Page 15 of 17

So I Said To My Brother-in-Law . . .

I was sorting through some computer files and came across a brief challenge I gave to my brother-in-law, Brian, 14 years ago this month. Laura and I had flown from Philadelphia to Florida late in August for his installation service, and I was privileged to be able to give the charge to the new pastor. (Note to self: Don’t go to Florida in late August without an air-conditioned body suit.)

It was a great day. Two things made it great for me. The first was that my brother-in-law is a first rate, class act guy. He retired a few years after many years of effective and faithful ministry in three different churches. But the other thing that made it great was that down in heart of Florida Marlins territory, I presented him with a Philadelphia Phillies T-Shirt.

Anyway, I re-read the words and thought I’d share them here as a challenge for all pastors, young or old.

Please open to 2 Timothy 4.

Brian, I have no doubt that you want to have an effective ministry. But how does that happen? We have seminars and books by the score that tell us what to do, how to be successful, what we need to focus on. I had several pieces of mail waiting for me when I got back from vacation the other day that claimed that my ministry could be revolutionized if I bought their product.

But how do we decide what makes us effective? The more I think about the church and about what is important, I am convinced of this: Scripture must define our ministry priorities.

When we look at the pastoral task in Scripture, our primary – not our only, but our primary – priority must be the communication of God’s Word.

I have no doubt that we think alike on this issue, but the climate in which we minister today is moving further and further away from this view of ministry. But I want to challenge you to commit yourself to an view of ministry that is not merely part of a passing and antiquated evangelicalism, but rather is rooted in the inerrant Word of God.

Read 2 Timothy 4:1-4: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
(2 Timothy 4:1–4 ESV)

I wish I had time to develop this passage in more detail than I do. What Paul says in chapter 4 comes out of his discussion in chapter 3 on the nature of Scripture. Because Scripture is God-breathed and because it is the means God uses to change lives, Paul prefaces his commands to Timothy in words that are clearly not just friendly counsel – they are divine edict (read again vs. 1). Out of this comes the command that forms the heart of this passage:

Preach the Word.
This is not preaching about the Word or preaching from the Word, but preaching the Word. There is a difference between preaching the text of Scripture and using Scripture to support our own ideas.

Our ideas don’t bring life. God’s words do. Our ideas don’t change the heart. God’s words do.

Preach the word persistently.
“In season and out of season” relates to the climate of the times. Whether it is trendy or not, whether it is popular or not does not matter.

How do we stay on track here? The best way is to come to the text for the message, and not to the text to support our message.

So preach the word persistently. Preach the simple and preach the profound. Our “climate” is one in which there are numerous appeals to lighten up avoid topics that are deep. Personally, I resent the insinuation that our people cannot or will not learn. Luther taught the doctrine of justification by faith to peasants. What makes us think our people cannot learn doctrine?

Preach the word to the heart.
“Reprove, rebuke, exhort” (correct, rebuke, encourage – NIV) are words that clearly tell us that we need to speak to more than just the mind. These words tell us that we need to speak with authority to values, behavior, the way people think, how they behave – because the Word does.

Everyone wants to be relevant. You will be relevant if you preach the Word and preach to the heart.

Preach the word with urgency.
A good pastor guards the souls of his people. A good shepherd knows that there is a real enemy who seeks to devour. A good shepherd knows that a verbal profession of faith does not guarantee genuine conversion. So we preach the word with a sense of urgency. We care that our people hear it and that they learn it, and we do all that we can humanly do to enable those things.

If we are not living in the climate Paul describes in verses 3 & 4, we must be very close. This is a day of doctrinal shallowness and compromise, a day in which God’s nature and his priorities are distorted and sometimes even attacked. And you will compete with highly visible people – on TV, radio, and in print – who are considered credible because of their celebrity, and yet offer your people nothing more than spiritual candy.

Never take this pulpit without reminding yourself of the awesome responsibility of your task and of what is at stake, and preach the word with urgency. You do not know how long people will listen.

You may be accused of being old-fashioned and out of touch. Some people will visit and never return because you preach more than a feel-good message. Even some who are sitting here today may urge you to lighten up, which means to dumb down.

You pay that no heed.

