A recent post by Michael Hyatt, one of my favorite bloggers (and perhaps the most prolific), suggested six ways to take a "mini-sabbatical." Here are his suggestions:

Here are six micro-sabbatical ideas that can serve you well, without costing you your job.
Take a day off. How about an entire day just for You-Time! And, really, who’s stopping you? Most of our vacation days get sucked up with family-time or household errands. Instead, plan out a day of nothing but fun. Indulge in your creative hobby, or dabble in something new that you’ve always wondered about. It might circuitously lead to your next great idea at work.

Schedule time for nothing. Wouldn’t it be great if you saw that your next appointment was a “Chill Sesh?” Blocking out time to let your mind wander may ironically lead you to connecting some dots that were missed in the harried activity of the day. You are more likely to have that moment of clarity when your brain is off the hook from meetings, emails and telephone calls. Use the time to take a walk, slip on the i-pod headphones, or just shut your eyes for a few minutes.

Start a practice of daily meditation. You will become much more productive when you start your day with a sense of focused calm. Spending 30 minutes in the quiet of mindful thought can ease your anxiety, reduce stress, and open the mental windows to higher spiritual thoughts. Don’t expect meditation to be easy. It’s a discipline that requires practice, patience and silence. But the lift you receive may turn out to be the daily sabbatical space that you can not live without.

Retreat to nature. A few days secluded in the wilderness can provide the ideal escape from the grind to reflect on life in a completely relaxed, unstructured setting. For many, the wide open space of mountains, forest or sea can bring a much-needed respite from the clash and clang of suburban life, providing a fresh perspective that is impossible to capture in the office. Bring some inspirational books, and write in your journal. I dare you to go all by yourself, and see what happens.

Get physical. The circulation of your blood and muscles might be just the thing to get your mind disengaged, in order to re-engage. Some of my best ideas have come while on the treadmill in the middle of the work day. Why? Because the intense physical workout takes the focus off of work,and puts me into another rhythm altogether. Brisk exercise is a great way to break up the pace of the day and trick your mind into problem-solving mode.

Take in a seminar. Although many companies are cutting back on “non-essential” travel expenses such as professional education, there are still plenty of opportunities to get out of the office and learn something new. There are excellent seminars offered right in your back yard through local chapters of national organizations. I have even found some for free. Don’t underestimate the value of getting out from the familiar setting to network with some new folks and hear an enlightening speaker. And while you’re sitting there, don’t be afraid to daydream. It may turn out to be the smartest thing you’ve done all year.
Early in my ministry, I considered it praiseworthy to not take a day off each week. It meant I was a hard worker, devoted, diligent, etc. But it was stupid. I quickly learned how crucial a day off was, and these days don't know how I would survive without it. In between days off, though, a busy pastor (a phrase which Eugene Peterson claims should be counted an insult; I agree) should still find ways to breathe and re-charge. It's about survival. About effectiveness. About trust in God (no pastor is indispensable....and we become MUCH MORE dispensable if we think we are!). So leave God in charge for a short time, at least, and see how he dies while you take care of the temple that is your body.

I Cannot Be All the Things You Want Me to Be

The Work of a Great Preacher

Obscurity is one of the fatal enemies of the pulpit. And it is here, I am persuaded, that not a little of modern preaching falls short. The man in the pew derives no benefit from it--not because he doesn't believe it but because he can't understand it. This may be due to the fact that the sermon is dealing with some obscure theme beyond the range of his interest or intelligence. Or it may be due to the fact that the sermon is couched in high-sounding theological jargon which makes no more sense to him than would Hindustani. There are preachers who indulge in a pseudo-intellectuality and appear to take a special delight in bewildering their hearers by a display of verbal gymnastics. It is a sorry sort of business. To make easy things hard, it has been observed, is any man's job; but to make hard things easy is the work of a great preacher.

(Anglican pastor Frank Colquhoun, writing in 1965)

Seven Preachers for the Price of One

Broderick Price. Loved his impressions of Fred Price, Rod Parsley, Bishop Eddie Long, Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, and Marvin Winans (though he did Osteen without blinking repeatedly....what's that about?). If this doesn't make you smile, there's something wrong with your smiler.

Are Women Better Leaders?

I liked this article on Jonathan Brink's blog asking questions that deserve to be asked.
What if the evidence suggest women are actually better at leading than men?

Many of you know I’m a huge proponent of women’s leadership. I’ve led the Call To Men to lead the way in lifting up women. I’ve called out injustice and oppression. My primary reason for lifting up women is based in the idea that humanity can only see the whole image of God in BOTH the man and the woman. Adam was originally both expressions. So in order to see the God image in ourselves (I’m speaking from a man’s perspective) we need women fully integrated into the decision making process, leading the way.

But recently I came across an interesting article that kind of caught my attention in a new way. What if the historical evidence suggests women are just better leaders than men? The Pew Forum study on religion revealed a startling piece of evidence. Women just stay with God better and in more numbers than men. It’s just a fact. And as the study suggests, women have been doing this for long periods of time.

