Why Fall in Love with God?

My latest book is entitled Falling in Love with God. Below is a video that explains it:

My Top 5 Mistakes as a Pastor

Today's post here on the Desperate Pastor blog is a guest post from my friend, super-pastor Jeremy Carr. Jeremy is the lead pastor of Oxford Bible Fellowship in--you guessed it--Oxford, Ohio.

I’m not completely sure that the following are my top five mistakes as a pastor, as the title of this post promises, but they are five...out of a million. Some more serious, some just stupidly funny.

1. Using an illustration of my wife in a message without her permission.

This is a mistake preachers should only make once, especially if you want to remain married. I can’t even remember what the illustration was, but it was one of the dumbest decisions I’ve made. My wife is very generous with what she allows me to share, but some things are just off limits. It’s okay if I look bad; not okay to make her look bad. And after all, she IS amazing (hoping that makes up for it a bit).

2. Thinking I’m the Savior.

This is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned. I remember early in ministry getting so excited to save marriages and restore families and heal all the wounds…only to find out I am massively inadequate. After the first marriage crisis continued to go up in smoke even after my incredible attempts to save it, I finally realized that I’m not the Savior, Jesus doesn’t need me, and I am desperate for him to work. I’m thankful that he uses us, but he doesn’t need us. He is the only Savior.

3. Thinking I’m Superman.

Only slightly better than my savior complex, for a while I thought I could lead everything, counsel everyone, and preach as many services as the day would allow. Then, after a semester of 4 Sunday services, pursuing a doctorate, leading a growing church with a limited staff, and trying to care for our then family of 5, I nearly quit the ministry. While it stinks to have a near burn out, I think every young pastor needs to get there before you understand how important the physical and emotional side of pastoring is. Only Jesus is Superman. We humans will have to settle for good rest, limits, delegation, exercise, down time, and recharging.

4. Failing to Confront and Hold Staff Accountable.

I’m thankful to work with a great staff. We have a great team environment, care for each other, and seek to advance the Gospel together. But as the team leader, I’ve had to learn some “boss” lessons the hard way. The biggest has been to lovingly and consistently hold my staff accountable. I have tended to be vague, inconsistent, and way too patient with underachieving staff members. I feared confronting and holding their feet to the fire. So I would let things go until I couldn’t handle it any more. Then I would abruptly fire someone I thought was performing poorly. The problem was that they were shocked and confused. I thought it was clear that they were failing, but the problem was that I had not communicated well and had not required accountability. This is a tough area. No one likes to confront and keep others accountable. But good leaders learn to do it. I’m not there yet, but I’m hoping to make some good progress in this area.

5. Preaching Blunders.

There is a mess of these. So here are a few. I’ve accidentally mispronounced many words, but the worst was when one came out as a cuss word. I think it began with an “S.” The college students loved it. I was rather embarrassed.

I’ve devoured Uno’s Chicken Fajita pizza on Saturday evening. You can imagine what that did to me on Sunday morning. Not a good idea, especially will multiple services to preach.

After doing some baptisms early in the service, in which I got fully wet, I went to change and realized I failed to pack clean boxers. Not a fun day to be preaching.

Like I said, those are just a few. I’ll probably add a new one this Sunday.

Happy Fourth Anniversary!

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

The first post in Desperate Pastor history appeared on April 25, 2009. It was titled, "The Beauty of Broken Things." Since then, more than 1,200 posts have appeared in this humble little corner of the internet.

It's amazing how much ground we've covered in those four years, and how much can change (and has)! In that short timespan I've gone from struggle to victory, from discouragement to depression to deliverance, from pastoring full-time back to writing full-time (though I suppose I will always be a pastor at heart).

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 four 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. My Ten Favorite Moments as a Pastor

10. My Top Ten Successes as a Pastor

Thank you for reading this blog. Please keep reading. I'll do my best to make Year 5 better than those that have gone before.

