Just Pray

I will post my Tools of the Trade on Wednesday. Like you, I awoke to news of ongoing chaos. What started in one city has spread throughout the United States and now around the world.

Aside from one very moving prayer by John Piper and one good piece of advice on how pastors should address this situation in church, so far the blogs I follow have been free of opinions and pontifications. And that’s good. This is not a time to write. It’s a time to pray. And I’ll leave it at that for this morning.

God bless you as you serve him today and this week.

It Only Takes A Moment

The lot used to be home to a large antique store, three houses, a small apartment building, and a few small small sheds. But the houses were empty, the apartment building was boarded up, and the antique store had a closing sale. 

One morning, on my way to the job, someone was working around the apartment. When I came home in the afternoon, it was gone. The next afternoon the former antique building was a pile of rubble. And the next day they demolished the houses and outbuildings. 

None of those buildings were necessarily pleasing to the eye, but they inhabited a large corner lot near us for several decades. Over time someone had a business or two, and people raised families inside those apartments and houses. Though I know very little about construction, I’m sure it took months for the various structures to be built. But compared to how long they had been on that site, they were gone in a moment.

A reputation is like that, you know. It takes time to build it, to earn people’s trust, to gain their confidence. But we can destroy it in a moment. I’ve heard stories just like you have, but I’ve also seen it with my own eyes. 

A man I considered a mentor when I was in my late high school years made a horrible choice and jettisoned not only his ministry, but his marriage. He and his wife were discipling another couple, and they went away on weekends and swapped mates. Hearing about it shocked the boots off of me.

We often think of moral failure as the reason so many pastors end up losing their reputations and ministries. Some leading figures within the evangelical community have fallen this way, and the damage done to their lives is only exceeded by the damage done to their own churches and to the broader reputation of the Church. But a moral failure is not the only way to ruin a reputation.

I’ve written elsewhere of the pastor who met a heartbroken member of his congregation who was seeking counsel with these words: “I did not come here to wipe your noses.” I’m pretty sure I’ve also told about the small-town pastor who, after being cheated by a car salesman, punched the guy’s lights out and put him out on Main Street via the dealership’s front plate-glass window. There’s a guy who had lied about his education when he was hired, and after twelve effective years had to resign in shame. And there are others I could recount. But I won’t. You do it. If you know people who fit this category, name them, silently, to yourself. It will help this be more real to you.

Pride, carelessness, dishonesty, immorality, a lack of compassion – these and other qualities can bring a ministry to an end. And just as the failure of prominent evangelical leaders left an effect on those who were followers, there are congregations large, small, and in between all over the world who have been torn apart by one awful choice, or the fruit of that choice.

We are all subject to failure. And by God’s grace we are all able to find forgiveness. Sometimes, depending on the sin, a fallen pastor might even get a second chance. But it’s hard to shake a shattered reputation.

Proverbs 4:23 is a familiar verse, and it says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (ESV). Proverbs 4 starts out with Solomon repeating words his father David had taught him. It’s hard to know where David’s instruction ends and where Solomon starts talking. But either way, Solomon wanted his son(s) to learn the importance of being morally and ethically diligent, and he knew that those things are matters of the heart. Sadly, Solomon turned away from his own wisdom, and one can only wonder if his sons saw their father slide and as a result, Rehoboam displayed hubris instead of humility (read 1 Kings 12). Neither man’s failures surprised God or disrupted his plan, but think of the impact of those choices on Israel. 

Younger pastor (or veteran pastor, if you’re reading this), please don’t fail! Please guard your heart, share your struggle with a friend, get help before you make a choice that will bring you to ruin. And if your struggle is with anger or pride or even a lack of compassion, repent of that and find help before you sabotage your ministry and hurt who-knows-how-many people. 

It takes time to build, but only a moment to turn to rubble.

