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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!

Tools of the Trade for January 6, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Here is this week’s list of links to articles and resources that you hopefully find helpful. On Wednesday I’ll be posting part 1 of a list of books that you would find useful on a book table, should you decide to go in that direction in your church.

Peter Mead has spent ten years blogging on BiblicalPreaching.net and has written some really helpful articles over the decade. Here is a look back on the last ten years of his writing.

This isn’t from a Christian website, but Lifehacker has some good stuff on productivity. Whether or not you’re in to New Year’s resolutions, this is helpful as it relates to making plans and setting goals.

Journaling Bibles are available in a number of translations. I am expecting one today that I can carry with me in my man bag, murse, or whatever they are called. John Piper writes about how to use these resources.

Some of your people work in high pressured work environments. In this article, Matt Rusten writes about dealing with anxiety in the workplace. This is one of those print-a-number-of-copies-and-put-them-out-for-your-people resources.

The aforementioned Peter Mead writes about using multiple passages to present what the Bible says about a main idea. Good stuff.

Eric Davis writes at The Cripplegate, and here’s an article on dealing with 2020 election stuff. As I wrote a week or two back, we need our people to learn how to navigate through this process and still maintain unity. But we also need our people to behave themselves toward those outside the church. I love the title: “2020 and Your Political Cage Match.”

Here’s an article you may feel hesitant to share, but you should. Nicholas Batzig tells us about 5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2020. Hey! Paul asked for prayer. Why can’t you?

Colin Adams writes about planning your preaching schedule to balance the diet of your people.

Jared Wilson is a good writer, and I can’t recall anything I’ve read by him that isn’t helpful. Here is an article that I saw today on Faithful Application of the Word of God. Must reading.

Genesis 6 talks about the “Sons of God.” If one of your people asked who these being were, what would you say? This is one of those “send to Evernote and hold for future reference” articles.

Burk Parsons writes a solid article on prayer. His focus is on our privileged standing as a child of God. Really good reading.

And that will do it for today. See you on Wednesday with a continuation of the discussion on a literature/book table for your church.

Advance Planning for 2020, Part 4

Help Your People Read

Not long ago there were a number of Christian bookstores in our area. There were two huge stores within a 45 minute drive, and a half dozen smaller stores nearby, including one in our mall. All but one of those stores has closed.

Yet people are reading. Barnes and Noble has a large “Christian” section, and Amazon certainly does a brisk book business. In addition, we are blessed with Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, Christianbook.com, and probably a number of others tied to colleges and seminaries. Publishers sell online, as do a number of Christian organizations. And then we still have the occasional “Mom and Pop” Christian book and gift store.

If your people are reading, do you know what they are reading? I just scanned a list of Christian bestsellers and while some might have value, there are quite a few I’d want my people to stay away from. Far, far away.

So how do we help our people read, and how do we help them read the right books? In order to help your congregation become better readers, let me challenge you to open a literature table in 2020.

One of the first concerns people raise is cost. Books are not cheap. But you would be surprised at how much you can accomplish with a $300-$500 budget and two tables in your foyer or welcome center. And you need to remember that books bought are a return of what you spent, so a good deal of the money invested is going to come back to you.

Let me suggest that you approach this in two ways. First, as I have written before, print out copies of good articles for your people to take. In the “Tools of the Trade” blogs I do on Mondays, I try to include articles of practical help for people in your church. Print out 5-10 copies and have a dozen solid articles in a rack on your book table. Change them out periodically to keep it fresh. If you call attention to an article during a sermon or during announcements, you will find that people will take them. If an article is especially helpful, make sure that you do talk about it, explain why it is helpful, and have enough copies for your people to take. When I did this, I found that over half of our adults would pick up the article I talked about.

What’s the cost there? Paper and copier costs. Hardly anything, and you’ll be giving your people some helpful resources. In addition, if they are not readers, you’ll be easing them into a good habit.

The most significant part of the literature table is a small collection of good books. This is not a place for heavy theological books that interest you. It’s a place for books that are concise and attention-getting.

