8 Ways to Develop Pastoral Antennae

It can be difficult for young pastors to develop pastoral antennae, that is, a sensitivity to and awareness of needs in his congregation that he should follow up with a call or a visit.

Seminary can be partly to blame for this as students have usually dedicated three to four years of their lives to a necessarily self-focused life of reading, papers, lectures, etc. Then they come out into the “real world” (or “real church”) and it can often be difficult to switch on to the needs of others and focus on serving people again. Books and studies can seem much more appealing than people and their problems.

If the student has kept actively involved in a local church throughout his studies and taken on internship opportunities, this can mitigate the stunting or numbing of pastoral antennae. But in even the best of cases, help is often needed to develop pastoral awareness and devote oneself to serving others, if needy people are not to feel neglected or forgotten. Here are some suggestions for growing and sensitizing pastoral antennae—for young and old.

1. Develop a systematic program of visitation

The pastor should develop a plan for how to regularly visit his whole congregation. If it’s a small congregation (say under 50 households), perhaps he could aim to visit each household twice a year. If it’s 100-120 households, the aim should be once a year. Although that may sound too ambitious, it only works out at two to three home visits a week, while still allowing for the pastor’s vacations and other weeks when extra workload or emergencies might make visitation impossible.

2. Read the church bulletin

The church bulletin should not be viewed just as a source of information but as a motivator of action. The young pastor would do well to carefully read the bulletin every week to identify any pastoral needs that have been sent to the bulletin secretary. It might be a sickness, a bereavement, an impending operation, a student moving to study elsewhere, a military deployment, a birth of a child, a special anniversary or birthday, and so on. The pastor should read the bulletin each week with a view to identifying such needs and opportunities and following up with at least a phone call, and ideally a visit.

3. Scan the church directory

When I was a full-time pastor, at the beginning of every week, I would scan the congregational directory of members and non-members attending the congregation. This would often jog my memory to follow-up on a visit or remember a need I had perhaps forgotten. I would also be praying for the Lord to lay on my heart any person or family that he would have me to visit, recognizing that the Lord knows things that I don’t.

4. Keep notes

Pastoral needs will often be identified in a passing conversation at the church door, or in the car park, or while visiting others in the congregation. I could never rely on my memory to make sure I followed up on these and therefore always carried an index card in my shirt pocket where I would write down any people that I should call in the following days.

5. Consult with colleagues

Elders and deacons should automatically inform the pastor as needs arise in their districts (assuming that the congregation has been divided in that way). If that’s not happening, then the pastor should be in regular touch with deacons and elders asking if they know of anyone who should be visited. Hopefully that will begin to breed a culture of automatic communication as needs arise.

6. Clarify responsibilities

I’m part of a pastoral team now, with two of us part-time and one of us full-time. As it can be easy for confusion to arise and for needs to fall through the gaps in a team ministry, we decided that our full-time pastor would take full responsibility for pastoral visitation. We’ve also communicated this to the congregation so that any pastoral need goes straight to one pastor to decide what action to take. He can call, visit, or assign the visits to either of us two part-timers. We also let him know of any needs we have heard of and any visits that we would like to make.

7. Keep in touch with Titus 2:3-5 women

There are usually a handful of older women in the congregation who have their finger on the pulse of the membership, especially the women members. The pastor would be wise to encourage these women to communicate to him any needs they become aware of so that they can decide together what kind of pastoral involvement would be helpful, possibly with the help of his wife.

8. Mingle widely on Sundays

After church is a great opportunity to keep in regular contact with a wide range of people in the congregation. The pastor should avoid gravitating to those they are most comfortable with and seek to cultivate relationships throughout the range of people in his church. As he does so, he should be listening and watching for pastoral needs which are then followed up with a call or a visit.

If the pastor prayerfully follows these suggestions, over the years he will develop strong and sensitive pastoral antennae, enabling him to shepherd his sheep wisely, skillfully, and enjoyably.

For more on pastoral visitation see A “normal” week of pastoral ministry and A “normal” pastoral visit.

I’m Humbled to be an American

The letter my family’s been waiting for has just arrived. Nine months after starting the citizenship process, we’ve been asked to attend the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids on 15 March for a “Naturalization Oath Ceremony to complete the naturalization process.” Yes, we’ve been approved for US. citizenship! Why have we taken this massive step?

When I came here 10 years ago with my family to serve at Puritan Reformed Seminary, I arrived with a deep sense of divine calling. Far from diminishing, the sense of call to serve here has only strengthened over the past decade. As a pastor, I’d never say “Never” about returning to Scotland or moving to another country. If God calls, I must obey. However, at age 51 it’s looking less and less likely that another major life change like that is around the corner.

