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15 Books to Add to Your Library

When I retired I gave away about 80% of my books. I kept one or two significant commentaries on each book of the Bible, as well as several important theological reference books. I also hung on to some books that I would want again if the door for ministry reopened down the road. I was a book junkie, and I would take a 15-minute drive to the seminary in our area and browse their bookstore every couple of weeks. I also benefitted from special sales and giveaways at conferences.

Books play a big part in the life of a pastor. Last week I thought about putting together a post on 10 books pastors would appreciate. It’s ended up being 15 books. My intention is not to put together a list of “the best” books in any particular area. Rather I wanted to suggest some titles that have been helpful to me. Some may be familiar to you, others maybe not. But all are worth your investment. So here goes, in no particular order:

I hope that you have read Mark Dever’s book 9 Marks of A Healthy Church. Going to a 9Marks seminar shortly after becoming our church’s Senior Pastor was incredibly significant. If you haven’t, you should read. But that’s not the one I wanted to recommend. Rather, I’ll point to a companion book by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander titled, The Deliberate Church. Read both and be challenged by their thinking.

Next let me encourage you to invest in the revised edition of the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. The one I had was originally done by Walter Elwell. I see that there is a new edition out from 2017. No doubt you have some systematic and biblical theologies in your library already, but this is a dictionary of theological ideas and terms written by a large number of scholars. I always thought that if I could only have 5 books with me on a desert island, this would be one of them (along with a study Bible, Calvin’s Institutes, a baseball encyclopedia and then something else that piqued my interest). I’m not saying it’s the be-all and end-all of theologies, but it is very helpful and worth the $60 bucks you have to pay for a new copy.

My next recommendation is Listen Up by Christopher Ash. This is a book about how to listen to a sermon. Elsewhere I recommended that you find the money somewhere in your budget to give every family a copy. You could even do a short series in Sunday School or prepare questions for small group discussion of the book. But aside from being helpful to those who listen, I think it can helpful to those who preach, as it will guide you in your presentation so that your people find it easier to listen well. Good stuff.

Next, I’ll recommend the best book I’ve read on helping relationships: Side by Side by Ed Welch. Whether you’re going through tough stuff and need help with what to share, or you’re helping a friend go is going through a hard time, you won’t find many books that are as helpful as this one.

Pastors have to conduct funerals, lead meetings, officiate at weddings, plan services, and do a lot of things that as new pastors they haven’t done before. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll reach for The Pastor’s Book by R. Kent Hughes. It’ll help you with holidays, planning service order, and doing the various pastoral tasks I mentioned above. A must have.

A book you may not use often, but will deeply appreciate, is Bryan Chapell’s The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help From Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times If you’re a pastor, you’ll have some “tragic times” to deal with as you shepherd your congregation. This book is a go-to for help on dealing with some hard stuff.

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung is one of the two best books on the subject of the will of God I’ve ever read. It is easy to read, humorous in spots, and DeYoung is a great writer. In addition, it is really helpful in guiding people – including pastors – away from some unhelpful forms of divining the will of God.


Ok. That’s seven (well, maybe 8 if you count both my Dever recommendations). I’ll finish up on Friday.

A word about the links. I like linking to Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, but I’ve chosen to link to Amazon for two reasons: first, you can often find used copies of some of these books and save some money, and second, if you have Amazon Prime, the shipping is free. However, check the prices at WTSbooks.com because if you spend $100 you get free shipping. Not only that, sometimes their prices are better than Amazon’s.

See you in a few days!!

Tools of the Trade For May 11, 2020

Good morning! Here are some links to articles and resources you may find helpful.

The late R.C. Sproul wrote a helpful piece on the intercessory work of Christ called Jesus’ Prayers Keep You From Stumbling. This might be a good one to share with your people.

Matt Perman’s book How to Set Up Your Desk sounds geeky and nerdy, but it’s a helpful tool for keeping your workplace organized, whether working from home or from your office. And it’s on sale for $3 (Kindle).

Tim Challies linked to this Kindle deal the other day that would be especially helpful to you younger guys: A Little Book for New Preachers.

Howard Senkbeil gives us a peek at his book “The Care of Souls,” and challenges us with The Missing Link in Pastoral Ministry.

Here’s an issue you will face as you meet with your elders: Should Elders Insist on Unanimity.

The aforementioned Tim Challies reached back in his archives to repost What Makes a Sermon Difficult to Listen To?