You determine at the start of your ministry here to preach the Word, to preach it persistently, to preach to the heart, and to preach with urgency, and when God brings this chapter of your ministry to a close, you will have fulfilled your responsibility to lead these dear people “into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake,” and you will have nothing for which to apologize when you stand to give an account “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.”

Preach the Word!

Tools of the Trade – August 12, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Mondays are for odds and ends that I find helpful. I scan some key blogs and newsletters each week and will link to articles or announcements that are relevant for pastors. But occasionally I’ll toss in a story or something else. I’ve done that today.

This Week’s Tools of the Trade

Tim Challies linked to my blog post on “We Shepherd Sheep, Not Beasts of Burden” from the middle of last week (August 7th, 2019). I had over 1200 hits and hope that some of those who visited will come back again. Tim has been uniquely used by God to “inform the reforming” (his tag line), and has been blogging every day since the Reformation. Or thereabouts. I normally won’t link to his page, and I try not to link to articles he’s already linked to, but his daily column from Friday, August 9, contains reference to several links that I had planned to list here. So rather than duplicate his work, let me just point you to Tim’s site. In addition, he had an article on ten new books for August. Some of them are very relevant to pastors.

In my August 7th post I referenced an article I had read. Logos Bible Software’s blog asks the question “Do your sermons make your congregation think you’re angry?” Worth the read – and some reflection.

My friend Glenn Jago sent me a link to an article that was in Christianity Today that dovetails with what I was trying to say in the post on “We Shepherd Sheep . . .” Tim Challies linked to it, but don’t miss it.

Michael Horton wrote a great piece on mental illness, which is something that we will likely have to deal with as we minister to others.

Here’s another article on how we view our church: “Pastor, Your Sheep Are Not An Accident.

It’s possible to preach a narrative passage and never get to Christ. But it’s also possible to preach a narrative passage and force it to say something it doesn’t. This article speaks to preaching from the Old Testament without preaching mere moralism.

Some of you may be just starting out or in the early years of ministry. But how will you finish? Here’s something worth reading by two veteran pastors.

Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul) posted an article by Sinclair Ferguson on whether it is right to be discouraged. It’s worth reading.

When the Plane Didn’t Land

My wife, Laura, has a sneeze that can raise the dead. When we were first married it was a point of contention between us because I couldn’t imagine a person not being able to sense a sneeze coming on and then somehow mute it. But I soon realized that she can’t.

Some of her sneezes are epic. We were in a Best Buy one time and she came out with one of her “greatest hits.” As the sound of the sneeze rattled off the corrugated steel ceiling, someone on the other side of the store called out, “God bless you!” Laura taught 6th grade for a number of years and it wasn’t too far into the school year before she scared her class by a sudden sneeze.

Some years ago we were vacationing at a Christian conference center. We went during a week that was convenient for my schedule and also for hers since she was teaching. On occasion the conference would have a family week with a speaker who would focus on home schooling. We have nothing against home schooling, but our kids were grown, so it wasn’t the most relevant topic. But we’d attend several sessions.

One night we were listening to a talk that was going on way too long. In addition it was all over the map. The speaker was clearly excited about his topic, but he was plucking random Bible verses out of the air to support his points. We were ready to leave but he wasn’t.

And then Laura sneezed.

It was one of her all-time best. And what made it have an even greater impact was that her sister, who was sitting next to her, was so startled that she screamed.


The speaker stopped. I’ll never forget his “deer in the headlights” look. People laughed, Laura and her sister were semi-horrified, but after what seemed like a good 15 seconds (which is a long time), the speaker resumed his talk and kept going for another 15-20 minutes. I have no recollection of the topic, but I will always remember the sneeze and the poor woman behind us, about 8.999 months pregnant, who was laughing (quietly, thankfully) so hard that she was crying.

I honestly believe that the speaker should have wrapped things up. But he didn’t land the plane. The voyage continued.

Now I’m not saying that if our preaching gets interrupted we should shut things down. But sometimes . . .

Comments Welcome!

I’ve said this before, but I am not a WordPress expert. I’ve tweaked the template I use to the best of my ability, and am generally happy with how things work with the exception of comments.

If you want to leave a comment, you need to click on the title of the article you want to comment on. At the bottom of that article you’ll see a place to leave a comment. It’s not accessible from the “home page” (the first place you go when you log on to But I welcome comments and questions.

