Tools of the Trade – Special Edition

Rather than do my usual Friday Files post, I thought I’d catch up a bit with some of the articles that I’ve found over the last two weeks that I haven’t yet linked to. I’ll finish the list in my regular posting on Monday. These are going to center primarily on communicating the Word, so read and mark, read and mark. And by the way, my main gripe with the new Evernote seems to have been removed. I have to install it yet, but that awaits the arrival of a new MacBook Air. Whoo hoo.

Ben Mandrell talks about 8 Tips for Unforgettable Bible Teaching. This is one for pastors to read, but it is also one to be shared with small group leaders and Sunday school teachers.

Ryan Higgenbottom advises us to not save all our application to the end of our sermons/lessons.

Kevin DeYoung has some words about pastors and politics, and suggests that sometimes saying nothing may be the best course of action.

Peter Krol gives advice on making the most of virtual small groups.

The folks at 9Marks continue their series on preaching. This one is “On the Personal Process of Writing a Sermon.”

Trevin Wax has been doing a series on reading the Bible more accurately.

Finally, Matt Henslee gives some advice about online sermons, something a lot of churches are having to do, continue to do, and may keep doing depending on the pandemic goes.

How I Use Evernote

Evernote has been around for a long time, at least in internet years. I’ve been using it for well over a decade as a way of keeping notes and articles I’ve come across in my reading.

Evernote is cross-platform, meaning you can use it on a Mac or a PC. It is both a web-based service and a program you can download. Android? IOS? There’s an app for that.

Using the search term “Using Evernote” produced over 17 million links. Some people are making a living off of teaching people to use the various tips and tricks that make Evernote a powerful Repository of All Information. Me, I’ve explored some of these processes and while the can be helpful, I don’t want something that becomes cumbersome. So in answering the question my friend Tim Smith posed in the comments last week, let me describe how I use the program.

First, to use it effectively you need to have the program. Go to the above link and sign up for an account. It is free. If you want more bells and whistles, or are saving everything you read, you may need to pay a subscription fee (which is 40% off as of this writing). But for most people the free service is just fine. You will also want to download the Evernote Web Clipper that is appropriate for the browser(s) that you use. You can find it online or where you normally get browser web extensions.

Evernote allows you to create notebooks. You can have as many or as few as you like. Inside the notebooks are “notes,” which might be notes you’ve written, pictures of receipts, PDF documents, or articles you’ve clipped from blogs like this.

When I find an article I want to save, I use the web clipper app in my browser. I like my “notes” to be saved without all the eye candy that can often be found on a website, so my web clipper settings are as follows:

If you notice, I have chosen Simplified Article and I’ve also selected a notebook for the note to be saved to, in this case “- Tools of the Trade.” If you use a dash before the name of the notebook, it keeps that particular notebook near the top of your notebook list. Here’s a picture of my own list of notebooks.

I need to say, though, that you should pay no attention to my list. At the present time those notebooks are simply placeholders. All of the notebooks from Christian through Ministry – Uncategoriezed are currently empty. The others are related to personal info or hobby interests. The reason they are empty is that at some point I want to redesign how I store my articles. However, in the meantime, having 2000 articles in one big holding tank is just fine, because Evernote has a very powerful search function. I can type in a word and every article that contains that word will be listed for me. And frankly, that’s pretty much all I need.

Some people use key words to tag their articles so they can do more refined searches. Others do what I am in the process of doing, filing the articles/notes in special subject folders/notebooks. While filing with more detail does allow you to perform more sophisticated search functions, you may find that having a general “dump” notebook is just fine.

So that, Tim, is how I use Evernote. Hardly sophisticated, and likely to be viewed with scorn by aficionados. I simply want a way to find articles that relate to different topics and right now the general “Inbox” work fine. When I get around to deciding on a set of more specific notebook topics, I’ll have to go through 2000 notes and figure out which one goes where. So it’s obviously easier to categorize at the start rather than waiting until you have hundreds of notes. But my system works for me, and at some point I’ll do a bit of re-filing here and there to put them into more specific folders like the “Ministry” ones I have listed.

If you have questions, post them in the comments section (see the top of the blog page) or email me at bogert@fastmail.com and I’ll be happy to answer. Meanwhile, start keeping those articles that you think might come in handy to use in your study or to to share! I hope this has been helpful!

Yay!