Rachel, writing at Gentle Reformation, writes Give Us This Day Our Daily Friendship.

Chad Van Dixhoorn gives a helpful overview in 10 Things You Should Know about the Church’s Historic Creeds and Confessions. If you come from an independent church background, you may not have been exposed to the various creeds and confessions.

An article on The Gospel Coalition website surveys 6 pastors about their plans for reopening church when things settle down.

This is a must read if you haven’t already: 7 (possible) Church trends emerging from COVID-19.

Ray Ortlund reminds us that Ministry Is Never Just a Job.

Here is a review of a must-read book, Gentle And Lowly

Alasdair Groves, writing for CCEF, talks about Preparing Our Hearts Today for Post-Pandemic Fellowship.


I hope you have a good week! I’ll have a new blog post on Wednesday.

A Semi-Reluctant Repost About Pastoral Care

This blog has had a very short life compared to most Christian blogs. I began For Younger Pastors back in June, 2019 and to date have posted a little over 130 times. What I am posting today is a lightly edited re-post of something I wrote back when the blog was new and I had about 5 people reading it.😁

On Wednesday I suggested that lessons learned during the current pandemic could hopefully lead to ushering in a new era of pastoral care. That doesn’t mean pastoral care is not happening. But an argument could be made that today’s church seems driven more by setting goals to expand size and programs. I have no way to judge someone’s motives, nor am I interested in doing that. But as I look at church websites and read church literature there is a subtle (and sometimes not all that subtle) self-promotion that concerns me a bit. So I wrote the following piece back in early August.

The reason for re-posting it is not that because it’s the last word on this subject. Others have done a far better job of analyzing and speaking to the concerns I raise. But I wanted to call attention to this issue again as we head (hopefully) toward the post-pandemic normal and resume our ministries. To some who follow this blog, this may be new reading. To others, I hope it will be a helpful reminder.


Let’s start off by looking at 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 began thinking about this post after being asked a question and then reading 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.

Let’s Usher In A New Era of Pastoral Care

I’ve been slowly reading through Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly. The book is subtitled The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Using Scripture and the writings of the Puritans, Ortlund very effectively shows how Jesus does not look at his people with a disappointed frown, but with gentle, pursuing love. You can find the book at Amazon or at Westminster Books, and here is a review by David McLemore over at For the Church. (You’ll get a better price at Westminster for the physical edition, but Amazon has the Kindle edition for $8.)

Summing up in his review, McLemore writes:

The everlasting, all-sufficient love of Jesus is where the power of this book lies. If you need a love you don’t warrant but can’t stop longing for. If you need a love bigger than your sin. If you need a love that sits with you in the ashes of your burned-out life. If you need a love too great to be limited to what you deserve, this book is for you. It’s for all who will come. It’s for all who sin and suffer and reach for a savior that understands their need. It’s for all who are weary and need rest. It’s for all who mourn and long for comfort. It’s for all who feel worthless—of which I never seem to stop feeling—and wonder if God cares. This book will help you see he does. Oh, he does!

Have you ever felt that you’ve let Jesus down? That you’ve failed him? And has that led you to think that – if you could be in his presence – he’d be looking at you with arms folded, a bit of a grimace on his face? Because of our experience with other people in our lives, this kind of response is probably default for many of us. It is a book that I would recommend to you and one that I’d suggest you recommend to your people.

However . . .

As I was reading and thinking through what Dane Ortland writes, I was struck with the implications it had for pastoral ministry. Consider these verses:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11 ESV)

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ (Jeremiah 31:10 ESV)

As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Ezekiel 34:12 ESV)

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (1 Peter 5:2 ESV)

So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; (Ezekiel 34:5 ESV)

I’ve quoted these passages to show three things: first, that God identifies himself as a tender shepherd; second, that pastors are called to be shepherds; third, that a failure to shepherd puts the flock at risk. There are many other places where these themes are found, but these will suffice.

If pastors are to shepherd God’s flock, then pastors are to emulate – and maybe more importantly – point to the tender nature of God.

I wonder how we are doing with that?

Over the last months of this pandemic I’ve read a good deal about pastors caring for their people. Numerous blog posts have shared ways in which this can be done and why it is so essential. But here’s my question – when we are able to gather again, will we gradually resume our programs and forget what we have learned about pastoral care?

