A Timely Clarification

Creativity is Messy

Via the Ministry Best Practices blog, one of many I check daily:

Creativity is not neat. It is not orderly. When we are being creative we don’t know what is going to happen next. When we are being creative a great deal of what we do is wrong. When we are being creative we are not efficient (Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, p. 163).

10 Signs We Don’t Believe in the Power of the Holy Spirit

Usually the Top Ten lists I share here on the Desperate Pastor blog are intended to be humorous. But this one, swiped from Tony Morgan's excellent blog, is an exception. I think he's dead on, and pray for the Holy Spirit to correct these things in me and in my church. Tony writes,
Several weeks ago I was thinking about how little we talk about the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christ-followers. I began to consider how I live out my life, and, I was convicted…which, by the way, is one indication that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. I thought it might be good to consider the conversation here especially as it relates to leaders in the Church. Based on that, here are…

10 Signs that We Don’t Believe in the Power of the Holy Spirit
  1. We are experiencing anxiety and bitterness in our lives rather than joy and kindness. (Galatians 5:22-23)
  2. We can’t remember the last time we prayed for the people we lead. (Romans 8:26)
  3. The churches we lead aren’t growing and reaching more people. (Acts 9:31)
  4. The churches we lead aren’t outreach focused. (Acts 1:8)
  5. We think it’s our responsibility to convict people of sin. (John 16:8)
  6. We are stuck in sinful patterns rather than pursuing the things of God. (Galations 5:16:17)
  7. We think we have the power to change people. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
  8. We are more concerned about the rules than we are our freedom in Christ. (Galations 3:2-3)
  9. We think we can explain the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10-12)
  10. We are creating division and aren’t promoting unity within the Church. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
It might be good to begin the week and this next season of ministry by studying and praying through this list. My prayer is that your life and your ministry would continue to experience its fullest potential in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Pastoral Grit

Rarely do I experience the kind of connection and affinity with an author as I did with Craig Brian Larson in his book, Pastoral Grit: The Strength to Stand and Stay. It frequently felt as if he had been reading my mail (or my prayer journal) as I read.

The author's honesty, vulnerability, and sensitivity make Pastoral Grit especially powerful and effective, whether the reader is struggling or triumphing. He doesn't make pronouncements from on high, but shares his discouragements, defeats, insights, and victories as a fellow-traveler and real-life struggler. He is refreshingly honest about his own sins and self-doubts. And he brings practical hope and help to anyone in active ministry who sometimes feels like throwing in the towel.

Some of the lines I marked for further reflection:
Sometimes the way I work for the Lord better resembles the models found in business and motivational literature than the ones in the Bible. At such times I lose the spirituality of ministry....I trust in the Lord more to accomplish my dreams than to fulfill his purposes. I "strive in the flesh" rather than rest in God (58-59).

What most leads to my depleted reserves are excessive goals, or what some theologians call "inordinate desires" (59).

A person can become just as greedy for time and accomplishment as for money (64).

I shouldn't be surprised when sheep act like sheep (74).

My faith, like my character, is an end in itself, not merely a means by which God gives me what I ask. Christ is the author and perfecter of my faith. I expect, then, that God will allow circumstances that demand faith, hence circumstances that definition defy my reasoning and expectations, that force me to trust in spite of everything. Because faith is the goal, I should expect God to defy my expectations (117).
Though I read this book at a time of relative health and vitality in my ministry, it was nonetheless a strong encouragement. I recommend it highly.

"I Studied Comedians"

Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, on preaching:

Church of the Week: St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC

St. Michael's Episcopal Church is an historic Episcopal church and the oldest surviving religious structure in Charleston, South Carolina. It is located at Broad and Meeting streets, just a couple blocks from where the lovely Robin and I lodged on our recent visit to Charleston.

The plaque above, just inside the church entrance, refers to the original wooden church built on this site in 1681. That structure was damaged in a hurricane in 1710 and a new St. Phillip's Church was built a few blocks away on Church Street. In 1727, what was left of the old wooden church was demolished, and this church (possibly influenced by St. Martin-in-the-Fields) built in the 1750s,

It is an absolutely gorgeous church, lovingly preserved. The pulpit (above) is the original one, remarkable for its height and the massive sounding board supported by two Corinthian columns. In 1865 during the Federal bombardment of the city, a shell burst through the roof near the chancel; a scar is still to be seen at the base of the pulpit. The seating is still in numbered boxes, which in times past would have been purchased (or subscribed) by church members (a large, long double-pew in the center of the church, No. 43, is the one in which President George Washington worshipped on Sunday afternoon, May 8, 1791. General Robert E. Lee also worshipped in the pew some seventy years later).

Several of the stained glass windows are Tiffany windows. Above is the baptismal font.

