A Little Bit of Judgment Can Kill a Lot of Gospel

Author and blogger Ed Cyzewski (from Columbus, Ohio...we should get together sometime, Ed!) recently wrote a marvelous post titled, "A Little Bit of Judgment Can Kill a Lot of Gospel" on his "In a Mirror Dimly" blog.

It starts out like this:
I used to wonder why talking about the gospel rarely turned out the way they explained it in the evangelism training videos.

I have since learned that I had a major problem that was undermining everything I was trying to say: I was judging people.

And here’s the thing, even a little bit of judgment can create a chasm between myself and another person. It establishes me as an authority with power to condemn the other person. And it inevitably creates a power struggle.
Read the whole thing (here). It is dead on, and well worth it.

Discover the Mystery of the Faith

Glenn Packiam's book, Discover the Mystery of the Faith, makes the (to me) inarguable point that the way we worship does not merely reflect what we believe but shapes what we believe. It tracks more or less with his journey as a worship leader (and one of the founding leaders and songwriters for Desperation Band) and pastor, and expresses the general frustration and dissatisfaction many in the church have felt with how our corporate worship has changed over the past fifty years or so. He suggests that many churches, pastors, and worship ministries have been "playing around in the kitchen and calling it dinner."

By contrast, he says, "Good, rich, Christ-centered worship is a feast. This kind of worship is a bounty of beauty and truth, with layers of flavor, textures of taste. Each course builds on the previous one, elevating the dining experience from a functional necessity to an odyssey of ecstasy." He structures the book around six key points of a good, rich, Christ-centered worship experience:
1. Celebration: Why We Rejoice
2. Proclamation: Tethered to Our Story
3. Invocation: The Personal Presence of God
4. Confession: Finding the God of Mercy
5. Invitation: Turning to One Another
6. Eucharist: Embracing the Mystery of Faith
Much of this book (and the author's journey) resonated with me, particularly his calls for a return to a narrative (story) structure in worship and for a re-discovery of confession as a key component in worship. However, I was disappointed in several things. First, I found myself wishing that his excellent exploration of worship in the early Church had recognized that the Church Fathers were blazing new trails that made both theological and cultural sense in their milieu, rather than suggesting (if I understood him right) that their patterns were necessarily intended for all contexts. Second, I wish with his call for a re-discovery of the Psalter in worship he had pointed out the rich lyrical possibilities for modern songwriters to write new melodies to incorporate the psalms into public worship (a la John Michael Talbot and Sons of Korah). And, finally, I found myself wishing that he had called less for a return to the past than creatively sketching a new way forward.

Nonetheless, I found it an engrossing and thought-provoking read to which all pastors and church leaders should give consideration.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 5)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Captain Mark Ferreira, pastor ("corps officer") of The Salvation Army in Portsmouth, Ohio (who said it was his desk as he found it upon his return from vacation in August).

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to bob@bobhostetler.com, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Church Signs with Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 15)

Um. What? Oh, okay, I see....no I don't. What? 

Background Matters

Exactly right. Though I wish he had chosen a different example. The context of "Who do men say that I am" offers important depth and breadth to understanding the conversation, but it doesn't affect our understanding of the passage's meaning. But there are numerous other examples (such as "Women should remain silent in the churches") that cannot be properly understood without some understanding of the context. Still, the video offers a critical teaching.


Profound. Profane.

Honest. Humble. Hilarious. Hopeful.

Raw. Revealing.

Insightful. Beautiful.

Nadia Bolz-Weber's book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, is all of those things.

The title comes from the insulting term sometimes used by critics to refer to female preachers and pastors. The book, from the very first word, is (in the publisher's words) a "messy, beautiful, prayer-and-profanity laden narrative about an unconventional life of faith."

Don't touch it if you're easily offended. Don't open it if you have trouble finding God in unexpected places. Don't read it if you are unwilling to be challenged, stretched, and blessed to hear God's Word and see him work in new ways, with head-tilting (and sometimes head-spinning) results.

On the other hand, those may be the very reasons you should read this book, maybe even devour it, as I did. You may experience in its pages, as I did, "the redeeming, destabilizing love of a surprising God." You may laugh, as I did, at the author's knack for honesty and clarity, shown in such statements as, "I'm a lousy Christian, and I hope that's good enough since our call to be compassionate has to include ourselves, too." And you may even cry, as I sometimes did, at the beauty and grace in her stories of House for All Sinners and Saints, the church she started in 2008.