Comments are moderated, which means that if you say something like, “You’re not fit to eat with pigs!” I’ll probably not approve that. But in the majority of cases I’ll approve the comment. So please feel free.

You Have To Know How To Land the Plane

It was very early in my ministry. My father-in-law, who was the Senior Pastor, was away, and I was given the opportunity to preach. We were not a large church – perhaps about 325, but we had two morning services, and of course I was preaching at both.

I have no recollection of what my topic was on that Sunday morning. But after the worship service was over, a friend passed me in the hallway and said, “Had a little trouble landing the plane, didn’t you?”

She was referring to how I brought the sermon to a conclusion. And she was right. I circled the airfield countless times before I finally set down. I knew I had to fix it for the second service, but I had to teach Sunday School. I remember rushing to my office before and after Sunday School and doing my best to work out a better ending to the sermon. I think I did. At least I hope I did.

(As an aside, I have a notebook of my early sermons, and the people who listened to them deserved some kind of medal. But I was young and learning and they were patient and encouraging.)

I’ve found over the years that the introduction and conclusion are two of the most difficult parts of sermon development. You don’t want either to be too long, and you want both to dovetail with the heart of the message. While the introduction is important, in some ways the conclusion is even more so, as it is the last thing the congregation hears.

What makes for a good conclusion? Let me suggest a few things:

First, a good conclusion always contains a call for a response. Some guys like to mix the application in along the way. Others like to address the passage and then conclude with application points. I preferred the former, but I used somewhat of a hybrid and often varied my approach.

Since we want our preaching to impact the thinking and behavior of our audience, we should provide specific ways in which the passage does that. It may be an action they need to take. It may be an attitude or perspective they need to adopt. Or it may even be something they need to remember.

Second, a good conclusion should not introduce new material. Our conclusions should summarize the main point of the sermon. I don’t mean a repeat of your outline, but a short paragraph that, if possible, summarizes and puts an exclamation point on the sermon.

Third, keep the conclusion brief. I always preferred to use stories or illustrations in my introduction or during the sermon itself. Your experience may be different, but for me, telling a story at the end risked distracting my people from the point of the text.

Finally, consider making the conclusion the very last thing your people hear before they leave church.

Maybe this sounds a bit radical to some of you. But let me explain. We visited a church in our general area a few weeks back and the pastor closed his sermon, prayed, and dismissed the congregation. I thought it was pure genius.

“You mean they didn’t have a closing hymn?” No, they didn’t. And you know what? It was fine. Now you might face some resistance from people who feel that a closing hymn is prescribed somewhere in the minor prophets, but it worked. If I was preaching regularly again, I’d arrange the service so that those things we often hold to the end of the sermon (offering, announcements, Lord’s Table, hymn) would take place before I preached. Conclusion, prayer, benediction. Adios!

Why? Because there are many voices calling for your people’s attention, and they’ll encounter some of them before they even leave their seats. If our sermons are the most important element in our worship service (and I believe they are) why distract from the sermon with other things – even very good and necessary things?

Let me close with an example from my own ministry.

A few years back, I preached a series from selected Psalms. One of those I chose was a favorite of mine, Psalm 121. Psalm 121 is “A Song of Ascents.” It was one that pilgrims traveling to worship in Jerusalem would sing as they passed through dangerous territory. Robbers and wild animals inhabited those hills, so the Psalmist starts by saying,

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.”
(Psalm 121:1-2, ESV)

I explained the Psalm from the standpoint of where we turn in times of trouble. Then I brought it to a conclusion in this way:

So look up at the hills. They are filled with danger, hurt, disappointment and grief. How are you going to make it? Ultimately our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. And the one who made me and who made you. God may use a wise doctor, a capable counselor, or some trusted friends. But God’s help will also come from his Word. So let’s do what Calvin said. Let’s gather from Scripture every promise concerning God’s providence, until the truth of his faithfulness is deeply rooted in our hearts. When you walk through darkness, you’ll be glad you did.

Father, be our constant companion, and bring others alongside of us to walk with us through good times and bad, people who will point us to Jesus. And may we find that your Word is our strength and help. When we wonder where to turn, help us to turn to you. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I highlighted the main point, introduced nothing new (I had referred to the Calvin quote earlier in the sermon), and I wrote my closing prayer so that it would tie in with the sermon.