Gardens and a cemetery run alongside the church, which is still very proud and active.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

We sang this morning the words, "Oh, what a glorious day!" Couldn't be more true. Though it was raining when I drove to The Loft this morning (about 8 a.m.), I had been praying (and others had, as well) for God to bless our Baptism and Barbecue with a window of clear skies and good weather. That prayer and others were more than answered.

We had a glorious worship hour in the auditorium this morning, punctuated by Pastor John's excellent message, "The Last Word on Witness" and the celebration of communion. I loved the correspondence between John eating the little scroll in Revelation 10 and our celebration of communion.

After worship, we headed out to the pond at The Loft for our first ever baptism celebration on our property. Sixteen people testified to new life in Christ with the sacrament of baptism! Congratulations Dakota, Seth, Janet, Chanelle, Rebecca, Caitlin, Will, Chaz, Mackenzie, Zachary, Laura, Aislyn, Sandi, Allen, Lauren, and Susan! What a privilege to share those moments of witness with you all! You enacted the very thing John Johnson was talking about in his message this morning.

After the baptisms, we gathered in the atrium and on the deck of The Loft for the barbecue part of the day's celebrations. Tony and Cindi Daddabbo did a great job preparing the food service for the day, and the lovely Robin helped everything run so smoothly. Rob Humphrey and Sam Combs grilled the meat, and everyone just pitched in beautifully with the delectable combination of food and fellowship! Thank you to all for participating!

The day just couldn't have been more fun, I don't think. God provided a beautiful day, weather-wise; the seating on the deck was even pleasant, unlike the oppressive atmosphere of the past couple weeks!

After the Baptism and Barbecue, the lovely Robin and I were blessed to have friends from England and Cincinnati visit The Loft to share laughs and renew fellowship. It was soooo good to see them all again!

And now, in about an hour, we'll be enjoying "The Third," an hour of worship that has gotten better every single week--and not just because Andrew has been traveling a lot lately, but because--well, because. It's such a blessing to serve with such people. And tonight, ANOTHER old friend will be bringing the message: Mark Killian, who left us in the dust here at Cobblestone to pursue wealth, fame, and married life in the big city. But we still love him, because Jesus tells us to.

Oh, what a glorious day.

How I Got My Groove Back

This time last year, I was at my wit's end. For the first time in my life and ministry, I was depressed. Not just down. Not just discouraged. Depressed. It had been coming for months, and it was to last for months yet.

Today, however, is a vastly different story. I can testify to "joy unspeakable" (1 Peter 1:8). I still have problems aplenty. I still face attacks and plenty of discouragement. But somewhere, somehow, in the past few months, I have definitely gotten--or been given--my groove back (to use an ungrammatical but clear enough phrase).

So how did it happen? It is a gift of God, first and foremost--just to be clear. But I think (to quote an old Hamburger Helper commercial) "I helped."

Here's how I helped:
  • Prayer – Sure, sure, sure. You would expect a pastor to say that, I know. But seriously. God is my salvation from depression, and prayer was a daily means of grace to me. Some days my praying was fairly unintelligible, I'm sure, and often repetitive (along the lines of, "Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy, Lord have mercy have mercy have mercy"--that kinda thing). But as I look back in my prayer journal over the last couple years, I can SEE how prayer sustained me (a really great reason, by the way, to keep a prayer journal).
  • Exercise – Late last year, I began to run. I didn't want to. I've never aspired to be a runner. But I did. I started slow, and built up, and lo and behold, one day very early on, I experienced the runner's high people talk about...and actually went out a SECOND time in the same day to repeat the run! Never thought I'd say that. But it truly made a huge difference in my mental and physical ability to "spring back" from discouragements, old and new.
  • Counsel – When I went to my first appointment with my first "shrink" (I've had two), he asked me the standard question: "Why are you here?" I explained that I wasn't in crisis (this was before my bout with depression), I had no pressing issues to discuss, but I knew that someday I would, and I thought it would be wise to have a counselor I knew and trusted (and who knew me) when that day came. Boy, was that ever prophetic! I'm not the sharpest tack in the carpet, but I nailed it that time. My shrink was absolutely crucial in helping me through and out of my struggle with depression.
  • Nutrition, etc. – I’m no expert, and am still learning to eat and live way healthier than in the past, but more than a year ago my shrink referred me to an internist. Long story short, he's worked with me to (1) quit drinking pop--even diet pop--entirely, (2) severely limit caffeine, sugar, and processed flour from my diet, and (3) address an adrenal imbalance common in men over fifty. I still have a long way to go, but it has made a huge difference for me.
  • Accountability – Part of my depression involved some disappointment in and transition from an accountability relationship. I have since found great reward, stability, and mutual encouragement (again) from meeting with TWO accountability partners weekly (one via Skype, the other in person). I need this in my life, and when it's missing, I'm more susceptible to discouragement and depression. It's not that these men convince me I'm not crazy, but they do remind me I'm not the only one.
  • Grandchildren - Seriously, the arrival of three grandchildren over the course of my most stressful and disappointing season of ministry may have added eustress to distress....but those three bambinos have been a means of God's grace to me. And perhaps most importantly, they have been instrumental in refocusing me and my priorities.
  • Rest - At some point in my struggle, I realized I had stopped observing my weekly Sabbath when I began to get depressed. Or I began to get depressed when I stopped observing my weekly Sabbath. Doesn't matter which. I need a weekly day of rest, reading, prayer, and walking to restore my soul. I knew that, I just let it slip. Never again. And likewise with my annual habit of a 4- or 5-day prayer retreat. Sabbath restores me. Retreat restores me. They're too valuable to neglect.
Seven. Cool. I'm sure there's more I could mention, but those are the biggies. It has been a slow process of recovery, but it's been worth it.

