Insecure Leaders

Pete Wilson recently posted this on his blog. He's right. Though I have to say that, judging from the list below, insecurity looks pretty indistinguishable from lack of character. Is it possible to have character and let insecurity rule you?
While I won’t argue that lack of character has brought down more good leaders than just about anything, I would say insecurity runs a very close second. An insecure leader is a dangerous leader.

Insecurity can torment the most gifted of leaders. It will make you…

doubt instead of trust

criticize instead of praise

protect instead of risk

assume the worst instead of the best

talk instead of listen

micromanage instead of empower

control instead of surrender

In the end it will erode your effectiveness and leave you useless and powerless. Your worst nightmare will become a reality as you look around to discover that no longer is anyone following you.

What does your insecurity look like when it raises its ugly head?

21 Skills of Great Preachers

I came across the following list by Keith Roberts a few days ago on the site Preaching Points. Like the author of the post, I am amazed to think back over the great preaching I've heard over my short lifetime (short compared to Methuselah, at least), which I will soon post about on my prayer blog (here). And as I look over Keith's list of twenty-one skills of great preachers, I'd have to say that the great ones in my experience shared these traits as well:
The one thing most of us would rather do than preach, is hear another great preacher. I mean a “Great” preacher. I’ve learned plenty from hearing the best preachers, especially in a live setting. For most of my life, when sitting under a great preacher, I’ve taken dual sets of notes, including content on one list, and a separate set of notes on their communication skills. What have I discovered in these 40 years worth of notes? Here’s my summary:

1. Content:
All of my “Great Preachers” had something to say. Even as “great communicators,” they didn’t substitute style for substance.

2. Passion:
The best Preachers I’ve heard had a passion for what they said which seemed to spring from a general spiritual burden for people, which is different from just loving to preach. Messages are easier to love than people.

3. Credibility:
Great Preachers practice what they preach — they live it.’ “Great Communicators” might get away with all kinds of private sin, but not truly “Great Preachers.” I’ve had to downgrade some of my “Great Preachers to “Great Communicators” over the last few decades.

4. Prepared:
Great Preachers don’t “wing it” — even if the people couldn’t tell. (They can.)

5. Notes:
Most Great Preachers limited their use of notes. Thanks to TV, preachers can no longer read to a crowd with their nose buried in their notes.

6. Simple:
Great Preachers have a way of bringing high truths down to the bottom shelf, yet without compromising the greatness of truth. In this they are like Jesus. People don’t leave a truly great preacher saying, “Boy He’s smart!” They say, “Now I understand!”

7. Short:
While Great Preachers are able to hold your attention in a preaching marathon, most were able to also preach a great sermon in 30 minutes or less. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve discovered that 30 minutes is plenty of time for a preacher to give a sermon, except in the few instances when I myself am the preacher.)

8. Convicting:
People hear God prick their conscience when Great Preachers preach. They give more than a “sermon” or “talk” — they deliver a “message” from God.

9. Self-revealing:
Great Preachers know how to tell personal stories on themselves. They become real to their listeners. Yet they do this while avoiding the ego-centric self-absorption of many pop preachers who make themselves the subject of the sermon instead of God.

10. Confidence:
Great Preachers don’t seem scared. Maybe they are, but they never seem to show it.

11. Tone:
While the great preachers of the past often thundered out salvos like a giant cannons, the Great Preachers of today almost all use a conversational tone of voice. They know that people today don’t listen to speakers who shout.

12. Story-telling:
All Great Preachers through history have this trait in common: they are good story tellers. That goes for both telling story illustrations and direct Bible stories.

13. Prop:
I’ve noticed that some Great Preachers use an object or prop to get their truth across — usually an ordinary thing like a salt shaker, a packet of yeast, or a glass of water.

14. Humor:
Many Great Preachers are funny, though not all of them. The humorous preachers are able to “get them back” after they’ve been on a roll, so that the message can stay central, not the humor. Those who can’t keep the message central are merely “Great Communicators” or “Christian Humorists,” not “Great Preachers.”

15. Pace:
Evan fast-paced Great Preachers use pauses where you can catch your breath. The listener then can digest their last few bites of truth without bolting the whole meal down undigested. Many Great Preachers follow the traditional Afro-American pace in the poem: “Begin low; Continue slow; Rise up higher; Catch on fire; Sit down in the storm.”