Nine Questions to Ask As We Transition Back to “Normal”

It had been my hope that this pandemic would give pastors an opportunity to rest a bit. I didn’t expect that pastors would be lounging on the sofa all day eating chips and drinking soda, but I thought the pace of life would slow a bit and provide a (much needed) opportunity to refresh. Apparently that hasn’t happened for many of you. Between working to making online sermons not look like your grandfather’s vacation movies and care given to the flock, some pastors have experienced anything but rest.

Regardless of whether you move toward the end of this very strange time1 feeling more rested or more stressed, it certainly should have been a learning experience. Here are ten questions that will help you evaluate your ministry during this period as well as going forward.

  1. As you look back over these last weeks, what did you learn about your congregation? Were they spiritually stronger than you thought? Weaker?

  2. How does the way your people handled the pandemic affect the way you plan to minister to them going forward? For example, will this affect the content of your preaching?

  3. Do your people have a reason to come back? I’m thinking especially of the way your church conducts its worship and the content of your preaching. Has it been so “light” that people have learned they don’t really miss it or need it, or has it been “meaty” enough to draw them back in?

  4. Have you carried the burden of shepherding on your own shoulders, or have you shared that burden with other leaders in your church?

  5. How will the shepherding patterns you’ve adopted during this pandemic carry on after it’s over?

  6. How are you? If you’ve worn yourself out during this time, why? What are you going to do to care for your own needs as you get back into a different, but still busy, schedule?

  7. What do you wish you had done differently during this pandemic?

  8. One hates to think worst-case scenario or delve into conspiracy theory, but IF something like this were to happen again, either because of another health crisis or (and we hope this never happens) because of governmental regulation, should you and your leaders make plans for carrying on ministry?

  9. Does your leadership team (elders/deacons/staff) have a plan for re-opening that is workable, considers the needs of those who will be cautious, and is prepared to deal with differences of opinion among church members on what it means to go forward safely?

To come away from this time without having learned something about ourselves, our people, and the priorities of ministry would be unfortunate. I hope these will give us insight into improving our ministry in the days ahead. Have a great weekend!

  1. I almost feel the need to include the phrase “whatever that looks like” when I refer to the pandemic being over, this period of time coming to an end, or when we return to normal.

Don’t Forget Them!

John and Betty have been married for nearly 60 years. They share the same address but haven’t seen each other in six weeks. Manny needs a wheelchair to get around. He used to visit his friends each day, but today he’ll spend the day in his room. Someone will bring his meals to him, but his contact with other people will be very limited. Anna is confined to her bed. She has moments where she is lucid, but those moments seem to be fewer and fewer as each day merges into the next with virtually no human interaction.

I’m describing life in the retirement community in which I work. The people I’ve described are actual people (names changed). I’ve been able to talk to people from other retirement communities, and they live with similar restrictions to the ones our residents have to follow during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

Awhile ago, John and Betty sold their house and moved onto one of our two campuses. But John has his own apartment while Betty spends her days in a different wing that gives her the type of care she needs. If things were different, John could visit his wife and maybe even bring her to his apartment for the afternoon. But during this season of uncertainty, they have no contact other than phone calls. Manny may spend a brief amount of time each day in the common room but, like John and Betty, his contact with his family has been by phone. He’s not had a visit since this all started, though his kids bring food and an occasional card or gift to cheer him up. Anna is slowly fading. She is well-cared for by the nursing staff, but those are her only contacts. 

Different regions are heading toward some level of re-opening and we will soon have some semblance of the way life used to be. And we might think life will return to a level of normalcy for these kinds of people too. But not so fast! Given the fact that medical authorities believe people in that age bracket are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and given the spotlight on those who run retirement communities and nursing homes, it is more likely that many if not most of the restrictions will stay in place for several months.

Experts have written about the negative psychological impact of the “stay at home” lifestyle so many of us have lived with. Many of those who have stayed at home have their families at home with them. And many who have been home-bound have been in contact with friends and family through email, Facebook, FaceTime and other forms of technology. Despite those things, people are feeling depressed and lonely. But that’s even more true for a significant number of the people I’m writing about. The technology we take for granted as a normal part of life is foreign to many older folks, which means that they are cut off from some contact opportunities we enjoy.

