Top Ten Books of 2010

Of the seventy books I read in 2010, which I listed yesterday on this blog, ten stand out from the rest as the most enjoyable and most memorable to me.

Three novels. One book on pastoring. Two history. Two memoirs, one of which is a "man against the wilderness" book, one of my favorite genres. One you could call Biblical fiction, and another historical fiction. Four by Christian publishers.

If you would like to know more about why a particular book is on the list, those marked with a † have been reviewed on this blog. Simply search for the title, or go to the category sidebar and click on "Book of the Week" to display all the book reviews and just scroll down until you find the one you're looking for. Also, each book's title is linked to the Amazon listing for that title, so you can learn more, read reviews, or purchase the book online.

1. The Pastor as Minor Poet (Barnes) †

2. Naomi and Her Daughters (Wangerin) †

3. Deep Church (Belcher) †

4. Blood and Thunder (Sides)

5. Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)

6. The Blessed Life (Morris) †

7. Three Against the Wilderness (Collier)

8. Lit (Karr)

9. The Virginian (Wister)

10. Pope Joan (Cross)

A Year in Books

One of my year-end practices for many years has been a review of the books I have read in the previous year. As I've mentioned before on this blog, I assemble a reading plan at the beginning of each year, and that guides roughly fifty percent of my reading through the year. Then, at the end of the year, I look over the books I've enjoyed, looking for balance and patterns, etc.

So here's a quick look back on last year’s reading, sorted by category (an asterisk indicates an audiobook):

Three Against the Wilderness (Collier)
Picking Dandelions (Cunningham)
I Am Hutterite (Kirkby)
Lit (Karr)

Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)

Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan)
The Virginian (Wister)
Alice in Wonderland (Carroll)
Tarzan of the Apes (Burroughs)
Riders of the Purple Sage (Grey)*
Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare)
Lorna Doone (Blackmoore)*
The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare)

BookLife (Vanderemeer)

Blood and Thunder (Sides) *

New authors:
Growing Up Pains (Plass)
Murder Duet (Gur)
Life of Pi (Martel)*
Casino Royale (Fleming)

Beowulf (tr. Heaney)

Favorite Authors:
Catlow (L’Amour)
Reversed Thunder (Peterson)
The Bookwoman’s Last Fling (Dunning)

Dug Down Deep (Harris)
A Book of Hours (Reeves)
Wild Goose Chase (Batterson)
The Butterfly Effect (Andrews)
The Blessed Life (Morris)
Outlive Your Life (Lucado)
Sun Stand Still (Furtick)

Introverts in the Church (McHugh)
Antagonists in the Church (Haugk)
Derailed (Irvin)
ReWORK (Fried/Hansson)
Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (Maxwell)
The Servant Leader (Blanchard/Hodges)
The Pastor as Minor Poet (Barnes)
Running on Empty (Anderson)
The Power of Loving Your Church (Hansen)
Pastoral Grit (Larson)
Team Leadership in Christian Ministry (Gangel)
The Up the Middle Church (Keller)
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (Laniak)
Deep Church (Belcher)
Blink (Gladwell)
The Tipping Point (Gladwell)

Related books:

Books About Books:
Walking a Literary Labyrinth (Malone)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Robinson)
Miles the Crocodile Plays the Colors of Jazz (Blackman/Cunningham)
Axle the Freeway Cat (Hurd)
Fun & Nonsense (Bonte)
A Cool Kid—Like Me (Wilhelm)
Don’t Do That! (Polisar/Clark)
The Big Boasting Battle (Wilhelm)
Tyrone the Horrible (Wilhem)
Art & Max (Wiesner)
When I Am a Princess (Pocket Money Press)
Dr. Seuss’s ABC (Seuss)
God Made Christmas (Stainbrook/Burr)
The Polar Express (Van Allsburg)

The Way of Perfection (Teresa of Avila)

Hagar (Shade)
Death by Church (Erre)
Why the Bible Matters (Erre)

The One-Day Way (Hobbs)
Pope Joan (Cross)
The White Queen (Gregory)
Younger Next Year (Crowley/Lodge)
Naomi and Her Daughters (Wangerin)
The Simple Dollar (Hamm)

That’s 70 books, one more than last year. More classics than I would have guessed! As well, some truly outstanding books. And, though I had my iPad for only half of the year, fifteen of the above were read in eBook format! What a blessing that has been!

Tomorrow I'll post my ten favorite books of the year.

