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I’ve Been Thinking

Lately I’ve been thinking . . .

About the Lord’s Table

Have you ever talked to your church about what they should – and shouldn’t – be doing during the Lord’s Table? In preparing the church for this very important practice, most pastors rightly refer to 1 Corinthians to review what Paul writes about the Lord’s Table. As part of that review, we often quote verses 27 & 28 to direct people to take a look within and, if I can put it this way, get their spiritual house in order so as to be prepared to take Communion. In that way we won’t be taking the Lord’s Table unworthily.

I’ve heard this admonition often. But do we really want to convey the idea that we can do anything to become more worthy? I am not suggesting we should be cavalier with regard to sin, but the only reason we are welcome at the Lord’s Table is because of what Jesus did in his sinless life, death, and resurrection. He alone makes us worthy.

I’ve talked with people who struggle with forgiveness. They wonder if God has really forgiven them. And they wonder if they’ve confessed all of their sins. It’s not hard to imagine an overly introspective person going back over sins that have already been confessed, just to be sure that they are not sinning further by “being unworthy.”

In a 2014, pastor and author Joe Thorn put it this way:

“On the other hand the Lord’s Supper is sometimes treated as an overly-introspective and nearly depressing act. Some are encouraged to so focus on their sin that, despite the highlighted and visible gospel proclamation happening in the Lord’s Supper, the joy of salvation is nowhere to be found. In fact, some believers will decide not to participate at all because they have messed up “too badly.” There stands the table. The invitation is made. But some fear they shouldn’t go forward because the past week was one filled with sin and unbelief. Some think, “I blew it this week. I better not do it.” But here is the truth. Just as Jesus came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, so the Lord’s Supper is for sinners (Luke 5:32).”

I think it would be worthwhile for pastors to re-study this passage and read what commentators say in order to understand and explain it accurately. If we don’t, we may inadvertently turn our people’s focus primary inward rather than toward Christ. If we look at this passage carefully, I think we will conclude that what Paul is talking about has a whole lot to do with the way the Corinthians were behaving and how they were treating each other.

One more thought: rather than a long period of silence while the elements are distributed, would it be more helpful to read passages relating to the meaning of Jesus’ death responsively or in unison? A meditative song about the Cross could also be appropriate. I wonder if we’ve privatized the Lord’s Table by focusing on individual over corporate response. Just thinking . . .

About What Our Worship Services Teach Our People

We teach our people in more ways than preaching. When we plan our worship services, we should realize that – from start to finish – we are shaping the way people think about God and our relationship to him.

Our music choices need to be carefully evaluated for doctrinal faithfulness. Popularity is not close to the top of the list of what makes a song appropriate for church singing. And that goes for older songs as well as newer.

Our prayers should be thoughtful and varied. We need prayers that praise God, confess sin, show thanksgiving and dependence. We should be praying for missionary work in other places, and for those who are being persecuted for following Christ. We have to avoid what may come across as incidental, off-the-cuff prayers.

The way we talk about the offering is instructive. We should talk more about giving to the work of God, reminding people of what their giving enables. We should focus less on meeting the budget.

About Trying Too Hard to Be Relevant

About a year ago I was in a church where the speaker referred to Jesus as “that Cat” and told us that God was “a smart Dude.” I know he was trying to connect, but it was awful. So little in our world – including the Christian world – points to God’s holiness. No one wants to listen to someone spill 30 minutes of seminary-talk. But we don’t need to go to the other extreme and treat holy things so casually.

About Bible Translations

I’ve been using the English Standard Version since shortly after it was released, and it is my preferred translation. But our pastor is using the Christian Standard Bible, published by Holman. I had mistakenly thought that the CSB was published by one denomination. However, the CSB was produced by a group of scholars evangelical pastors would easily recognize, coming from a variety of traditions. I like it. I’m not sure I’ll “switch,” but the more I read it, the more at home I feel. It is a bit easier reading than the ESV. I’d recommend that you get a copy. I picked up a hardback with center-column references on Amazon.

Thanks so much for stopping by. If you have any thoughts to share, feel free to email me at or use the moderated comments section. I’d be glad to hear from you!