My oldest son, Allan, is already an American citizen by virtue of joining the Marine Corps last year. My youngest son, Scot, is also an American citizen, having been born here three years ago. All five of my kids are just about completely “Americanized,” with only the bare remnants of their Scottish accent remaining (sigh!). Their lives are going to be lived here. They are also very much at home in the Dutch Reformed churches here in Grand Rapids. It’s a strong and stable Christian culture that they and we are privileged to be part of.

While Green Card status is usually renewed quite easily every 10 years, you just never know what might be down the road. Last year, I was concerned about how a possible Clinton administration might view non-citizens who held biblical views on various issues. Getting citizenship provides extra security regarding our status here.

I want to be able to truly and fully say “our nation” and “our military” when I pray in my congregation. I want my congregation to know that I am 100% committed to them and to this country. I want to be able to vote and take a full part in the electoral process.

I’ve had Americans ask “Why would you want to do that?” when they heard about our citizenship application. Some of them are incredulous. They can’t quite believe that we’d give up our British citizenship to become Americans. It’s like a major step down in their eyes.

I don’t view it that way at all. For all that I still love Scotland, and always will, I can honestly say that I now love America more. I know it’s a far from perfect country, but I love its basic ideals, its optimism, its energy, its entrepreneurship, its “lively” democracy, its real summers and real winters (not just warm rain and cold rain), its meritocracy, its racial diversity, and the multiple opportunities to serve the Lord. The only thing I really detest is the mainstream media. I didn’t think it was possible, but they are even worse than their British counterparts.

Misty Eyes
I’ll never forget Scotland. My heart breaks for the spiritual desert that it’s becoming. I weep for the faithful Scottish pastors ministering in an extremely discouraging climate and culture. My eyes still mist over when I see photos of the Scottish hills or hear the bagpipes. But God has moved my heart across the Atlantic and I love this country now as deeply as I ever loved Scotland in the past.

Tears and Fears
On March 15, when I raise my right hand to renounce my British citizenship and pledge allegiance to the USA, there will be some tears I’m sure. It’s a solemn decision that I already feel the weight of. I sometimes think I hear William Wallace turning in his grave. Just hope I never meet Mel Gibson.

But I’ll also be singing amidst the tears; singing my own version of the popular song, with my edited line being: “I’m humbled to be an American.”

And no, I won’t be wearing a kilt. I don’t have the legs for it.

Check out


The Christ-Centered Employee
“Viewing work from a truly Christian perspective requires that we build our thinking upon four foundation stones”

Keep Learning to Lead: Five Practical Lessons
“As I’ve led others over the last several years, I’ve gleaned several lessons that might help others (especially in a ministry context). Here are a few I’ve learned, am learning, and probably will have to learn again.”

Help Me Teach the Bible: Marty Machowski on Teaching Theology to Kids
“Nancy talks to Marty Machowski, family life pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Machowski is author of Old Story New, Long Story Short, The Gospel Story for Kids Children’s Ministry Curriculum, and The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New. In this episode, Machowski works through each genre of the Bible, demonstrating how to put Christ at the center of a kids’ lesson.”

5 Steps to Serving Children with Autism, ADHD, and Attachment Disorders
Churches have a lot to learn in this area. The secular world often puts us to shame.

Make Good People Wish It Were True
Pascal’s apologetic strategy has much to teach us today:

Men despise religion, they hate it and are afraid it might be true. To cure that we have to:

1. Begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason.

2. That it is worthy of veneration and should be given respect.

3. Next it should be made lovable, should make the good wish it were true.

4. Then show that it is indeed true.

How One Ex-Gang Leader Is Reaching Chicago’s Most Dangerous Neighborhoods
What courage and compassion!

Pursue God, Not Pornography
Denny Burk’s chapel address at Southern Seminary reveals a man with a deep burden and a big heart.

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage by John Younts $2.99.

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died by John Philip Jenkins $1.99.

Cheap Children’s Books. Lots of the Trailblazer books for sale at $2.99 for Kindle editions.


G.K. Beale on the Importance of Scripture Memorization and Prayer

Three Trends Increasing Distraction and Destroying Concentration

  • Facebook has the largest open floor plan in the world with 3,000 employees spread over a 10-acre expanse.
  • Twitter’s developers work at long shared desks to encourage “serendipity” and casual conversations.
  • IBM sends 2.5 million instant messages within IBM each day.
  • 800 of the New York Times’ employees took up the company’s encouragement to tweet while at work.

These workplace trends—serendipitous collaboration, rapid communication, and an active presence on social media—work directly against the deep work that Cal Newport advocates for in Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World. While there are benefits in these trends, they are far outweighed by the damage done to the ability to learn hard things fast and produce at an elite level.

So what are the mind-sets and biases that have pushed businesses away from deep work and toward more distracting alternatives? Newport highlights the following:

The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment. The culture of instant and constant connectivity is easier than the isolation and concentration that deep work requires.

