Fanatical or Reasonable?

The most mesmerizing preacher I've ever heard preach. I was a teenager. Tom Skinner was part of the advance team for a Billy Graham Crusade in Cincinnati. He preached for an hour or so, much as he does in this audio clip, and when he finished I didn't want it to be over, I couldn't believe that more than ten or fifteen minutes had passed. This clip gives only a hint of his power in preaching:

Confessions of an Inactive Pastor

As of today, it has been a full year since I last preached at the church my wife and I helped to start nearly twelve years ago. Late in 2010, I announced that, for budgetary reasons, I would resign my salary but continue serving the church as a volunteer teaching pastor, which I did through Easter 2011. In the next couple weeks after Easter, however, a series of events occurred that made it seem wise for me to surrender that volunteer role, which made that Easter 2011 sermon my last as an active pastor.

Both transitions were a little scary (they would have been much more so if I didn't honestly and confidently believe that God would once again prove his faithfulness). When I stopped accepting a salary to return to making a living as a writer, I had a grand total of one small writing project under contract. When I resigned even my volunteer teaching position, I knew that not everyone would understand or agree with my decision--or even trouble themselves to try to understand it--so I expected some stormy relational seas to be ahead. And that was definitely the case. But looking back now on the past year of transition and adjustment, so much has changed for the better. Not all, but much.

I have a life again. Anyone who has devoted himself or herself to full-time ministry knows that it is easy for the ministry to consume your life until there is little left over. No weekends. Few relationships outside the church. And so on. That's not good. So in many ways, laying down my pastoral and preaching ministry has breathed new life into me. I still work very hard, but I do other things, too. I am able to focus more of my time and attention on family--my wife, children, and grandchildren, and my ninety-two-year-old father. I am starting to spend time with people outside the church--even some outside the faith! I even mow my own lawn and do a little yard work, something I never had time for before.

I am closer to God. Ministry drove me closer to God, no doubt about it. Especially in the loneliest and most stressful times. Even so, leaving my pastoral position drew me even closer. Through those previous eleven years as a church planter and pastor, I had mostly forgotten (as I had in a previous pastoral incarnation) that it was possible to put in a hard day's work without beating myself up about all the things I hadn't accomplished and without being beat up by others who disagreed with the things I had accomplished. I had forgotten what it was like to live and work for God's approval, not man's--something I always struggled to do as a pastor (and, yes, I do see the irony in that). Like Anne Jackson, writing in her book Mad Church Disease, I had forgotten that working at a church, in full-time ministry, could actually interfere with my communion with God--especially, perhaps, for someone with my personality. But like Jackson, I discovered that laying down my pastoral and preaching roles have once again set me free to be instead of being so wrapped up in doing. It set me free to be a child to my Father, to be a husband, father, and grandfather, to be a broken vessel, to be a lover of all.

I am healthier. Okay, I admit, I've gained weight in the last year. But in every other way, I am a healthier man today. I don't take antidepressants any more, and don't rely on regular massages to untie the knots in my neck and shoulders. I hardly worry and stress at all. I sleep well. I laugh more. I even exercise...when I'm not eating. In the first few weeks after my return to a writing ministry, my kids both commented to my wife, "Dad's back."

I'm still enjoying ministry. Since surrendering my pastoral and preaching roles, I have written five books and updated another. The books that have been released so far are already reaching thousands of readers, and with good results, I'm told. I thank God for that. Those are words I could not have written and lives I would not have touched if all had remained unchanged. And the books that are yet to be released, and another under contract right now, will have a huge God-glorifying impact on many, I believe.

I have fewer friends. Not everything is peachy, of course. I have been surprised through these transitions at the way some of my friends have responded. I thought I had always pastored as more or less an open book, and was sincere in my friendships with people. But I've learned that my tendency to think the best of people until long after they give me reason to do otherwise is a dangerous policy, and I've experienced a noticeable reduction in the number of people who care to greet me or talk to me (much less know me) as a non-pastor. Naive, I know. I also know that it's not so much that I have fewer friends these days, than that I've learned how few I really had all along. On the other hand, God turned even that to good, because maybe, like Jesus who "didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature" (John 2:24, NLT), I have a better theology these days, and a sharper focus in my relationships. And I sincerely praise and thank God that, just when (I think) I am most needed as a father and grandfather, I am available--no, more than that, I am anxious and ready to be as much of a blessing as possible to my closest friends (who happen to be my wife, kids, and kids-in-law--no, really!). In fact, it may be, with four grandchildren--and two who have cystic fibrosis--that my availability and commitment to them has only begun.

