The Most Neglected Pastoral Priority

"A pastor can be so busy caring for his people that he never makes time to stop and pray for them" (Brian Croft).

The whole article is here.

Church of the Week: Traveler's Chapel at Wall Drug

This week's "church of the week" here on the Desperate Pastor blog is the "traveler's chapel" at Wall Drug, the sprawling tourist attraction on Highway 16A in Wall, South Dakota, sixty miles east of Mount Rushmore. 
The lovely Robin and I visited it with friends just last week, and it was a haven of quiet and solitude in the otherwise bustling establishment. It is said to be fashioned after the chapel at New Melleray Abbey, a Cistercian (Trappist) monastery near Dubuque, Iowa. Somewhere I read that, while it is not a church, services (as well as concerts and other events) are sometimes held there. 
At the back of the chapel just inside the entrance were boxes of travel-size New Testaments, offered for free. 

It was a refreshing touch of sanctity in swirling mass of humanity and commercialism, and I'm so glad the lovely Robin pointed it out to me and made sure I didn't miss it. 

Church of the Week: The Salvation Army, Rapid City, SD

What a lovely Sunday morning worship experience the lovely Robin and I enjoyed yesterday at The Salvation Army in Rapid City, South Dakota.

I took the photo below after a stimulating adult Sunday school class and ten minutes or so before the morning service ("Holiness Meeting," as it is called) began. The small chapel (capacity 113) wasn't packed but did contain a healthy crowd of all ages by the time things began.
After a brief presentation to the corps officer (pastor) and area coordinators by Major Randy Hellstrom, Aux. Capt. Michelle Johnson led a short observance and prayer in connection with the Annual Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking. Majors Randy and Kathy Hellstrom led a period of singing, followed by a prayer and another congregational song. Major Kathy Hellstrom played a beautiful and inspiring piano arrangement as an offertory, and eighteen-year-old Cheyenne Black gave his testimony. Majors Hellstrom sang a wonderful duet, and then I got to preach! It was a blessed time of worship and fellowship, in spite of my preaching!

The Rapid City Salvation Army is ably led by corps officers Captains Nathan and Michele Harms, who are clearly doing a fine job. It is located at 405 North Cherry Avenue in Rapid City.

For Inquiring Minds

Pastors often get asked, "Which Bible should I buy/use/read/study?" So here is a handy little chart that might help:

Church of the Week: Huber Heights (OH) First Church of God

The lovely Robin and I, joined by our daughter Aubrey and son-in-law Kevin and their youngest child, Avery, had a wonderful time of worship and fellowship yesterday at Huber Heights First Church of God in--wait for it--Huber Heights, north of Dayton, Ohio.
We were there on that particular Sunday because our old and dear friend, Bill Riley, was "candidating" for the senior pastor position at this church. We were warmly greeted multiple times before we got to the sanctuary. We sat with Lorraine and Courtney on the front row during the 10:30 a.m. service, which was led by a full worship team (keyboard, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and three vocalists). I especially enjoyed the drummer, a young man who was on his game. 
Bill preached on "Living Like Jesus in the Community," from Luke 19:1-10, and did a wonderful job. I'm always on pins and needles when Bill preaches because you just never know what he's going to say or do. He gave the assembled crowd of (I'm guessing) two hundred or so good reason to affirm the search committee's choice for him as their next senior pastor, and lo and behold, after a congregational meeting that followed the service, they did!  
Of course, while waiting for the congregational meeting to end, I snooped--er, toured--around the church a little, and it is an impressive facility, lovingly maintained. I especially liked the fact that the church library is actually a library, with books on all four walls. Yea for them! 

I'm sure it won't be our last visit to this church. We'll be happy to return often. 

Huber Heights First Church of God worships at 6900 Brandt Pike in Huber Heights, Ohio.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 40)

The pastor's desk above belongs to my friend, Major Doug McGuire, who serves with his wife as corps officer/pastor of The Salvation Army in East Liverpool, Ohio (it's a real place, honest!).

His wife vows that there was no tidying involved. She says it's always this neat. She has also never offered to send a photo of her desk.

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

Six Preachers (and a "special") for the Price of One

Pastor Broderick Rice, "flowing in the pathetic." He made me laugh out loud with his T. D. Jakes impression.

10 Things I'd Do Differently

Billy Graham was once asked, "If you could, would you go back and do anything differently?" Billy. Graham. After roughly seventy years of amazingly effective ministry, perhaps the most effective itinerant ministry in history--at least since Paul of Tarsus.