Don't Put Vision Up for a Vote

Leaders don’t put vision up for a vote. They know that people will always vote to go back to Egypt, as they tried under Moses’ leadership” (Michael Slaughter, Unlearning Church, p. 136).

My Top Ten Successes as a Pastor

A couple days ago I reflected on some of my failings and failures as a pastor (a tough job, narrowing all that material down to just ten items). Today I thought I'd exit the confessional and with the understanding that every one of the following must be swallowed only with the phrase, "by the grace and endless patience of God," I offer my (more or less) top ten successes over thirty-plus years (and four churches) as a pastor:

1. Guiding many to faith in Christ. No idea how many, but I treasure such memories as the recovering alcoholic kneeling at the altar, the brainy young woman at the coffeehouse table, the couple who entered premarital counseling as skeptics and got married as new Christ-followers, and the man who said he'd never felt "good enough" to give his life to Christ but ended up tearfully surrendering in the presence of me and his wife.

2. Staying married. This may not seem like a "pastoral success," but it is a victory to maintain a vibrant marriage through the strains and stresses of ministry. Of course, it's due mostly to my wife's wisdom and patience, but still...

3. Avoiding even the hint of scandal. Early in our ministry, my wife and I were given wise counsel to build strong boundaries and safeguards into our ministry, which we did. As a result, my deep storehouse of cluelessness and stupidity never resulted in anything remotely resembling a scandal--sexual, financial, or otherwise.

4. Raising two awesome kids. Again, not everyone would list this among their ministry triumphs, but I totally do. As I've posted elsewhere on this blog (here), I consider my marriage and family to be my first ministry priority (after the care of my own soul). So, though this, too, is due primarily to my wife's wisdom and patience, to have played a part in the raising of such exceptional people as Aubrey and Aaron is a great honor and joy (3 John 4).

5. Influencing and ordaining people for ministry. Over the years, we've been honored to play a small role in the decisions and direction of a dozen or more people who have entered full-time ministry and gone on to serve God with amazing effectiveness. They may not have been aware of our prayers. They may not remember our influence (if we had any). But we remember them with great and abiding gratitude and joy.

6. Helping God heal broken hearts. Repeatedly, it seems, the lovely Robin and I entered ministry situations where people's hearts had been broken. Some had been wounded by a pastor or church worker. Some were alienated from the church. We thank God that he allowed us to play a part in healing many broken hearts, and restoring many to the fellowship of the saints.

7. Starting Cobblestone Community Church. If you had told me thirty-three years ago that I would one day help to start a new church, I would have called you crazy. It was not in my sights. It was not in my skill set. But God gave me that honor, inexplicably.

8. Becoming a praying pastor. I wish it weren't true, but it is: I was not a man of prayer when I started in the ministry. And it took some time for God to revolutionize my prayer life, but he did. I thank him from the bottom of my heart that my later years of pastoral ministry were undergirded by prayer. They probably would have killed me, otherwise.

9. Making and cultivating lifelong friendships. At the very start of our ministry, the lovely Robin and I were counseled by some folks we respect to keep "a healthy distance" between ourselves and people in the church. We decided together to ignore that advice, and we've never been sorry. We treasure the friendships we made with God's people, many of which remain not only intact but close to this day.

10. Leaving things better than before. In ministry as in camping, it has always been a goal of mine to leave things better than I found them. I think the lovely Robin and I managed that, by God's grace. We had ups and downs, of course, but God granted us growth--numerically and spiritually--in each church. We managed to resurrect a failed capital campaign in our first church, breaking ground on an addition the day we were told we'd be moving. We inaugurated a groundbreaking child care center at our church in Cincinnati. We teamed with others to acquire land and build The Loft, the current home of Cobblestone Community Church. Over the years we saw people change and grow; we saw their faith deepen and broaden. We helped guide hundreds of thousand of dollars to missions efforts all over the world. We baptized, counseled, dedicated, married, and buried some of the finest people on the face of the earth. And more, but all of it by the grace of God.