I have a Masters in Organization Leadership and I can tell you that the evidence of leadership is based in modeling the defined response, not just talking about it. The capacity to influence is rooted in integrity to an idea, not just the capacity to speak about it. This idea was deeply explored in Robert Greenleaf's Servant Leadership. A true leader is the servant of all. Even Jesus suggested this with his own words.
Mark 9:35 – Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
And to press the evidence, women have been doing this even in the face of injustice and oppression towards women. Women have remained faithful even in spite of the injustice. The article calls out the injustice.
Not a single major faith is led by members of its female flock, and the more deeply adherent a religious group becomes, the less freedom it offers its women, not to mention power. It’s hard not to compare women sticking with faith to wives confined to bad marriages: They’re so committed to the institution that they’ll willingly shrink under mistreatment just to maintain their own status quo.
In other words, history reveals that women just get it better than men. They reveal stronger faith. And if we’re going to be honest about who we’re really going to follow, wouldn’t it then be more honest to admit that women are better leaders?

What better way to explore the Adventurous Life than to begin being honest with ourselves. The real winner is all of us. To begin including women into the idea of leadership means we can begin to see the whole image of God in our midst. We can begin to see the beautiful voice that has been missing in the conversation for so long.
I come from a tradition which strongly believed in female ministry and mostly in female leadership. I also happen to believe the Bible's teaching is strongly egalitarian, contrary to long-accepted and long-taken-for-granted belief in many churches and denominations. I have also found in my studies over the past thirty-plus years that egalitarian scholarship has gotten better and better over the years, while the arguments of my heirarchical and complementarian brothers and sisters have gotten more and more strained.

The most important consideration, of course, is what the Bible says, not what other evidence indicates. But in my judgment, the Biblical and sociological evidence seem to be in accord.

(The picture above is of Teresa of Avila)

So Says the Prince

Pastor, you might want to remember this the next time you try to plant or church or make a change or try something new:
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them (Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince)
That would be discouraging...if we didn't have an almighty, overcoming God on our side.

Church of the Week: Church of All Nations

This week's church is the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem, at the base of the Mount of Olives. It rests on the foundations of two earlier churches, that of a small 12th century Crusader chapel abandoned in 1345, and a 4th century Byzantine basilica, destroyed by an earthquake in 746.

In 1920, during work on the foundations, a column was found two meters beneath the floor of the medieval crusader chapel. Fragments of a magnificent mosaic were also found. Following this discovery the architect immediately removed the new foundations and began excavations of the earlier church. After the remains of the Byzantine era church were fully excavated, plans for the new church were altered and work continued on the current basilica from April 19, 1922, until June, 1924, when it was consecrated. It is called the Church of All Nations (also the Basilica of the Agony) because many nations contributed funds and materials for its construction.

The hillside the church occupies is home to a grove of olive trees, on the ancient site of the Garden of Gethsemane.

The church's altar is built around the exposed bedrock, possibly the place where Jesus prayed in the hours before his arrest and crucifixion.

We have visited this church three times, in 1987, 2001, and 2005, and should see it again in the next few days, during our 2010 visit to Jerusalem. The photo below, of Robin's father Dick praying at the stone where Jesus is believed to have wept great tears and sweat drops of blood in anticipation of his crucifixion, was taken in 2001.

Why Every Pastor Should Go to Israel

I leave today (with the lovely Robin and seventeen others) on another trip to Israel...this time also including time in Jordan and Egypt.

It's a trip I honestly believe every pastor should take....as early as possible in their ministry. 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.

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.

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.

Dug Down Deep

I opened Joshua Harris's new book, Dug Down Deep, with great enthusiasm. The title and subtitle ("Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters") filled me with anticipation. That is a topic I am very enthusiastic about.

The first few chapters, "My Rumspringa" and "In Which I Learn to Dig," fed my enthusiasm. He wrote with honesty, transparency, and humility in setting up the successive chapters of the book, in which he took key doctrinal truths and explained them in clear, concise--and very readable--terms.

The following chapters answer such questions as, What is God like and how does he speak to me? What difference does it make that Jesus was both human and divine? How does Jesus's death on the cross pay for my sins? Who is the Holy Spirit and how does he work in my life? Harris is right in that our answers to--and understanding of--these matters actually and truly matter in our lives.

But the more I read, the more disappointed I got. First, because Harris's fitting tributes and attributions of his ideas to his mentor, C. J. Mahaney (who is also Harris's predecessor as senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland), made me wonder why I was reading THIS book instead of a book by Mahaney.

But the greater disappointment was that the book seemed to me to fulfill only half the promise of the subtitle. It masterfully--and very readably--detailed what Harris believes, which is nothing less than the fundamental teachings of the Bible and the central tenets of the Christian faith. All good. But after a few early and broad attempts at explaining "Why It Matters," the author seemed to forget that part of the book's promise.

Of course, the problem may have been with my expectations. I had hoped that Harris's answer to "Why It Matters" would go farther than the book jacket quote that "Theology matters...not because we want to impress people, but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. Theology matters because if we get it wrong then our whole life will be wrong." It may be that I was wrong to expect further elucidation of that point in the book's chapters; that may be all the explanation that is necessary.

Interestingly, I'm not sure what Dug Down Deep adds to the work already done by the two fine writers whose quotes appear on the book jacket: Donald Miller and J. I. Packer. Packer's Concise Theology (which Harris cites in three of his eleven chapters) does a fine job of treating the fundamentals of Christian theology. And Miller's Blue Like Jazz frames some of those doctrines in a new way for many readers.

All in all, Dug Down Deep is a book worth reading for someone who is relatively new to the central doctrines of the Christian faith, and for anyone who is interested in what an evangelical Christian believes--as long as one doesn't hope (like me) for more than the broadest of emphases on "Why It Matters."