I’m writing this because when churches open again and people can begin meeting, pastors need to be sure not to forget this group of elderly people. Many older people who have been at home will be not feel safe going out in public. So the ministry I hope you’ve had to them during this pandemic needs to continue. If communities and nursing homes open up to visitors again, they need a visit from someone in the church. If your older folks don’t come streaming back to church, they still need your care.

The focus of this blog is primarily, but not only, toward younger pastors. If you are a younger pastor, I wonder how you feel about ministering to people who are elderly.1 Some guys love this age group, and some are intimidated by their (sometimes) curmudgeonly behavior. But they are people who need companionship and comfort. And let’s not forget that many of your seniors have often given several decades of their lives to serving the church you now pastor.  

Remember that whatever will be our new normal will probably differ greatly from this age group’s coming new normal. Since vulnerability increases with age, it is likely that people in this age bracket will take greater precautions, expect the church to accommodate their precautions, and – as is true with those who are in retirement communities and nursing homes – will still be limited socially in ways that will prolong their feelings of loneliness. So please don’t forget them!

  1. In 1960 the average adult died in his or her late 60’s. Today the average adult lives to be close to 80. I seriously think we need to invent a new category for people in the 60ish-80ish range because many are too vibrant to be regarded as elderly. As someone who hits 67 this summer, I join many of my peers in thinking I’m still pretty much middle age. Self-deception? Maybe. But don’t call me a Senior Citizen or I’ll take you out of my will. It may be that churches who initially exclude people over 65 from coming to church should bump that up to 70. But check with your medical professionals, not a blogger.

15 Books to Add to Your Library, Part 2

On Wednesday I began this two-part post in which I identified 15 books that are worth your investment. Today I’ll list the remaining 8 books on my list.

In my email this morning was a daily email from MLB (Major League Baseball) that pointed to an article called “The Best to Never Win an MVP.” The article goes on to identify baseball players who, despite having really good seasons and careers, never won their league’s award for Most Valuable Player (MVP). This list is sort of like that. I’m identifying books that were of value to me and just might have slipped under the radar. So, in no particular order, here are some additional volumes that I would recommend.

I used to try to read at least one or two books on preaching each year. There is no lack of good books on the subject but I have appreciated Unashamed Workmen by Rhett Dodson and The Archer and the Arrow by Philip Jensen and Paul Grimmond. In addition, David Helm’s book Expository Preaching is worth the read. There are many others that are worthwhile, but what I liked about these books is that they reinforced the basics while giving some new thoughts on how to go about sermon preparation and presentation. Ok. That makes ten books.

One of the books that has ministered most to me is the compilation of Puritan prayers by Arthur Bennett titled, The Valley of Vision. Not only will these be of value to your own spiritual life, they can be used with your congregation. I used several to prepare our congregation for the Lord’s Table. There is a new book that is similar called Piercing Heaven by Robert Elmer. I don’t know if there is any overlap, but here is a review by Tim Challies. Tim likes it better than The Valley of Vision. So maybe you buy both.

One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm is also worthwhile. It’s a short book that is intended to help people learn to read the Bible together. Maybe the description will pique your interest: “Imagine if there was a way that people could grow in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ—a way that returned gospel growth to the everyday fabric of personal relationship, rather than relying on church-run programs. That guided people in a deeper, more meaningful way than an event, program or class could possibly do—guided on an individual basis by someone who cared for them personally.”

Kevin DeYoung is a fine writer and preacher, and included in his growing catalogue of good books is Taking God At His Word, which defines and defends the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. So far, most of the books I’ve recommended have been “practical” books, but this is anything but dry scholarship. I found it very encouraging.

