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Tools of the Trade for October 14, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Will Generation “Z” Hold on to the Faith? Great question. May God give them grace to hold on and us to prepare them.

There are many expectations that people have for pastors, but John Frame wonders about the need for gentleness.

There are many expectations that people have for pastors (he said again), but we can’t meet everyone of them. You’ve noticed that, right?

In 1 Thessalonians Paul has such a great description of his ministry, including that of being a nurturing mother. Well worth reading and applying!

Music. Always an issue. It seems that so much of the music we sing is driven more by the fame of artists on Christianity radio than by thoughtful theologians. John Piper asks and answers a great question about the nature of our lyrics.

Had I stayed in ministry longer I probably would have done a series on Acts. It seems a bit daunting, but here are some reasons for preaching through the book.

Reformed and Always Reforming is a couple of minutes with R.C. Sproul that you should read or listen to.

This article on preaching pulls key ideas from 7 solid preachers.

Are you an “at risk pastor?” This article may save your ministry.

Where Did You Come From?

Based on what I see on TV, finding one’s ancestry is a big business. There are several kits that you can buy that trace your ancestry and give you a summary of the ethnicities and nationalities that make up who you are. 

In a nation like ours, with a multitude of different backgrounds, finding out where you came from seems like it would be fun. Some go beyond just the basic DNA information and trace their descendants back as far as possible. My wife has been told that there is a distant relative who signed the Declaration of Independence in her family tree. I know that I am related to Adam and Noah . . .

It is at this time of year that I often think about another kind of heritage. Where did we come from as Christians? In other words, what is our heritage? Furthermore, does it matter if we know how to answer that question?

The church I served was birthed In the 1930s during the conflict between liberalism and fundamentalism. For better (and there was much) or worse (and there was some) the fundamentalism of the 40s, 50s, and 60s substantially shaped our church.

Other churches, newer perhaps, can trace their heritage back to the Jesus Movement of the 70s, or the church growth movements of recent decades. Some contemporary churches were born out of the seeker movement and others are products of the “Reformed Resurgence” of the last twenty years.

But what about before all of that?

October 31, 2019 is the 502nd anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of The 95 Theses, points for discussion and debate relating to what Luther and others saw as problems within the system of medieval Catholicism. While scholars recognize that there were forerunners to Luther’s thinking, October 31, 1517, is generally regarded as the start of the Protestant Reformation. I do not have the means or wisdom to rank events in history, but I believe the Reformation is up near the top in terms of events that have shaped western civilization. 

Many denominations annually recognize the last Sunday in October as Reformation Sunday. But what if your church is not part of an older denomination? Does the Reformation have any relevance for your church? My answer is an emphatic “yes,” and I believe that acknowledging the Reformation is an opportunity to connect your church – whatever its DNA – to the great doctrinal truths that Bible-believing Protestant churches of all stripes confess. 

One of the most fruitful preaching series that I preached was a series on major principles of the Reformation. I began the series with a summary of Luther’s journey to faith, and then spent five subsequent Sundays looking at each of the five major tenants of the Reformation: Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, God’s Glory Alone. 

That series enabled me to preach on justification, grace, the nature of Scripture, the uniqueness of Jesus, and the greatness of God. It allowed me to address bad thinking and believing that Christian people are exposed to, both inside and outside the church. And it gave our people the sense that, despite tracing our own church history only as far back as the 1930s, their heritage went much farther back than that.

Believing and spreading the doctrines of the Reformation cost people their lives. Yes, it led to upheaval, and yes, the Reformers weren’t without flaws. But believing churches exist today because of what has been passed down through the years, just as you exist because of those who came before you. 

The term “Fake News” has been prominent in political discussions of our day. Maybe it’s time we coined the term “Fake Theology” or even (I’m bracing myself here) “Fake Church.” There’s plenty about American evangelicalism that is rooted in the pragmatic to the exclusion of sound doctrine, and a host of plain old bad thinking. Yet our people are exposed to it on the radio, TV, and in books they read. Why not give them some meat, some solid food to counter what may be popular, but has little if any substance?

I promise you this, pastor friend: if you take some time to study the Reformation and some of its key truths, you will not be the same. I believe your ministry can take on a new shape, be driven by a new passion for your people’s spiritual well-being, and that your own soul will be enriched. It will also help your people see that they are connected to Christians of different backgrounds and different times and give them a deeper appreciation for the Church.