Learn more about or purchase this book here.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

What You Thought Was an Interruption

T. D. Jakes is a favorite preacher of mine. Here is an excerpt from a sermon he preached on the woman who was caught in adultery (John 8:1-11):

Laws of Vicaring

Last week I came across the blog of Alan Wilson, Area Bishop of Buckingham for the Anglican Church. I found his list of things he's learned in 30 years of "vicaring" (wish I could say that) pretty wise...he's obviously learned a lot more than I have in MY almost thirty years since my ordination. Oh, and for future reference, I think a P45 is something like the British equivalent of a pink slip.
30 years ordained this year, and someone asked me what I thought I’d learnt. That conversation gave birth to a few stray thoughts on the back of an envelope. It would be rather grand to call them laws of Vicaring, but here goes (in no particular order of importance):
If someone says Jesus has healed their wooden leg, rejoice, but be sure to kick them in the shins first, just to make sure.

If you get away with it and it works, fine. If it doesn’t and they catch you, just cough up cheerfully and enjoy all the times you got away with it

Do the job you’re doing now with all your heart, not the one you used to do in your last parish, or hope to do in your next. Time flies when you’re having fun...

Don't ask until you’ve worked out the question. Only ask people questions they are likely to answer in the way you want. Also, Don't ask when the baby is due until the new lady in Church has actually told you she is pregnant. Never ask a Lawyer “Can we do this?” The question is always “How can we do this?”

Pick up the bloody phone! (This applies to outgoing as well as incoming calls)

You do not have their P45's in your back pocket, so always explain, always apologise

Make the other lot line up with their own rulebook, and have a go at doing so yourself before you propose change

Be extremely loyal to your predecessors. They are your most powerful secret weapon, along with people who pray quietly at home.

Schedule your free time as zealously as you would a funeral. Your family are the closest members of the body of Christ. Strive not to be toxic to them, and remember they didn't ask to have you for a parent.

Beware Grand Designs, especially your own. Dolus latet in generalibus — the Devil's in the detail, along with the delight...

You can't argue with whining, but you can with anger. Damaged, angry people have their own reward. Bless ’em all.

Rigid faith is often brittle. In the Kingdom the first often come last and the last first. You are not God's minders, or managers, but guides who should strive to be reliable and trustworthy (I Corinthians 4)

You inherited far more than you realise. Before you go buy a new tool, check the old toolbox you seldom use and nine times out of ten you've already got one. Revolution by tradition!

All constructive change works from the inside out — “You can sleep in the Garage, but it don't make you an automobile” (Billy Graham?)

This job is about the how and why of people’s lives, including your own. You accomplish far more long term than you think, and far less in the here and now: “I think I've far exceeded what I ever thought I could possibly do. I'm almost shocked that I'm still around after all these years . . . and always grateful that I get another turn to do something.” (Billy Crystal)

“The Church doesn’t need new members half as much as it needs the old lot making over.” (Billy Sunday)
That’s enough Billies for now. I’m sure everyone has discovered their own rules — the floor is yours!

Positives, Negatives, and Neutrals

This post by Mark Driscoll, preaching pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle, highlights one of my great flaws and great areas for growth in ministry. That is, I have--for all my thirty-plus years in ministry--had an unquestioned and unexamined assumption that all people (certainly all Christians) are, to use Driscoll's phrasing, "Positives." Seriously, that's how I've approached ministry and leadership all these years...and have paid a price for my naivete. I believe in the redemptive power of the Gospel, and I believe the Gospel "works." But for some odd reason, I have always tended to view people doing "ungospel" things as worthy of a hearing. I have even allowed such people in leadership, believing that they would stop being negative when they had a positive outlet for their energy. I am learning, however, that (to use the biblical types Driscoll quotes below, wolves and sheep alike make lousy shepherds.
Every ministry leader needs to be a positive. They also need to know who the positives, negatives, and neutrals are both in official leadership and unofficial leadership in their ministry.

Positives are people who do gospel things in gospel ways for gospel reasons. They are trusting, supportive, and encouraging. They build bridges and mediate conflict. Positives bring organizational health, work for the good of the gospel over any single issue or cause, and are a blessing because they humbly want the gospel to win. Positives are prone to turn neutrals into positives, while they also work to neutralize negatives. In the Bible, positives are often referred to as shepherds.

Negatives are people who do ungospel things in ungospel ways for ungospel reasons. They are distrusting, unsupportive, discouraging, and contentious. They burn bridges, are wounded by bitterness from past hurts, and are often the center of criticism and conflict. Negatives bring organizational sickness, division, and trouble because they are proudly more interested in their cause winning than the gospel and the good of the whole. Negatives tend to draw other negatives toward themselves as factions, and they also prey on neutrals in order to increase their own power and control. In the Bible, negatives are often referred to as wolves.

Neutrals are followers who are easily influenced. They are prone to being unsure, confused, and fearful. Neutrals are often caught in the middle when there is conflict between positives and negatives. A neutral becomes a positive or negative depending upon who their friends are, whom they listen to, what information they have access to, which books they read, and which teachers they look up to. In the Bible, neutrals are often referred to as sheep.

