Tools of the Trade For May 25, 2020

I’m going to break this week’s list into two parts and post the rest tomorrow. Most of the links in today’s list are related to ministry and the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomorrow I’ll post another set of links. It was an unusually rich week of article-gathering.

John Macarthur’s church was one that had anticipated opening this past weekend, but a court in California put the kibosh on that. I appreciated Dr. Macarthur’s response.

Dan Doriani hits one out of the park. I understand that it has been a different time, but it seems that some pastors have been running at an unsustainable pace and are going to be toast when their churches reopen. Please heed the good advice here!!

This goes back a few weeks, but this interview between Phil Johnson and John MacArthur about the pandemic is worth reading.

Colin Adams writes about what preachers need to consider as they preach online.

Collin Hansen and Jonathan Leeman discuss “What Will Change, What Might Change, and What Must Stay the Same.”

The always entertaining trio of Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, and Todd Pruitt talk about “Phasing Back to Church.”

Steve Weaver says “We have catered to our congregations for so long without calling followers of Christ to die to their own preferences for the sake of others.” His article is titled, “COVID-19, Regathering, and Dying to Self.”

Over at 9Marks, Nick Gatzke asks and answers, “What Should I Do With Those Who Are Unable or Unwilling to Attend Church When We Start Gathering?”

Joe Carter writes about “A Small Tool to Salvage Your Sanctification While in Self-Quarantine.”

Another 9Marks discussion: “Help for those Who Are Nervous About Their Church Budget” by Jamie Dunlop and Jonathan Leeman. No one is feeling that way, is there?

Finally, Jen Pollack Michel says “Thank You, Pastors.”

I’ll be back with more tomorrow!

Nine Questions to Ask As We Transition Back to “Normal”

It had been my hope that this pandemic would give pastors an opportunity to rest a bit. I didn’t expect that pastors would be lounging on the sofa all day eating chips and drinking soda, but I thought the pace of life would slow a bit and provide a (much needed) opportunity to refresh. Apparently that hasn’t happened for many of you. Between working to making online sermons not look like your grandfather’s vacation movies and care given to the flock, some pastors have experienced anything but rest.

Regardless of whether you move toward the end of this very strange time1 feeling more rested or more stressed, it certainly should have been a learning experience. Here are ten questions that will help you evaluate your ministry during this period as well as going forward.

  1. As you look back over these last weeks, what did you learn about your congregation? Were they spiritually stronger than you thought? Weaker?

  2. How does the way your people handled the pandemic affect the way you plan to minister to them going forward? For example, will this affect the content of your preaching?

  3. Do your people have a reason to come back? I’m thinking especially of the way your church conducts its worship and the content of your preaching. Has it been so “light” that people have learned they don’t really miss it or need it, or has it been “meaty” enough to draw them back in?

  4. Have you carried the burden of shepherding on your own shoulders, or have you shared that burden with other leaders in your church?

  5. How will the shepherding patterns you’ve adopted during this pandemic carry on after it’s over?

  6. How are you? If you’ve worn yourself out during this time, why? What are you going to do to care for your own needs as you get back into a different, but still busy, schedule?

  7. What do you wish you had done differently during this pandemic?

  8. One hates to think worst-case scenario or delve into conspiracy theory, but IF something like this were to happen again, either because of another health crisis or (and we hope this never happens) because of governmental regulation, should you and your leaders make plans for carrying on ministry?

  9. Does your leadership team (elders/deacons/staff) have a plan for re-opening that is workable, considers the needs of those who will be cautious, and is prepared to deal with differences of opinion among church members on what it means to go forward safely?

To come away from this time without having learned something about ourselves, our people, and the priorities of ministry would be unfortunate. I hope these will give us insight into improving our ministry in the days ahead. Have a great weekend!

  1. I almost feel the need to include the phrase “whatever that looks like” when I refer to the pandemic being over, this period of time coming to an end, or when we return to normal.

Don’t Forget Them!

John and Betty have been married for nearly 60 years. They share the same address but haven’t seen each other in six weeks. Manny needs a wheelchair to get around. He used to visit his friends each day, but today he’ll spend the day in his room. Someone will bring his meals to him, but his contact with other people will be very limited. Anna is confined to her bed. She has moments where she is lucid, but those moments seem to be fewer and fewer as each day merges into the next with virtually no human interaction.