There’s a good deal of material available on the Reformation, both for you and your people. But rather than my suggesting particular resources, go on over to and see what these good folks have that can be helpful. If you don’t feel up to a sermon series, there are some great video resources that you can use in a Sunday School class.

If you’re not convinced, let me challenge you to read this article written by Michael Reeves two years ago: Why The Reformation Still Matters. And if you choose to educate your people about their spiritual heritage, may God bless your efforts and strengthen your church!

I’m copying this from the Ligonier website: This Reformation Month, watch a short video every day on the history and insights of the Protestant Reformation. And don’t forget that for this month only, you can request your free digital download of R.C. Sproul’s video teaching series Luther and the Reformation plus the ebook edition of The Legacy of Luther, edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols at (link). Offer ends October 31, 2019.

The video series is superb, and anything Steve Nichols writes is worth reading. Enjoy!

Tools of the Trade for October 7, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There are quite a few good articles plus some other resources that I’ve come across this week. I hope you find something worthwhile here.

I agree with the author of this article. When I was a pastor, it was nice to have Sunday nights free. I’d work in my office and set myself up for the week. But if I put my own desires aside, I have to admit that an evening service would have been spiritually beneficial to our church.

Talking with our church people about their flaws is not easy, but Dan Doriani shares a perspective that may help us have the courage to do so when we need it.

There are seasons to ministry, and this wise article encourages us to embrace them.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I always felt a little awkward about PAM, even though the concept is certainly biblical. But it was always encouraging to be appreciated, and leaders need that. It’s a hard thing for us to talk about, but maybe this is an article that can be shared with your church.

Daryl Dash says that if you’re a pastor, you’re going to have to learn to pastor sometimes with a a broken heart. Be encouraged by this piece.

“Why did God allow . . . ?” That’s a question you’re likely to get asked. Here’s some help with talking to our people about natural disasters.

This is such a great article on making the sermon the high point of Sunday worship as well as well as being committed to real preaching.

I am so grateful for the ministry of R.C. Sproul. Probably the most memorable sermon I’ve ever heard was one on justification by faith that he preached at John MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference over 15 years ago. This is a video clip called When the Gospel is At Stake. Note that there are some offers for free resources!

Have a great week! See you bright and early on Wednesday morning.

Don’t Take For Granted That They Know How To Listen!

We should always look for ways to be better communicators. We should always want to improve as preachers so that the message we bring from God’s Word is presented in as understandable a way as possible. However, I believe that we need to broaden our focus.

I recall teaching a class on communication in marriage where the process was broken down something like this. Communication involves:

  • What you said.
  • What you meant by what you said.
  • What you think you said.
  • What the other person hears.
  • What the other person thinks you meant by what you said.

I may not have gotten all these elements right or in the right order, but the point is that when two or more people talk, there’s a lot going on. Reading this makes me think it’s a miracle that any of us understands anything!

At the most basic level, communication involves speaking (or writing) and listening (or reading). When pastors focus on better communicators, we tend to look at how we can be more effective speakers. And we should do that! But let me suggest that we should also think about how to help our people become more effective listeners. In other words, our people can and should be taught how to listen to a sermon.

If that sounds strange, it may be because we have an expectation that people automatically know how to listen to sermons. We talk. They listen. Voilà!

But not so fast!

How do we know that they are listening well? How can we tell if they are tracking with us? How can we be sure they don’t misunderstand what we’re saying? Certainly the burden of responsibility for listening falls on the hearer. But if we can help them a bit, nudge them toward a more intentional listening, we’re doing them a great service.

A few years ago I came across a booklet by Christopher Ash entitled Listen Up. It’s about $3.50 from Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, which is less than I saw it for on Amazon. But if you want to buy a bunch of them, you can get a pretty good discount from The Good Book Company. After reading the booklet myself, I made a bulk purchase and gave them away over the course of a few Sunday mornings. I may even have developed a small group discussion around it. If I didn’t, why didn’t I think of that then? HA HA

It would be a benefit both to you and to your people if you provided copies of this booklet for them. Maybe they can kick in a buck or two if they can to offset the cost. However you handle the accounting, it’s something that would be helpful.

