Church of the Week: Baladron/Grass Chapel

While the Church of the Week has always (since its inception on this blog on June 1 of last year) featured a church I have seen or visited or worshiped in personally, I must make an exception. I learned of this church months ago via Carlos Whittaker's blog, Ragamuffin Soul, and just had to include it as a Church of the Week here.

This chapel, designed by Claudio Baladron and Diego Grass, is in the countryside of Southern Chile. It is a wooden barn structure over a concrete platform with corrugated metal cladding in the outside and pine boards in the inside.

I think it's beautiful. It makes me want to go to Chile. And worship there.

Simply beautiful.

Five Characteristics of Weak Leaders

Several days ago, Michael Hyatt posted these thoughts on leadership on his excellent blog:
For the last week or so, I have been reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is a page-turning account of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his political genius.

At the beginning of Lincoln’s first term, he appointed each of his former Republican rivals—those who had run against him for his party’s nomination—to cabinet posts. The narrative demonstrates his amazing ability to tap into a broad array of perspectives and create alignment among those who often disagreed violently with one another.

Unfortunately, Lincoln’s leadership was not perfect. He occasionally selected men for public service who were unworthy of his trust. One such individual was General George B. McClellan, commander of the “Army of the Potomac” and, eventually, first general-in-chief of the Union Army.

General McClellan had significant character flaws that I believe serve as warning signs to anyone in leadership. Ultimately, these cost him dearly: He lost Lincoln’s confidence, his job, and a run for the White House (against Lincoln). Worse, they prolonged the Civil War and cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

Here are the five flaws I jotted down as I read the book:

* Hesitating to take definitive action. McClellan was constantly preparing. According to him, the Army was never quite ready. The troops just needed a little more training. In his procrastination, he refused to engage the enemy, even when he clearly had the advantage. He could just not bring himself to launch an attack. When Lincoln finally relieved him of his duties, he famously said, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

* Complaining about a lack of resources. He constantly complained about the lack of available resources. He didn’t have enough men. His men weren’t paid enough. They didn’t have enough heavy artillery. And on and on he went. The truth is that, as a leader, you never have enough resources. You could always use more of one thing or another. But the successful leaders figure out how to get the job done with the resources they have.

* Refusing to take responsibility. McClellan was constantly blaming everyone else for his mistakes and for his refusal to act. He even blamed the President. Every time he suffered a defeat or a setback, someone or something was to blame. He was a master finger-pointer. Great leaders don’t do this. They are accountable for the results and accept full responsibility for the outcomes.

* Abusing the privileges of leadership. While his troops were struggling in almost unbearable conditions, McClellan lived in near-royal splendor. He spent almost every evening entertaining guests with elaborate dinners and parties. He insisted on the best clothes and accommodations. His lifestyle stood in distinct contrast to General Ulysses S. Grant, his eventual successor, who often traveled with only a toothbrush.

* Engaging in acts of insubordination. McClellan openly and continually criticized the President, his boss. He was passive-aggressive. Even when Lincoln gave him a direct order, he found a way to avoid obeying it. In his arrogance, he always knew better than the President and had a ready excuse to rationalize his lack of follow-through.

President Lincoln had the patience of Job. He gave General McClellan numerous opportunities to correct his behavior and redeem himself. But in the end, McClellan either could not or would not do so. He left the President no choice but to relieve him of his duties.

These same character flaws afflict many leaders today. The best safeguard is self-awareness.

Question: Do you see any of these flaws in your own leadership?
To answer his questions, in order: let me think about it. I really don't have time to answer them right now. If the people around me weren't such slouches, it wouldn't be a problem. But maybe after my massage, I'll put together a brilliant answer--though I don't expect my leadership team to see its brilliance; they never do.

The Priority of Preaching

Walter Brueggemann (born 1933) is an American Old Testament scholar and author. He was ordained in the United Church of Christ and is the author of many wonderful books. If you're a pastor, try not to be TOO convicted by this brief video:

Happy Thanksgiving

One of my favorite pastor bloggers, David Foster, posted 7 Benefits of Being Thankful a couple days ago:
I think we fail to realize that there are a lot of benefits just in the act of being grateful itself. It says an awful lot about those who extend their gratitude to God, to family, and to their friends. Here are seven benefits I can think of right off the top of my head, of being grateful.

1. Being grateful shows. By that I mean it shows in your face. You smile, you walk taller, you send the clue to people that “I’m open for business.” People like to be around you because you’re a happy, fun person rather than a mad, sour cynical person.