Looking back, it is worth noting that the things I value most highly today are not the programs we ran or the budgets I administered. Not even the sermons I preached, though I always found great joy in that. Most of the "successes," if it's even appropriate to call them that, were the result of plodding faithfulness and relationship building. They were battles won in my prayer chair and in the day-to-day "inglorious" tasks of marriage, parenthood, friendship, and love.

Our Psychosis and Neurosis

I used to think the church's inability to understand the rapidly changing world in which we live was neurotic. I'm now convinced it's psychotic. But our psychotic alignment with the place we're in exists alongside a neurotic interpretation about our place in the world. It's one thing for people to rest serenely in the limbo of our psychosis and never realize the ragbag of changes taking place during our lifetime. The masses of people do that. But it's another thing to call yourself a leader and not "be there." It's another thing to call yourself a preacher and conduct worship that bears no discernible trace of the world you inhabit (Leonard Sweet, Jesus Drives Me Crazy!, p. 66-67).

Ten Things I've Learned in Twenty-Five Years as a Pastor

Today's post here on the Desperate Pastor blog is a guest post from my friend, super-pastor Chris Russell. Chris pastors Veritas Church in Monroe, Ohio. He blogs at SensibleFaith.com.

I was pouring a cup of coconut-mocha-flavored coffee recently when it dawned on me that I have now been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years. Wow! That sure gave me reason to stop and ponder the great things God has done in the past … [gulp] … quarter of a century of my life! It’s really been a life of learning. As I think back over those years of ministry, here are some things that God has taught me through the past twenty-five years:
1) Most people are in great need of authentic love.
Not everyone knows it, and not everyone admits it, but they are in great need of being loved. When a person lives without a close “tribe” of people in his life who really cares for him (or her), then many other problems begin to emerge in that person’s life. I believe that is why God made love so central to the Christian faith. God knows we need that love in our lives, and that can be so beautifully experienced through life in the Church.

2) Commitment Ain’t What it Used to Be.
People just aren’t all that “into” commitment these days, it would seem. Early in my ministry, it seemed like the core leaders in the church normally attended church about eight or nine out of every ten Sundays. Occasional attendees would attend maybe one or two times per month. My experience today, however, is that even core leaders seem to average attending two-to-three times a month. I believe our “busy-ness” today has caused many to drift from those commitments that could bring the most benefit to their lives and families.

3) You can’t make people change who do not want to change.
Early on in my ministry, I thought it was my fault when people would continue in poor patterns of behavior. But God eventually showed me that people must want to change if they are going to be able to change at all. My job was to give them God’s truth. Their job was to commit to obeying God’s truth.

4) People know shockingly little about the Bible.
I am regularly surprised at the low amounts of Bible knowledge people seem to have today. In the midst of so many controversial issues in our culture, it’s no wonder we often hear Christians arguing for positions that are antithetical to biblical principles. Many people who claim to be speaking from a Christian vantage point are merely expressing their own opinions with no biblical basis at all. Imagine how different this would be if people actually took time to learn God’s perspectives through the Scriptures.

5) Every person, in one way or another, is fighting a big battle.
We often assume that we are the only ones struggling while others around us have it easy. But the reality is that all of us struggle, and those battles are often very similar. When you take time to get to know “people without problems,” you find out that they struggle just like everyone else. With this in mind, we should maintain a spirit of grace as we interact with others each day.

6) God takes great delight in using under-qualified people.
It has been such a joy over the years to see God doing extraordinary things through ordinary people. When someone tells me they don’t think they really have much talent or many skills for serving the Lord, I think, “Perfect, you’re exactly the type of person that God loves to use! That way, he gets the credit.”

7) God can rescue/change any life. ANY LIFE.
In twenty-five years of ministry, I have seen God rescue people from just about every type of destructive lifestyle imaginable. Alcoholism. Sexual addictions. Those who abuse or become abused in relationships. Even murderers have discovered forgiveness and restoration through Jesus. God can change you and me, too.