I’m describing life in the retirement community in which I work. The people I’ve described are actual people (names changed). I’ve been able to talk to people from other retirement communities, and they live with similar restrictions to the ones our residents have to follow during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

Awhile ago, John and Betty sold their house and moved onto one of our two campuses. But John has his own apartment while Betty spends her days in a different wing that gives her the type of care she needs. If things were different, John could visit his wife and maybe even bring her to his apartment for the afternoon. But during this season of uncertainty, they have no contact other than phone calls. Manny may spend a brief amount of time each day in the common room but, like John and Betty, his contact with his family has been by phone. He’s not had a visit since this all started, though his kids bring food and an occasional card or gift to cheer him up. Anna is slowly fading. She is well-cared for by the nursing staff, but those are her only contacts. 

Different regions are heading toward some level of re-opening and we will soon have some semblance of the way life used to be. And we might think life will return to a level of normalcy for these kinds of people too. But not so fast! Given the fact that medical authorities believe people in that age bracket are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and given the spotlight on those who run retirement communities and nursing homes, it is more likely that many if not most of the restrictions will stay in place for several months.

Experts have written about the negative psychological impact of the “stay at home” lifestyle so many of us have lived with. Many of those who have stayed at home have their families at home with them. And many who have been home-bound have been in contact with friends and family through email, Facebook, FaceTime and other forms of technology. Despite those things, people are feeling depressed and lonely. But that’s even more true for a significant number of the people I’m writing about. The technology we take for granted as a normal part of life is foreign to many older folks, which means that they are cut off from some contact opportunities we enjoy.

I’m writing this because when churches open again and people can begin meeting, pastors need to be sure not to forget this group of elderly people. Many older people who have been at home will be not feel safe going out in public. So the ministry I hope you’ve had to them during this pandemic needs to continue. If communities and nursing homes open up to visitors again, they need a visit from someone in the church. If your older folks don’t come streaming back to church, they still need your care.

The focus of this blog is primarily, but not only, toward younger pastors. If you are a younger pastor, I wonder how you feel about ministering to people who are elderly.1 Some guys love this age group, and some are intimidated by their (sometimes) curmudgeonly behavior. But they are people who need companionship and comfort. And let’s not forget that many of your seniors have often given several decades of their lives to serving the church you now pastor.  

Remember that whatever will be our new normal will probably differ greatly from this age group’s coming new normal. Since vulnerability increases with age, it is likely that people in this age bracket will take greater precautions, expect the church to accommodate their precautions, and – as is true with those who are in retirement communities and nursing homes – will still be limited socially in ways that will prolong their feelings of loneliness. So please don’t forget them!

  1. In 1960 the average adult died in his or her late 60’s. Today the average adult lives to be close to 80. I seriously think we need to invent a new category for people in the 60ish-80ish range because many are too vibrant to be regarded as elderly. As someone who hits 67 this summer, I join many of my peers in thinking I’m still pretty much middle age. Self-deception? Maybe. But don’t call me a Senior Citizen or I’ll take you out of my will. It may be that churches who initially exclude people over 65 from coming to church should bump that up to 70. But check with your medical professionals, not a blogger.

Tools of the Trade For May 18, 2020

May 18! Good grief! We should be almost two months into the baseball season at this point! Well, here are some links to some resources that I’ve come up with this week.

Have you ever had the opportunity to attend Together For the Gospel? This biennial conference was mind-altering for me. I attended the first one years ago and was able to go to several others over the course of my ministry. The first T4G was attended by under 1000, but is has grown to close to 10,000 from what I understand. The conference ended up being held online this year because of the you-know-what. All of the sessions are here.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary puts out a weekly newsletter and recommended this book by Aaron Menikoff called “Character Matters – Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit.” The premise resonates with me. I hope to read it soon.

Shepherding involves looking after those who wander. Jeramie Rinne writes about 5 Common Ways Church Members Go Astray.

Many churches will have to adjust budgets once the pandemic is over. Often missions is an area that gets cut. But read this article by Paul Chitwood before you decide who and what you trim from the budget.

Alex Hong writes about how to counsel those who are dealing with anxiety, loneliness, or depression. All three are common during this time, but the article has uses beyond these circumstances.

Trevin Wax asks, “What are the metrics for a church’s success? For decades now, pastors have joked about the three B’s: bodies, buildings, and budgets.” Then he blows up those categories.

Do you have moments when you wonder if you’d be better off doing something other than ministry? Here’s an article by David Schrock on what he learned from a guy who followed his calling for 70 years. Yeah, 70 years.

