Tools of the Trade – Special Edition

Rather than do my usual Friday Files post, I thought I’d catch up a bit with some of the articles that I’ve found over the last two weeks that I haven’t yet linked to. I’ll finish the list in my regular posting on Monday. These are going to center primarily on communicating the Word, so read and mark, read and mark. And by the way, my main gripe with the new Evernote seems to have been removed. I have to install it yet, but that awaits the arrival of a new MacBook Air. Whoo hoo.

Ben Mandrell talks about 8 Tips for Unforgettable Bible Teaching. This is one for pastors to read, but it is also one to be shared with small group leaders and Sunday school teachers.

Ryan Higgenbottom advises us to not save all our application to the end of our sermons/lessons.

Kevin DeYoung has some words about pastors and politics, and suggests that sometimes saying nothing may be the best course of action.

Peter Krol gives advice on making the most of virtual small groups.

The folks at 9Marks continue their series on preaching. This one is “On the Personal Process of Writing a Sermon.”

Trevin Wax has been doing a series on reading the Bible more accurately.

Finally, Matt Henslee gives some advice about online sermons, something a lot of churches are having to do, continue to do, and may keep doing depending on the pandemic goes.

Remember, It’s A Privilege!

From time to time I mention that I’ve been retired from pastoral ministry for the last three years. My final sermon at the church I served was in June, 2017. Then in early August of that year I had the privilege of preaching at the First Baptist Church of Crestmont, in Abington, PA. First Baptist is a growing African-American congregation, and their pastor, Jerome Coleman, was kind enough to invite me to preach there before we moved to where we live now. It was a wonderful time, and I will never forget the kindness Jerome and his people showed to me. But since then these vocal chords have been stilled. Well, at least in terms of preaching.

We visited a number of churches, but in January we began attending a church plant in the Lehigh Valley. Several months ago our pastor, Ben Triestman, asked if I would be able to preach for him. Then the pandemic hit and everything shut down. Like many churches, Orchard Hills Church is streaming its services. Initially I was going to preach live on July 19 with no congregation, but that was changed to recording a sermon this past Tuesday to be used this coming Sunday, July 26. In contrast to the last time I had preached, with a church filled with enthusiastic worshippers, on Tuesday there were two guys in the room with me. And they were wearing masks, so I have no idea if I put them to sleep!

Preaching after a long layoff was a great experience, even in Tuesday’s unusual setting. As I prepared and preached, and then thought about how it felt to preach again, a number of thoughts came to mind. But the one thought that has been most dominant is this: preaching is an incredible privilege.

Just think: we have the inspired, inerrant Word of God, transmitted through the centuries through great sacrifice, telling us everything that God wants us to know so that we might be his children and honor him in the way we live. Then we have churches composed of sinful people, many of whom are are now counted righteous before God because of Jesus. And between the Word and the Church are frail people like you and me who are entrusted with the task of teaching God’s Word to God’s People and inviting those who are not part of God’s family to repent and believe the Words about the Word (Jesus).

There is nothing routine about that, no matter how many times you’ve preached. I was reminded of that again, as I often was when I was serving as a pastor. And this weekend as you stand before your church and open the Bible with them, I hope you will be reminded of the awe-inspiring opportunity that God has given you.

Knowing the greatness of our privilege as preachers prevents hubris, keeps us from being casual in our study and our delivery, and reminds us that we are dealing with the stuff of eternity.

I was sharing some of these thoughts with a friend who is also a retired pastor and he said this: “Preaching is a privilege…a wonderful and great adventure. I loved every minute of that. It carries a burden however. The thought that your words given by God Almighty can change a life for eternity–WOW!”

“Wow” is right. If you’ve lost that sense of how privileged we are, may God rekindle that in your heart. God bless you!

About Sermon Notes

Last week Dr. Michael Krueger wrote an article that I linked to on Monday in which he discussed the use of a full manuscript when preaching. He was not arguing against having one so much as he was appealing to preachers to avoid using a manuscript in the wrong way. I found his arguments to be helpful. I think this point is especially significant:

One of the major drawbacks of writing a sermon is that very few people can write a sermon in the kind of language that can effectively be preached. What makes for effective written communication is not always what makes for effective oral communication. Indeed, they are often like two different languages–the pace, the style, the cadence, and even the vocabulary can be notably different.