Spend some time looking through Westminster’s bookstore or Crossway’s list of books and you’ll find a host of great resources that can be obtained rather inexpensively. We stocked our table with books like What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert, books on practical life issues, and the superb booklets offered by CCEF. Devotionals like Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies are worthy additions as well. We also generally had two or three ESV Bibles on display.

Gradually you can add other books that might be more challenging. But to start, keep a focus on practical helps, biographies, a book or two on Christian history, and such.

You then need people to man the table each week after church and make change. Once you replenish the money you initially spent you can replenish the table. You will probably not sell everything, but you can give away what you don’t sell. If your people begin to read good books, it is worth the couple of hundred dollars you may not recoup in sales.

Speaking of sales, if you buy a book from a discount source and mark it up to list price, you may be obligated to charge and pay sales tax. You don’t want to mess with that. I recommend you sell the books for close to what you paid for them so that you are not making a profit.

Sometime next week I’ll put together a list of my top 20 titles for a book table. But for now, begin to talk to your leaders about helping your people be better readers. You are making an investment in them, but if the money is not there right now for actual books, you can still provide great reading material through helpful articles.

Have a great weekend with your people. May God bless you as you serve him!

Merry Christmas!

I hope you have a great day with your loved ones today! I don’t have anything remotely profound to say, but there were four books that Tim Challies has highlighted in his daily list of low-cost Kindle books that I think are worth your while. Check out:

Timothy Keller’s book Jesus the King.

Albert Mohler’s book on the Apostles’ Creed.

J. Todd Billings’ The Word of God for the People of God.

Hughes Oliphant Old’s Leading in Prayer.

Grab these before the prices increase.

Tools of the Trade for December 23, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

It will be a busy week for most of you. I hope that you are able to have some quality time with your family and that you have meaningful times of reflection on Jesus’ incarnation with your congregation.

Here are some links that may be of help that I’ve culled from my reading over the last few weeks:

Pastors are not immune to depression. 9 Marks had an interview on the subject of Pastoring Amid Depression.

Similarly, the people at Core Christianity posted “What I Learned In My Season of Depression.”

Social media can be a train wreck waiting to happen. Here’s an article that would be worth sharing with your people. If you have a Facebook or Instagram account, maybe link to it from there.

Matthew Hall writes on “The Non-Negotiable Virtue in Leadership.”

Building Church Leaders, a ministry of Christianity Today, has a book worth your reading called “Rest and Renewal for Busy Church Leaders.”

Zack Eswine asks, “What If Pastors Were More Like Doctors?”

Here’s a challenging article from Desiring God on prayer. And no, it’s not a guilt-producing “Why aren’t you praying more article.” Give it a read.

John Piper answers the question, “How Can I Revitalize My Church from the Pulpit?” Video and transcript provided.

Nathan Bingham, writing on the Ligonier website, asks and answers a question that your people may ask: Is God Justified in Punishing Us for Adam’s Sin?

The Gospel Coalition staff has put together a list of recommended books for 2019.

Here’s an article for preachers by Abraham Cho titled, “Stir the Imagination, One Sermon at a Time.”

Jared Wilson writes writes about the best length for our sermons.

This article by Faith Chang takes a helpful look at trials. Trials are trials, no matter if they pale in comparison to what someone else is going through. One to share with your people.

That’s it for today! Have a great week!

Advance Planning for 2020, Part 2: Prepare Your People for Increasing Opposition

As I wrote on Wednesday, over the next few weeks I’d like to suggest several ways you can begin thinking and planning for 2020 by challenging you to make some commitments for the year.  

My first “challenge” was to commit to expository preaching. Today’s challenge is this: prepare your people for increasing opposition.  

If you could rewind history a few decades, you would find that Christians – using the broadest definition – were generally respected within society. That does not mean that Americans embraced the Gospel, but people were more “religious” in a traditionally religious kind of way. But we live in a different day.