16. Eyes:
Great Preachers keep their eyes glued to their audience. Each person in the congregation feels the preacher is “looking right me.”

17. Fast-on-feet:
Most Great Preachers are able to work in the surprises in a service like thunder, scratching on the roof, sirens etc.

18. Intensity:
The Great Preachers I’ve heard varied their intensity — sometimes they were louder, then they’d get as soft as a whisper, sometimes they’d be so intense that my own stomach would ache, then they’d drop back and adopt a tender or even chuckling style.

19. Movement:
Most Great Preachers I’ve heard used their bodies to preach along with their words. They seemed to intuitively know that a congregation is getting a full 55% of the communication from their facial gestures and body movement.

20. Decision:
My Great Preachers never gave a message and walked away. They called for my specific and personal decision in response to God’s truth. They preached for decision, not for entertainment or education. Perhaps I call them “Great” partially because God changed me under their influence.

21. Landing:
All the really Great Preachers I’ve heard were able to land their message on the first pass. Most lesser preachers circle the airport several times before bringing it in, or (worse still) do several “touch-and-Go’s” before landing. You know, it’s a funny thing… I can always see when the other guy should land his sermon, better than knowing when to bring my own message down on the runway.
So what about you? What would you add? Subtract? Etc.?

Jesus Body

I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure this was NOT what Jesus meant when he said, "This is my body."

(via the Jesus Needs New PR blog)

Three Lessons from Harold Camping

In case you missed it, the rapture was supposed to happen last Friday, October 21. Again. According to Harold Camping, the radio preacher who most recently said it would happen on May 21, and who you think would have learned by now. But his latest unfulfilled end times prediction has its benefits, if we care to learn from him. Here is a good post by Keith E. D. Buhler, which I read on Mere Orthodoxy:
In religion, as in sports, the truism holds true: we learn better from the failures than the successes.

As thousands of Harold Camping followers put the pieces back together—of their hearts, their faiths, their life savings—again, many are enjoying mocking his second failed attempt to predict the Rapture.

Avoiding both the snide laughter of cynicism and fraught tears of depression (two twin faces of despair), we should redeem all things and focus on what is pure, honorable, and good. Here are three quick lessons, then, we can extract from the last few months’ embarrassing events:

#1. Knowing church history can save you time, money, and pain.

G.K. Chesterton succinctly said that Christian orthodoxy was ‘practical as potatoes.’ Traditional Christianity is a wealth of wisdom, not only the timeless doctrines, but the timeline of experiences.

It’s just plain helpful to know what the church has done in the (distant and recent) past.

Even if tradition is not always right, it can help us intelligently set our bets for good odds. Evangelical Christians are rightly wary of Tradition with a capital “T”, lest it dare to usurp God’s Word. But all Christians can and should be nourished by church history, just as they learn last week’s news, or the history of the United States, or of Europe, Rome, Greece, and the world.

The past may not determine the future with certainty, but it does often help us predict it with accuracy. The history of the church may not be devoid of errors, but we can learn a lot from the errors that people made — and that people are likely to make again.

Since the 1700s, dramatic shifts in Protestant thinking about end-times have led to several bouts of “date-setting” (calculating the return of Christ). After the Reformation encouragement to ‘take up and read’ the Scriptures, some Christians conceived idiosyncratic interpretations that, full grown, became false prophecies. Emanuel Swedenborg, the Millerites, Charles Russell, and many more have indulged in guessing (divining?) when Christ would return. They have all been, thus far, wrong.

Date-setters of years past have almost all responded to their incorrect prophecies by either returning to their calculations and date-setting again (like an alcoholic returning the bottle) or “spiritualizing” their prediction. Camping chose both. Many people act surprised that he didn’t “apologize.” To be fair, it should have been expected.

An awareness of the past would notify us, firstly, that Camping will probably turn out to be wrong, and secondly, that he will probably date-set again. He was indeed mistaken about May 21 being “an invisible” day of judgment. Which brings us back to lesson one: We knew he’d probably be wrong about October 21, 2011.

#2. Even if some man knows the day or hour Christ will return, I personally (probably) don’t.

The second lesson we can learn from the Camping situation is not to be too sure, lest our surety leave us under-prepared for the second coming.

The traditional view about the second coming (to say nothing about pre-trib, post-trib, etc.) is that Jesus’ return will be unmistakable. Now, the first coming was not very obvious. After all, it took some of his disciples months to recognize that he was the Christ. So I wonder whether I can be absolutely certain whether the second coming will be frighteningly, startling, undeniably easy to recognize. I’d like to play it safe and remind myself that “many will be deceived” so I can be on my best guard.