How about you? How have you prevented or addressed discouragement and depression in your ministry?


The following is a post from: Ray Ortlund's excellent blog:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Acts 1:8

In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit does come upon them, revealing four things about revival:

One, revival is miraculous (verses 1-4). Humanly uncaused. “Suddenly there came from heaven . . .” (verse 2).

Two, revival is mysterious (verses 5-13). Humanly inexplicable. “What does this mean?” (verse 12).

Three, revival is meaningful (verses 14-36). Humanly undeniable. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth” (verse 22).

Four, revival is mighty (verses 37-41). Humanly irresistible. “There were added that day about three thousand souls” (verse 41).

God grant it.

Wild Goose Chase

I'm a Mark Batterson fan. His book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day blew me away. It has become one of my favorite books of the last ten years or so (read my review of that book here).

Still, I was hesitant to read Wild Goose Chase. Maybe I was afraid of disappointment. Maybe the title didn't float my boat. Bottom line, i'm not sure why. But last week I overcame my hesitation and downloaded the ebook of Wild Goose Chase in the Kindle app on my iPad (and, yes, I'm trying to sound cool. Is it working?).

I was not disappointed. Wild Goose Chase engaged me from the very first line and held me until the last. It discusses six cages that tend to keep us from pursuing God-given passions and purpose: responsibility, routine, assumptions, guilt, failure, and fear. The book illustrates each of these cages with a Biblical character, and unfailingly moves the reader to burst through the bars and pursue not just his or her wildest dreams, but God's wildest dreams! Throughout, Batterson's passion and knack for inspiring with story and concept shines through.

Also, like his other books, Wild Goose Chase contains many lines and passages worth marking and remembering. Here are a few of my favorites:
I wonder if churches do to people what zoos do to animals.

Jesus didn't die on the cross to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous.

You cannot simultaneously live faith and be bored. Faith and boredom are antithetical.

As we age, many of us stop believing and start assuming.

Sometimes our plans have to fail in order for God's plans to succeed.

God often uses us at our point of greatest incompetence. That way He gets all the credit.

One of the greatest acts of worship is keeping a good attitude in a bad situation.
Those are just some of the lines I highlighted...in just the first two chapters! Perhaps you can see why I think Batterson may be the most quotable author out there. And Wild Goose Chase one of the most-readable and most-inspiring books out there.

How to Walk in the End Times

Anne Graham Lotz, evangelist (and daughter of Billy Graham), preaching on the end times:

Church of the Week: Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Finneytown, OH

From 1983-1987, the lovely Robin and I had the blessing of ministering as corps officers at The Salvation Army's Cincinnati Temple (now Center Hill) Corps in Finneytown, a suburb of Cincinnati. During that time I had several opportunities to enjoy the beautiful Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Winton Road in Finneytown.

This church represents the oldest Greek Orthodox parish on record in Ohio. The original Holy Trinity congregation was organized in 1907, and a second Greek church in Cincinnati, St. Nicholas, formed in 1938. In 1945 the two churches combined and took on the name, Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. On December 16, 1972, the church moved out of its location close to Cincinnati's inner city and relocated to a ten-acre lot in Finneytown.

The beautiful interior of the church is lit by striking stained glass windows and adorned by numerous icons.

Sunday Night Rejoicings

I can't even begin to say how joyful I feel at what God is doing in me, and in his people Cobblestone! Seriously, not only was today a great day of worship and fellowship with the people of God, but it honestly seems like God is sending growth and blessing in these summer months more than in the six months or year prior! Here are just a few reflections on the day:
Tried something different with this morning's Scripture reading, from Revelation 8 and 9. The passage refers to the seven trumpets (or shofars), so our sound and projection team played a music clip of shofars sounding while the church read silently the entire passage (both chapters) from the screen. Don't know what anyone else thought, but it was a neat exercise for me, reading about "trumpets" while listening to them play.