8) You can’t change your past, but you can change your future.
Some people spend their lives staring through the rear-view mirror. All they can think about are the mistakes they’ve made in the past. I am so thankful that we serve a God of forgiveness and restoration. The reality is that I cannot do anything to change the messes I’ve made in the past. However, I CAN make changes in my life that will ensure that my future is a completely different story.

9) It’s best to invest your greatest resources in that which will still be around in ten thousand years.
This world is so temporary! There is no real use in putting your greatest energies and resources into life on this side of grave. We will get the greatest return when we invest in that which is spiritual: our relationship with God and the souls of others around us.

10) The last chapter of history has already been written.
I have discovered that I do not need to get stressed out about what I see going on in the world around me. The reality is that the last chapter of history has already been written. For those of us who know Christ, it ends well, no matter how difficult things may get in the interim.

Church of the Week: Thorncrown Chapel

My son and daughter-in-law spent a week recently at a resort in the wilds of northern Arkansas, near the unique town of Eureka Springs, and found there this beautiful chapel--Thorncrown Chapel--and sent me these photos.

From the Thorncrown website:
Nestled in a woodland setting, Thorncrown Chapel rises forty-eight feet into the Ozark sky. This magnificent wooden structure contains 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass. It sits atop over 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone, making it blend perfectly with its setting. The chapel's simple design and majestic beauty combine to make it what critics have called "one of the finest religious spaces of modern times."

Thorncrown was the dream of Jim Reed, a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In 1971 Jim purchased the land which is now the site of the chapel to build his retirement home. However, other people admired his location and would often stop at his property to gain a better view of the beautiful Ozark hills. Instead of fencing them out, Jim decided to invite them in. One day while walking up the hill to his house, the idea came to him that he and his wife should build a glass chapel in the woods to give wayfarers a place to relax in an inspiring way.

Shortly thereafter Jim met E. Fay Jones, a professor at the university of Arkansas at Fayetteville....[In addition to studies at the University of Arkansas, Rice University, [and] the University of Oklahoma [Jones studied under] Frank Lloyd Wright at the Taliesin Fellowship....The inspiration for Thorncrown Chapel was Sainte Chappelle, Paris’ light filled gothic chapel. Fay affectionately labeled Thorncrown’s style as “Ozark Gothic”....

On July 10, 1980 Thorncrown Chapel opened. Since then over six million people have visited this little chapel on the hillside. Thorncrown has won numerous architectural awards. It has been featured on television programs such as NBC Nightly News and the 700 Club. Almost every major magazine in the country has carried a story about the chapel including Time, Newsweek, and Parade.

Thorncrown Chapel is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It is located on Highway 62 West three miles outside of Eureka Springs. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted. 

Accidental Pharisees

Larry Osborne's book, Accidental Pharisees, is a gift to the church. Everyone should read it. Especially those of us who don't think they need to.

The title (and the blood red of the cover) may turn off some readers, but it is an engaging, encouraging, and truly helpful read. It convincingly shows how pharisaism has wreaked havoc in the modern church, and how to avoid, resist, and reverse the spirit of pharisaism that is so prevalent and so destructive. He manages to tackle the subject with abundant humility, mercy, and grace, without pulling punches. He does so in seven sections:

  1. Accidental Pharisees: The Dark and Dangerous Side of Overzealous Faith
  2. Pride: When Comparison Becomes Arrogance
  3. Exclusivity: When Thinning the Herd Becomes More Important Than Expanding the Kingdom
  4. Legalism: When Sacrifice Crowds Out Mercy
  5. Idolizing the Past: When Idealism Distorts Reality
  6. The Quest for Uniformity: How Uniformity Destroys Unity
  7. Gift Projection: When My Calling Becomes Everyone Else's Calling

It is a joy to read, and a blessing to have read. And a crucial, timely message to all who desire to follow Jesus faithfully in this confusing and competitive day and age.

