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.

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.

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!!