I've said it before (at least to myself), but I am LOVING this series, "How to Survive the End of the World," from Revelation. Expository book series are my favorites to preach anyway, but to be getting so much out of the most mysterious (and some would say inscrutable) book in the Bible is such a blessing! (Which is what the Author promised--Rev. 1:3)

This may have been the first time (in over thirty years of preaching) that I presented in my message not one, but three interpretations and applications of the text. At least in that way.

I can't keep up with the new people coming to Cobblestone these days--and in July!

I'm LOVING what the outreach committee is planning for these coming weeks and months. These folks are so passionate and dedicated!

Saw a GREAT response to the "Back to School Bash" effort to provide a backpack and school supplies to every kid who needs it by the day of the Bash, August 14 (which is also going to be the day of an accompanying Motorcycle Ride launched from The Loft!). So far our efforts have raised $865, which is not yet enough, but we will keep praying and collecting between now and then and, God helping us, we'll git 'er done!

Con Brio did an awesome job (AGAIN) in leading worship...and on short notice, as our worship pastor, Sharla, became a grandma last week. It will be weird having Pastor Gaga leading worship from now on, but I'm so happy for new parents Kim and Corey and the Racioppa family! Praying that Baby KC comes home soon.

Heard three cool reports in the last few days of the fruit our outreach ministry is bearing: a nurse who told our worship pastor someone from Cobblestone anonymously paid for her McDonald's drive-thru lunch, prompting her to say, "Wow, I'd like to visit THAT church!"; a man who came to church last week because we washed his car and gave HIM a dollar in one of our car wash outreaches; and another person (didn't get the whole story yet, but I will) who was surprised by grace at one of our $1 car washes! Oh, and we received an email from a woman who one of our members reached out to in Jungle Jim's this past week! What a joy!

SOOOOO excited for our Baptism & Barbecue Bash next Sunday, July 25. We're changing the schedule that morning, having our regular 10 a.m. worship celebration, but THEN, instead of the regular 11:30 celebration, we're going to have the baptism at 11:30 in the pond at The Loft, and then party together with a barbecue in the atrium and on the deck of the Loft! So far nine people are planning on being baptized that day...and several others are considering taking that step! So jazzed about that.

I seriously cannot sing the praises of our volunteers loudly enough. We are so blessed! And this morning, the people that make our church go just blessed the socks off me, from David and Johnny and Guy and Suzan in the tech booth, to Gretchen fixing the coffee, to Gary and the outreach committee, to Tom Huskey filling in for a sick Overdrive volunteer, to Brad the floor manager, to Debbie the first impressions coordinator, to Denise at the welcome counter, and on and on and on it goes! What a blessing it is to have so many fine, fine people sharing the load and joyfully making things happen!

In just a few minutes I'll be leaving for tonight's edition of "The Third," our 7 p.m. rockin' celebration. Andrew, you better have your preaching mojo workin'! Oh, and may I just say it's also a blessing to see the ownership Andrew and David and Con Brio and others are taking of this effort to reach out to twenty-somethings and the MU community! It's gonna be a GREAT Fall!
Honest to goodness, I can't wait for next Sunday! And if it keeps getting better, I don't know if I can handle it. But I'm willing to try. Thank you, Lord!

Using a Prayer Book

Here's a fine post on using a prayer book from Joel Miller's blog:
For the past several years my prayer life has included the use of a prayer book. I started with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and eventually came to use various Eastern Orthodox manuals.

I have experienced three basic reactions to my practice: (1) support, (2) curiosity, and (3) disapproval. Many have already discovered how useful prayer books can be, and some are lifelong users who cannot imagine a full prayer life without one. Others have few reference points for use of prewritten prayers but are intrigued and desire to know more. For some, however, prewritten prayers strike them as inauthentic and unspiritual. Their take seems to be that only spontaneously composed prayer is real prayer and that props like prayer manuals get in the way of true communication with God.

I grant that the use of a preformulated collection of prayers is uncommon to evangelical practice—but only sort of. Presbyterian, Reformed, and Lutheran believers often use prewritten prayers in their liturgies, particularly public confession of sin. Devotionals frequently feature prayers or suggestions for prayer. And what is the Sinner’s Prayer if not a precomposed formula designed to cover all the needful points in leading someone through a plea for salvation?

Looking at worship services might make for a useful comparison. We use psalms, hymns, and choruses that were written anywhere in the last three millennia (give or take). If spontaneity is the truest form of communication with God, then why aren’t all worship services jam sessions?

We write hymns and other worship songs because they communicate well the disposition of our hearts or help lead us to that disposition if we’re not there already, a place of worship where we stand before God and show gratitude for his love, mercy, and saving activity in our lives. They also allow people to join corporately in this holy undertaking. Prayer books serve the same three function vis-à-vis prayer.

