Tuning the Harps

We've been jumping through some hoops lately at Cobblestone to deal with an anomaly in how sound emanates from The Loft, and so our sound levels and mixes have been undergoing some changes. That has, for me both personally and as a leader, translated into quite a challenge in worship, one that may well continue for a while longer.

So I was "all ears" (so to speak) when I saw what one of my favorite authors, pastors, and bloggers, wrote yesterday on his blog:
"While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha."

Have you ever noticed this prophetic idiosyncrasy? The Message version of II Kings 3:15 says: "When a minstrel played, the power of God came on Elisha." Is that a random connection? I think not. There are other instances in the Old Testament where music dramatically changes the emotional and spiritual climate. For that matter, it was the worship leaders who led Israel into war on occasion. Check out II Chronicles 20:21.

What am I getting at? As leaders we need to be intentional about creating atmospheres where people can hear God's voice. And musical worship is one of them. I had this revelation during worship a few weeks ago. Some things cannot be learned from a sermon. They can only be experienced in worship.

I'm not suggesting that you rent a harpist. But you better figure out how to hear His voice more clearly. Just as athletes have pre-game rituals that help them get in the right frame of mind for a game. I think we need spiritual rituals that help us get in the right frame of spirit. That is what musical worship does. It tunes us to God.

Whenever I open a service I try to put a frame around the experience. Here's how I did it this week. I simply reminded our congregation that we often feel unworthy to worship God but God is always worthy to be worshiped. We worship in that tension. And we have a saying around NCC: don't let what's wrong with you keep you from worshiping what's right with God. Why? Because He's worthy!

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Geoff Surratt, the author of Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing, won me over very quickly in his book with the comment (on p. 9) that "I'm convinced that anyone who would willingly become a pastor must have either a divine call or an intelligence deficit." I wholeheartedly agree. Though, of course, there's no reason it can't be both.

As the title promises, Surratt presents ten stupid things churches (and pastors) do that keep them from growing. The first chapter, titled "Trying to Do It All," was perhaps the most impactful for me, though every chapter was immensely readable, memorable, and applicable. He concludes each chapter with an introduction and interview of a well-known pastor, to get another (sometimes different) perspective on that chapter's topic. Some of these were as good or better (while shorter) than the chapter itself.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
God isn't a priority in life; God is life.

Usually the best person to lead an area of ministry you want to give away is already too busy to volunteer. Effective leaders are seldom sitting around looking for something to do with their time.

Many of us have been in the church so long we have completely lost touch with what it's like not to know.

When King David was preparing to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, one of the first things he did was put together a great band with a talented worship leader.

Americans don’t do boring. They will put up with heresy, lies, and deception; but if you bore them, they will check out immediately.

Do not beg people to volunteer in children’s ministry. You need to know that your potential team members’ need to volunteer is bigger than your need to have a warm body in the room.

If we are going to keep our focus on gathering more and more sheep into our sheep pen by collecting as many sheep as possible from other meadows around town, there is no reason to maintain so many buildings, pay so many pastors, and support so many bloated ministries. If, however, we stop worrying about whose meadow the sheep are eating in this weekend and start worrying about all of the sheep who have no shepherd, then we will never have too many churches.

When you have passion to be a healing place for a hurting world, God sends the gift of hurting people. We all know that people who are hurting can hurt others (this is from Dino Rizzo's interview at the end of chapter 8).

The key to effective team-based ministry is to remember that leaders lead and teams follow. When teams lead, you have chaos; when leaders follow, you have confusion.

One of the [team leadership] dangers I've seen is getting people who are not gifted as leaders in a role where they are telling people who are gifted as leaders how to lead (this is from Dave Browning's interview at the end of chapter 10).
As a pastor who has committed most of the mistakes he identifies--even long after recognizing them as mistakes--I found Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing to be entertaining, encouraging...and, I pray, transforming.

Moses and the Shepherd

On the Anchoress blog, I came across the following excerpt from Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom's book, Beginning to Pray:
In the life of Moses, in Hebrew folklore, there is a remarkable passage. Moses finds a shepherd in the desert. He spends the day with the shepherd and helps him to milk his ewes, and at the end of the day he sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has into a bowl, which he places on a flat stone some distance away. So Moses asks him what it is for and the shepherd replies, “This is God’s milk.” Moses is puzzled and asks him what he means. The shepherd says, “I always take the best milk I posess, and I bring it as an offering to God.”

Moses, who is far more sophisticated than the shepherd with his naive faith, asks, “And does God drink it?”

“Yes,” replies the shepherd, “He does.”

Then Moses feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd and he explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk. Yet the shepherd is sure that He does, and so they have a short argument, which ends with Moses telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk.

Moses then goes out to pray in the desert. The shepherd hides, the night comes, and in the moonlight the shepherd sees a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left and heads straight towards the milk, which he laps up, and disappears into the desert again.

The next morning Moses finds the shepherd quite depressed and downcast. “What’s the matter?” he asks.

The shepherd says “You were right, God is pure spirit and He doesn’t want my milk.” Moses is surprised. He says “you should be happy. You know more about God than you did before.”

“Yes, I do,” says the shepherd, “but the only thing I could do to express my love for Him has been taken away from me.”

Moses sees the point. He retires into the desert and prays hard. In the night, in a vision, God speaks to him and says “Moses, you were wrong. It is true that I am pure spirit. Nevertheless, I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me as the expression of his love, but since, being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk.”
As the Anchoress says, "There are so many lessons in this little story that you could think on it for a very long time." She draws a couple good ones. But the way the story hit me applies to the pastor's role, and also to the way many of us as evangelicals have learned to relate to people.

Often we get so wrapped up in correcting people's faulty theology that we may lapse into error ourselves. We focus on orthodoxy (right doctrine) and neglect orthopraxy (right practice). In the story above, Moses was "right" in what he taught the man, but wrong in how he related to the man, how he saw the man's actions, and in the outcome he achieved.

How often do I do the same as a pastor?

Church of the Week: Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The most sacred site for a Christian church is also one of the most certain: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is erected on the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.

The early Christian community of Jerusalem appears to have held liturgical celebrations at Christ's tomb from the time of the resurrection until the city was taken by the Romans in 66 AD. Less than a century later, in 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian filled in the quarry to provide a level foundation for a temple to Aphrodite. The site remained buried beneath the pagan temple until Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312 AD. He soon showed an interest in the holy places associated with his new faith, and commissioned numerous churches to be built throughout the Holy Land. The most important of these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was begun in 326 AD.

The three primary custodians of the church, first appointed when Crusaders held Jerusalem, are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic churches. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox acquired lesser responsibilities, which include shrines and other structures within and around the building. An agreement regulates times and places of worship for each Church.

The photo above, which I took on our first visit to the church in 1987, is of the "Stone of Unction," which tradition says is the slab on which Jesus' body was laid to be prepared for burial after being taken down from the cross.

