A Culture of Reading in Your Church

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and president of 9Marks (also in Washington, D.C.). In this video, he speaks about the importance of promoting a culture of reading and reflection in your church, and gives some practical tips on how to do so. This is an excerpt from one of his talks given at the Ministry Intensive (Sydney).

If I Had Known It Was This Easy

A new app is available in the iPhone app store. Featuring more than two dozen religions from around the world:

The website is here.

Church of the Week: Airport Chapel, Charlotte, NC

While traveling a couple weeks ago, I had a three-hour layover in Charlotte, NC, which was more than enough time to find a few moments of solitude and prayer in the airport chapel.

It is located on the mezzanine in the expansive atrium of the airport, central to all terminals. That doesn't mean it's easy to find, but it is listed in the directories posted throughout the airport.

Serendipitously, as I sat and prayed in the chapel, I could clearly hear the pianist playing my favorite hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, on the grand piano in the atrium.

Like other airport chapels in this diverse nation, it is equipped to accommodate all faiths. And corporate worship is provided three times on Sundays:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Church Planter Resolutions

I don't make New Year's Resolutions. Haven't since I was 18 or 19 or so (I make goals instead--1 year, 3 year, 5 year, lifetime, and "pipe dream" goals). But as a one-time church planter, I couldn't agree more with my church planting coach (and friend) Steve Sjogren, the father of servant evangelism, on his 12 Church Planter Resolutions I Wish I’d Made As A Young Church Planter. Especially 1, 3, and 7. Also 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Pastoral Code of Ethics

The National Association of Evangelicals has recently released a Pastoral Code of Ethics (read it here). It produced a mixed reaction in my mind and heart. On one hand, you'd think the ethics depicted in the code would be universally understood. On the other hand (and more's the pity), they're not--thus the need for the written code. And, it's almost always better for standards to be written down, in black-and-white, so there's no misunderstanding. On the other hand, what can we realistically expect the code to accomplish (I've repeatedly witnessed people in ministry ignoring guidelines and procedures they themselves wrote, advocated, lobbied for, and swore by not long before, in order to get what they wanted)? On the other hand, I'm gratified to see self-care specified in the pastoral code of ethics. On the other hand, the code says to "Identify a minister/counselor who can provide personal counseling and advice when needed;" not good enough. Everyone in a helping profession, everyone in ministry especially, should be talking to a counselor regularly; if you're in ministry, it's ALREADY "needed." On the other hand, I've lost track of all those hands.

Church of the Week: Faith Bible Church, Blue Ash, OH

The lovely Robin accompanied me last week to this week's Church of the Week (still with me?), Faith Bible Church on Kemper Road in Blue Ash, a Cincinnati suburb.

We were there for the first annual high school commencement exercises of the Christian Home Educators of Cincinnati, held on the afternoon of Sunday, June 10.

We entered into a large lobby, and though it wasn't immediately obvious, found our way to the auditorium entrance.

The above picture was taken well before the start of the program. By the start time, the auditorium was filled with hundreds of family and friends of thirteen graduating high school seniors.

It was my privilege to give the commencement address to the graduates. I stayed pretty close to them, to make sure none of them dozed off.

The graduates' diplomas were presented to them by the parents who had been their instructors, some for all twelve years of their schooling. All the presentations were very personal, touching, and beautiful.

It was a joy to be a part of this event, and fun as well to see some of this apparently fine church, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in 2012.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

A Profound Privilege

I had the awesome joy and privilege today of presiding and praying while my daughter and son-in-law dedicated their son, Ryder.

Bonny baby Ryder stayed awake and cheerful throughout. Only I cried.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Pastoral Burnout

These pastor burnout statistics come from H.B. London's updated edition of his book, Pastors at Greater Risk; I came across the graphic on the excellent Ministry Best Practices blog:

Signs of An Inwardly Obsessed Church

Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Resources (and author of the excellent book, Simple Church) posted a fine blog post a couple weeks ago entitled, "The 10 Warning Signs of An Inwardly Obsessed Church."

"Any healthy church," he writes, "must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation. But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place the church has become inwardly obsessed."

He says that in his research on and consultation with churches, he has kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession, and suggests that a church is in real danger when it begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs:
1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.

8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.

9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.

10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.
I can agree with his assessment. I've seen it happen in more than one church. Sadly, I've been a part of it happening.

What do you think? How does your church compare? Do you think anything is missing from the list?

Please Make It Stop

I thought the designer Bible thing had gone a bit too far when I first saw news of the upcoming release of the Gaither Homecoming Bible, due out later this year from Thomas Nelson Publishers. Don't get me wrong, I love and respect the Gaithers, and have been known while channel-surfing to stop on one of their Gaither Homecoming shows (in which many of the "greats" of Gospel music over the years assemble to sing and worship) and sing along with great affection and appreciation. Still, the Gaither Homecoming Bible? Really? That fills a need I honestly never guessed we had.