Today I read this in an article by a Murray Campbell. I’d encourage you to read the whole article, not only because it’s really good, but to give the following quote some context:

By different, again I’m not arguing for anti-excellence, but rather I’m calling for simple faithfulness that is driven by core Gospel principles. These include making disciples, the centrality of reading and preaching the Word, preaching the whole counsel of God, permeating everything with prayer, and letting the congregation be heard when singing.

Shepherding needs to be personal, and while programs and events can be helpful, they cannot take the place of the pastor-to-individual-sheep connection. Shepherding also needs to be corporate, which means that sermons need to be more than religious Ted Talks. And when we preach, we must deal with sin but do so in a way that leads people to the Gentle Shepherd. He embraces his people. He does not hold them at arm’s length.

Maybe this pandemic will usher in a new season of pastoral care. Maybe when we are talking about what our congregations need, our thoughts and discussions will be more about people and less about programs. Maybe we will have learned to be better shepherds and put administration and programming back in their proper secondary place. Young pastor, if you are trying to find your way among the various “styles” of ministry out there, choose being a shepherd. Please, for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of your people. And older pastor – maybe it’s time to recalibrate.

Tools of the Trade For May 4, 2020

Several places are edging closer to opening, though we seem to be a ways from that here in eastern Pennsylvania. I hope you’re doing well through this process. Here is a list of helpful resources I found this week.

David Prince shares some quotes from Andrew Fuller on “Contemplating Your Audience in Sermon Preparation.”

Here’s an article on finding forgiveness after an abortion by Wayne Grudem that you might want to save to share with someone or guide your own counseling.

Douglas Wilson, writing in Credo Magazine, talks about “The Greatness of Insignificant Service.”

Tim Challies reviews Gavin Ortlund’s book about doctrinal differences called “Finding the Right Hills to Die On.” Looks like a worthwhile read.

If journaling is something you do in your quiet time, read “5 Prompts for Journaling through Scripture.”

The folks at 9Marks have posted a bunch of articles about ministry during the pandemic. Here’s one that should be universally helpful: “What If We Have to Cut Our Budget?”

I have suspected that churches where the teaching is “light” are going to find that people who were attending have found other ways to spend their Sunday mornings. In this article, Brett McCracken tells why “Coronavirus Could Kill Consumer Christianity.”

Regardless of what has changed during this time, the majority of pastors are still preaching. Derek Brown writes on “5 Real Ways to Improve Sermon Preparation This Week.”

And that’ll do it for this week. Some good reading in these articles. Remember Evernote as a way to file articles you want to hold on to. I

hope you have a great week! See you on Wednesday. To borrow from the words of one news anchor, we’re one week closer to the end of this pandemic.

What Comes Next? (Part 2)

I began a short series on Wednesday in which I shared thee answers to questions I asked some pastor friends. These are guys with a pastor’s heart. They are faithful men, having served in their church for a year to two to several decades.

I wanted to know their thoughts about how pastoral work during the pandemic might carry on after life is back to whatever life is going to be like. But I also asked about what they’ve been reading during this time.

One pastor said, “I’ve really been enjoying Tim Keller’s new trio of little books, On Birth, On Marriage, and On Death.”

Another said, “There are two Biblical Theology books I have been spending time reading. The first is one that my excellent friend purchased, The Story Retold by G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. The second one is A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, edited by Michael J. Kruger. These are excellent for getting back to the basis of the author’s intent to help me understand why the particular book was written.”

A third said, “Things have been busier than before, so not a lot of time for extra reading, but my daily reading through the New Testament this year has seemed more meaningful and deeper. And looking at some sermons that I had preached in previous years has proved beneficial. That’s something I rarely have had time to do before!”

Just commenting on the latter response, it’s helpful to review your sermons for several reasons. Regardless of how long you’ve been preaching you can see progress or pick out ways in which you need to improve.

The final question I asked was “What have you learned from this time that you’d like to share with other pastors?” Here are the responses:

One pastor wrote, “It has been meaningful to me to be home 4-5 nights a week. I’d love to figure out how to accomplish this once life gets back to “normal.” In this regard, I don’t want to go back to normal if that means being out 15 nights a month.”

(Me – Amen, brother!!)

He continues:

“Our people have a greater capacity for handling change than we thought- especially if the change is seen as necessary. We’ve seen a lot of people transition to on-line giving- something that we would not have expected prior to these events. We’ve had people share that they didn’t think that they would like having worship services online, but are appreciating them greatly.”