How to Encourage a Pastor

Ministry can be a long, hard slog, and sometimes feels like a thankless job. But every once in a while, God sends encouragement to a pastor in surprising and very meaningful ways. Here's an example. It's a note I received from a young man who attended worship at Cobblestone this past Sunday, December 26:
Hi Bob,
I know you don't know me, but I just wanted to send you a quick note of encouragement after visiting your church this past Sunday....I was home visiting family for Christmas this weekend and had heard that lots of great things were taking place at Cobblestone. I decided I wanted to see for myself. I was very impressed with the way that God is working in Oxford. It is awesome to see a ministry that is so focused on reaching out to the most prominent group in Oxford. Anyway, I just wanted to send a quick note and say thanks for being obedient to God and doing His Kingdom work.
What a blessing it was to receive that note. And what a reminder of how a simple act of kindness can lift a pastor's spirits.

Why not send a note of encouragement to a pastor in YOUR life today?

Sense-ational Preaching

Looking back on 2010 at Cobblestone Community Church, I'm grateful to reflect on a year that was, in some respects, one of our more sense-ational years of preaching.

What I mean by that is that we try, as often as possible, to make our teaching and preaching ministry at Cobblestone participatory, and to involve the learner's senses whenever possible. In years past, we have used costumes, props, and various forms of participation to get the main message across.

This year, some of my favorite sense-ational preaching moments were:

Breaking Bread
On Palm Sunday, in the final message in a series called, "Do Something," I talked about how during my latest visit to Jerusalem, our group was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, our guide Nader pointed out to us several times a scrap of bread on a window ledge or a few pieces on an electrical box. He explained that, because Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples he met on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of bread, bread is so revered by the Christians of Jerusalem, that they will not throw it in the garbage…and if any bread falls to the ground or is seen on the ground, the residents will pick it up and place it on a ledge so it won’t be trampled underfoot. So I asked everyone to come to communion, expecting to meet the living Christ in the breaking of bread, like those two disciples, and then I asked them, on their way back to their seats, to leave a piece or two or more of bread on the window ledge to represent the person or persons they had invited or planned to invite to Easter, with a prayer that that person would someday soon be meeting the living Christ in the breaking of bread, as they had just done. It prompted a beautiful response from the people of God that day.

Free to Belong
A few weeks later, we were studying Galatians in a series called, "Livin' Venti." When I preached on the first ten verses of Galatians 2, in a message called "Free to Belong," I wanted to emphasize the futility of adding to the Gospel of Grace. So I produced a fresh Krispy Kreme donut, and asked how many would eat that donut if I gave it to them. Of course, many hands were raised. Then I produced a ketchup bottle, a jar of jam, and a bottle of hot sauce, and added those ingredients to the donut, asking if anyone would eat it. ONE young man (in each celebration!) raised a hand, so I gave him a bite. The crowd loved it--and even more when one of the guys had to leave the room shortly after to get a drink, or crackers, or something! It was fun--and, I hope, got the point across.

Dire Straits
The next week, in the Livin' Venti series, preaching on the latter half of Galatians 2, I preached the first part of the message in a strait jacket, to illustrate our tendency to return over and over again to the constraints and strictures of the Law, instead of enjoying the fact that we are "Free to Enjoy" the new life God gives us. That simple visual seemed to make this message one of the most impactful and memorable I've ever given. Oh, and in case you're curious, the strait jacket was bought from a costume supply place....I didn't just happen to have it on hand, despite what you may think of my mental state.

War and Wedding
This past summer, we studied the book of Revelation in an eleven-part series of messages
called, "How to Survive the End of the
World." It is one of my favorite series, ever. For the ninth message, "The Last Word on Salvation," on Revelation 19-20, I depicted salvation as wedding (ch. 19) and war (ch. 20), and we did a number of things to make the message memorable. We divided the message into two parts, separated by the celebration of communion. For the first part of the message, I came onstage in a tuxedo, and issued the invitation, "Come to the Wedding" (from Revelation 19:1-10) after which we celebrated communion together from a beautifully appointed banquet table, to emphasize the wedding supper of the Lamb (right). After communion, I returned to the stage, this time in Army camo fatigues (thanks, Butch Sterwerf!) and issued the call, "Go out to War," from Rev. 19:11-21. We also had, on each seat in the auditorium, a card with a printed invitation to the wedding of the Lamb on one side, and a draft notice on the other; as part of the response, I urged participants, if they accepted the wedding invitation, to also sign the signature line on the draft notice, emphasizing that we kid ourselves if we think we can come to the wedding without joining in the battle.

John Johnson planned and delivered one of the most imaginative messages I think I've ever seen. He actually constructed a silo in the auditorium (on the left in the photo at right; sorry for the quality, but the photographer is not the brightest bulb in the box) and delivered the first ten minutes or so of the message from INSIDE the silo, and had a video feed that showed him, contained and isolated in the silo, speaking to us from the big screen! He also had a SECOND camera that he could switch back and forth from to show us the cozy confines of his self-imposed cell. It was a memorable way to depict how many of us tend to prefer isolation from each other rather than engagement and vulnerability and community with each other.