2. Being grateful takes the focus off of you and puts it on the other person. Grateful people are always full of joy. They are effervescent. They bubble over and they are able to put the focus on the other person in the conversation. Grateful people make other people feel good in their presence.

3. Being grateful reduces stress. Being grateful for your marriage, your family, and your children takes down the stress and worry that often not only destroys your joy and your life, but ultimately your body. When you’re grateful, you can’t be hateful.

4. Being grateful attracts the right kind of people. Grateful people have kind of a radar that they send out and they attract other grateful people. They repel people who want a pity party, who want to spread gossip and slander. People with evil intent look for weak, sour, miserable people; not strong, grateful people.

5. Being grateful makes you a giver, not a taker. The fact that you have something to be grateful for, means you understand the law of the farm, sowing and reaping, of working hard and expecting a return; or the promise of The Scripture that says, “Give and it will be given unto you.” You understand the law of reciprocity and you practice it. And you reap the benefits of it. So you constantly give. And because you give and have been given, you are constantly planning and investing and giving in other people. As a matter of fact, all that you get, you see as more opportunity to give and invest.

6. Being grateful creates new ideas. It’s when you are grateful that you are the most creative and you think about the possibilities that can be created to solve the problems and meet the needs of the world. It’s grateful people who write out of the overflow of their lives. It’s grateful people who paint great paintings, who write great books, who compose great music. It’s out of their generosity that the beauty of their art blesses those who experience it.

7. Being grateful builds strong reserves; not only financially and physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Grateful people understand that even setbacks are temporary; that all you have to do is not sour, not settle, not stop, and generosity will continue to flow into your life.
Amen. I would add only this: Being grateful wards off depression and other sicknesses of the soul. While there are many natural AND supernatural causes of depression, I consider depression to be a fundamental ingratitude. And in my experience, the greatest antidote for depression is giving thanks, vocally and repeatedly, until my soul begins to obey my spirit.

So, I say with David Foster, "This Thanksgiving, stop and think about all the things for which you are grateful. Celebrate those things and understand that the benefits of gratitude will be yours all year long." Have a great Thanksgiving.

Advent Conspiracy

I'm not a big joiner. I purposefully resist getting wrapped up in the latest Christian fads or church thing. But when I learned about the Advent Conspiracy some time ago, I took it to God and soon knew I and my church would be involved.

It's a cooperative effort among churches to make Christmas a world-changing event again, by working toward a day when no one in the world will lack clean water. It would take $10 billion to achieve that....and Americans spend $450 billion annually on Christmas.

I want to be a part of that. My church's leadership team has pledged to be a part of it, too. And last Sunday we introduced the Advent Conspiracy to our flock, and I believe we will make a difference. I believe we will be a part of the kind of change depicted in this graphic (linked to a Google Earth map on the AC website, giving more detail):

I want my family's Christmas celebration this year to be a part of the change Tony Biaggne wrote about a few days ago on the Advent Conspiracy blog,
I just got off the phone with Stan Patyrak from Living Water International. I always know when Stan has big news for me because he get this real heavy tone, like the words themselves weigh 50 pounds and he can barely spit them out. He says to me, “Bro, I have some news. Because of Advent Conspiracy, about 340 wells have been drilled. Do you know what that means? That’s 200,000 people. It’s probably more than that, but, man, that’s 200,000 people!” My jaw dropped...those words did weigh 50 pounds. After a few tearful words, I hung up and thanked God. I thanked God for letting us play a role in serving those who Jesus would call “the least of these”. I thanked Him for my pastor and the other two pastors who started this movement for their wisdom and passion. I thanked God for allowing me to be alive and witness something this powerful. I thanked Him for showing me how good it can feel to give relationally. And finally, I thanked him for crazy. For crazy ideas that give people clean water and for crazy people like you who get behind these ideas. Thank God for crazy. Let the Christmas season begin.

The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life

This is a dangerous book.

As I read The Liturgical Year (The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life) by Joan Chittister, I was reminded of an earlier book that has now become a favorite to give to others--though always with the warning, "Don't read it until you're willing for your life to change, because you might not be able to avoid it after reading this book." So it is with The Liturgical Year.

Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and award-winning author, sets out to explore the meaning and value of the liturgical year, beginning with Advent and climaxing in the celebration of Easter. She not only convinces, she woos. She makes the reader hungry for the benefits she extols. And she does it all with a clear and deep appreciation of the great story God tells every year through the feasts and fasts of the Church. I was a little surprised that the book didn't give more insight into the prayers and practices of the liturgical calendar. I think it would have been even more compelling (especially for readers from non-liturgical backgrounds) if the author had given the reader a sense of what the "spiraling adventure" of the church year looks like and feels like.