A Preacher's Prayer

God of all,
we know you sent us out to do your work,
to face rejection,
to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God,
to have people turn their backs on us,
to be your prophets,
to be laughed at,
to heal the sick,
to be dismissed,
to travel light,
sometimes broke and sometimes penniless,
and sometimes rich and wealthy.

We are reminded to shake off the dust from our shoes
when we are not welcome and not listened to.
We are reminded that in our weakness you are strong.
We are reminded that in all of this, Jesus too was rejected and a scandal to many.

Lord, today some of us step into pulpits as your prophets
in places where we have been treated less than kind,
and sometimes outright rejected.
Lord, pour your healing salve into the wounds we carry.

Today, some of us are so wounded from the attacks
that it is hard to lift our feet to shake the dust off our shoes.
Pour your healing grace over us that makes Christ's power perfect in our weakness.

Today, some of us feel like total failures and like giving up.
Pour your steadfast love into us that we may see ourselves as you see us,
and not give up as you yourself did not give up. Amen.

(Swiped from Rev Abi's Long and Winding Road blog; cross-posted from bobhostetler.blogspot.com)

Photo: a carved pulpit from the Eglise St. Etienne (church of St. Stephen) on the island of Ua Pou in the Marquesas.

9 Secrets of Truly Happy People

This is a long but really good post, from the "Dumb Little Man" blog, which I check daily. It's called "9 Secrets of Truly Happy People." While it may be missing a piece or two (such as "a relationship with God, the source of true joy," and maybe "regular visits to a good donut store," I still think it's good. Though I must wonder: are any of these more difficult for pastors and church leaders? Or easier?
It’s pretty safe to say that at the end of the day, there are really only one or two things that truly matter. Making money, finding fame or prestige, owning the right toys – if you’re honest, these things are not the be-all end-all, are they? Wouldn’t you agree that your ultimate intention in life is to live well and be happy?

Of course the definition of those two things can and should differ wildly from person to person. For you, happiness might be directly related to achieving a certain self-assigned purpose. Or it could be about nothing more than relaxing and enjoying the company of those closest to you. And there’s no right or wrong here, not by any means. But here’s what is true – if you don’t take the time to think about what would make you happy and put steps into place to direct your mind, body, and spirit in that direction, then there’s a fair chance you’ll never get there.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet some truly happy people over the years, and believe me, there are definite secrets to their success in this area. Let’s take a look!

1. They know what really matters
It’s so easy to become swept up in a busy life, isn’t it? People jump hurdles just to convince themselves that it's time to work on those all important and possibly life-changing goals, then they wake up one day and realize 10 years has passed.

The truth is that it’s hard enough to commit to doing what’s really important even if you know what ‘it’ is. I’ve come across two great techniques for this - the first is a little morbid, but it really does work. Think about what is going to matter to you on your deathbed. Is it a close relationship with family and friends? Is it bucket-loads of money stashed all over the world? The prestige of having reached a certain level within your career or business? Worldwide fame and acclaim? What is it that would make you proud of yourself? Happy with the way you’ve lived your life?

Write a shortlist of at least 10 points. Secondly, think about and write down 10 goals that you’d like to have achieved a year from now. I just re-did this little exercise myself; it was extremely motivating. Try to address every important area of your life – a few suggestions would include finances, relationships, work, living environment, health and fitness.

2. Choose just 2-3 important projects for each year
It’s great to have a nice long list of goals but the truth is that dreaming too big can set you up for failure. Your life is busy enough as it is. I’ve heard it said that most people dramatically overestimate what they can achieve in a year, and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade. While it would be nice to complete all your goals in their entirety each year, it’s probably not going to happen. Sorry. But think about this – what if you were guaranteed to accomplish just 3 of those goals. To finally get your body to where you want it to be, to pay off your debts completely and start saving, to start your dream business, etc. How incredible would that be? Wouldn’t you be so darn proud of yourself?

In my experience it’s realistic to choose just 2-3 really big projects for each 12-month period. You can have a bunch of smaller things on the go as well, of course. Take a moment now and review your goal list – which 3 things would make the most dramatic difference to your life?

3. They put time aside for them each day
You’re never going to find time to do everything on your list. As fast as you manage to check things off (and let’s face it, even that doesn’t happen every day), new things will be added by you, by your family, by your work. You just can’t stop the onslaught and the faster you accept this, the easier your life will become. The good news, however, is that you can always find time for the most important things - even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

When you wake up each morning, invest 5-10 minutes in planning your day. What really matters today? What is the most important thing that you can do for yourself? For your family? For your career? When you look at your task list you’ll notice that some things are definite ‘A’s in terms of importance, in terms of how they relate back to your goals. Yet strangely they are often the tasks left till later. It’s easy to start the day with emails, social networking, and admin. But it ain’t gonna change your life. Commit to 30 days of doing first things first every single day. This should generally relate directly to one of your 3 big projects. I guarantee that in doing this you will be able to watch your life slowly change.

4. They surround themselves with people who motivate, inspire or build them up
Did you know that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with? One of my mentor’s said this to me at the start of the year and it really stuck in my head. I’ve heard much the same thing said in other ways by other great people, and let’s face it – it just makes sense. The people you surround yourself with, the books you read, the courses you participate in, the shows you watch – all of these are a sure predictor of where you’re going to be 5 years from now. So where are you headed?

It might be time to re-evaluate just who or what you let influence you. If you can’t identify people in your life who you aspire to be like financially, or in business, or indeed in any aspect of life, then it’s time to look around for some new friends. Paying a good mentor or coach is one way of doing this, but regularly reading and learning from uplifting blogs is definitely another very useful method, and one that I’ve used to great benefit.

5. Happy people eat well
Kinda obvious, I know, and yet somehow healthy eating still seems to so often fall by the wayside as soon as we become busy, or stressed, or, well, hungry. Or is that just me? Eating well is about so much more than optimal health, disease prevention, and maintaining a certain look. It’s the foundation of every aspect of your being. The foods that you eat directly affect your body’s ability to produce hormones, for example. Your hormones, in turn, directly affect your moods, your mental focus, your energy, your rationality, your ability to make important decisions and your libido. Not to mention your metabolism and the way in which your body stores or sheds fat. Suffice to say, investing the time and energy into planning a healthy diet pays off a thousand fold when it comes to true happiness.

Simple rules to follow include cutting out processed or packaged foods (this includes white flour products – all of them), reading labels (avoid synthetic chemicals, trans fats, sodium, and added sugar), eating smart fats at every meal (oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, organic meats), including animal protein where at all possible, and loading up on green veg....