I won't tell you what he said (you can read that interview here) other than to say he very quickly mentioned four things he would have done differently.

I'm no Billy Graham. I'm barely even Billy Goat Gruff (ask your mom). So if he listed four things he'd do differently, it should be no surprise to anyone that I can easily list ten:

1. I would pray a LOT more. I prayed, of course, from the start, but not nearly as I learned to do much later. Maybe it took the wisdom of years to realize how much I needed prayer and how much prayer I needed.

2. I would spend more time with my wife and kids. Unapologetically. Even fiercely.

3. I would say no. It also took me a long time to understand how much of a "people pleaser" I am, and how liable I was to let others set my agenda and calendar for me.

4. I would Sabbath. Several years in to my pastoral ministry experience, I did begin to carve out a "day off," but it wasn't until much later that I learned and experienced the blessing of a weekly Sabbath.

5. I would talk mission and vision incessantly. An older and wiser pastor once urged me to cast vision every ninety days or it will "seep out." My response was more or less, "yeah, right." He was right. I was wrong.

6. I would read my Bible. Sure, sure, I read my Bible. Like every pastor. That's just it, though. If I had the chance to do it again, I would read my Bible more and differently--like a pirate reads a treasure map, like a death row prisoner reads a pardon, like a poor relation reads a rich uncle's will.

7. I would show mercy. I regret some of my leadership decisions over the years, and most--maybe all--of my regrets relate to a failure of mercy.

8. I would (God helping me, because He would have to, contrary to my nature as it is) address conflict, gossip, and disunity one-on-one, as early as possible and as often as necessary.

9. I would do less and teach my church how to do less. I would focus on a few things (as this book suggests) and do them well, and one of those few things would be helping the church do a few things and do them well.

10. I would eschew "growing my church" in favor of "blessing our community."

Shoot, I could easily keep going. And going. I could be the "Energizer Bunny" of "things I would do differently." But these will suffice for now, because they will have to.

From Forced Fellowship to Respectful Friendliness

I have never been a fan of the "stand-and-greet" custom in many churches (called "passing the peace" among our more liturgical brethren and sistren). In theory, it makes people feel welcome and makes a church seem friendly. In practice, however, I think it makes visitors uncomfortable, makes introverts uncomfortable, and almost never produces meaningful interaction between the species (introverts/extroverts/ambiverts).

So I was glad to see this post from Thom Rainer, in which he suggests better ways to make a church welcoming and friendly. I think he's on to something.

A Missing Ingredient

"If we have no silence, God is not heard in our music."

(Thomas Merton)

Mistakes Preachers Make, From an Expert

I'm honored to be an occasional contributor to Theology Mix. Me and a bunch of smart people.

Here is the link to my latest piece on Theology Mix, in which I add (from experience, I promise you) to another writer/preacher's list of mistakes preachers make. It's one of the few areas in which I think I can speak with confidence.

Church Signs With Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 29)

Clearly some basketball opponents are tougher than others (thanks to Ed Stetzer's blog).

Soul Keeping

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was the year before I entered ministry training, when someone asked me what I was reading. I listed a few books with enthusiasm--and pride, I'm sure. He asked if he could offer some advice, and I agreed. "Don't read books," he said. "Read authors."

I can't say I've followed his advice to a T since then, but when I find a good or great book, I seek out other books by that author.

John Ortberg is one such author. I love his writing style and the way he handles biblical texts and teachings. So I was anxious to read his book, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You. He says that many souls in this day and age are starved and unhealthy, unsatisfied by false promises of status and wealth, and the way to depth and fulfillment is to give attention to the soul, and to care for it well.

I loved that the book was crafted around Ortberg's relationship with another of my favorite authors, the late Dallas Willard. In fact, I found my interest piqued every time Willard entered the scene. Overall, however, I didn't find Soul Keeping as helpful and engrossing as the other Ortberg books I've read. Maybe that's because I read it at the wrong time, or at the wrong pace, or something like that.

But I can recommend it nonetheless, because it's solid teaching and helpful insights on an important subject, with some flashes of brilliance sprinkled throughout. And who doesn't need that?

Church Signs With Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 28)

Okay, so maybe we can't immediately outlaw church signs with moveable letters, but in the meantime can we at least use spellcheck?


I read virtually everything Leonard Sweet writes (although he is so prolific he seems able to write faster than I can read). Yet I delayed reading Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There. I wasn't highly motivated to read another book on evangelism.

This wasn't that.