Sadly, in most ministries, the negatives are the most vocal, most exhausting, and most distracting, as well as the least likely to contribute to growth and health. Though they are few, they are often loud and difficult, spreading—as Paul says—like gangrene through the church body (2 Tim. 2:17). Practically, this means that even a few negatives working together can become quite difficult. The Bible reveals that negatives often pair up like two barrels on a gun, as was the case with Jannes and Jambres opposing Moses, Sanballat and Tobiah opposing Nehemiah, and Hymenaeus and Alexander opposing Paul.

How to Stay Positive

For a ministry to remain positive, three things need to occur.

First, the senior leader and the other official and unofficial leaders who wield the most influence must be positives. Further, they must be continually exhorted to remain positives. This means that even when they deal with negative things, they do so in a positive way for the glory of God and the good of his people.

Second, the negatives must not be allowed into leadership. If they are in leadership, official or unofficial, they must be rebuked. Titus 3:10–11 describes this rebuke: "As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." Too often negatives are tolerated for too long; the longer their sin is tolerated, the more toxic the ministry culture becomes. Therefore, unrepentant negatives need to be brought through formal church discipline after their negativity has been documented and addressed; this process may end with their removal from the ministry, if needed. Ministry leaders are often reticent to deal so forthrightly with negatives; however, the longer they are tolerated, the more neutrals they infect with their gangrene.

Third, the neutrals need to be lovingly and patiently informed that they are in fact neutrals and that they need to take responsibility to not give in to negatives. Additionally, neutrals cannot be allowed into ministry leadership because they are prone to be influenced rather than be influencers. Sadly, neutrals are often nominated for and voted in to ministry leadership because they tend to be nice people who are likeable because they are amiable and easily influenced. But they are prone to work toward consensus rather than lead and are therefore not helpful for moving a ministry forward into innovation and growth. Change is controversial and requires someone who is a strong positive to build consensus for change and who is also able to neutralize the negatives rather than being influenced by them.

Church of the Week: Church of the Beatitudes

This week's church is the Church of the Beatitudes, on the traditional spot where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, not far from Capernaum and Bethsaida. The lovely Robin and I have visited this church three times, in 1987, 2001, and 2005, and we'll be here again sometime next week.

The Catholic church, designed by the architect A. Barluzzi, was built in 1938. Its octagonal shape represents the eight beatitudes. It has a marble veneer casing the lower walls and gold mosaic in the dome.

To the west of the church is a natural amphitheater created by the topography of the area, rolling down the hill to the shores of Galilee, where it is easy to picture crowds of people gathered to listen to Jesus at the summit, teaching in the seated fashion of the rabbis of his day.

Delight in Divine Service

From my reading last night in Spurgeon's Daily Help:
Delight in divine service is a token of acceptance. Those who serve God with a sad countenance, because they do what is unpleasant to them, are not serving Him at all; they bring the form of homage, but the life is absent. Our God requires no slaves to grace His throne; He is the Lord of the empire of love, and would have His servants dressed in the livery of joy. The angels of God serve Him with songs, not with groans; a murmur or a sigh would be a mutiny in their ranks. That obedience which is not voluntary is disobedience, for the Lord looketh at the heart, and if He seeth that we serve Him from force, and not because we love Him, He will reject our offering. Service coupled with cheerfulness is heart-service, and therefore true. Take away joyful willingness from the Christian, and you have removed the test of his sincerity. Cheerfulness is the support of our strength; in the joy of the Lord are we strong. It acts as the remover of difficulties. It is to our service what oil is to the wheels of a railway carriage. Without oil the axle soon grows hot, and accidents occur; and if there be not a holy cheerfulness to oil our wheels, our spirits will be clogged with weariness. The man who is cheerful in his service of God, proves that obedience is his element.

I'm Impressed

What would happen at my church if we shut down the coffee bar one Sunday morning to make an important point? Or removed all the chairs from the auditorium? Or sang songs nobody likes (intentionally, I mean)? Danny Franks found out:
Sometimes I underestimate my flock.

If you’re not a Summit attendee, you may not know that I’m the Campus Pastor of our Brier Creek AM Campus. If you are a Summit attendee, you should know that I have never ever referred to you as “my flock” before…this was the first time. I’m sorry. It just happened. I feel sheepish about it. I wooly do.

Editor’s Note: Move on, please.

But sometimes I underestimate my fl…um…my peeps. It happened yesterday. Yesterday, we did something a little different to start off our worship services. We began five minutes early with some scripture, worship music, etc. to get peoples’ heads and hearts screwed on straight. And as part of that, we did the unthinkable…

We shut down the coffee bar.

Now for you non-coffee drinkers, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. Oh sure, you can sip your sissy bottled water and hold your pinky aloft whilst you sip your Diet Dr. Pepper and look disparagingly at the world, but for many of us, not having coffee at church is anathema. I had mentally prepared myself for the onslaught of snide commentary, walk-outs, and perhaps even the occasional full-body tackle.

I had steeled myself to the morning. I even committed that I would be present at the official closing-down ceremony so that I could keep the caffeinated crazies from verbally abusing my volunteer team.

But it never happened.

People were gracious. They said nary a word. I got a couple of smiles, winks, and “attaboys” as folks passed by, even the ones who were too late to consume their precious beverage. And in the middle of it all, I made the realization:

We’re cultivating worshippers.

We are seeing a group of people raised up that care more about their relationship with their Savior than Starbucks. They’re more worried about devotion than Dunkin’. They’re more committed to getting in the pew than fixing up their brew.