There are other practical ways you can help your people be better listeners. You may already be doing the first two, but we can always do them better:

Put A Note Sheet in the Bulletin. Most churches that I’ve been in either do this or provide some space in the bulletin to take notes. But make sure your note sheet guides them as they listen.

By the way, you may come across the occasional article or argument against having people take notes. The reasoning is that the sermon is a special means whereby God speaks through the messenger to his people. It is therefore not to be regarded as a lecture, but is to be heard with the mind and heart. I appreciate the point, but I don’t think it precludes note-taking. Granted, if people are trying to write a long sentence they thought was significant, they could miss a couple of others that might even be more important by the time they’re done. But a having brief main points and a fill-in-the-blank note sheet, coupled with a judicious use of visuals, can help them write and still keep pace. Which brings me to the second point.

Use Visuals Judiciously. PowerPoint-type presentations have become so prevalent in our churches that you may wonder why I even bother suggesting that you do something you’re already doing. But notice that I also use the word “judicious.”

Avoid cute stuff. Stay away from visual for the sake of visual. Vow not to use visuals to entertain. You don’t want to distract from or negate the seriousness of the moment. But a PowerPoint presentation that lists your major points (underline the words that go in the blanks!) can be very helpful. I’d also project quotes if I felt they would help, and occasionally a map or a picture if it would help people understand.

Again, you may use these tools already, but if not, I’d recommend both.

Finally, Talk to Your People About Listening. Is it possible to preach an expository sermon on how to listen to a sermon? I would answer with a qualified “yes.” I don’t know that we have to devote an entire sermon to the subject, but just think – how often do the Scriptures themselves encourage us to pay attention, to hear, to listen, to Scripture? How many times do the biblical writers remind us of the unique character of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God and tie that to an admonition to pay attention?

When we come across those times, wouldn’t it be appropriate to take a few minutes and remind people to be good listeners? You might illustrate with something from Christopher Ash’s booklet or a quote from one or more of the articles I’ll list at the bottom of this post.

Do people need to be taught to pray? Do they need to be taught how to read the Bible? Do they need to be taught how to apply the Bible to their lives? We would answer these in the affirmative. Don’t leave out the need to teach them how to listen. It’s one of those Christian “skills” that is too important to their spiritual health to assume that they’ll pick up good habits by accident.

Here are several articles that you might want to read and reference. Thanks once again for stopping by! I’d be glad to hear ideas from my readers.

Here are three articles all with the same title, but of course written by three different authors:

Here’s one by Scott Slayton on Patheos

Dr. Phil Ryken writes on Reformation21’s website

Finally here’s one by Daryl Crouch that was in LifeWay’s “Facts and Trends”

God bless you as you minister this weekend!

Helping Your People Retain and Engage With The Sermon

How many of you want to be discouraged? Raise your hands. Ok. Here’s what you do. Today or tomorrow, call five of your people – people who you know were in church last Sunday – and ask them this question, “Without looking at your Bible, what was the main point of last Sunday’s sermon?”

If you have more than one that can answer that accurately, you’re one fortunate dude.

I may be completely wrong, but I imagine there was a day when people had a lot of time to think. As a carpenter worked, the TV was not on in the background. As a farmer walked behind his mule, plowing the field, he wasn’t listening to the news on the radio. As a housewife went about her daily routine, she heard the noises of her children playing, and there were no magazines or websites to skim at lunch.

I like to think that during those times Christians reflected on what they had heard on Sunday. Not every minute, of course, but at some point during the week they could think over the sermon they had listened to as they went about their work because it was one of the few outside “inputs” they had in their lives.

That’s not the way it is today, is it? As I’ve said before, it’s quite possible that many (most) people forget the point of the sermon before they even get back home from church.

Knowing that can be just a bit discouraging, can’t it? But I don’t think it necessarily has to be that way. So how can we extend the impact of our sermon? How can we help our people engage the passage and message we’ve led them through. Let me suggest a few options:

The primary means that I see churches using involves their small groups. Most of our small groups studied a parallel passage or revisited the text I preached on. I would write study questions while the sermon was still fresh in my own mind and then email them to our group leaders. Writing study questions – good study questions – is not easy. And you want to focus attention on the Bible, not on your own words (though it’s not a bad idea to people to occasionally interact with something you said in your sermon).

