Pastoral Picks

As a passionate believer in Martyn Lloyd-Jones view of regular evangelistic preaching, I enjoyed this on Evangelistic Preaching without bolt-ons

Ten things Seminary never taught me. I think most pastors could get to 100 things quite quickly, but this is a good start.

Should non-preachers reading preaching books? I hope so, because I’ve written one for non-preachers that Evangelical Press will be publishing this summer.

A God-sized vision by Collin Hansen is an inspirational read for young and old. Our children especially need to read books like this.

Can you sing songs that celebrate God’s justice. Some thoughts on the imprecatory Psalms by Martin Downes.

Reflections on leaving pastoral ministry (temporarily). I’ve been really enjoying Trevin Wax’s blog posts recently. He puts a huge amount of work into his writing and comes across with a real servant’s heart. Like Trevin, I too get asked what it feels like to have left pastoral ministry. Having never preached, counseled, and problem-solved so much in my life as I have in the past three years, I never know quite what to say. 

This not so safe place. This is “Furnace Theology.”


Caring for the depressed (2): Sympathy

Thoughtful and prayerful study of depression should naturally and automatically increase our sympathy for those who suffer from it. By sympathy, I mean an ability to communicate that we truly understand the problem and the symptoms, that we are deeply concerned, and that we will do all that we can to help. In many cases such sympathy can have a powerful therapeutic effect on the sufferer. The lack of it can only multiply the pain and deepen the darkness. Consider the following quote from Russell Hampton, who suffered from depression:

If there were a physical disease that manifested itself in some particularly ugly way, such as postulating sores or a sloughing off of the flesh accompanied by pain of an intense and chronic nature, readily visible to everyone, and if that disease affected fifteen million people in our country, and further, if there were virtually no help or succour for most of these persons, and they were forced to walk among us in their obvious agony, we would rise up as one social body in sympathy and anger. There isn’t such a physical disease, but there is such a disease of the mind, and about fifteen million people around us are suffering from it. But we have not risen in anger and sympathy, although they are walking among us in their pain and anguish (The Far Side of Despair, 78)

It will greatly help you to sympathize if you always remember that you could just as easily be in the same position, suffering the same sorrow (1 Cor. 4:7). If you treat depressed people with impatient contempt, you may, like many others before you, have to learn sympathy the hard way.

Edited extract from Christians get depressed too. Available at RHB and Ligonier. Kindle version here

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CrossReference: Spiritual Heartburn

Here’s the second in our preview series of ten films on the Old Testament appearances of Christ in the Old Testament. If you missed the first, here it is.

The first two videos will be permanently available online. From next week, the weekly releases will be available for online viewing for seven days.

Visit Ligonier to pre-order DVD of all ten films ($15) and Study Guide ($5), or download the films in HD from HeadHeartHand Media ($5).


Caring for the depressed (1): Study

A depressed Christian’s family and friends, and fellow Christians, will be involved to one degree or another in helping a depressed person get better. Usually these caregivers have no medical training, and often they have limited or incorrect knowledge of depression or anxiety. However, they have a critical role in helping a depressed person get better. Research has shown that depressed people get better much quicker if they can confide in and get support from someone close to them. Over the next few days we will consider ten areas for caregivers to consider when they are trying to help a depressed person get better.

The first requirement is study. As Christians, we surely want to be the person to whom our loved ones turn in time of need. And when they do turn to us, we want to be able to help them and not hurt them further. It is imperative, therefore, that we learn about depression in order to avoid the common mistakes that laypeople often make when dealing with the depressed and in order to be of maximum benefit to those who are suffering.

Along with studying how Jesus dealt with the ill, the weak, and the distressed, you might want to read some of the helpful books, written from a Christian perspective, that are now available. The following are listed in order of readability and usefulness:

Another book, of course, is the well-known Spiritual Depression by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. However, you should be aware that in that book Dr. Lloyd-Jones does not deal with every aspect of depression as an illness but rather focuses on some of the spiritual consequences of depression. In some ways, the book is more about spiritual discouragement than depression, but it is helpful nevertheless.

A book written from a non-Christian perspective, but which is still useful for changing unhelpful thought patterns and behavior, is Mind over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky.

I would also cautiously recommend Ed Welch’s Blame It on the Brain? and Depression: A Stubborn Darkness. Dr. Welch exhibits a sensitive balance when dealing with depression, and his books have a lot of excellent and helpful material. He seems to be open to non-spiritual causes of depression, although at times he still seems to revert to the “medicine only alleviates symptoms” model. A Stubborn Darkness is also helpful for exploring possible spiritual causes or contributors to depression. However, I would hesitate to put this book directly into the hands of depressed Christians, as they will often draw the worst possible conclusions about themselves, regardless of objective reality. It is better that a committed and understanding pastor or family member gently and wisely guide a depressed person through the relevant parts of the book.

