hearts begin to align with His heart, individual Christians are renewed in their desire to please Him in everything. Repenting of sinful and selfish pursuits, believers rediscover His beauty and long to enjoy His presence every day. The apostle Peter taught that access to the presence of God was the birthright of every Christian when he said, “. . . repent and turn back. . . that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19-20 CSB). Notice the word “seasons” is plural – referring to more than one experience. God desires that you encounter His presence many times! The church draws her life, her direction, and her power from the presence of Jesus Christ.

Deacons as Instruments of Revival

Does your church need a fresh encounter with the presence of God? What can you do as a deacon to pursue the presence of God in your life and in your church?

Feed on the Scriptures. The church recognized “The Seven” in Acts 6 as men who were full of “wisdom” – their approach to people and their problems stood out from the crowd. Where does wisdom come from? Wisdom comes from God alone. In the wilderness, manna from heaven represented God’s daily provision of nourishment and life for His people. Just as your body needs physical food, Jesus stressed that your spiritual life depends entirely on your intake of God’s Word (Mt. 4:4). Like a hammer, the Bible will shatter and reshape your worldview. As you absorb the truth into your mind, the Holy Spirit will cause you to become wise – a man who is able to “see” God, yourself, and your world from His perspective.

Draw Near to Him in Personal Prayer. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He stressed the importance of being alone with Him (Mt. 6:6). When we draw near to Him, He has promised to draw near to us (Jas. 4:8; Heb. 11:6)! Prayer is your pathway into His presence – a time to love and enjoy the Lord Jesus – and an opportunity to unburden your soul at His feet (1 Pet. 5:7). However, a sustained effort to draw near to Him will expose impurities in your life, forcing you to choose between secret sinful behaviors or a heart-level devotion to Him (Is. 6:1-5). Your continued journey into His presence depends on your readiness to repent of any sin that is blocking your way forward into His presence.

Cultivate a Sensitivity to the Spirit. As one of “The Seven,” Phillip was known for his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. By depending on the Spirit to guide him every day, Phillip knew when it was time to leave a busy ministry assignment to go out in the middle of nowhere, only to discover a man who was ready to receive Jesus as his Savior (Acts 8:26-38). We grieve and quench the work of the Spirit when we ignore His promptings (Eph. 4 :30; 1 Th. 5:19). As we grow in our sensitivity to Him, the Holy Spirit will reproduce the life and ministry of Jesus in us (Gal. 2:20, 4:19).

Pray Together as Deacons. Because Jesus promised His presence to any group of Christians seeking Him together, the early church made prayer a primary activity in all of their gatherings (Mt.18:19-20). Prior to any revival or spiritual awakening, God stirs the hearts of His people, opening their eyes to the need of the church, and drawing them to call on God for a fresh outpouring of His Spirit. In the process, the praying ones often experience His presence long before the larger body of believers. When deacons pray together over time, their faith will grow, their relationships to one another will deepen, and their church will be changed.

Can you imagine being part of a church where – every Sunday for five years – someone was saved or joined the fellowship? Where marriages were being transformed and prodigal children were coming home? Where God was clearly at work every day? I can. I was part of a church like that many years ago.

The church had a vibrant Sunday School and an anointed preacher, but the “secret” to what the church was experiencing did not lie in their quality programming or personnel. What they had were groups of men and women who prayed every day, and the deacons encouraged prayer by their example. In a typical deacons meeting, the men might discuss their “business” for a few minutes, but they would quickly move into a season of prayer. Recording needs on a dry erase board, they would spend the bulk of their meeting time on their knees. Jesus came and took over from there!

Deacons are more than mere participants in revival. They have been God’s chosen instruments of revival in the past. Is your heart being stirred to pray with your pastor and fellow deacons? What you do next will affect the future of your church for years to come.

For further reading:

Blackaby, Henry T., Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. KingFresh Encounter: Experiencing God’s Power for Spiritual Awakening. Nashville, TN: LifeWay, 2009.

Catt, Michael. Power of Surrender. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2014.

(Written to encourage deacons, this article was originally published as Deacons, Revival, and Spiritual Awakeningin the Winter 2018 issue of Deacon Magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)

7 Ways to Protect Your Pastor

As you read this, there is a pastor near you who is “on call” every day of the week. He pours his heart into his sermon preparation, but no one seems to notice. He visits the sick, but someone is telling him he doesn’t visit enough. Someone else is asking him what he does with all of his “free time” during the week. The church isn’t growing. He feels like he is failing in every area of his work. There’s a deep sadness rising in his soul. The joy is gone, and he thinks frequently about quitting. He is losing the heart of his kids. He rarely gets to spend time with his wife.

Too many pastors are living this story every week. Your pastor is in danger. Here are seven ways you can help protect him.

  1. Cover your pastor with prayer. When teaching on spiritual warfare, Paul urges us to bathe all we do in prayer, and to intercede for “all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Everyone needs someone praying for them, and your pastor is no exception. He is a primary target of the enemy, who wants to exploit every weakness and magnify every failure.