A book that seems to be on a lot of people’s reading list right now is Dane Ortlund’s Gentle And Lowly. I believe this could be one of the most significant books that you will read. I’m partway through the book and it has been a wonderful reminder of who Jesus is and how he thinks of us. Read this for yourself, but let it shape the way you preach and pastor.

Finally, there are times when pastors need someone to minister to them, and this book by Paul Tripp, called New Morning Mercies, will do that. The book is a collection of Gospel-centered devotional readings for each day of the year.

I will add the same disclaimer as I did on Wednesday. While I like to recommend Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, I have linked to Amazon because of free shipping of you are a Prime member, and because they also sell used copies and Kindle copies of many of these books. But if you are purchasing at least $100 of books, check out Westminster. Not only will you be supporting a fine ministry, you may find that their prices are better in some cases than Amazon’s.

Have a great weekend! If you have a book that has been significant to you – either as a younger pastor or as a veteran – send me an email at bogert@fastmail.com and let me know. I would appreciate your feedback! I will see you on Monday!

15 Books to Add to Your Library

When I retired I gave away about 80% of my books. I kept one or two significant commentaries on each book of the Bible, as well as several important theological reference books. I also hung on to some books that I would want again if the door for ministry reopened down the road. I was a book junkie, and I would take a 15-minute drive to the seminary in our area and browse their bookstore every couple of weeks. I also benefitted from special sales and giveaways at conferences.

Books play a big part in the life of a pastor. Last week I thought about putting together a post on 10 books pastors would appreciate. It’s ended up being 15 books. My intention is not to put together a list of “the best” books in any particular area. Rather I wanted to suggest some titles that have been helpful to me. Some may be familiar to you, others maybe not. But all are worth your investment. So here goes, in no particular order:

I hope that you have read Mark Dever’s book 9 Marks of A Healthy Church. Going to a 9Marks seminar shortly after becoming our church’s Senior Pastor was incredibly significant. If you haven’t, you should read. But that’s not the one I wanted to recommend. Rather, I’ll point to a companion book by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander titled, The Deliberate Church. Read both and be challenged by their thinking.

Next let me encourage you to invest in the revised edition of the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. The one I had was originally done by Walter Elwell. I see that there is a new edition out from 2017. No doubt you have some systematic and biblical theologies in your library already, but this is a dictionary of theological ideas and terms written by a large number of scholars. I always thought that if I could only have 5 books with me on a desert island, this would be one of them (along with a study Bible, Calvin’s Institutes, a baseball encyclopedia and then something else that piqued my interest). I’m not saying it’s the be-all and end-all of theologies, but it is very helpful and worth the $60 bucks you have to pay for a new copy.

My next recommendation is Listen Up by Christopher Ash. This is a book about how to listen to a sermon. Elsewhere I recommended that you find the money somewhere in your budget to give every family a copy. You could even do a short series in Sunday School or prepare questions for small group discussion of the book. But aside from being helpful to those who listen, I think it can helpful to those who preach, as it will guide you in your presentation so that your people find it easier to listen well. Good stuff.

Next, I’ll recommend the best book I’ve read on helping relationships: Side by Side by Ed Welch. Whether you’re going through tough stuff and need help with what to share, or you’re helping a friend go is going through a hard time, you won’t find many books that are as helpful as this one.

Pastors have to conduct funerals, lead meetings, officiate at weddings, plan services, and do a lot of things that as new pastors they haven’t done before. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll reach for The Pastor’s Book by R. Kent Hughes. It’ll help you with holidays, planning service order, and doing the various pastoral tasks I mentioned above. A must have.

A book you may not use often, but will deeply appreciate, is Bryan Chapell’s The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help From Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times If you’re a pastor, you’ll have some “tragic times” to deal with as you shepherd your congregation. This book is a go-to for help on dealing with some hard stuff.

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung is one of the two best books on the subject of the will of God I’ve ever read. It is easy to read, humorous in spots, and DeYoung is a great writer. In addition, it is really helpful in guiding people – including pastors – away from some unhelpful forms of divining the will of God.

