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One of the Saddest Days of the Year

This was written on Tuesday, October 1, which will help some of you make sense of my use of “today” and “yesterday.” 😁


Hang in there with me on this one for a few minutes, ok?

For me, today is one of the saddest days of the year. It is a precursor to what is – for millions like me – the official Saddest Day of the Year.

Today there are no baseball scores to look at. No boxscores to peruse, no special in-game heroics videos to watch. Yesterday was a day without baseball. Of course it all changes starting tonight, as the month-long playoffs begin. But once they conclude, what is true about today will be true for several months. And there’s a touch of sadness in that.

Prior to 1964 I had absolutely no interest in sports. But that all changed in 1964 when I became a Baseball Fan. I lived in a suburb of New York City, and and my favorite team was the New York Yankees. My favorite player was Bobby Richardson, their second baseman at the time. Bobby had come to speak at the church where my parents and family would eventually come to know Christ.

In 1980 we moved to Philadelphia, and for a variety of reasons I switched allegiance to the Phillies and have been an avid fan of baseball in particular and the Phillies in particular. And if you are a baseball fan, yes, this has been a very long year.

I still collect baseball cards. I participate in a fantasy baseball league. I try to listen to at least part of each Phillies broadcast. I scan those boxscores in the morning. If I have opportunity, I watch “Quick Pitch” on the MLB Network. If I had to go on a desert island and could only take two books, I’d take a good reference Bible and the most recent Baseball Encyclopedia I could put my hands on. I even think I we might be able to play baseball in the age to come. (I’ve almost got that worked out. Maybe someday I’ll reveal my madness.) In short, I love the game.

You may be wondering what this has to do with being a pastor. I’ll confess it has nothing to do with preaching, church administration, or caring for the flock. But baseball and the variety of ways in which I enjoy it is a gift from God, and it has had an impact on my life and hence, my work as a pastor. I really do believe that.

Maybe baseball doesn’t seem like a gift of God to you. I can pray for your repentance. 😇 But God has given us a countless number of recreational pursuits that are valid, good, and actually quite necessary.

What’s your thing? Reading? Gardening? Hiking? Football? Stamp collecting? They are all gifts of God. Can they be abused? Yes they can. They can consume an inordinate amount of time. We can become too emotionally involved. As an example of the latter, I know of a young man who had to be taken from Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles football team plays, to the hospital because his upset over the way the Eagles were playing resulted in chest pains. We all know that’s a bit over the top. And while it is possible to enjoy our interests to in an unhealthy way, it is also possible to enjoy them in moderation.

Here’s what Paul wrote: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. – 1 Timothy 6:17 ESV (Italics mine).

Yes, it’s one verse. And yes, it can be twisted so that what is clearly sinful can be wrongfully called something God gave us to enjoy. But the fact is that the good things in our lives are good gifts from a kind and gracious God.

Here’s where this intersects with pastoral ministry: sometimes we get so caught up with the burden of the work we do that we burn the candle at both ends. If you do that – or are heading toward a lifestyle of doing that – no matter how noble your motives, you’re going to flame out. And then you’ll be no good to anyone. Don’t believe it? Based on what I’ve read over the years, pastoral burnout is alive and well and doesn’t appear to be going away soon.

Of course you should not be lazy in your ministry. Work hard at being a faithful shepherd. And of course you shouldn’t be obsessive with hobbies and interests. But don’t ignore them either. If you don’t have some kind of recreational interest, let me encourage you to find one.

Younger pastor or older, you need some kind of diversion to take your mind off of the pressures of ministry. You need this for your own mental and emotional well-being. You need to enjoy some of the gifts God has given to us. If you don’t, you’re likely going to reach a day when you are no longer effective in ministry. And that would truly be a very sad day.


For you fellow baseball fans, author David Hart wrote this piece in First Things almost a decade ago. Get a tissue. You might shed a tear.

Tools of the Trade – September 30, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources Especially for Pastors

Here are some articles that may be of help for you or your people.

Knowing how to deal with the decline in culture and the sharp divide between people in our country is hard. Greg Foster writes an article on swimming against the cultural tide.

Tim Challies talks about Twitter in an article from last week.