Include him in your prayers at home and as the Lord brings him to mind during your day. Call or text him, letting him know when you have lifted him up. Your pastor prays with others almost daily, but how many people stop to place a hand on his shoulder and pray for him? Drop by or schedule a brief visit during the week for the sole purpose of praying for him directly.

  1. Share with your pastor how God is using him. In addition to the time-consuming activities of visiting, counseling, and planning, your pastor spends countless hours preparing to preach and teach God’s Word each week. As members leave the building on Sunday, it’s easy for him to wonder “is God using me?” Pastors need encouragement.

While it’s true that happy people don’t complain, they should speak up! Let your pastor know how God is using him in your life. Text him at the end of a long Sunday and tell him what you saw God doing through him. Discuss his messages with him, taking time to share what God is teaching you through his preaching. Your specific and personal words of encouragement will be deeply felt and long remembered by your pastor. 

  1. Attempt to meet needs and solve problems before you report them. What do you do when a member comes to you with a ministry need? It would be a mistake to think that you are “helping” your pastor by simply telling him what you have heard. He probably has plenty on his plate already!

Since pastors are called to equip God’s people to do ministry (Eph. 4:11-12), deacons should be the first to model a mature believer’s response to the needs and problems that surface in the church. Relying on the Holy Spirit and drawing on God’s Word, explore how God might use you to take the first steps towards a ministry solution.

  1. Minimize murmuring to the maximum. Years ago the deacons in our church embraced the task of “minimizing murmuring to the maximum.” The slogan expressed their desire to meet needs and handle complaints in a way that helped the church remain spiritually vibrant and relationally strong.

By routinely correcting misunderstandings, answering questions, and quelling rumors, you can lead members to a deeper willingness to trust the heart of their pastor. When a member remains dissatisfied, offer to accompany him to a meeting with your pastor. Your presence can have a positive and calming effect on the conversation.

  1. Stand with him when he encounters destructive criticism. When the widows complained to the Apostles in Acts 6 that they were not being treated fairly in the church’s relief ministry, they were not attacking the leadership: they were voicing an unmet need. Understood in this way, complaints can become pathways to the creation of new ministries in the church. Similarly, criticism can be constructive, leading to positive changes and needed improvements. Deacons do not need to fear conflict, but because it is inevitable among sinful human beings, deacons should “go to school” on the biblical process of peacemaking (see the recommended resources at the end of this article).

Not all conflicts are the same. Your pastor is not perfect, he makes mistakes, and he is growing in Christ – just like everyone else in the church. Consequently, if someone wants to find fault in a pastor, he will always be successful! When an individual’s complaints and criticisms turn into personal attacks and hostile accusations, you need to stand with your pastor, providing visible and verbal support. Church bullies cannot be ignored. If you refuse to engage and confront the inappropriate and sinful behavior of an antagonist, the conflict can quickly escalate with catastrophic damage to your pastor, his family, and the church.

  1. Help him recharge and avoid burnout. When a pastor becomes chronically tired, discouraged, or overwhelmed by the incessant demands of ministry, he can suffer from burnout, losing his motivation and becoming susceptible to intense levels of temptation. Members are usually unaware of the stresses associated with pastoral ministry until it’s too late.

Deacons need to help a pastor protect his use of time and avoid the abuse of his body. How? Don’t expect him to attend every church function. Ask him whether he’s taking a day off. Take an interest in his family, watching for opportunities to affirm and support his efforts to be a good father and husband. Be sure that he schedules and uses his vacation time. Lead the church to bless the pastor and his wife with an evening out (providing a gift card and free babysitting) or a weekend getaway.

  1. Do ministry together. What is your ministry as a deacon? What is it that God has called the deacons of your church to actually do? In too many churches, the “ministry” of the average deacon has been reduced to sitting through a monthly meeting. God has called you to much more. Like “The Seven” who stepped up to meet the needs of the widows in Acts 6, pray about taking on an area of ministry that would alleviate personal demands on the pastor, while addressing a needed area of ministry in your church.

As an individual deacon, one of the most encouraging things you can do for your pastor is to go with him as he does pastoral visitation, travels to a speaking engagement, or attends a denominational meeting. Together you will have a greater ministry impact on the people you see. Your presence will go a long way towards alleviating boredom, fatigue, and loneliness. Your relationship with one another will deepen, becoming more authentic and genuine.

Great pastors of healthy, growing churches never get “there” by themselves. God always uses a team of men to support, encourage, and protect that pastor. Are you part of a team like that? Are you one of those men?

For further reading:

Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004.

Sheffield, Robert, and James E. White. Equipping Deacons to Confront Conflict. Nashville TN: LifeWay Christian Resources, 1986.

(Written to encourage deacons, this article was originally published as 7 Ways to Protect Your Pastorin the Winter 2017 issue of Deacon Magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)

Using Video Sermon Illustrations

In 2 Samuel 12:1-4, the prophet Nathan was sent to David armed with a message from God, but that message was embedded in a story. The story drew David in, evoking great emotion as he interacted with the principal characters of the story. Then to David’s great surprise, the story threaded its way through his imagination and into his conscience, causing him to repent of killing Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba.