Tools of the Trade for February 24, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Here are some links that you may find helpful. Let me encourage you again to share some of these with your people.

Kevin DeYoung encourages preachers with his article “How to Improve Your Preaching.”

Sometimes we wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into as pastors. Ronnie Martin helps us with: “I Am A Pastor, Therefore I Fear” is a great reminder for any pastor.

Jason S. Derouchie contributes to the discussion on preaching from the Old Testament in this article called “Jesus’s Only Bible.”

Speaking of the Old Testament, Colin Adams writes “Ten Quick Suggestions For Reading Old Testament Narrative.”

Here’s one to read and share: Lydia Brownback writes “How God Sees Me.”

Jared Wilson’s Podcast discusses the subject of pastors and plagiarism.

Aaron Menikoff gives us “5 Reasons Pastors Ought to Pray for Slow Growth.”

Jonathan Baer reviews book by Jason Allen called “Discerning Your Call to Ministry.”

Tim Challies originally linked to this article by Aaron Wilson on “75 Icebreaker Question for Church Small Groups.”

So good: Devon Provencher’s “An Open Letter to a Children’s Ministry Worker.”

It seems that there is a general reawakening of interest in the Psalms. David Gundersen gives us “5 Reasons Pastors Need the Psalms.”

Eric Schumacher writes “Church Song is Corporate Preaching.” Which is one reason why we need to avoid dopey songs.

Hopefully you are compensated fairly for your work. But if not, this article may be of some help. Greg Phelan answers the question, “Can I Ask for a Raise at My Ministry Job?”

I hope you have a great week! I’ll see you again on Wednesday. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Apparently I’m Not Alone

Last Friday I posted a piece on When You Lose People to Bigger Churches. Tim Challies linked to the article earlier in the week and since then over 3000 people have visited this blog and read the article. Apparently it resonated with a good number of pastors and church leaders, which means that there are a lot of you whose experience is at least somewhat similar to what I wrote about.

Because of the response, the subject of people coming and going has been on my mind over the last several days. May I share a few more thoughts with you?

First, Whenever new people come to your church from another congregation, it is appropriate to contact the pastor of the church they left.

When you do this, you are practicing good pastoral ethics. In our area there were pastors who would extend this courtesy. I appreciated that. There were others who didn’t. I didn’t appreciate that. None of us gets it right all the time, but it’s something that should be a priority.

When you contact another pastor, you might be heading off trouble. On occasion you’ll find that people who were poison in their last church come to you with big smiles and lots of warmth. But give them a year or two. You may end up having the same difficulties their former pastor had.

It is good to talk with the new people and make sure that they have not left their church for the wrong reasons.

People change churches for all kinds of reasons, and some of those reasons may not be valid. But some certainly are. People may be look for a new church because the preaching in their former church lacks substance. Perhaps they are leaving a liberal church because they’ve come to trust in Christ and want a church that preaches the Gospel.

Perhaps decisions were made that they do not feel they can support biblically. Perhaps the leadership has failed in a substantial way. As a result people may decide that leaving is the best option. (A good read on this is the 9Marks article from last year titled, “Some Counsel for Christians Leaving Toxic Church Environments.” )

As I said, there are multitude of reasons people look for a new church. I’m not advocating pastoral paranoia. Just be sure to do due diligence as you welcome them.

If you are a smaller church, make it all that it can be. While larger churches can offer more programs, smaller churches can often offer more intimacy and pastoral care. Smaller churches can create an environment where the whole church can gather together for a meal, for prayer, or just to spend time together.

If you know other smaller-church pastors, schedule a lunch or meet at a coffee shop to talk over ways in which they are building community and caring for their people. You may find that you can join together on occasion with another congregation or two. One of my close friend’s church had not had a Good Friday service but wanted to start one. So we began meeting together on Good Friday, alternating meeting between their church and ours. Each year dozens of people stayed afterwards to talk.

I don’t know what the prognosis is for smaller or medium-sized churches. On one hand, our people have been trained by our culture to be consumers, and it’s not surprising that people go to churches that offer what looks to be “bigger and better.” But while that seems to be the current trend, I wonder if the pendulum will swing the other way, and people will get tired of “Walmart church” and desire something more “Mom and Pop.”