Ok. That’s seven (well, maybe 8 if you count both my Dever recommendations). I’ll finish up on Friday.

A word about the links. I like linking to Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, but I’ve chosen to link to Amazon for two reasons: first, you can often find used copies of some of these books and save some money, and second, if you have Amazon Prime, the shipping is free. However, check the prices at WTSbooks.com because if you spend $100 you get free shipping. Not only that, sometimes their prices are better than Amazon’s.

See you in a few days!!

A Semi-Reluctant Repost About Pastoral Care

This blog has had a very short life compared to most Christian blogs. I began For Younger Pastors back in June, 2019 and to date have posted a little over 130 times. What I am posting today is a lightly edited re-post of something I wrote back when the blog was new and I had about 5 people reading it.😁

On Wednesday I suggested that lessons learned during the current pandemic could hopefully lead to ushering in a new era of pastoral care. That doesn’t mean pastoral care is not happening. But an argument could be made that today’s church seems driven more by setting goals to expand size and programs. I have no way to judge someone’s motives, nor am I interested in doing that. But as I look at church websites and read church literature there is a subtle (and sometimes not all that subtle) self-promotion that concerns me a bit. So I wrote the following piece back in early August.

The reason for re-posting it is not that because it’s the last word on this subject. Others have done a far better job of analyzing and speaking to the concerns I raise. But I wanted to call attention to this issue again as we head (hopefully) toward the post-pandemic normal and resume our ministries. To some who follow this blog, this may be new reading. To others, I hope it will be a helpful reminder.

Let’s start off by looking at what David writes in Psalm 23:1-4 (ESV):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

I began thinking about this post after being asked a question and then reading an article. The question I was asked had to do with challenging our people without beating them up. The article I read talks about how we come across to our people. These verses speak to both the question I was asked and the article I read.

I wonder if you’ve ever considered the relevance of Psalm 23 to pastoral ministry. There are several attitudes and behaviors exhibited by the shepherd that the New Testament says ought to describe elders/pastors/teachers. And that leads me to ask how well we emulate the model that the David sets before us.

In Psalm 23 I see tenderness. I see awareness of the needs of the flock and I see determination to provide for those needs. God, the Shepherd, is leading David to rest and refreshment. He is guiding David in the right path and protecting him from that which would bring him harm.

When it comes to motivating our people, we may need to be firm, yet we should always be gentle. We do not need to breathe fire, nor do we need to yell at them. Back in the day people might have been motivated that way, and in some circles maybe they still are. But that doesn’t make it right. Rather than venting at our people or trying to guilt then into some response, we are to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2, ESV). That’s what the Shepherd would do.

What do people sense when we preach and when we lead? Do they sense anger? Disappointment? Disapproval? There are times when we need to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” But we should never be heavy-handed. We do not have the right to bear a whip that punishes when our Shepherd carries a rod and a staff that guides and protects.

To summarize so far, people should never feel that we are angry with them when we preach. Be firm. Be pointed. Be clear. But be gentle and loving. In addition, when we challenge our people as we must, we are to do so with “compete patience and teaching.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” So, when we speak to the flock we speak with the care of a shepherd for his sheep.

But this all leads to a rather important question: do you see your people as sheep, or have they become something else? Let me explain.

More and more I find churches describing themselves by a desire to be influential. That particular word is not used, but it summarizes what is often found in the mission statements or purpose statements on church websites. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a light in the darkness, we are not thinking clearly if we trade our focus as shepherds for one that increasingly calls its people to more and more activity. In other words, to put it plainly, our people do not exist in order to accomplish our goals for our churches.

We exist for them, not them for us. Is it possible that some of us have forgotten that?

Have you ever heard a Christian author or speaker speak (disparagingly) about the so-called “holy huddle?” The “holy huddle” usually refers to the idea that Christians and churches are inward-focused at the expense of those who are outside of Christ. That certainly should not be true of any of us.