Barefoot Sunday
Finally, on Thanksgiving Sunday, November 21, I surprised the whole church by concluding my message that day by challenging them to donate their shoes--the shoes they wore to worship that day--to people around the world who don't have even one pair of shoes to wear, through the ministry of Soles4Souls. God's people responded magnanimously! It was a day to remember, as worshipers came forward during the closing song, left their shoes on the platform steps, and left church BAREFOOT! Since then, people have donated shoes by the hundreds, and we will this week ship them to the Soles4Souls distribution center!

All in all, it has been a memorable year of preaching at Cobblestone. I especially loved preaching through Galatians and the Revelation, as well as the wonderful series on "The Blessed Life," "IF," and "The Songs of Christmas," among others. And our plans for 2011 are no less exciting!

A Wonderful Christmas

Thanks be to God for a wonderful Christmas weekend at Cobblestone Community Church!

I was so blessed by the privilege of sharing our Christmas Eve celebration, "The (Last-Minute) Christmas Pageant," with more than 200 worshipers and participants on Christmas Eve. It's hard to imagine how the evening could have been more blessed. Thank you to all who came, to the last-minute participants (including our donkey, Gary), to those wise men and women who brought an offering to the King, and to the pastors and Under Cover, some of whom persevered through sickness to make the blessed worship hour happen.

And Sunday morning's worship was likewise a sweet worship offering to our King Jesus! What an honor to be a part of such a church as Cobblestone.

Church of the Week: Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, France

This week's church of the week is a tough one to take a good photo of, rising as it does from the close confines of Petit France in the center of Strasbourg, France. While we could view it from our hotel window a mile or two away, the above photo was our first glimpse of it on our first walk through Petit France.

Massive, and ornate, Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre-Dame is one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe. It stands on the exact site of a roman temple built on a little hill.

Due to the height of its tower (465 ft.), the Strasbourg Cathedral was considered the tallest building in the world for a couple hundred years. It was also unique in that it was one of the few gothic churches equipped with only one tower.

Under the Reformation, in 1521, the cathedral became a Protestant church. After the incorporation of Strasburg into France in 1681, the cathedral became--and remains today--a Catholic church.

One of the wonders of this cathedral is the massive astronomical clock (below), created by various scientists, mathematicians, Swiss watchmakers, sculptors, and painters and creators of automatons who all worked together to build this amazing automate. The present mechanism dates from 1842 (there were earlier versions).

Right nearby the astronomical clock is the likewise striking Pillar of Angels:

As I mentioned on my Hither & Yon blog the day we visited this site, while the Strasbourg Cathedral would have been known to my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Jakob Hochstetler (in fact, its spire would have been visible from the Volges Mountains where he once lived), it would have represented danger and oppression to him and his seventeenth century Anabaptist brethren, who were banished from this area in 1712.

So this cathedral's history actually intertwines with my family history and, regardless of what it would have represented to my forebears, it nonetheless brought me and the lovely Robin an hour or so of beauty, wonder, and enjoyment in November 2010.