The elephant in the room is when Jesus says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24).

Maybe someone can wiggle out of the immediate interpretation of this verse and say that no one knew back then, but now we know, somehow. So let’s give that argument a hearing: if some brilliant prophetic man learns the day and the hour, what makes me think I will be able to tell he’s right? With so many boys crying wolf, how will a non-prophet like me know who to trust?

A dose of healthy doubt is probably the best bet. Unless I can personally check his math (Camping’s math remains deeply inscrutable to me) I have to go on the latest date-setter’s word. With history and tradition on my side I know they’re probably wrong, but even if they aren’t, it would be prideful of me to assume I know which date-setter is right. So the second main lesson is that, for all practical purposes, we should live as if no man knows the hour.

#3. Be prepared!

Without personally knowing the hour, without being ignorant of church history, the only conclusion is this: I must be prepared daily. That’s the beginning and end of this Harold Camping madness. The next date will and there will be another swell of emotion, fear, laughter, hope, anger, cynicism, and many dollars spent–or maybe Jesus will return tonight.

James reminds us not to say ““If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” To do otherwise is to “boast in arrogance” (James 4). So Camping’s next day may not arrive. Either way, Maranatha!

When the next false prophet arises, I think we can thank God for another reminder that he may return today. He is coming quickly! I must repent, believe, forgive others, pray without ceasing. The vigilance that the “end is near” has kept the church awake and alert since the day Jesus ascended, and so it must continue.

The rule to stay alert and be prepared applies equally well to non-Christians, by the way, for whom death must inevitably come. For Christians, Jesus may return today. For non-religious folk, the Christians may be right. Either way, my personal death will be my own Last Judgment, and when that day comes, is there any difference?

“See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5).

Keith E. D. Buhler is a speaker, writer, and classical educator at the Torrey Academy with Biola University. He can be contacted at

Think (The Life of the Mind and the Love of God)

John Piper's book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, promises to help readers think about thinking and about how the heart and mind glorify God together.

In its depth and thoroughness, in its reliance on Scripture, and in its unapologetic dogmatism, it is pure Piper.

I love books about thinking, and have enjoyed many, from Moreland's Love God With All Your Mind to Blamire's The Christian Mind and Maxwell's Thinking for a Change. Piper's Think is unlike all the above; in fact, early in the book, he takes pains to distinguish it from those books and others. I was glad he did.

Think confines itself to thinking-as-reading, and particularly to thinking-as-Bible-reading. Piper more or less acknowledges that it is possible to think apart from reading, but he sees reading and thinking as nearly interchangeable.

His Biblical exposition, as usual, is thorough and engaging. As a Bible reader, student, and preacher, I found these sections--particularly chapter four--the most interesting in the book.

I must admit, however, that I was somewhat disappointed in the book as a whole, primarily because Piper's agenda--and his approach--didn't always hit the mark with me. He is such a thorough thinker and teacher that he generally takes great pains to prove things I don't need him to prove to me. And his perspective is so thoroughly Modernist as to frequently leave me cold.

But I'm glad I read the book. And if you have any interest at all in thinking-as-reading, or solid Biblical hermeneutics, or the follies of relativism, you will be, too.

Church of the Week: Believers Christian Fellowship Church, Dayton, Ohio

The lovely Robin and I enjoyed a wonderful morning of worship yesterday at Believers Christian Fellowship Church in Dayton, Ohio, located at 1516 Salem Avenue.

We were warmly welcomed and deeply honored by the members and leaders of this church. The atmosphere from beginning to end was warm and loving and celebratory.

We knew a little about the church before entering, because Robin works with fellow counselor Lynn Harris in Middletown, and a sweet friendship has grown between them for the last several years; Lynn's husband, the Rev. Dr. William Harris, is the senior pastor at Believers Christian Fellowship Church. The church is just over six years old, having been started in May 2005.

We also knew that this Sunday would be "Youth Sunday" at BCFC, a fact Lynne had mentioned to Robin on Friday. We were so blessed by the youth choir, that led worship singing and presented a stirring special song.

We also loved the participation of the children, who sang several songs in worship.