6. They take time to play or to just ‘be’
It’s fairly safe to say that the average kid is happier with themselves than the average adult. And they’re certainly not afraid to take time out to play or just be. In fact, it’s encouraged! When did this stop being okay for us? Think about it for a moment – how long has it been since you’ve ‘gone out to play’? Most of the entertainment or time out in our lives is scheduled long in advance, highly structured, and often involves the need to dress formal and act like a grown up. Bor-ing. What’s more, it’s generally the first thing we sacrifice if things suddenly become hectic.

Here’s a tip – it’s okay to have spontaneous fun. Once in a while you should play hooky from work or your business and just do whatever you darn well please. Fly a kite, throw a Frisbee, or (my fave) just lie on your back in a sunny park and day-dream. If the idea of unplanned fun scares you a little then you’re just going to have to schedule it to begin with. But think outside the square – grown up play can be just as simple and cheap as child’s play, and it could be more enjoyable than those swish restaurant nights out. Funnily enough, right after I finished writing this post I read Leo Babauta’s latest post on Zen Habits, and it adds some great detail to this point. Check it out here – How To Be Childlike

7. They learn not to make excuses, justify, or cop out
Sometimes life happens and the best made plans are laid to waste (and there’s nothing you can do about it). Fair enough, but what isn’t so fair on your own success or happiness is when you fall into a pattern of constantly excusing your lazy behavior – even if only to yourself. Over the years as a personal trainer I’ve noticed there is one very clear distinction between those who get great results and those who don’t – the ability to make excuses or cop out. “I had to pick up the kids; I had a headache; I had period pains; I didn’t feel well; my boss kept me back; I slept through my alarm; I just didn’t have time”.

When something is important to you, you’ll make time. If even for just a few minutes. You’ll make it part of your life; part of who you are. And you won’t even have to consider whether or not you’ll do it – it will just happen. And the best part of that? Nothing beats the feeling of making a commitment to yourself and keeping it. Week in, week out. Believe me, that’s well worth any sacrifice you have to make.

8. Happy people take time to be grateful – for themselves and for others
I can’t remember where I first came across the concept of a grateful list, but it’s been hugely effective in helping me to gain perspective over the past few years. And that’s even though I rarely remember to add to it. (Note to self)! It’s very simple, really – all you need to do is write a list of things you’re grateful for. If you’re consumed by stress and worry this can be tough to do, but so much the more effective.

Start with the obvious – you’re alive. You have a roof over your head. You can read and write. You have internet access. You have clothes on your back. This stuff gets the ball rolling, but where it really makes you sit back and think is when you can find little things to be grateful for. For example (and I battle with this one a fair bit) – choose to be grateful for having someone in your life when so many don’t after you have a big argument with a loved one who just won’t see your side. Decide to say thank-you when things get tough at work – maybe it’s just the wake-up call you need to find something you really love. If you’re a freelancer and your work is rejected yet again, decide that it’s a positive thing – it means you’re one step closer to success. Edison failed over 1,000 times before successfully creating the light-bulb. What else can you be grateful for? It’s important to acknowledge yourself here as well – the fact that you got out of bed the past 365 days, the times when you did that workout you didn’t want to do, or followed through on some important but previously procrastinated task.

Learn to appreciate the little things and the rest will follow.

9. They get something done
At the end of the day, nothing really matters except that which you make important. Whether it’s family or friends, making money, pursuing your hobby or dreams, honing and toning your body. The choice is yours. But regardless of what it is that you think will make you happy, it all comes down to action. Choosing to get involved in your own life. Realizing that life is now and then taking steps to make your life what you want it. Deciding that you’re somebody who says “this is what’s going to happen” rather than wakes up 10 years from now and says “what the heck just happened!”. And if you’re going to be that person (the first one), then now is the time to decide that. To think about what you truly value, to commit your dreams or goals to paper, and then to get something done. Anything – but today. Because really, tomorrow never comes. Does it? So you might as well live life now.

My recommendation? Don’t ask too much of yourself. You’re not going to feel happy or at peace by trying to adhere to a strict set of goals or ideals – mine or anyone else’s. But it just might be worth trying one of the above steps today. And another tomorrow. And so on. Who knows where this process will take you? I’d say it’s worth a shot, wouldn’t you?

What does happiness mean to you? Comment below.

Written on 9/26/2009 by Kat Eden. Kat is a Personal Trainer from Australia. Visit her blog Body Incredible to be inspired with the latest nutrition tips, weight loss advice, and motivational thinking. .

Learning to Lead?

Maybe I'm learning to lead.

Maybe not.

In recent weeks, God has been teaching me things I thought I knew. But guess I didn't. He's been impressing (sometimes impaling) me with his truth about what it means to lead the flock of God. It's a demanding role, but even more so because to lead in the church means servanthood. The last shall be first. Yeah, yeah, everybody knows that. I certainly thought I did. But God has lately been demanding a new level (depth?) of servanthood from me. He has been teaching me that:

the leader must be first to humble himself (or herself);
the leader must be first to empty himself (or herself);
the first to swallow his pride,
the first to admit wrong,
the first to confess,
the first to surrender his rights,
the first to let go of the need to be right,
the first to wash feet,
the first to forgive,
the first to take the log out of his own eye,
the first to initiate,
the first to be poured out,
the first to suffer,
the first to be crucified,
the first to lay down his life for the sheep.

Of course, in none of these areas are we ever actually FIRST. Jesus was first. First in loving us. First in serving. First in all of it.

It's fairly easy to be humble when you might be praised for it (oh, don't worry, I get the irony). But it's hard to humble yourself with little or no expectation of reciprocity from others. But that's what the Christ-ian leader is called to. It's what I am called to. If you're a pastor, it's what you are called to.

7 Reasons Really Smart People Do Really Dumb Things

One of my favorite pastor blogs is that of David Foster, whom I like a lot not only because he's insightful and helpful, but also because he's not one of those cool, young, "pretty boy" pastors (like that Jeremy Carr guy at OBF in Oxford...who's just a little too good-looking to be a "real" pastor). Anyway, here's one of David's dead-on posts, entitled, "7 Reasons Really Smart People Do Really Dumb Things":
It’s easy to understand why wayward, loose living, undisciplined people fail and face a life of misery. Not so self-evident why smart people, I’m talking about educated people, people who ought to know better; people who have sacrificed, gone to college, gotten degrees, and credentials, and even worked their way up. Some of these smart people start their own businesses and have affected and changed the world, and offered services and solutions that everyone wants.

It’s just plain harder to understand why smart people self-destruct. And why do they do really dumb things at the most in opportune moments of their lives? As I’ve observed my own life and break-outs of stupidity (Amen!), and the lives of others, consulting, and other interaction, I’ve come up with seven top reasons why really smart people self-destruct.