Busyness as a Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

The Cult of the Internet: If it’s high-tech we assume it’s good. Case closed. We’ve made the Internet synonymous with the revolutionary future of business and government. Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in this culture because it build on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological.

As Newport says, “Assuming the trends outlined here continue, depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable.”

Why I Love Teaching, Writing and Participating in Women’s Bible Studies

This is a guest post by Sarah Ivill (B.A., University of Georgia; Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary) who has been leading, teaching or writing women’s Bible Studies since she was eighteen.  She is the author of Hebrews: His Hope, An Anchor for our Souls; Revelation: Let the One Who is Thirsty Come; Judges & Ruth: There Is A Redeemer; and 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude: Steadfast in the Faith.  Presently a stay-at-home mom, she continues writing and teaching Reformed Bible Studies for women.  A member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA), Sarah lives with her husband and four children in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. You can find more information about Sarah and her ministry by visiting www.sarahivill.com.

IvillBesides Sunday, my favorite day of the week is Thursday morning. As hard as it is to get four children out the door to women’s Bible study, it is an effort that bears much fruit. I’ve been involved in women’s Bible studies for over twenty years, and over those years I’ve been richly blessed by how it’s anchored me to truth and anchored me to community.

This has been true for several reasons, but here are six:

(1) Scripture alone teaches us what we are to believe about God and how we are to live in relation to Him and others. There is no other book that is more worthy of our study, time or attention than the Bible. We need to challenge one another to spend more time reading Scripture, verse-by-verse, book-by-book. This guards us against empty words that threaten to tickle our ears and starve our hearts.

(2) The Scriptures bear witness about Jesus. We can’t know Jesus without studying the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation each passage of Scripture reveals who God’s Son is so that we might know Him more, love Him more and serve Him more. Such a Christ-centered study of Scripture keeps us from buying into a legalistic lesson (do this and you will live), a moralistic lesson (be a good person and you’ll be saved), a therapeutic lesson (I’m good, you’re good, God’s good, everything’s okay), or an allegorical lesson (I’m going to make this verse about Christ no matter what interpretive principles I have to ignore).

(3) Older women in the faith are to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5). The foundation of older women teaching younger women is sound doctrine. If we don’t have sound doctrine, then we can’t teach younger women in the faith what is good, we can’t train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, to be pure, to be working at home, and to be submissive to their husbands in a way that will not discredit the word of God. The difference isn’t whether or not we will teach them or train them. The difference is whether or not we will teach them and train them in a Christ-centered way.

(4) Studying God’s Word in the context of community sharpens me. Not only do I learn from my sisters’ answers to the exegetical and theological questions, I learn from my sisters’ shared struggles with suffering, sin, and service.

(5) Praying with my sisters one day a week and praying for my sisters the rest of the week cultivates a love for them rooted in God’s grace.

(6) I am my sister’s keeper. Cain’s question to the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4:9) is answered in 1 John 3:11, the context of which is John’s exhortation to the church to love one another. We are to know who our sisters are and what they are doing so that we can encourage and exhort them in the ways of the Lord.

In a nutshell then, Women’s Bible studies help to drive out the individualism and isolationism that has plagued mankind all through the history of redemption, pointing us to Jesus Christ, who took the curse of our sin upon Himself, freeing us from self-reliance to God-reliance, and freeing us from isolation to interdependence in the community of grace.

1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude: Steadfast in the Faith by Sarah Ivill (Published by Reformation Heritage Books).

Two Core Skills in the New Digital Economy

What are the two core abilities that you must have to thrive in the new digital economy?

According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World they are:

1. The ability to quickly master hard things. To put it bluntly, if you can’t learn, you can’t thrive.

2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed. If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.

And how do we cultivate these core abilities? Surprise, surprise—they depend on our ability to perform deep work, that is the ability to concentrate for long periods of time without interruption or distraction.

Newport uses the example of the hyper-productive Wharton Business School professor, Adam Grant, to prove his point. Grant’s secret is “the batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches.” He accomplishes this by ruthless organization of his schedule, email auto-responders, and blunt signs on his office door. He exemplifies the law of productivity:

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus).

By maximizing his intensity when he works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working.

Newport’s research into high-scoring college undergraduates discovered that the best students actually worked less hours than the next group of students in the rankings. “That’s because the best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration.”

Attention Residue

So what is it about deep work that makes it so productive? It’s the lack of “attention residue.” That’s the effect that Minnesota University business professor Sophie Leroy discovered in her work on multi-tasking—trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously.

When you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task…People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on the next task.

“By working on a single hard task for a long time without switching, we can minimize the negative effect of attention residue from other obligations, allowing maximal performance on one task.” The attention residue concept implies that the common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to performance.

“To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”