Again, I make no claims for being anything more than an ordinary preacher. But this kind of closing worked for me. It resonates with how we think, what we believe, and how we act.

As I said, preaching is hard work from start to finish. Introductions and conclusions are vital parts of making our sermons effective. You’re a pilot taking your people on a journey. Work on your skills so that when it comes time to land the plane, you land it smoothly.

We Shepherd Sheep, Not Beasts of Burden

Recently a friend asked a question about ministry. Then I read an article that touched on a similar topic. As I considered both the question and the article, I realized that they intersected with a concern that I have.

At the outset I’ll confess that I am not the world’s greatest writer. I don’t want to be misunderstood, so I’ve toiled over this blog post more than any other I’ve written. But perhaps some, if not all, of us can stand a bit of self-examination. So here we go!

Let’s begin by looking at Scripture. Here is what David writes in Psalm 23:1-4 (ESV):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

I referred above to a question and an article. The question I was asked had to do with challenging our people without beating them up. The article I read talks about how we come across to our people. These verses speak to both the question I was asked and the article I read.

I wonder if you’ve ever considered the relevance of Psalm 23 to pastoral ministry. There are several attitudes and behaviors exhibited by the shepherd that the New Testament says ought to describe elders/pastors/teachers. And that leads me to ask how well we emulate the model that the David sets before us.

In Psalm 23 I see tenderness. I see awareness of the needs of the flock and I see determination to provide for those needs. God, the Shepherd, is leading David to rest and refreshment. He is guiding David in the right path and protecting him from that which would bring him harm.

When it comes to motivating our people, we may need to be firm, yet we should always be gentle. We do not need to breathe fire, nor do we need to yell at them. Back in the day people might have been motivated that way, and in some circles maybe they still are. But that doesn’t make it right. Rather than venting at our people or trying to guilt then into some response, we are to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2, ESV). That’s what the Shepherd would do.

What do people sense when we preach and when we lead? Do they sense anger? Disappointment? Disapproval? There are times when we need to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” But we should never be heavy-handed. We do not have the right to bear a whip that punishes when our Shepherd carries a rod and a staff that guides and protects.

To summarize so far, people should never feel that we are angry with them when we preach. Be firm. Be pointed. Be clear. But be gentle and loving. In addition, when we challenge our people as we must, we are to do so with “compete patience and teaching.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” So, when we speak to the flock we speak with the care of a shepherd for his sheep.

But this all leads to a rather important question: do you see your people as sheep, or have they become something else? Let me explain.

More and more I find churches describing themselves by a desire to be influential. That particular word is not used, but it summarizes what is often found in the mission statements or purpose statements on church websites. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a light in the darkness, we are not thinking clearly if we trade our focus as shepherds for one that increasingly calls its people to more and more activity. In other words, to put it plainly, our people do not exist in order to accomplish our goals for our churches.

We exist for them, not them for us. Is it possible that some of us have forgotten that?

Have you ever heard a Christian author or speaker speak (disparagingly) about the so-called “holy huddle?” The “holy huddle” usually refers to the idea that Christians and churches are inward-focused at the expense of those who are outside of Christ. That certainly should not be true of any of us.

But let me suggest that those who raise what I think is often a straw man argument about this “holy huddle” kind of church forget that, unlike those of us in ministry, our people spend their days working in a messy world. They are immersed in an increasingly godless environment. They deal with far more “yuck” in the workplace than most of us in ministry have had to deal with for a long time.

Pastors are not required to sit through diversity seminars that promote a morality that is unbiblical. But our people have to do that. Pastors have the privilege of working on a daily basis with fellow-Christians. But the people in our churches work with those who can’t go a few sentences without using extreme profanity. If they are identified as Christians, they may be called Bible-thumpers. They are in a world that beats them down. They come to church on Sunday worn and weary. They are desperately in need of encouragement and sound teaching. They need a shepherd to lead them to where their souls can be restored. But do they find restoration or are they regularly being challenged and recruited for our next big thing?

Look, I get it. Buildings need building, parking lots need paving, and broken stuff needs fixing. There’s an ongoing need for workers. People need Christ. But we can never forget that our primary pastoral function is to feed, guide, and protect the flock. That takes precedence over whatever project we think needs to be done and whatever programs we come up with. And here’s why: God clearly wants your people to grow to be like Jesus. But it’s very possible that he doesn’t want your church to be larger and influential. He may want your church to be overwhelmingly ordinary. And the irony is that if we neglect the care of our people, or subordinate the task of building them up, we may end up failing to equip them to be lights in the darkness they live in five or six days a week.

