Musings and Ramblings about Preaching, Pastoral Ministry, Sports and Life in General

Month: January 2020

Why I Set Annual Reading Goals

Several years ago I was struck by a social media post by a pastor friend of mine.  He was celebrating the completion of a reading goal.  He didn’t publicize the number of books or seek to puff himself up, he was simply genuinely excited at achieving a goal for himself.  Since I had just completed my dissertation, I was looking for something to do with all of my “copious amounts of free time.”  I sincerely wanted to improve my reading variety and read something besides preaching books. This personal discipline sounded like just the thing to help me with that desire.  I reached out to him and discussed his accomplishment and resolved I was going to try it.  I started by finding a means to track my reading.  I knew better than to trust my brain.  I selected the goodreads app.  I set a modest goal and started reading.  Since that time, I have met and exceeded my reading goal each year.  Not long ago, someone overheard me discussing my reading plan and asked why I set a reading goal.  After giving it some thought I came up with several reasons:  accountability, focus, discipline, and challenge.

Accountability

The first reason I set reading goals is accountability.  I tend to engage in activities addictively.  Disc golf, coffee, occasionally tv, or video gaming.  Sometimes those activities become consuming and choke out other activities. Knowing that I have a goal to meet is a built-in accountability partner.  If I notice that I am falling behind, it compels me.  Tracking them also adds the advantage of helping me identify when I am getting into what I call “hobby horse” reading.  This is when you spend an exorbitant amount of time reading in a particular area.  I tend to do this.  I have huge sections of my library devoted to specific emphases I developed.  I have large sections of musical biographies, special forces, and undercover police investigations of outlaw motorcycle gangs.  Of course, the largest sections are preaching and commentaries (for obvious reasons).

Focus

A second reason for setting reading goals is focus.  Admittedly this doesn’t always work out the way that I plan, but I try to divide my reading into 6 categories.  The first category is in my specific area of vocational calling.  For me this is preaching/pastoral ministry.  I also try to read in the area of theology and ecclesiology. Church revitalization has become a large part of this section.  A third category is the area of Biblical studies.  The fourth genre differs from year to year.  In this division I try to read in a specific area of history and contemporary events. One year I might read in the area of World War II,  the Revolutionary War, etc. Genre five is biography.  I love reading stories of individuals and seeing what events have shaped their lives.  The final category is fiction.  I try to read some books that are considered literary classics, as well as popular fiction, and I also enjoy books that are in a series such as The Chronicles of Narnia or  The Green Ember series.

Discipline

Proverbs 25:28 states that “a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”  This picturesque metaphor has always challenged me to make the effort to discipline my life.   The area of my reading is no different.  In much the same way as if I don’t plan to exercise, it is easy to not follow through.  A reading goal is an action plan to set me further down my journey to becoming a lifelong learner.

Challenge

The fourth reason was the easiest to come up with.  I grew up playing sports.  I was am incredibly competitive.  There is nothing I craved more than a good challenge to motivate me to the take it to the next level.  Goodreads enumerates your finished books, even telling you whether you are on pace over the course of the year or if you need to pick it up.  Nothing spurs my reading more through the year than nearing December and facing the threat of failing to hit the mark that I set for myself.

I hope my reasoning for setting these goals is an encouragement to you is to set one and jump in.  I can’t wait to hear where the journey takes you.

The Power of the Spoken Word

I recently ran across an old quote in my writing folder from Harlow Unger’s book on Patrick Henry, entitled Lion of Liberty.  In the opening chapters of the book, Unger eloquently describes the rhetorical skill Henry used in his law practice:

“He used every rhetorical device he could find or invent.  On clear days, he embraced the sunshine and lifted jurors hearts;  on grey days he pointed ot the clouds and rain to provoke tears; and on the darkest days, he saw omens of destruction in the hearers that left jurors cowering in fear as he cited each thunder clap or lightening bold as nothing less than the ‘wrath of God.'”

The vivid articulation of Henry’s oratorical skill is a reminder to all preachers of the power of the spoken word.

Four Commitments to Help You Grow Spiritually This Year

Rather, train yourself in godliness. For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7b-8

January is the time when people make resolutions. They resolve to exercise more, lose weight, spend less time on social media, etc. Admittedly, January is nearly complete, but on the off chance someone is still thinking about changes they want to make in their spiritual lives, I want to propose some commitments, some spiritual disciplines, that will help make your 2020 your best year ever.

Committment 1: Hear from God

In order to make this your best year ever, why not make a commitment to be intentional about hearing from God. Yes, you should make an effort to attend church and listen to a Biblical preacher expound the word of God, but that is not what this challenge is about. Rather, I hope to encourage you to engage the Bible on your own. Start with selecting a Bible translation that you can read. Next, pick a selection of Scripture to read through. It might be a book or a section, or you might select a whole or partial Bible plan. At my church our folks have committed to read the New Testament together. You can find that plan here. This plan will take you all the way through the New Testament in about five minutes a day. Finally, select a time each day to spend time reading and hearing from God.

Commitment 2: Spend Time Talking to God

Since God’s word is the means by which we hear from him. Prayer is the means by which we talk to him. This spiritual discipline is one the most oft neglected. We hide behind excuses like, “I don’t know what to say” or “I don’t know how.” These should not be hindrances. There is not a formal or private language necessary to speak to God. If you are capable of having a conversation, then you are capable of prayer. It is simply a conversation with God. Let me recommend starting this way. Commit to spend 5 minutes a day in prayer. Set a timer and just talk to God. The topic could be whatever you want it to be. Maybe you have a big project at work, or a difficult relationship. It is possible that things are going well and you just want to thank him for the good happening around you. You could also open up God’s word and pray the Psalms. In order for this to be your best year spiritually, make an effort to talk to God daily.