Nudge (like everything Sweet writes) is compelling. It is both strikingly simple and truly revolutionary, as incredible as that may seem. Also like most of what Sweet writes, Nudge expresses much of what I've been feeling and thinking but could never have explained without his help. In my view, he captures perfectly what "evangelism" is, and what it must be, moving it away from the modernist and revivalist traditions (which he and I share as part of our backgrounds) and toward a relational, respectful, and responsive way of helping ourselves and our fellow earth-dwellers to awaken to and interact with, well, the God who's already there among us.

The book is divided into two sections. The first--titled "Shining"--defines "nudging" and "nudgers" as part of a process based on three assumptions: (1) Jesus is alive and active in our world, (2) Followers of Jesus know him well enough to recognize where he is alive and moving, and (3 ) Evangelists nudge others around them to wake up to that activity. "Nudgers," he says, "meet people in their context and nourish their souls in some way." The second section--titled "Sensing"--explores how "nudging" works through each of the five senses, a chapter at a time.

Like all the other Sweet books I've read, I highlighted so many memorable lines that it would be unwieldy to share them all. But here are some of my favorite bits:
The more I discover who God is and who God made me, the happier I become.

I have a friend, Michael Blewett, who is a rector in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He informs his parish that they have three things to spend in life: time, money, and attention. And the greatest of these is attention.

One of the worst mistakes you can make in life is to confuse fallow time with shallow time.

If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans. If you want to make God cry, show him your planet.

The quieter we become, the chattier God gets.

I have no right to argue with you until I can state your case to your satisfaction. I have no right to tell your story until I can state your story to your satisfaction.

Jesus’ image of fishing was not solitary but social.

In the Jesus story of the miraculous catch of precisely 153 fish, the number 153 is the celestial calculus for completion. The ancient world believed there were exactly 153 different species of fish. A catch of 153 fish symbolized the church’s need to reach in its communal netting every culture upon the earth.

Nudgers live and love as Jesus lives and loves: with a blend of fortieth in re, suaviter in modo, or to translate this ancient theological phrase into English, "resolutely in action and gently in manner."

It’s so hard for people to hear ‘God loves you so much’ when the church loves so little. ‘Love All. Serve All’ is the corporate motto of Hard Rock Cafe.

Lancaster Seminary professor Frank Stalfa hammers into the heads of his students this six-word mantra: "Truth without compassion is merely aggression."
It's all so good. So good. So much so, in fact, that I can honestly say it not only reawakened me to the God who's already there, but also to the Gospel and the Great Commission.

Church of the Week: Harbison Chapel, Grove City, PA

On a recent visit to Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania (see here and here), I was so pleased to find Harbison Chapel on the school's campus open at midday.
The chapel, in the center of the campus, was built by the sons of Samuel P. Harbison as a memorial to their father, who served the college as a trustee.
The interior is beautified by hand-carved woodwork and brilliant stained glass windows. It is the campus home to chapel services, convocations, and Sunday vespers, and hosts frequent and numerous weddings throughout the year. It is a stately treasure, and I'm glad I got to visit it and pray in it, however briefly.

Church Signs With Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 27)

This sign is borrowed from Ed Stetzer's blog. The syntax of this sign's message not only makes it confusing ("exactly WHO is eating all those lives?") but even those who read it correctly may not understand it. Sure, it's from the Bible, but so is "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones" (Psalm 137:9).

I rest my case, your honor.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 39)

The pastor's desk above is one of two desks used by my friend, Father Austin Fleming, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Concord, Massachusetts. He also blogs at "A Concord Pastor Comments."

He explains this desk: "I have a really nice upstairs pastor's office which is neat and orderly (mostly because I so seldom use it!). I prefer this desk right by the front door of our parish center. Seated here, I get to see/greet/chat with all who come and go during the course of the day. To my left is my secretary to whom I can easily refer folks who walk in and mistake me for the receptionist. Across from my cluttered desk is a small library room with comfortable chairs in which I can meet with individuals and couples for private conversations. It's my workbench--not tidied up for the photo but it's often a lot more cluttered than it was today."

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

Post #1,500!

This post is the 1,500th to appear here on the Desperate Pastor blog.

That's just crazy.

A lot has happened since the first Desperate Pastor post (on April 25, 2009, titled "The Beauty of Broken Things." That's it in the screenshot at right).