“Now that most of us are becoming “televangelists,” please LOOK AT THE CAMERA when you preach. Don’t be creepy about it by staring it down. But please stop relying on your notes. You don’t need them. They are a crutch. Go back and watch your last sermon. Count how many seconds you are looking up and how many you are looking down. Better, let someone else count. If you are looking down more than 10 seconds out of 60, you are missing a huge chance to connect. Know the medium. This is not radio. People see you- and only you. Let them know that you care enough about them to look at them. You may think that you are fooling people, but we know when you aren’t looking at us. By the way, this is advice that applies just as much when people are in the room. The difference is that now you can see for yourself what everyone else has been seeing for years.”

Good words! Another pastor shared the following: “The level of our importance must be wrapped around the words of encouragement and support. It is not so much of sharing how much we know of the Scriptures but instead sharing our love as we guide them into the Scriptures.”

A third pastor wrote this: “I am praying that God uses this virus to bring an awakening to our churches and our nation, but so far, it seems to me that most Christians have not been impacted, spiritually, by the new norm. For example, I thought believers would be hungry for fellowship and worship, via zoom, but that’s not been the case. I fear that too many church folks are just waiting out the storm instead of seizing the opportunities before them. I also would love to see local churches and especially pastors supporting one another, but everyone seems busy with their own congregations. So once again I am learning to be faithful; love the flock; draw close to the Lord; keep up my exercises and reaching out to others; and trust Him!”

One other pastor put it quite simply: “Never take the gathered church for granted!”


I appreciate each of the responses I received. I hope you can see the pastor’s heart I referred to in what they have said, and I hope that you will find some encouragement and challenge in their words.

What Comes Next?

Some places around the world are starting to open up. Hopefully it won’t be too long before pastoral life returns to normal. But what will that normal look like?

I asked several pastor friends to answer three questions about re-opening, what they’ve learned, etc. Here is the first one:

  1. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way pastors minister in some significant ways. Is there something you have started doing, or something you have started doing differently, that you plan to continue when things get back to normal?

One pastor shared this:

We started a weekly “Pastors Chat” where two of us do a 10 minute video just talking about what is happening at church. We also try to include a little bit of our lives in the conversation so people can connect with us better. We have been asked by multiple people to continue this mid-week video even after the crises ends.

Maybe the obvious answer for many congregations, including us, is that we finally got our worship service online. We’ve had great response from shut-ins asking that this continue. For that matter, others are excited that they will be able to stay connected with the church even when they are out of the area or sick. I already hoped to have this option for guests so that they can know what to expect before setting foot on our church property.

Another pastor wrote:

The pandemic has caused me to be more mindful of checking in on all our people more regularly than before. That feels like something I should have been better at before the crisis, but certainly ought to continue beyond.

A third pastor shared these thoughts:

I started several Zoom meetings, but the one, in particular, I am going to stay in is the Wednesday night Bible Study. Even when we return, while we are in the room together, I am going to have my laptop and log onto Zoom, so those unable to attend physically will be able to join. I also started Facebook live with my wife, and we will continue to do Bible studies each week. We started YouTube live-streaming on Sunday and will continue with that. We have simplified our ministry of which, I am pushing toward keeping it simple and take out the need for being out each night. We are looking at doing Zoom meetings with the Elders and deacons more frequently.

Finally, a fourth pastor answered this way:

Recording my sermons on You Tube has proved very helpful in people sharing it with others, including the unchurched, so that is worth looking into. I think zoom small group meetings could prove helpful is for some reason we couldn’t meet in person, like because of weather.


It seems pretty clear that the technology adopted during this time has some significant uses going forward. Whereas broadcasting live used to be quite an effort, options exist for it to be done much more simply, and as the fourth pastor said above, having services online – whether live or archived on YouTube or the church website – makes it possible for people to point friends to their church.

In addition, it appears that the ability to conduct meetings online will allow church leaders to spend more time at home and less time traveling to meetings. In order to fully participate all committee or board members will need to be technologically savvy enough to use these tools. But anything pastors can do to make their leaders lives a bit easier, considering they are already busy people, is worthwhile.

I also like the idea of allowing people who can’t come to a small group meeting to attend via Zoom or some other service.

On Friday I’ll share the responses of these good men to my second question, which is:

Is there anything you’ve read during this period where things might be a bit slower that has been meaningful to you?

If you’re a pastor, how would you answer these first two questions? Share your answers in the comments section. Thanks for stopping by.