Commitment 3: Memorize Scripture

The spiritual discipline of scripture memory is often the one that is the most resisted. Yet, we are encouraged by the Psalmist to hide God’s word in our heart to keep us from sin (Psalm 119:11). Still, excuses abound. I can’t memorize things. I’m too old to remember. I suspect that you are a better memorizer than you give yourself credit for. With a little effort this practice will allow the Holy Spirit to bring to your consciousness verses at the times when they are most needed. Here’s how to do it. Make a measurable and attainable goal to start with. Perhaps commit to memorizing 10 verses this year. Then get started. This article will help you begin. You’ll never regret the verses you commit to memory.

Committment 4: Journal your journey

A fourth commitment to improve your spiritual life is journaling. Journaling can be a powerful companion on your spiritual journey. Some mistake it for a adolescent or preteen “dear diary” type exercise, and certainly it can become that, but it can be some much more. I see it as a roadmap of past spiritual experiences. I have practiced this spiritual disciplines off and on since seminary. Periodically I will look back at old journals to see what God was teaching me or what I was struggling with a particular point. I am almost always encouraged when I look back. The process of journaling can be as simple or as complex as you like. Start by selecting a notebook or journal. A composition book from a dollar store would suffice. Write the date and record your thoughts. If you need help getting started you can use journaling prompts to spur your thoughts.

These four simple commitments will assure you one of your most rewarding spiritual years ever. Let me know how it goes.

Between the Bindings: A Review of Thom Rainer’s Anatomy of Revived Church

Anatomy of a Revived Church: Seven Findings of How Congregations Avoided Death

Revitalization is a buzzword in church growth circles. It is used to describe the new growth that can occur that stems the tide of a pattern of decline. With the drop of cultural Christianity and the rise of those individuals who express no faith affiliation, it is no surprise that there are many once-prominent churches that are descending into decline, while others are hearing the death rattle. Therefore, many churches are in need of revitalization. The number of books in this genre is multiplying. Thom Rainer has written extensively on dying churches and thriving churches. In this particular volume, he and his research team set out to study the characteristics of churches that are experiencing a renewal. He is seeking a means of encouraging and guiding those who desire to see the same things happen in their local congregations.

In this book Rainer enumerates seven key elements that were present in most successful revitalization efforts. These are by no means exhaustive. Churches who have experienced renewal exhibited some variation of the following: acceptance of responsibility for the decline, overcoming the idolatry of traditions, expansion of the scorecard for evaluating success, a commitment to fervent prayer, a willingness to address toxic members, an understanding that there are no church growth “silver bullets”, and meaningful church membership.

Each chapter is brief, yet informative. In fact, if I could change one thing about the book, I would love to see some of the chapters and the revitalization testimonies teased out more fully. Unfortunately, this would create the false impression that one could simply transfer those successes to a church and create a one-size-fits-all template for church renewal. The book clearly states one does not exist.

Overall, the book is an excellent read. It serves as a great encouragement for those in the midst of revitalization to see that the process, albeit slow and painstaking, can breathe life into a declining church. I encourage all pastors in plateaued or declining churches to give it a read. It would also be worthwhile to take key leaders through it as well.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Highlighters

How to Organize Your Sermon Files

The call to preach is a call to prepare. To prepare well is to prepare in such a way that said prep could be used again in the future. Early in my first pastorate I knew that I needed to devise a method to help me study efficiently. I want to share what I developed here with hopes that it will help someone else. It will take a bit of work to set up on the front end, but for me it has been worth every minute. So, without further adieu, here we go.

On your computer’s desktop, start by creating a folder entitled “Preaching Ministry” or some other creative name if you have the bandwidth for it. Next, open that folder and create two additional folders: one labeled “Old Testament” and the other “New Testament”. After those are ready, open the Old Testament one. Once inside create a folder for each of the Old Testament books. For organizational purposes, I discovered it worked better if I numbered them just to keep them in order. For example, 1. Genesis, 2. Exodus, etc. Once that task is complete, open the New Testament folder and repeat the process with the NT books. Again, organizationally, I chose to begin the numbering with 40 as a continuation of the other folder. After the initial legwork, you are ready to use your new organizational apparatus.

Here is how I do it. Let’s say that I have decided to preach through the Gospel of Matthew. In my preliminary exegetical work I determine what each individual preaching pericope will be. On the first day of the week, I will open my preaching folder, the New Testament folder, and then select 40. Matthew. Once I am inside that folder I will create a subsequent folder for my first sermon passage. Therein I place my exegetical work, my comparative translations, my study notes, and my sermon outline/manuscript.

I hope this helps. How do you organize your study?

Welcome

Welcome to my new digs. I resolved to write more in 2020 and I’ve been wanting a new site for some time now, so I finally felt the urge and freedom to go for it. You will notice some similarities between my last site and this one. I also migrated some of my previous posts so that I wasn’t starting completely from scratch.

Perhaps you are wondering what you might find here? Well, to be honest, it is a work in progress. For starters, I want to use this space to help serve my congregation better, so there will be articles here that will be specifically geared towards the building up of the body of Christ. In addition, I have a heart for ministers of all ages and abilities, and I will probably write about pastoral ministry and my great passion, preaching. Of course I love books and will post more “Between the Bindings” reviews as well as a few random thoughts on life and the occasional funny story about the adventures of the Ellis family. I hope you’ll check back in and be edified by what you read here.

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