If you’re the senior pastor and an associate is in charge of the small group ministry, talk it over with him and win support. I mean, you could dictate, but that’s not cool. Also, he may be the best one to write your study questions. That would mean him studying the passage during the same week you do so he can get the questions out right away. But before you assign him that responsibility, make sure he has time for what is essentially another lesson preparation.

Good study questions make people think and provoke discussion. I recently came across a short book titled Writing a Small Group Study. I purchased a few weeks ago, but haven’t read it yet. However, the publisher produces solid study materials that I’ve used so I’ll recommend it on that basis. I also maintained a collection of good study guides that I used on occasion to jog my thinking.

Make sure you solicit the support of your small group leaders. I explained to our leaders that I spent a good chunk of time studying a passage and preparing a sermon, and that with all the distractions that come into our lives, it just made sense to want to help people recall and interact with what they heard at some point during the week that followed. Most of the time our leaders were right on board with that. If you can’t get all of them to sign on to that approach, you might get a couple of leaders to be willing to change from using a discussion guide to using questions related to your preaching. Then, on occasion, let it slip from the pulpit that some of the groups are discussing the sermon. You may find others eventually become interested. Schmoozing 101.

A second way of getting your sermon back into the minds of your people is to send a brief summary of the sermon by email, and/or post it on your church website. If you do this on Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll be helping them both recall what was preached and anticipate what will be preached.

This does not have to be a major project, and you might even enlist your secretary to do this for you if she’s competent in this area. I’d list your major points – and not just a short phrase but the “meat” of each of the points in your sermon, as well as the application. Something like: “This past Sunday we looked at (list the passage). The main ideas were (list your major points). We were encouraged to (summarize application).” Then you could include “On Sunday, we’re going to be looking at (list the passage).” Then encourage your people to read the text in preparation for the sermon. I wish I had done the first part. I usually sent out an invitation to prepare for Sunday in an email on Saturday.

Finally, something that I came across the other week could work well if your worship service is early enough. I read about a pastor who held a Q&A session following the worship service. With some churches not having a traditional Sunday School, this may be a very workable way of introducing an additional learning opportunity while your people are already at church.

In order for this to work, though, I would think that your congregation has to be large enough that you’ll have more than one or two people present. Not that you’d be wasting time with just one or two people, but a group of five or more would probably be best for generating discussion. And the point is not to debate something that might be controversial, but to allow both feedback and give people an opportunity to clarify what they thought they heard you say.

There may be other ways of extending the impact of your sermon. You could record a mid-week summary and preview (3-5 minutes) and put that on your website. One pastor I know writes a series of questions for personal review that are put on the back of the note sheet in the bulletin. Be creative. Ask some of your people for ideas. Talk it over with your elders.

As a pastor, your primary task is caring for your sheep, and a major part of that is feeding them. Does it make sense to spend the time and energy you do on your sermon, deliver it, only to have it fade quickly from the thinking of your people by the time they head back to work on Monday?

What do you think? Do you have other ideas that have worked or that you would like to try? Put them in the comments section and share them with me and the others who read this blog.

God bless you in your ministry this weekend!

Planning Your Preaching, Part 3

So how do you go about planning your preaching? What are you going to preach next and what do you preach after that?

I want to finish up this short series with some suggestions on choosing preaching content. I’ll assume that I am writing to guys who are relatively new to ministry, though I know that several of you who read this blog have ministered for awhile.

Start first by praying. That’s the obvious thing, but easily bypassed when we start to think too hard. Prayer submits our minds to God, and while I don’t believe that God speaks to us verbally, I do believe he guides our thoughts.

The second major factor to consider is your congregation. How familiar are they with the Bible? How well have they been taught? How much Bible exposition have they had as opposed to the kind of life enrichment topical series I wrote about on Wednesday? If they have had a background in exposition, what books have they recently studied? You don’t want to repeat something they just heard a year or two ago.

I found that if I began there, God would guide my thinking so that my mind was drawn toward a particular book of the Bible. That does not mean that my choice was inspired or the result of revelation. Far from it. But if I prayed for God to feed his sheep through me, I believe he guided my thinking through whatever means he chose to use.