In no way am I advocating that we abandon a godly desire for our church to accomplish much for the Lord. We don’t want to ignore lost people around us. But as pastors, if our dreams (or ambitions) – however noble – for impacting our world are the main driving force of our ministry, we will end up viewing our people more as the means to accomplishing our goals than as people who need quiet waters, green pastures, and restored souls. Our people will become beasts of burden, constantly called to work harder.

Where that happens our forgetfulness of our primary role will only come back to hurt us in time. And that’s because it’s going to lead to a church full of tired, discouraged sheep.

May God give us the grace to shepherd the flock that has been entrusted to us.

Tools of the Trade – August 5, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Each Monday I’ll list some links that are related to pastoral work. Almost everyone reads Tim Challies’ blog, so I will do my best not to duplicate anything that he links to. If you see something you like, be sure to send it to your Evernote file.

A lot of us come from church backgrounds where our worship services are more “free-form” compared to liturgical churches. How we order our services is often more a matter of pragmatism than anything. Here’s a worthwhile article that asks about the connection between our theology and our worship. And here’s another article from the Southern Baptist newsletter that deals with the same subject.

Do your prayers match your Big-God preaching? That’s the question that this article asks. Challenging!!

One of the things always I wanted to do but never got to was have our church sponsor a series of workshops for pastors on the subject of “Pastors and Church History.” A lot of us grew up in, or have served, churches that have little connection to the past. I think we miss something without a sense of heritage. This is part of a series on pastors engaging with the writings of different people who have been influential in church history.

Here’s a book from Christian Focus on preaching and church revitalization. If you are in a smallish or struggling church you might want to pick it up. The publisher has a number of books on preaching, but take a look at this three-part series called Get Preaching. They all look helpful, but the last one in the Get Preaching series covers preaching to a variety of ages in the same worship service.

Small church? Small town? Discouraged? Feeling alone? This article is about one small-town pastor’s struggles and how God met him in the process.

Hopefully something here will be helpful! See you Wednesday!

Two Essentials for Preaching that God Blesses

A Minister’s Preaching, Part 5

With the exception of last Friday, I’ve been looking at a prayer called “A Minister’s Preaching” that comes from the book The Valley of Vision. These prayers, written by Puritan pastors, cover all facets of personal and pastoral life. I regularly read from some of these prayers as our congregation prepared to observe the Lord’s Table. I also kept a copy of this prayer in my Bible to use to prepare my own heart before I preached.

The first discussion of this prayer can be found here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here. This will be the final look at this prayer.

If you’ve been reading along, the following is the text of the prayer. If this is your first time reading “A Minister’s Prayer,” let me encourage you to read it two or three times before you read my comments:

First, notice the confession of his need of God’s help. It’s impossible to understate how much we need God’s help when we preach. We need God’s help in choosing what we preach, in preparing what we preach, and in presenting what we have studied. We need help in gaining the attention of our audience with an appropriate introduction, and bringing the sermon to a conclusion that calls for (or summarizes) a desired response. We need help when we preach.

Next, notice that the author expresses a desire to be spiritually fit.

None of us is perfect. We all struggle with sin. While we should understand that when God is using us he is using a flawed vessel, we should also want to be a “pure channel of (his) grace.” So we should care for the condition of our own souls if we want to speak to others. When we do, we are instruments of refreshment, like the cool clear water pictured above.

Finally, he asks that God would “Help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way.” I don’t know what the author of this prayer considered a “defective way.” I can only guess, so I will.

It is possible to package the truth in such a way that we treat it casually or carelessly. I once heard a man preach and talk about “that cat, Jesus.” He later referred to God by saying, “He’s one smart dude!”

I’m sorry, but that diminishes that which should be elevated and revered. It may sound cool and hip, but I can’t recall anywhere that the Scripture calls us to be cool and hip.

Listen, a lot of preachers use humor in their preaching. I know I did. I hope I used it appropriately and it was not distracting. But attempting to be funny or feeling that we need to underscore each point with a joke treats “excellent matter in a defective way.”

