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