Editor’s Note: Seriously? Enough with the word plays.

It’s stuff like yesterday that makes me even more thankful to be a part of a church like this. I’m glad that stuff that would normally be a big deal…isn’t. I’m thrilled to see people who will sacrifice their creature comforts if it means we get to meet with God. And yes, I know that should be a no-brainer, but in some churches…sadly…it’s not.

So Summit peeps…my flock…awesome job yesterday. I love ewe.

Editor’s Note: That’s it. You’re done. Take your puns and go home.
Hmmm. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to find out. Maybe we'll just start small, like moving the coffee bar off to a new location. Yeah, I'm sure that'll teach us something.

Lion-Chasers' Manifesto

I absolutely love Mark Batterson's Lion Chasers' Manifesto, derived from his excellent book (one of my top ten read in 2009), In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. This is how I want to live today. Every day. The rest of my life:

Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.
Set God-sized goals.
Pursue God-ordained passions.
Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.
Keep asking questions.
Keep making mistakes.
Keep seeking God.
Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution.
Stop repeating the past and start creating the future.
Stop playing it safe and start taking risks.
Accumulate experiences.
Consider the lilies.
Criticize by creating.
Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can.
Live like today is the first day and last day of your life.
Don't let what's wrong with you keep you from worshiping what's right with God.
Burn sinful bridges.
Blaze new trails.
Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks.
Don't try to be who you're not.
Be yourself.
Laugh at yourself.
Quit holding out.
Quit holding back.
Quit running away.
Chase the lion.


You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

I love David Foster's accent....and his attitude:

Introverts in the Church

I've long had a theory that the vast majority (as high as 80%) of pastors are introverts. This is not based on research, but just on my observations over the years, among my many pastor friends.

Thus, I was very interested when I came across Adam McHugh's book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. He does not write only from the introverted pastor's perspective; his book takes a fairly wide-angle view of how introverts encounter the church, as worshipers, as leaders, as seekers, and as servants.

It is tremendously thought-provoking and highly insightful. It made me feel less alone while reading it (I am an introvert who can function and minister like an extrovert, but I am most at home in my own skin when I am alone and things are quiet). It applied not only to me personally but also to my ministry in the church, and to my leadership as a pastor.

I especially appreciated his recommendation for (in the chapter "Introverted Spirituality") an introverted "rule of life":
A rule of life is an ancient practice; it is a way of structuring life in order to bring every aspect under God's gracious authority....I want to propose an introverted rule of life. While people of all personality bents will find a rule helpful, introverts in particular can benefit from the order and discipline it offers. Given the frenetic speed and activity of our world, we need to order our lives in such a way to maximize our social energy and to carve out several places for solitude. The rule of life works with the internal and external rhythms we discover as we come to embrace who we are (pp. 79-80).
He then goes on to propose several helpful questions and disciplines for the introvert seeking to find a structure in life that will foster an awareness of God and his presence.

This is an important book, and it is not only for introverts. It can help leaders, pastors, teachers, and churches make their ministry more effective and life-changing for everyone, not just for extroverts.

The author also hosts a helpful website, www.introvertedchurch.com, for those who want to explore the topic more.

This book was provided for review by the publisher, IVP Books.

Church of the Week: Little Mountain Church

Little Mountain Church, of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is this week's featured church.

It looks like a playhouse kind of church, I know, but it's a real, functioning church, connected to the Gatlinburg Chapel. It's just a half-block off the main drag in downtown Gatlinburg.

No Kidding: Pastors Work Long Hours, Study Shows

LifeWay Research: Pastors' long work hours can come at the expense of people, ministry

Written by Mark Kelly

NASHVILLE, Tenn., – Protestant pastors in America are working long hours, sometimes at the expense of relationships with church members, prospects, family and even the Lord.

A telephone survey of more than 1,000 senior pastors indicated a full 65 percent of them work 50 or more hours a week – with 8 percent saying they work 70 or more hours. Meetings and electronic correspondence consume large amounts of time for many ministers, while counseling, visitation, family time, prayer and personal devotions suffer in too many cases.

The results of the LifeWay Research study “How Protestant Pastors Spend Their Time” show the typical pastor works 50 hours a week. Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, pointed out, however, that this average actually understates the number of hours because it takes into account bivocational pastors (11 percent of survey participants), part-time senior pastors (5 percent of survey participants), and volunteer pastors (2 percent of survey participants) – the majority of whom work, by design, less than 40 hours for their church each week.

“Since the phone survey went to church offices, it was pastors who were at the church office and more likely to take the phone call who are included in the survey,” McConnell explained. “But, of the bivocational pastors who participated, the median number of hours bivocational and part-time pastors work for their churches each week is 30 hours.

“Bivocational pastors often follow the apostle Paul’s example of ‘working night and day’ in Thessalonica as they hold a job outside the church in addition to their job as pastor.”

When factoring out those who are not full time, the median number of hours full-time senior pastors work for their churches each week is 55 hours, with 42 percent working 60 or more hours.

Among ministry activities, pastors spend the most time on sermon preparation. Half of them spend five to 14 hours in sermon preparation. Nine percent say they spend 25 hours or more in sermon preparation each week, and 7 percent report they spend less than five hours preparing to preach.

