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Tools of the Trade for January 13, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

First, WTSBooks is having a sale on their staff favorites from the last decade. Books are about half price in most cases. Some might be good for the book table, but you may want to treat yourself.

David Mathis writes about the significance of praying in Jesus’ name. This is one that is worth sharing.

Kathryn Butler encourages us to “Point Kids to the Gospel Through Great Books.” Yes, kids can still read books.

Erik Raymond writes about praying for our church family. Here’s one definitely worth sharing with your people.

Scott Hubbard shares a helpful article on what it looks like for the fruit of the Spirit to be in our lives.

David Gunderson tells us “Why You Need Sermons That Don’t Directly Apply to You.” Share this!!! Lots of copies!!

Here’s a video/transcript by Tim Challies on “How Should We Think about Technology as Christians?” Tim writes about this periodically and has some helpful insights.

This is another share-worthy article. Your people may encounter wrong ideas about the Bible that sometimes sound plausible. This will strengthen and educate them.

Kevin DeYoung asks and answers the question, “What Is Preaching (And Who Does It)?” Anything Kevin writes is worth reading.

Here’s one more from Tim Challies that challenges us to be reading.

John Piper writes about praying according to the will of God. Another one for the literature table.

This article, from a secular website, talks about some helpful planning and productivity principles.

For any of you who are church planters, here is a helpful article on patience in church planting. Actually, this is a helpful article for all pastors.

Have a great week!

Starting a Church Book Table, Part 3

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a book table that people actually use is giving them biblically solid books that relate to their lives. The books and booklets that I pointed to on Wednesday will fulfill that objective. Not only that, their low cost will allow you to provide resources on a wide variety of topics.

As helpful as these smaller and less-expensive books are, there are some more traditional books (meaning a bit longer and a bit more expensive) that are close to being “musts.”

As I said on Wednesday, any list of recommended books is hard, considering how many really good titles are available. But through the years I’ve come across some titles that I think should be widely read.

What I’ve done is break the list down into categories, listing one to three titles for different groups of people or different situations. I hope that this will be helpful as you select good reading material for your people.

For Those Who Hurt and Those Who Help

  • Side By Side: Walking With Others in Wisdom and Love by Ed Welch. This is one of the most helpful books I’ve read for both those who are going through trouble and those who walk alongside. It’s a good read for anyone who is in this category (hurt/help), but a must for anyone in church leadership.
  • Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegrep. This is on my “to read” list. The subtitle of the book is “Discovering the Grace of Lament.” If “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” doesn’t cut it for you, try looking at a biblical view of dealing with pain.

For Parents and Partners

For Men

  • Disciplines of A Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes.
  • Do More Better by Tim Challies. Subtitled “A Practical Guide to Productivity,” this is a helpful book for both men and women, but I’m listing it here.
  • I’d like to list some titles on men and sexual purity. However, it’s tough for a guy to walk up to a small book table, perhaps with a woman behind the counter, and buy a book on wrestling with pornography. You should look at the list of books on this subject and have a couple to give out to men who admit that they are struggling.

For Women

  • Again, there are a number of solid books for women, but based on my wife’s experience and recommendations, I would suggest you look over some titles by Elyse Fitzpatrick and pick up two or three of the books she’s written. Your ladies will not be disappointed. In particular, let me recommend “Comforts From the Cross” as being particularly helpful.

For Anyone Desiring Spiritual Growth

Let me start with a couple of classics:

Let me add a few devotional books:

There are dozens of other books that I looked through and put a number on my list. Perhaps I’ll share them at some point. But these books cover a variety of topics and add to whatever you can get from CCEF, Ligonier (Sproul), and Cruciform Press.

So get started. Again, your people are reading something. Give them some good things to read!

Starting a Church Book Table, Part 2

I don’t want to beat the proverbial deceased equine, but I do want to write one or two more posts advocating that you consider having a book table in your church. If you wonder why that’s important there are a couple of reasons. First, your people probably don’t read Christian books. Second, if they do read Christian books, they’re likely not very good ones. A book table supports what they are hearing from the pulpit and points them in good directions.

