Beyond Talent

John Maxwell is the bestselling, mind-bogglingly prolific leadership guru and author of leadership classics such as The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. His latest book, Beyond Talent, is a solid offering from a man who eats, sleeps, lives, and models leadership.

The premise of the book smacks of common sense: talent alone is not enough to foster success and maximize impact in an organization. But Maxwell approaches the topic in his usual systematic (though some might say formulaic) and thoroughly readable way. He supplies thirteen traits that must be added to talent in order to bring about success:

1. Belief lifts your talent.
2. Passion energizes your talent.
3. Initiative activates your talent.
4. Focus directs your talent.
5. Preparation positions your talent.
6. Practice sharpens your talent.
7. Perseverance sustains your talent.
8. Courage tests your talent.
9. Teachability expands your talent.
10. Character protects your talent.
11. Relationships influence your talent.
12. Responsibility strengthens your talent.
13. Teamwork multiplies your talent.

If you've ever wondered why your talent often goes unrecognized, or why-despite great talent-you haven't experienced the success you long for, Beyond Talent is a must-read book for you. While it would not be the first John Maxwell book I would recommend, it is definitely a worthy addition to the Maxwell oeuvre.

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

100 Books Every Christian Should Read

I posted a list yesterday of (arguably) 100 books everyone should read, and promised to follow it up today with my 100 books every Christian should read.

I should say, I think many of the classics on yesterday's list should be read by Christians, as I agree with Francis Bacon that "Reading maketh a full man" (or woman).

But with that understanding, let me offer 100 books I think every Christian should read (some ancient, some very recent), and ask you to agree or disagree as you choose (and, while everyone should of course read everything I've ever written, I've intentionally left my books off the list). And if you care to add your count of how many of these you've read, please copy and paste the list in your comment, bold the books you've read, italicize books not completed, and then sum up with a head count, so to speak.

1. The Bible (of course)
2. Aggressive Christianity - Catherine Booth
3. The works of EM Bounds (7 books on prayer)
4. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made- Brand/Yancey
5. God's Psychiatry - Charles L. Allen
6. The works of Samuel Logan Brengle (9 books on holiness)
7. Streams in the Desert - Lettie Cowman
8. God's Smuggler - Brother Andrew
9. The Practice of the Presence of God - Brother Lawrence
10. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
11. My Utmost for His Highest - Oswald Chambers
12. The Master Plan of Evangelism – Robert E. Coleman
13. Born Again – Charles Colson
14. Money, Sex, and Power –Richard Foster
15. Prayer –Richard Foster
16. Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
17. Hand Me Another Brick - Charles Swindoll
18. The Way to Power and Poise – E. Stanley Jones
19. A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm – Philip Keller
20. Mere Christianity – CS Lewis
21. The Screwtape Letters – CS Lewis
22. The Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
23. Know What You Believe – Paul E. Little
24. Know Why You Believe – Paul E. Little
25. Ordering Your Private World – Gordon MacDonald
26. A Man Called Peter – Catherine Marshall
27. More Than a Carpenter – Josh McDowell
28. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict – Josh McDowell
29. None of These Diseases – SI McMillen
30. The Christ Life for Your Life – FB Meyer
31. With Christ in the School of Prayer – Andrew Murray
32. Sit Walk Stand – Watchman Nee
33. The Normal Christian Life – Watchman Nee
34. Spiritual Maturity – J. Oswald Sanders
35. Spiritual Leadership – J. Oswald Sanders
36. The Book of Hours – Rainer Maria Rilke
37. The Gospel According to Moses - Athol Dickson
38. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah - Alfred Edersheim
39. In His Steps – Charles M. Sheldon
40. The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life – Hannah W. Smith
41. Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret – Dr. and Mrs. Taylor
42. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
43. Joshua – Joseph Girzone
44. The Ragman and Other Cries of Faith – Walter Wangerin
45. How Should We Then Live - Francis Schaeffer
46. The Body -Charles Colson
47. Knowing God - JI Packer
48. Boundaries – Henry Cloud
49. A Rabbi Talks to Jesus -Jacob Neusner
50. No Wonder They Call Him the Savior – Max Lucado
51. Margin - Richard Swenson, MD
52. How to Understand Your Bible - T Norton Sterrett
53. True Spirituality - Francis Schaeffer
54. Knowing Scripture - RC Sproul
55. Darwin on Trial - Philip Johnson
56. The Cost of Discipleship - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
57. Loving God - Charles Colson
58. Orthodoxy - GK Chesterton
59. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly - Marva Dawn
60. The Confessions - Augustine
61. Love Your God with All Your Mind - JP Moreland
62. What’s So Amazing About Grace? - Philip Yancey
63. The Case for Christ - Lee Strobel
64. A Promise Kept - Robertson McQuilkin
65. How Now Shall We Live? - Charles Colson
66. Traveling Mercies - Anne Lamott
67. The Cloister Walk - Kathleen Norris
68. The Purpose-Driven Life - Rick Warren
69. The Case for Faith - Lee Strobel
70. The Book of God - Walter Wangerin
71. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire - Jim Cymbala
72. Women in the Church - Grenz/Kjesbo
73. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - JRR Tolkein
74. Contemplative Prayer - Thomas Merton
75. The Pursuit of God - AW Tozer
76. In the Name of Jesus - Henri Nouwen
77. Living Prayer - Robert Benson
78. The Way of the Heart - Henri Nouwen
79. The Cloud of Unknowing - anonymous
80. Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller
81. Lancelot Andrewes and his Private Devotions - Lancelot Andrewes
82. A Diary of Private Prayer - John Baillie
83. Answering God - Eugene Peterson
84. Abba’s Child - Brennan Manning
85. The Treasure Principle - Randy Alcorn
86. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction - Eugene Peterson
87. Leap Over a Wall - Eugene Peterson
88. A New Kind of Christian - Brian McLaren
89. The Story We Find Ourselves In - Brian McLaren
90. The Last Word and the Word After That - Brian McLaren
91. The Complete Jewish Bible - David H. Stern
92. Surprised by Jesus - Tim Stafford
93. The Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning
94. Prayer - Philip Yancey
95. The Divine Hours (3 vol.) - Phyllis Tickle
96. Pensees - Blaise Pascal
97. In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day - Mark Batterson
98. If God Is Good - Randy Alcorn
99. The Peacemaker - Ken Sande
100. The Blessed Life - Robert Morris