A Pastor and His iPad

From the blog of Vineyard pastor Aaron McCarter comes this tremendous post on ipads for pastors. He offers nine ways he uses his ipad, ways that have made a significant difference:
  1. Teaching notes. Sometimes I need nothing more than an index card for sermon notes. Sometimes I need page after page. The latter creates problems. It means I’m stuck in one spot, referencing notes that have to stay right there, which means I do too. But with the iPad my notes are portable, whether I’ve got one page, or one hundred.
  2. That whole “in season and out” thing. I recently went on a ministry trip to the UK with one of my heroes. I knew I’d be speaking several times…but I didn’t know when, to whom, or how often. With my iPad in tow, I literally had hundreds of sermons ready to go. No scrambling to find a printer, no force-feeding an irrelevant message to fit an audience because it’s all I had prepared, and no panicking about a change of context. All without using a laptop that needs a stand, and a good charge, and looks pretentious. My iPad (with case) looks like a standard folio, and wasn’t distracting (even at the peek of iPad craze in a country that didn’t yet have them available).
  3. Interactivity. My iPad is starting to change the way we do church. This past Sunday we did live sermon Q&A, and my iPad was at the center of it. We had people text questions to the church’s phone # through Google Voice. The texts populated in the Google Voice inbox, which I read from my iPad. I could read them privately, determine which were most important/relevant, edit for content (if someone used potty language–they didn’t), and ignore the texts sent by pranksters who just couldn’t help themselves (we did have some of that!). Best of all, it was anonymous. People could ask questions without fear of looking stupid, or something coming out wrong.
  4. Illustration. This coming Sunday I’m using my iPad as a telestrator to illustrate a point. This is something we’ve been trying to figure out how to do since thee day I got an iPad. Fortunately, thanks to a nifty little app called Air Sketch, and the functionality of Pro Presenter 4, it’s actually pretty simple.
  5. Mobility. I wrote about a third of this week’s message sitting in the shade on a park bench downtown. Inspiration just comes easier outdoors…and interaction with real people comes a lot easier when I’m not sitting in my office.
  6. Organization. It’s a frantic world, and pastor’s aren’t above the fray. This job has forced me to be more organized than I care to be. Paper organization methods don’t work for me, never have. Desktop applications don’t work for people on the go, and the iPhone interface was just too small for me to make it work visually (smart lists are complicated, things would get buried 6 screens deep before I could get what I needed–my brain couldn’t keep track). For me, the iPad hits the sweet spot–now I can actually follow through with the GTD method that I’ve been in love with, but always seemed out of reach.
  7. Reading. I’ve read more in the last three months than I did in the last year. The interface is beautiful and simple, the highlighting and note-taking functions make my workflow far faster (specifically: getting info from the book, and into a message), and my library is always with me. This is probably the biggest single impact of the iPad on my ministry.
  8. News. Karl Barth said we should live “…with a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.” Those are important words for preachers: awareness, and relevance go hand in hand. My iPad makes this easier than ever. Much has been said about the iPad’s ability to make news consumption fun and simple so I’ll save you the speech. Suffice to say, the iPad and some of the amazing news apps (Reuters and BBC are my faves), along with RSS readers like Reeder, make getting the news you want from the sources you want, super easy.
  9. Meetings/counseling. I have meetings all of the time…like everybody else. Having a portable note-taking solution is huge! In a formal meeting (where note-taking is expected) it goes way beyond a note pad, because you have access to all of your files and the internet for reference/research. It’s creepy to take notes in an informal meeting, but as soon as they’re done I pull out my iPad and make a note of what I want to remember from that meeting. And in counseling, where notes are expected, the iPad is awesome because it’s far less obtrusive than a computer, it sits on your lap or desk like a notepad. For premarital counseling we use Prepare and Enrich, and the rather large digital reports it generates can sit silently on my lap for reference without causing distraction.
There are literally hundreds of other uses, some professional, and some personal. These are the ones that have made the biggest impact on the way I do ministry/business.

A Chrysostom Christmas Sermon

By way of Tony Jones's blog, here is the earliest Christmas sermon still extant. It was written and delivered in A.D. 386 by John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople:
BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

Isn't There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas Is All About?

A pivotal part of our Christmas Eve celebration tonight:

The Last-Minute Christmas Pageant

Can't WAIT for Christmas Eve! We're having a unique, original, and fun-filled Christmas Eve worship celebration at 10 p.m. tomorrow night, complete with traditional (and non-traditional) Christmas music, entertaining videos, and live edge-of-your-seat drama, concluding by candlelight.

Parents, bring your their pj's (then you can carry them straight into bed when you get home!). And we invite EVERYONE, as we've done the last several years, to bring a Christmas offering for the King, like the magi did. It can be a prayer, a poem, a thank you note, a craft, a favorite toy or treasured possession...or a habit to surrender, even YOURSELF! In the course of the worship, you'll be given the opportunity to bring your offering forward and giving it to the King!

You're going to love it. Bring your friends, family, and neighbors. Invite folks to come with you. It will be a night to remember! And plan to get there early; the last two years, it's been a packed house!

And following the celebration, we'll have available several dozen boxes of donuts for folks to take to those who have to work on Christmas Eve: hospital personnel, nursing home employees, police, fire, etc., as a way to let them know they are appreciated!

Hope to see you there, 10 p.m. at The Loft, 4191 Kehr Road, Oxford!

Church of the Week: Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

This week's church is among the oldest in Christendom, because it rests atop the grotto that has been revered since the first century by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus. It's the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem. (I've featured this church once before on this blog, but thought it would be good to revisit it, in honor of the coming Feast of Christmas).

Below (in a photo taken in 2000, one of the four times Robin and I have so far visited this church), my kids (Aubrey and Aaron) prepare to enter the church (behind their cousin, Elissa) through the Door of Humility, a small rectangular entrance to the church which was created in Ottoman times to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the holy place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which can still be seen above the current door. The outline of the Justinian square entrance can also be seen above the door.