To refresh, I have suggested that you have 10-12 photocopied articles on a table for your people to take. There’s virtually no expense in that. Change the ones that haven’t been taken after a month or two so the table stays fresh. From time to time refer to an article in your preaching and have enough copies for most of your people to take one.

If that’s all you can do, it will still be a help. But most churches can do a bit more. We operated on a $500 per year budget, and if you realize that each book sold replenishes the fund, you can refresh your book table often enough. If your budget is especially tight, limit yourself to the excellent booklets or mini-books published by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). Log on to Westminster Seminary’s bookstore and search for “CCEF.” Many are discounted, but some have to be bought in packs of 5.

I also should have mentioned three other low-cost sources. Tim Challies is one of the founders of Cruciform Press, and you’ll find some very helpful titles here. In addition, the Gospel Coalition has produced some helpful booklets that you can find here. Whereas the CCEF and Cruciform booklets tend to address life issues, the Gospel Coalition titles are about doctrine. But don’t shy away from them! It’s a good opportunity for you to introduce your people to reading sound theology. Finally, R.C. Sproul has a series called “Crucial Questions.” These low-cost booklets address both Christian living and doctrine.

Between these sources you could spend less than $250 and put two or three copies of 20 different titles on your table. Why not take a look at what’s available from those publishers? I hope you’ll see that even if you are in a smaller church, having a table with good resources is within your reach.

On Friday I plan to suggest some other books that I think are must-reads for your people. Making any kind of a list of recommended books is hard, but there’s blessing in that. We have a wealth of very good books worth reading.

Consider how much your people take in from TV, news, the internet, and other reading. Compare that with the time they spend feeding their spiritual lives. If like most pastors you’re concerned about the disparity that exists, here’s a way of making some progress. So again, don’t discount this as a way to helping your people grow.

Have a good week!

Tools of the Trade for January 6, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Here is this week’s list of links to articles and resources that you hopefully find helpful. On Wednesday I’ll be posting part 1 of a list of books that you would find useful on a book table, should you decide to go in that direction in your church.

Peter Mead has spent ten years blogging on and has written some really helpful articles over the decade. Here is a look back on the last ten years of his writing.

This isn’t from a Christian website, but Lifehacker has some good stuff on productivity. Whether or not you’re in to New Year’s resolutions, this is helpful as it relates to making plans and setting goals.

Journaling Bibles are available in a number of translations. I am expecting one today that I can carry with me in my man bag, murse, or whatever they are called. John Piper writes about how to use these resources.

Some of your people work in high pressured work environments. In this article, Matt Rusten writes about dealing with anxiety in the workplace. This is one of those print-a-number-of-copies-and-put-them-out-for-your-people resources.

The aforementioned Peter Mead writes about using multiple passages to present what the Bible says about a main idea. Good stuff.

Eric Davis writes at The Cripplegate, and here’s an article on dealing with 2020 election stuff. As I wrote a week or two back, we need our people to learn how to navigate through this process and still maintain unity. But we also need our people to behave themselves toward those outside the church. I love the title: “2020 and Your Political Cage Match.”

Here’s an article you may feel hesitant to share, but you should. Nicholas Batzig tells us about 5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2020. Hey! Paul asked for prayer. Why can’t you?

Colin Adams writes about planning your preaching schedule to balance the diet of your people.

Jared Wilson is a good writer, and I can’t recall anything I’ve read by him that isn’t helpful. Here is an article that I saw today on Faithful Application of the Word of God. Must reading.

Genesis 6 talks about the “Sons of God.” If one of your people asked who these being were, what would you say? This is one of those “send to Evernote and hold for future reference” articles.

Burk Parsons writes a solid article on prayer. His focus is on our privileged standing as a child of God. Really good reading.

And that will do it for today. See you on Wednesday with a continuation of the discussion on a literature/book table for your church.