It is important to remember that reading these books will not turn you into a mental health expert, but it will make you more useful and helpful to loved ones in distress. It will also help you to know your limitations so that you make the right decision about when to advise someone to see a more experienced Christian, a doctor, or a mental health professional. I would recommend that pastors build a database of local doctors and mental health professionals who share their Christian principles. Phone around, speak to people, visit hospitals, speak to the staff, and build relationships so that when you are facing a situation that is beyond your competence, you will know to whom you should turn.

Edited extract from Christians get depressed too at RHB and Ligonier. Kindle version here

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Trash it!

Here’s the second part of Does your desk glorify God?

A Blueprint for Administration
Whenever a piece of paper lands on your desk, try Bill Lawrence’s TRASH method (Effective Pastoring, 131). This also works for the computer, which should be viewed as a cluttered and overstuffed filing cabinet with a mailbox (see this post on Nesters, Desktoppers, and Searchers for the main approaches to Computer filing systems).

Throw it away: the first question we should ask is “Can I throw it away? (If so, do I need to shred it?)

Re-route it: does this piece of paper belong on my desk (or in my computer)? Should someone else have it?

Act on it: options for action include:

  • Do it (answer email, make phone call, order the book)
  • Put on to-do list (do today, do this week, do eventually)
  • Enter in diary  (check your diary every day and sync with wife and family)
  • Enter in accounts (mint.com)
  • Correspondence tray
  • Nearby filing cabinet
  • Reading pile
  • Evernote for documents and scanned images
  • Diigo for websites
  • Dropbox for backup

Save it: file it in a place you can retrieve it from

Halt it: stop the sender sending it to you

Some of that is applicable to email, but let me add a few extra suggestions I’ve picked up along the way for efficient emailing (see Julie Morgenstern’s Never Check Email in the Morning).

  • Do not keep your email turned on
  • Process every 2-3 hours (Matt Perman argues that the less you check, the less you’ll get!)
    • Do: If you can answer in under 2 mins, do it
    • Delegate: offload as much as possible
    • Delay: If you can’t “do” or “delegate,” get it out of your Inbox and into your “Answer later” file. I have two of these: the first is for “Answer later today” and the second is for emails that require 30 mins plus of work. I usually try to answer 3-4 of these a week.
    • Delete: Don’t keep things just for the sake of it
  • Set yourself time targets when dealing with email. If you tell yourself, “I’m going to answer email for 30 mins max” it’s amazing how many you can get through.
  • Learn how to type fast and keep answers to minimum (short one sentence replies if possible – people don’t expect letter-writing pleasantries)
  • Number your points to improve chances of direct answers
  • Spell-check

The Balance of Organization
My father used to say to me, “Show me a clean desk and I’ll show you someone who is getting nothing done.” There is such a thing as “clean desk syndrome” where the aim becomes a clean desk, but little ever gets done on it! A degree of mess is required for any productivity (Prov. 14:4). I like to think of three stages of organization:

  • Day to day (50% tidy): I aim to have my study at 50% tidy at the end of each working day
  • Week to week (90% tidy): Once a week I want to tidy up most of what has been left over from the week’s tasks.
  • Monthly purge (100% tidy): Once a month I like to return my office to its pristine condition.

And just in case you think I’ve got a bad case of OCD, here’s a Daily Stat email on Messy Desks from the Harvard Business Review:

A recent study interviewed HR managers at a number of different companies, asking them how neatness of an employee’s desk affects their perception of that person’s professionalism. 65% said it “somewhat affects it”, while 18% said it “greatly affects it”, with only 17% saying it has no effect. It isn’t exactly fair, but it’s something to think about when you’re staring at your tornado of an office: you might want to tidy it up, if only to improve your reputation with your superiors.

Thus begins a new ministry, “Desk Evangelism.”


6 month Bible reading plan for kids

In response to a few requests, here are all the weekly “Morning & Evening Bible Reading Plans For Kids” combined into one document. If you are new to this, here and here are a couple of posts explaining the plan and layout.

As I’ve not had a lot of time to thoroughly edit this document, please let me know if there are any typos or other mistakes.

Remember there is a cut-down version with a single reading a day. Click on the “Bible reading plan” tag below to bring up the previous postings of it.