In the last couple of decades, the percentage of people who go to any kind of church has declined. Even within professing Evangelicalism a growing number of people are inclined to view themselves as regular attenders if they go twice a month. Look at this report, which merely measures affiliation with a religious group. A soft, flabby “Christianity” may still be tolerated, but people who believe the Bible? Not so much.

We dare not forget this: while we who are pastors spend much if not most of our time with people who believe what we do, our people do not. Of course, you know this. But they are living it. And they need to know how to survive. 

That’s one reason I believe expository preaching (Challenge #1) is so vital. Regular doses of helpful life lessons will just not cut it in helping our people learn to live as those who are increasingly viewed as outsiders and extremists. Our people need to be built up in their faith, not simply given practical advice. They need to know God. They need to go deep in their understanding of the Gospel. They need to know the Bible and know it well.

We don’t need preachers who harp on how bad society is. We had that in the not-so-distant past, and it didn’t help anyone. Instead our people need shepherd-preachers who will fill their minds and hearts with truth. Then they will be strong enough to face the opposition they will encounter and the lies their children will be taught, and do so with grace and knowledge. We want them to, as Paul says so often, “stand firm.” 

Here’s a suggestion: Pick up some good commentaries on 1 & 2 Peter and lead your church through a series on how to follow Christ in a hostile world. You will do them everlasting good.

Advance Planning for 2020, Part 1

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost twenty years from the turn-of-the-millennium version of the Zombie Apocalypse. According to some, the turn of the clock from 1999 to 2000 was going to result in unprecedented mayhem. Computers would stop working, ATM machines would not dispense money, food would be unavailable, and a host of other disasters. True Believers in the impending chaos were stocking their pantries and basements with jugs of water, canned food, powdered dinners. And, as it turned out, it was all for naught, unless you like jugs of water and powdered food. And my computer, running Windows something, worked just fine.

This is the time of year when people look back and then begin to look forward. Media sites will run articles about the major events of 2019 – and there have been a lot of them. I’m beginning to see – and have included in some of my posts – list of the best books of 2019. There will be lists of the best movies, best sports moments, and on and on. Not only that, pastors and church leaders are caught up with end-of-the-year activities. Soon enough it will be time to begin thinking about the new year, right? No. it’s time to be doing that right now.

Over the next few weeks I’d like to suggest a few ways you can begin thinking and planning for 2020, and I’ll do that by challenging you to make some commitments for the year. So here we go!

Challenge #1 for 2020: Commit to Expository Preaching.

Please don’t pass this one by quickly. I know that it’s one of the drums I beat a lot on this blog. But I’m convinced that it is essential for the health of the people God has put in your care.

There are several ways we can define or describe expository preaching. Someone has suggested that expository preaching takes place when the message of the sermon is the message of the passage.

You can listen to dozens of different expository sermons on the same passage and hear dozens of different ways of presenting the text. But you will be able to hear the major ideas of the text within those sermons.

The fact that so many are writing about expository preaching today is evidence of the fact that it has fallen on hard times. In a quest to be relevant, many pastors preach series after series of “how to” sermons. There may be a place for that on occasion, but making that the primary approach to preaching displays (unwittingly, I am sure) a somewhat dismissive attitude toward what God has used for centuries to strengthen his people and build his church.

To those who think that expository preaching is dry and irrelevant, let me ask you: Do you think the issues that the Philippians church faced were unique to them or are there issues of unity/disunity in your congregation? Are the Psalms merely quaint or are there people in your church who are hurting and need to see God’s care and power?

I could go on. But you get my point. If God wanted his people exposed to streams of practical life tips, why did he not construct the Bible that way?

Expository preaching is a means of giving your people God’s Word as God spoke it. Some passages may not lead to “take this to work with you this week,” but does that have to happen every Sunday? How about building truth into the lives of your people so that they have spiritual backbones?