But let me suggest that those who raise what I think is often a straw man argument about this “holy huddle” kind of church forget that, unlike those of us in ministry, our people spend their days working in a messy world. They are immersed in an increasingly godless environment. They deal with far more “yuck” in the workplace than most of us in ministry have had to deal with for a long time.

Pastors are not required to sit through diversity seminars that promote a morality that is unbiblical. But our people have to do that. Pastors have the privilege of working on a daily basis with fellow-Christians. But the people in our churches work with those who can’t go a few sentences without using extreme profanity. If they are identified as Christians, they may be called Bible-thumpers. They are in a world that beats them down. They come to church on Sunday worn and weary. They are desperately in need of encouragement and sound teaching. They need a shepherd to lead them to where their souls can be restored. But do they find restoration or are they regularly being challenged and recruited for our next big thing?

Look, I get it. Buildings need building, parking lots need paving, and broken stuff needs fixing. There’s an ongoing need for workers. People need Christ. But we can never forget that our primary pastoral function is to feed, guide, and protect the flock. That takes precedence over whatever project we think needs to be done and whatever programs we come up with. And here’s why: God clearly wants your people to grow to be like Jesus. But it’s very possible that he doesn’t want your church to be larger and influential. He may want your church to be overwhelmingly ordinary. And the irony is that if we neglect the care of our people, or subordinate the task of building them up, we may end up failing to equip them to be lights in the darkness they live in five or six days a week.

In no way am I advocating that we abandon a godly desire for our church to accomplish much for the Lord. We don’t want to ignore lost people around us.

But as pastors, if our dreams (or ambitions) – however noble – for impacting our world are the main driving force of our ministry, we will end up viewing our people more as the means to accomplishing our goals than as people who need quiet waters, green pastures, and restored souls. Our people will become beasts of burden, constantly called to work harder.

Where that happens our forgetfulness of our primary role will only come back to hurt us in time. And that’s because it’s going to lead to a church full of tired, discouraged sheep.

May God give us the grace to shepherd the flock that has been entrusted to us.

Let’s Usher In A New Era of Pastoral Care

I’ve been slowly reading through Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly. The book is subtitled The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Using Scripture and the writings of the Puritans, Ortlund very effectively shows how Jesus does not look at his people with a disappointed frown, but with gentle, pursuing love. You can find the book at Amazon or at Westminster Books, and here is a review by David McLemore over at For the Church. (You’ll get a better price at Westminster for the physical edition, but Amazon has the Kindle edition for $8.)

Summing up in his review, McLemore writes:

The everlasting, all-sufficient love of Jesus is where the power of this book lies. If you need a love you don’t warrant but can’t stop longing for. If you need a love bigger than your sin. If you need a love that sits with you in the ashes of your burned-out life. If you need a love too great to be limited to what you deserve, this book is for you. It’s for all who will come. It’s for all who sin and suffer and reach for a savior that understands their need. It’s for all who are weary and need rest. It’s for all who mourn and long for comfort. It’s for all who feel worthless—of which I never seem to stop feeling—and wonder if God cares. This book will help you see he does. Oh, he does!

Have you ever felt that you’ve let Jesus down? That you’ve failed him? And has that led you to think that – if you could be in his presence – he’d be looking at you with arms folded, a bit of a grimace on his face? Because of our experience with other people in our lives, this kind of response is probably default for many of us. It is a book that I would recommend to you and one that I’d suggest you recommend to your people.

However . . .

As I was reading and thinking through what Dane Ortland writes, I was struck with the implications it had for pastoral ministry. Consider these verses:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11 ESV)

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ (Jeremiah 31:10 ESV)

As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Ezekiel 34:12 ESV)

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (1 Peter 5:2 ESV)

So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; (Ezekiel 34:5 ESV)

I’ve quoted these passages to show three things: first, that God identifies himself as a tender shepherd; second, that pastors are called to be shepherds; third, that a failure to shepherd puts the flock at risk. There are many other places where these themes are found, but these will suffice.