It's not a perfect list, by any means (it's actually not 100 books, for instance, but 125 because of multiple volumes listed on one line). But I've read every one of them, and I'm surprised as you are at the people whose books are not on the list. But I chose books that have been important and influential--even transformative--in my life. I grieve a little that there's so little fiction and only one book of poetry on the list. Maybe I'll revisit it someday and make it better...maybe with your suggestions.

Where Are the Praying People?

David Wilkerson, author of The Cross and the Switchblade and longtime pastor of Times Square Church, died yesterday in a car accident on U.S. 175 in Texas. His wife Gwen, a passenger in the car, was taken to the hospital, as was the driver of the tractor trailer involved in the collision.

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

100 Books Everyone Should Read

I discovered this list on Library Thing the other day. It’s 100 books everyone should read, and supposedly the BBC says most people have read only six. I find that hard to believe. I squeezed four years of high school into five, and I’ve read forty-four on the list. But then, on the other hand, I was an English major, too.

So how about you? If you care to comment, please copy and paste in your comment, bold the books you've read, italicize books not completed, and then sum up with a head count, so to speak.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (read the first two)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (have read the sonnets and more than half the plays)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy.
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth.
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt.
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Not a bad list. Though I think tomorrow, I'll post a list of 100 Books Every Christian Should Read. Touche.

We Don't Look Like the Christ

I met this great preacher and godly man some thirty-five years ago, at Urbana '76. I was seated alone at a breakfast table, and a dignified man approached my table with his tray and asked if he could join me. I said "Sure," and then glanced at his nametag, which read "John R. W. Stott." I had breakfast with John R. W. Stott! I have no idea what we talked about! I probably couldn't have told you even five minutes later. But it is a fond memory of a gracious man who condescended to join an eighteen-year-old kid for breakfast.

Here he is, speaking at the Keswick Conference in 2007:

Church of the Week: Little Stone Church, Mackinac Island, Michigan

Little Stone Church is a Congregational Church located on Mackinac Island, Michigan. The lovely Robin and I visited here in 2006.

The church structure was built of local fieldstone in 1904. The builder and his crew gathered local fieldstones to construct the church; the granite cut stones used for the buttresses and courses surrounding windows and the door must be imported, however, as they are not indigenous to the Island. The 55-by-40 foot interior, featuring gleaming woodwork, and deep-set, colorful memorial windows is virtually unchanged except for the addition of a rose window above the altar (below).

There are about 100 members, most of whom are summer residents. Consequently, weekly Sunday morning worship services take place only from late May to early October.

Reverend Dr. Vincent Carroll, a retired Navy chaplain, serves the congregation (I'd like to know the next time they open applications!).

Little Stone Church is also a registered Michigan historic site.