Really smart people self-destruct when they lack boundaries. It’s really that simple. Is there a set of standards that you live by; things that you simply will not do, fences that you’ve built for yourself? It’s called self-discipline. For example: ” Thou shall have no other Gods before Me.” That’s a boundary. “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” That’s a boundary. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy.” That’s a boundary. As a matter of fact, there are ten basic boundaries that God gave us. Not twenty, not seventeen, not thirty-five sub-paragraph B; just ten. Without boundaries in your life, without things that you simply will not do, in the heat of the moment temptation can overtake you. Without boundaries, you will self-destruct.

Really smart people self-destruct when they lack margin. You know what margin is. It’s the space on every page you read in every book you’ve ever read. It’s the white space. Margin in life is simply space for errors, space for things to go wrong. Most people live without margin, which means that their credit cards are to the max. They spend more money than they take in. They are emotionally spent. There is no margin, no reserves when life really hits you hard, in order to be able to break back. Without margin you become brittle. Without margin everything has to go to the right and go perfectly. You risk everything on everything going up. Remember what goes up will come down.

Really smart people self-destruct when they lack identity. Isn’t it interesting when Jesus launched His public ministry only three and a half years long, He did it by being baptized? And at that baptism, He got His identity: “You are my Son in whom I am well-pleased.” Who are you? Whose son are you? What identity, what integrity, what sense of honor do you carry? Who do you represent? Who, at the end of the day, matters so much to you that you want to live an honorable life? What happens if you get found out about the secret things you are doing? Will those you love and care about be destroyed when you’re found out to not be what you say you are?

Really smart people self-destruct when they lack audacity. I like that word: audacity! It’s the ability to say “no.” It’s the ability to walk away. It’s the ability to not be intimidated by powerful people: “do this or you’ll lose your job.” There are some things worse than losing a job. There are some things worse than walking away from the things that we feel we can walk away from. That takes audacity. And where does audacity come from? Boundaries, margin, and identity.

Really smart people self-destruct when they lack an inner life. It’s called impulse. Some people call it temptation. We all have it. Impulses: the impulse to say something, the impulse to fight back, the impulse to lash out, to get even. A strong inner life where you can carry on inner dialogue, think, ponder, and consider all your options before you act, or better yet react, means that you have to have a strong inner life. An inner life requires time for meditation, prayer, thought, study, and contemplation. Watching TV, The Simpsons, and The Family Guy won’t cut it.

Really smart people self-destruct when they lack a dissenting voice in their life. Basically, who can tell you “no”? Who can look at you and say, “you’ve got a b00ger in your nose,” and instead of being angry and offended by it, get a Kleenex? Someone who can trump you. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean that you ought to do it.

Really smart people self-destruct when they lose hope. Hope is what keeps us alive. The hope of gaining something, having something in the near future. And equal to that is the fear of losing it. So without fear, there is no hope because the thing we hope for is also the thing we fear losing. When you lose hope, you lose humanity. You lose effort and desire. You lose the fear, which makes life worth living.

Bottom line, here it is, write it down, paste it on your bulletin board, and tattoo it across your windshield. You’re only one dumb decision away from destroying everything you’ve spent a lifetime building. Be very careful.

Church of the Week: Abbey of Gethsemani

One of my favorite places of worship is the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery I discovered about ten years ago through Thomas Merton's writings (Gethsemani was his monastery).

I've been enjoying annual prayer retreats to this place about an hour or so south of Louisville since around 2000 or 2001.

Founded December 21, 1848, and made an abbey in 1851, Gethsemani is situated on more than 2,000 acres of farmland, and considered to be the "mother house" of all Trappist and Trappistine monasteries in the United States of America. It is the oldest monastery in the U.S. that is still in use.

If God Is Good

Randy Alcorn's newest book, If God Is Good (Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil) is an important book. It is unique. It is persuasive. And it is transforming.

When I first held the book, I was not optimistic. Many fine books have been written on the problem of suffering and evil, and I've read many of them. I wasn't sure I wanted to read one more. And the fact that this one weighs in at 500 pages made me even less optimistic. But I couldn't have been more wrong.

I'll try not to gush. But this is a wonderful book. It is organized well. It is supremely readable. And it may be the most comprehensive treatment of the subject ever written. I have only two complaints: First, I'm afraid its length may intimidate many readers, and that is unfortunate, because everyone should read this book (I mean it, everyone). Second, for this reader at least, the book became more compelling with each section--which makes me worry that some readers' interest might flag in the first section or two, and that would be tragic, because everyone should read this book, all the way to the end.

So, while I wish there were a way to make this book look a little lighter, it would suffer from even the slightest reduction. It is that good.

Click here to view options for finding, ordering, and/or downloading If God Is Good.

Church with a Capital C

We have often said at Cobble-stone, "we know we're not for everyone--no church is--and there are many fine churches in our area." And we mean it when we say it. But here is a blog entry about the website of a church that OBVIOUSLY means it.

Guilty Prayers

From one of the pastor blogs I follow daily, Frank Chiapperino points out that "many Christians feel like they are not allowed to pray for what they want. Asking God to expand our financial resources is off limits. Praying for our own personal gain… out of the question. Since when did prayer come with so many rules attached to it?" In the video below, he dives into this issue:

09-06-09 "Guilty Prayers" from CHRIST'S CHURCH OF THE VALLEY on Vimeo.

Chew on This

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone" (Henry David Thoreau).

You Were Born For This

My first glance at the new book by Bruce Wilkinson (author of The Prayer of Jabez) prompted the thought, Didn't Rick Warren already write a wildly successful book on finding your life's purpose? But that's just because of the title.

But Wilkinson goes well beyond finding your overarching purpose in life. He writes compellingly and convincingly in You Were Born For This,
You were born to live a supernatural life doing God's work by God's power. You were born to walk out your door each morning believing that God will use you to deliver a necessary miracle today.
Some will quibble with his definition of miracle. Others will fault him for breaking down the process of partnering with God's Spirit into simple, methodical steps. But the purpose of this book--to help Christ-followers realize and function in their role as "a sent person who shares God's heart for people and who intentionally partners with the Spirit to do God's work through acts of proactive dependence on Him to deliver His miracle to others"--is made simple and appealing in the book's very readable pages.

The book was made more compelling to me because the author has earned such deep respect from me for the various global initiatives he has founded, including organizations that recruited and trained thousands of Americans to address hunger, AIDS, and poverty in Africa (some of which he refers to, always humbly, in the book). It was also obvious throughout the book that Wilkinson is not making stuff up; he has lived the truth he speaks, year after year, in one circumstance after another. And the book delivers on its promise to "change how readers see their world, and what they expect God can do through them." I've already recommended it to numerous people.

The book is scheduled to be released today, September 15th, and you can go here to see all the options for finding, ordering, and/or downloading the book.

We Have a Winner

The winner of the free copy of Bruce Wilkinson and David Kopp's book,You Were Born For This is Phyllis Wykoff. And it couldn't happen to a nicer person! Stay tuned for a review of this book tomorrow.