Out of 1,500 posts, you would think that one or two might have actually been good. Right? Well, maybe not. But some have seemed to be more helpful than others, judging from traffic and response. So below are ten of the best, leaving the other 1,490 in the dust:

1. How I Got My Groove Back

2. Balancing Ministry and Family

3. 7 Keys to Staying Married in Ministry

4. You Probably Will Not Like My Church

5. A New Way to Pray 

6. Sense-ational Preaching

7. Boundaries for Pastors

8. My Single Most Effective Office Organization Tool

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

10. Why I Value Female Ministry and Leadership

Next stop: 2,000 posts. If the Desperate Pastor lives that long. And Jesus tarries. And the creek don't rise.

Thanks to all the faithful readers (both of you) of this blog. Keep it up.

Systems and Tasks

For much of my ministry life, I focused the majority of my efforts on "getting stuff done." I kept a daily to-do list and worked it like a borrowed mule. I took no little pride in my ability to accomplish a lot, day after day.

If I had it to do over again, though, I would shift my focus from accomplishing tasks to installing systems wherever and whenever possible.

A system is a mechanism that accomplishes tasks. A task is something you do; a system is something that does.

You already use simple systems. You probably have an alarm that automatically sounds at the same time every morning (or most mornings). That's a simple system. You set it once, and then don't have to bother with it thereafter (except to change it on vacation). The timer or solar "eye" that turns on your security lights or landscaping lights is another automated system.

Good systems get things done, often and preferably without your continued involvement. They automate and streamline decision-making and implementation. They prevent overload and burnout. They allow leaders to focus on big-picture things instead of too many "to-dos."

What are some systems to install in your ministry? It differs drastically from one situation to another, of course. But here are a few examples:

  • Many churches have used a "phone tree" to notify people of a prayer need, change in schedule, etc. Nowadays, a system like this is often accomplished online (e.g.,
  • Clear plans and posted procedures for various situations (e.g., who gets called first when the church basement floods? Second? etc.).
  • A pastoral care system. Many pastors, churches, and church members assume that all pastoral care (such as when someone is homebound, bereaved, or in the hospital) has to be done by the pastor. Sometimes, that is best. But in other cases, a system can be installed whereby a team of people make calls, coordinate meals, send flowers, etc. Especially as a church grows larger it becomes more important to involve more people in this important ministry.
  • Sermon and worship planning. I've already posted on this blog about the advantages of annual plans (see here). Such planning enables the development of multiple systems that is impossible if Sunday's plans are developed a few days in advance. The same applies to the rest of the church calendar.
  • Schedules. Rather than grabbing ushers a few seconds before the offering is to be taken, how about posting monthly schedules of greeters, ushers, prayer counselors, etc.? 
  • Automated giving. Technology now allows people to automate their giving to the church, simplifying the budgetary and reporting process. 

    These are just a few examples, of course. Here's another: does the church secretary or receptionist know if/when to call pastors on their day off or sermon-writing day? Shoot, just having a "Do Not Disturb" sign (or, maybe, "I'm Praying, Go Away, Sucka!" sign) is an example of a simple and workable system. 

    So what systems have worked for you? What systems do you need to install? 

    (photo via

    What's In a Name?

    In conversation recently with a fellow church planter, I took a few seconds to riff on the faddish naming of new churches these days--you know, the usually one-word "cool-sounding" things we call our churches now: Activate Church, Elevation Church, Journey Church, Soul Church, and so on.

    As a writer, of course, I think words and names are important. I'm not knocking sharp branding (okay, maybe just a little bit...the "trendiness" of our efforts, maybe). But it got me to thinking, which is always dangerous.

    What church name might appeal to me (not that I am--or should be--anybody's demographic)? But as someone who has been a Christ-follower for decades and been a part of numerous churches and even helped to plant one, would any name make me sit up and take notice and actually think, "I'd like to try that" or "I want to go to that church?"

    I came up with a few:
    Serve Church
    Church Around the Table
    Church Outdoors
    Messy Church
    Blues Church (I like the Blues, okay?)
    House for All Sinners and Saints (that one actually exists)
    Donut Church (okay, that may not be totally serious. Then again...)
    I'm not saying any of these would be appealing to anyone else; I'm just saying they would intrigue me.

    What about you? In an age of "This Church" and "That Church," what would actually capture your notice and imagination?

    From Tablet to Table

    I don't think there is any author who resonates more with me than Leonard Sweet. And his latest book, From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed, is the latest example.

    He makes a biblical, theological, liturgical, and practical case for bringing back the table to our homes, churches, and neighborhoods. In the first section of the book, titled "Table It," Sweet compellingly shows the importance of the table in Jesus' ministry and in the history of the church, and contrasts it with our contemporary fast-food, microwaved, shallow, and distracted lives. The book's second section, "Life's Three Tables," focuses on the table's function in the home, the church, and the world. It read so well and so quickly that I was surprised and disappointed when it came to an end.