Still, as the pastor of a very non-liturgical church (though we all have our "liturgies," to be sure), the book made me long for the rhythms and routines she describes. If you're not careful, it will do the same for you.

A Friend Who Cares

I read these words, written by Henri Nouwen, not only as a pastor, one who gives care, but also as one who needs it:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.

Wow. Just Wow.

Perry Noble has been posting an article on his blog entitled, "Five Mistakes I Made as a Young Leader." It's all good stuff so far, but #'s 3 through 5 even more so. I've learned each of these lessons (I think) the hardhardhard way:
#3 – I Spoke In Absolutes, Saying That We Would Always Do Certain Things and “Never” Do Other Things.

If you want to make God laugh…tell Him about all of the things you will and won’t do…and watch over time how He will cause you to eat your words!

When we first began NewSpring I said that I would never teach on giving…because it made people uncomfortable. Until I actually begin digging into Scripture and realized that Jesus talked about giving more than He did prayer…or faith…or heaven…or hell! (And I also realized the only people who were really uncomfortable were the ones who were not giving!)

When we first began I said we would not do a public invitation because they didn’t work anymore. I had a place in the program that people could check if they wanted to know more information about Christ…and asked people to fill that out and that someone would follow up with them. BUT…THEN GOD pressed in on me DURING a service to offer an invitation. I tried to explain to Him we didn’t do that…then He explained to me that it wasn’t my church! So…I obeyed (relunctantly) and people responded!!!

THEN I began to declare that we would ALWAYS do a public invitation…which, once again, was a phrase I would have to eat. I

I could go on and on with this one…the thing I would warn leaders about is this…be VERY careful when making absolute statements…they probably will come back to bite you.

(And…for the record…we do an invitation when HE leads us to…which is often!!)

#4 – I Had The “Not Us” Mentality.

I heard a statistic when we planted NewSpring Church that within two years that 50% of the people who started the church would be gone.

When I heard that I said, “not us…we’re different…we’re commited…we’re going to be the exception.”

Uh…we weren’t! In fact, it didn’t take me two years to lose about 50% of the core team…it took about two months!!! The lessons I learned in those days were hard…but real…

* You will lose people!
* Whenever you call for sacrifice…you will lose people! (See John 6)
* Whenever the church grows you will lose people!
* Whenever the church makes a major move you will lose people!
* Whenever things seem to be going well you will lose people.

I hate it…but it’s true!!! There isn’t a ministry on the planet that hasn’t had to deal with the painful reality that people leave…even when you feel like you are being completely obedient to God and doing what He says!!! (I actually heard someone say once, “If people aren’t leaving then you are not leading!” That statement is painfully true!)

#5 – I Thought I Could Control What People Thought About Me!

I remember the first time I read something negative about me on the internet. It literally destroyed me…seriously, it was like someone took a knife and jabbed it into my soul!!! I read it about four or five times…and for the next several days I hyper focused on that particular website and had this thought, “If this person and I could only meet and chat I think I could change his mind.”

It didn’t take long for me to realize that no matter what I did…no matter how many conversations I had…no matter how many olive branches I extended…that there were going to be people who hated me, slandered me and despised me…and there was literally nothing I could do about it.

Church leader…you CANNOT control what people think about you…and you can’t worry about it either. Jesus had a group of people who HATED Him and followed Him everywhere He went, pointing out His “faults,” yet He stayed true to the VISION His Father placed inside of Him and didn’t engage in trying to change their minds about Him.

If you want to silence your critics then you must…

* Keep your eyes on Jesus (Craig Groeschel says that becoming obsessed with what people think about me is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about me.) Let HIM, not “them” define you!
* Live a life of integrity!! (I Peter 2:15)

The rest is in God’s hands!!! You cannot shape the opinions of others…you can only be true to who God called you to be!!!
Wow. Just wow.

Every Pastor Should Go to Israel

God has worked in my life by many means over the years. Concerts and conferences like Ichthus and Urbana. “Spiritual days” in my ministry training years, not to mention daily prayer and Bible reading, of course. Books by authors like Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen. Retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani. And many more.

But among the most impactful means of God’s grace to me has been the pilgrimages Robin and I have taken to the Holy Land. Our first was in 1987, when we borrowed money to make the trip, believing that initial investment would pay rich dividends in our years of ministry to follow--and it did.