Confessing truth before God requires ideas and words. Sometimes (perhaps oftentimes) I do not have ideas and words that are accessible or acceptable. I must reach outside myself. The church provides the ideas and words in prayer manuals. They involve confession of sin, extolling the mercies of God, petitions for his outpouring of grace, and several other aspects of the devoted life that do not come naturally to me. What’s more these prayers are beautifully composed and express well the thoughts that they are trying to communicate—much the same as an Isaac Watts hymn.

By communicating well the thoughts, they help bring my mind and heart into alignment with my confession. If I am not feeling particularly prayerful, just starting to read the prayers begins to bring things in line with what God desires of me. By the time I’m done I have truly prayed and truly worshipped—because men composed prayers more than a thousand years ago that I can access today even when I’m not feeling particularly prayerful or worshipful. The idea follows St. Benedict’s formula, mens nostra concordet voci nostrae, “Our minds must agree with our voices.” To feel prayerful, start saying your prayers; the prayer book can get you into the spirit.

Finally, by following the prayers the church offers in its manuals, I am doing something hinted at in the title of the Anglican manual; I am sharing something in common with my fellow believers. Like a massive congregation of worshippers singing one heavenly chorus to the Lord—many hearts linked by one faith and one voice—so the diverse peoples of God offer up prayer in unison, bearing one another’s burdens.

I want to participate in that glorious endeavor, but I am not up to that task on my own. And so I am grateful beyond words that God through his church offers me help, my worn and wonderful prayer book.
I have experienced these benefits and more from my frequent use of prayer books such as Phyllis Tickle's excellent The Divine Hours series. While I think such aids are most helpful for "word" people (those who learn and connect best via words as opposed to images or touch, etc., I nonetheless recommend a prayer book for anyone who is passionate about regular, even unceasing, prayer.

How Should a Church Budget?

One of Perry Noble's recent blog posts:
I was reading some thoughts online the other day in regards to what many church leaders were saying about how a church should budget for the upcoming year. What bothered me was that many of them were doing what I refer to as “fear based budgeting” rather than “faith based budgeting.”

Yes, our economy isn’t as strong as it has been in the past. Yes, people are unemployed. Yes, charitable giving is down…however…

I believe the church is called to budget according to VISION and not to the VARIABLES in the world. (If Nehemiah would have taken the advice of setting the budget based on the economy of the nation…then one of the greatest projects that happened in the Bible would have NEVER taken place.)

Now…let me be VERY clear. The church IS called to be financially responsible. We are called to plan, have systems of accountability and make sure that we are not being stupid OR trying to supplement someone’s ego by building bigger and greater things.

BUT…when we allow the condition of the world to begin to dictate what we’re called to do as a church…well, that pretty much sucks.

Back in 2001 and 2002 I had the privilege to spend time with a GREAT man of God named Ron Lewis. I remember him telling me, “If your church is faithfully following God’s direction then your back will always be against the wall financially.”

I’ve never forgotten that…and since that day one of the things we’ve said around here is, “if it is God’s will then it’s God’s bill – what the King wants, the King pays for…and He’s NOT limited by the stock market!”

One more time let me emphasize that this type of mentality is NOT permission to be stupid and just blow like a kid in a candy shop. However, we’ve got to understand that as a church God calls us to take steps of faith…many times LARGE ONES…to see if we are going to trust in HIM or something else. (Hebrews 11:6)
Amen to that. Unfortunately, too often our budgeting is driven by fear, not faith. But "If it's God's will then it's God's bill."

10 Ways to Improve Marketing without Spending Any Money

We've been consciously striving at Cobblestone to reduce expenses in these tough economic times while increasing ministry. One of the ways we're doing that is in our communications ministry. Last year we stopped producing weekly bulletins and inserts, and went to monthly programs, available every week but containing the month's events in one fell swoop. We obtained a grant to install large video screens to give us the capacity to put out more information with no additional paper or printing costs. We utilize other electronic and social media (Twitter, Facebook, listserves, email, etc.) as much as possible.