I have a friend who preaches from a full manuscript. He enlarges the font to 28 points and does a good deal of page flipping. But I don’t feel like he is reading the sermon to me. At the same time I’ve also seen preachers – especially younger guys – be so tied to their manuscript that they have little eye contact with their people. When that happens, a sermon is more like someone reading a bedtime story. And it can produce the same result.

While preaching from a manuscript may not be the best, writing one can be helpful. Dr. Krueger says:

The benefits of writing out a full manuscript are many. It forces the preacher to think clearly about each of their points and how to develop them, it helps the preacher think through transitions between points (something often overlooked), it helps keep the sermon within the desired time limit, and the exact wording allows for more theological precision.

I would typically type out a full manuscript, trying my best to write so that it had the same style I used when I was in a conversation. I rarely, if ever, brought that manuscript into the pulpit, but writing it gave me the opportunity to plan what I wanted to say more carefully.

After my full manuscript was complete, I’d boil it down to a working outline. I had a template in Microsoft Word that arranged the margins so I could trim the pages to 9×6 inches. That size fit into my Bible and was less visible and easier for me to fit on the pulpit.

Mine was a typical outline of headings and subheadings, but I would include reminders of things I wanted to stress and full paragraphs here and there if I wanted to be extra sure to state something precisely. If I had a quote or other Scripture on a visual, I would highlight a note to myself in yellow so that I was prompted to advance PowerPoint. I would end up with 3-5 9×6 sheets after trimming them down. So instead of taking 5-6 full-width pages with me, I could look at a smaller, narrower, sheet and that kept me on target.

Some pastors preach without notes. I admire guys who can do that and stay on task. I needed an outline. You may have learned something different, or you may be trying a variety of approaches to learn what works best for you. And in the end, that’s probably the best criteria for determining what kind of notes you use: what works best so that you communicate God’s Word in natural and clear manner?

Enhance Your Ministry With Some Free Resources

A couple of months ago I was noodling through some baseball-related websites online and came across a site that I had never seen before. I shared this with some other baseball lovers on a discussion forum and like me, it was also new to them. For those interested in baseball history, it’s a treasure trove of information. I’ve been online for 25 years or more, but I had never seen that resource.

I was going through my web browser’s bookmark folder the other day, removing links to websites that were obsolete or no longer of interest to me. In doing that, I came across my list of Christian and Bible-related websites.

If you are a young pastor, you are in the process of building a library. Whether you build a library of books or you use a software program like Logos or Accordance for the bulk of your library, it takes a substantial financial investment. Most young pastors don’t have limitless funds. You may have some basic reference tools and perhaps a modest (or maybe even small) library of commentaries and theology texts. And you wish you had more.

As I was going through the links in my Christian/Bible-related folder, I thought about sharing a few of the ones that can be very helpful in supplementing your personal library. So here are some sites that you should bookmark. Maybe there’s one or two here that will be to you what that baseball site was for me.

The name 9Marks may be familiar to you. I have often linked to articles from 9Marks on Mondays. But they have a great selection of resources in their online articles and downloadable journals that you may find very helpful. You probably won’t find much in the way of Bible exposition, but you will find articles about church life, pastoral ministry, and theological/ecclesiastical trends. If you have an issue you’re dealing with in your church life or ministry, make sure you take a look at their resources page.

Wish you could take a seminary class? Some are available via iTunesU, but check out for some college or seminary-level classes. You may find a class that you can download and work through at your own pace that will supplement your education. Here’s a link to their website.

Many of us use PowerPoint in our preaching and teaching. It can be helpful to show a map or other visual when we are explaining a text. has a collection of over 5,000 images that can be used in your ministry. From all I can tell, these pictures are free for use. Check them out here.

Theological journals are a great way to keep up with current trends, new books, and discussions of theological issues. There are several online, but two I would recommend are The Master’s Seminary Journal and Themelios. Add to that Credo Magazine and you have a good collection of online periodicals to refer to. Some of these sites allow downloading PDF files. Look at The Master’s Seminary Journal here. Themelios can be found here. Credo Magazine can be found here.