The Basilica is a rectangle 177 ft. long, the nave is 86 ft. wide, and the transept is 117 ft. Entering the Church, one can notice 4 rows of pillars, 44 in total, 20 ft. high, and made of the white-veined red stone of the country. The white marble capitals are in debased Corinthian style and bear in the center of the abacus a rosette with an ornate Greek cross.

A short history of the church: In 326, Constantine and his mother St. Helena commisioned a church to be built over the cave where Jesus was born. This first church, dedicated on May 31, 339, had an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly above the cave. In the center, a 4-meter-wide hole surrounded by a railing provided a view of the cave. Portions of the floor mosaic survive from this period. St. Jerome lived and worked in Bethlehem from 384 AD, and he was buried in a cave beneath the Church of the Nativity.

The Constantinian church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today.The remnants of the octagonal building which covered the Grotto of the Nativity can still be seen in the Armenian Chapel.

In 1852, shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox churches. The Greeks care for the Grotto of the Nativity, pictured below, where a silver star marks the birthplace of Jesus.

Generations Online

I saw this Pew survey chart below on Church Crunch (click to enlarge). It seems to me that churches that want to appeal to and connect with anyone age 45 or younger clearly need to pay attention to electronic media.

More than 70% of people ages 18-45 use the internet not only for email but for social networking (SNS), video, shopping, banking, and more. Those numbers seem likely only to increase, indicating a potential for outreach and ministry that Jesus might have called "a field white unto harvest."

(NOTICE how few people, percentage-wise, listen to podcasts--one of the few electronic media areas churches pay attention to. By contrast, note the comparatively wide use of social media (SNS) and video, which might indicate where churches can more effectively put their efforts)

Do's and Don'ts for Pastors Using Social Media

As an occasional user of Facebook and Twitter (hold the jokes, please), I have seen the bright side and dark side of social media. They can be a great help (see my post, "Facebook Makes Better Pastors" here), but also present some dangers. So I was interested to see Steve Cornell's post on A Time to Think offering some do's and don'ts for pastors who use social media:
Seven Do’s

1. Announce events and teaching themes
2. Link to helpful resources
3. Encourage others
4. Let people know a little about yourself
5. Share Scriptures or great quotes
6. Ask for prayer
7. Limit your time on networks

Seven Don’ts

1. Post anything that you would fear being read at Church
2. Engage ongoing conversations with the opposite sex
3. Fish for affirmations or support
4. Post ambiguous or manipulative statements
5. Vent toward Church matters or members
6. Embarrass your family with comments or photos
7. Become combative or defensive

Seven questions:

1. Do you check your Facebook status in the morning before checking in with God?
2. Are you disappointed when people don’t respond to your posts?
3. Do you waste too much time on Facebook?
4. Do you use Facebook to avoid real life contact?
5. Do you have intimate conversations with the opposite sex under the guise of counseling?
6. Do you use Facebook to complain about life or people?
7. Are you always truthful and loving in the things you post?

Seven Scriptures to apply:

1. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
2. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
3. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I corinthians 10:31).
4. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).
5. “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:14-15).
6. “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut” (Proverbs 10:19, NLT). “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19)
7. “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Proverbs 9:8-9).

Six Blessings of Denominations

I have been blessed these past ten years to lead, pastor, and preach in a nondenominational church, Cobblestone Community Church. There are many great advantages to being a nondenominational church. Many people--churched and unchurched--are suspicious, even antagonistic, toward denominations. And nondenominational churches can innovate to an extent not always tolerated or encouraged in denominational churches. Plus, our missions money goes directly to missionaries on the field who have been chosen by us, not by someone else.

There are more advantages besides those. BUT, as someone who has served gratefully in both denominational and nondenominational settings, I can also appreciate some of the advantages of being part of a denomination:

1. Resources.
Since starting Cobblestone ten years ago with just a few families, we have seen a half dozen new church plants start up in our little town. Most have had the advantage of two or three years' worth of financial backing from a sponsoring church or denomination. That would have been nice...and would be nice even now in planning for multiple campuses someday.

2. Networking.
There is a huge advantage in networking for those who belong to a denomination or network of churches. Without a denominational structure, independent churches often have to repeatedly reinvent the wheel when it comes to youth retreats and camps, specialized ministries, conferences, published materials, etc. And one of the things I miss most from my days in ministry in a fine denomination are the blessings of being part of a big family, and enjoying camaraderie and fellowship with other churches and pastors in the denomination.