I retired from the church I’d served for over 35 years in June, 2017. In the early fall Laura and I moved into an in-law apartment up in the Lehigh Valley, near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Since then I’ve worked as a cashier at Target, a driver for a nursing home, and, since March of 2019, as a driver for a retirement community.

I had taken the day off as a personal day yesterday, and drove down to my current employer and gave my two weeks notice that I was leaving. My supervisor and boss were both very gracious and wished me well. Then I headed back toward home and stopped at Calvary Bible Fellowship in Coopersburg, PA. On August 24 I will begin working with their staff in a part-time capacity.

I am very excited. Hence the “Yay!”

When I left my church in 2017 I needed a break. You guys know that ministry is hard. The old joke about pastors working only one day a week is laughable. But God used the three jobs I’ve held over the last nearly three years to clear my mind and whet my appetite for ministry again. I found more and more that, as I was writing this blog each week, I was referring to “us” and “we” because I still felt a part of the pastoral fraternity.

My responsibilities will involve pastoral care, counseling, helping with some education-related projects, and doing some teaching and preaching as needed. They have a great staff, one of America’s premier preachers (Dave, if you’re reading this, I hope this earns brownie points – ha ha), and a congregation I am sure I will grow to love. Being able to minister to God’s people is an enormous privilege.

I do plan to continue For Younger Pastors. I have a couple of posts rolling around in my think-tank, and will continue with the Monday “Tools of the Trade” and Friday’s “Five From the Files.”

I have some friends who have walked with me through these lsat few years when I often felt exiled. You know who you are. I love you.

Have a great day, folks! It’s good to be back.

Younger Pastor – Your Trials Will Help You Minister to Others

Here is one of my favorite passages:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-7, ESV).

Through the years I’ve made note of the fact that many pastors go through some kind of difficulty while in school or early on in their ministry. It doesn’t happen in every case, but from my casual observation is happens more often than not.

Maybe it’s a broken relationship. Or perhaps it’s a financial difficulty, or a setback in your education. It could be unrealized plans or dreams, family issues, or any of a number of other problems, including health issues. Of course these are not unique to pastors, but – again from my casual observation – younger pastors often seem to have some trial or struggle that ends up being somewhat life-altering.

Some men start out in ministry only to find that their first church experience is the pastoral equivalent of the Titanic. It sinks. I know guys who have struggled with unreasonable Senior Pastors, inter-staff conflict, congregations that are hypercritical, or controlling power mongers.

As you read this, one (or more) situations that you either have faced or are currently facing may come to mind. They are painful. Going through those deeper waters may have left you feeling isolated, disillusioned, hurt, or a combination of the above. So what do you do with your troubles? From what Paul says in the passage I quoted above, you use them to help others.

Here is how our trials can help us be better pastors.

  1. They can grow us up faster than “normal” and enable us to develop wisdom.
  2. They can enable us to relate to the struggles people share with us. Granted, our struggles may not be theirs struggles. But as people share, we can respond with greater empathy. (Caveat: be careful using “I understand.”)
  3. Sometimes our experiences will parallel the experiences of others so that we can tell how God helped us in a particular situation.

It is easy to write the words, “Don’t despair over your past or present problems.” It’s not that easy to go through them. I’ve had my share of disappointments and struggles and I won’t deny that some of them have rocked me a bit. But my troubles became opportunities for God to use others in my life, and opportunities for me to be a more compassionate pastor. Both are good consequences.

God comforts us in our affliction so that we can comfort others in their affliction. I pray that will be true for you.

Have We Prepared Our People for Antichrist?

The Apostle John wrote this: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 3:18, ESV).

Depending on your eschatological views, antichrist may be a spirit of evil throughout the entirety of Christian history, a growing opposition to Christianity as the return of Christ draws near, a specific person – the Antichrist – who figures prominently in end-times events, or a combination of the three. I lean toward the latter. I believe there will be a person, but I also believe there has been and will continue to be a growing opposition to the Gospel and those who believe it – an opposition that is deeply rooted in the spiritual forces of evil.

So I ask this question: Have we prepared our people for antichrist? Here’s the answer: No.

In the latter part of the 20th century, cultural opposition to Christian beliefs and morality was on the rise. The growth of social media and the ease of making comments online led to people expressing opposition to Christianity. But as I recall, that opposition showed itself primarily through intellectual/philosophical objections to the Bible and the Christian message. But that has changed. Presently, reactions to Christians and Christianity are more emotional, more venomous, more hate-filled, and more intolerant.