So the following blog post from Tony Morgan's blog was right up my alley:

The other day I started thinking about the constraints that we have as churches given today’s current economic conditions. With that in mind, I began to brainstorm ways we can continue to improve how we communicate with the people we are trying to reach without spending any money. These are solutions that any church of any shape and size should be able to engage. Here are…

10 Ways to Improve Marketing without Spending Any Money

  1. Improve guest services on Sunday mornings. Stress that Sunday mornings are a time for your hospitality team to be focused on visitors. The number one reason people will come back to your church is if they find the church to be friendly.
  2. Follow through with your promises. If someone volunteers to take a next step in a group, serving or an event, make sure the process is in place to follow up in a timely and personal fashion.
  3. Make it easy for people ask questions. Create a one-stop location, physical or online, where visitors can receive more information about your church.
  4. Create ministry environments that compel people to invite their friends. Excellent preaching and worship music is not enough. Every environment in the church needs to create an opportunity for life change. When that happens, you won’t be able to stop folks from inviting their friends.
  5. Embrace social media. Facebook, Twitter and blogs are an easy way to engage people in conversation and develop relationships. As relationships are developed, you’ll earn the credibility to encourage people to take next steps.
  6. Be different. Begin an unexpected series, have a unique worship experience or do something (good) that gets people talking.
  7. Make your church an active part of the community. Open your campus to the community, but also get engaged outside the walls of the church where you can directly impact people’s lives.
  8. Eliminate the noise. Prioritize what needs to be communicated. Eliminate competing messages. Stop the spam. The fewer the messages we deliver, the more likely the important messages will be heard.
  9. Encourage word-of-mouth marketing. The number one reason people will show up to your church for the very first time is because someone invites them. If you have stopped growing, your very first question should be this: Why have people stopped inviting their friends and what would have to happen for that to change?
  10. Lead by example. Although leading a church can become all-encompassing, find a way to cultivate personal relationships with nonbelievers. I know of a student who refused to walk through the doors of the church until her youth pastor, who got to know her at an outreach event, wrote her a two-line note thanking her for being a part of the youth group.

"We Need to Lighten Up"

N. T. Wright, pastor, theologian, author--oh, yeah, and Bishop of Durham--is, in my opinion, the most intriguing theologian of the early twenty-first century. Here he speaks briefly on typically American approach to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve:

Music Ministry

Now if I just had seven friends...

NACC Notes (3)

Here are the last of the notes I'm going to post from last week's North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis. I took more, but the others have notes to myself in them that aren't really for public dissemination.

Francis Chan was the Thursday morning speaker, and he was very good. I took fewer notes than with other speakers, not because he was that much better or worse than them, but simply because he was different...I think. Anyway, here are the notes I took:

Church of the Week: Summerall Chapel, Charleston, SC

I had the privilege and joy of performing a wedding this past weekend in beautiful, striking, impressive Summerall Chapel on the campus of The Citadel, in historic Charleston, South Carolina. It is a beautiful, impressive, striking chapel, completed in 1937.

The verse on the facade, over the front entrance, is from Ecclesiastes 12:1: "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."

The chapel, cruciform in design, is in a 14th century Gothic style. The furniture throughout is plain-sawed Appalachian Mountain white oak stained cathedral brown. The ceiling and timbering are pine. The lighting fixtures are handcrafted wrought iron throughout. Hanging from the walls are flags from the 50 states and the territories.

After the completion of the Chapel, each of the classes (up through the Class of 1944) had the opportunity to purchase a window as a lasting memorial to its members. Those class windows (three are shown at the bottom of the photo above) show the life of Christ in superb stained glass with each window depicting some important event in His life. The facade and transept windows (one of which is at the top in the photo above) are made up of a number of units or "medallions," provided by families or friends of the men whom they commemorate. Only those who have been Citadel cadets and a few designated faculty and staff are so honored.

The great chancel window, located directly behind the altar, was dedicated in 1942 as a memorial to all Citadel graduates who gave their lives in their country's cause. It portrays exemplars and symbols of courage, sacrifice, religion, truth, duty, loyalty, patriotism, faith, charity, prayer, adoration, praise, and immortality.

The acoustics in this chapel are wonderful, along with an amazing organ (and organist, whose work was flawless). And an added feature of a wedding in this venue: the "sexton," one of the school's cadets, who adds his skills and efforts to making things run smoothly (thanks, Patrick!).

NACC Notes (2)

My favorite workshop session at the North American Christian Convention last week in Indianapolis was a session on "Sermons That Changed Our Church" by Cam Huxford (Savannah Christian Church) and Chuck Booher (Crossroads Christian Church). Here are the notes I took on my iPad (be gracious, I'm still getting used to the stylus and the app).

NACC Notes

Earlier this week, I had the joy of attending the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis with my fellow Cobblestone staff members. Loved the city, the conference, the hotel, the speakers...and the company!

I took notes in each session on the neato application Penultimate on my cool new iPad. Took a little getting used to, and I'm not as creative or artistic as some folks (like McNair Wilson, who takes AWESOME notes). But I thought I'd share some of the notes with the readers of this blog:

Model v. Spirit

Perry Noble, on his blog, says it well and succinctly. God is teaching me much the same thing:
Many pastors copy models.

There is the “seeker sensitive” model, the “purpose driven” model, the “emergent church” model, the “contemporary church” model, the “spirit-filled classic charismatic” model, the “small group” model, the “multi-site” model, the “missional inner-city” model, the “dream center” model, and the list could go on and on.