3. Counsel.
We are blessed in our church to have an abundance of wise and godly servants of God. But even so, there have been many times when the counsel of a denominational "higher up" would have been worth its weight in gold, so to speak. Like when funding and building a new facility. Or navigating serious conflict. Or hiring new staff. And more. We have more than once paid handsomely for such counsel (and only sometimes gotten our money's worth), but a denominational structure might have saved us some difficult and costly missteps.

4. Clergy benefits.
It is a gigantic challenge for us as an unaffiliated church with a small staff to make decisions (and keep costs down) in providing pensions, health insurance, educational options, and more, for pastors. For denominational churches, the options may be more limited....but they're also more attractive, and less of a headache. Ordination (how, whom, when, etc.) can also be a challenge for a nondenominational church, while in a denomination it is a settled issue. And pastors in a nondenominational setting typically have a better chance (and easier time) of finding a new ministry opportunity when the time comes for a change.

5. Accountability.
There are times when the oversight of a national or international body would be valuable to a local church and to pastors and elders in the church. Of course, there are also times when such larger connections are more hurtful than helpful. But it is a good thing to be able to call upon godly, objective, experienced counsel from those who share the church's mission, vision, and values.

6. A shared loyalty.
I don't miss the parochial mentality I used to have, that upon moving to a new neighborhood or town, I would consider ONLY churches of my denomination as potential places of worship. On the other hand, I now minister in a town where some people have changed churches three, four, or more times in a relatively short span of time! Their reasons may all be valid, but there is a lot to be said for my friends in denominational churches who have weathered storms big and small, and through good times and bad remained faithful, year after year, to their family of faith. That kind of loyalty and perseverance can engender true Christian community--in a way that many with little or no loyalty to their faith community will never experience, hurting themselves and their testimony.

I love my church. And I love the fact that we are nondenominational. But I also recognize that my brothers and sisters in various denominations enjoy some advantages that we do not. So I am thankful for me...and for them.


This video is making the rounds. It's fun. Enjoy.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Here's my snap judgment of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: It's a good book, very entertaining, filled with fascinating stories and anecdotes. But I don't know what to do with it.

Gladwell discusses "rapid cognition," its usefulness, limitations, and possible applications. He convinces me, I think, that snap judgments can often be better decisions than over-researched conclusions, that I can make better snap judgments by systematic and extensive training, and that (as he says on nearly the last page of the book) "if we can control the environment in which rapid cognition takes place, then we can control rapid cognition." But I don't feel any better equipped to make good decisions after reading this book.

I began the book hoping to find some application to my life and ministry as a church leader. I was disappointed, not only because the book seems to offer little or no practical suggestion for how I can effectively implement rapid cognition, but also because it seems that the techniques he dubs "thin-slicing," "snap judgments," and "mind-reading," while they may work reasonably well in hierarchical-command scenarios where an individual or small team are empowered to make critical decisions, they have far less application in most team leadership scenarios. In other words, rational cognition would probably lose much of its usefulness to a leader who must lead by consensus (of course, that may be a salient point for organizations to heed, if they want strong or adaptable leadership).

Still, Blink is probably one of the most thought-provoking books I have read all year, and certainly one of the most pleasurable.

Church of the Week: Burg Eltz Chapel, Munstermaifeld, Germany

The site of this week's church of the week is one of the most scenic I've ever seen. It is Castle Eltz in Germany, which the lovely Robin and I visited this past November.

The Eltz family first erected a dwelling on this site, beautifully situated by the River Eltz, nearly a thousand years ago. The oldest part of the present castle dates to the fifteenth century. Despite many wars in the area, this castle has never been conquered, and has been the possession of the same family for thirty-three generations (Robin and I met and spoke to the current owner, Count Karl).

The family chapel, located on the lower floor of the eight-story Rubenach house (the oldest of the three houses in the castle), is entered through this corridor (above).

The tiny late Gothic chapel (it may seat as many as twenty people) is lit primarily by a beautiful bay window.

Small as it is, the chapel has its own side chapel, with a beautiful tryptych of the Madonna and Christ child.

7 Phases of the Marketing Hourglass....for Churches

Okay, I know a lot of pastors and church-types don't like it when other pastors and church types talk about marketing in the context of the church. I get that, I really do.

But, on the other hand, a lot of what the church does is marketing....or anti-marketing. Everything we do, everything we communicate as a church either builds trust and makes us more attractive to those we are trying to reach....or it erodes trust and makes us less attractive. So maybe it doesn't hurt when we give a little attention to which things are making a positive impact and which are making a negative impact. Know what I'm saying?

So, in that context, I think it'd be helpful for church leaders and leadership team to answer the questions and address the phases depicted in this graphic, which I came across on the Church Crunch blog (click on the image to enlarge):

So, what is my church doing to turn "know, like, and trust" into "try, buy, repeat, and refer?" Hmmm?

