About Preachers

"The worst thing about preachers is they think they've got to say something whether anything can be said or not" (Burley Coulter, in Wendell Berry's A Place On Earth).

Andy Andrews Changes His Tune(s)

Happy Fifth Anniversary!

Congratulations to the Desperate Pastor blog, which today marks its fifth 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 1,300 posts have appeared in this humble little corner of the internet.

It's amazing how much ground we've covered in those five 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 five years:

1. Sense-ational Preaching

2. Balancing Ministry and Family

3. Boundaries for Pastors

4. Why Every Pastor Should Go to Israel

5. How I Got My Groove Back

6. My Single Most Effective Office Organization Tool

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

8. Why I Value Female Ministry and Leadership

9. A 21st Century Epidemic

10. Me and My Prayer Journal

Of course, I could list many more: many book reviews have been among my favorites. I love "The Pastor's Desk" recurring feature. I thoroughly enjoy recapping my reading at the end of each year. And more. And my "favorites" list may well be different on a different day. But the above will serve, for now.

Thank you for reading this blog. Please keep reading. I'll do my best to make Year 6 better than those that have gone before.

(photo courtesy of everystockphoto.com)

Teddy Speaks to Pastors

“Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt).

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 26)

The pastor's desk pictured below belongs to Ray Hollenbach, a "former-pastor-turned-writer." That's the official title. His unofficial title is "Vagrant."

Ray is also an author (his book, The Impossible Mentor: Finding Courage to Follow Jesus, has been reviewed on the Desperate Pastor, here), blogger, and consultant.

(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)

Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching

Leonard Sweet is one of less than a handful of writers I am compelled to read every time they come out with a new book. His new book, Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching, is an example of why that is the case.

It is fresh, as the subtitle promises. It is thorough. It is creative and entertaining and deep. True to one of his recurring themes (the importance of narrative and metaphor--or, as he coins it, "narraphor"), he structures and spices the book with the metaphor of blood. Preaching, he says, is "a sacrificial act," and the preacher is "someone who gives the blood of Christ to the body of Christ." Artfully switching metaphors in his introduction, he writes:
Preaching is the discipline and craft of turning water into Cana wine and decanting the old, aged-to-perfection Jesus wine into new bottles. Preaching is the primary means whereby the miracle of Cana continues, as Jesus turns our life from water--tasteless, colorless, odorless--into homemade vintage wine, known for its vibrant flavor, vivid sparkle, and alluring aroma.
He covers pretty much everything in the book, from why to preach to how to preach (returning to his memorable acrostic, EPIC, to promote experiential, participatory, image-rich, and connective ways of communicating) to overcoming obstacles and more. He includes "interactives" (where he offers rich further possibilities for involvement, exploration, and development) as well as labs, in which he walks the reader through a sermon-building or sermon-giving process. And he does it all with his usual flair for language, humor, and creativity.

Giving Blood is a great book on preaching that I hope and pray will lead to more great preaching. We need it.

Seven Stanzas for Easter

This masterpiece, by John Updike, has become an Easter tradition on the Desperate Pastor blog:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

It's Friday...But Sunday's Coming

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

The Popes' Library to Be Shared...With You!

This is a fascinating and exciting article that should be of interest to pastors, theologians, and pretty much anyone interested in the church and the Bible.

According to the piece, "one of the richest and most important collections of historical texts in the world will [soon] be available with a click of the mouse—and free." The article goes on to state:
The plan marks a revolution for an institution known as the Popes' Library, which houses more than 82,000 manuscripts, some dating back to the second century. Scholars must now submit a detailed request to gain access to the library, which sits within the Vatican walls. The most precious works of art, such as a 1,600-year old manuscript displaying Virgil's poems once studied by Raphael, have been mostly off-limits.
This is great news for lovers of the Good News...and for lovers of art, books, scholarship, church history, and more. Read the whole article here; it's worth it.

A Click Can Be a Blessing

I hope the Desperate Pastor has blessed you and helped you somewhere, sometime along the way. If it has, please consider blessing back.

You may not have noticed, but ads appear on this blog--in the upper right sidebar and below each of the first several posts on a page. Please notice them. Please click on them when they apply to you (clicks will help the little elves inside the blog know what kind of ads to post more often). And please make a purchase or express an interest whenever possible.