Happy 2nd Anniversary

The Desperate Pastor blog is TWO YEARS OLD today! The first blog post, appearing on April 25, 2009, was "The Beauty of Broken Things." It was profound. It SHOULD have been award-winning. But no one noticed. No matter. There have been 774 posts since.

The first book review was posted the next day, on April 26, 2009. Though it wasn't actually a review, but eleven quotes from Leonard Sweet's book, 11 Indispensable Relationships You Can't Do Without. There have been 79 book reviews since.

The first "Church of the Week" feature--Cusco Cathedral--appeared June 1. There have been 96 "church of the week" features since.

The first video appeared on June 2, 2009: "Future Preacher."

You can see from the categories list at right how many posts in different categories have appeared in these two years. Some of my favorites these past two years have been How Technology Helps Me, How I Got My Groove Back, The Blessings of Compline, and Why Every Pastor Should Go to Israel. But they've all been great. Don't you agree? (Just say yes)

Here's to another two years at the Desperate Pastor blog....and maybe more after that!

A Collection of Wednesdays

Amy Gaither Hayes's new book, A Collection of Wednesdays (Creating a Whole from the Parts), is a beautiful book. Not only in its design, but also in its content.

In many ways, the book is a memoir, a reflection of a thoughtful woman's life. But not exactly. She weaves together anecdotes, poems, and memories on what could seem random subjects: Passion. Calling. Sand. Rest. Church. Books. Music. Wisdom. And more. In the hands of some writers, these topics could be unrelated, boring, even irrelevant. But Hayes turns her thoughts and experience of these things into an enjoyable journey. She does fulfill the promise of the subtitle, creating a whole from the parts.

And some of those parts sing. Some of them soar. As a bibliophile, I loved her chapter on books, and plan to follow up on many of her recommendations. As a father and grandfather (and music lover), I enjoyed her account of being pressed into a late-night recording session on one of her father's signature children's songs. And I was deeply moved (and challenged) by the part late in the book (in the "Wisdom" chapter) about a daughter's friend who at the age of two begged for "More Christ! More Christ!" You have to read it. It's wonderful.

A Collection of Wednesdays is not a book to read in a hurry, though. It is one to be read slowly, and to savor.

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

Great Day in the (Resurrection Sunday) Morning!

My LORD, what a morning! What a beautiful Resurrection Day this has been (and it ain't over yet)! The day started with seventy bright-eyed souls at the 7 a.m. Sunrise Celebration on the West Porch at The Loft, followed by a pancake-and-sausage breakfast once more lovingly cooked and served by the Long clan.

And oh, what a beautiful job Sharla and crew did with the creation of a bloomin' garden (plants and flowers courtesy of Margie Hensley's garden store) onstage! What a powerful reinforcement that was to the message, "The Guy in the Garden!" And what a joy this am to welcome more than 500 worshipers to The Loft! Praise God!

Under Cover couldn't possibly have been any better; the worship music was absolutely beautiful. And what a joy it was to see the response of God's people, as seekers kept the prayer counselors busy, and many, many people responded to the prayer challenge to bury a seed (or several) in the pots of soil as an act of faith.

What a turnout in the West Wing, too, and how cool was the job our pastors and volunteers did in making that West Wing hallway positively SHINE! I hear more than a few kids managed to find Easter eggs, too.

Thanks to everyone who made this Resurrection Sunday happen...and as I said, it ain't over yet! The Third crew has big things planned for this evening at 7 pm!

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Top Ten Reasons Christmas is More Popular Than Easter

I featured this Top Ten list in my Easter sermon this morning. The Top Ten Reasons Christmas is More Popular Than Easter (despite the fact that Easter is the most significant day, not only in the Christian calendar, but in the history of humankind):

10. Christmas has hundreds of carols; Easter has that one “Easter Bonnet” song by Judy Garland.

9. Christmas has Santa Claus; the Easter Bunny just can’t compete.

8. Christmas has elaborate and fragrant Christmas trees; Easter has plastic eggs hanging from trees.

7. Christmas has figgy pudding. Okay, no one knows what that is, so never mind.

6. Christmas has festive light displays; Easter has grass and flowers.

5. Christmas has angels; Easter has angels, too. Call it a tie.

4. Christmas has cookies; Easter has chocolate. Okay, count that as “1” for Easter.

3. Christmas has office parties; Easter doesn’t. Okay, count that as “2” for Easter.

2. Christmas is all about a baby, and everybody loves babies; there are no babies in the Easter story.

And, the number one reason Christmas is more popular than Easter:

1. On Christmas we get countless toys, games, and gizmos as gifts; on Easter we get a basket and new clothes. No comparison.

And, yes, I know these reasons are incredibly shallow. That's the point.