There is no way to adequately describe the difference in perspective, appreciation, and understanding a person gets from discovering the land of Jesus, the apostles, prophets, and patriarchs. It is like the difference between reading about being born again...and BEING born again. It is such a big deal that I honestly believe every pastor should go to Israel, at least once, and as early as possible in his or her ministry.

Words cannot describe what happens to your Bible reading, studying, and preaching once you have sailed the Sea of Galilee, and been baptized in the Jordan. Or prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and celebrated communion outside the Garden Tomb. Or taken an early morning journey starting at the Gihon Spring, in the City of David, and traversing the actual tunnel of Hezekiah (dug underneath the Ophel in Jerusalem about 701 B.C.) and ending up at the Pool of Siloam. Or the side trip Robin and I and a half dozen good friends took our last morning in Jerusalem, when we took a cab to the village of Bethany, and walked the Palm Sunday route Jesus took from the traditional site of Lazarus’s tomb to the Temple Mount (see photo above). The topography and scenery of that three-mile walk will stay with me forever, and springs to my mind, of course, every time I read of Bethany or Palm Sunday or Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in my Bible.

You can't imagine the way Scripture and the past come alive after you have stood on the teaching steps of the Jerusalem Temple (on which Jesus’ feet undoubtedly trod, and where he would have sat to teach on many occasions) (see photo above).

And there's just no way to convey the depth and emotion of such statements as "Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:2) and "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion" (Psalm 125:1) and "the city of our God, the mountain of his holiness" (Psalm 48:1) until you've encountered such things in the very places the Biblical writers experienced them. It is, for me, an indescribably rich experience that is renewed every time I read such passages.

And now we are excited at the prospect of another such experience—with an added twist—in early 2010. Leaving from Dayton, Ohio, on January 24, 2010, we will be flying to the Kingdom of Jordan, where we will begin our tour with a trip to the “Lost City” of Petra (above), the city cut out of rock by the Nabateans around 100 B.C., memorably shown in the movies Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Left Behind, among others. From Petra we will visit the ancient city of Jerash and cross the Jordan into Israel, where our Holy Land trip will include visits to Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Jericho, Jerusalem, Caesarea, Capernaum--and much more--and includes an optional seven day extension to Egypt!

For all the richness of my educational and training experiences to date, I rank our trips to Israel as the most transformative of my ministry. They have made me a better reader, student, and preacher and teacher of Scripture. They have been worth many, many times the money I've spent on them. And I gain so much from every trip that I immediately make the next trip a high priority.

Our future plans are to make a "Journeys of Paul Cruise" in March 2012, and then again in 2014 to return to the Holy Land. If you haven't yet made either of those trips, consider making it with us! More information is available here.

Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey

Margaret Feinberg's latest book, Scouting the Divine (my serarch for God in wine, wool, and wild honey), describes her effort to look "for those ordinary and extraordinary moments when God intersects our world" with visits to a shepherd, a beekeeper, a farmer, and a vintner to uncover deeper and more sensory meanings to the Bible's frequent references to these vocations. She says, in the book's early pages, that these were "an intentional search for ways to move from reading the Bible to entering stories that can be touched, tasted, heard, seen, smelled, and savored."

She delivers on that promise, describing her search in a series of conversations that offer interesting insights and sometimes impactful applications of an agrarian way of life with which we have mostly lost contact. Her eye (and ear and nose) for detail often enlivens the experiences she describes, if at times the descriptions do go on a bit too long for this reader's taste.

Among my favorite portions was her exchange with farmers Aaron and Joe, speaking of John the Baptist's allusion to the coming Messiah who would gather the wheat into the barn but burn up the tares:
Joe piped in, "you can't tell wheat from tares just by looking at it. You have to grab, squeeze, and crush it to find out whether it's real or not. I think that's true of the spiritual life. Some people can look really good on the outside--they can seem more mature or look like they really know their Bible--but when it comes to the pressures of life and getting crushes, that's when the fruit really shows."
And again, when discussing with a Napa Valley vintner Jesus' reference in John 15 to the Father as a vinedresser who prunes the branches:

"It's the little cuts that are the most important," he explained. "You can't come in with a pair of shears and clip like crazy. You don't just look at what appears to be a dead branch and cut it off, and then look at a branch full of fruit and think it's fine. Over the course of pruning, you make a series of very precise, strategic cuts that will produce the healthiest, most robust vines."

"Which highlights just how intimately God is involved in our lives," I interjected.

"And also how God handles each of us differently," Kristof explained.

He explained that if a vinedresser chooses the wrong cuts, the vine won't produce fruit. That's why a vinedresser looks at each vine carefully. Every vine is unique. Even two vines planted next to each other may require significantly different pruning in order to produce fruit.