Expository preaching, done right, is hard work. It’s pretty easy to come up with “how to” series. But let me challenge you to look ahead to 2020 with the goal of preaching God’s Word as opposed to using God’s Word as a jumping off point for helpful advice.

Tools of the Trade for December 9, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

In the last few days I found a substantial number of articles that are of help in pastoral work or are just good reading for you or your people. The list is long enough that I may cut it in half and share the rest on Wednesday.

Maybe you’ll be surprised by this, but sometimes pastors are the targets of criticism. I know, I know – hard to believe. HA HA. Tim Challies wrote about four kinds of critics and how to respond to them.

There was a time when it seemed that churches wanted to support missionaries in all parts of the world. But there’s merit in narrowing your focus. This article discusses having a partnership with a church from another country.

Costi Hinn writes about how expository preaching changed his church.

I find listening to an audio Bible a nice change for my own Bible reading on occasion, and when I was in ministry I would often listen to the entire book I was preaching several time. This article talks about the value of that practice.

Here is the list of the Gospel Coalition book awards for 2019. By the way, if you want to see where American Christianity is, try comparing a list from an organization like the Gospel Coalition to the list of Christian best sellers. It’s discouraging, but it will also enlighten you as to what your people may be reading.

Sinclair Ferguson writes about the “Defining Moment for the Doctrine of Christ.”

This article on appointing elders is of value to all pastors, but especially to you guys in smaller churches or church plants.

A worthly admonition for all of us: “Pastor, Build His Platform, Not Yours.”

Books are expensive, so the thought of subscribing to theological journals might be something you dismiss without a thought. However, the Gospel Coalition’s Themelios is free. Here’s a link to the latest and a table of contents.

Meanwhile, the new issue of Credo Magazine tackles the subject of universalism.

Here’s a short video by John Piper on the value of congregational singing.

Maybe it’s one of those Mondays where you wonder if preaching is making any difference in the lives of your people. Read this for some encouragement.

I’ll post several more links to some great resources on Wednesday. Have a good week as you serve God and his people!

Christmas Preaching

Mondays are usually reserved for what I’ve called “Tools of the Trade,” a list of helpful articles about preaching, pastoral life, and the church. I did not find enough to fill a whole post this past week, so I thought I’d share resources of a different kind.

The tradition in which I grew up devoted most, if not all, of December to Christmas preaching each year. The Incarnation is certainly a subject worthy of annual review. Whether it requires four or five weeks is often a matter of personal preference. I would say this – it does seem odd that we give a month to Christmas and only a week to Easter. But I wonder if that’s because there’s a greater degree of sentimentality attached to the story of Jesus’ birth. Regardless, the invasion of God into our world is certainly worth talking about.

Noted scholar Roland Bainton tells us this about the preaching practices of Martin Luther: “Martin Luther’s Christmas sermon is not one sermon. He preached on the nativity for a period for 30 years, and often a dozen times a year, beginning with Advent and carrying through to Epiphany. And sometimes we have three versions of one sermon.”

The most logical passages to preach from are in Matthew and Luke. John 1 can work well as a Christmas sermon, as can Philippians 2 and a number of the prophets.

Despite the amount of biblical material, I will confess that I didn’t always look forward to seasonal preaching. I’ve found that other pastors are of the same mind, whereas others think quite the opposite.

Whatever your own disposition toward Christmas preaching, there are some great resources that both provide some ideas for how to approach the season as well as some great quotes. In addition, if you have someone do a reading on Christmas Eve, some of these resources contain readings that are appropriate for that context.

Nancy Guthrie gives us Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. The book is described as an anthology of readings from 22 past and present preachers. Highly recommended!

Paul Tripp has an Advent devotional called Come Let Us Adore Him. Anything Paul Tripp writes is worth reading.

John Piper also has a devotional for Advent called The Dawning of Indestructible Joy. If you are familiar with Dr. Piper’s work, you could tell he wrote that just from the title.

Check out Love Came Down at Christmas, a collection of readings by Sinclair Ferguson. Then there’s a new Advent devotional by Christopher Ask titled Repeat the Sounding Joy.