Two Voices in a Garden

by Bob Hostetler

First Watch

As purposeless as lamplight
Illuming blind man’s home,
We finished our assignment:
Guarding a corpse's tomb.
What object had we?
What were we about--
Keeping a dead man in
Or keeping live ones out?

Third Watch

As powerless as the sand
To stop the sea’s abuse,
We trembled while an earthquake
Rolled the tombstone loose.
We saw a man in white,
A flaming messenger,
And shaken by the sight,
Fainted dead away in fear.

(Suggested by Richard Wilbur’s “Two Voices in a Meadow”)

It's Friday...But Sunday's Coming

S.M. Lockridge's powerful sermon combined with footage from The Passion Of The Christ.


Today's church--at least the American church--is infected (in my view) with an unbiblical and counter-productive attitude toward prayer. Our expectation seems to be that prayer is (like everything else in our lives, we assume) supposed to make us feel good--an attitude frequently encouraged by pastors and preachers.

As a result, many folks tend to stop praying (or pray very little) because "it doesn't do anything for me." To quote the great theologian Marvin Gaye, Make Me Wanna Holla.

Don't get me wrong. I have experienced beauty and bliss in prayer, like many others. But I have learned to pray regardless of my emotions in prayer. Like the award-winning author Madeleine L'Engle, who talks in the video below about maintaining her discipline of daily prayer, even when it does not feel meaningful:

10 Mistakes You Should Make

Not long ago, Dan McCarthy posted on his Great Leadership blog "10 Mistakes Every Leader Should Make (and Learn From) Before They Die." It got funnier and funnier as I read through, not because it is intended to be funny, but because I have made ALL of them, and some quite recently (and repeatedly, sad to say). I've even learned from one or two. Guess I've got a lot more learning to do.
Here’s 10 that every leader should make and learn from:

1. Take too long to fire a problem performer. This is probably the number one regret I hear the most, from seasoned executives to new team leaders. They waited too long to take action on a poor performer. They had their head in the sand in denial, thought they could perform a miracle and save the employee, or were aware of it and just didn’t want to face it.

2. Putting too much emphasis on credentials and experience in a hiring decision and not enough on personality and cultural fit. Been there, done that. It was my very first hiring decision. Candidate A has a Master’s degree and 10 years’ experience. However, former manager warned me about a “little temper problem”. Candidate B had no degree and limited experience – but great relationship building skills and was seen as high potential. I hired A – and it was a disaster. B was later promoted to department manager. Lesson learned.

3. Not having a vision. Without a clear and compelling vision, it’s hard for teams or organizations to have a clear sense of purpose, priority, or mission. It’s just day-to-day, business as usual, and reactive. Too many new leaders overlook “the vision thing”, perhaps because it’s too intangible or misunderstood. It’s also hard to connect the dots of operational problems back to not having a vision.

4. Not managing upwards. A lot of leaders operate under the assumption that “no news is good news”, or “my performance speaks for itself” when it comes to their relationship with their hands-off or busy boss. While the autonomy may be nice, it’s important to keep your manager informed of your team’s accomplishments, and to build a solid relationship that can be leveraged when needed. It’s a bad assumption to assume your boss is aware of your good work and will be an advocate for your function when the going gets tough.

5. Overrelying on a few strengths and not paying attention to development. It’s all too easy to continue to fall back to the same handful of strengths that got you to where you are. However, without continuous development, you’ll soon stop growing and fall behind. The best leaders are always aware of their deficiencies and are always working to learn and get better.

6. Not listening. This one’s often a blind spot for leaders, and sometimes takes a two-by-four across the side of the head to get them to realize it’s a problem. Usually it’s a major screw-up as a result of not paying attention to what people are trying to tell them, some strong 360 data, turnover of key personal, or some kind of other pain that will turn them into a reformed poor listener.

7. Trying to be liked by everyone. Leaders can’t be their employee’s friends, and leading change usually means ruffling someone’s feathers. Being a leader means requires developing a thick skin and being able to take the heat without taking it personally.

8. Not asking for help. Driving around lost for hours because you’ve got too much pride to ask for directions might make a funny beer commercial, but as a leader, it can have disastrous consequences. At a minimum, it’s incredibly annoying when a leader just can’t admit when they don’t know how to do something.

9. Ignoring your peers. Some leaders make the mistake of only paying attention to their boss and employees (looking up and down), but fail to look sideways. The inability to build coalitions will prevent a leader from getting the cooperation and support needed in order to solve cross-functional problems or lead change.

10. Not seeking or being open to feedback. Two of my favorite “Good Things Bosses Believe”, from Bob Sutton: “I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me” and “Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk — and not realize it”.
Perhaps now you see why I laughed. Though maybe I should have cried a bit, too.