And Rev. Bill Harris's sermon on Luke 17:5, was simply outstanding; I loved every minute of it. And there were a lot of minutes of it! But there was a lot in it to love: excellent insights into the text, humor, effective illustrations, passion, and more.

Lynn was so kind to sit with me and Robin, and Bill was so gracious to honor me by allowing me the privilege of a pastoral prayer and a final "word" after his sermon. We couldn't have felt more welcomed and I couldn't have been more honored.

Going Deep

Gordon MacDonald is one of my favorite authors, and his latest book, Going Deep (Becoming A Person of Influence), revisits the fictionalized format he employed in Who Stole My Church? The book uses a series of e-mails and discussions with friends and church members to portray a pastor and a church that learn to intentionally cultivate spiritually deep people.

The book is filled with MacDonald's signature depth, insight, vulnerability, affability, and maturity. And, while the format does succeed in taking the reader on a journey, I found myself wishing that it was shorter and more to-the-point. It needed both an editor's knife and a novelist's flair for the dramatic. Along those lines, it would have profited tremendously from a more realistic depiction of how change occurs in a church; it seldom happens as smoothly and good-naturedly as MacDonald's fictional church managed it.

Having said all that, however, I would like to see every pastor and church leader read the book, learn from its wisdom, and chart a similar path for intentionally cultivating deep people and solid church leaders.


(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”)

Top 20 Questions for Preachers

As a follow-up to yesterday's post of the Top 10 (actually 13) Preaching Mistakes, I thought I'd revisit a checklist I developed in the early days of Cobblestone Community Church listing twenty questions to evaluate a sermon--before reaching it. It remains a mental checklist (though more intuitive for me than mechanical) that I try to apply to my own speaking. Here are the twenty questions:
 Do I grab the listener’s attention as soon as I start speaking?
 Does the talk start where people are (with their culture, needs, problems, issues, questions)?
 Does it come on too strong, too fast?
 Am I teaching the listener something he didn’t already know?
 Am I communicating what God says, not my opinions?
 Have I included an introduction of myself and words of welcome to the listener?
 Have I included a re-statement somewhere in the talk of either Cobblestone's mission ("loving people into life-changing encounters with God") or distinctives (community-oriented, student-friendly, seeker-aware, outward-focused)?
 Have I offered an elementary (but not condescending) explanation of the text that will help even a Bible newbie find it without feeling stupid (as well as avoidance of "church lingo" as much as possible)?
 Have I revealed anything of myself in the talk without revealing anything inappropriate? (so much the better if it’s vulnerable, self-effacing, and/or winsome)
 Do I interact with my listeners in the talk (e.g., mentioning people’s names, asking for responses, etc.)?
 Have I included humor?
 Am I being realistic instead of shallow? Will my listener believe I understand what he’s really going through?
 Have I touched (not manipulated) my listener’s emotions?
 Is my talk focused enough (instead of rambling)?
 Have I played a part in meeting a felt need?
 Is the “solution” I propose realistic? Life-related? Biblical?
 Does the structure of my talk logically lead to the conclusion/application?
 Have I left out anything important, crucial?
 Have I given clear application for both a seeker and a Christian that answers the question, "OK, what am I supposed to do with this information now/today/this week?”
 Have I made reference to how my listener can find further help (e.g., prayer counselors)?
A few things changed over the years. And if I were to revise it today, I would change a few things (e.g., adding some sort of reference to creating a visual, tactile, or other sensory impact, as I did in the sermon pictured above by wearing a straitjacket for much of the message). But overall, the questions still serve pretty well.

So what questions would you add or subtract? Or revise?

Top 10 Preaching Mistakes

David Murray lists what he considers the top ten mistakes preachers make on the HeadHeartHand Blog:
1. Cramming: Squeezing all you have ever studied about the Bible over the years into 30 minutes.

2. Skimming: Taking too many verses and simply skimming over the surface of the text, teaching nothing that someone with average intelligence would not have themselves have got from the text.

3. Floating: The preacher says many things that relate to the text, floating or hovering above the text, but fails to show how they are anchored in the text.

4. Proof-texting: Including lots and lots of texts from all over the Bible, and sometimes diverting hearers by expounding the proof texts as much as the sermon text.

5. Quoting: Too many quotes from commentators, theologians, and other preachers from the past and the present.

6. Lecturing: It’s difficult to define the difference between preaching and lecturing, but you know it when you see it/hear it. It’s about passion, eye-contact, persuasion, urgency, etc.