Some recommend that you alternate between the Old and New Testaments. There’s a case to be made for that, though preaching Old Testament books can be challenging for a younger preacher. If I was asked by a younger preacher who was either just starting out or who was switching to Bible exposition, I’d suggest the following: Preach two or three series from shorter New Testament letters. The first book I preached through was Ephesians. James and Peter’s letters also are good places to start.

Then I might suggest a series on the Psalms. With 150 Psalms, you could choose 7 or 8 from the first third of the Psalms, come back in a year and do another series from the 2nd third, and then a year or two later do a series from the last third of the Psalms.

After that you might consider preaching through the Gospel of Mark. It’s the shortest Gospel and probably the easiest one to preach through.

Preach through Judges. Do a series on the life of Abraham from Genesis, or the life of David. I’d avoid anything remotely resembling apocalyptic literature for the first five years of your preaching, though Revelation 1-3 makes a great series. Whatever you preach, arm yourselves with good commentaries.

Periodically during your ministry check your preaching record to make sure that you’ve given your people a balanced spiritual diet. You might want to avoid long series (more than 12-15 weeks) until you have a bit of experience. Then tackle books like Acts, Romans, Daniel, or a series on the Minor Prophets.

There is no one better than you and your leaders to analyze your church and determine what it needs. Know the books of the Bible well enough that you have an idea of the major themes of each so that you can choose what is most appropriate.

If you are reading about preaching (which you should), glean recommendations from people a whole lot smarter than me. Talk to experienced pastors and ask them how they chose their preaching material. Try to plan out a year of preaching, taking Christmas, Easter, and perhaps the summer into consideration.

And trust God! He will guide you as you prayerfully consider the needs of your people.

I trust God will give you a great day of ministry on Sunday!

Planning Your Preaching, Part 2

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Most pastors are able to create their own schedules, and that may lead some to feel that they need to be visible around the office as much as possible. After all, we don’t want to give the impression that we’re not working. 

While we want to be responsible with our time and available to our people, time to be alone is vital. As I noted on Friday, I often went off site to work on my sermon. Those hours were part of the “regular office hours” I put in. I just moved my office to another location. You should feel free to do the same. Last Friday’s post was intended to give some examples.  

Today I want to encourage those of you who are just finding your way as preachers to carefully consider the shape your preaching will take. I would like to commend the expository method of preaching that takes a book of the Bible and teaches it over an appropriate number of weeks as opposed to preaching a series of topical messages. 

Preaching should primarily focus on teaching people about God and our relationship to him. If we don’t have that as our primary aim, our focus will be on teaching people about us and how we relate to God. I believe there is a difference not only in how we approach the Bible, but in where we end up in our thinking about God.

When you take a book of the Bible and preach through it, you are exposing your people to the Bible as it was written. God did not give us the Bible in an encyclopedia format. Remember that our preaching shows our people how to read the Bible. If all they hear are series of sermons about them, they’ll be approaching Scripture that way. As a result the are likely to miss developing a deeper understanding of God and the Gospel along the way. 

There are exceptions, but a topical series is often going to apply to only a segment of your congregation. But if you preach through Philippians, there’s not a person in your auditorium who will be neglected in your sermons. I’ll even say that expository preaching – done right – is more practical and relevant than preaching topic after topic of our own choosing.

A series on raising kids or discovering your life purpose may appear more relevant and sound more appealing than a series on “Colossians.” But I’m concerned that a lack of systematic preaching will leave us with churches and Christians who cannot navigate an increasingly hostile culture. Just my two cents, but give it some thought.

Preaching through Bible books also helps your people to get a balanced diet. It lets God set the agenda for your preaching and frees you from having to come up with the next exciting topic. When people used to ask me when I would be speaking on a specific topic, I explained that I would do that when it came up in the text. If you are properly preaching through both Old Testament and New Testament books, history and letters, poetry and prophecy, eventually you cover a multitude of subjects that you might not even come close to if you major on topical preaching. 

The Bible doesn’t tell us how to choose our approach to preaching. But doesn’t it make sense to present it to our people the way it has been presented to us? Don’t neglect the occasional topical series or sermon. But let your choice of what to preach be shaped primarily by a desire to encounter God and what he has done for us, and then by how it “applies.”

For further reading, let me recommend Mark Dever’s book Preach.