Church of the Week: The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

Today, on the Monday of Holy Week, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit a place of worship that, while not a church, is a place I have worshiped deeply on four different occasions.

About 100 yards from the site that is sometimes called, "Gordon's Calvary," after a British officer and amateur archaeologist who identified a skull in the side of a cliff, is the Garden Tomb, discovered in 1867. Though this place is definitely not the actual tomb of Christ, I tell folks who travel with us is that it is a great site to visualize, worship, and meditate on the resurrection of Jesus:

Inside the door, which bears a plaque asserting, "He is not here; He is risen," is a rock-hewn bier, where apparently someone had once been buried. The rest of the tomb was never finished:

The lovely Robin and I most recently worshiped here--we sang "In the Garden" and "He Lives," read Luke 24:1-9, and shared communion--in 2010:

It's a lovely place to worship, with many nooks and private arbors for gathering.

We plan to return in 2014 to this beautiful spot, on our next tour of the Holy Land (after a 2012 "Journeys of Paul" cruise in the Aegean). If you like, you can read more about those planned trips here.

Is It a Palm Sunday Sermon or a Palm Sunday Song?

Does it matter? Not when Bishop GE Patterson is doing it. And his congregation is coaching him, helping him remember names. And waving palms. Let's have some Palm Sunday preaching!

"Dull Churchmanship is a Fire Extinguisher"

Calvin Miller, in his wonderful book, Into The Depths of God, writes:
Jeremiah said of his call that it felt like a fire shut up in his bones (20:9). That fire that kept him going when all else failed. But Jeremiah at Benjamin Gate learned another truth: The holy fire of the call is easily quenchable. Dull churchmanship is a fire extinguisher. Business meetings, deacons meetings, committee meetings, and various assorted congregational criticisms all tend to douse the flame--to quench the fire in our bones.

How wonderful are those churches in which the number of members is identical to the number of ministers. In such a church, laypeople are God-called. Their passion burns. Their inner fire rages. They fry their old alarm clocks and can't wait for sunrise. They have an indestructible spirit. They don't buckle under gossip. They outlast their foes. They survive their critics. They awake to praise God on the mornings of their most foreboding trials.

The call of God is so much more than a divine employment agency. Too often the call is equated with vocation, as if God's call is only valid if it means a job in the ministry. The call is more of a relationship than a vocation. A zeal for God. An ardor for the things of God. Ardor joins the applause of God. The angels cannot help but applaud the kneeling and hungry who are famished for God.
Don't let the weighty matters of your task--or the minutia--diminish the flame. Don't let the business damper the call. Remember that just forty words after saying, "his word is in my heart like a fire, like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot" (Jeremiah 20:9), the prophet said, "But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior" (Jeremiah 20:11).

Keep the Lord with you--or rather you always with him, abiding in his presence--and the passion, your sense of calling, may still waver...but it won't die.

Put On Your Mask First

If you've flown at all in the past thirty years, you've heard the safety instruction before takeoff: “Be sure to adjust your own mask before assisting others."

It's a key leadership principle, and one that is tragically and commonly neglected: ensure your own ability to survive and function before trying to help others. Otherwise, you're taking the chance that you will be immobilized and thus unable to help anyone...because you didn't help yourself first.

So, pastor, leader, whoever you are, please take care of yourself. Put on your own mask before trying to help others. See to self-care, first and foremost, or you may well fail yourself and all those whom you are trying to help. I suggest at least the following:

1. Take time off. Look, I know you're indispensable. I was once, too. Or so I thought. But taking at least one day of REST each week is not only wise, it is God's command. If you're smarter than God, work seven days a week. Otherwise, work six.

2. Spend time with your spouse and family. This is not the same as #1. Your ministry to your spouse and children is PRIMARY; everything else is secondary (see this post for more on that). If you neglect your family for the church, then you are an example to neither. If you lose one, you lose the other. If you are not taking care of your marriage and family, you have no business leading the church (1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12).

3. Get a shrink. A dear friend and coach would ask me and my co-pastor repeatedly, "Are you seeing a shrink yet?" He eventually nagged me until I engaged a professional Christian counselor....before I thought I needed one. Within a year or two, I was unspeakably glad for it.

4. Diet and exercise. Why are so many of us pastors (myself included) overweight and out of shape? Why do we ignore the teaching of God's Word, which commands us to treat our bodies respectfully, as temples of God? I know we're busy. I know we eat on the run. I know stress triggers overeating. I know. But an essential element of self-care is proper diet and exercise. I am ashamed that I have not shown the people of God the kind of habits that are worthy of a steward of the King. I plan to do better. We all should.