The Magnificat

Last Sunday at Cobblestone, I shared the message, "The Song of Mary," in our "Songs of Christmas" series. What a blessing it was to not only share the following video in the message, but also to have Johnny and Juli Rae Cole sing it live during our response time after the message. I wish I had a video of Johnny and Juli's version to share with you, but since I don't, this one, by Kristyn Getty and Mark Godwin (on the lute) will give you this ancient song of Mary in a modern (Celtic-flavored) setting:

I can't WAIT for this Sunday's message, on "The Song of Zechariah," from Luke 1:67-79, and a very different kind of musical setting of that song!

My Lord God, I Have No Idea Where I Am Going

Thomas Merton died on December 10, 1968...forty-two years ago today. Among his brothers at the Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky, where I have enjoyed many wonderful prayer retreats, he was known as Father Louis.

Merton's writings have at times been a blessing to me and my prayer life. So today on the Desperate Pastor blog, I'd like to share the short video below, of Father Matt Kelty, a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani (and who has also blessed me with his Compline devotions in years past, when he was chaplain of the Abbey) reading the prayer of Thomas Merton found in Thoughts in Solitude:

It also happens to be a prayer that is very appropriate for me, right now, at this time in my life and ministry.

The World Needs Pastors Who Lead Prayerfully

Charles Swindoll wrote recently on his blog a two-part post on the praying pastor. They're both worth reading (like everything Swindoll writes), but I found the second part most memorable--especially the first sentence of his final paragraph. Here's what he wrote:
Whether from the outside or from the inside of the church, the Adversary will stop at nothing to try to disrupt and dismantle the body of Christ. But these struggles are not the demise of God’s people. On the contrary. They are our opportunities to apply biblical principles and priorities—the only solutions to the challenges we face.

We must keep our fingers on the pages of Scripture like a boat moored to the pier in a raging storm. While we do not worship the print on the page, the paper and ink lead us to the knowledge of the One whom we do worship—Jesus, our Master and Savior.

We need to stay on our knees. As I wrote last week, prayer is a radical interference with the status quo. It is the means by which God grants power to those who rely on Him. This dependence never changes. Even as a sixty-something-year-old man who had been preaching faithfully for years, the apostle Paul continued to walk in a state of dependence on God. You have to love Paul’s humility.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4)
There was no pretense with Paul. No degree of success or number of years in the ministry gave him a false sense of ultimate accomplishment. He knew he had not yet arrived. He remained dependent on the Spirit of God. And so with a genuinely thankful heart, he entreated his fellow believers for their prayers. Can you see the power of that kind of attitude? Very refreshing in the first century. And very rare in the twenty-first. No wonder the man made such a lasting impact for Christ! The Lord honored and blessed Paul’s ministry because he upheld prayer and promoted God’s Word.

Rather than trying to ape the world’s system, God points us in another direction. It’s a way of life that stays out of step with the world and yet is not aloof from those in the world.

The early church didn’t ask God to bless their gimmicks. So, the church today doesn’t need gimmicks to attract people—it needs pastors who lead prayerfully, biblical truth preached passionately, and Christianity lived out authentically.

This Is Broken

This is a fun video by a master of marketing and communication, Seth Godin. In addition to its entertainment value, it is helpful for those of us in ministry to watch while pondering ways in which we do church that are broken:

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Religious Things and Right Things

Embedded in the nativity account of Matthew's Gospel is a peek into the civic and religious leaders of that time, and their conduct during the first Advent.

Matthew writes of the leaders' conduct when they first heard of Jesus' birth from the Magi:
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel’” (Matthew 2:3-6, NIV)).
I think that passage should be a challenge to us pastors and church leaders, every Advent.

Notice that the leaders of that day--Herod and the chief priests and teachers of the law--were not idle when the Magi came to them. Their behavior was even religious. They involved themselves in a somewhat impromptu Bible study! But they didn't do the one thing they should have done: sincerely seek the King. They should have cancelled the Bible study and caught the first mule train to Bethlehem.

How much does that reflect OUR conduct as leaders? How often are we involved in religious activity that distracts us from the "one thing needful" (Luke 10:42)?

A friend of mine recently cancelled his involvement in a regular outreach to the poor in order to attend a study discuss the importance of reaching out to the poor!

It is so easy--maybe more so for those of us in leadership--to engage in "religious things" that prevent us from doing the right things.

Let's not do that this Advent and this Christmas. Let's not miss the Advent. Let's not miss the King. Let's not neglect the right things because we're too busy with religious things.