Church of the Week: Roadside Chapel

The lovely Robin and I visited Phoenix and the Sedona in 2004 (where we were hosted by our lovely friends Bob and Mona from Sedona, Arizona), and were on our way to the south rim of the Grand Canyon when we spied this picturesque little chapel by the side of the road.

I don't know what it was called, but we sure enjoyed visiting, signing the guest book, and taking a few pictures.

What a Weekend

It was another great weekend at Cobblestone. The Peacemaker Conference at The Loft on Saturday (pictured above) could not have been better, and the worship celebrations on Sunday, including amazing worship (again) by Under Cover and message by Paul Cornwell of Peacemaker Ministries make all superlatives inadequate.

Thank you, God!

Two Tests Leaders Face

Mark Batterson, author of the excellent In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, and one of the pastor bloggers I follow, wrote this recently:
One of my heroes is Benaiah. And I love the story of him chasing a lion into a pit on a snowy day and killing it. One of the most courageous acts in Scripture! I think of that episode as the courage test. And Benaiah passed with flying colors! And because he did, it opened the door to become King David's bodyguard.

But there is another story and another test. This one didn't make it into In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. And it may not be as flashy or fancy as chasing a lion. But it took just as much courage and even more character. Toward the end of his life, there was a coup against King David. Adonijah tried to usurp power and many of David's closest friends betrayed him. Not Benaiah. And I love Benaiah for that. He was loyal to the death. And I think it not only revealed his integrity. I think it helped him fulfill his destiny.

If it wasn't for that act of loyalty, Benaiah would have never realized his destiny as commander in chief of Israel's army. Why? Because David overcame the coup. Solomon went on to become King. And it was Solomon who appointed Benaiah. Why? Not because he chased a lion. Because he stayed loyal to his father!

Can I suggest that leaders face two tests?

One is the courage test. And Benaiah passed that test with extra credit when he chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day. The other test is the character test. And that is the one that so many leaders fail. As a leader, you need to prove your courage by making difficult decisions, taking huge risks, and casting God-sized visions. But if you fail the character test it's all for naught. The courage test is not the litmus test. The character test is the litmus test.

Timeless Wisdom

Seems to me the direction the 7th Century St. Benedict offered in his Rule about what is needed in an Abbot (the leader of a monastery) is timeless wisdom that could apply to pastors today (or any Christ-follower in a leadership position):
Let him who is to be appointed be chosen because of the merit of his life and because of his learning, even though in the community he may be lowest in rank. . . . Let him who has been appointed Abbot always bear in mind what a burden he has taken on himself, and to whom he will have to give an account of his stewardship; and let him know that it behooves him rather to serve his brethren than to lord it over them. He must, therefore, be well versed in the Divine Law, that he may know whence to bring forth new things and old; he must be chaste, sober, merciful; and always exalt mercy above judgment that he himself may find mercy. Let him love the brethren whilst he hates their vices. And in the very correction of the brethren let him act prudently and not go to excess, lest, seeking too vigorously to cleanse off the rust, he may break the vessel. Let him ever keep his own frailty before his eyes and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken. By this we do not mean that he should suffer vices to grow up, but that he could cut them off prudently and with charity, according as he shall see that it is best for each, as we have said; and let him seek rather to be loved than to be feared.

Wish Someone Had Told Me

Perry Noble is one of my favorite (perhaps THE favorite) pastors who blogs, and it's because of posts like this:
From time to time a church planter will ask me, “what do you wish someone would have told you before you began?” Here’s a list of fifteen things I came up with…

#1 – Everyone Will Not Understand You…SO Stop Trying To Explain Yourself. Cast Vision…And MOVE Forward!

#2 – Everyone Will Not Like You…So STOP Trying To Be Popular.

#3 – You Don’t Have To Be The Person Who Actually Solves Every Problem….Admit You Are Not The Smartest Person and Let Your Experts Be Your Experts.

#4 – Spend WAY More Time Talking About Who You Are Rather Than Who You Are Not.

#5 – A Leader Is Always An Easy Target Because They Are…A Leader. So, Get Over Yourself And Get On With What God Called You To Do!

#6 – When The Holy Spirit Presses Something Into Your Heart…Don’t Ignore Him.

#7 – Do NOT Expect God’s Next Step To Make Sense.

#8 – You Can’t Plan A Move Of God…But You Must Be Prepared For One!

#9 – Do Not Resist Something Just Because You Do Not Understand It!

#10 – People Who Claim You “Are Not Deep Enough” Are Obsessed With Information But Have No Desire To Live Out Transformation.

#11 – You Don’t Need To Listen To Everybody…But You Had Better Be Listening To Somebody Because God Didn’t Ask You To Take This Journey Alone.

#12 – Never Apologize For Asking People To Commit To Something…Jesus Didn’t!

#13 – The Church Has Been Underachieving For Way Too Long…So Dream BIG And Don’t Apologize For It.

#14 – There Will Be Days When You Want To Quit…Don’t…Jesus Didn’t! (Remember…DON’T GIVE UP…if you are discouraged, take a second and read this!)

#15 – The Gospel Changes Lives…PREACH Every Sermon Like It’s Your Last!!!

The Invisible Woman

From Fresh Brewed Life, Inc., and Nicole Johnson:

Can also be seen in Spanish on the Fresh Brewed Life website.

But They're Growing

I loved this post by Dusty Takle, guest-blogging on LifeChurch's Swerve blog:
I can remember taking my six-year-old to school one day when he noticed how small the trees were around us. We had just spent time in Georgia where the trees are tall, lush, and plentiful. This fact can, often times, make me critical of the scarce vegetation in Oklahoma.

“The trees aren’t like that here,” I told him.

“But they’re growing,” he said.

His response stayed with me the rest of the day.

But, they’re growing.

I grew up in ministry. I’ve seen times in ministry where things just seemed to flourish. Financial provision was plentiful. Growth was evident. If you’re functioning in ministry every day, you know how amazing these times are. But, then there are times when ministry seems like it’s an uphill climb at every level. It’s in those times that we have to trust more. And, it becomes so easy to see where God has us with a critical eye. Or, with blurred vision.

How often we look at situations – specifically people – with a critical eye. When we have blurred vision, we usually try to focus on both worldly and heavenly values. Matthew 6:22-23 says, “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

Our critical eyes can allow darkness to fill our body. I don’t think any of us want blurred vision. It is so important in both life and ministry to not only trust where God has us, but also pray that He gives us eyes to see His hand in it.

And, when it comes to people, I want to be able to see them with His eyes. When I do, I just might see that they are growing.

A Book for Your Thoughts

Bruce Wilkinson's new book, You Were Born for This, comes out next week (I'll be posting my review on September 15th). You can buy the book here. Or, you can get a free copy, from me (U.S. shipping included). I have one copy of this hardcover book to give away.

"How can I get it?" you ask.