5. Get a life. So many of us in the ministry have NO life outside of our own church or denomination. I recently heard a family member of a faithful pastor couple say, "They don't even know anyone outside [their denomination]." This is not healthy. Every pastor or ministry couple needs a life--whether it's a hobby, a group of friends, or some other pursuit that helps them escape, emotionally and mentally, from the demands and stresses of ministry.

6. Cultivate key relationships. In addition to a "shrink," I consider three relationships to be critical for self-care, regardless of how long you've been in ministry and how experienced or accomplished you may be. They are: (1) a mentor or coach, (2) an accountability partner, and (3) a close friend. These people need to be people other than your spouse, and preferably not someone who is a member of your church. At various times in my ministry (and more so in recent years), I have thanked God for such people in my life. I seriously don't know where I would have been without them. If you don't have such relationships (and research indicates that about 70% of pastors say they don't have any close friendships), make it a priority NOW to begin developing them.

7. Pray. No, seriously. I'm not just giving a nod to some obligatory "spiritual" perspective here. I really mean it. A shocking percentage of pastors go about their life and ministry without a deep, fulfilling prayer life. I've done it myself. But these days, I know that daily prayer has been my most important and influential form of self-care...easily. Don't neglect it. If it's not a habit for you, if it's not a reality, make it one. If I knew thirty years ago what I know now, I would have cancelled ALL ministry until I could have honestly said I had a robust prayer life. Seriously.

These forms of self-care are not exhaustive, by any means. I could list more. But these seven are crucial, no doubt about it.

What about you? What are your self-care commitments? What would you add to my list?

As Good As it Gets

We look at this video and chuckle at how dated and corny it is. "Look at the size of that thing!" "Look at the kid's computer!" And so on.

But not so long ago, this was as good as it got.

My question is, what are we doing or using today that will become laughable just as quickly as that phone?

The Bait of Satan

I have seen churches sorely impeded, even destroyed, by the trap of offense. I have seen it absolutely demolish Christians' joy and deny them so much good. I have seen families splintered, friendships shattered, and ministries stranded.

John Bevere's excellent book, The Bait of Satan, should be read, re-read, studied, and heeded by every sincere follower of Jesus.

The book is not without its weaknesses, and therefore would be best read in tandem with The Peacemaker by Ken Sande (reviewed here on this blog). Bevere's gift seems to be exhortation, so it should not be surprising that The Bait of Satan is strong on exhortation and weak on application; he approaches forgiveness as a "just do it" sort of thing, while The Peacemaker helps the reader through the steps of forgiveness and reconciliation in a way Bevere doesn't. Also, Bevere's theology and exegesis were occasionally problematic for me, but those things don't negate the central and considerable value of the book.

Let me say it again: The Bait of Satan should be read, re-read, studied, and heeded by every sincere follower of Jesus. Unfortunately, those who need it most are the least likely to read their great detriment, and to the detriment of the church.

Church of the Week: Prayer Room, The Salvation Army THQ, Nyack, NY

At the close of three days at The Salvation Army's Eastern Territorial Headquarters in Nyack, New York (outside New York City), most of which was spent in the two-and-a-half-year-old conference center addition, the lovely Robin and I were heading out of the building for the last time...when we spied the etched sign on a glass door in the main lobby: Prayer Room.

We entered a beautifully furnished prayer room with a fine view (and more so, I'm sure, in just a few weeks). At the center of the room are two lavish leather couches, perfect for a small prayer gathering. To the right in the photo above you'll also see a kneeling bench at the window.

Behind the couch is this (above) sculpture of the Good Samaritan, obviously appropriate for a Salvation Army chapel anywhere in the world.

The bright stained-glass window (detail, above) features the Salvation Army crest against the city skyline, the cross of Jesus Christ wrapped in the Salvation Army flag, and the motto, "Others," at the bottom.

Though not pictured, the room also provides two small tables in opposite corners, and a television screen mounted on the wall opposite the windows.

I was so glad to have discovered this feature of the Army's Eastern THQ building. It is a spot any pastor, church, or organization could well envy, and I hope it is one that is used often, now and in the future.

Do Justice to Your Own Soul

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular yours.

(John Wesley, writing to a younger minister, quoted in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along The Way (Wheaton, 1993), page 169)

My 10 Most Influential Books on Leadership and Pastoring

I just finished reading (again) the classic, Spiritual Leadership, by J. Oswald Sanders. That short book continues to pack a punch for spiritual leaders of all kinds.

So I thought I'd share what I consider the books that have most influenced me, as a leader and pastor, over the years.