Rachel Green Miller helps us understand what it means to empathize with others.

David Prince tells us why the way we deliver a sermon is so important.

Jeff Robinson and Gavin Ortlund answer the question “What Theological Hills Should We Be Willing to Die On?”

This article, directed at church planters, deals with the subject of reopening after the pandemic. I suspect Dayton Hartman’s questions apply to a broader audience, so take up and read!

Anything there that looks helpful? I hope so! Thanks for stopping by and reading! Lord willing I will see you on Wednesday.

15 Books to Add to Your Library, Part 2

On Wednesday I began this two-part post in which I identified 15 books that are worth your investment. Today I’ll list the remaining 8 books on my list.

In my email this morning was a daily email from MLB (Major League Baseball) that pointed to an article called “The Best to Never Win an MVP.” The article goes on to identify baseball players who, despite having really good seasons and careers, never won their league’s award for Most Valuable Player (MVP). This list is sort of like that. I’m identifying books that were of value to me and just might have slipped under the radar. So, in no particular order, here are some additional volumes that I would recommend.

I used to try to read at least one or two books on preaching each year. There is no lack of good books on the subject but I have appreciated Unashamed Workmen by Rhett Dodson and The Archer and the Arrow by Philip Jensen and Paul Grimmond. In addition, David Helm’s book Expository Preaching is worth the read. There are many others that are worthwhile, but what I liked about these books is that they reinforced the basics while giving some new thoughts on how to go about sermon preparation and presentation. Ok. That makes ten books.

One of the books that has ministered most to me is the compilation of Puritan prayers by Arthur Bennett titled, The Valley of Vision. Not only will these be of value to your own spiritual life, they can be used with your congregation. I used several to prepare our congregation for the Lord’s Table. There is a new book that is similar called Piercing Heaven by Robert Elmer. I don’t know if there is any overlap, but here is a review by Tim Challies. Tim likes it better than The Valley of Vision. So maybe you buy both.

One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm is also worthwhile. It’s a short book that is intended to help people learn to read the Bible together. Maybe the description will pique your interest: “Imagine if there was a way that people could grow in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ—a way that returned gospel growth to the everyday fabric of personal relationship, rather than relying on church-run programs. That guided people in a deeper, more meaningful way than an event, program or class could possibly do—guided on an individual basis by someone who cared for them personally.”

Kevin DeYoung is a fine writer and preacher, and included in his growing catalogue of good books is Taking God At His Word, which defines and defends the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. So far, most of the books I’ve recommended have been “practical” books, but this is anything but dry scholarship. I found it very encouraging.

A book that seems to be on a lot of people’s reading list right now is Dane Ortlund’s Gentle And Lowly. I believe this could be one of the most significant books that you will read. I’m partway through the book and it has been a wonderful reminder of who Jesus is and how he thinks of us. Read this for yourself, but let it shape the way you preach and pastor.

Finally, there are times when pastors need someone to minister to them, and this book by Paul Tripp, called New Morning Mercies, will do that. The book is a collection of Gospel-centered devotional readings for each day of the year.

I will add the same disclaimer as I did on Wednesday. While I like to recommend Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, I have linked to Amazon because of free shipping of you are a Prime member, and because they also sell used copies and Kindle copies of many of these books. But if you are purchasing at least $100 of books, check out Westminster. Not only will you be supporting a fine ministry, you may find that their prices are better in some cases than Amazon’s.

Have a great weekend! If you have a book that has been significant to you – either as a younger pastor or as a veteran – send me an email at and let me know. I would appreciate your feedback! I will see you on Monday!

15 Books to Add to Your Library

When I retired I gave away about 80% of my books. I kept one or two significant commentaries on each book of the Bible, as well as several important theological reference books. I also hung on to some books that I would want again if the door for ministry reopened down the road. I was a book junkie, and I would take a 15-minute drive to the seminary in our area and browse their bookstore every couple of weeks. I also benefitted from special sales and giveaways at conferences.

Books play a big part in the life of a pastor. Last week I thought about putting together a post on 10 books pastors would appreciate. It’s ended up being 15 books. My intention is not to put together a list of “the best” books in any particular area. Rather I wanted to suggest some titles that have been helpful to me. Some may be familiar to you, others maybe not. But all are worth your investment. So here goes, in no particular order:

I hope that you have read Mark Dever’s book 9 Marks of A Healthy Church. Going to a 9Marks seminar shortly after becoming our church’s Senior Pastor was incredibly significant. If you haven’t, you should read. But that’s not the one I wanted to recommend. Rather, I’ll point to a companion book by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander titled, The Deliberate Church. Read both and be challenged by their thinking.