"One vine may have great soil and be strong enough to handle a significant pruning, but the next vine may be weaker, and the same pruning would leave it fruitless," he explained.

"Which may be one of the reasons Jesus chose to describe his father as vinedresser [and not owner of the vineyard]," I offered. "He's the only one who can make those judgments."
Scouting the Divine earns a place among such fine books as Phillip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 and A Gardener Looks at the Fruits of the Spirit and Bishop K. C. Pillai's Light Through an Eastern Window in providing enlightening context to some of the Bible's most important figures.

Church of the Week: Loretto Chapel

Tiny Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was built in 1873. While not the oldest and certainly not the largest church in Santa Fe, it is one of the loveliest and most noteworthy, partly because it is thought to be the first gothic structure west of the Mississippi and also because of its striking "miraculous staircase."

The church, fashioned after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, was built to serve the Sisters of Novena. However, the story is told that upon completion, a serious and obvious flaw was immediately discovered: there was no way to get to the choir loft in the rear of the chapel except by climbing a ladder.

As the story goes, an unknown carpenter showed up and volunteered to build a staircase. The result was this beautiful spiral stair, which has no visible means of support, other than itself. The handrails were a later addition. The staircase has been standing for more than 100 years.

The lovely Robin and I visited this church on our first trip to New Mexico together, in 1999.

12 Places I've Preached

Somehow, over the years, I've preached more than 1,000 sermons in more than 100 churches, chapels, camps, etc. In addition to having spoken hundreds of times for Cobblestone Community Church both at Talawanda Middle School (2000-2008) and The Loft (2008-present), here are twelve of the other places I've preached, chosen more or less at random, and offered roughly in order (from least to most recent):

The Salvation Army School for Officers' Training, Suffern, New York

The Salvation Army's Time Square (NY) Corps, where I spoke as a cadet

Our first Salvation Army church, Lancaster, Ohio

Chamberlain Hall, at The Salvation Army's Camp Swoneky, near Lebanon, Ohio

The Salvation Army, Cincinnati Temple (now Center Hill) Corps

Historic Trinity Episcopal Church, Covington, Kentucky

The Salvation Army Montclair (NJ) Citadel, where I spoke occasionally when the lovely Robin and I were stationed at NHQ (though it didn't look like this back then, as they've recently dedicated a beautiful new corps building)

The Salvation Army, Clearwater, Florida, where I spoke the day the Bengals lost the Super Bowl in January 1988

The Salvation Army Youngstown Citadel, where the lovely Robin and I served in 1991 and 1992

Eaton, Ohio, Church of the Brethren; spoke there in July 2000

The Salvation Army's Torrance (CA) Corps, where I preached in 2006

Restoracion Church in Arequippa, Peru, where I was blessed to preach (with the translating expertise of my friend Don Latta) in May 2009.

There are many more, of course, from Portland to Providence to Brooklyn to Philadelphia to Cleveland to Royal Oak to Independence to Kansas City to Malibu. Each one a privilege, though I didn't always know it at the time, and a blessing to look back on.

What I Wish I'd Learned in School

I will forever be grateful for the fine teaching I've received at numerous colleges over the years, and the tremendous ministry training I enjoyed at The Salvation Army's School for Officers' Training (graduating in 1980 with other "Proclaimers of Salvation").

However, I've had ample cause in recent months and years to lament the things I wish I had learned in school and seminary lo, those many years ago. Here's a short list:

1. Accountability (back in the day, no one ever talked about this...except in financial terms. Coulda used it long before I had my first accountability partner, Mike Q. Erre, sometime in the mid-90s).

2. Self-care. Though some are tired of hearing about pastoral self-care, I wish I could have been helped thirty years ago (as I have in recent years) to discover the things that will keep my soul from shriveling and my family from suffering. And (as too many have discovered) my ministry from shipwreck.

3. Discipleship and spiritual direction. It probably has more to do with the tradition in which I trained, but if I could do it all over again, I'd have liked some exposure to ways to disciple a person, one-on-one, and the art of spiritual direction (giving and receiving).

4. Safety. Much of it has to do with changes around us, but still, it might have been good in school to have heard something about wise child safety measures in children's ministry....and similar things.

5. Boundaries. Not only in self-care areas, but my ministry training back then didn't equip me with the helpful boundaries I've picked up along the way (not sure from where, off the top of my head). Things like never meeting privately with a woman, not being alone in a car with a woman, etc.

6. Biblical peacemaking. Preventing and working through conflict in biblical ways. I think I was so naive as a young pastor, I sincerely thought I could get along with everyone. Turns out, not so much. But I can be a peacemaker.