Here they are:
They are roughly in the reverse order in which I discovered or read them, for the first time, at least. And maybe you've noticed that I cheated a little. There are eleven, not ten. So sue me.

What about you? What books have most influenced your leadership, your pastoring?

The Only Good Reason to Be a Pastor

Many of us who are pastors begin (at least) because we love people. Or because we want to be liked. Or because we want to be approved, either in God's eyes, people's eyes, or both. Or because we love God's Word. We want to preach. We love teaching people, seeing the lights come on in their eyes.

Some of us enter pastoral ministry because our family will be proud. Or our denomination will. Or because we've failed most everywhere else--we haven't been happy in any other jobs, haven't been able to hold any other jobs, whatever. Or because we've participated in churches where our pastors' standards of living were better than ours, and we figured that would be nice. Maybe even easy.

Don't look so horrified. It happens, believe me. Few of us, if any, are self-aware or honest or vulnerable enough to know or admit all the reasons. But chances are, none of them are good enough.

Because, you see, those of us who went into ministry because we love people have discovered over the years that loving people is a sure way to get yourself hurt. And wanting to be liked is a recipe for disaster. And craving approval from anyone but God is a dead end. And preaching is such a small part of what most of us do...and it usually ends up being something we squeeze in because of all the other demands on our time. And the pride of a family or denomination can be unsatisfying compared to the burdens and struggles of a conscientious pastor. And as far as standard of living and easy way of life go...don't make me laugh!

I think I've always known it, but I know it more and more with every passing year of ministry. I think most of us do, which is why no one wants to admit any other reason for entering ministry. The only good reason to be a pastor is because God has called you, unmistakably and unavoidably.

Pastoring is no way to live, unless you've been called. It will depress you, frustrate you, burden you, exhaust you, and possibly even crush you. People can be heartless, unresponsive, stubborn, and fickle. There is always way more work to do, and it's never done. For every sermon you preach, you've got it to do again next week. For every person who says, "Thank you!" there are ten who say, "Why did you....?" or "Why didn't you....?" or "How could you?" If your church is growing, so are your problems (Proverbs 14:4).

That's why I often tell people who express an interest in ministry, "If you can do anything else, do it!" Because as fun as it can be at times, it's also unspeakably hard. It'll break your heart. But if you are called, if you cannot escape, if it burns in your bones (Jeremiah 20:9), if you are compelled to the point that you say, "Woe is me if I do not" (1 Corinthians 9:16), then be a pastor.

That's not just the best reason, in my experience. It's the only one.

The Preacher Your Preacher Could Preach Like

Here's a fun video from Cokesbury Publishers. Strikes the right tone. But they need a good sound engineer (I happen to know one).

Ministry Mulligans

By way of Tod Bolsinger's blog, I learned of an excellent article on Christianity Today, entitled "Ministry Mulligans." The author Jack Connell begins,
I used to be a pastor. For nearly two decades, I enjoyed the thrills, spills, chills and can't-quite-pay-the-bills of local church ministry. Now, five years after packing up my office for the final time (including two boxes of Leadership back issues), I still think about those years in the pastorate every single day. No exceptions. It's as though the word pastor is branded on my heart. And as I reflect on those 1,000 weeks in the world's most glorious, dangerous profession, I often think about what I would do differently if I had another shot at it. If I was given a ministry mulligan, here is what I'd do with it.
He goes on to list:

More collaboration, less competition
More pastor, less CEO
More rest, less rush
More friendship, less isolation

Not a bad list at all. As a pastor who has recently gone from a paid position to a volunteer preacher, I would say many of the same things. I might add,

more wisdom, less naivete
more deliberation in choosing leaders, less hurry
more "no," less "yes."

But don't just take my word for it. Read the whole article, and let me know what you think.

The Decider

President George W. Bush's Decision Points is not, strictly speaking, a book on leadership. But I decided to review it here on the Desperate Pastor blog because it does have much to say about leadership from the man who referred to himself (and invited ridicule and vitriol by doing so) as "The Decider."

As a presidential memoir, Decision Points is a remarkable book. He says he began writing on his first day as a former president and apparently one of his earliest decisions was to make this a book about his decisions. It is not a complete account of his presidency (in the epilogue, he mentions a handful of important decisions he did not cover, such as his decision to create the largest marine conservation areas in the world). But it does give fascinating insight into the most consequential decisions of his life and his eight years in office: quitting drinking, marrying Laura, running for governor and president, choosing Dick Cheney as a running mate and others for key positions, stem cell research, 9/11, the War on Terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, fighting AIDS in Africa, the surge, and the financial crisis,

Throughout, the man's native grace and intellect comes through (that's right--though he was mercilessly portrayed by his enemies and the media as a buffoon, the book describes his decisions in eminently reasonable terms). And also throughout, I was reminded as I read of one of the central truths of leadership: to lead is to decide, and to decide is to invite criticism. George W. Bush's presidency proved that axiom time and time again.