Finally, be careful that a consumerist spirit doesn’t exist in your heart. If you find yourself in a smaller or medium church, unable to do all that bigger churches can do, don’t give in to what might be a lust for more than God wants you to have. Your people need to be fed, and they need a caring shepherd. Be that person to them, and you’ll be doing what God wants you to do.

Tools of the Trade for February 3, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

I hope you’ve had a good weekend. Here are some links to read, file, and share.

For Pastors/Church Leaders

David Murray, always worth reading, writes about guarding our relationship with God. It’s easy to let that become part of our “professional” persona.

This Podcast, with Tim Chester, asks the question “Are We Undervaluing the Lord’s Supper?”

There’s an intriguing statement in this article about the source of power in our ministry. “All Christian work is about responsibility without authority. Therefore, it’s easy to get discouraged.” Thought provoking and worth the read.

If you interview for a position in a church, you’re going to be answering a lot of questions. But what should you be asking? Jeff Robinson shares some insights.

Peter Mead, from, talks about some preaching paradoxes that originated with John Stott.

This article is from a secular source, but it describes 10 characteristics of good learners. These kinds of articles can be helpful for those wanting others to learn.

If your church is not familiar with some of the great creeds of the Christian faith, here’s a short introduction.

Sad story, great point. Don’t overlook older people in your church.

Here are “5 Lessons on Faithful Endurance from a Longtime Pastor.”

Gene Edward Veith writes “An Open Letter to the Pastor in a Post-Christian World.”

What are your people wondering about and asking when they hear you preach? David Qaoud gives us some food for thought.

For You and Your People

My wife loves snow, but to her disappointment there’s been very little snow for us this winter. We’ve had a 3 inch “storm” and two half-inchers that have barely covered the grass. Driving has been without difficulty. However, it’s been generally grey and dismal. Winter can affect what’s going on inside of us as well, and David Mathis writes an incredibly helpful article on that subject.

Have a great week!

When You Lose People to Bigger Churches

One autumn evening, I sat with a couple who had been members of our church for several years. They had come to tell me that they had decided to attend another church because they felt they needed a bigger and more vibrant youth program than what our church could offer. Inwardly I wanted to cry. Not only were these friends, this was the second time in just a few weeks that I was having this same conversation. Losing one family was hard enough. Two?

I was assured that they loved me and loved my preaching, but they had come to say goodbye. I was glad that I was not the reason they were leaving. But as I told my wife, it was like a girl you were dating breaking up with you and saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.” It still hurt. 

But losing people didn’t end there. Losing these two families resulted in some other families leaving. The rationale was “If they’ve gone, my child’s Sunday School class/youth group is even smaller, and I want my child to have more Christian friends.” Within a few weeks, this chain reaction led to our losing close to 40 people. That was a big hit – so much so that a month or two later I gathered our people together during the Sunday School hour and explained why so many people were missing.

Our people were gracious, and most of them were affirming and encouraging. Of course, you will always have people who suspect that there’s something sinister lurking under the surface. (You’re thinking about that person in your church right now, aren’t you?) But our people were supportive, and other families assured me they had no intentions of going elsewhere. I was grateful for that.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy. 

Younger pastors, you will experience disappointments of all kinds during your ministry. This was one of the more significant ones that came my way. When people leave, you question yourself. Is there something you could haves done to prevent them leaving? Does this reveal a lack of effectiveness as a pastor? Are the conspiracy theorists in your church are on to something? 

Go ahead – ask those questions. But sometimes it is just hard to be a smaller church.

So after you’ve asked and answered those hard questions, what do you do when people leave your church for less than the best reasons?

First and foremost, remember that God’s sovereignty extends to those who come to and those who leave our churches. You may lose people, but God is not wringing his hands asking, “What will happen to such-and-such church?” Your church does not belong to you. You are only a steward of God’s church. I know it’s easy to say and hard to remember, but you have to remind yourself of this often.