7. Spanish. I had no idea back in the day that a working knowledge of Spanish could be so helpful--and the lack of it so unhelpful. Still hope to learn, but woulda been nice to have HAD to, ya know?

8. Spiritual warfare. Just a clue woulda been good.

9. How to pray. I've prayed, of course. But it's only been in the past ten years that I've become a man of prayer. Can that be taught? To a twenty-something? I think so, though I learned the joy of prayer not through instruction, but example...and desperation.

10. Team ministry. School did a pretty good job of teaching me how to do ministry. Not so much how to equip others and share it with them.

Now, I know, school and seminary are starting points, not the reference point. No school could possibly teach a twenty-something all they can learn by the time they're fifty-something. So this is NOT AT ALL a criticism, but a recognition. Chances are, if I were to go back to my curricula and class notes, some of these things were probably touched on. And even if they had been more strongly emphasized, I might not have learned them any better.

At least I see I've learned something over the years: how little I've learned, and how much more I need to.

What You Should Do (and Never Do) with Evil

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at

Amma Theodora Said

What Amma Theodora (a woman highly respected by the Desert Fathers) said of teachers should, of course, be true also of pastors:
A [pastor] ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vain-glory, and pride; one should not be able to fool him by flattery, nor blind him by gifts, nor conquer him by the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but he should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; he must be tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.

The Law of the Farm

From David Foster's blog come these wise words:
I talk to more and more pastors these days asking the question, “How do I get my church to grow?” They have conferences about how to grow your church and increase your attendance, how to be more effective and reach different people groups. The truth of the matter is, you cannot make your church grow.

That’s right. I said it. Jesus said that He would build His church; he would grow it. That doesn’t include your particular organization if that’s all your church is; your little club, or your group that you want to build so you can build buildings and fill them up, and talk at conferences, and write books about how to grow churches. That having been said, and assuming you’re not that kind of person or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, here’s what you can do.

Instead of trying to make your church grow, or your organization, or anything else, let it grow. Every living organism, church, movement, particularly the church of Jesus Christ, grows by the law of the farm, not the law of the factory.

At most of the conferences I attend, speakers speak on the basis of the law of the factory. In other words, build a great assembly-line, fill it with product and great workers and out will come really great stuff. And if you want more of the great stuff, just increase the workers, do some re-aligning, and most of all increase the speed. Nothing could be further from the truth in growing something truly important and significant.

If you’re a pastor anywhere in America trying to make your church grow, stop it. Let it grow, which means you’ve got to have good seed. That’s the gospel. It’s the best kind. It is the power of God and the salvation to everyone who believes. The gospel works on its own. All we are to do is faithfully tell the redemptive story and be forces of reconciliation.

Once you’ve planted the seed, water it. Understand that you’ll be planting it in different soils which means it’s going to grow at different rates. So give it time. Water it. Fertilize it. Create a healthy environment. Give it some time and it will grow on God’s timing, not yours.

There is nothing you can do to hurry up the growth of the spiritual organization. Yes, it is true you can slow it down and you can impede it altogether. But your job is to take away the impediments to growth: the boundaries, the walls, things that arise to keep the church from growing spontaneously as a move of God.

So here is my advice. Love people, plant the seed of the gospel, water it, wait, and let God grow the church. You’ll be happier and the result will be a lot healthier in the long term.
That prompts the question, "What am I doing--what are we doing as a church--that is standing in the way of Jesus building his church as he promised?

Careful What You Pray For

In her book, Interrupted (An Adventure in Relearning the Essentials of Faith), author Jen Hatmaker tells the riveting story of the unexpected transformation that took place in her (and her husband, and their life and ministry) after she prayed a dangerous prayer: "Raise up in me a passion."

Early on, the book struck a strong chord with me as she described the tensions she felt as a pastor's kid, Christian college grad, pastor's wife, Christian author, and long-time Christian:
I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but there was...something off for me. ...Brandon and I were far too consumed with worthless things. We spent an unhealthy amount of time dreaming about our next house, our next financial increase, our next level of living. Next. We were the opposite of counter-culture. We were a mirror image of culture, just a churched-up version. I was vaguely aware of this, but we had so few around us who questioned the American Dream, it was easily dismissed.

And yet.

There were other question marks. Like why wouldn't people commit to our church programs, despite the endless work poured into them? And why did 70 percent of the initial enthusiasts drop out by the end? Why did the same people end up doing everything? Why did so many leave claiming they needed more when we were all working eighty hours a week to meet their needs ? Why couldn't I recall the last person I led to Christ? Why did I spend all my time blessing people who should be on the giving side of the equation by now?
Wow. If that ain't hittin' the nail on the head, I don't know what is.