Next let me encourage you to invest in the revised edition of the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. The one I had was originally done by Walter Elwell. I see that there is a new edition out from 2017. No doubt you have some systematic and biblical theologies in your library already, but this is a dictionary of theological ideas and terms written by a large number of scholars. I always thought that if I could only have 5 books with me on a desert island, this would be one of them (along with a study Bible, Calvin’s Institutes, a baseball encyclopedia and then something else that piqued my interest). I’m not saying it’s the be-all and end-all of theologies, but it is very helpful and worth the $60 bucks you have to pay for a new copy.

My next recommendation is Listen Up by Christopher Ash. This is a book about how to listen to a sermon. Elsewhere I recommended that you find the money somewhere in your budget to give every family a copy. You could even do a short series in Sunday School or prepare questions for small group discussion of the book. But aside from being helpful to those who listen, I think it can helpful to those who preach, as it will guide you in your presentation so that your people find it easier to listen well. Good stuff.

Next, I’ll recommend the best book I’ve read on helping relationships: Side by Side by Ed Welch. Whether you’re going through tough stuff and need help with what to share, or you’re helping a friend go is going through a hard time, you won’t find many books that are as helpful as this one.

Pastors have to conduct funerals, lead meetings, officiate at weddings, plan services, and do a lot of things that as new pastors they haven’t done before. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll reach for The Pastor’s Book by R. Kent Hughes. It’ll help you with holidays, planning service order, and doing the various pastoral tasks I mentioned above. A must have.

A book you may not use often, but will deeply appreciate, is Bryan Chapell’s The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help From Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times If you’re a pastor, you’ll have some “tragic times” to deal with as you shepherd your congregation. This book is a go-to for help on dealing with some hard stuff.

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung is one of the two best books on the subject of the will of God I’ve ever read. It is easy to read, humorous in spots, and DeYoung is a great writer. In addition, it is really helpful in guiding people – including pastors – away from some unhelpful forms of divining the will of God.

Ok. That’s seven (well, maybe 8 if you count both my Dever recommendations). I’ll finish up on Friday.

A word about the links. I like linking to Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, but I’ve chosen to link to Amazon for two reasons: first, you can often find used copies of some of these books and save some money, and second, if you have Amazon Prime, the shipping is free. However, check the prices at because if you spend $100 you get free shipping. Not only that, sometimes their prices are better than Amazon’s.

See you in a few days!!

Tools of the Trade For May 11, 2020

Good morning! Here are some links to articles and resources you may find helpful.

The late R.C. Sproul wrote a helpful piece on the intercessory work of Christ called Jesus’ Prayers Keep You From Stumbling. This might be a good one to share with your people.

Matt Perman’s book How to Set Up Your Desk sounds geeky and nerdy, but it’s a helpful tool for keeping your workplace organized, whether working from home or from your office. And it’s on sale for $3 (Kindle).

Tim Challies linked to this Kindle deal the other day that would be especially helpful to you younger guys: A Little Book for New Preachers.

Howard Senkbeil gives us a peek at his book “The Care of Souls,” and challenges us with The Missing Link in Pastoral Ministry.

Here’s an issue you will face as you meet with your elders: Should Elders Insist on Unanimity.

The aforementioned Tim Challies reached back in his archives to repost What Makes a Sermon Difficult to Listen To?

Rachel, writing at Gentle Reformation, writes Give Us This Day Our Daily Friendship.

Chad Van Dixhoorn gives a helpful overview in 10 Things You Should Know about the Church’s Historic Creeds and Confessions. If you come from an independent church background, you may not have been exposed to the various creeds and confessions.

An article on The Gospel Coalition website surveys 6 pastors about their plans for reopening church when things settle down.

This is a must read if you haven’t already: 7 (possible) Church trends emerging from COVID-19.

Ray Ortlund reminds us that Ministry Is Never Just a Job.

Here is a review of a must-read book, Gentle And Lowly

Alasdair Groves, writing for CCEF, talks about Preparing Our Hearts Today for Post-Pandemic Fellowship.

I hope you have a good week! I’ll have a new blog post on Wednesday.