Ministry-related meetings and electronic correspondence drive the number of hours worked even higher. More than 70 percent of pastors say they spend up to five hours a week in meetings, and 15 percent put their meeting load at 10 hours or more. E-mail and other electronic correspondence eat up between two and six hours a week for half the pastors, while 14 percent indicate they spend at least 10 hours a week in electronic correspondence.

Many pastors, however, find it difficult to make time for two primary ways of relating to church members and prospects: counseling and visitation. While 24 percent say they spend six hours a week or more in counseling ministry, the same percentage reports spending an hour or less. By the same token, while 12 percent of pastors say they spend 11 or more hours a week in hospital, home or witnessing visits, 12 percent also indicate they spend an hour or less. Forty-eight percent say they spend between two and five hours a week in visitation.

Time with family rates as a priority for many pastors, but some find alarmingly little opportunity to be with their spouses and children. While 30 percent of the pastors report spending 20-29 hours with their families each week – and 16 percent indicate spending 40 or more hours with them weekly – almost 10 percent say they spend nine hours a week or less with family members. At the same time, 24 percent say they watch 10-14 hours of television each week, and 13 percent put their TV time at 15 hours or more.

The amount of time spent in prayer and personal devotions raises questions about the vitality of many pastors’ spiritual lives. While 52 percent report spending one to six hours in prayer each week, 5 percent say they spend no time at all in prayer. Furthermore, while 52 percent say they spend two to five hours a week in personal devotions unrelated to teaching preparation, 14 percent indicate they spend an hour or less in personal devotions each week.

“In the early church, the apostles recognized the need to focus their time on prayer and studying the Scripture, as evidenced in Acts 6:4, for instance,” McConnell said. “They shared other ministry tasks – even pressing issues – with qualified believers. Pastors’ top two uses of their ministry time today show this same priority in sermon preparation and prayer.

“While the priorities are right, they may need better protection.” McConnell continued. “The total hours pastors work in addition to these biblical priorities shows that more of the other ministry tasks need to be shared. Jesus Christ designed the work of the church to be done by believers together in unity.”

The research also turned up some interesting contrasts between evangelical pastors and those who serve churches in mainline denominations:

- 30 percent of evangelical pastors say they spend 20 or more hours a week in sermon preparation, contrasted with 20 percent of mainline pastors.

- 49 percent of evangelical pastors report they spend three hours or less each week in ministry related meetings, while 38 percent of mainline pastors report the same number; 62 percent of mainline pastors report spending five or more hours a week in meetings, contrasted with 52 percent of evangelical pastors.

- 39 percent of evangelical pastors indicate spending less than four hours a week in personal devotions unrelated to teaching preparation, contrasted with 47 percent of mainline pastors.

Methodology: LifeWay Research conducted the telephone survey of 1,002 randomly selected Protestant pastors Oct. 13-29, 2008. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of the churches, and the sample size provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error does not exceed ±3.2 percent.

I Want One

This is pretty cool, a computer desk. Literally, a computer desk. A computer shaped like a desk. Or a desk that encloses a computer.

It's called Dear Diary 1.0 and is the creation of Dutch designer Marlies Romberg. Check it out here.

Happy 2010

I thought this was appropriate for my first video of 2010...and it also has a nice kinda Sabbath vibe. Let it slow you down, calm you down, and wish you a Happy 2010.

New Year Card 2010 from Christopher Harrup on Vimeo.

2009's Top Ten Desperate Pastor Posts

The most popular posts of 2009 on the Desperate Pastor blog:

1. Love Was Here First
2. Church of the Week: Kumler Chapel
3. Your Pastor Wants to Quit
4. 6 Things a Leader Should Always Apologize For
5. Contagious Joy
6. Ten Lessons From a Lifetime of Leadership
7. Top 10 Confessions of a Pastor
8. Let's Forgive
9. Five Characteristics of Weak Leaders
10. Church of the Week: Westminster Abbey

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

The Bone Box on Audio.

December's Top Ten

A look back at December's most popular posts here on the Desperate Pastor blog:

1. Let's Forgive
2. Got Yer Bible Reading Plan for 2010?
3. Signs Money is Our Idol
4. Praying with Beads
5. Best Books Read in 2009
6. 6 Things a Leader Should Always Apologize For
7. Christmas Weekend
8. The Beauty of Christ in the Church
9. Neglected Apologetics
10. Don't Fight

Three videos (Don't Fight, Got Yer Bible Reading Plan, and Let's Forgive). Two posts about books (three if you count the Bible reading plan post). Two about Cobblestone, my wonderful church family. Thanks for sharing these with me!

Water, Water Everywhere!

What a blessing it was to cooperate with God in changing our Advent and our Christmas during "The Advent Conspiracy" series! Many of us made changes that surely blessed God and made a difference in our celebration this year. Thanks to the obedient and generous response of God's people, $20,138.86 was raised in just five weeks (above and beyond our regular giving) to provide desperately needed clean, safe water for people in Peru and Burma. That will translate to a total of NINE NEW WELLS in nine different communities, where our 2009 Advent season will flow outward in blessing, day after day, year after year, for many years to come!

One of the wells is already under construction, under the oversight of our dear friends Don and Christie Latta and their Villa de Triunfo church in Arequipa, Peru.

The other eight wells will be dug in communities through Burma (Myanmar), through the work of Operation Blessing.

Our church is so blessed to have the missions committee we have, who are personally connected with each of these ministries, AND such generous, vision-oriented Christ-followers, who respond so beautifully to the call of God!