The Ultimate Offertory Prayer

O Lord, no matter what we say or do,
Here is what we think of you.

(Hilbert J. Berger)

A Pastor's Favorite Poets

In honor of National Poetry Month (and also because I think there is an intersection--an overlap--between the poet's craft and the pastor's task, as M. Craig Barnes so ably demonstrates in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet), I herewith offer my ten favorite poets:

1. William Shakespeare
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player..."

2. Robert Frost
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."

3. Emily Dickinson
"Each life converges to some centre/Expressed or still..."

4. Wendell Berry
"Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling..."

5. Mary Oliver
"I thought the earth remembered me..."

6. Robinson Jeffers
"The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those/That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant..."

7. Christina Rossetti
"Then He shall say, 'Arise, My love,/My fair one, come away.'"

8. Albert Orsborn
"I know Thee as Thou art/And what Thy healing name..."

9. Edgar Lee Masters
"Out of me unworthy and unknown /The vibrations of deathless music..."

10. Richard Wilbur
"I can’t forget/How she stood at the top of that long marble stair/Amazed..."

My Top Ten Failings as a Pastor

Among the stated purposes of the Desperate Pastor blog is to share my struggles as a “desperate pastor,” in the hope that others may feel less alone, be encouraged, and most importantly, be reminded of our mutual need for God and his ordaining, sustaining, and overcoming power. I’ve shared before on this blog (in a series called “A Pastor’s Failings”) about some of my failings as a pastor. But I’ve never ranked my top failings or mistakes as a pastor. So I thought I’d spend a few moments trying to sum up and order my top ten (or bottom ten) pastoral shortcomings, over nearly twenty years and four churches. I’ll do my best to keep it brief, with the disclaimer that there are many more than ten and much more that could be said about each of the following:

  1. Overworking. I too often cheated myself, my family, and ultimately the flock by working as if God couldn’t be trusted to handle things without me. I failed to distinguish between a strong work ethic...and an unhealthy obsession. 
  2. Doing too much ministry. Due to my personality (and training), I tended to do far more ministry than I should have. In other words, I wish I had focused more effort on equipping OTHERS for ministry rather than doing so much of it myself. 
  3. Trusting too quickly and fully. I have always loved and led from a position of trust, assuming I could trust people until they gave me reason not to. It would be one thing if that naiveté hurt only me, but it also frequently and deeply hurt the church (more on that here). 
  4. Avoiding conflict. By default, I try to play well with others. I also tend to run from conflict. I hope (and pray, of course) that things will get better if I leave them alone. That’s a horribly stupid (and faithless) trait for a leader in God’s church. 
  5. Failing to cast vision constantly to other leaders first, then the rest of the church. It often took long and hard prayer, but I usually had a fairly clear vision of what God was saying to the church. Unfortunately, I often ran ahead of other leaders and unwittingly kept them out of the process, which hindered our progress and undermined my leadership.
  6. Using email for difficult or emotional conversations. I am always able to think more clearly when I’m able to put things into writing. Nothing wrong with that (I'm also a writer, after all). However, several times I actually shared those lengthy, emotionally-charged words via email. Even though I sought and heeded counsel before doing so, I should have known better. Each instance had disastrous consequences, and it was my fault. 
  7. Tolerating divisive people. As I’ve written elsewhere (here), one of my great failings as a pastor over the years has been failing to lovingly but firmly correct and warn divisive people in the church, as Scripture commands. I have repeatedly let contentious people continue their divisive activities. And I have paid for it. As have the churches I pastored.
  8. Mistaking motion for movement. I habitually let ministries arise or continue that were outside the main focus and calling of each of my churches. But, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog (here), activity ≠ accomplishment. In fact, the more activity, the less focused my efforts--and the efforts of the church--became. 
  9. Failing to keep in touch with influential people in the church. In general, I’ve found that the more I know someone, the harder it is to suspect or misunderstand him or her--and vice versa. However, I often let myself become too busy to spend time with good people, who in turn became suspicious of me or unhappy with me. That’s surely not the whole story, but I certainly would have led better had I not neglected relationships with influential people in the church.
  10. Too quickly taking responsibility and too freely sharing my shortcomings. I include this one for my wife, who has over the years told me that I have a way of doing this that she believes lets others off the hook and invites criticism of me that she says is often unfounded or too severe. She’s not been the only one to point this out. And, now that I think of it, I think I’m actually doing it again, right now. (See how sinister it is?)