    Some of the high points of the book--and there were far too many to mention them all:
    Modern Christianity has become more “modern” than Christian, having sold out to a fast-paced, word-based, verse-backed, principles-driven template for truth, a handy little tablet of rules and regulations.

    The Pharisees lived by laws, rules, and exclusions. Jesus showed us how to live by love, grace, and inclusion.

    There is a reason Jesus made eating a sacrament.

    The first word God speaks to human beings in the Bible—God’s very first commandment—is “Eat freely” (Genesis 2:16, NASB). The last words out of God’s mouth in the Bible—his final command? “Drink freely” (see Revelation 22:17).

    When we all speak the same language, fewer words are necessary. When we don’t speak the same language, more words are required. One of the reasons for the “wordiness” of the church at this point in its history is that we no longer speak the vernacular of the culture.

    As a Jew is bar mitzvahed or bat mitzvahed, so a Christian might be thought of as bar or bat messiahed.

    We are to manifest Christ, not just mimic him. We are to be not imitators but incarnators of Christ.

    Adam means “human.” Eve means “life.” A human needs another for “life” to come alive and become living. Identity can’t grow ferally, only communally. We were meant to eat together, not solo. Eve’s solitary eating is what got her in trouble.

    most theologians ask too much of the table in terms of theology and too little of the table in terms of community.

    We don’t love our neighbors merely by not bothering them or by doing nothing bad to them. We love our neighbors when we reach out to them, when we listen to them, when we “give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). We love our neighbors when we share a table with them, when we bless and break bread together. Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to going to a party where you don’t have to prepare the food or clean up afterward. If that’s how Jesus pictured the kingdom of heaven, shouldn’t that be the image we show to the world? The firstfruits of the future, the earnest of eternity, the foretaste of what heaven is going to be like, is found where? For Jesus, at the table.
    As with all of Leonard Sweet's books, I can't recommend this highly enough. It is a book to be savored and digested.

    Church of the Week: Stave Church in Epcot Center, Orlando, FL

    This installment in the Desperate Pastor's recurring "Church of the Week" feature is something different. It is a replica of a Stave Church in Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, which I visited on a May vacation with the family.
    Norwegians first began to build stave churches around 1050, as Christianity first began to take hold there during the reign of King Olaf II (995-1030 A.D.). The woodworking craft that flourished in Norway made beautiful, enduring wooden churches that combined Christian symbols and Viking images (such as dragon heads, seen on the eaves above, and the incredible work surrounding the door, below). 
    The example at Epcot is, of course, a recreation. But while other people throughout Europe built wooden churches, only Norway's are still standing. Twenty-eight of the 1,000 stave churches built there in the Middle Ages are still standing today.  

    Below is a video showing the displays inside the structure: 

    How to Stay Married In Ministry

    Today is the thirty-eighth wedding anniversary for me and the lovely Robin. I know, I don't look old enough to have been married for thirty-eight years. Oh...that wasn't what you were thinking? Never mind, then.

    While our marriage and family life haven't been without a struggle here or there (which were all my fault; that's my story and I'm sticking with it), our love hasn't just survived the challenges that come with being married while in ministry; it has grown and deepened along the way--to the extent that I list our marriage as a major ministry success (here). So since I am sometimes asked how Robin has managed to stay married to me all these years, I offer my best guesses as to what has done the trick for us:

    1. Date night. From the very start, we have reserved one evening a week to date each other. To focus on each other. To remember why we fell in love in the first place.

    2. Boundaries. I wrote a whole post about "Boundaries for Pastors," so I won't belabor it here. But careful boundaries have protected us both, and deepened our mutual trust.

    3. Days off and vacations. I know some ministry couples who rarely take days off and seldom take their vacation time from the church. I think that's foolish. You can't give good things to your spouse if you've spent it all at the church.

    4. Retreats and classes. Over the years, the lovely Robin and I have taken periodic marriage retreats or enrichment weekends. Those things have given us invaluable help in (for example), learning each other's intimacy needs, conflict-management styles, and learning styles, among other things. They've helped us to gain deeper understanding of each other and make adjustments along the way.

    5. Premarital counseling. We never had premarital counseling before our wedding. But we've provided it for scores of couples--and each time we do, we brush up on our own skills.