7. Assuming: Our own over-familiarity with the text results in us assuming that our hearers know the background of the text, the meaning of basic key words and concepts, etc. May also result in Mach 7 preaching speeds. And don’t assume your hearers are all converted either.

8. Confusing: Hearers are left confused usually because of a lack of structure or too complicated a structure (main points, sub-points, etc.); or sometimes there is a good structure, but it’s not sufficiently highlighted and emphasized so that hearers know where they’ve been, where they are, and where they are going.

9. Spraying: Lots and lots of data, but no single dominant thought; it’s the difference between a shotgun and a rifle.

10. Complicating: Instead of explaining the text, a preacher can actually make it more obscure. Usually involves words too big, sentences too long, concepts too abstract, language too philosophical/theological.
He's right. Those are common mistakes. I would add a few more, that I think are prevalent:
11. Failing to connect with the listeners' needs. In the first few minutes of any sermon, the speaker has the listeners' attention, if only out of courtesy. That attention will quickly disappear, however, if the preacher doesn't quickly--in one way or another--connect with a felt need, and help the listener expect that the sermon will answer that need.

12. Neglecting a practical application. Many, many sermons end with me longing for a practical application to my life, my habits, my situation, my practice. An attentive preacher will give me at least one practical way to apply the text, something to do, something to pray...SOMETHING.

13. Regurgitating. This is related to #2, above, but a good sermon will make it clear that the preacher himself (or herself) actually discovered something new, something exciting, some new insight or application in the text, during his or her study for the sermon. Too often, the sermon simply features information the preacher has known since seminary (or VBS, even!), rather than fresh interaction with the text, and the Spirit who illuminates it.
I could go on, of course, but that's a baker's dozen of mistakes I have made myself, and mistakes we preachers too often make. But we can do better. And we must.

An Infallible Sermon

This should not be a rarity, but should be done regularly in our churches. It doesn't even have to be from memory, as this is, but could be convincingly and profitably accomplished with notes, cue cards, teleprompter, etc. And not just with the book of Hebrews, either. But watch it. It's awesome to see Hebrews PREACHED, in its entirety, as a sermon:

Hebrews Recited from Covenant Fellowship Church on Vimeo.

(The title of this post was basically stolen from Jacob at The Strasbourg Inn)

A Diary of Private Prayer

Yesterday I talked to an old friend. We hadn't seen each other or talked in years, but he and his family are as dear to me as ever. He asked me to recommend a book for his men's group to read and discuss together, preferably one that would give them daily readings and enough content to fuel lively conversations.

A book came to mind immediately: John Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer. It is a collection of morning and evening prayers for thirty-one days, concluding with a morning and evening prayer specifically for Sundays. They are personal, warm, honest, and deep. Prayers of adoration, confession, repentance, thanks, and petition.

I explained to my friend that this volume is not a book ABOUT prayer. It is a book OF prayer. Each prayer should be not only read, but prayed as well. My edition even provides a blank page facing each prayer for the reader's own reflection and notation.

It is a wonderful book. I couldn't more highly recommend it.

God Is Our Treasure


What about you? Do you use God? Is he a means to an end for you? Or is HE the end?

The Dysfunctional Church

Every person in the world is dysfunctional. Sinful. Fallen. Broken. Messed up in one way or another. It's natural and universal. A consequence of the Fall. Part of what it means to be "human."

That reality extends to every family. Some families appear less dysfunctional than others, but we all have our issues.

Alas, that reality also extends to every church. Churches are made up of humans. And human families. Thus churches (small "C") are dysfunctional as well. Some more than others. Some more obvious than others. But they're all dysfunctional in one respect or another.

Churches tend to reflect the personality--and pain--of their leaders. For better or worse. As Jesus said, students do not surpass their teachers, but become like them as a result of their training (Luke 6:40). Churches tend to reflect their leaders. Churches as a whole (and as individuals) tend to become more and more like their leaders as time and training progress. They take on the personality and preferences--and, unfortunately, dysfunctions--of the leadership.

As a result, some churches are codependent. They define love in unhealthy ways, and tend to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways. They need to be needed. They try to please everyone. They use blame and shame to manipulate others (and themselves). They pretend a lot, and fake a lot. They learn to hide negative emotions in the hope that others will like them.

Some churches are passive-aggressive. I've already written a little about this here. Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin says, "Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them." A passive-aggressive person or church will not practice Matthew 5:23-24 or Matthew 18:15-18, but will try to manipulate others behind the scenes through gossip, rumor, shunning, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, etc.