Here is one of my favorites. Commentaries can be very helpful in understanding the meaning of a passage, but it can often be helpful to see how others are presenting the passage. The Gospel Coalition has an extensive set of links to both audio and document files of sermons and lectures. You can search by topic or by passage. Check it out.

The Instititute of Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (IBCD) has a decent collection of articles and talks (some audio) on very practical subjects relating to, uh, counseling and discipleship. Very helpful resources can be found here.

Finally, the Proclamation Trust is a British ministry that equips pastors to preach well. Their resources include sermons and instructional audio material. Look here.

I’m scratching the surface of Christian websites, but resources like these can extend your learning and provide help in your personal life, your sermon/lesson preparation, and your pastoral ministry.

Is there anything on this list that’s new to you? Oh, and if you’re interested in that baseball site, here you go.

Have a good week, and I will see you on Friday. Thanks again for stopping by! And don’t forget, Evernote is your friend.

Tools of the Trade for February 24, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Here are some links that you may find helpful. Let me encourage you again to share some of these with your people.

Kevin DeYoung encourages preachers with his article “How to Improve Your Preaching.”

Sometimes we wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into as pastors. Ronnie Martin helps us with: “I Am A Pastor, Therefore I Fear” is a great reminder for any pastor.

Jason S. Derouchie contributes to the discussion on preaching from the Old Testament in this article called “Jesus’s Only Bible.”

Speaking of the Old Testament, Colin Adams writes “Ten Quick Suggestions For Reading Old Testament Narrative.”

Here’s one to read and share: Lydia Brownback writes “How God Sees Me.”

Jared Wilson’s Podcast discusses the subject of pastors and plagiarism.

Aaron Menikoff gives us “5 Reasons Pastors Ought to Pray for Slow Growth.”

Jonathan Baer reviews book by Jason Allen called “Discerning Your Call to Ministry.”

Tim Challies originally linked to this article by Aaron Wilson on “75 Icebreaker Question for Church Small Groups.”

So good: Devon Provencher’s “An Open Letter to a Children’s Ministry Worker.”

It seems that there is a general reawakening of interest in the Psalms. David Gundersen gives us “5 Reasons Pastors Need the Psalms.”

Eric Schumacher writes “Church Song is Corporate Preaching.” Which is one reason why we need to avoid dopey songs.

Hopefully you are compensated fairly for your work. But if not, this article may be of some help. Greg Phelan answers the question, “Can I Ask for a Raise at My Ministry Job?”

I hope you have a great week! I’ll see you again on Wednesday. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Draw Straight Lines to the Text

Any good book you read about sermon preparation is going to say something like this: the point of the sermon should be the point of the text. You could say it backwards too: the point of the text should be the point of the sermon. 

The Biblical text is not there to be used as a jumping off point for us to share our ideas. A fellow pastor was talking the other week about a sermon he heard based on Luke’s account of what we call The Prodigal Son. The speaker used that passage to share tips on handling money. That’s awful. The point of the sermon had nothing to do with the point of the text.

When I was preaching regularly, it would bother me when I did not feel I preached well. It probably bothers you a bit too when you have those days. I could live with that. But I never wanted to look back on a sermon and know that I had not handled the text properly.

When I use that expression – handle the text properly – I mean that the points of the sermon could be clearly seen in the passage I was preaching. I didn’t want my people to wonder, “Where on earth did he get that?” I wanted them to see that what they were hearing was a representation of what the text actually said.

When we are at the point where we’re writing our sermons, before it reaches its final form, we need to ask ourselves if we have taken each of our points from the text. If we can’t answer in the affirmative, our job is not done.

One reason (and there are many) why this step is essential is that when we preach, we are teaching our people how to read the Bible. If we are not careful, they will learn not to be careful. If we come up with something obscure, they will be more likely to come up with obscure meanings and applications. 

Sometimes a point I was making in my sermon lent itself to a few moments of explaining how I got there. In other words, I would say, in effect, “Let me show you where I got this from.” It was an opportunity to give a brief lesson in reading the Bible well.

If you have been in a small group Bible study, you know that people can make exegetical blunders. Every small group leader has had that uncomfortable moment when someone has come up with something that’s a bit “out there.” As pastors, we can’t do that. Yet we’ve all probably heard a well-meaning preacher come up with an obscure or out-of-left-field point.

You do not want to be that guy.