She goes on in the book to trace her spiritual journey from Churchianity (my word) to the revolutionary call of Jesus. She does so compellingly, yet without applying a guilt trip or formula. And she does so winsomely, with frequent humor. For example, I loved how she lambastes our tendency in the church to make quick assumptions about people instead of settling in to truly know people, long-term. She contrasts several pictures people might have of her based on separate fact groups:
Here's one set: I grew up in a lower-middle-class, blue-collar town in Kansas; I joined the party sorority in college; and I have a tattoo on my wrist.
Most of us would draw a certain picture of her based on those facts. But then she offers a second set of facts:
I am a pastor's daughter, a pastor's wife, and a Christian author; and I graduated magna cum laude from a conservative Baptist college.
She makes her point: "We cannot possibly know all there is to know about anyone without digging deep, getting close, and providing a safe place for them to be known." Lord, help us.

I thought the first part of the book, describing the process by which Jesus "interrupted" her life and led her and her family into a more complete and more radical understanding of the Gospel, was much more compelling than the latter half, where she describes the end of one ministry and beginning of another...but it's all worth reading.

You can learn more, view an informational video, and buy the book here.

This book was provided for review by the publisher, NavPress.

Church of the Week: First United Methodist, Hamilton

The first Methodist Church was established in Hamilton in 1819, when the "first meeting house" was erected on Ludlow Street. This is not that.

The First UM Church of Hamilton is now far more spacious and commodious. Plus, it has a cool door, which I happen to like, too.

Embrace Discomfort

May I say to you, AMEN!
This is the kind of church and kingdom I want to be a part of -- a band of people who are messy, have addictions and shortcomings, make mistakes, get rejected, and are screwed up, but are so fully aware of the Master's grace and love for them in spite of who they are or will be someday; people who embrace discomfort knowing there is so much to be gained for all of us and for all of our churches (Dave Gibbons, The Monkey and the Fish).


John Ortberg, writing on the Monvee Blog, imparts wisdom:
When i first got married, I did not understand about the need for reserves. (Actually there were lots of other things I didn’t understand, but there’s no time for that now.) Then our car got injured, and our washing machine went on strike, and I learned.

When I first worked at a church, I did not understand about reserves. We lived financially from week to week. Then one week we did not have enough money to pay the staff, and I learned in a hurry.

But as important as financial reserves are, they pale next to our need for spiritual reserves. Often in ministry I feel like Jesus (that’s a dangerous comparison!) when he was touched by a woman in a crowd ‘and felt the power go out of him.’ Ministry can be the most draining activity known to human beings, because it draws on the soul. So i have to know what the signs are when my reserves are running low: I got easily discouraged, I get preoccupied in my relationships, my motivation and energy drop, sin looks more tempting.

I need friends who speak to me about their observations of how my reserves are running. A friend recently encouraged me to watch my own life for a while, and mark those activities that restore me. For me it's solitude, reading, conversations with very good friends, traveling with my wife, watching the ocean, and physical exertion.

How are your reserves? What’s your plan to grow them?
More than a year ago, my counselor had me draw up a similar list of the things that restore me, that give me energy as opposed to sucking the energy out of me. That list: prayer, reading, being outdoors (especially in the woods), music, family, worship, and preaching (my own). Solitude should also have been on the list, but maybe that's more or less implied when I say "prayer."

Pope Music Album

Here is a video about a fascinating music project and upcoming release from....the Vatican:

From the press release announcing the Geffen/Universal release:
The album, released worldwide on 30 November 2009, will be an enchanting blend of Lauretan Litanies and Marian popular chants with eight original pieces of modern classical music. What makes this release especially unique is that this is the very first time that the Voice of Pope Benedict XVI, here speaking and singing in Latin, Italian, Portuguese, French and German, will be heard on an album, thanks to the audio-recordings of Vatican Radio.

Proceeds from the album sales will be used to provide music education for underprivileged children around the world.

The album will feature His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, reciting and singing passages and prayers, accompanied by The Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome, conducted by Monsignor Pablo Colino, Maestro Emeritus of St. Peter's Basilica and recorded in St Peter's Basilica. The world famous Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays on all of the specially commissioned contemporary tracks, with the recording session taking place at the iconic Abbey Road studios.
More details here at

Even Shepherds Need Shelter

This article makes me so sad, and it is why I have come to believe that self-care is absolutely crucial for pastors (as it is for anyone in a helping profession):
What kind of personal pain would cause a 42-year-old pastor to abandon his family, his calling and even life itself? Members of a Baptist church here are asking that question after their pastor committed suicide in his parked car in September. 
Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally the result is the unthinkable.