Starting a Church Book Table, Part 1

Last week I wrote advocating for your church to start a book table. Regardless of the size of your congregation, providing good reading material for your people will be to their spiritual benefit in two ways. First, they’ll be reading books that nurture them. Second, you’ll hopefully wean them off of Amish romance novels, fiction (real or otherwise) books about end times events, and books that masquerade as Christian but are in reality heretical. You’d be surprised what your people may be reading.

You do not have to invest a large sum of money to get started with a book table. Depending on the size of your church and the resources available, $250 will get you off to a start. If you can afford $500-$750 or more, so much the better. Choose books that are of interest to the people in your congregation. If you go with obscure or heady stuff, you’ll be left with a pile of unsold books. Remember that each book you sell is going to replenish most of the initial investment that you make. We would replenish our table periodically from the money returned from sales.

So where do we start? I recommend beginning with booklets or mini books from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). This link takes you to booklets that are able to be purchased singly, while this link takes you to booklets that come 5 in a package. From what I can tell the Westminster Seminar Bookstore discounts these titles by about 25%. Most of them appear to be available on Amazon for the full price, usually $3 or $4. If you’d rather have 3 copies of 20 different titles, Amazon may be your best bet, but you’ll pay slightly more.

These booklets – and there are several dozen titles – cover marriage issues, parenting challenges, general Christian living, and a host of hot-button topics your people may be wrestling with, ranging from depression to ADD to angry children.

Also, if your people are not readers – or at least readers of Christian books – these are concise and helpful. It’s a good starting point for helping your people read.

If your budget is severely limited, mixing these booklets with copies of articles such as those I recommend for your congregation in “Tools of the Trade” gives you a good start. But hopefully you can stock the book table with other titles as well.

To that end, I’ve been spending time on the website, compiling a list of recommended titles. I’ll share some of these next week. I’m going to do this in two stages. I’ll start with books that lean toward dealing with practical issues. Then in another post I’ll add in some books that are a bit deeper and deal with theological issues.

There are a number of outlets for buying Christian books. I am not affiliated with Westminster, but I recommend them because they only carry books that have passed the test of being biblically sound. There are some titles that they don’t stock, due to the seminary’s theological position (Presbyterian/Reformed). However you won’t have to wade through lists of books that include titles you’d want your people to avoid.

Again, let me recommend that you charge no more than what you’ve paid for your book table books. If you try to make a profit, you are likely to have to deal with sales tax and other issues. You should check your state’s laws just to be sure that you comply with any tax codes.

As I said, next week I’ll share some recommended titles. For now, why don’t you do a little dreaming, and see what you can do to select 20 of these very helpful booklets to start with, more if your budget allows.

Have a blessed weekend!

What I’ve Been Trying to Say . . .

My first post on was on June 26, 2019. Now six months later I’m writing my 79th post. On this last day of 2019 I wanted to take a few minutes, look back, and highlight a few of the main ideas I have tried to communicate.

Before I do that, I have to tip my cap to Tim Challies. I don’t know the stats, but my guess is that among Christian bloggers Tim is the most widely read. More significant to me than his audience, the guy has something to say every day! In addition to the A La Carte columns and the work he does to give us a list of Kindle books that are on sale, he writes a main column that is always worthwhile.

I have wondered at times if Tim has a group of elves who work in his basement, writing good copy so that he is never at a loss for something to post. But God has blessed him with a rather unique talent, and there are thousands of people who are grateful for that. I’m one of them. Thanks, Tim!

When I consider that Tim posts daily regardless of his circumstances, and that he writes with constant pain in his wrists and arms, I am amazed at his ability to come up with subject matter. That’s not always been easy for me, and I post only 3 times a week.

When I was in my late 50’s I decided that I wanted to try to help younger guys learn the ropes in ministry. As I have said numerous times, I was an ordinary pastor in an ordinary church, so I have no special wisdom. But God placed this group on my heart, and our church provided the opportunity for several young men to work part-time on our staff in intern-like capacities. Three of them are in full-time pastoral ministry and one has an important position with a major Christian publisher. The years I spent working with these younger men were the most enjoyable of my ministry. They were also the years in which I learned the most.