I'm still finding my way. A year after my last sermon at the church I helped to start, it still feels a bit weird, every Sunday. Maybe I had an unhealthy degree of identification with my role as a pastor and preacher. Or maybe it's because some folks don't know how to relate to me as a non-pastor (I know, for example, that there are some who think I must have been involved in some scandal (I wasn't)). I do heartily enjoy being led in worship on Sundays by my son and daughter-in-law, of whom I am unspeakably proud. But other than that, I'm still figuring out after more than a decade of service as a preacher and pastor to this church how to be just me...and not "Pastor Me." I'm pretty sure it will have been worth it once I get there, but getting there still isn't easy.

That is way more introspection than I am accustomed to. And I'm sure it's way more than anyone reading this blog wanted. In fact, there is probably no one left reading by this point in my post. So why am I still typing? I'm not.

Happy Anniversary, Desperate Pastor!

Congratulations to the Desperate Pastor blog, which marks its third anniversary today!

The first post in Desperate Pastor history appeared on April 25, 2009. It was titled, "The Beauty of Broken Things." Since then, more than 1,000 posts have appeared in this humble little corner of the internet.

In that time, I've gone from struggle to victory, from discouragement to depression to deliverance, from pastoring full-time back to writing full-time (but still, in many ways, of course, a pastor at heart). I've thought often about discontinuing the blog. Still do, from time to time, but both faithful readers of the blog insists that they find it helpful.

So, to celebrate, let me offer, based on a thoroughly scientific formula of traffic, reader response, and my own personal preferences, ten of the top Desperate Pastor posts in the first three years:

1. Sense-ational Preaching

2. Why Every Pastor Should Go to Israel

3. Balancing Ministry and Family

4. How I Got My Groove Back

5. How Technology Helps Me

6. Top Ten Things I've Learned as a Pastor

7. A 21st Century Epidemic

8. Me and My Prayer Journal

9. Pastoral Naiveté

10. The Blessings of Compline

Thank you for reading this blog. Please keep reading. I'll do my best to make Year 4 better than those that have gone before.

Walk the Bible

Devoted readers of this blog (both of you) know that I believe strongly that every pastor should visit the Holy Land, and as early in his or her ministry as possible (see why here). It is impossible to describe the impact such a trip will have on a person's Bible reading, preaching, and perspective. It is truly life-changing.

I expect the same kind of impact from the trip the lovely Robin and I plan to host next May (2013). We have long hoped and planned to journey in the steps of Paul and John in Turkey and Greece, for many of the same reasons we continue to host Holy Land tours, but have several times have had to change our plans. Well, no more. The dates and itinerary for our 2013 Steps of Paul Cruise-and-Land Tour are set! (We do our best to plan well in advance to give ourselves and our co-travelers the chance to save and prepare.)

Soon, we will be traipsing around Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Patmos, and other cool places, following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, the Apostle John, and others (like Aquila and Priscilla, for example). Our faith will be inspired and the Bible will come alive as we visit Mars Hill in Athens, where Paul delivered his famous sermon about the “Unknown God”…Corinth where Paul lived and preached...Thessaloniki, the city Paul addressed in two New Testament letters (1 & 2 Thessalonians) …Paul’s beloved Philippi where he baptized a “certain woman named Lydia,” the first Christian convert in Europe...Ephesus, where Paul, John, Priscilla and Aquila once lived and taught. We will also cruise to the island of Patmos (where John wrote the book of Revelation) well as the mystical islands of Mykonos and Santorini.

This experience will be far more than a sight-seeing tour. It is a pilgrimage. We will read and hear Scripture in the places it was written or received. We will worship where our first-century forebears worshiped. We will “walk the Bible” in ways never to be forgotten.

The ten-day trip includes roundtrip airfare from Cincinnati, deluxe motorcoaches, chartered cruise ship, first-class hotels, professionally guided shore excursions, daily breakfast and dinner (as well as lunch when aboard ship), study guide, entrance fees, host services, tips, taxes, and fuel surcharges for $3,399.

Because part of the tour will take place on a cruise ship, a limited number of slots are available, so if you are interested, let me hear from you soon. A $250 deposit will reserve your spot.