Other churches are obsessive-compulsive, displaying perfectionism, excessive devotion to work, rigidity, stubbornness and dictatorial tendencies. The OCD church prefers things it can control and categorize, and can't tolerate messiness. This kind of church will be impatient with things--and people--in process. It will often reflect an elitist and legalistic attitude, approving people and programs that are extremely structured and predictable, while avoiding or condemning those that aren't.

A narcissistic church will display grandiosity, a self-focused lack of empathy for others, and a self-righteous and self-promoting attitude (toward the church, movement, denomination and, sometimes, toward a powerful, often famous pastor or program). This church must increase while others decrease--in numbers, reputation, influence, etc.

Some churches reflect a Histrionic Personality Disorder, marked by pervasive attention-seeking behavior, including shallow or exaggerated emotions. These churches (and their leaders) are always up-in-arms about something, always jumping on new bandwagons, and always exciting. They can give the appearance of a "Spirit-filled" church, because they appear vivacious and dynamic, but tend toward self-aggrandizement (or exalting a particular experience or "manifestation") rather than glorifying God.

A church may also tend toward Borderline Personality Disorder, which is characterized by extreme and variable moods. Borderline churches see things in black and white. They either love you or hate you. They can be generous, giving, helping churches, but if a person or organization doesn't live up to their expectations, they will quickly turn the opposite direction and will have no trouble vilifying or persecuting those they previously put on a pedestal.

Unfortunately, these are not all the possible dysfunctions of a church. And, of course, God is capable of compensating for, overcoming, or healing every dysfunction (though we must cooperate with him in that process, which is sometimes a problem for us). But we may be assured that a church will not exceed its leaders in any of these areas. If I, as a pastor, do not let God deal with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, for example, I should not be surprised to see those traits arise in my church, and even hinder its progress (which is yet ANOTHER good reason for a pastor or elder to regularly see a capable counselor, which I blogged about here).

On the other hand, maybe one of the reasons God raises us up as leaders and draws like-minded (and" like-dysfunctioned") people to each other is so we can help each other and learn from each other as he heals us and conforms us more and more to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Church of the Week: First Presbyterian Church, Spokane, WA

On my recent trip to Spokane, Washington, I had the opportunity to join in the Sunday evening worship at Spokane's historic First Presbyterian Church.

The church dates back to 1883 (before Washington was a state). The oldest portion of the current church facility dates to 1910. The educational wing stretching west along Fourth Avenue was completed in 1951, and the most recent addition, which houses the fellowship hall, the gym and the preschool in the basement, was finished in 1995.

I was welcomed warmly shortly after entering, and enjoyed the contemporary worship led by the three-member worship team in a library/anteroom off the main sanctuary. The Sunday evening gathering welcomed a new pastor for this evening service, which was attended by about fifty people of varying ages. The group was beginning a study of the book of Ruth.

Before the service began, I was allowed to take a peek into the main sanctuary, which was spacious and beautiful. I tried not to be too disappointed that we didn't worship in the sanctuary...but I didn't succeed.


Here's a photo I took of the back row at the recent officers' councils (pastors' retreat) of The Salvation Army's Northwest Division:

Every. Seat. Taken. Long before the start of the service. So, next time your pastor complains about people sitting in the "sinner's row," you might ask where he or she sits when given the chance!

Less Is More

Great (and short) TED presentation by Graham Hill:

Life's Change Agent

Steve Jobs died yesterday. The internet has been filled with comments and reflections. I took some time last night to reflect on Steve's own comments about his impending death, in 2005 in his the Stanford commencement address. His words are worth pondering, even meditating on:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart....

Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent.

The Pastor

If I were Eugene Peterson, I might have counted a book like Leap Over a Wall as my "life work." Or, certainly, The Contemplative Pastor. Or, say, his pastoral trio of Under the Unpredictable Plant, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, and Working the Angles. Or--come on, now--The Message translation of the Bible, his translation of the Old and New Testaments into "American."

Given the accomplishment and success he has enjoyed as a writer (not to mention his respected stints as professor in several institutions of higher learning), he might be excused if he titled his memoir something else. But he called it The Pastor: A Memoir. Because, he explains, his calling and vocation are "pastor," through which his writing and teaching run.