But when I read yesterday that Zondervan Publishers will very soon (July 2) release the "Playful Puppies Bible," I had to speak out. I also love puppies--who doesn't?--but it has officially gone too far. All the helpful, valid, Bible-worthy Bible projects have been done. There are no more. Please make it stop. Before the Playful Kittens Bible. Before the Dora the Explorer Study Bible. Please, in the name of all that's good and decent, let's band together and make it stop. Who's with me?

Church of the Week: New Life Vineyard, Hamilton, OH

My wife, daughter, and all four grandchildren joined me yesterday for my preaching engagement at the New Life Vineyard Church on Princeton Pike in Hamilton, where we were warmly welcomed by the pastor, my friend Ken Ritz.

They had REAL DONUTS at the coffee bar, which means these people are SERIOUS about reaching people like me at the point of their need.

Singing was led by a highly capable band of seven or eight. The congregation joined in enthusiastically, and the friendly, relaxed atmosphere made us feel right at home (it didn't hurt that a number of dear friends showed up to worship with us). Our grandchildren spoke enthusiastically of what they learned in the children's ministry, and proudly showed us the takehome paper craft they created from the morning's lesson.

I spoke on the subject of my latest book, "Quit Going to Church," and they didn't throw me out. I took that as a positive sign.

It was a lovely Lord's Day morning in a vibrant church.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The Long Road of Grace and Mercy

I have often been amazed and disappointed at how many of us who call ourselves followers of Christ--and many who are called to be shepherds of the flock--approach pastoral care and discipleship as a one-size-fits-all template. We make rules and regulations for others--many of them unspoken and unwritten--that we suppose to be righteous and redeeming but in reality are graceless and destructive. We relate to people as theories and examples, rather than as people, and often judge others by the apparent, minimal "facts" of their situation, while so many other factors facing them escape our notice.

For example, this post (here), entitled, "The Long Road of Grace and Mercy," which I found by way of The Anchoress, who says of the author, "She and her husband were blessed to be guided into the church by a true shepherd, one who understood that wounded lambs cannot be asked to leap before they can properly stand on their legs."

Please read "The Long Road of Grace and Mercy," and then come back to this post to comment and let me know what you thought. Or felt.

Preaching Blind Spots

I agree with Sherman Heywood Cox II in this post entitled, "Do You Know Your Pulpit Blind Spots?" He suggests that devising a preaching plan is one of the best ways to prevent blind spots--over- or under-emphasis of certain themes, Bible portions, etc. He makes several other good suggestions. Read the whole thing.

From my earliest days in pastoral ministry, I drafted an annual preaching plan, to plan and guide my preaching a year at a time. It helped me achieve a better balance between Old Testament and New Testament, helped me touch on many themes I might otherwise have neglected, and guided not only my preaching but also my reading and study throughout the year.

Even with that, though, I must confess that, looking back, I still had multiple blind spots. For example, judging merely from the thirty-five sermon notebooks on my study shelf, which cover all but the last three or four years of my preaching (when I started storing sermons only on computer, not in hard copy), I clearly neglected much of the Pentateuch (especially Leviticus and Numbers), as well as much of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. I also neglected much of the Revelation until a 2010 sermon series.

In terms of themes, I preached a LOT on prayer, service, community, and mission, but not so much (at least since the early years) on the Trinity, heaven, hell, prophecy, etc. And, while the majority of my pulpit work over the years has been expository preaching, I sorta wish I had found a way to do a series on, say, the Apostles Creed, or something like that.

I also (much to my chagrin) did few character studies in my preaching. I preached through Ruth, Nehemiah, and Esther, and Jonah, and gave many sermons featuring David and Paul....but shared only snapshots of Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Peter, and others. Drat.

So, yeah, I do wish I had occasionally taken an even broader view than my annual preaching plan afforded. But, on the other hand, that plan (and the many revisions and adjustments made to it on the fly) was the fruit of much prayer and listening and trying to discern what the Spirit was saying to the church. I don't pretend I always (or even usually) discerned his voice well, but overall, I think, I was better off as a preacher and the church as an organism to go where it seemed the Spirit was leading than to achieve a perfectly comprehensive survey of Biblical content and Christian doctrine.

So, what about you? Have you identified any blind spots or "pet" topics? What sort of measures do you take to prevent or address them? And what advice would you give to fellow preachers?

The Most Forgotten Metric in the Church

Shawn Lovejoy, founding pastor of Mountain Lake Church and leader of the ChurchPlanters.Com conference, has a new book out, entitled, The Measure of Our Success (An Impassioned Plea to Pastors). Ed Stetzer interviewed Shawn on his (Ed's) blog, and one of the questions he asked was this: "Why is "love" the most forgotten metric in a church?"

Shawn replied,
First of all, too many of us as pastors have measured our ministries by what we are against. We take these hard stances against this signaled out sin or that perceived sin. However, as I read the Gospels-- and especially Revelation-- I hear Jesus saying: "The biggest sin you can commit is to neglect love!"

Secondly, too many of us measure success by our expositional or creative or leadership genius, when Paul says if we all of that, and have not love, we have nothing. Zip. I truly believe pastors need to lead the church back to the way of love. I truly believe God's Word can be summed up in one word: Love. Jesus said if we get that right, everything else will take care of itself. Why do we have to complicate it?
Read the rest of the interview here.