It is a wonderful book that I was preparing to pass on to others from the moment I started reading it.

Church of the Week: Bethel Community Church, Hamilton, OH

Yesterday I had the joy and privilege of visiting and preaching at Bethel Community Church in Hamilton, Ohio (just a few miles from our home). It is located at 2015 NW Washington Blvd., across from the Hamilton Freshman School and adjacent to the Berkeley Square retirement community.  
In the company of the lovely Robin (who makes up for my debilitating shyness), I preached on "Recovering Your Spiritual Vitality," from 2 Kings 6:1-7. We were warmly welcomed by the leaders and virtually everyone in the congregation, and felt right at home. The church is currently between pastors and clearly very missions conscious (they are preparing for a missions conference, in fact). Most importantly, from my lofty spiritual perspective, they served coffee and cupcakes after the worship service.  

It is always (well, almost always) a joy to meet new brothers and sisters in Christ and worship together with faithful followers of Jesus, and Bethel Community Church was no exception. 

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 4)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Darryl Handy, pastor of Blue Ridge Community Church in Cullowhee, North Carolina (who sent it with the qualification, "This goes into the 'you know Darryl feels indebted to Bob if he trusted Bob with THAT' file").

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to bob@bobhostetler.com, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Why I Value Failure

In my various (and woefully under-rated and under-reported) speaking engagements around the world (no, really), I will occasionally introduce myself as a "failed pastor."

My wife hates that.

She says I need to stop. She insists that I was a good pastor. She says it gives the wrong impression.

But I persist, for several reasons. One, it's a little harmless self-deprecation and far more interesting than the usual ego-stroking introductions most of us go in for from time to time. Two, it is at least partly true, as I often explain to people, because while pastoring four churches over the last thirty-plus years, I never felt like I ever got good at it. I was always acutely aware of my shortcomings, and haunted by the people I couldn't help, problems I couldn't solve, and progress I couldn't make.

But thirdly--and most importantly, I think--that introduction repeatedly opens doors to fruitful ministry, because it never fails to draw someone (often many people) to me who are pastors, pastors' wives, ex-pastors, and so on. It starts conversations I might never have otherwise. And it encourages people to open their hearts and hopes to me in ways that I don't think would happen if I hadn't made that confession.

So I guess you could say I value failure. Because my sense of my own failings and my willingness to confess them can be (and often is) a conduit for the Holy Spirit's work, in me and in others. I've talked, prayed, and counseled with some wonderful people because of it. I think I've played a part in healing a few. And I know they have played a part in healing me.

Top 10 Recommended Leadership Books

Perry Noble, whose blog I read regularly, posted recently his top ten leadership books to recommend:

I am often asked what are the top leadership books I have read and would recommend, so I decided to put them in this article.

Before you begin please understand that this is a list, NOT A RANKING!!! :-)

Here we go...
#1 - Good to Great by Jim Collins
#2 - Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley
#3 - Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

#4 - The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
#5 - The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
#6 - Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey
#7 - Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley
#8 - Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels
#9 - Axiom by Bill Hybels
#10 - Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud
BONUS: The Dark Side of Leadership by Gary McIntosh & Samuel Rima
I'm no Perry Noble, but I shared some time ago on this blog (here) the top ten books that have influenced my pastoring and leadership:
The Pastor as Minor Poet (Barnes)
The Peacemaker (Sande)
Axiom (Hybels)
Spiritual Leadership (Sanders)
Our Iceberg is Melting (Kotter/Rathgeber)
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni)
The Contemplative Pastor (Peterson)
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Maxwell)
Masterplanning (Biehl)
Visioneering (Stanley)
Dedication and Leadership (Hyde)
For more, see my original post (here).

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

Why I Value Pastor Retreats

If you are a pastor or ministry leader, I hope you are taking days off, Sabbaths, and all the vacation time that is available to you. Such times are absolutely crucial for your continued health and effectiveness.

I am often disturbed when I talk to someone in ministry who hasn't taken a day off or vacation in a very long time. It not only makes me question that person's wisdom, it prompts me to fear for the  future of his or her ministry. No matter how able or gifted you are, you need to "get apart" no less than Jesus did. And you will be amazed at how much stronger and energetic your ministry will be if you not only take vacation time with your family, but also retreat time with God. A pastor or leader who does not prioritize time with God is sending a message to the people he or she leads: I don't need God as much as he needs me.