"Simple," I respond. "Just leave a comment on one of my blogs (bobhostetler.blogspot.com, desperatepastor.blogspot.com, travelsofhoss.blogspot.com) sometime in the next five days (Sept. 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13). I will choose the winner from among those comments; each comment is an entry, so you can enter as often as you like."

I'll announce the winner and ship the book on September 14th.

An Invitation to a Fresh Start

Doug Fields is a fine communicator. He'd have to be to have succeeded in youth ministry for many years, as he did. And he has to be in order to serve the gigantic Saddleback Church (25,000 members) as a teaching pastor.

That communication skill comes across in his newest book, Fresh Start, which gives readers an invitation to become unstuck from whatever has them stuck. In an utterly accessible way, he guides readers through the various causes of their "stuckness," such as pride, discouragement, guilt, conflict, rejection, anger, and loneliness. And he does so with an affecting, self-deprecating sense of humor that is only occasionally distracting.

His approach to resolving conflict was perhaps most memorable and helpful (defined by "Ouch!--What?--Who?--What?"), and likewise the chapter on discouragement, which should help any reader learn from and limit discouragement. His solutions are simple but not simplistic, unceasingly Biblical, and appropriate for a wide spectrum of readers, from young to old and spiritually seeking to spiritually mature. Fresh Start also includes a "Journal and Small Group Guide" in the back, which will help readers think longer and delve deeper into the book's content.

KC Wins

No, it's not about a baseball or football game. KC, the commenter, not the city, wins the free copy of The Monday Morning Church I promised to give away on this blog.

Another free book--this one a very new release--will be given away next week to a commenter on any of my three blogs (bobhostetler.blogspot.com, desperatepastor.blogspot.com, travelsofhoss.blogspot.com). So stay tuned, keep reading, and leave your comments behind. Every comment is an entry (rules and entries monitored by the accounting firm of Under D. Table, LLC).


What would you do if you knew no fear? What would you attempt? Where would you go? What would you start? Finish?

That is the premise of Max Lucado's latest book, Fearless. With his characteristic blend of whimsy, wide-eyed wonder, and biblical wisdom, Max tackles the fears that too often limit--and sometimes paralyze--us, and more so, it seems, with every passing day. His first chapter, "Why Are We Afraid," hits the nail on the head when it says, "Fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia. It dulls our miracle memory. It makes us forget what Jesus has done and how good God is." Fear overtakes us when our focus shifts and our faith slips.

Each of the chapters (after the first) skillfully shines the light of God's Word on a different fear: the fear of not mattering, the fear of running out, the fear of what's next, etc. For example, writing about the fear of not mattering, Lucado writes,
Fear of insignificance creates the result it dreads, arrives at the destination it tries to avoid, facilitates the scenario it disdains. If a basketball player stands at the foul line reperating, "I'll never make the shot, I'll never make the shot," guess what? He'll never make the shot. If you pass your days mumbling, "I'll never make a difference; I'm not worth anything," guess what? You will be sentencing yourself to a life of gloom without parole.

Even more, you are disagreeing with God. Questioning his judgment. Second-guessing his taste. According to him you were "skillfully wrought" (Ps. 139:15). You were "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:14). He can't stop thinking about you! If you could count his thoughts of you, "they would be more in number than the sand" (Ps. 139:18).
In the wonderful chapter on the fear of "worst-case scenarios," Lucado points to Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion and says,
It's our duty to pull back the curtains, to expose our fears, each and every one. Like vampires, they can't stand the sunlight. Financial fears, relationship fears, professional fears, safety fears--call them out in prayer. Drag them out by the hand of your mind, and make them stand before God and take their comeuppance!

Jesus made his fears public. He "offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death" (Heb. 5:7 NIV). He prayed loudly enough to be heard and recorded and he begged his community of friends to pray with him.

His prayer in the garden becomes, for Christians, a picture of the church in action--a place where fears can be verbalized, pronounced, stripped down, and denounced; an escape from the "wordless darkness" of suppressed frights. A healthy church is where our fears go to die. We pierce them through with Scripture, psalms of celebration and lament. We melt them in the sunlight of confession. We extinguish them with the waterfall of worship, choosing to gaze at God, not our dreads.
That's good stuff.

Like all of Lucado's books, Fearless is a pleasure and an encouragement to read. If you cooperate, it will help you obey the frequent command of Christ: "Fear not."

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

I'm REALLY looking forward to this coming weekend, when Cobblestone will host a team from Peacemaker Ministries, and present a one-day inter-denominational conference on “Biblical Peacemaking (Applying the Gospel to Conflicts of Daily Life)” on Saturday, September 12, from 9:30-3:30 at The Loft, 4191 Kehr Road in Oxford. Participants will be equipped to keep disagreements from escalating; resolve disputes in families, workplaces, churches, and communities; and maintain friendships, preserve marriages, and build relationships that reflect Biblical principles. The total cost for the day, which includes lunch and conference materials, is $15, payable in advance or at the door. Check-in will begin at 9 a.m. on the day of the conference.

The event will be presented by Peacemaker Ministries International (www.peacemaker.net), a group we've consulted with in recent years. We've found their materials and counsel to be very helpful. They were founded in 1982 under the auspices of the Christian Legal Society, which helped to establish many similar ministries throughout the United States. In 1987, many of these conciliation ministries joined together to form the Association of Christian Conciliation Services (ACCS) and merged into Peacemaker Ministries in 1993. The primary speakers for the day will be Paul Cornwell, a certified Christian conciliator and senior ministry & church consultant for Peacemaker Ministries, and Allison Haltom, a certified Christian conciliator and senior staff counselor with Live at Peace Ministries. Paul will also be the speaker at Cobblestone's worship celebrations next Sunday, September 13th, presenting the message, "Fire," the fourth in our five-part "SHIFT" series.

Interested? You can register in advance by emailing your name, address, and phone number to john@cobblestonechurch.com. Ample parking is available at The Loft, and the facility is fully accessible to those with physical challenges. More information about the church and its ministries is available at www.cobblestonechurch.com.

Church of the Week: Chapel of St. Bede, Oxford

This week's church isn't a church, but The Chapel of St. Bede, a small chapel that is part of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Oxford, Ohio. It is named for the Venerable Bede, an English monk, scholar, and author who lived from c. 672-735.

It is located on East Walnut Street in Oxford, on the corner of Walnut and Poplar. I have prayed briefly in this chapel on a couple occasions.

The Madonna icon hanging in the chapel (above) is one of my favorites.

Great Day in the Morning

What a lovely day at Cobblestone this was, with worship led by Con Brio, two families dedicating their children to God, and what I pray will be a truly transformative message for the church, "Rock," the third in our "SHIFT" series!

As you see in the pictures below, Uday and Gladys Buranyi dedicated their 25-day-old daughter Abigail:

And David and Brittany Kolb dedicated their children, Peyton (left) and Mason (right):

Thank you, God, for the service and sacrifice that were offered to you today!