If you want to go back in time, look at the book by St. Athanasius, called On the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis wrote the introduction. The Kindle copy was 99 cents on Saturday.

For reading that’s a bit deeper, consider Songs of the Nativity, by John Calvin or Daniel Doriani’s The Incarnation in the Gospels, part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series. Check out Graham Cole‘s The God Who Became Human, part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology, a series edited by D.A. Carson. You might also want to look at Stephen Wellum’s book on the doctrine of Christ, titled God the Son Incarnate.

Whether you preach one Christmas sermon or several weeks worth, I trust that God will prosper your preaching and build the faith of your people during this holiday season!

For Your Christmas List

Laura and I don’t watch a lot of network TV, so when we watch we don’t see commercials. However I do catch my share during football games, and it appears that people give each other cars and trucks at this festive season. My guess is that your budget won’t allow the exchange of new BMWs, so let me give you a list of books that you might want to include on your Christmas list.

I’m going to give you the Amazon links, but don’t forget to check out the good folks at wtsbooks.com. You may find their prices lower. I’ll also acknowledge that I haven’t read some of these, but have recommended them based on the author, reviews, or what I’d have on my list.

The best book on helping people that I can remember reading is Ed Welch’s Side By Side: Walking With Others in Wisdom and Love. This is a must read for pastors and would be worth working through with your elders or staff.

Fifteen Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me is a compilation of advice put out by The Gospel Coalition. By about two months into your pastorate you’ve probably said, “They didn’t teach me about this” a few times.

Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers. You actually might want to pick this up now for $3 in Kindle format. Hopefully you give great attention to your preaching. This encourages and helps you give great attention to pubic prayer. Hughes Oliphant Old wrote this one.

The late John Stott wrote several books on preaching. The Challenge of Preaching is an abridgment of an earlier work. That earlier work is the classic Between Two Worlds. In a past blog post I recommended reading at least one book each year on preaching. Either one of these would be worthwhile.

I love listening to Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He’s a great preacher, and wrote a helpful book on preaching called He Is Not Silent: Preaching in A Post-Modern World.

One other book on preaching that I enjoyed was The Archer and the Arrow. Geared more for beginning preachers, it’s worth reading no matter how long you’ve preached. Philip Jensen is the author, and he challenges us with these words: “My aim is to preach the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible to the people God has given me to love.”

While dealing with preaching to some extent, Jonathan Leeman’s book Word Centered Church is a challenge to build all of what we do in our churches around the Bible. I remember this being a very encouraging book, especially if you are looking at gimmicky churches growing while you seem to plod along.

Leadership is a challenging task, and Australian author Craig Hamilton has written a well-regarded book called Wisdom in Leadership. I love the subtitle: “The How and Why of Leading the People You Serve.”

Reformation Theology is both a book on theology and a book on church history. I’ve been reading through it and it is quite engaging. Matthew Barrett edits this compilation. Dr. Philip Ryken says, “Dr. Matthew Barrett has assembled a first-rate team of pastors and scholars to write an anniversary volume of the Reformation that promises to receive a welcoming readership across a wide spectrum of the evangelical community. At a time when some are suggesting that for all practical purposes the Reformation is ‘over,’ Barrett’s Reformation Theology offers a needed corrective by showing the relevance of the Reformation for healthy church ministry and the Christian life today.”

Also on the subject of church history is Michael Haykin’s Rediscovering the Church Fathers. It’s on my list of soon-to-read books.

I bought this book, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Captone by Brian Tabb yesterday and look forward to reading it. While I hold to a specific eschatological position, I hold it a bit more loosely than I used to. One of the reasons for that was my own experience of preaching through Revelation several years ago. Looks good!

Finally, while not a book, you can get a year’s subscription to Christianity Today for $15 that also gives you access to all of the articles from CT and Leadership Journal from the last several decades. Don’t hesitate, though, because this price won’t last for long.

Have a great weekend of ministry! See you on Monday