Praise God from whom all blessings FLOW!!!

The One-Day Way

I'm a sucker for diet fads. There are few things I want more than to lose 10 pounds in a week or tone my belly in time for bikini season.

But this isn't that.

The One-Day Way, by Chantel Hobbs (wife, mother of four, and author of Never Say Diet), is one-part motivational and one-part common-sense, easy-to-follow approach to losing "all the weight you want, one meal, one pound, one day at a time" (as the back cover says.

Hobbs is herself a testimony to the potential of her approach; she once weighed 350 pounds, and says she lost 200 pounds--and has kept off the weight--using the same tactics she prescribes in this book. She also includes in the book inspirational stories of others who have benefitted from her approach.

Check out the meal plans; they're actually doable.

Check out the exercises; they don't require a gym full of equipment, or the flexibility of a fourteen-year-old.

But especially take the time to savor the first half of the book, and absorb her emphasis on changing the way we think in order to change the way we live.

Learn more about or purchase this book here.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Church of the Week: Russells Point Church of God

The lovely Robin and I had a great time just before New Year's Day. We drove north to Russell's Point, Ohio, between Troy and Lima, where our friends Bill and Lorraine Riley live and lead a church.

This is their church, Russell's Point Church of God. Soon after arriving in town, we joined Bill and Lorraine for the Wednesday night prayer gathering in the fellowship hall of the church, and were so blessed at the warmth of the fellowship and the beautiful love of this church for their pastor.

It's only a few blocks from the shores of beautiful Indian Lake, and while I tried very hard the whole time I was there to drive the Cowsills' song, Indian Lake, from my mind, I should have known I could easily (and fairly appropriately) have replaced it with the old Chuck Girard song, "Little Country Church":

Little country church on the edge of town
Doo-do- do-dn-do-do-do
People comin' everyday from miles around
For meetin's and for Sunday school
And it's very plain to see
It¹s not the way it used to be

Preacher isn't talkin' 'bout religion no more
He just wants to praise the Lord
People aren't as stuffy as they were before
They just want to praise the Lord
And it's very plain to see
It's not the way it used to be

They're talkin' 'bout revival and the need for love
That little church has come alive
Workin' with each other for the common good
Puttin' all the past aside
Long hair, short hair, some coats and ties
People finally comin' around
Lookin' past the hair and straight into the eyes
People finally comin' around
And it's very plain to see
It's not the way it used to be.

Consensus Sucks

Tony Morgan posted this a few days ago, and it's an interesting perspective. I'd love to hear what others think. I can say I've experienced all five of these downsides to trying to lead by consensus....in the last week! Okay, that may be stretching it. But not by much. Take a look, and let me know what you think. And I love the way he ends the piece:
I’m growing more and more convinced that the worst thing an organization can do is try to reach a consenus about something. Think government. Think church committee meetings. Think declining big business.

On the surface, reaching a consensus seems like a positive thing because it means people have agreed to move in the same direction. That’s a good thing isn’t it?

Actually, I’m not convinced that’s the case. For example, here are:

5 Reasons Why Consensus Sucks

1. It embraces the status quo. Change, whether positive or not, is not human nature. We would prefer for things to remain the way they are today. So, when people get together to discuss the possibility of doing something a little different in the future, it’s normal for the majority to avoid making changes.

2. It gives the malcontents an equal voice in your decision. Reaching consensus gives everyone a voice at the table. When that happens, even the negative, bitter folks that don’t really embrace the vision have the opportunity to pull the rest of the group away from what could really be the most desirable outcome.

3. It short circuits the radical ideas that lead to the biggest breakthroughs. The big, bold ideas won’t see the light of day. Yet those are the ideas that could potentially lead to the best innovations. Consensus brings people back to the middle where the majority approves but mediocrity reigns.

4. It leaves unresolved conflict on the table. At the opposite ends of a decision are distinct opinions which, if left unresolved, could potentially lead to division. Consensus prevents tough conversations from happening. It gives people the freedom to jump to compromise without engaging a healthy debate.

5. It discourages people from dreaming big dreams. Want to neuter the creative-thinkers and entrepreneurs and visionaries in your organization? Force them to reach consensus with the rest of the crowd. These are the people that make you uncomfortable. They can drive you crazy. That’s OK. They’ll just go work someplace else if you keep forcing them to compromise their dreams.

What do you think? Do you agree? Or, have you actually seen consensus work? What would you add or delete from the list?

Let’s try to reach a consensus on whether or not consensus sucks.

A Pastor's Annual Reading Plan (Part Two)

I began to blog yesterday about my practice of devising an annual reading plan every New Year's, and shared some of the thought and planning that goes into that list of intended reads. But my reading is not entirely void of spontaneity. The list usually accounts for only thirty or so books; I often read twice that number in a year (I read 69 in 2009). So there’s ample opportunity to read a book on a whim, pick up the latest blockbuster at the mall, or borrow a book from a friend. Nor do I carve my reading plan in granite; I’m free to substitute books or shift my priorities at any time (it’s my plan, after all, not the Ten Commandments). I also keep a record of the books I read each year, a practice which helps me recall the titles and authors of books I want to reread or recommend to friends.