Naomi and Her Daughters

Prolific writer and National Book Award winner Walter Wangerin's book, Naomi and Her Daughters, is an artful novel that imagines the life of the Biblical Naomi--and those around her, such as Ruth and Boaz--in rich and compelling detail.

Wangerin (Ragman and Other Cries of Grace, Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, The Book of God), is among my favorite authors, and I was not disappointed in this book. He has few (if any) peers in crafting well-rounded characters and faithfully reflecting ancient Biblical cultures and customs in fiction. Though the outline of Naomi's latter years is familiar from the book of Ruth in the Bible, I reveled in his expert interweaving of Biblical accounts and imagined events.

Unfortunately, I sometimes found the back-and-forth timeline of the narrative distracting, and the section devoted to Boaz, the only male protagonist, slowed things down considerably for me. And though I was surprised by a few profanities, more jarring to me was Wangerin's placement of much later writings (Psalm 103, for example, and the Song of Songs) in the mouth of Naomi. Though, to be fair, it is not impossible to imagine (as perhaps Wangerin does) that the poetry of David and later songwriters found inspiration in phrases or verses learned from the songs of their grandmothers--like Ruth and Naomi.

Such distractions, however, were merely that--distractions from an otherwise enjoyable and enriching story. As great Biblical fiction should, it broadens and deepens my interest in and appreciation for the Biblical accounts, and brings to life some of the most intriguing characters in a most intriguing historical period.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Church of the Week: St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, Cincinnati

Saint Peter in Chains, which I visited in late September 2010, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. It is a Greek revival structure located at 8th and Plum Streets. Construction began with the laying of its cornerstone on May 20, 1841, under the direction of then-bishop—later archbishop—John Baptist Purcell, and formally dedicated on November 2, 1845. Its striking single spire, which soars to two-hundred and twenty feet above street level, was the tallest man-made structure in the city for many decades, and is constructed of pure white limestone.

The interior is striking and unique among Roman Catholic cathedrals in America, with its Greek-themed mosaics depicting the Stations of the Cross, its ornate Corinthian columns and its massive bronze doors.

Those doors are the work of Robert C. Koepnick. They feature the papal crossed keys and inverted crosses, echoing the tradition that St. Peter was crucified upside down.

I've been in a lot of churches--and a lot of cathedrals--and this one has a truly unique look and feel to it. The mosaic on the sanctuary's rear wall blends the radiance of gold infused Venetian glass with the strong colors of various marbles and glass. The work of August Wendling of Aachen, Germany, shows a glorious Christ, in Byzantine fashion, seated with one hand raised in blessing. He gives the keys of the Kingdom to a kneeling St. Peter, who is surmounted by the triple papal tiara. Peter appears twice more: in chains at Jerusalem at the lower left, and imprisoned with Paul in Rome's ancient Mamertine Prison at the lower right. The quotation in the center of the mosaic is from the Acts of the Apostles: "and Peter was kept in prison, bound in chains" (12:5,6). The title of the Cathedral, St. Peter in Chains, is represented by continuous links of a chain framing the mural as well as in other decorative elements of the cathedral. The mosaic measures 35 feet high by 40 feet wide. At the time of its installation, it was the largest mosaic in the United States.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is in the left transept of the Cathedral. Against the black marble of the back wall rise panels of pierced gold-leafed woodwork which frame the pilasters and pediments of the altar and tabernacle. On the tympanum (the triangular face of the pediment) are the Greek symbols for "Jesus Christ, the Victor." The angels flanking the altar are the work of Ernest Bruce Haswell. The Chapel's sidewalls are cream Tavernelle, the pillars Imperial Black marble.

The Baptismal Chapel is located in the north transept of the cathedral. The baptismal font constructed of marble and bronze is surmounted by a bronze figure of the risen Savior by Robert Koepnick. A wall of stone tracery and stained glass provides dramatic surroundings.

Keeping with the Greek motif, massive Stations of the Cross adorn the walls of the nave.

Classic Greek vase paintings provided the inspiration for Cincinnati artist Carl Zimmerman's depiction of the passion and death of Jesus. The black and white figures on a clay red background are woven into a tree of life motif and cover the entire wall between windows.

As a visitor or worshiper exits, he or she sees two inscriptions above the doors to the nave: "The house of the Lord is well founded on solid rock" and "My house will be called a house of prayer." Over the doors rises the rear gallery. The mahogany is accented by a row of Guardian Angels. In the gallery is the organ screen, again accented by gilt angels, all the work of Ernest Bruce Haswell.

I noticed as we left--and I hope it's intentional--that the glass in the front doors reflects the Plum Street Temple across the street. To me it seemed reflective (pun intended) of Christianity's roots in Judaism.