And, while you're at it, feel free to recommend The Desperate Pastor to your friends. And enemies. Because Jesus said to love 'em all.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 25)

The photo above belongs to Dr. Dean Taylor, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. It is located in the lower level of the church's administration building. He says, "I spend most Tuesday-Friday mornings here, studying the Word and preparing messages and Bible studies. I do some planning and audio recording here as well...When I turned this room into my study, someone started calling it The Batcave, and it stuck." To see more, visit this post on his "Speaking of God" blog.

Thanks to  my friend, editor and author Nancy Lohr, for the tip.

(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)

Boundaries for Pastors

It has happened again.

The news broke a few days ago that a well-known and -respected pastor has confessed to a "moral failure" and resigned from his position (story here).

The church hasn't specified the nature of the moral failure, which is a good thing. No one profits from sharing details. There are only too many ways a pastor can fail, though some wise boundaries can help to protect both pastor and flock.

Sometime early in my ministry, wise counsel helped me establish a few boundaries that have protected me, my family, and my flocks for more than three decades. Maybe these specific "hedges" (as my friend Jerry Jenkins calls them in his excellent book, Hedges) aren't for everyone, but they have often and repeatedly been a cause for gratitude and deliverance in my life:

Sexual/relational boundaries
At some point early in my ministry, I decided not to allow myself to be alone in a room or vehicle with another woman who was not a member of my immediate family. While this sometimes made for awkward adjustments (and my total lack of style or sophistication sometimes hurt feelings), it ensured that neither I nor anyone else ever had the least opportunity to become emotionally involved, let alone romantically or sexually compromised. I gave my wife regular and unfiltered access to all my online activity--emails, websites, etc.--as well as employing filtering and reporting software. Also, on occasions, when a woman has begun calling me a little too frequently, I made sure to have my wife answer the phone and return calls on my behalf. Not everyone understood such "hedges," of course, and I've even been criticized for "legalism" in adhering to them, but they've kept me from failing and (as far as I know) protected me and others in my flock from becoming the subject of suspicion, rumors, and gossip.

Financial/ethical boundaries
When I started ringing bells for The Salvation Army as a (just barely) teenager, my father instructed me never to reach into the red kettle, not even to help coins or bills make it all the way into the hole; he showed me how to turn my little bell upside down and poke stray money into the kettle with the handle. That may seem extreme, but it taught me an important principle, to avoid both the appearance of and the opportunity for financial impropriety. From that moment on, as a pastor and agency executive, I avoided counting or processing money without at least one other person (non-family member) present. I made sure donations and offerings were speedily processed and immediately deposited. Whenever possible, I placed responsible and gifted people in charge of church finances, including my salary and benefits, and encouraged regular audits. I strove to be among the biggest givers (by percentage, anyway) in the congregations I served. And I didn't shy from opportunities to let people see that I drove a car and lived in a home that clearly indicated a lifestyle of stewardship, not extravagance (inviting people into our home, for example, or offering to be the driver for various outings, etc.).

Professional boundaries
Early in my ministry, I was part of an organization that provided careful and thorough oversight to pastors. Regular (and detailed) reports, reviews, and audits were required. On my best days I viewed these, not as necessary evils, but as opportunities to express myself and receive feedback from others. Since then, I have tried to give board members and church members alike as much information as possible into the tasks and demands of ministry. At the same time, however, I did my best to install and honor a high level of pastoral confidentiality in praying with and counseling people--even when it kept me from explaining or defending myself.

Personal/marriage/family boundaries
It took a few years, but eventually I learned that my marriage and family were not separate from my ministry, but a primary focus of it (see more here). Therefore, the lovely Robin and I did our best to make our weekly "date night" inviolable. We eventually prioritized a "family night," too. And by the time I had the privilege of planting a church, I had learned the importance of a weekly Sabbath day to restore my energies and refresh my soul (and those of other pastoral staff). Regular meetings with accountability partners and prayer partners also became an important part of my personal and spiritual growth, as did the prioritization of friendships outside the church, which enlarged my vistas and assuaged the loneliness that often accompanies pastoral ministry (and sometimes leads to failure and tragedy).

These are not the only boundaries pastors need, of course. But they are pretty high on the list, I think. In any case, I've had cause to give thanks to God for those who urged such practices on me, knowing the truth of the Scriptural admonition, "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12, ESV).