Now that I am retired and out of ministry, I want to be able to continue to give back to men heading into ministry or men who are somewhat new to the task of pastoring. That’s what led to For Younger Pastors. As I look back over the posts that I’ve written, some themes stand out as being especially important. If you’re a regular reader, here’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!

  1. Pastoral work is incredibly challenging for a variety of reasons. But it becomes more challenging if you try to go it alone. Surround yourself with a few peers with whom you talk openly and meet together regularly for encouragement. You need them and they need you.
  2. You also need people in your life who have walked the path you’re currently walking. Try to hook up with a veteran pastor and learn from him. Find someone humble enough to share his mistakes. Avoid the one who knows it all.
  3. You are first and foremost a pastor. You are not an entrepreneur. You’ve been entrusted with a group of people who need your care. It is no accident that the Bible calls the church a “flock” and the pastor a “shepherd.” Your job is to tend the flock. You are not in your church to organize the worker bees to accomplish grandiose goals or to become big, influential, or world-changing. If God uses your church in a significant way within your community, great. But as I said in one of my early posts: we shepherd sheep, not beasts of burden.
  4. You should always be working to improve your preaching. Always. Until you die.
  5. Finally, preach the Word. Don’t preach your ideas that happen to be able to connect to the Word. Teach your people the Bible, teach them how to read the Bible by the way you preach, and build them up in their faith by means of exposure to Scripture.

Thanks for reading during 2019. May God bless you in 2020 as you seek to serve Christ and his church.

Tools of the Trade for December 30, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Here’s a lit of articles that would be worth your reading, saving in Evernote, and in some cases sharing with your people.

The Good Book Company, with offices in the UK and in the USA, has a half-price sale on some good stuff. Offer is good until January 6.

Ray Ortlund, a veteran pastor, shares why Your Ministry Will Take A Lifetime.

J.D. Shaw writes “How to Succeed in Ministry Without Really Trying.” Kind of tongue in cheek chocked with good counsel.

On the Desiring God site, Don Whitney asks “10 Questions for a New Year.” This is worth including in your bulletin next week.

Nicholas Batzig has an encouraging article for those of you who are church planters.

9Marks has contributed a Best Books for Pastors in 2019 list.

Andreas Kostenberger answers the question “What is Biblical Theology?” in this helpful article.

Here’s a good article by Stephen Witmer for those of you who minister in small towns.

I’ve written about this from time to time, but here’s a reminder about the need for younger pastors to find mentors. Which implies that older pastors ought to be on the lookout for guys they can help.

Do you do any counseling? This is must reading from Ed Welch.

I found this very helpful and encouraging. “Prayer When Words Won’t Come.”

See you on Wednesday!!

Advance Planning for 2020, Part 4

Help Your People Read

Not long ago there were a number of Christian bookstores in our area. There were two huge stores within a 45 minute drive, and a half dozen smaller stores nearby, including one in our mall. All but one of those stores has closed.

Yet people are reading. Barnes and Noble has a large “Christian” section, and Amazon certainly does a brisk book business. In addition, we are blessed with Westminster Seminary’s bookstore,, and probably a number of others tied to colleges and seminaries. Publishers sell online, as do a number of Christian organizations. And then we still have the occasional “Mom and Pop” Christian book and gift store.

If your people are reading, do you know what they are reading? I just scanned a list of Christian bestsellers and while some might have value, there are quite a few I’d want my people to stay away from. Far, far away.

So how do we help our people read, and how do we help them read the right books? In order to help your congregation become better readers, let me challenge you to open a literature table in 2020.

One of the first concerns people raise is cost. Books are not cheap. But you would be surprised at how much you can accomplish with a $300-$500 budget and two tables in your foyer or welcome center. And you need to remember that books bought are a return of what you spent, so a good deal of the money invested is going to come back to you.