Over a decade ago, during a sermon, I read some rather hateful comments someone had made online about God, Christianity, the church, and Christians. The response in my congregation was a a gasp of surprise. For those who were older and had grown up in “friendlier” times, to think that someone could and would say such horrible things about Christians and the Gospel message was stunning, and I saw many folks shaking their heads in disapproval. A common response was a puzzled “How could they say that?” But “they” were saying that.

Fast forward to July, 2020.

Over the last 5 months we’ve watched the world change. Life is going to be different as we go forward, and I’m not talking about how many people can fit into a dining room or whether we will be able to find toilet paper. We are seeing radicalism that goes much deeper than a response to social injustice. And while a radicalized young adult population, products of universities that are themselves hostile to Christianity, seems to garner the headlines, there are well known public figures are also openly hostile to evangelical Christianity.

So how do we respond?

It is interesting that the New Testament letters speak often about persecution and suffering. But do we? And when we do preach and teach those passages, do we deal with the reality of what Christians around the world are facing and what we might soon face, or are we still fussing about Christmas being turned into “Happy Holidays,” or whether the Ten Commandments should be on the walls of government buildings? Is it possible that we’ve not seen the gathering storm, and that we’ve failed to prepare our people for real opposition?

The solution is not to run and hide. Nor is it time to hoist the American flag and think that our claims to freedom of speech and freedom to worship as we choose is going to matter to people who hate us. No, it’s time to teach our people that the spirit of antichrist is here, that it has been here for a long time, and that it’s going to be here in growing intensity until Jesus returns. In other words, get ready for some turbulence.

This is not a time for light “inspirational” preaching. Nor is it time to be thinking about how our churches can market themselves to be more attractive. It’s time for pastors to teach their people who God is, about how we are to live in hostile culture, and about how our beliefs (which so few Christians can articulate beyond a elementary summary) will help us stand firm if times get tougher in our lifetime.

Young pastor, this blog is directed at you. Please teach your people the Bible! Please go deep! Please bring them face to face with God! I’m not suggesting that every sermon has to deal with suffering. But I do want to ask: are you teaching your people what the New Testament writers taught? Are the themes they emphasize the ones you emphasize in your preaching?

If so, you can’t miss the subject of hostility toward God’s people. So guard your flock. Tend to your sheep. And teach them how to hold on to God in the face of antichrist.

Younger Pastor – Watch Over the Kids!

It doesn’t take long to realize that pastoral life is busy and demanding. That’s true whether you’re a solo pastor or whether you have a position on a multi-staff church. We learn quickly that we can’t be involved in every single facet of our church, and that we depend on others to do the work. And of course, that is how it should be. That’s God’s plan, according to Ephesians 4:1-16.

Most churches have more people involved in children’s ministry than any other part of the program. If your church does not have someone overseeing the entire kids’ program, you likely have people who lead the various ministries. These people are typically competent and caring, and we trust them with our kids. However, I would encourage you to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on with your church’s ministry to kids children.

One reason for wanting to stay close to what’s happening is that children’s workers can burn out pretty fast. Some churches have had more success finding people to teach one Sunday each month rather than taking a class every week. Others give their teachers a break during the summer months. Arranging your teachers’ responsibilities in this way will keep them from feeling that they have been given a life sentence. No matter how much they love kids, teaching them is not the easiest thing in the world. If you question that, try taking a turn in a children’s church program for a Sunday or two.

By far the most important reason for keeping an ear close to the ground with your children’s program is the need to make sure that your children are taught accurately. In spite of their best intentions, it is possible that well-meaning teachers teach heresy. Yeah, I know that sounds extreme, but hear me out.

Who would tell an unsaved adult that Jesus is happy with them when they obey authority? No one who understands Scripture would say that. We know that people outside of Christ do not earn God’s favor by their actions. But how many children – especially little ones – have been told that Jesus is happy when they obey mommy and daddy (or share their toys, or be kind, etc.)? Sadly, I think the answer is that way too many kids have been taught that error.

One of your greatest areas of concern should be to teach teachers how to explain the Gospel clearly to children. They should not ask kids, “Who wants to go to heaven?” or “Who wants to ask Jesus to be their special friend?” Expressions like this may be viewed as bringing the Gospel to the level of children, but they end up mis-stating what Scripture says about how we come to Christ.

Teachers need to be given materials that are Gospel-rich. The Jesus Story Book Bible is a great resource for teachers. I made sure each department in our church had at least one copy of this wonderful book. (By the way, when we dedicated children, I gave the parents a copy). There are some very good curricula available such as The Gospel Project. Both of these will help your teachers state the gospel clearly. We need to remember: there is no such thing as a children’s version of the Gospel.