We will depart as a group from Cincinnati on May 8, 2013, and return May 17. Click here for the itinerary.

Got questions? You can ask them in the comment box, or email me via

(photos, from top to bottom: the Parthenon in Athens; the ancient library in Ephesus (Kavalla); the island of Santorini)

Church of the Week: GracePointe Church, Oxford, Ohio

I had the honor and joy of sharing from God's Word yesterday morning at GracePointe Church in Oxford, Ohio (they even spelled my name correctly on the church sign, above!), a message based on the title chapter from my book, Quit Going to Church. GracePointe is pastored by my good friend and frequent coffee companion, Tim Tice.

It was a lovely morning among fine people. I was made to feel thoroughly at home, and enjoyed the worship led by my friend Chaz White, catching up briefly with my friends Gary Smith and Tom Troke, greeting a handful of old and dear friends from other churches who encouraged me with their presence, and meeting many new friends. I loved the updates this growing congregation has made to their facility. They've done a magnificent job.

I was so involved in the fellowship of the morning and gratified by the response to my message and books that I never thought to take photos. But I swung back by later in the day to snap these pics (above is the entryway from the church parking lot).

It was a wholly enjoyable and relaxed time of fellowship and worship. Thank you, Pastor Tim and GracePointe, for your welcome and encouragement!

An Army of Colsons

Charles Colson died today.

The Washington Post shamefully headlined his obituary, "Charles Colson, Nixon’s ‘dirty tricks’ man, dies at 80." The headline ignored nearly forty years of the man's inspirational and influential life since he committed crimes related to the Watergate scandal. He became a follower of Jesus, pleaded guilty, and after serving a prison term, started Prison Fellowship, a ministry to prisoners and others around the world. Colson turned his biggest failure into a God-glorifying triumph that changed the lives of many.

What if everyone did that? What if, say, starting now, every one of us took our most miserable, humiliating failure in life as an opportunity for God to do through us what he did through Charles Colson? What if everyone who has ever served time ministered to those who are serving time? What if every shattered marriage produced a person who is passionate about preventing or healing shattered marriages? What if every recovered addict became a rescuer of other addicts? What if every person whose pride, bitterness, or gossip has ever split a church devoted himself or herself to preserving and restoring unity in the church?

What if my greatest failure is what God wants to use to bring about glory for himself and blessing for me? What if your greatest disappointment in life is something God longs to use? What if God unleashed hundreds--or thousands--of Charles Colsons on this earth?

Or even more?

Church Signs With Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 8)

Apparently, it was a man who wrote this:
(by way of

Four Problems The Church Has GOT To Deal With!

Perry Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, hits the nail on the head a lot. Nails must run when they see him coming. They must cower in the corner. Here is the most recent example, a post entitled "Four Problems The Church Has GOT To Deal With!":
#1 – We are answering questions that no one else is asking.

I’m glad that we can debate theology and know terms that make us seem intelligent and cause other people to scratch their heads; however, at the end of the day people are not asking about the five points of Calvinism, the trichotomy or dichotomy of the Spirit or the peccability/impeccability of Christ! They are asking “why is my life falling apart?” Or, “how do I get past the fact that I was sexually molested when I was eight?” Or, “how do I, as a single mom, lead and provide for my family?”
Read the rest here.

A True Christian Gentleman

According to this article, Charles Colson's family has been alerted to a turn in his condition and is gathering at his bedside.

Colson is a former special counsel to President Nixon, founder of Prison Fellowship, author and broadcaster. I met him sometime in the late 1990s when his ministry flew me to Virginia for a lunch meeting with him to discuss a possible co-authoring partnership. Unfortunately, I had to decline the opportunity due to scheduling conflicts, but I'll never forget my ninety minutes (only sixty were scheduled) with Mr. Colson. He was clearly brilliant, but more than that, he was a kind, thoughtful, generous Christian gentleman, magnanimous in his reception of me, his conversation with me, and his gracious treatment of me.

Please join me in praying for him and his family in what may be his final hours:
"Lord, please minister to your servant Charles Colson as you have, through him, ministered to many. Send peace and comfort, freedom from pain or fear. Meet his family's every need. Surround them with your care and support them with your presence. Carry them through these coming days with providential and miraculous strength and provision, in Jesus' name, amen."