Good Busy

Wow, this post by David Foster hit home with me. See if it does for you:
I’m doing everything I can to convince people that hurry is bad. It makes smart people stupid, it damages everything we touch, and it is certainly not God’s intention for any of us. Anything worth doing - really big, epic, important, life-changing, world-moving missions - has to be done over a lifetime. So there is no need to hurry.

I’m on a mission to get people to trade a bad hurry for a good busy. Listen to the example of Jesus Christ. Think about it. He didn’t have TV, cars, Internet, any of the tools we have today. He walked everywhere He went. And yet He was never in a hurry. But He was always busy. He said He was always at His Father’s business. So what does it mean to live with a good busy?

Here are seven insights I’ve discovered:

1. A good busy means you’ve found your calling. When I found my calling as a writer and speaker, I took time out of my life for ten years of academic training. I also was a pastor and leader and continued to write through those ten years. The reason I could go to school that long is because I found my calling. I was going to devote the rest of my life. And what I am able to do now in my fifties, has been shaped by what I was willing to do and sacrifice in preparation in my twenties. So a good busy means that you have found your calling and you’re not in a hurry. This is something you’re going to be mastering and loving and doing for the rest of your life.

2. A good busy means you will succeed over time, not overnight. A lot of hurry involves getting someplace quickly by cheating and cutting corners. There is no overnight success. Success is over time; little-by-little, day-by-day, here a little - there a little, three steps forward - two steps back, getting up and being unrelenting in your commitment to the task ahead.

3. A good busy means you can pace yourself for a marathon, not a sprint. The world is full of bright, shining stars that burned out quickly and will now spend the rest of their life on the sideline. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?

4. A good busy means you can stop to repair misalignment. We know this is true in the automobiles that we drive. When they begin to shake and handle poorly at higher speeds, smart people take them in and have the alignment fixed. To ignore it is to wear out the tires, the ball-joints, the suspension, and ultimately to destroy the car and maybe even endanger your life. When you’re in a hurry it can be ignored. In a good busy, you can stop and repair misalignment and then re-enter the race in a healthier pace and perspective.

5. A good busy means you can see people not as something to be used and abused and cast away, but as the very reason you’re on the journey in the first place. If your mission is not about helping people, meeting needs, righting wrongs, then you’re in the wrong business. No wonder you’re in a hurry.

6. A good busy means you’re into fruit, not results. It means you understand the law of the farm always trumps the law of the factory. Life is not an assembly line that can just be turned to the right when we want more output. Life is like the farm. You plant, you plow good seed in good soil, and over time you have good fruit. And the good thing about fruit is that it comes back in its season. It’s sustainable over time.

7. A good busy means you won’t become obsolete. Hurry is about taking advantage of the moment; the skills, the assets, the technologies available at the moment. Busy means that while I’m in this for the long haul, I understand the trends, that technologies change. For example, we live in the day of social media. A lot of people forget that the issue is not Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or FriendFeed. The issue is this: people will always want to connect. That never changes. How we connect is ever-changing. A good busy means that you know the trends, the technologies that help you complete and compete on a mission worthy of your life, time, energy, and resources.

Here are the benefits of a good busy that I can come up with. Sit down with your team and ask this question, “Are we into a good busy around here, getting things done over time in the right way? Or are we into a hurry, quick, easy results, short-cuts, grabbing, trying to get ours, cheating in the name of success?” There is a big difference.

Better Than Billy

Another post worth repeating from J.D. Greear's blog:
Thought this post may be appro- priate in light of what we talked about Sunday. It first appeared a week or so ago.

"Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away." Prov 27:10

Last month at our monthly all staff meeting and we spent a long time discussing moral failure and what we can do, before God, to help keep any of our pastoral team from doing that. In the last couple of months, a couple of really heart breaking stories about well-known and well-intentioned pastors have come out...Graciously, so far at the Summit Church we have been spared.

Offering any advice on that matter is not the purpose of this blog.

However, I want to offer some perspective to some of you guys going into church planting, and try to persuade you to construct your ministry so that you live on the same "plane" with all the people you lead and that you live before them with a great deal of transparency. (To note: This is not an attack on anyone, and if you think I'm referring to someone in particular, I'm not. I am speaking more about a trend. And, I'll also acknowledge that I have some godly friends whom I respect a great deal who don't see eye to eye on me on this.)

It has become very popular among quickly-growing churches to have no real, internal board of elders to whom the pastor is accountable. A board of that type is seen as cumbersome... the perception is that lay elders can't understand some of the questions of professional ministry, and so being submitted to them would impede our ability to lead the church. Does IBM have a non-professional board of "lay"-directors ok'ing all their decisions? Furthermore, lay elders can't really hold the pastor morally accountable (as they'll not be knowledgable enough or courageous enough to challenge the pastor), and if they do, they'll probably do it in wrong times and in wrong ways... I've heard it said that "sheep aren't supposed to shepherd the shepherd." And if the other elders are staff members, then the senior pastor can control them anyway. Thus, the senior pastor should report to a group of other pastors, around the country, who serve like an advisory board of directors.

OK, so I will lay all my cards on the table. Though submitting only to an independent board of other pastors is certainly "efficient," I think it is a gloriously bad idea. In the case of Ted Haggard (and again in the most recent national case of a pastor falling into adultery), this "remote board" was the system they were under. The system did have some clear benefits they offered in the post-adultery healing: the situation was efficiently dealt with, and the pastor was taken care of. The board was able to offer some great counsel to the church.

The problem in both of these situations, however, as I understand it, is that no one who was "close" to the pastor was really "close" to the pastor. The lead pastor, a kind of mega-superstar, kept a distance from other staff and lay people. He lived on a different, executive-level plain, and his authority and stature were unchallenged. To anyone physically near him, he was "unknown." He didn't have real friends in the church. Thus, no one could see the patterns developing in his life.

I can't help but wonder how significant that was in their falls. But wasn't being "known" by the board of directors" enough? It's certainly better than nothing, but these guys are all far away, and with their own churches to focus on. They can't know when you're paying a lot of attention to one girl in particular. They can't see when you start slipping out of the office unaccounted for. They can't pick up when you seem distant from your wife. They can't ever ask you in a meeting who you are text messaging. In other words, they aren't in a place to see when the adulterous relationship begins... and these relationships for a pastor don't begin by suddenly getting naked. They begin innocently. You begin to show special attention to, and delight in, a woman not your wife. And the whole time you're justifying to yourself that the attention you are showing that person isn't really harmful. They're just a friend.

And then it leads to sexual flirtation. And when you are finally in a place where immorality has begun or is about to begin, your flesh will have kicked in enough that you'll probably just lie to the guys who live 100 miles away when they ask you "the accountability questions."

God never intended any of us to live alone. Deep friendships with people you live and work and go to church with is a part of discipleship. The shepherd is still a sheep.