Finally, beware of teaching materials that assume that the children of your church are all little Jesus-followers. Until they understand and accept the Gospel on their own, they are lost. Cuteness, sincerity, being good, and things like memorizing Scripture do not necessarily mean a child has been converted. Rather than use curricula that teaches kids about living out the Fruit of the Spirit (as an example) it is better to use materials that focus on God and his works, using the great stories of the Bible, taught in a way that is appropriate to the age, building on past knowledge, so that children will know that God is, that they are separated from him because of their sin, that they need a Savior, and that their hope of a right relationship with him is through faith in what that Savior did. That is the message that saves.

So let me ask: what is going on in your children’s departments? Are they being taught in a way that leads them to a sound understanding of Christ? Do they encounter doctrine (I didn’t focus on this one) or do your teachers depend on teaching tools that emphasize character? Do your teachers know how to explain the Gospel clearly, or do they take shortcuts that end up circumventing the heart of the Gospel?

You need to know the answers to those questions. You may encounter some resistance. You may not convince teachers that the phrases they’ve been using for years are not helpful to children. But here’s the bottom line: as someone entrusted with preserving sound teaching, have the same level of concern about preserving sound teaching to children (and teens, by the way) as you have for the adults you minister to.

What Not To Say When You Talk to Others Who Hurt

Over the years I’ve had numerous opportunities to be on the giving and receiving end of counsel. Sometimes those encounters have been formal sit down-type appointments. At other times they are informal conversations that took place in the course of just hanging around with people.

Younger pastors may feel a bit overwhelmed when confronted with some of the struggles that people share with them. Life experience can be very helpful in dealing with those who hurt, but as younger men we usually lack those experiences. However, we have God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us. We also have other people to give us advice about how to best handle situations. And of course there are books upon books that we can read.

Nevertheless, regardless of age, training, competence, or experience, I believe there at least four statements that should never be said to someone who comes seeking help. If you keep yourself far away from these four ways of responding to the the hurts and problems of your people, you will be a better pastor. Honest.

So here are the four things you don’t say:

Please don’t say, “I understand.” I’m not talking about saying, “I understand what you are saying.” That’s fine. But don’t say, “I understand what you’re going through.” While you might understand what someone is going through, you probably don’t.

Telling people that you understand can unintentionally come across as if you were looking at a math problem and then saying, “I know how to solve this.” It isn’t the best response. Now if you’ve had similar life experiences, you can certainly share them in an appropriate way. But avoiding this statement is best. Bury it.

Second, please don’t say, “It will get better.” Why? Because you don’t know if it will get better. Sometimes things don’t get better. Sometimes they actually get worse!

Saying “It will get better” may sound assuring, but it can also come off as being a bit dismissive. You can say, “I will pray that things will get better,” or “Let’s take a moment right now and ask God to bring change to this situation.” Those are fine responses when people tell you of their hurts and fears. But unless you have the ability to predict the future, put “It will get better” or any similar phrase far away from your lips.

Third, don’t say, “Remember (insert Scripture reference). Please don’t misunderstand me. Use Scripture! But don’t toss out chapter and verse references. One I’ve heard often is “Remember Romans 8:28!” Well meaning, but it sounds like a quarterback calling a play.

By all means apply the salve of God’s Word by explaining how Scripture speaks to someone’s circumstances. But don’t be glib. Don’t assume that people are able to make the connection between your reference and their need. If you went to a doctor who listened as you told him that you were not feeling well and said, “Here’s a pill” and walked off, what would you think? Would you think that he cared? Not at all! Sadly, I’ve been responded to, and have heard people respond using this spiritual quick-shot and it doesn’t cut it.

Fourth, please don’t ever, ever say “At least you don’t have it as bad as . . .”

Never say this. Ever. If you start to hear the words “At least” come from your mouth, take off your shoe, remove your sock, and put it in your mouth. Run away. Do something to prevent yourself from uttering those words.

I have heard the“at least” response more times than I can remember. It’s been said to me, I’ve heard it said to others, and despite the speaker’s intentions, it’s just wrong.

When we pull out the “at least you don’t have it as bad as” line, what are we telling people? Like it or not, we’re telling them that their pain is somehow not all that legitimate, not that serious, that they really don’t have a reason for their angst because someone has it worse.