I was once at a Christian conference center where the preacher would make a point that was often very probing. But then before you had too long to think, he would make a wisecrack, show a funny video, or do something that moved you from a reflective moment to being entertained.

Why do we preachers do that? Is our view of God so weak that we lack confidence that the Holy Spirit can minister through an honest, winsome-yet-serious presentation of the Word? Are we reluctant to be appropriately serious for fear of turning off our audience?

Well, this is a great prayer, and it has been so helpful in reminding me of my need and my goal in preaching over the years. May God bless you as you preach and/or teach this Lord’s Day.

It’s a privilege, isn’t it?

You Shouldn’t Have Bought That Book!

Over the years people would often come into my office and look at my books.

“Have you read all of these?”

My stock answer was, “I’ve read some of them, but a lot of them are reference books that I use for sermon and lesson preparation.”

That may have sounded odd to my visitors. Most people don’t buy books for “reference.” But the bulk of a pastor’s library consists of Bible reference tools, commentaries, and theological works – most of which are not going to be general reading. However, I also had books I bought on impulse, books I had no intention of reading again, and books that were probably outdated. So there were times when I looked at a book and said to myself, “You probably shouldn’t have bought that book.” I had good intentions, but – well, you know.

Books are expensive, even when you can buy them at discount. Some commentaries and larger theologies list for well over $40. You’re going to face both the need and the opportunity to buy books on a regular basis. How can you build a library that is top-notch: giving you the resources you need while at the same time not filled with books you wish you hadn’t bought?

If I could to start over, this is how I would build my library:

First, I’d begin with some basics. You probably have some or all of these already from your time in Bible College or Seminary.

Those books form the foundation of a good library. Some might want a concordance, but they are available in the public domain online.

Next I would begin building the commentary section of my library. My aim would be to pick up the best commentary on each book of the Bible. This is something you do over time, of course. A very helpful resource is Best Commentaries. If you haven’t checked that out, take a look.

The resurgence of interest in Biblical Theology has produced some significant works over the last decade. Westminster Seminary’s bookstore and Amazon can be helpful too, of course. I’d pick up a Biblical Theology of the OT and a Biblical Theology of the NT.

But, that leaves a lot of books on theology, church life, pastoral ministry, preaching, current issues, family life, and the spiritual life. What do you do here? There are exceptions, but I have found that these kinds of books are “read once and put on the shelf.” I’ve given away boxes of books like this. So how can you maximize your resources?

Get Kindle books.

Kindle books tend to be a bit less expensive than their paper counterparts. And if you don’t have a Kindle, that’s no biggie. Amazon provides Kindle apps for Android, IOS, PC, and Mac. Unless you’ve sworn off technology, you’re covered.

Some prefer a physical book to an electronic book. Physical books can be marked up and loaned out. Electronic books can be more limiting. But they can save you a ton of money.

Tim Challies, probably the most prolific (and helpful) Christian blogger, puts together a list of discounted Kindle books nearly every day. I have accumulated scores of books this way for as little as $1.99 each. His A La Carte article is worth checking daily.

Of course there are going to be exceptions. There are books that fit into the general categories I listed above that you may want on your bookshelf. But following this approach will give you what you need AND keep you from having boxes of books to give away because you have no use for them or you haven’t read them (and don’t plan to). And note that I haven’t even touched on the books that are available through software programs like Logos Bible Software, Accordance, or Olive Tree.

The size of your library is far less significant than the quality of the books that are in it. Buy well and you’ll build a resource that will last you through your ministry. Do you have ideas or tips? Leave a comment or contact me.

P.S. If you are a Kindle user, John MacArthur’s Biblical Doctrine can be had for $2.99, at least today (July 30, 2019).

Tools of the Trade – Monday, July 29, 2019

A Weekly List of Helpful Resources

I hope you had a great weekend of ministry. Today may be your day off, a day full of meetings, or a day to catch up and do some of the administrative-type of tasks that we all have to deal with.

A few weeks back I recommended the program Evernote. In case you’ve not heard of Evernote, it is an online repository for notes and articles. I use it primarily to clip articles that I think are worth coming back to and save them by topic.

There is a wealth of resources available in various blogs, online journals, and websites that can be very useful in your study. In addition, I’ve found articles that are worth sharing. In fact, I had a literature rack installed in a prominent place in our church and kept it filled with articles that would be helpful to people in my congregation.