I've heard the "board of directors" system defended, in each case, by saying, "But look how efficiently the overseeing board dealt with the problem!" Great. Seriously...that is no small matter. But I would much rather have a less-experienced board have to NEVER deal with the situation in the first place. I'd rather them NOT have to pick up the shattered pieces of my family and ministry at all then to pick it up with dazzling effectiveness.

We try, for these reasons, to have a culture of transparency here at the Summit. I never lock my office. Several people have passwords who can get into my inbox if they so choose. My assistant knows where I am every single second (i.e. that my wife doesn't know where I am), and my assistant can tell any of our executive team who asks. Is that annoying sometimes? Of course. But not as much as looking at my little girls and telling them mom can't stand to live with me anymore.

Furthermore, I am accountable to a group of men, our elder team, which is made up of both staff and "lay" men. They, as Hebrews 13:7 says, really "know my way of life." They know where I live. They observe my marriage. They can, and do, stop by my house. We eat dinner together. Our kids play together. I know them and they know me. They watch out for me because I need watching. I am just a man, and greater men than me have fallen.

Does all this sometimes create tension? Of course. Does that mean there are times the "lay elders" seem "behind" in their thinking... and since they don't live in the "professional" Christian world that sometimes they are not as ready for the changes I want to bring? Yes. But if I'm worth anything as a leader, shouldn't I be able to convince these godly, mature men of what I'm seeing and persuade them to follow? If I can't convince THEM, how can I ever expect to be able to convince the church of what I see? Is my ministry all about unchallenged executive power?

I'm not saying we have a perfect system here at the Summit or that it, in any way, guarantees that I or the other pastors will always remain faithful. Our sinful, conniving flesh can always find a way to cheat the systems, even the best ones.

I just know that it is not part of God's plan for me to live without friends before whom I humble myself, to whom I am "submitted," and who can observe and speak into my life. And these should be the people who see me and go to church with me. As wise King Solomon says, "Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away." (Prov 27:10) In other words, better a non-trained lay-elder nearby than Billy Graham in another city.

Please know... I feel like our system has enough holes in it that I don't feel really confident criticizing anybody else's. These are just some of my concerns... I'm sure I have a lot to learn.
I say amen to all that. For decades now, my wife and I have observed careful boundaries regarding accountability and interaction with the opposite sex, and we've never been sorry. These boundaries are also part of our church's guidelines for staff behaviors. We are accountable to each other and to the church's leadership team.* We avoid one-on-one meetings with the opposite sex, and never meet behind closed doors. We never ride alone in a vehicle with someone of the opposite sex. And more. Such guidelines can be clunky at times, and not everyone understands them. But in almost thirty years of public ministry, these guidelines have proved their worth. And I agree with J.D. and Solomon that when it comes to accountability, "Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away."

*By the way, I dislike the terms "lay" and "clergy," because I believe in the priesthood of all believers. We are all "lay," and we are all "clergy." Some of us are paid staff and some of us are not, but we are all priests and ministers of our God (Isaiah 61:6).

Ministry Pornography

Another GREAT video from Ed Stetzer, Director of Lifeway Research and Lifeway's Missiologist in Residence:

Free Book For You

It's time we stop doing church and time we start being church.

I couldn't agree more, and Jerry Cook's book, The Monday Morning Church, promises to tell you how. Cook, the bestselling author of Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness, presents the case for an incarnational Christianity that doesn't aim to get people to God but brings Jesus to THEM, and it does so not with clever techniques but by drawing sound Biblical perspectives from the book of Ephesians.

The book can be purchased through Howard Publishing, but you can get a free copy, from me (U.S. shipping included). That's just the kind of guy I am. I have one copy of this hardcover book to give away. But there's a catch: you have to show me some bloggy love.

Just leave a comment on one of my blogs (bobhostetler.blogspot.com, desperatepastor.blogspot.com, travelsofhoss.blogspot.com) sometime in the next five days (Sept. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). I will choose the winner from among those comments; each comment is an entry, so you can enter as often as you like.

I'll announce the winner and ship the book on September 7th.

People Will Talk

If you're a pastor, people are talking about you.

That's just the way it is. Might as well get used to it.

Some people are remarking on the quality or content of your latest sermon, or relating to someone their appreciation for a hospital visit, or telling of your kindness in listening to them or praying with them. People are talking about your perseverance in the face of adversity, or your patience with difficult people. They may not always say such things to you, but trust me, people are saying some nice things about you.

Unfortunately, people are also saying unkind things about you. Untrue things, even. But if you're a pastor, it's happening. I'm sorry; that's just the way it is. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. Some people can't help it. Some people think it makes them feel better, or look better, if they say such things. And some people find comfort in listening to those things, and coming to believe them themselves. As I said, I wish it wasn't so, but it is. It's been that way from the start; Jesus warned his first apostles that there would be times when people would think they were doing God a favor by trying to destroy them.

There are also people who are talking about you...to God. People are remembering you in prayer, asking God to bless you, and help you, and hold you up. While the first category I mentioned can be hugely encouraging, and the second group can be unspeakably discouraging, this third group matters most. They are the ones who can keep compliments from going to your head, and keep criticisms from destroying your heart.

So take a few moments to thank God for the people who are praying for you, those you know of and those you don't. And say thank you the next chance you get to the people who talk about you to God. And if you know a pastor, be THAT person to him or her more than any other.

Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?

Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? is CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr.'s memoir about his decision to take the reins of IBM, which was bleeding customers and money in the early 1990s, and the subsequent transformation of that company into an industry leader once again.

It was a fascinating and educational read for me, from the opening background of his experience at American Express and RJR/Nabisco to his successful strategies for leading change at IBM (the pace--and my interest--slowed somewhat in sections two to four as he went from discussing actions he had taken to outlining strategies, principles, and hopes for the future. It never became boring, though....the first section was just far more fun than the latter sections, for me at least).

It is easy to apply many of his insights to ministry, such as his identification of passion as a necessity for a successful leader, and also his insistence on a company remaining true to its core vision and sticking to its core competencies. These principles translate perfectly into ministry. And, though I don't think he ever described or even acknowledged this trait, I was frequently aware that he apparently had an ability to make controversial decisions without obsessing about the criticism those decisions would generate. He seemed to have both a healthy regard for constructive criticism and a healthy DISregard for negativity that any leader can envy.

One thing I wish he had elaborated on was HOW, when he came to IBM, he discerned what was needed and the steps it would take to get there. I found myself leaning forward so as not to miss his description of the keys to his insights and analyses...but he never gave them, at least not in terms I could learn from. Then again, there was probably too much of that insight that was simply intuitive and natural to him, given his education and experience.

Gerstner's book would be a tremendously helpful read for any leader, and perhaps especially for those who find themselves trying to turn around an existing enterprise (or church).