Each of those models and the leaders who practice them have contributed a ton to the Kingdom.

Rather than copying the latest model that moves you, I suggest you let the Spirit of God direct your ministry based on the values, gifts, and people God gives you.

What are YOU passionate about?
What has God put in YOU?
What needs can God use YOU to meet?
What breaks YOUR heart?
What are YOU uniquely equipped and called to do?
Even if you learn from another model, make it your own. Adapt it for your community. Improve on it. Tweak it. Take it up two notches.

Don’t copy models as much as you follow what God leads you to do.

The Power of Loving Your Church

Dr. David Hansen's book, The Power of Loving Your Church, was sent to me by a dear friend and fellow pastor, with whom I had shared some of my problems and pains in ministry.

As soon as I started reading, I felt a kinship with Hansen as he described "the ball cap controversy" in a former church he pastored==a conflict that nearly destroyed the church and his ministry. He went on to describe a disenchantment with many members of his flock that will ring true to anyone who has pastored for any length of time. But he didn't stop there. He described his discovery of the shepherd's task of loving both the members of the flock AND the flock as a whole. He does it by exploring and expounding the different words for love in the Bible, and how each must be shown in pastoral ministry.

Most striking was his chapter on the "'Church' With No Lampstand," his contention that "Some churches don't deserve a pastor," and his exposition of the spirit of Belial, a contentious and destructive spirit that, once it gets into a church, can destroy pastors, one after the other. It was an eye-opening and prayer-prompting chapter.

I also thoroughly appreciated Hansen's emphasis on prayer--and, in particular, "long-wrestling prayer" for the church. Referring to one difficult church he had pastored, he says,
I decided that all I could do for the church was pray. I decided to spend so much time praying that if the prayer was ineffective my ministry would fail. I still prepared rigorously for preaching, because the ministry of the Word needed to play a major role. And I still called on the sick and disabled people. But many things were simply left undone. I spent much of the time I would normally have spent trying to fix people, by praying for them. (Every time I went against that principle, the counseling failed.) I didn’t spend much time preparing for council meetings; I spent time praying for council meetings. I didn’t [Page 138] spend a lot of time showing laypeople how to do things in the church; I spent time praying that they could figure things out for themselves. This meant I had to let people fail (which some did), and then I had to take responsibility for the fact that they had not been trained properly to do their job.

If the prayer failed, the ministry failed. Then again, the way I figured it, if prayer doesn’t work, what good is pastoral ministry anyway? If prayer doesn’t work, then pastoral ministry is nothing but a chronically inflamed cultural appendix. So I stood to win either way. If long hours of praying worked, the ministry worked. If praying failed, that was fine too. I could quit pastoral work and join my former colleagues by getting a real job.

The prayer often felt so meaningless that I hoped that the project would fail. But the prayer worked. I found that I could not eject myself from the ministry by praying too much.
And, near the end of the chapter, in a spirit of humility and candor, he speaks of his propensity to often think and do the wrong thing in a crisis, and says,
Without a doubt the best venue for being an idiot is before the Lord; in some ways that is what long prayer is all about. Of course, the more crazy thoughts you have in your head, the longer you have to pray to sort them through.
The Power of Loving Your Church is itself a loving act toward pastors and the Church. It can help to heal a pastor's wounds even as it leads him or her to a new season of sacrificial Shepherd love.

"One Anothers" You Won't Find in the Bible

I learned of this excellent post from Ray Ortlund's excellent blog from my friend (and agent extraordinaire) Steve Laube. Ortlund lists "one anothers" he says he can't find in the Bible:
Humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, disapprove of one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins, intensify one another’s sufferings, point out one another’s failings . . . .

In a soft environment, where we settle for a false peace with present evils, we turn on one another. In a realistic environment, where we are suffering to advance the gospel, our thoughts turn to how we can stick up for one another.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13

Church of the Week: SFOT Chapel, Suffern, NY

This week's Church of the Week here on the Desperate Pastor no longer exists.

From 1978-1980, the lovely Robin and I worshipped almost daily in this chapel at The Salvation Army's School for Officer's Training in Suffern, New York. The chapel was housed in a former Catholic home and school that The Salvation Army had purchased a few years earlier, thus the large marble altar behind the pulpit.

We were blessed by numerous "spiritual days," many conducted by our training principal, Lt.-Colonel David Baxendale. We profited from the ministry of Brigadier Bernard Ditmer, Major Eva Shannon, Lt.-Colonel Damon Rader, General Arnold Brown, General Frederick Coutts, General Clarence Wiseman, Dr. Tom Hermiz, and more. We knelt frequently at the altar in the front. And tried to keep Rhonda and Robin from talking too much during meetings (a lost cause).