And don't tell me you can't afford it. The lovely Robin and I have benefitted numerous times from the ministry of various friends and organizations who have offered us retreat sites for nothing or next-to-nothing. In Michigan, Colorado, Kentucky, and Ohio, we have experienced the generosity and hospitality--and recreativity--of prayer retreats and pastoral health retreats.

Fellow blogger (and one of my favorites) Lawrence W. Wilson has posted a state-by-state listing (here) of guest, retreat, or vacation accommodations for those in ministry, some of which are offered free and all of which are affordable. Some links may be outdated by now, but I can personally recommend Rocky Mountain Renewal, Pastors Retreat Network, and three that are not listed at the link: Valley View Inn in NE Ohio, Broomtree Ministries (various locations), and the site of my annual silent prayer retreat for fourteen or fifteen years, The Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky.

So check it out. And then check out. And then check in.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 3)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Major Doug Burr, director of The Salvation Army Student Fellowship (SASF) at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk--but no tidying up before taking the picture, mind you--to bob@bobhostetler.com, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

"A Splendid Book" Releases Today

Seventy-seven years after his “promotion to glory,” Samuel Logan Brengle, who rose to the rank of Commissioner in The Salvation Army and authored nine books on the subject of holiness has a new book officially releasing today...and I got to play a part in it!

Take Time to Be Holy is a one-year book of devotional readings drawn from the writings of Brengle, published by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers. It presents the timeless words of a Salvationist saint in a new format, updated for modern readers.

The book is the product of a unique series of partnerships. It began with my pitch to the USA East literary department and publications council. Soon after, the territory agreed to partner with me and commissioned me to compile the manuscript.

My agent Steve Laube was engaged to represent the project to publishers. Laube, a friend of The Salvation Army whose father was awarded the organization’s prestigious “Others” Award for his service to the Alaska Division as a volunteer and advisory board member, contacted Tyndale and negotiated the contract.

After contracts were signed and the manuscript was edited by Lynell Johnson, senior editor for the USA East Territory, it was entrusted into the hands of Caleb Sjogren, an editor for Tyndale House who is a soldier of the Oakbrook Terrace (IL) Corps. “As a lifelong Salvationist,” Sjogren says, “I requested this assignment as soon as I learned that Tyndale was publishing it. Having read Brengle's writings before, I know the potency of his holiness message, and I pray that God might use this new work to bring many people into closer fellowship with his Holy Spirit.” Sjogren worked with Hostetler and the Johnsons to guide the work through the publication process.

Lynell Johnson says, “I couldn’t be more excited about Take Time to Be Holy. Throughout the long process of getting it ready for release by such a prominent Christian publishing house, I found my heart and soul repeatedly stirred by Brengle’s words. And I am thrilled at the potential of this new format, not only for a revival of holiness in The Salvation Army but also among Christians who by means of this book may discover Brengle’s teachings on holiness for the first time.”

The book boasts an impressive array of endorsements. Author and speaker Gordon MacDonald says, "Samuel Logan Brengle embodies for me everything I could imagine a holy person to be. What I see is a man who knew lots about life in the streets but saw it from the perspective of knowing lots about life in the Lord's presence. Bob Hostetler has done us a service by arranging Brengle’s holiness writings into bite−size pieces, one for each day of the year, to help us spend time in secret with Jesus." Leonard Sweet, author and professor at Drew University and George Fox University, says, "Take Time to be Holy is a splendid book—in the richness of its devotional selections from the writings of Samuel Logan Brengle, the depth of its insights into the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, its subtle delineation of biblical holiness, and the diligent unraveling of a multi-faced subject and a multifaceted character who deserves to be rediscovered as a 21st–century 'prophet of holiness.'” And Kevin Mannoia, founder and chair of the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium and professor of ministry at Azusa Pacific University says, "This daily diet of wisdom from Brengle’s life affords a wonderful opportunity to deepen the health of your own journey toward wholeness. The simplicity of a day-to-day dose of wisdom from such a Godly man is a gift that will multiply in effect each day. Holiness in its generous and transforming nature is the perfect reflection of the deep complexity of God's own heart. Taken one drop at a time, daily, the Holy Spirit will work its restoring way in your heart as you walk this path of daily devotions. God's holy nature will become a new and fresh breeze each day."

Take Time to Be Holy can be purchased online (here), in Christian bookstores, and through The Salvation Army’s territorial trade departments.