So let’s take a look at my 2010 reading plan as it stands now:

Blood and Thunder (Sides)
Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)

LIT: A Memoir (Karr)

The Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan)
Lorna Doone (Blackmore)
The Forsyte Saga (Galworthy)
A Modern Comedy (Galworthy)

Surviving the Writer’s Life (Lipsett)

No Ordinary Time (Goodwin)

New authors:
A Soldier of the Great War (Helprin)
I, Elizabeth (Miles)
Libra (DeLillo)
Cosmopolis (DeLillo)
From Growing Up Pains… (Plass)
The Sacred Diary… (Plass)

Beowulf (Heaney, tr.)
The Book of Hours (Reeves)

The Heritage of the Desert (Grey)
Code of the West (Grey)
The Virginian (Wister)
Catlow (L’Amour)
The Broker (Grisham)
The Brethren (Grisham)
The Jesus Way (Peterson)
The Bookwoman’s Last Fling (Dunning)

The End of Religion (Cavey)
Everybody’s Normal Till… (Ortberg)
The Naked Life (Banks)
The Lost Message of Jesus (Chalke/Mann)
Conversations with Jesus (Fickett)
God on Paper (Loritts)

Church Growth/Church Planting/Leadership/Ministry:
Antagonists in the Church (Haugk)
Revival That Reforms (Hull)
The Servant Leader (Blanchard/Hodges)
Derailed (Irwin)
The Power of Loving Your Church (Hansen)
Deep Church (Belcher)
The Pastor as Minor Poet (Barnes)

New discipline/field:

Related books; (read in order):
Beowulf (Heaney, tr.)
Grendel (Gardner)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Robinson)

Re-read… International and inter-cultural:

Dug Down Deep (Harris)
Praying Through the Bible (Fuller)
The Best of Robert Murray McCheyne (McCheyne)
The Way of Perfection (Teresa of Avila)
The Mystic Way (Underhill)
When the Trees Say Nothing (Merton)

Books about books:
Walking a Literary Labyrinth (Malone)

Blood and Thunder (Sides)
Alexander Hamilton (Chernow)
A Soldier of the Great War (Helprin)
I, Elizabeth (Miles)
The Forsyte Saga (Galworthy)
A Modern Comedy (Galworthy)

Something Rotten (Fforde)
The Wager (Myers)
Just Think (Nordenson)
For the Love of Books (Schwartz)
The One-Day Way (Hobbs)

Eesh! That’s fifty-two books, and SIX mule-chokers!! I usually plan only thirty or so, but there’s a whole lotta books I’ve been waiting to get to! And I can't wait. So I better stop blogging...and start reading!

A Pastor's Annual Reading Plan (Part One)

For many years now, I have taken time at year's end to devise a “Reading Plan." In that plan, I set a goal of the number of books I intend to read in the coming year (usually between fifty and seventy). I determine that number by taking into consideration such things as the workload I face in the coming year (which generally limits my reading) and the amount of traveling I plan to do (which tends to increase my time for reading).

But volume is far from my only concern. I also develop a plan that will allow me to derive maximum variety and quality from my reading throughout the course of a year. I pursue a variety of authors, genre, and forms in my reading plan not only for the entertainment value, but also because such a course of intentional reading does more than broaden my horizons; it broadens me. As Clifton Fadiman writes in The New Lifetime Reading Plan, “It is rather like what is offered by loving and marrying, rearing children, carving out a career, creating a home. [Such a variety of books] can be a major experience, a source of continuous internal growth.”

I also design my reading in order to achieve a level of quality that will challenge and inform my writing and preaching...and living. My annual reading plan typically includes:
• a minimum of one biographical title, like this year's Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides.
• at least one memoir. Last year, I read three.
• a healthy dose of classics.
• a writing book or two.
• at least one history book, such as Larson’s Summer for the Gods, about the Scopes trial, or Sterling Seagrave’s The Yamato Dynasty, about Japan’s Imperial family.
• at least two books by authors I’ve never read before. I must sheepishly admit that if it were not for this annual goal, I probably would not have read such authors as John Irving, Flannery O’Connor, and Anne Tyler.
• a minimum of one poetry book each year. In 1990, for example, I read Spoon River Anthology, and the next year, The Poems of Richard Wilbur, and in 1992 Robert Frost’s A Boy’s Will;
• a couple books from among my favorite authors, such as William Faulkner, C.S. Lewis, and Mark Twain.
• some Christian/inspirational books.
• a couple books in a new discipline or field of interest. For instance, one year, I explored logic; another, it was gardening.
• at least one children’s book, since I am still a child at heart and a great admirer of picture books and juvenile literature like Chris Van Allsburg’s extravagant picture books, Roald Dahl’s delightful stories, and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
• two selections from a short list of books I’ve decided to re-read every few years, some serious, some life-changing, some fanciful.
• a healthy dose of leadership and ministry-related books (last year I read thirteen in this area).
• a couple "related" books. I discovered a few years ago how fun it can be to read a few books that are related in some way, such as Jane Eyre and Rebecca, two similar novels with contrasting heroines, or following Robinson Crusoe with the nonfiction In Search of Robinson Crusoe, and adding J. M. Coetzee's Foe.
• a few books on prayer.
• and some international or inter-cultural literature, such as books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Bharati Mukherjee.
Finally, for good measure, I require that at least one of the books on my list (in any category) must be what I call a “mule-choker,” a book of great heft, the intimidating sort of book I might not otherwise read. In past years, these have been books like Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), An Incomplete Education¬(Jones, Wilson), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hugo).