Second – and looking back I think I could have done this better – remind your people often of the meaning of membership, of the reasons we commit to a group of believers. This might not prevent people from folding their tents and moving on, but it might make them think twice before they do. And by the way, don’t burn your relationship bridges. The people who leave as I described above are not enemies. I was grateful that, in the years that followed, when I encountered some of the people who moved on from us, our relationship was still intact. 

Next, pray that God will bless you with new people. Some people don’t feel at home in larger churches. They’re glad to be a part of a smaller congregation that feels more like family. They want their pastor to know them, to know the names of their children, and to know about their lives. Ask God to bring those kinds of people to you. 

Finally, love the people God has given you. You may, like us, lose some families. But you will have others who remain. Love them. You may be hurt and disappointed by those who left, but don’t let those who stay with you feel that they are less important than those who are no longer there. If you need to mourn, and you probably will, do it privately.

For you young guys reading this today, I would wish that you would never have to deal with the disappointment of losing people to a larger church. But I believe that it is almost inevitable. 

So when it happens, do your mourning. And ask yourself some hard questions. And if there is something you need to change, change it. But then roll up your sleeves and plunge yourself back into being the best shepherd you can be to the sheep God has given you. 

Younger Pastors, Older Churches, and Change

In 1986 country singer Ronnie Milsap scored a number one hit with the song “Lost in the Fifties Tonight.” That kind of describes the way things were In 1980 when I began my ministry in the church I would serve for the next 37 years. When we arrived, the church was very traditional. With an emphasis on very and traditional.

I want to hasten to say that I loved the church and the people. Through the decades of my time there we went through a number of changes, but early on it was definitely a challenge.

As an example, in the early 1980’s, small groups were hardly a new idea. Many churches had introduced them into their regular weekly program, usually replacing the traditional Wednesday night prayer meeting. But when we tried to start small groups in our church, we found that a significant number of people were unhappy that they were no longer meeting in the auditorium. We found that out by taking a survey asking people to identify what they wanted to see take place on Wednesday night.

To be honest, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the location of a church meeting trumped what happened in that meeting, but that’s the way it was. However, after a couple of years the demographics of the church changed, several dozen younger couples had become members, and we were able to start a small group ministry with a minimum of upset. In fact, the only complaint I heard was from one older man who was concerned that meeting in homes might create a moral dilemma. He posed this question to my brother-in-law, who was one of our group leaders: “What if you are sitting on the sofa and you inadvertently sit too close to – and maybe even touch – someone of the opposite sex who is not your wife?” True story. Hardly an argument against having small groups in homes, but I did appreciate his heart.

If you are a young man involved in an older church, it is likely that you will bump up against the anti-change crowd. How are you going to handle them? A few suggestions:

First, make sure that you have a good reason for the change you want to take place. Just because other churches are doing it (and with success) doesn’t mean it’s right for your church. Adults who are in their 60’s and older have seen an enormous amount of change in their churches, and many of them feel that they’ve lost aspects of church life that were meaningful to them. Before you introduce something new – especially when it involves replacing what the church has known for a long time – make sure the change is really going to benefit your congregation.

Second, do some research. You shouldn’t even attempt change without having the support of your leaders. If they’re hesitant, put it on the back burner and try again another time. You might also talk to other pastors who initiated the same changes or, more importantly, talk about the proposed changes with a couple of people in your congregation who are level-headed and able to keep things in confidence. Make sure you don’t just talk to one age group, and consider the counsel you receive from the people you talk to.

Third, take your time. You don’t have to change overnight. The changes you want to see take place might be able to happen incrementally rather than all at once. This is especially true when you are making changes that are more drastic. We were eventually able to remake our entire Wednesday night program, but it was something that we took four years to accomplish. If we had imposed all the changes at once, it would have been a fiasco.

Fourth, remember that you can’t please everyone. When I came to the aforementioned church, adult Sunday School classes were lacking. I was tasked with transitioning to elective classes instead of age-group or gender-based classes. And everyone was cooperative except for the senior women’s class. I actually had one dear old saint ask me, “Why do you hate us old ladies so much?” We ended up just letting them do their thing. Especially after I started getting death threats. Just kidding.

I’m aware of several situations in which well-meaning pastors tried to institute change without the appropriate support, without doing due diligence in terms of assessing how a particular change would affect their church, or by instituting changes too soon. In each case it led to upset, some of it significant enough that it led to an early end to their ministry in that church. You don’t need that.