Let me suggest that you approach this in two ways. First, as I have written before, print out copies of good articles for your people to take. In the “Tools of the Trade” blogs I do on Mondays, I try to include articles of practical help for people in your church. Print out 5-10 copies and have a dozen solid articles in a rack on your book table. Change them out periodically to keep it fresh. If you call attention to an article during a sermon or during announcements, you will find that people will take them. If an article is especially helpful, make sure that you do talk about it, explain why it is helpful, and have enough copies for your people to take. When I did this, I found that over half of our adults would pick up the article I talked about.

What’s the cost there? Paper and copier costs. Hardly anything, and you’ll be giving your people some helpful resources. In addition, if they are not readers, you’ll be easing them into a good habit.

The most significant part of the literature table is a small collection of good books. This is not a place for heavy theological books that interest you. It’s a place for books that are concise and attention-getting.

Spend some time looking through Westminster’s bookstore or Crossway’s list of books and you’ll find a host of great resources that can be obtained rather inexpensively. We stocked our table with books like What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert, books on practical life issues, and the superb booklets offered by CCEF. Devotionals like Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies are worthy additions as well. We also generally had two or three ESV Bibles on display.

Gradually you can add other books that might be more challenging. But to start, keep a focus on practical helps, biographies, a book or two on Christian history, and such.

You then need people to man the table each week after church and make change. Once you replenish the money you initially spent you can replenish the table. You will probably not sell everything, but you can give away what you don’t sell. If your people begin to read good books, it is worth the couple of hundred dollars you may not recoup in sales.

Speaking of sales, if you buy a book from a discount source and mark it up to list price, you may be obligated to charge and pay sales tax. You don’t want to mess with that. I recommend you sell the books for close to what you paid for them so that you are not making a profit.

Sometime next week I’ll put together a list of my top 20 titles for a book table. But for now, begin to talk to your leaders about helping your people be better readers. You are making an investment in them, but if the money is not there right now for actual books, you can still provide great reading material through helpful articles.

Have a great weekend with your people. May God bless you as you serve him!

Merry Christmas!

I hope you have a great day with your loved ones today! I don’t have anything remotely profound to say, but there were four books that Tim Challies has highlighted in his daily list of low-cost Kindle books that I think are worth your while. Check out:

Timothy Keller’s book Jesus the King.

Albert Mohler’s book on the Apostles’ Creed.

J. Todd Billings’ The Word of God for the People of God.

Hughes Oliphant Old’s Leading in Prayer.

Grab these before the prices increase.

Tools of the Trade for December 23, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

It will be a busy week for most of you. I hope that you are able to have some quality time with your family and that you have meaningful times of reflection on Jesus’ incarnation with your congregation.

Here are some links that may be of help that I’ve culled from my reading over the last few weeks:

Pastors are not immune to depression. 9 Marks had an interview on the subject of Pastoring Amid Depression.

Similarly, the people at Core Christianity posted “What I Learned In My Season of Depression.”

Social media can be a train wreck waiting to happen. Here’s an article that would be worth sharing with your people. If you have a Facebook or Instagram account, maybe link to it from there.

Matthew Hall writes on “The Non-Negotiable Virtue in Leadership.”

Building Church Leaders, a ministry of Christianity Today, has a book worth your reading called “Rest and Renewal for Busy Church Leaders.”

Zack Eswine asks, “What If Pastors Were More Like Doctors?”

Here’s a challenging article from Desiring God on prayer. And no, it’s not a guilt-producing “Why aren’t you praying more article.” Give it a read.

John Piper answers the question, “How Can I Revitalize My Church from the Pulpit?” Video and transcript provided.

Nathan Bingham, writing on the Ligonier website, asks and answers a question that your people may ask: Is God Justified in Punishing Us for Adam’s Sin?

The Gospel Coalition staff has put together a list of recommended books for 2019.

Here’s an article for preachers by Abraham Cho titled, “Stir the Imagination, One Sermon at a Time.”

Jared Wilson writes writes about the best length for our sermons.

This article by Faith Chang takes a helpful look at trials. Trials are trials, no matter if they pale in comparison to what someone else is going through. One to share with your people.

That’s it for today! Have a great week!