If pastors are to shepherd God’s flock, then pastors are to emulate – and maybe more importantly – point to the tender nature of God.

I wonder how we are doing with that?

Over the last months of this pandemic I’ve read a good deal about pastors caring for their people. Numerous blog posts have shared ways in which this can be done and why it is so essential. But here’s my question – when we are able to gather again, will we gradually resume our programs and forget what we have learned about pastoral care?

Today I read this in an article by a Murray Campbell. I’d encourage you to read the whole article, not only because it’s really good, but to give the following quote some context:

By different, again I’m not arguing for anti-excellence, but rather I’m calling for simple faithfulness that is driven by core Gospel principles. These include making disciples, the centrality of reading and preaching the Word, preaching the whole counsel of God, permeating everything with prayer, and letting the congregation be heard when singing.

Shepherding needs to be personal, and while programs and events can be helpful, they cannot take the place of the pastor-to-individual-sheep connection. Shepherding also needs to be corporate, which means that sermons need to be more than religious Ted Talks. And when we preach, we must deal with sin but do so in a way that leads people to the Gentle Shepherd. He embraces his people. He does not hold them at arm’s length.

Maybe this pandemic will usher in a new season of pastoral care. Maybe when we are talking about what our congregations need, our thoughts and discussions will be more about people and less about programs. Maybe we will have learned to be better shepherds and put administration and programming back in their proper secondary place. Young pastor, if you are trying to find your way among the various “styles” of ministry out there, choose being a shepherd. Please, for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of your people. And older pastor – maybe it’s time to recalibrate.

What Comes Next? (Part 2)

I began a short series on Wednesday in which I shared thee answers to questions I asked some pastor friends. These are guys with a pastor’s heart. They are faithful men, having served in their church for a year to two to several decades.

I wanted to know their thoughts about how pastoral work during the pandemic might carry on after life is back to whatever life is going to be like. But I also asked about what they’ve been reading during this time.

One pastor said, “I’ve really been enjoying Tim Keller’s new trio of little books, On Birth, On Marriage, and On Death.”

Another said, “There are two Biblical Theology books I have been spending time reading. The first is one that my excellent friend purchased, The Story Retold by G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. The second one is A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, edited by Michael J. Kruger. These are excellent for getting back to the basis of the author’s intent to help me understand why the particular book was written.”

A third said, “Things have been busier than before, so not a lot of time for extra reading, but my daily reading through the New Testament this year has seemed more meaningful and deeper. And looking at some sermons that I had preached in previous years has proved beneficial. That’s something I rarely have had time to do before!”

Just commenting on the latter response, it’s helpful to review your sermons for several reasons. Regardless of how long you’ve been preaching you can see progress or pick out ways in which you need to improve.

The final question I asked was “What have you learned from this time that you’d like to share with other pastors?” Here are the responses:

One pastor wrote, “It has been meaningful to me to be home 4-5 nights a week. I’d love to figure out how to accomplish this once life gets back to “normal.” In this regard, I don’t want to go back to normal if that means being out 15 nights a month.”

(Me – Amen, brother!!)

He continues:

“Our people have a greater capacity for handling change than we thought- especially if the change is seen as necessary. We’ve seen a lot of people transition to on-line giving- something that we would not have expected prior to these events. We’ve had people share that they didn’t think that they would like having worship services online, but are appreciating them greatly.”

“Now that most of us are becoming “televangelists,” please LOOK AT THE CAMERA when you preach. Don’t be creepy about it by staring it down. But please stop relying on your notes. You don’t need them. They are a crutch. Go back and watch your last sermon. Count how many seconds you are looking up and how many you are looking down. Better, let someone else count. If you are looking down more than 10 seconds out of 60, you are missing a huge chance to connect. Know the medium. This is not radio. People see you- and only you. Let them know that you care enough about them to look at them. You may think that you are fooling people, but we know when you aren’t looking at us. By the way, this is advice that applies just as much when people are in the room. The difference is that now you can see for yourself what everyone else has been seeing for years.”