Since then, however, that venerable old mansion in which the chapel was housed was torn down and a new main building constructed, with a new chapel. But the location is still there, on Lafayette Avenue in Suffern, New York.

Sunday Night Reflections

I could go on and on about today at Cobblestone Community Church! Just a few brief reflections on the day:
  • Loved the Outreach Team meeting before first celebration. Gary and the crew are so encouraging, and they have so many thrilling plans for reaching out through the end of this year....starting with the $1 Car Wash Outreach to take place this Saturday, 11:00 in Tollgate Mall in Oxford.
  • God was all over the celebrations this morning. I loved preaching "The Last Word on Worship," from Revelation 4-5...what a blessing to give the message, and to know God's hand of blessing.
  • How many times can I say what a huge blessing Under Cover is? Thank you, all of you, for an amazing, God-honoring worship experience!
  • For the July 4th holiday weekend, our attendance (of 287 on the day in the auditorium, not counting children's and youth ministry) was not too bad!
  • Thanks to Andrew Holzworth and David Hughes, today was the first day we had all four big screens operating in the atrium, a great enhancement to our communications capabilities.
  • Andrew and Con Brio and David and The Third crew did another great job tonight in The Third! I love what these men and women are doing!
  • Today was the final day of the "Cobblestone Losers" class, taught by Anna Holzworth. I was NOT the biggest loser. But I did lose seven pounds in four weeks. Thanks, Anna!
Thank you, Lord, for another beautiful Sunday at The Loft.

The Continuing Problem with Restoring Pastors

Jonathan Brink, on his blog, makes some terrific points. See what you think:

I still love Ted Haggard.

Out of Ur recently posted the announcement that Ted Haggard is starting a church. And some people are not happy about it. It seems we’re still wrestling with the same problem. We don’t really know how to restore our leaders. If Haggard has done one thing it has been to expose the fallacy of our “restoration” process for fallen leaders.

It’s interesting to listen to those sit in positions of power and question what Ted is doing, even calling it stupid. But what if this is really exposing the tension we have with grace. If the church (and I know I’m generalizing) has done one thing it is ignore the reality of grace. It’s hard. We don’t like it. We hold onto the insane notion that pastors are super people. And it ends up killing them. When they fall, it requires years to build them back up. But what if the reality is that what takes years to build back up is not the pastor, but our willingness to trust?

So I love Ted Haggard because he’s forcing us to wrestle with our own sense of grace.

How do you feel?

{AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

While I wish he had ended his post by asking us what we "think" instead of how we "feel" (that's a HUGE pet peeve of mine), I must say that I think Jonathan is dead on. Most of the time, the church sucks at grace. Most of us are better Pharisees than the Pharisees ever were.

All Fall Down

This video (actually, it's really only audio) has nothing to do with the Gospel or ministry or the church....but it's worthy of the Laugh of the Week. It's a phone call by an eight-year-old girl from Dublin, who like many schoolchildren, would like to have her school demolished:

The School of Obedience

While it doesn't approach the heights of his classic With Christ in the School of Prayer or his soaring The Holiest of All, The School of Obedience is solid Andrew Murray.

The eight short chapters of this book (with an epilogue, "Note on the Morning Watch") make the case for a life of utter, wholehearted obedience to God, like the obedience of Jesus: obedient "unto death." The fourth chapter, titled, "The Morning Watch in the Life of Obedience," was to me the highlight of this fine little book. He writes,
Think first of the motive principle that will make us love and faithfully keep the morning watch. If we take it upon us simply as a duty, and a necessary part of our religious life, it will very soon become a burden. Or, if the chief thought be our own happiness and safety, that will not supply the power to make it truly attractive. There is only one thing will suffice—the desire for fellowship with God....To have more of God, to know Him better, to receive from Him the communication of His love and strength, to have our life filled with His—it is for this He invites us to enter the inner chamber and shut the door.

Unless we beware, the Word, which is meant to point us away to God, may actually intervene and hide Him from us....It is only by the teaching of the Holy Ghost that we can get at the real meaning of what God means by His Word, and that the Word will really reach into our inner life, and work in us.... If you accustom yourself to study the Bible without an earnest and very definite purpose to obey, you are getting hardened in disobedience.Never read God’s will concerning you without honestly giving up yourself to do it at once, and asking grace to do so. God has given us His Word, to tell us what He wants us to do and what grace He has provided to enable us to do it.

Do not be content with anything less than seeing the face of God.

If it be true that God alone is the fountain of all love and good and happiness, and that to have as much as possible of His presence and His fellowship, of His will and His service, is our truest and highest happiness, surely then to meet Himself alone in the morning watch ought to be our first care.
The School of Obedience is a short read, long on solid insight and exhortation.