If you are in your first year or two in a church, make building a relationship with your people your priority. People will follow you if they know you love them. But it takes time to build that kind of relationship. But if you have that relationship, they will more willingly trust you as you lead them to do things differently. Even if they haven’t done it that way before.

Tools of the Trade for January 27, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

For Pastors

We are blessed with a large number of Bible study guides for personal or group use. But some are better than others. How do you tell the good ones from the ones you should pass by? Taylor Turkington gives some advice for evaluating study guides.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to visit a number of churches over the last year or two. I’ve seen interviews, discussions, and video-driven talks in the place of the sermon. Here’s an argument for keeping the traditional sermon.

My friend Jay once suggested going to the back of our auditorium for the benediction. Why even bother giving one? Drew Hunter explains the value and place of the benediction in the worship service.

This article, written primary for church planters, is still relevant for young men embarking on their first pastorate. It’s called Planting Churches With a Lasting Gospel Legacy.

Here’s another reason why it’s good to know even a little bit about church history.

Religious liberty is a hot topic in the news today, and the current administration made a statement earlier this month that church leaders should be aware of.

9Marks’ Jonathan Leeman has started a series called “Preachers Talk” Here’s where you can download the first 30-minute episode.

The commonly quoted stat is that “faithful” church attendance is something like two or three times a month. Phil Newton writes about how pastors can encourage church attendance.

I find articles on productivity to be helpful at times, as long as they don’t send us on a quest for productivity perfection or make us focus on tasks to the exclusion of people. I’ll link to an article from time to time that might have a helpful nugget. Here’s one.

Reviews and recommendations of this book have appeared on a number of sites over the last few weeks. I’m sure it would be hard reading, but there are people in your church who have been abused, and you need to know both how to help them and what to give them to read. This is a review of Mez McConnell’s “The Creaking on the Stairs.”

To Share

The Apostle Paul was aware that prayer on behalf of his ministry was vital. Following his example, it is appropriate that we ask our people to pray for us. Colin Adams shares Something You Could Pray for Preachers. Put it on your literature table.

People going through hard times need to be reminded often that God is good and that he is with them in their times of trouble. This article, by Marshall Segal, will be a great encouragement to your people.

This is one for pastors to read too, but also one that you can share. It provides counsel on helping Christians struggling with depression. David Murray has written extensively on this topic.

Have a good week!

Give Them A Head’s Up

By now (I hope) you know what you are preaching on Sunday. But do your people know?

Does that matter? I think so. When I watch a movie, I want to know what it’s about. I don’t need to know the whole plot or story line, but knowing the nature of the film is helpful. The same is true with TV shows and books. Though the information might be minimal, it prepares us for what we’re going to watch or read.

Your church probably has an email list. I want to suggest that you send an email to your people on Friday or Saturday with the following information:

  1. Remind them that there is a worship service on Sunday and encourage them to attend. In a day when “regular church attendance” is often viewed as twice a month, it doesn’t hurt to include a line that conveys “I’m hoping to see you on Sunday morning.” And on occasion, a kind admonition as to why they ought to come is certainly in order.
  2. Tell them what passage you are preaching from and encourage them to read it before coming on Sunday.
  3. Give them the basic theme of your sermon. You might be reluctant to give away the “punch line.” But you can identify the topic and possibly also indicate why it is important.
  4. If there are important announcements, briefly list them. If your people get used to relying on the church bulletin and your email, you won’t have to spend as much time making announcements during the worship service.

You could approach this by inviting people to sign up to receive your email, but I’d encourage against that. You have the list, and while you don’t want to abuse that, you’re not going to be overtaxing their inbox with a short email. And it needs to be short. If it takes them more than a minute to read it, they may not bother.

We need to pull out all the stops when it comes to helping our people engage with the sermon. An end-of-week email can do that. A mid-week email briefly identifying the main points of your sermon and the main application can also be a helpful way of refreshing their memories.

You probably won’t see the results of this practice, but I do believe it is helpful. Let me encourage you to give it a shot.

