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Tools of the Trade For the Week of July 6, 2020

July 6th!Already! Where has the year gone?

Here’s another selection of articles from the past week that you may find helpful personally, in your ministry, or as resources to share.

Have you ever heard a sermon from a passage taken out of context? Have you ever preached one? This writer warns of the dangerous consequences, and he’s right.

I live in Pennsylvania and this was written by a pastor in our state. I agree with his assessment of the current culture. I disagree (at least a little) with the extent of his pushback. I was challenged by what he said.

There was a man in my church years ago who was last one in, first one out. When I talked to him he indicated that he came for a “me and God” moment (my words). Here’s why that’s wrong.

If you’re in a college town, this article should be of help to you as you try to minister to the student population.

This is worth reading if you’ve had COVID cases in your church, if you’re concerned about reopening, or if you’ve reopened and the number of cases has gone up.

One Memorial Day, a man in our church called out, “Can we sing a patriotic song?” How would you respond? I believe Joe Carter nails how we should deal with the question of patriotism and our worship services.

Tim Chester writes about the need to be able to hear what the culture is saying.

If you have people in your church who are reluctant to wear a mask during this pandemic, here’s a challenge for them.

There’s been a good deal of virtual ink spilled on the subject of Christians and the coronavirus. However, here is a worthwhile read from Desiring God.

I’m always interested in articles relating to productivity and productivity systems. Here’s one from a secular source that may prove helpful.

The folks at Ligonier have a helpful article on welcoming new church members.

“What the Puritans Taught This Builder About Ministry.”

I appreciate Mark Dever of 9Marks and Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Here’s an article that talks about the commitments pastors should have.

This is real pastoral work. Are you doing it?

With a subtitle, “Good Pastors Know When to Pick a Fight But Prefer to Avoid Them,” how can you not read this one?

It’s hard, but so important.

Have a great week!

Sometimes You Need to Laugh

I’ve noticed that we Americans tend to turn quickly to humor as a means of coping with difficulties. That has been the case with the recent coronavirus. It’s not that we downplay the seriousness of the pandemic. We just have a tendency to find instances in which people’s thinking or responses can be funny. While some kinds of humor is completely inappropriate, there are ways in which we can step back and laugh at ourselves. As Christians, maybe that is a way of reminding ourselves that God is in control.

For example, several weeks ago when everyone who had a sign was putting out some word of thanks to frontline responders, health workers, and people who were coming in direct contact with the public, a church near where I work put this out on their sidewalk. On a busy street. I thought it was a riot and would drive past wanting to see if someone had finally changed it. But it stayed this way for weeks.

Maybe your’re tired of masks, hand sanitizer, or being asked if you’ve visited Wuhan. Maybe you’re weary of shortages in the grocery store, of being confined to your home, or of some other way the coronavirus has affected you. Maybe you need to smile. So without further delay, here are some things I’ve collected through the past several weeks. They came to me by text or email, or were on various websites that I visit. Enjoy:

And my favorite:

Tools of the Trade For the Week of June 29, 2020

There were quite a few good articles and resources posted last week. Here are some that will be helpful in your ministry, either for yourself or to pass on to others.

Helping teens honestly face and deal with their doubts is one of the most important tasks a youth worker has. Here’s some help.

Pastors live with dreams of what God might do in the lives of their people. Whether trying to change a church culture or see change in the lives of our people, change is slow. But don’t give up!

This is one to share with your people. There will be a day when our struggle with sin will end, and what Paul writes about in Romans 7 will be over and done with. In the meantime be encouraged.

If you have people who are reluctant to return to church after the pandemic, this article might help you approach them.

“Exposition or Imposition? How Gospel-Centered Preaching Can Go Wrong.” John Piper writes about something we all need to think over.

My previous post was about Christians behaving badly on social media. Here’s a companion article with a catchy title. I’ve noticed several people writing about this recently. Maybe because there’s a problem? Yup.

And while we’re on that subject, I saw this title and thought it was a new book. However, it was written ten years ago. Yet it speaks directly to the problem of relationships and to some of the issues that have arisen because of social media.

This article by Don Whitney discusses how we can let our Bible reading guide us in our prayers. Helpful!

Stay up to date with the Supreme Court’s decision regarding LGBT issues.

Here’s an audio interview discussing “Preaching Over the Long Haul.”

Here is an article about how we should deal with the vast changes that have taken place in our world over the last few months. I’d recommend sharing this one with your people. Just send them the link!

Finally, here’s an article that will encourage those of you who are church planters – or feel like it!

Have a great week! Thanks for stopping by once again!