One of the best ways to be sure we are staying on target is sequential expositional preaching. Topical preaching has its place. But if our preaching follows the pattern of choosing a subject and then finding a passage to support it, it is very possible to press a meaning into the text that is not there.

Before you close down your study for this coming weekend’s sermon, the Sunday School class you are teaching, or the small group you are leading, ask yourself: Can I draw straight lines from the points I am making to the biblical text?

Tools of the Trade for February 3, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

I hope you’ve had a good weekend. Here are some links to read, file, and share.

For Pastors/Church Leaders

David Murray, always worth reading, writes about guarding our relationship with God. It’s easy to let that become part of our “professional” persona.

This Podcast, with Tim Chester, asks the question “Are We Undervaluing the Lord’s Supper?”

There’s an intriguing statement in this article about the source of power in our ministry. “All Christian work is about responsibility without authority. Therefore, it’s easy to get discouraged.” Thought provoking and worth the read.

If you interview for a position in a church, you’re going to be answering a lot of questions. But what should you be asking? Jeff Robinson shares some insights.

Peter Mead, from, talks about some preaching paradoxes that originated with John Stott.

This article is from a secular source, but it describes 10 characteristics of good learners. These kinds of articles can be helpful for those wanting others to learn.

If your church is not familiar with some of the great creeds of the Christian faith, here’s a short introduction.

Sad story, great point. Don’t overlook older people in your church.

Here are “5 Lessons on Faithful Endurance from a Longtime Pastor.”

Gene Edward Veith writes “An Open Letter to the Pastor in a Post-Christian World.”

What are your people wondering about and asking when they hear you preach? David Qaoud gives us some food for thought.

For You and Your People

My wife loves snow, but to her disappointment there’s been very little snow for us this winter. We’ve had a 3 inch “storm” and two half-inchers that have barely covered the grass. Driving has been without difficulty. However, it’s been generally grey and dismal. Winter can affect what’s going on inside of us as well, and David Mathis writes an incredibly helpful article on that subject.

Have a great week!

Tools of the Trade for January 27, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

For Pastors

We are blessed with a large number of Bible study guides for personal or group use. But some are better than others. How do you tell the good ones from the ones you should pass by? Taylor Turkington gives some advice for evaluating study guides.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to visit a number of churches over the last year or two. I’ve seen interviews, discussions, and video-driven talks in the place of the sermon. Here’s an argument for keeping the traditional sermon.

My friend Jay once suggested going to the back of our auditorium for the benediction. Why even bother giving one? Drew Hunter explains the value and place of the benediction in the worship service.

This article, written primary for church planters, is still relevant for young men embarking on their first pastorate. It’s called Planting Churches With a Lasting Gospel Legacy.

Here’s another reason why it’s good to know even a little bit about church history.

Religious liberty is a hot topic in the news today, and the current administration made a statement earlier this month that church leaders should be aware of.

9Marks’ Jonathan Leeman has started a series called “Preachers Talk” Here’s where you can download the first 30-minute episode.

The commonly quoted stat is that “faithful” church attendance is something like two or three times a month. Phil Newton writes about how pastors can encourage church attendance.

I find articles on productivity to be helpful at times, as long as they don’t send us on a quest for productivity perfection or make us focus on tasks to the exclusion of people. I’ll link to an article from time to time that might have a helpful nugget. Here’s one.

Reviews and recommendations of this book have appeared on a number of sites over the last few weeks. I’m sure it would be hard reading, but there are people in your church who have been abused, and you need to know both how to help them and what to give them to read. This is a review of Mez McConnell’s “The Creaking on the Stairs.”

To Share

The Apostle Paul was aware that prayer on behalf of his ministry was vital. Following his example, it is appropriate that we ask our people to pray for us. Colin Adams shares Something You Could Pray for Preachers. Put it on your literature table.

People going through hard times need to be reminded often that God is good and that he is with them in their times of trouble. This article, by Marshall Segal, will be a great encouragement to your people.

This is one for pastors to read too, but also one that you can share. It provides counsel on helping Christians struggling with depression. David Murray has written extensively on this topic.

Have a good week!

Give Them A Head’s Up

By now (I hope) you know what you are preaching on Sunday. But do your people know?