    6. Frequent renewal of vows. On our thirty-fifth anniversary, the lovely Robin and I renewed our vows behind a waterfall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. That was fun and wonderful. But we do much the same thing at every wedding we attend, holding hands and silently renewing our vows as the couple getting married recite theirs.

    7. Mutuality. Our marriage has never been a hierarchy but a gift-based partnership (1 Corinthians 7:4, 11:11-12). We each have clearly defined responsibilities and roles, but in our marriage these things are based on the way God has molded us and gifted us. We try to outdo each other in love, respect, kindness, and self-sacrifice...and we both end up winning.

    I could go on, of course. The lovely Robin's beauty, grace, and patience should top the list, no doubt. But these seven things have gone a long way toward enabling us to go a long way--more than halfway to our seventieth anniversary.

    Pastor, Get a Pastor

    You are a pastor. You preach and teach, care and console. You manage and maneuver, love and lead. You pour yourself out. You "shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you" (1 Peter 5:2, ESV).

    You also need a pastor.

    Every pastor needs a pastor. Every pastor needs someone who does the things the pastor is doing for others--encourage, equip, coach, console, support, love, and lead. Unfortunately, very few pastors have that kind of relationship, which helps to explain why so many burn out or drop out--and why many others say they would leave the ministry if they thought they could.

    Few denominations and church staff systems allow or encourage the establishment and maintenance of a pastor-to-a-pastor relationship. Unless you're in a very rare situation, the chances are good that you will have to take the initiative and do the work of filling that need in your life. But it is a need, make no mistake. It is not an option, if you plan to not just survive but also thrive in ministry.

    So what can you do? Where do you go? Here are a few suggestions to help you do what (of course) you encourage your flock to do--have a caring, capable pastor in your life to lead, teach, encourage, and equip you:
    • Approach someone you already know. Someone who is already in your circle of relationships. It may be a retired pastor or someone in an entirely different field. It shouldn't be someone in your church but could be someone you've crossed paths with. Someone who impressed you, maybe. Or someone who reached out to you. If such a person comes to mind, consider asking him or her to meet regularly with you, perhaps just as a sounding board at first. Let the relationship develop from there.
    • Consult a spiritual director. Spiritual direction may be a new concept for you, but it can be a transforming experience to have someone to meet with regularly who will listen--not only to you but also to the Holy Spirit--and offer sensitive wisdom and guidance. My friend Kasey is a fine example of this kind of ministry. Christian spiritual directors in your area can be found through Spiritual Directors International
    • Find a good Christian counselor. Years ago, my church planting coach would ask me and my co-pastor every time we met, "Do you have a shrink yet?" He clearly considered it not only important but also urgent. So I started meeting regularly with a counselor, and boy was I glad I did. A good Christian counselor can often be like a pastor to a pastor; mine was to me. If the first person you consult isn't quite a "match," don't give up. Keep trying. Ask others for recommendations or start here
    • Use available resources. I can't emphasize enough the importance of an actual, on-site, flesh-and-blood person to pour into you as you are pouring into others. But in rare circumstances, that may not be possible for you. If that is the case, make sure to utilize all available resources, such as: 
      • "Thriving Pastor," the ministry to pastors of Focus on the Family. They also provide a Facebook page, Twitter account, and pastoral care line (844-4PASTOR).  
      • Podcasts. I have been fed and encouraged over the years by the podcasts of various pastors--some that provide encouragement specifically to those in ministry and others, like Erwin McManus or James MacDonald, that podcast sermons or Bible studies. Here is a helpful listing. 
      • Retreats. I've posted previously on this blog about retreat centers and getaways that are offered specifically for pastors (here). While some hosts at such places leave you alone, others make themselves available for those who want to talk. Such encounters may lead to a more enduring relationship, magnifying the benefit of the retreat. 
    These are just a few ideas. But please believe me when I say you need a pastor. What's good for the sheep is good for the shepherd. It will strengthen you and your ministry, making you even more of an example to the flock.

    (photo via

    Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God

    I was interested to read Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in GOD: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace. Partly because he is the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Partly because his spiritual journey has been tortuous and tumultuous, to say the least. And also partly because I thought he might challenge my thinking and living and maybe even give me a new perspective or two.

    I was wrong.

    I was strangely touched, early on in the book, by his portrayal of himself as a man who often doesn't believe in God but can't stop praying...or praying with his grandchildren. I loved his statement, "Embracing paradox helped me discover that religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure." And I found it compelling when he said, "To the extent I choose to go, church is one of the places I may offer my grandchildren a vision of life that is about more than status, stuff, education and money."