Feel With Me First

Tom Asacker, in this blog post, is talking about advertising and branding in this blog post, but I think it applies as much (if not more) to preaching in this day and age. See if you agree.
I was once asked by an executive, with regards to branding, value, consumer expectations, et al.:
"So let me get this straight. People are exposed to my business--my brand--by experiencing something or someone. And then they think about what it is they’ve sensed and decide if what I offer--our unique value proposition--is something that interests them?"
That sounds right, doesn't it? It's not. Here's how I responded:
"Well, you’re close. In fact, you’d be dead on if this were 1950. Unfortunately that’s not how people’s brains work today....
Read the rest here.

Voting is Now Open for the Independent Book Blogger Awards

The Desperate Pastor is an entrant in the Independent Book Blogger Awards! Voting starts Tuesday, April 10th, and ends Monday, April 23rd. Please vote. The mysterious mind behind this blog will be grateful.

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Simplify Your Soul

Paula Huston's Simplifying the Soul (Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit) is a beautiful, memorable, and practical book.

It's such a lovely book that I think I regret that it is intended for reading during Lent. Don't get me wrong: it is perfect--in tone, in style, in application--for Lent. But it seems to me it could be profitably read and enjoyed at any time of the year. And, though it is written by a Benedictine oblate and published by Ave Maria Press, it is far more ecumenical than you might think.

Simplifying the Soul invites the reader to slow down and, well, simplify. It is pitch perfect. It draws beautiful, thoughtful lessons from the author's life, from the writings of the Desert Fathers, and of course from the Bible. It is, as one of my favorite writers, Phyllis Tickle, says, "A verbal retreat that invites both the soul and the body to a holy retooling."

It's so good, I have placed it in my "bring-up file" to read NEXT year.

Vote Early and Often, Please!

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In Silence

Jesus, we await you. On this Holy Saturday, this Silent Saturday, the crucifixion is behind us, but death is still with us and we await your victory.

We await you, in quietness and confidence, for when you walk out of the tomb, we walk out with you.

It's Friday, But...

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

It's Coming

Jairus sprinted out of his house.
His baby girl was dying.
She was 12.
On deaths door.
She needed a healing.
So her daddy ran as fast as he could to the only one who He knew could heal.
Sprinting through the city he finds Jesus surrounded by others in need of MORE and begs Him…
“My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”
His heart was racing.
It was in his chest.
Pounding I’m sure.
Out of breath.

The crowd grew bigger as Jarius directed Jesus through the streets.
They could not get home fast enough.
Then the crowd swallowed up Jesus completely.
A woman touched the fabric of Jesus and He stopped.
“Who touched me?”
Jarius was probably begging Jesus.
Please hurry.
But Jesus finished when the woman had revealed herself…
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Had this woman stolen his daughters healing?
Jarius ran off again.
Pleading for Jesus to follow.
They had lost valuable time.

Jarius and Jesus barely left the crowd when Jarius saw some friends.
With despair and sadness in their face, Jairus knew before they opened their mouths.
“Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

They were too late.
It had taken too long…
It was over.

Her healing was over…


(read the rest here)

Church of the Week: St. Aloysius Chapel, Cincinnati, OH

It was my joy and privilege this past Friday to perform the wedding of Kyle and Shannon (Sellers) Phillips in the St. Aloysius Chapel, in Cincinnati (the chapel is on the right in the photo above).

St. Aloysius Chapel (also known as the Holy Family Chapel) is located at 4721 Reading Road, on the grounds of St. Aloysius Orphanage in Bond Hill. The orphanage as an organization dates back to 1839, when it was located on Fourth Street in Cincinnati. The orphanage moved to the 62.5 acres on Reading Road (then called Dayton Road) in 1856.

The gorgeous stone chapel was constructed in 1923. The interior is strikingly beautiful and well cared-for. Its golden peaked altar, original wooden pews, and stained glass windows provide a truly inspiring setting. A nondenominational chapel these days, it can accommodate up to 320 guests.

Beautiful stained glass windows, like the above depiction of Jesus and the children (so appropriate for a place dedicated to the care of children), are plentiful and gorgeous.

A gold-leafed panel of angels illuminates the wall on each side of the altar.

I must have passed this chapel hundreds of times in my lifetime, but last week was the first time I entered the grounds and enjoyed the chapel. I'm so glad. It's worth seeing, and added a whole lotta beauty to the occasion.