It may be true that somewhere out there someone else hurts worse, has greater pain, bears more substantial disappointment, or has experience more intense than the person sitting in your office or standing by you over coffee after church. But so what? How have we helped people by pointing out that there are others who are more troubled in this world?

Proverbs 23:11 (CSB) says: A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples in silver settings. When words are appropriate and helpful, it is beautiful. The implication is that inappropriate words are not particular pleasing. The above are examples of words that are not helpful and actually may cause more hurt. And they are more common than we realize.

I’m hardly an expert when it comes to counseling, but I believe that all of us – younger, older, pastor, non-pastor – can minister more effectively if we do our best to avoid these well-meaning but unhelpful responses.

Just Pray

I will post my Tools of the Trade on Wednesday. Like you, I awoke to news of ongoing chaos. What started in one city has spread throughout the United States and now around the world.

Aside from one very moving prayer by John Piper and one good piece of advice on how pastors should address this situation in church, so far the blogs I follow have been free of opinions and pontifications. And that’s good. This is not a time to write. It’s a time to pray. And I’ll leave it at that for this morning.

God bless you as you serve him today and this week.

It Only Takes A Moment

The lot used to be home to a large antique store, three houses, a small apartment building, and a few small small sheds. But the houses were empty, the apartment building was boarded up, and the antique store had a closing sale. 

One morning, on my way to the job, someone was working around the apartment. When I came home in the afternoon, it was gone. The next afternoon the former antique building was a pile of rubble. And the next day they demolished the houses and outbuildings. 

None of those buildings were necessarily pleasing to the eye, but they inhabited a large corner lot near us for several decades. Over time someone had a business or two, and people raised families inside those apartments and houses. Though I know very little about construction, I’m sure it took months for the various structures to be built. But compared to how long they had been on that site, they were gone in a moment.

A reputation is like that, you know. It takes time to build it, to earn people’s trust, to gain their confidence. But we can destroy it in a moment. I’ve heard stories just like you have, but I’ve also seen it with my own eyes. 

A man I considered a mentor when I was in my late high school years made a horrible choice and jettisoned not only his ministry, but his marriage. He and his wife were discipling another couple, and they went away on weekends and swapped mates. Hearing about it shocked the boots off of me.

We often think of moral failure as the reason so many pastors end up losing their reputations and ministries. Some leading figures within the evangelical community have fallen this way, and the damage done to their lives is only exceeded by the damage done to their own churches and to the broader reputation of the Church. But a moral failure is not the only way to ruin a reputation.

I’ve written elsewhere of the pastor who met a heartbroken member of his congregation who was seeking counsel with these words: “I did not come here to wipe your noses.” I’m pretty sure I’ve also told about the small-town pastor who, after being cheated by a car salesman, punched the guy’s lights out and put him out on Main Street via the dealership’s front plate-glass window. There’s a guy who had lied about his education when he was hired, and after twelve effective years had to resign in shame. And there are others I could recount. But I won’t. You do it. If you know people who fit this category, name them, silently, to yourself. It will help this be more real to you.

Pride, carelessness, dishonesty, immorality, a lack of compassion – these and other qualities can bring a ministry to an end. And just as the failure of prominent evangelical leaders left an effect on those who were followers, there are congregations large, small, and in between all over the world who have been torn apart by one awful choice, or the fruit of that choice.

We are all subject to failure. And by God’s grace we are all able to find forgiveness. Sometimes, depending on the sin, a fallen pastor might even get a second chance. But it’s hard to shake a shattered reputation.

Proverbs 4:23 is a familiar verse, and it says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (ESV). Proverbs 4 starts out with Solomon repeating words his father David had taught him. It’s hard to know where David’s instruction ends and where Solomon starts talking. But either way, Solomon wanted his son(s) to learn the importance of being morally and ethically diligent, and he knew that those things are matters of the heart. Sadly, Solomon turned away from his own wisdom, and one can only wonder if his sons saw their father slide and as a result, Rehoboam displayed hubris instead of humility (read 1 Kings 12). Neither man’s failures surprised God or disrupted his plan, but think of the impact of those choices on Israel. 

Younger pastor (or veteran pastor, if you’re reading this), please don’t fail! Please guard your heart, share your struggle with a friend, get help before you make a choice that will bring you to ruin. And if your struggle is with anger or pride or even a lack of compassion, repent of that and find help before you sabotage your ministry and hurt who-knows-how-many people. 

It takes time to build, but only a moment to turn to rubble.

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.