    But I couldn't even finish the book. I got halfway through and, while I found parts of his story to be interesting, even captivating, I started to feel yucky (look it up, it's a theological term). His frustratingly a priori pronouncements seemed to be laced with so much bitterness and acerbity that I just couldn't keep going (he even looks mean and grumpy on the book cover!).

    Maybe I should have stuck with it in the hopes of getting to the "Give love, create beauty, and find peace" part. But life is too short, and it would have taken too long...if it ever did get to that).

    A Prayer for Pastors

    God of all,
    we know you sent us out to do your work,
    to face rejection,
    to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God,
    to have people turn their backs on us,
    to be your prophets,
    to be laughed at,
    to heal the sick,
    to be dismissed,
    to travel light,
    sometimes broke and sometimes penniless,
    and sometimes rich and wealthy.

    We are reminded to shake off the dust from our shoes
    when we are not welcome and not listened to.
    We are reminded that in our weakness you are strong.
    We are reminded that in all of this, Jesus too was rejected and a scandal to many.

    Lord, today some of us step into pulpits as your prophets
    in places where we have been treated less than kind,
    and sometimes outright rejected.
    Lord, pour your healing salve into the wounds we carry.

    Today, some of us are so wounded from the attacks
    that it is hard to lift our feet to shake the dust off our shoes.
    Pour your healing grace over us that makes Christ's power perfect in our weakness.

    Today, some of us feel like total failures and like giving up.
    Pour your steadfast love into us that we may see ourselves as you see us,
    and not give up as you yourself did not give up. Amen.

    (From Rev Abi's Long and Winding Road blog; cross-posted from The photo--of the pulpit in Worms Cathedral, Worms, Germany--was taken by me).

    The Pastor's Desk (Episode 38)

    The pastor's desk pictured above is that of one of my oldest and best friends, the Very Reverend Bill Riley, pastor of Russells Point Church of God in Russells Point, Ohio (and for all you punctuation nerds, there is NO apostrophe in Russells Point. Go ahead, look it up. You know you want to).

    He also very kindly sent along the photo below, to show that he uses only the very finest study materials. His ministry is obviously of the highest quality.

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

    Church of the Week: St. Patrick Church, San Francisco, CA

    On a recent visit to San Francisco (with the lovely Robin and our grandchildren, Miles and Mia, above), I took an opportunity to pay a quick visit to the historic St. Patrick Church, seen in the background of the photo above. 
    This Roman Catholic church, on Mission Street between Third and Fourth Streets, dates to California Gold Rush days. An earlier church building was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It is sometimes called "the most Irish church in America." Its Irish flavor is apparent not only in its name but also in the Connemara marble of the church's pillars and interior walls, imported from Ireland, and in the stained glass windows that trace Irish history from pagan days to the time of St. Patrick, and depict the patron saints of each of Ireland's thirty-two counties.
    The present building, which church deacon Virgil Capetti describes as modified English Gothic, or Gothic Revival, goes back to 1914. Today the church serves a multi-generational and multi-ethnic population, including Latino and Filipino residents. I took in just a minute or two of the homily during the 12:00 service.

    St. Patrick Church is located at 756 Mission St. in San Francisco.

    Pastor, Get Outta Town!

    My online friend (that's the only way most people will associate with me), Lawrence Wilson, recently posted an updated list of free or low-cost retreat and vacation opportunities for pastors on his website, here.

    I have personally benefitted from his list--and in the past have taken free or low-cost retreats in Kentucky, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana (the photo at left was taken on one such retreat, in an idyllic setting in Durango, Colorado). I highly recommend and strongly encourage you to peruse Larry's list and plan ahead to schedule not just a retreat, but regular, re-creative retreats...for your sake and for the sake of your marriage, family, and ministry.

    Searching for Sunday

    Let's get this out of the way first: I'm a fan of Rachel Held Evans. I wish everyone would read her with an open mind, especially her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (which I reviewed here). Unlike some, I don't read her blog or her books because I see her as a nuisance or a threat, but because she is unfailingly honest, vulnerable, entertaining, thoughtful, and insightful. So I expected her latest book, Searching for Sunday (subtitled "Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church"), to be the same.

    It is.

    It is a thoroughly honest, searchingly vulnerable, wholly entertaining, thoughtful, and insightful book. It tells the story of Rachel's solid fundamentalist/evangelical upbringing, her subsequent questioning of, disillusionment with, and departure from the church as she had always known it. Much of her story and struggle will ring true for many, especially with her generation (but not exclusively, as it often tracks with my experience, and I'm pretty ancient compared to her).