Experts say clergy suicide is a rare outcome to a common problem.

But Baptists in the Carolinas are soul searching after a spate of suicides and suicide attempts by pastors. In addition to the September suicide of David Treadway, two others in North Carolina attempted suicide, and three in South Carolina succeeded, all in the last four years.

Being a pastor — a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success — can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors. (Read the whole USA Today article HERE)
While not all churches or traditions stigmatize depression as much as the article depicts, even pastors of the most understanding congregations face a constant and tough choice: if they are honest about their discouragements and even depression, they're likely to bum out even the most sympathetic listeners. And they stand the risk of coming off like a whiner instead of a spiritual leader.

Well, too bad. I see a counselor regularly. I am profiting from various mechanisms for self-care. And I do my best not to hide behind a false facade, if only so my best prayer supporters know how to pray for me.

There's not a pastor I know who wouldn't profit from more attention to self-care. Even shepherds need shelter.

If You Like It Then You Better Put a Ring On It

Okay, I'm no Beyonce, but while the Desperate Pastor's readers are growing nicely month by month, and the stats show that many of you visit here regularly, only a handful are subscribers. Did you know you can subscribe to the blogs you read regularly?

I read dozens of blogs daily, using Google Reader. All I do is open my Google Reader account on my web browser, and it automatically tells me how many (and which) blogs have new posts to read. It's easy.

The easiest way to subscribe to a blog is to set up a Google Reader account and "add subscriptions" to RSS feeds. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary (of course, the acronym can be explained in many other creative ways), and it allows you to automatically receive updates from web sites. If you subscribe to an RSS feed, you get only what you want. If you tell the feed reader to stop collecting a site's feed, it will stop. And there's no spam. No spam!

To subscribe to Desperate Pastor, just click on the second item in the column at right, where it says, "Subscribe to Desperate Pastor," and choose the "news aggregator" you want to use (I recommend Google), and it will take you to the appropriate site. Then just set up your login and password, and you're good to go!

Oh, and should you ever encounter "Atom" or "web" feeds instead of "RSS" feeds, let not your heart be troubled...or your mind confused. Essentially, they are all the same, just different names and slightly different protocols for the same functionality. Your RSS feed reader should be able to use either version just fine.

Fly Like an Eagle

Learning To Soar: How to Grow Through Transitions and Trials, a 2009 book by grandfather and grandson Avery T. Willis Jr. and Matt Willis, expands on the oft-used Biblical imagery of God as an eagle to trace how God dealt with ancient Israel and how he deals with us.

The four sections convey an outline of the book's message and value:
PART ONE: God Stirs Your Nest
PART TWO: God Hovers Over You
PART THREE: Try Your Wings
PART FOUR: Soar With God
The parallels with eagles and their behaviors gave fascinating insight into God's treatment of us, and the authors' missionary and ministry backgrounds offered frequent and effective illustrations. The book is practical, insightful, and thoroughly Biblical.

Learning to Soar will speak to people at varying points in their lives. If you're a college student, it will equip you for change. If you're a parent, you will identify with and learn from its depiction of God's parenting of his children. If you're in ministry, it will help you navigate the challenges you face on a daily basis. And no matter what your situation, it will provide you with a new understanding of confusing, challenging, even dark times you've endured....and may prepare you for the next.

The book can be ordered here.

This book was provided for review by the publisher, NavPress.

Top Ten

October's most popular posts on the Desperate Pastor blog:

1. Love Was Here First
2. Ten Lessons From a Lifetime of Leadership
3. Top 10 Confessions of a Pastor
4. Your Pastor Wants to Quit
5. Webby Encouragement
6. Where Are the Women?
7. Mosaic Bible
8. Seven Things Leaders Should Never Apologize For
9. Great Day at the Loft
10. Ten Leadership Lessons in Thirty Years (Sunday Version)

And...the post I WISH had been in the top ten:

The Bone Box on Audio.

Church of the Week: San Juan Batista, Arequipa

One of the first churches we discovered on our recent (May 2009) trip to Peru was the Church of Saint John the Baptist (San Juan Batista) in Yanahuara, a very nice suburb of Arequipa.

This church, with its elaborate stone facade, was built in 1750, a period when a WHOLE BUNCH of churches were being built in the area. I took the pictures above during a stop on our four-hour tour of the city.