You can get a free account that should be just fine for your use. Evernote also has browser extensions for all the major web browsers, so you can save an article into your Evernote file by clicking on the extension icon in your web browser. Evernote has apps for tablets, phones, and computers. Highly, highly recommended.

Here are some articles worth reading and clipping:

Tabletalk, the monthly publication of Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul) has a good article by Guy Richards on handling criticism. If you’re a pastor, chances are you’ll probably get some. I know – hard to believe, right?

Here’s an article on J.I. Packer (Knowing God) and his teaching about holiness. It’s worth the read.

Pastors are not exempt from depression. In fact, we may be more prone to depression than a lot of people. Thom Rainer has a helpful article here.

Have you ever visited someone in the hospital and not known what to say? Or said the wrong thing? Or have them tell you of a well-meaning but thoroughly unhelpful comment another Christian made? Read this and share it.

Kevin DeYoung put together a list of books to read this summer on the subject of preaching. He polled some fellow pastors and scholars and gives us their recommendations.

Subscribing to several theological journals can be expensive. Thankfully a lot of seminaries put their journals online for free reading (and Evernote clipping). The Masters Seminary Journal (John MacArthur) can be accessed here.

See you on Wednesday!!

How Do I Know If My Preaching Is Good Enough? (Part 3)

To the reader: I will suspend what I’ve been writing about on Fridays for the last several weeks to finish the discussion I began on Monday. Monday’s and Wednesday’s posts assume a fictional conversation with a young pastor who is concerned about the effectiveness of his preaching.

Hey! Good morning!

These are the big ideas I wanted to leave you with on Wednesday:

  • Be yourself.
  • Be a pastor, not just a “speaker.”
  • Know that God can and use you even when you don’t feel great about your sermon.

I wanted to deal with attitudes you have about yourself as well as beliefs you have about God. I hope that I communicated them clearly. If not, talk to me about them, ok?

In 2 Timothy, Paul writes: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. – (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). Paul is talking not only about the way Timothy lives, he’s talking about the way Timothy preaches. If you want to be an effective preacher, you need to care for both. And both of them are hard work!

You know that as a pastor you are constantly giving out to people. If you don’t care for your own spiritual needs, you’re gonna limit your ministry. You’re gonna run out of gas. So you need to cultivate your own relationship with God. You need to pray. And you need to have people in your life who are spiritual helpers. I wrote about this the other week.

Your feelings may differ, but I often used my preaching passage for my quiet time. When I was in Bible College one of my professors warned us against mixing our quiet time with our sermon/lesson preparation. He felt the two should be distinct. I don’t agree. Sermon preparation is a spiritual activity. I see no reason to create a dichotomy between our “quiet time” and our study. But that’s my opinion, and as a good friend says, “That and $1.39 will get you a cup of coffee.”

Anyway, here are two ways that I think will help you improve as a preacher:

First, as a young preacher, it’s helpful to listen to other men preach. Especially if they do it well (ha ha). Some men whose ministries I’ve appreciated in particular include Al Mohler, Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and R.C. Sproul. These guys are very from each other, but they are master communicators. And Alistair Begg has this fantastic Scottish accent. I’ve always thought if a preacher has an English accent, he can transform a “C” sermon into an “A.”

When you listen, pay attention to how other men handle things like introductions, illustrations, and conclusions. Do they use humor? If so, how? How long do they preach? What makes them compelling preachers?

Now a word of warning: like I said, you can learn a lot from listening to others, but don’t imitate them. You know – be yourself.

Second, read about preaching. Try to read at least one or two books on preaching each year, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it. We’re fortunate that there are so many helpful books on the subject.

  • Tim Challies lists some Kindle books on his July 23 (2019) a la Carte column. In particular, David Helm’s book is very helpful.
  • Searching Westminster Seminary’s bookstore yielded several dozen books on preaching. In particular, I would recommend Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken, Christ-Centered Sermons, by Brian Chapell, Feed My Sheep, by Don Kistler, The Archer and the Arrow, by Jensen and Grimmond, and Preach by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert. I couldn’t seem to find the latter on but it is listed here at Amazon. I’ve left off some books that some would consider classics, and you should read those too, but these are basic books on preaching that will keep you focused on doing it right.
  • Check in periodically with Proclamation Trust. While they hold conferences in the United Kingdom, they have good number of online resources.
  • Subscribe to Expositor Magazine. If you look at the website, you’ll see why it’s a good investment.