    But don't think this is a diatribe against evangelicals, much less the church as a whole. It is far from it. Organized around the seven sacraments recognized and practiced among Catholics, Episcopalians, and in Orthodox traditions, Searching for Sunday is a hopeful book. It is shot through with love for Jesus and his Body. It is this:
    Not every young adult gets married or has children, so we need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people. 
    It is this:
    Even when I don't believe in church, I believe in resurrection. I believe in the hope of Sunday morning. 
    And this:
    The good news is you are a beloved child of God; the bad news is, you don't get to choose your siblings. 
    And these:
    Sometimes I think what the church needs most is to recover some of its weird.  
    Sometimes the church must be a refuge even to its own refugees.  
    [After relating the story of the woman caught in adultery] Perhaps it would be easier for us to love if it were our sins we saw written in that dust and carried off by the wind. 
    I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same.  
    Our various traditions seem a sweet and necessary grace.  
    As my friend Ed puts it: "When you join a church you're just picking which hot mess is your favorite."  
    The truth is, the church doesn't offer a cure. It doesn't offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace
    Like almost everything Rachel Held Evans writes, Searching for Sunday will prompt tears and laughter, anger and "amens," nods and groans. It may not change many minds, but I hope and pray it will open hearts.

    Church of the Week: Epic Church San Francisco

    The lovely Robin and I, while visiting our California kids and grandkids this past weekend, visited Epic Church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
    The church meets in a unique location, in an alley (Stevenson "Street"), on the lower level.
    The digs were not spacious but they make the most of the space they have. They offer coffee in their lobby, which of course I consider a mark of a successful church.
    The worship team on this morning was led by my son and daughter-in-law (they were subbing for the church's usual worship leader) and so was inspirational on multiple levels. Seriously, the Spirit was there and moving in and on me, for sure.
    I loved the Epic Church experience. The welcome was warm. The message, by lead pastor Ben Pilgreen (above) was excellent. The mission and vision were clear and compelling. The details (like the one-sheet program of the week and combination contact card/offering envelope) were attended to. And the worshiping saints were a diverse crowd in every respect. I left encouraged and enthused and blessed.

    Epic meets at 250 Stevenson Street (off 3rd Street), San Francisco, CA 94103. The church website is

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

    My Top Ten Top Tens

    I've shared many "Top Ten" lists on this blog, many of them from sermons I preached (which may explain why I'm not asked to preach as often as I used to be). But that's okay. Not everybody gets me. Okay, so no one really gets me. But the following Top Ten lists were pretty good in my head:

    1. Top Ten Things You DON'T Want to Hear When Your Pastor Visits You in the Hospital

    2. Top Ten Signs Your Sermon Isn't Going Well

    3. The Top Ten Signs the Apocalypse is Near

    4. Top Ten Things You Really Shouldn’t Say in Church

    5. The Top Ten Worst Ways to Start a Spiritual Conversation with Someone

    6. The Top Ten Reasons People Don’t Go to Church

    7. The Top Ten Mysteries of Life

    8. The Top 10 Signs You’re In a Dangerous Church

    9. Top Ten Worst Things To Do With Your Tax Refund

    10. Top Ten Things I've Learned As a Pastor

    Church Signs With Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 26)

    I know I just featured a church sign a week ago, but 'tis the season, it seems. Or something like that. This is Exhibit 26 in my case against church signs with moveable letters. Just stop it, people. They're not helping.

    On This Blog's Sixth Anniversary

    I know you will find this hard to believe, but tomorrow--April 25, 2015--marks the sixth anniversary of the Desperate Pastor blog.

    The first post in Desperate Pastor history appeared on April 25, 2009. It was titled, "The Beauty of Broken Things." Since then, as of this post, 1,484 posts have appeared in this humble little corner of the internet.

    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 six years:

    1. 7 Keys to Staying Married in Ministry

    2. You Probably Will Not Like My Church

    3. A New Way to Pray 

    4. Sense-ational Preaching

    5. Balancing Ministry and Family

    6. Boundaries for Pastors

    7. How I Got My Groove Back

    8. My Single Most Effective Office Organization Tool

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

    10. Why I Value Female Ministry and Leadership

    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. But the above will serve, for now.

    Thank you for reading this blog. Please keep reading. I'll do my best to make Year 7 better than those that have gone before.

    (photo courtesy of

    Church Signs with Moveable Letters Should Be Outlawed (Pt. 25)

    I've heard of some churches "eating pastors alive," but I'd rather not know how the sausage gets made.