Good words! Another pastor shared the following: “The level of our importance must be wrapped around the words of encouragement and support. It is not so much of sharing how much we know of the Scriptures but instead sharing our love as we guide them into the Scriptures.”

A third pastor wrote this: “I am praying that God uses this virus to bring an awakening to our churches and our nation, but so far, it seems to me that most Christians have not been impacted, spiritually, by the new norm. For example, I thought believers would be hungry for fellowship and worship, via zoom, but that’s not been the case. I fear that too many church folks are just waiting out the storm instead of seizing the opportunities before them. I also would love to see local churches and especially pastors supporting one another, but everyone seems busy with their own congregations. So once again I am learning to be faithful; love the flock; draw close to the Lord; keep up my exercises and reaching out to others; and trust Him!”

One other pastor put it quite simply: “Never take the gathered church for granted!”

I appreciate each of the responses I received. I hope you can see the pastor’s heart I referred to in what they have said, and I hope that you will find some encouragement and challenge in their words.

What Comes Next?

Some places around the world are starting to open up. Hopefully it won’t be too long before pastoral life returns to normal. But what will that normal look like?

I asked several pastor friends to answer three questions about re-opening, what they’ve learned, etc. Here is the first one:

  1. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way pastors minister in some significant ways. Is there something you have started doing, or something you have started doing differently, that you plan to continue when things get back to normal?

One pastor shared this:

We started a weekly “Pastors Chat” where two of us do a 10 minute video just talking about what is happening at church. We also try to include a little bit of our lives in the conversation so people can connect with us better. We have been asked by multiple people to continue this mid-week video even after the crises ends.

Maybe the obvious answer for many congregations, including us, is that we finally got our worship service online. We’ve had great response from shut-ins asking that this continue. For that matter, others are excited that they will be able to stay connected with the church even when they are out of the area or sick. I already hoped to have this option for guests so that they can know what to expect before setting foot on our church property.

Another pastor wrote:

The pandemic has caused me to be more mindful of checking in on all our people more regularly than before. That feels like something I should have been better at before the crisis, but certainly ought to continue beyond.

A third pastor shared these thoughts:

I started several Zoom meetings, but the one, in particular, I am going to stay in is the Wednesday night Bible Study. Even when we return, while we are in the room together, I am going to have my laptop and log onto Zoom, so those unable to attend physically will be able to join. I also started Facebook live with my wife, and we will continue to do Bible studies each week. We started YouTube live-streaming on Sunday and will continue with that. We have simplified our ministry of which, I am pushing toward keeping it simple and take out the need for being out each night. We are looking at doing Zoom meetings with the Elders and deacons more frequently.

Finally, a fourth pastor answered this way:

Recording my sermons on You Tube has proved very helpful in people sharing it with others, including the unchurched, so that is worth looking into. I think zoom small group meetings could prove helpful is for some reason we couldn’t meet in person, like because of weather.

It seems pretty clear that the technology adopted during this time has some significant uses going forward. Whereas broadcasting live used to be quite an effort, options exist for it to be done much more simply, and as the fourth pastor said above, having services online – whether live or archived on YouTube or the church website – makes it possible for people to point friends to their church.

In addition, it appears that the ability to conduct meetings online will allow church leaders to spend more time at home and less time traveling to meetings. In order to fully participate all committee or board members will need to be technologically savvy enough to use these tools. But anything pastors can do to make their leaders lives a bit easier, considering they are already busy people, is worthwhile.

I also like the idea of allowing people who can’t come to a small group meeting to attend via Zoom or some other service.

On Friday I’ll share the responses of these good men to my second question, which is:

Is there anything you’ve read during this period where things might be a bit slower that has been meaningful to you?

If you’re a pastor, how would you answer these first two questions? Share your answers in the comments section. Thanks for stopping by.