Does that matter? I think so. When I watch a movie, I want to know what it’s about. I don’t need to know the whole plot or story line, but knowing the nature of the film is helpful. The same is true with TV shows and books. Though the information might be minimal, it prepares us for what we’re going to watch or read.

Your church probably has an email list. I want to suggest that you send an email to your people on Friday or Saturday with the following information:

  1. Remind them that there is a worship service on Sunday and encourage them to attend. In a day when “regular church attendance” is often viewed as twice a month, it doesn’t hurt to include a line that conveys “I’m hoping to see you on Sunday morning.” And on occasion, a kind admonition as to why they ought to come is certainly in order.
  2. Tell them what passage you are preaching from and encourage them to read it before coming on Sunday.
  3. Give them the basic theme of your sermon. You might be reluctant to give away the “punch line.” But you can identify the topic and possibly also indicate why it is important.
  4. If there are important announcements, briefly list them. If your people get used to relying on the church bulletin and your email, you won’t have to spend as much time making announcements during the worship service.

You could approach this by inviting people to sign up to receive your email, but I’d encourage against that. You have the list, and while you don’t want to abuse that, you’re not going to be overtaxing their inbox with a short email. And it needs to be short. If it takes them more than a minute to read it, they may not bother.

We need to pull out all the stops when it comes to helping our people engage with the sermon. An end-of-week email can do that. A mid-week email briefly identifying the main points of your sermon and the main application can also be a helpful way of refreshing their memories.

You probably won’t see the results of this practice, but I do believe it is helpful. Let me encourage you to give it a shot.

A friend of mine has a funeral today, and I was reminded of the great opportunity funerals provide for preaching the Gospel. It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to have unsaved people present at every funeral. They may be friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members. And they need to hear the Gospel message.

I was sharing with my friend that I purchased a quantity of Randy Alcorn’s booklet on Heaven. He has written a full-length book on the subject, but this little booklet, available at Amazon for $1.99 is contains some biblical answers about life after death and a clear presentation of the Gospel. Near the close of the service I would say something to the effect that a the loss of a friend or loved one reminds us of our own mortality. Then I would invite people to take a booklet if they had questions.

We had a ledge on the back wall of our auditorium that was a perfect place for a couple dozen booklets. I would suggest that you put them somewhere close to where people naturally pass by on their way out, but not in a place where it looks like you’re hawking them. And by all means, don’t charge for them.

I hope you have a good weekend of ministry! Whether you are preaching, teaching, or engaged in some other form of ministering to your people, may God bless your efforts to serve him!

Tools of the Trade for January 20, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

Ligonier published an article from the late (and greatly missed) R.C. Sproul on “Accepting ‘No’ As God’s Will.” His comments on prayer are helpful.

Kevin DeYoung writes about God’s existence, presenting the doctrine in less than 500 words. This is a helpful summary and starting point for study.

This is not from a Christian site, but “15 Effortless Memorization Tricks to Remember Anything” may come in handy. I include it this week because I didn’t want to forget. (I know. Corny.)

Colin Adams writes “The Eleven Commandments for Long Winded Preachers.” Not that any of us need that, but we might have a friend who . . .

How are Christians to deal with the various purity laws in the OT? Some of them get thrown in our face when discussing the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. Here’s a helpful article by Peter Leithart.

This article on handling disagreement has a host of applications.

If you’re looking for a helpful conference to attend, The Institute for Expository Preaching with Steven Lawson would be worth considering. Details here.

Tim Challies reviews a new book by Jared Wilson, The Gospel According to Satan. Read it here.

Ministry can become task-driven, but it needs to be people-driven. Here’s an article by Nicholas Batzig on loving the people God has put under our care.

In our Sunday pastoral prayer, we used to pray for a specific nation where Christians are persecuted. Joe Carter tells us where Christians are most likely to face danger.

Sometimes we can preach on a specific sin and leave people feeling that there’s no hope. John Sloan talks about this in relation to abortion.

John Muhlfeld writes in the Tabletalk magazine about Encouraging Men in Ministry. There are so many ways in which this can be applied. Read it and ask God to bring someone specific to mind.

Finally – and I might be the first Christian blogger to break this news – cartoon genius Gary Larson has a website where he displays some of his previous work from The Far Side and promises some new material. Oh joy!!!

Have a good week!

Create your website with
Get started