Fiction and Preachers

I've previously written on this blog (and quite compellingly, I might add, if I were not so humble) about why I value poetry as a pastor. I believe there is an intersection--an overlap--between the poet's craft and the pastor's task. Similarly, Eric McKiddie, pastor at Gospel Community at Chapel Hill Bible Church in North Carolina, wrote recently about "How to Read Fiction and Become a More Interesting Preacher."

I think he's absolutely right. ESPECIALLY in the twenty-first century, the need has never been greater for pastors who think, speak, and feel with a story-lover's perspective and a story-teller's skills.

Read Eric's post and see if you don't agree.

(photo courtesy of taliesin, via everystockphoto.com)

Not Many Of You Were Wise By Human Standards

I read a lot. At least that’s what people tell me. I don’t read nearly as much as I want to, and it seems I’m always pushing to get a little bit of reading time in.

A hefty chunk of my reading these days is blogs. I subscribe to more than fifty blogs and read at least twenty posts every day...mostly by pastors or other leaders. But from time to time I find myself deleting a blog from my RSS feed. It’s not because I disagree with the blogger; I intentionally read people I sometimes disagree with. And it’s not because the blogger has offended me; I don’t offend so easily. And it’s not because the blogger doesn’t have good things to say.

it’s almost always because he or she blogs like an “expert.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m always looking for expert insights and information. I crave it. I depend on it. BUT there’s a difference between being an expert...and sounding like one. There are many people who have the education and experience to speak as an expert.

But “experts” turn me off. One blogger in particular, a spectacularly successful pastor, is a prime example. I admire him. I respect him. I praise God for him and the work he and his church are doing. But I deleted him from my feed, because he writes like an expert. He speaks with the authority of someone who has arrived. A know-it-all. That not only turns me off; it bores me.

Which, come to think of it, is the gripe a lot of folks have about churches and Christians--and especially pastors--in general. We don’t listen, we talk. We have all the answers (or act like we do). We know it all.


May I say again: Yuck. If I am turned off--and bored--by such attitudes, why should I be surprised that others are? God help me to resign from the ranks of the “experts.” God help me not to act like someone who has arrived. God help me to be way too curious and way too humble and way too vulnerable to sound like an expert on anything....except maybe God’s incredible sense of humor in extending grace to me!

Your Kind of Unique

The estimable Seth Godin, on his excellent blog, says there are two kinds of unique:
Sui generis—one of a kind, the one that defines the genus.

That's the goal of the best kind of marketing. To be the best in the world, because the world is defined by what you do.

The impossible way to do that is to be unique because you're famous. There's only one Oprah, of course, because the thing she's famous for is being famous. There will never be another. Louis Vuitton is in this category, 50 Shades of Grey is, and so is the next hearthrob teen sensation. There is no substitute because the attraction is that this is the famous one, accept no substitutes.

The smart way to do it is to be unique before you get lucky and become famous. Take a listen to an old Talking Heads record or a house designed by Wright early in his career. There were unique before they were famous. This takes more patience, more guts and a lot more weirdness because the thing you're doing is actually interesting before it (if you're lucky) becomes popular. You might not end up as Oprah, but your uniqueness is yours, and it can pay off long before the masses choose you merely because you're the famous one.
This applies not only to individuals, but to churches and church leaders. However, it seems to me that few churches take the time to consider if or how they are unique. They simply do what every other church is doing, and hope people will notice them and join them in their journey of being just like everyone else.

This probably worked better in the days when denominationalism was more prevalent and more positive. First Baptist was unique because it was, well, Baptist....and City Methodist was Methodist, etc. People generally knew what to expect from a Lutheran or Roman Catholic or snake handling church.

Not so much these days. Church leaders do themselves, their members, and their communities a favor if they give careful and frequent thought to "What makes us unique?" Or, put another way, "What can we offer to the people of this community....more so than anyone else? Is it the best preaching and teaching? The most uplifting worship? The most participatory worship? Our children's ministry? Our youth group? Our communion wine?"

I believe every church has something unique to offer, if its leaders will take the time and trouble to recognize it and capitalize on it.

So...what is YOUR church uniquely gifted and/or positioned to offer to a hungry, hurting world?