Christians Behaving Badly

I can remember when the internet first became a resource for the public. Prior to the internet one would hook up their computer to a modem via their phone line, listen to annoying squawking sounds while modems connected, and then access the information highway at the pace of an overweight snail. I go back to the days when the online experience involved CompuServe, Delphi, America Online, Prodigy, and public bulletin boards.

Now we turn on our computers, our tablets, our phones, and in some cases our watches, and access the internet. My grandchildren can’t imagine life without it and have a hard time thinking that there was a day when it didn’t exist.

There’s a lot of good that comes from the internet, email, and the like. Being able to interact almost instantly with missionaries on the other side of the globe or with family who live at a distance are great blessings. Because of the internet, millions of kids were able to continue their education, and millions of adults were able to retain their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. As a baseball fan, I am able to follow my favorite sport in greater detail. And there are a host of great resources for every interest.

But I also realize the internet can be a great distraction, and that some of us have a hard time being separated from our technology. In addition, like anything humanity touches, the internet can also be used for great evil.

For a long time Christians have been urged to avoid the immorality that is pervasive online. But I’m beginning to wonder if it is time for us to back away from social media too.

Listen, I was a Facebook user back in the day. It was fun to catch up with old friends (“Oh! Guess who I found on Facebook?) and see what current friends were doing. However, I’m not sure that the benefits of Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or other sites that some younger folks have gravitated to (Facebook is kind of, you know, for older people) outweigh the negatives. I’ve hardly conducted world-wide research, but several people, including some pastors, have expressed concern over the way that social media has become a playground on which Christians are behaving badly.

In the last paragraph I said I “was” a Facebook user. Past tense. One reason I closed my account was because I grew tired of people telling me things like “I’m really busy right now and don’t think I can continue helping in nursery once a month” and then sending me an invitation to play FarmVille. To me, Facebook became a time-waster. So I ditched it. Yet I have ways of accessing content on those rare occasions when I want to. And what I see isn’t good.

Back in December I wrote the following about the 2016 election: “I remember some of the exchanges I read on Facebook and hearing of online conflict that took place within congregations and families over the two principal candidates, both of whom were polarizing figures. Frankly, some of what I read was horrible.” Has it gotten any better?

There are two possible answer to that. You choose: No or No.

This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor 2:14 ESV). That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, but it is subverted big-time when the rancor and disagreement gives off a strong whiff of evangelical stink. When you look at what your people are posting, what are you smelling?

Yes, social media can be valuable for ministry. But I wonder how many wince-inducing posts exist there are for every one that is uplifting?

So here’s the bottom line. Most of us – at least here in the US – have been locked away for three months. The use of social media has been one of the ways people have been able to “get out of the house.” But as we start to regather into our congregations I wonder if turmoil that began on social media will carry over into regular church life.

Maybe its time to encourage people to take a break from social media. To give up the political debates, the social arguments, the criticism of their churches (yup, that happens too!) the snarky complaints, the cute animal stories that we are urged to pass on, and all the other inane detritus that litters our online life. How much of it do we really need?

How to do it? I don’t know if I’d start bashing social media right away. But as you preach you can point out some of the problems that unfiltered, emotional, confrontational posting creates. If in your preaching you touch on the themes of unity, speech, witness, or other related topics, you can gently point out how our online conduct needs to be controlled by the admonition of Colossians 3:5-17. And maybe you can probe a bit and ask how much of social media is all that helpful. You’ll be poking the bear and some might accuse you of meddling, but doesn’t the Gospel “meddle” in everything we do?

Tools of the Trade For the Week of June 21, 2020

Here are hopefully helpful links for this week:

There are a couple of articles on planning preaching. Here’s one from 9Marks on why you should plan to preach through 2 Timothy. Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid write about planning a preaching schedule for the long term.

Recent events have certainly caused many people to be fearful. This article talks about how God calms us in times of fear. Share this with your people.

Different trends in society and theology may make us want to add to or change our church doctrinal statement. Jeff Robinson offers helpful advice here.

Many people struggle with the daily habit of Bible reading. This is one for your literature rack.

Oh, and did you know prayer comes hard for some people? Another one for the literature rack.

The Psalms have been such a comfort to so many through the years. This article tells us why we need the Psalms more than ever.

Paul Tripp has a new book on the subtext of leadership. Head on over to Amazon and check it out.

Most of the pastors I’ve met have embodied the quality of gentleness. But here’s why it’s so important.

I hope to see you sometime this week. Thanks for stopping in!