Saddest of all, perhaps, is that even after this pathetic confessional, there are many more failings I could list. And those are just the ones of which I’m aware! If you’re a pastor, perhaps you can identify. We are all just“clay pots,” as Scripture says (2 Corinthians 4:7). Oddly enough, though, that’s a good thing, when all is said and done, because it makes it abundantly clear that “the real power comes from God and not from us” (CEV). Ain’t that the truth. 


Sent, by Hilary Alan, tells the story (as the subtitle promises) of how one ordinary family traded the American dream for God's greater purpose. It is the story of Hilary (the author), her husband Curt, and their two children, who took the risk of actually listening to God and considering the possibility that a comfortable suburban life and convenient church involvement was not the sum total of what God had in mind for their lives.

With engaging honesty and humility, Alan details how a "normal" Christian family reached the point of selling all their carefully-acquired home and belongings in order to move themselves and their teen children to the site of an unimaginable tragedy--and unpredictable challenges. It is an inspiring and convicting account of faith, courage, and witness.

While some of the book's anecdotes ended disappointingly, and others, in the telling, promised more than they delivered, over all the book is an easy and enjoyable read...but one that may make the reader uneasy as he or she contemplates the depth and breadth of God's call on his or her own life. The best parts, for this reader, were those (early on) that depicted the family confronting their seemingly radical call, and those that detailed them coping with and adjusting to the people and customs of their new home in Southeast Asia. Another favorite: the fourth-from-last chapter, in which the author contrasted the things the family surrendered with the far greater things God gave them in place of those things.

I hope this book is read by many, many people--and not just those who already have an interest in cross-cultural ministry or radical discipleship. Its message is for all who claim to love God and follow Jesus Christ.

Why Do We Fall in Love?

Why does pretty much everyone want to love and be loved? I hope this video helps a little to explain it.

If you can get past the homely face and annoying voice, you'll be glad you did. And, you'll be glad you forwarded it, tweeted it, and posted it to everyone you know. And I will, too.

Top Ten Things I've Learned As a Pastor

I was ordained to the ministry nearly thirty-three years ago. In that time, I've learned a thing or two. Here are the top 10 things I've learned as a pastor.

1. Pastors have it all together. No unbelief, no depression, no struggles.

2. Pastors only have to work one day a week. The rest of the week is for other stuff, like fishing and hunting.

3. I don't mind church folk treating my home and time as their own. They can drop in anytime. No need to knock either.

4. Leadership is easy; you just tell people what to do.

5. Preaching is easy; you just tell people what to do.

6. It's hard to fill forty or fifty hours a week with teaching, preaching, sermon writing, hospital visitation, leadership meetings, answering emails and phone calls, pastoral counseling, staff meetings, planning sessions, coming up with new and fresh ideas, listening to complaints, meeting with hurting people, making difficult decisions, recruiting new volunteers, and so on.

7. My wife, like me, just lives to meet everyone's expectations of what a pastor's wife should be. Same with my kids. That's why we're here, to please everyone.

8. The nicest thing about being a pastor is nobody ever disagrees or gets mad at you. And even if they did, they would come to you and tell you instead of talking to others about you.

9. Pastors have things so easy, they don't need a day off or a Sabbath or much vacation at all. And sabbaticals would just be a waste of the church's money.

10. If you are a follower of Christ, you will be blessed financially. And pastors most of all!