Sinclair Ferguson is so good! Here is a summary of the “exchanges” that Paul writes about in Romans.

In a couple of my posts I’ve written in passing about the benefit of knowing and reciting some of the great creeds of the Church. Adam Parker writes about this for Ligonier.

Here’s a link to a seminar on Bible application by Colin Adams.

Nancy Guthrie and John Curie discuss teaching 2 Timothy. Of course the pastoral epistles are not just for pastors, and this is worth filing away for future use.

I have enjoyed the teaching ministry of Robert Godfrey. He has several audio/video series on church history that I’ve used in our adult Sunday school classes over the years. He’s just produced this series on Deuteronomy that might be a good option for your Sunday School. Ligonier video series always come with a study guide and questions for discussion.

I have a vague recollection of seeing an article the other week that said that we touch our cell phones 6000 times a day. Maybe I added a zero to that, but even if it’s 600, that’s kind of obsessive. Here’s an article by Kevin DeYoung that is worth reading and sharing with your people. You know our culture has a problem when you watch a baseball game and half the people in the stands are checking their phones.

The folks at 9Marks have this article: Two Kinds of Sermons That Seem Expositional But Really Aren’t.

Enjoy the beginning of your week!

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!

Tools of the Trade – September 23, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources Especially for Pastors

On occasion we read about the negative impact of the internet, and justly so considering some of the content. But it is also a huge help to busy pastors and their congregations – if we are paying attention to the good stuff. Such as:

I enjoyed a brief email exchange with Peter Mead, who blogs at BiblicalPreaching.net. Peter saw the focus group this blog aims at and suggests three articles that might be helpful. I would agree. Thanks, Peter!!

This article by Sinclair Ferguson on God being for us is worth printing and giving to your people – after you read it for yourself.

Here’s a teenager appealing to other teenagers to study their Bibles. Pass it on to your youth leaders!

Last week’s blog posts focused on preaching, and this article guides pastors to evaluate whether we are preaching the entirety of God’s word.

Tim Challies (who you probably read if you’re reading this blog) has some good suggestions about what to avoid saying at the beginning of a worship service.

It’s likely that more of our people have heard (or read) The Shack than they have the Nicean Creed. That is probably our fault for not exposing them to the great people and documents of church history.

Colin Adams illustrates how not to do Bible application.

I have never read the Canons of Dort, but this important doctrinal statement is having a 400th birthday, and it’s probably about time I read it. This month’s Credo Magazine tells us about it.

Paul Tripp has wise words for those in leadership.

Some people love listening to the news. Others, like me, can only take it in small doses. We’re not seeing a lot of good news out there, folks. What do you do when the news we hear about our world is just a bit worse than we feel we can handle?

7 Invisible Weapons for Effective Ministry. That’s the title of this solid article.

The folks at 9Marks review John Macarthur’s Remaining Faithful in Ministry.

What informs your choice of church music? Andrew Croft has some serious appeals for deciding what we sing.

This past week’s blog series attempted to make a case for expository preaching. Here’s an article that reinforces the reason why expository preaching is so important.

Have a great week! See you on Wednesday.

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.

Tools of the Trade for September 16, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources Especially for Pastors

Chris Scotti is the VP and Publisher of 316 Publishing, which features a number of New American Standard Bible Resources. One of their resources is a great NASB app with Greek and Hebrew lexicon. I’d been using it on occasion before getting an email from Chris and recommend it for its ease of use. You can see the various resources available at 316publishing.com.

Here’s a short piece by Peter Mead on approaching the text we preach with the right goal in mind.

Tim Challies, who contributes so much to the Christian community, writes about how to frame our preaching for maximum benefit to our audience.

The folks at 9Marks.org always produce good stuff for us. Here’s an article by Jeff Mooney on dealing with those times when we feel spiritually dry.

Nothing controversial here. 🙂 “I’d Probably Still Cancel Your Short-Term Missions Trip.” You may not agree, but Carlson raises some issues worth considering.

Here’s encouragement to prepare our people to suffer.

John Piper talks about God’s sovereignty and our unproductive days.

Here’s a good article to share with parents and those who work with kids.

Have a great week of ministry!!!