Younger Pastor – Watch Over the Kids!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tools of the Trade For the Week of June 15, 2020

I hope you had a good weekend. It seems like many churches have re-opened and that it will happen very soon for others.

This was supposed to be Monday’s post but life got a bit busy over the last few days. So without further delay, here are some links to good reading for this week.

David Mathis writes, “Leadership has fallen on hard times. As a society, we are suspicious of our leaders, often assuming they will use their power for selfish gain, rather than our good. That makes these fearful days for taking and holding office, not just in business and politics, but also in the church.” You need to keep reading.

Regardless of your position on divorce and remarriage, when someone like Wayne Grudem shifts his view, it’s worth find out why.

In many parts of the US (and possibly the world), kids are experiencing a summer vacation that began 3 months early. Here’s an article to share with parents on how to pray for their kids this summer.

We all have our theological biases and some are held very tightly. There’s nothing wrong with that, though this article rightly encourages humility in how we hold our views.

Winston Smith reminds us that “In Ministry, Joy and Sorrow Don’t Cancel Each Other Out.”

My friend Cynthia writes about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Special Needs community. This is one to read for yourself as well as share with parents who have special needs kids.

I don’t know about you, but I’m troubled by the number of churches that seem to lack humility in their self-promotion. Being the Next Big Thing isn’t part of the Great Commission. Is it possible that pastoral ambition is at the root of some of the claims made about uniqueness and mission?

Having a spiritual mentor is a treasure, and this article speaks to the question of what kind of person best fits that role.

Here’s an article to share with the leaders of your women’s ministry and/or the older women in your church. It’s about discipling younger women and it’s worth the read! In that same vein here’s a podcast by Melissa Kruger on pursuing meaningful mentoring relationships.

Peter Mead writes about preaching, and this article explores the consequences of preaching that is “Bible-lite.”

This article addresses a topic that we probably all have or will wrestled with: “When It Seems Your Life is Going Nowhere.”

The hardest topic to preach about, at least in my opinion, is how a church relates to the pastor. You should just leave copies of this article laying around the church. Hopefully someone will read it and encourage you. 🙂

We need to be reminded that normal is good.

The US Supreme Court made a very significant decision this week and author Joe Carter explores the implications for churches. You need to read this article and share it with your staff and other church leaders.

The Gospel Coalition is promoting some helpful resources for our churches. Read about them here.

I’ll have more links on Monday. I hope something here is helpful to you and your ministry!

What Not To Say When You Talk to Others Who Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tools of the Trade For the Week of June 8, 2020

This is a day late this week. Apologies! Here are some helpful links I came across this past week.

Peter Mead had a three-part series on how to improve your preaching. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

My friend Cynthia wrote about the impact of the social distancing on mental health. Working in a retirement community, I wonder about the long-term impact on older folks who have been isolated. Cynthia writes about several different groups, and her article is well worth reading.

What will re-opening look like for you? Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra writes about what took place when five churches reopened recently.

Glenna Marshall writes about the need for ordinary faithfulness in a post that every pastor should read.

Meghan Hill writes about what we need to know about the church in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many people have written about missing gathering as a church. Here is a reminder that “Physical Presence is A Spiritual Gift.”

Several years ago I preached through Judges. When we read some of the accounts in Judges we wonder what on earth we are to think about what happened. Credo Magazine just began a series on Reading Judges Theologically. You may want to follow it here. And by the way, put Judges on your “Preach Soon” list.

I hope you will find something helpful to your ministry. Have a good week!

Tools of the Trade For June 1, 2020

Rising early to get ready for work, I scanned the headlines and saw the same chaos and upset you are seeing. I needed this reminder from Psalm 43 (CSB).

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its water roars and foams and the mountains quake with its turmoil. Selah

Here are some articles you may find helpful. Church planters should take note of the articles relating specifically to you:

Matt Hodges writes about lies Satan tells Church Planters.

Here’s an article about fears wives of Church Planters face.

Knowing what other churches are planning to do when restrictions lift can be helpful. Here’s one church’s plan.

Andy Winn talks about the pandemic and church finances.

The Good Book Company has some good titles on sale for 50% off.

Here’s a discussion about how to handle disagreement among leaders, primarily from the standpoint of dealing with people in the church, but applicable on a broader scale.

Owen Strachan looks forward to the next ten years of theological discussions and issues.

What are the rights and responsibilities of churches regarding reopening after the pandemic?

Phil Newton asks and answers the question about what to preach during a crisis.

Andy Johnson writes a very helpful article on measuring missionary success.

I’ll be back later in the week. Thanks for stopping by.