I was astounded to recognize that Bush did not aspire to the Texas governorship nor to the presidency until circumstances and people combined to create a sense of calling to those offices. I was impressed with the president's generosity toward his critics, and his prodigious respect for both his parents. I was surprised when he pointed out that his father, George H. W. Bush, became in 1988 the first man since Martin Van Buren (in 1836!) to be elected to succeed the president he had served as vice president. I was truly grateful to learn of the deliberation, struggle, consideration, and counsel that went into his decisions as president. And I often found myself shaking my head at the stark contrast between the man in these pages and the way he had been portrayed by the American media (if I hadn't already--some time ago--lost all faith in journalism and punditry in this country, I definitely would have after reading these pages).

Leaders of all political stripes can learn from Decision Points. Things like how to structure and staff an organization. How to recover from mistakes. How to earn and keep the loyalty of others. How to respond to criticism (and lies) respectfully. And more. It's an eye-opening and rewarding read, and a book that should make any American proud.

Church of the Week: St. John Lutheran, Decatur, IN

This week's Church of the Week on the Desperate Pastor blog is one I have passed on the road many times en route to Ft. Wayne, Indiana. This past week, however, I became more familiar with it.

I was on my way home from a very successful Christian writer's conference in Ft. Wayne, when my car began to exhibit an uncooperative--one might even say petulant--attitude. I pulled over and, after consulting a dear friend and expert on my cell phone, limped to the parking lot of St. John Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) just six miles north of Decatur, Indiana.

After calling my wife, the lovely Robin, to come and rescue me, I made the most of the next three hours. I finished an audiobook. I took a brisk walk around the church. And I spent time in prayer with the aid of the Divine Hours (Pocket Edition) on my iPad, walking on the church grounds, and marveling at a falling star (I think the first I've ever seen).

Around 11:30 p.m., Robin arrived and we began the drive home, happy to be safe and buoyed by my friend's offer to tow the truck to his garage the next day. So, though I have no idea what the stately structure looks like on the inside and no familiarity with the saints who gather there for worship, St. John now has a special place in my memory. They don't know it, but this church hosted me and helped me in a time of need in April 2011.

Why I Journal My Prayers

I haven't always kept a prayer journal. I started journaling in 1991, but it was not a prayer journal.

Then, more than ten years ago, I determined to write down in a simple notebook at least one prayer a day for an entire year, as a way of fostering daily prayer. There was no more to it than that. It didn't have to be more than a single sentence. Sometimes, it was just a few words. Other times, it went on for a page or more. But I stuck with it. And the habit stuck, too.

Since then, I have found the practice of journaling my prayers to be a huge blessing. I do it to discipline and focus myself. I do it in conjunction with my habit of keeping Compline, or bedtime prayers. It helps to put a period (literally) at the end of my day. It helps to prepare my mind and spirit for sleep. After I commit any pressing items or concerns to the page, I literally close the book on my day.

Journaling my prayers has also become a wonderful aid to praise. Every so often I look back on the prayers of previous months or years, and I never fail to realize how God--and prayer--carried me through discouragement and disappointment, suggested new ideas and insights, processed questions, encouraged a change, and more. If I hadn't written them down, I would never have been able to see much of what God has done for me, and the many prayers he has answered.

Those are just a few of the reasons I journal my prayers.

How about you? Do you keep a prayer journal? And if so, why?

Cobblestone Missions Committee Refocuses Efforts

In a bold and unprecedented move, our fine missions committee at Cobblestone has decided to commit our entire 2011 missions budget to a promising opportunity on the African continent.

Working cooperatively with Dr. Clement Okon of Nigeria, Cobblestone is entering into a partnership with Okon to transfer the sum of $21,320,000 (US) into the church accounts. This money has been trapped in Nigeria and, due to Dr. Okon's position as a civil servant and member of the federal government contract review panel, he cannot acquire these funds in his name. However, he has agreed to share 1.20% of the fund with us, 2.70% with U.S. officials, 3.10% in settling taxation and all local and foreign expenses. The remaining funds will be used to set up Dr. Okon's importation business in the U.S.


Obviously, the receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars will make possible even more missions efforts in the future, and simultaneously help out this fine businessman and government official in Nigeria.

Once this transaction is complete, we plan to pursue similar partnerships with several Nigerian princes.

It's going to be great.