A friend of mine has a funeral today, and I was reminded of the great opportunity funerals provide for preaching the Gospel. It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to have unsaved people present at every funeral. They may be friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members. And they need to hear the Gospel message.

I was sharing with my friend that I purchased a quantity of Randy Alcorn’s booklet on Heaven. He has written a full-length book on the subject, but this little booklet, available at Amazon for $1.99 is contains some biblical answers about life after death and a clear presentation of the Gospel. Near the close of the service I would say something to the effect that a the loss of a friend or loved one reminds us of our own mortality. Then I would invite people to take a booklet if they had questions.

We had a ledge on the back wall of our auditorium that was a perfect place for a couple dozen booklets. I would suggest that you put them somewhere close to where people naturally pass by on their way out, but not in a place where it looks like you’re hawking them. And by all means, don’t charge for them.

I hope you have a good weekend of ministry! Whether you are preaching, teaching, or engaged in some other form of ministering to your people, may God bless your efforts to serve him!

Tools of the Trade for January 20, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

Ligonier published an article from the late (and greatly missed) R.C. Sproul on “Accepting ‘No’ As God’s Will.” His comments on prayer are helpful.

Kevin DeYoung writes about God’s existence, presenting the doctrine in less than 500 words. This is a helpful summary and starting point for study.

This is not from a Christian site, but “15 Effortless Memorization Tricks to Remember Anything” may come in handy. I include it this week because I didn’t want to forget. (I know. Corny.)

Colin Adams writes “The Eleven Commandments for Long Winded Preachers.” Not that any of us need that, but we might have a friend who . . .

How are Christians to deal with the various purity laws in the OT? Some of them get thrown in our face when discussing the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. Here’s a helpful article by Peter Leithart.

This article on handling disagreement has a host of applications.

If you’re looking for a helpful conference to attend, The Institute for Expository Preaching with Steven Lawson would be worth considering. Details here.

Tim Challies reviews a new book by Jared Wilson, The Gospel According to Satan. Read it here.

Ministry can become task-driven, but it needs to be people-driven. Here’s an article by Nicholas Batzig on loving the people God has put under our care.

In our Sunday pastoral prayer, we used to pray for a specific nation where Christians are persecuted. Joe Carter tells us where Christians are most likely to face danger.

Sometimes we can preach on a specific sin and leave people feeling that there’s no hope. John Sloan talks about this in relation to abortion.

John Muhlfeld writes in the Tabletalk magazine about Encouraging Men in Ministry. There are so many ways in which this can be applied. Read it and ask God to bring someone specific to mind.

Finally – and I might be the first Christian blogger to break this news – cartoon genius Gary Larson has a website where he displays some of his previous work from The Far Side and promises some new material. Oh joy!!!

Have a good week!

Tools of the Trade for January 13, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

First, WTSBooks is having a sale on their staff favorites from the last decade. Books are about half price in most cases. Some might be good for the book table, but you may want to treat yourself.

David Mathis writes about the significance of praying in Jesus’ name. This is one that is worth sharing.

Kathryn Butler encourages us to “Point Kids to the Gospel Through Great Books.” Yes, kids can still read books.

Erik Raymond writes about praying for our church family. Here’s one definitely worth sharing with your people.

Scott Hubbard shares a helpful article on what it looks like for the fruit of the Spirit to be in our lives.

David Gunderson tells us “Why You Need Sermons That Don’t Directly Apply to You.” Share this!!! Lots of copies!!

Here’s a video/transcript by Tim Challies on “How Should We Think about Technology as Christians?” Tim writes about this periodically and has some helpful insights.

This is another share-worthy article. Your people may encounter wrong ideas about the Bible that sometimes sound plausible. This will strengthen and educate them.

Kevin DeYoung asks and answers the question, “What Is Preaching (And Who Does It)?” Anything Kevin writes is worth reading.

Here’s one more from Tim Challies that challenges us to be reading.

John Piper writes about praying according to the will of God. Another one for the literature table.

This article, from a secular website, talks about some helpful planning and productivity principles.

For any of you who are church planters, here is a helpful article on patience in church planting. Actually, this is a helpful article for all pastors.

Have a great week!