These books and resources will help you develop sermons that are biblically sound and enable you to minister more effectively to your congregation.

Before we go our way urge you to make two commitments:

  • First, commit to never taking a passage out of context. I have heard guys who have good things to say, but what they are saying has little to do with the passage they are preaching from. Make sure that somewhere in the preparation process you ask yourself, “Does my sermon accurately reflect the passage?” Or, to put it another way, “Are all my points derived from the text, or have I allowed myself to force the passage to fit what I want to say?”
  • Second, avoid “seminary speak.” I’m not advocating that you avoid technical terms or difficult subjects. But remember who you are preaching to. If you are in seminary or have recently graduated, you’ve lived in a world that almost has a language of its own. It wouldn’t hurt to run your sermon manuscript through a grammar checker. There are several online, but ProwritingAid is the one that I’ve found helps the most. It’s a subscription service, but among other things it can tell you the reading level of your manuscript. Remember that you’re preaching to people with a variety of backgrounds and ages. You don’t want to be preaching over the heads of your people.

Well, we should probably get going. I hope that some of this has been helpful to you. As I have said, and will say often, I was an ordinary preacher in an ordinary church. I’m hardly an expert, but these are some things that were helpful to me.

We can talk again if you like. Thanks for getting together and thanks for picking up the tab for the tea and coffee. Have a great weekend!

Note to readers: What books have you found helpful? Are there any online resources that you’d recommend? Click on the title of this blog post if I a comment box is not right below and leave a comment for me. I’ll be glad to share your comments with other readers.

How Do I Know If My Preaching Is Good Enough? (Part 2)

This continues the fictional encounter with a young pastor friend that I began on Monday.

Good to see you this morning! I hope your week is going well.

The other day you asked me how you can know if your preaching is “good enough.”

I think a lot of us wonder that, especially when we’re young. Like I said on Monday, even veteran pastors wonder from time to time about their preaching. But it’s not an easy question to answer because it’s hard to quantify exactly what is and isn’t “good enough”.

When you ask that question, you’re really asking if your sermons minister to people. You’re thinking about how to be a better preacher. So let’s talk about that. I’ve got some suggestions that I think are really key to a young man developing as a preacher and teacher, so here goes:

First, it’s vital to remember that God created you, gifted you, and called you. I can’t overstate this. You are unique. Everyone develops their own unique preaching style and developing your style takes time. But your style should be your own.

I was thinking about David and Goliath. Remember how Saul wanted David to wear his armor into battle, and David tried it on and then tossed it aside because it wasn’t him? Obviously that passage has nothing to do with preaching. But it illustrates my point: David couldn’t be Saul and be effective. And you can’t be someone you’re not and preach well. So at the outset, don’t try to imitate someone else.

Another thing to remember is that our effectiveness as preachers is greatly enhanced when we show humility and genuinely care for our people. They can tell whether we’re merely orators or whether we’re caring shepherds. If you love your people, your preaching will have credibility even if it doesn’t have polish. I suspect that there are a lot of churches who hear perfectly average sermons from perfectly average preachers Sunday after Sunday. But those average preachers are effective in their churches because they love their people.

You should also keep in mind that most of the time we can’t see how God is working in people’s lives. Occasionally someone will tell you how what you said was helpful. Some congregations might be given to that more than others. But the best measure of your preaching is seen over time. In another blog post, I compared the result of hearing the Word the way we form an object from paper mache. We add layer upon layer until the object finally takes shape.

Think about what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). We are being transformed. It’s a process.

You will be surprised by how and when God uses you. Sometimes here would be a Sunday when I thought my sermon was awful. And guess what? I’d have people tell me how God ministered to them. I’d be thinking, “That can’t be – the sermon was horrible.” But God used it anyway. So remember that how you feel about how you did on a particular Sunday is probably not a good measure of what really took place.

It may not be easy to know how good your preaching is, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a more effective preacher. If you keep these things in mind, I think you’ll be laying the foundation for being the kind of preacher you want to be.

Let’s talk again on Friday about some practical ways we can improve our preaching, ok?