Prophets and preachers have always used illustrations to comfort and confront their hearers. Ranging from dramatic demonstrations of the prophets to the enigmatic parables recounted by Jesus, illustrations of truth have pierced hearts and changed lives throughout biblical and Christian history.

Using a video illustration in a sermon is simply showing a story, instead of telling it.

Like any other form of illustration, the Holy Spirit can use a carefully selected video to capture the hearts and minds of a digital generation to hear and understand the Word of God. How can you use video illustrations with integrity and effectiveness?

Begin with the Scriptures, not the Silver Screen

Like Nathan, determine to come before the people with a message burning in your heart. Study hard and pray long, refining your thoughts and reaching a conclusion regarding the message God wants you to deliver.  Set a personal deadline for completing your sermon preparation well in advance, to allow adequate time to find the right video illustration.

 What is the “takeaway” message you want your hearers to remember days after you are finished preaching? Imagine a situation where you could only speak one sentence to the church, summing up your entire message. What would that single statement be? Arm yourself with the main idea before you search for a video illustration.

Never Trust the Ratings (or the Academy Awards®)

Movies can tell wonderful stories, but they can also contain graphic expressions of violence, profanity, sex, and drugs. Although the clip you choose may be morally acceptable, other parts of the film may deeply offend members of your audience—even if it was an Academy Award® winning film!

Ultimately, you want your audience to react to the truth, not your video clip.

Anticipate your audience response to the entire film. Why? Because they often will decide to go out and rent the video after viewing the clip you used in your sermon. Your use of a video illustration will be received as a tacit endorsement of the entire film. If you use a clip from an R-rated movie, you may be inadvertently leading members of your church to go out and view some deeply objectionable material.

Review and personally rate the movie before using any part of it. Since 1968 the Classification and Rating Administration has assigned ratings to films (G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17). Because the process can be highly subjective, you really need to become personally aware of the film’s content by viewing the movie for yourself. If you are short on time, consider an online evaluation resource like Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online.

Observe the Copyright Requirements

Before showing a video to a public audience, like a church, you must ask yourself the question “who owns the copyright?” The Copyright Act of 1976 expressly forbids the public performance (viewing) of copyrighted media outside the home, even if the viewing is free and you have purchased the video for the church. For videos that you did not create, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder, or you will violate the law (U.S. Copyright Office

Purchase videos with “public performance rights”. Some videos, like the ones sold at, include “public performance rights” with any purchase of the video. This means that the copyright holder extends to you the right to show the video in a public setting.

Purchase an annual site license. Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI offers an annual site license for your church to show videos produced by most of the major studios in Hollywood. A site license, as the name implies, is good only at a single physical address. The purchase price is based on the average size of your viewing audience. The performance of the video must be in its original format (VHS, DVD etc.). In other words, the CVLI site license does not grant you the right to record or store a portion of the video on your computer.

Contact the copyright holder for permission to show the video. If the copyright owner does not participate in the CVLI consortium, contact them in writing to request permission to show the video. Offer as much information as you can, explaining the context (i.e., a worship service, a retreat setting, etc.), the approximate size of the audience, and the expected date of the viewing. Do not show the video until you have received written permission to do so.

Show It without Blowing It

Execution is as important as the process of video selection. The person running the video will need clear instructions from you. When will the video be shown during your message?  Will you give a verbal cue? Do the lights need to be dimmed? What are the start/stop times for the video segment being shown? Test everything to be sure it works.

When mistakes happen, laugh it off. However, it is a good idea to never depend on a video illustration to make your point. Ultimately, your message is a word from God that He will use—with or without the video!

To maximize the impact of video illustrations, try to use them occasionally, instead of weekly.  Frequent use will diminish their effectiveness. Use a variety different creative approaches (e.g., props or drama) to illustrate your messages, including video as only one tool among many in your communication toolbox.

Remember the Goal

Notice how David responded as the significance of Nathan’s story penetrated his heart:

So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man… Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” …David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:5-13

For months, David carried a horrible, secret sin in his heart and did not repent. In minutes, God enabled a prophet’s insightful illustration to slip past his emotional defenses and intellectual excuses, reducing David to a broken, repentant state.

The artful use of a video sermon illustration can help transport God’s truth deep into the hearts of your audience. What is the ultimate goal? A changed life!

This blog was previously published as…

  • “How to Use Movie Clips in Your Sermon.” The Church Leader’s Answer Book. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers / Christianity Today International, 2006. 649-650; and as
  • “The Art of Video Sermon Illustrations.” Preaching Magazine, July-August 2006.

The Way

I cannot ascend spiritual mountains on man-made trails. I cannot achieve Holy Spirit objectives with plans conceived by a human heart. I cannot advance against a supernatural enemy while confined within the thick walls of science or superstition. I cannot live if only death waits for me at every exit. But there is a way to ascend, to achieve, to advance, and to live… that way is a person, and His name is Jesus. ~ DP

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit…” Zechariah 4:6

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 1 Corinthians 1:20

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:6