Parts of The Pastor rang with familiarity to me, as he has related much of his story in earlier works. But it's all interesting and insightful, and informative for anyone with an interest in pastoral ministry. I especially appreciated these lines from chapter 36:
You are at your pastoral best when you are not noticed. To keep this vocation healthy requires constant self-negation, getting out of the way. A certain blessed anonymity is inherent in pastoral work.
Like most of Peterson's writings, The Pastor is an absorbing and thought-provoking book.

Three Colleagues

Eugene Peterson, in his memoir, The Pastor, writes:
Two or three months [later], I removed all of my academic diplomas from the wall of my study and replaced them with the framed portraits of three men whose company I wanted to keep as I lived into my newly realized vocational identity [as a pastor]....My picks for mentors were John Henry Newman, Alexander Whyte, and Baron Friedrich von Hugel--the company I would keep to stay in touch with the conditions in which I was now working. The three, though long dead, were no strangers--I had been in prayerful conversation with them for a long time--but now I embraced them as colleagues, not just as admired ancestors.
As Peterson often does, he got me thinking. Who would I choose as co-travelers, colleagues, in my life as a pastor. Three people occurred to me almost as soon as I asked the question:

Peter Marshall. I first discovered the great Scottish-American preacher, Peter Marshall, when I was a boy. I remember being entranced by the movie, A Man Called Peter, on our black-and-white Sylvania television. He was the much-admired pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and U.S. Senate Chaplain in the late 1940s. I must have been a teenager when I read the book on which that movie was based, and in my late teens (I think) when I first discovered a book of his sermons: Mr. Jones, Meet the Master. That collection, and others I soon acquired and devoured, probably influenced my preaching--then and now--more than any other single influence. His flair for dramatic narrative, his formatting, his way of approaching a text or a topic, are models to me, to this day.

Samuel Logan Brengle. I also discovered The Salvation Army's "prophet of holiness" in my teens. He died twenty-two years before I was born, but I became acquainted with him through his writings and the writings of others about him. As a teenager, I read Clarence Hall’s inspiring biography of Brengle, Portrait of a Prophet, and as a result began systematically reading his books. By the time I was twenty, I had read them all: Helps to Holiness, Heart Talks on Holiness, When the Holy Ghost is Come, The Soul-Winner’s Secret, Resurrection Life and Power, The Way of Holiness, The Guest of the Soul, Ancient Prophets and Modern Problems, and Love-Slaves. His Helps to Holiness is one of six books I reread every three years (two each year). Perhaps more than any other person, living or dead, Commissioner Brengle taught and guided me as a young man, and his influence remains with me to this day.

Thomas Merton. In contrast to Marshall and Brengle, I didn't discover Thomas Merton in my teens. And I list him here as a fellow traveler and colleague not primarily because of his writings (which have blessed me), but mainly as a representative of his monastery, The Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky. Merton entered the monastic community of the Abbey of Gethsemani in December 1941 and lived there the rest of his life (he died in 1968). Roughly thirty years later, I visited the abbey for the first time, on a weekend silent prayer retreat. God used that place to open to me a new life of prayer that has sustained, deepened, and guided me ever since (I've written a little about that here and here and here).

So, if I were to choose, like Eugene Peterson, the portraits of three "mentors" or colleagues to frame and place in my pastor's study, so to speak, it would be these three men. I would want my ministry to be characterized by the preaching depth and sensitivity of Marshall, the personal holiness of Brengle, and the contemplative prayer life of Merton and the monks at Gethsemani.

Church of the Week: Valley Assembly, Spokane Valley, WA

I had the blessing this morning of worshiping with my friends Eleonore and Reg Forder at Valley Assembly just a stone's throw from our lodgings and venue for Friday and Saturday's ACW Conference.

Soon after entering the broad vestibule, I found the coffee service (no surprise there) and--be still my heart--biscuits and gravy bar. My kinda church.

I snapped a pic of the auditorium about 20 minutes before the service started:

Right on time, the worship team assembled, with musicians (including saxes, trumpet, and trombone) on one end of the stage...

And a large group of singers in choir on the other end.

The worship was lovely, a blessing. I LOVED hearing the trumpet adding glosses from time to time!

The speaker was missionary Stan Drew, from Swaziland, who spoke from the feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6, very nice job.

After church, Reg and Eleonore dropped me off at my hotel downtown (which I'll blog about on Hither & Yon). So glad to have worshiped with them...and my brothers and sisters at Valley Assembly.

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