Pastors as “The Elite of Prayer”

Today I came across this great quote by Peter Taylor Forsyth. He was a Scottish theologian who lived from 1848–1921. In his book, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, he writes:
I speak to and of the ministry, which is at once our despair and our hope. If the preachers have brought preaching down it is the preachers that must save it. The Church will be what its ministers make it. A Church of faith like Protestantism must always be what its chief believers make it. And these foremost and formative believers are the ministers. The real archbishops are the archbelievers. If a Church has not its chief believers in the pulpit it is unfortunate. And if a whole denomination of Churches fail in this matter there is something fatally wrong. The ministers are in idea the experts in faith. They are the élite of prayer. If the Church is to be saved from the world it is the ministers that must do it. And how can they do it but as men pre-eminently saved from the world? And no man has the seal of that salvation on him except by action—by thought and prayer which become moral action. A man has the stamp of supernatural reality upon him only by such prayer. If another than the minister carry that stamp in any Church he is its true minister. The true minister, in the pulpit or out, does all his business in the spirit of this prayer. The man of commerce may say he cannot. I will not argue that now. I will only say that the minister has this advantage—he not only can but he must, if he know his business, and is to keep it going. And no man ought to take up this business unless he know it. A preacher whose chief power is not in studious prayer is, to that extent, a man who does not know his business. A stringent ethic would say he was in danger of becoming a quack. That of prayer is the minister’s business. (pgs 129-130) Continue reading

5 Tips for Getting More out of Christmas (especially pastors)

Christmas gets crazy. There is so much to do: gifts to be purchased and wrapped, travel plans to be made, and work goals to accomplish. This is even more challenging for pastors who have extra worship services and visits to do. The pressure during the holidays is so much higher. I admit that the first few years that I was a pastor I totally missed personally experiencing Advent and Christmas. I did it. I went through the motions, but it was not a heart experience.

Over the last few years I have worked to be intentional about getting more out of Christmas and Advent. Here are my best suggestions for you:


1. Create a good soundtrack.
All great movies have great soundtracks. The music sets the emotions for each scene and each character. Christmas has great music. There is also now some great music related to the themes of Advent. Here are some of the albums in my playlist:

Advent Albums- Daniel Renstrom’s On the Incarnation, Robbie Seay Band’s December Vol. 2, The Brilliance Advent, Vol. 2

Christmas Albums- Vince Guaraldi Trio, Holidays Rule Compilation Album, David Crowder Band, Joy Electric, Citizens & Saints, James Taylor, The Rend Collective, The Piano Guys, Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Find ones that work for you.

2. Get some good movies.
Movies have this amazing ability to get you out of your own head and get you to live vicariously through another character. A great Christmas movie can do that for you. I am not a Hallmark Channel guy. At my house the big one is Elf. We also watch the old clamation movies like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph. We watch both Grinch movies. I also love to watch classics like White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, and some version of “A Christmas Carol.”

3. Get a good devotional
I find that a good devotional can help me in any season. Here are a few I have used the last few years:
Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent by Richard Rohr is incredibly thought provoking.
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas including readings by people like Bonhoeffer, Dillard, Eliot, Lewis, Luther, Merton, Nouwen, and Yancey among many others. This book is loaded with great people and great insights.
Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen: Daily Scripture and Prayers together with Nouwen’s Own Words– This book is a series of readings from the works of Nouwen compiled around the themes of Advent and Christmas.

I have also written 2 devotions for the month of December. You can download them at

4. Create Margin in your Schedule
This is a tough one, but I think that it is really important for people to create more margin in their schedules during the holidays. By margin I mean creating more gaps in your schedule. Keep distance between meetings and schedule times during the week with nothing in them. I get all my home visits and meetings done very early in the week. I like to be ahead and coasting for the few days before Christmas Eve. I want to be at my best for my kids and family, but I also want to be at my best for my church. I have found that in order to do that I have to slow down.

5. Make some good family traditions
There is something powerful about traditions and experiences. They provide anchors for stories the way symbols do in movies. Anymore I try to be intentional about creating some of these movements.

Decorating– We decorate the tree after Thanksgiving. Every year we let each of our kids get a new ornament for the tree. It is fun now because it is like a little history of their childhood every year.

Nail in the tree- Every year we hang a large nail in the middle of the tree to help us remember why Jesus came to earth. It is covered by the ornaments, but we all know it is in there.

Elf on the Shelf- We have gotten into the Elf on the Shelf. We don’t do it as a behavior management tool but as a fun way to build expectation for Christmas.

Date- We celebrate Christmas a day early on Christmas day. We open presents the morning of the 24th, hang out all day, and then have Christmas Eve that night. The next day we travel to see family. I think this a good way for pastor families to do the holiday.

Bonus: Stick with the story.
I never get tired of reading and studying the Christmas story. I use it as the anchor to keep me in the holiday. Read it over and over. Notice specific words, phrases, and images. Imagine what the characters were feeling or thinking.

Are Pastors Pros? A response to a response

I recently wrote a blog pondering what ways the pastor is and is not a professional. My blog was responded to by a blog of my good friend Dan Turis. Dan said that he disagreed with me and then proceeded to write a blog that I agree with. I think where Dan and I ultimately disagree is about the danger of professionalism.suit tie

Dan seems to be worried that pastors are not being professional enough. They are seeing their jobs as less important than the work of people like doctors, lawyers, or business executives. There certainly seems to be a decline in the public opinion of pastors.

I think Dan is right to be worried about that. I have seen too many pastors trying to be cool. Pastors need to have and show more respect for their vocation if others will follow.

But I am more concerned in the other direction. The more prevalent problem today is that pastors have hidden behind their professionalism. The can lead an organization and play a role instead of caring for people or tending to their own sanctification. They can become proud and use their pulpits and their parishioners to fill their own ego. They can build vision statements and do organizational development instead of living God’s Kingdom in this world. They separate themselves from the care of people and from truly listening to God.

Dan says, “Simply put being professional and “having a heart for God and his ministry,” are not exclusive. They are one in the same.” They should be, but sometimes pastors get out of balance and ministry becomes either/or instead of both/and.

Leading with Story Part 2: We are Storied-Beings

This is Part 2 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.NathanandDavid

The king had not been honest. He had worked the system to have a man killed so that he could have the dead man’s wife. How could the prophet confront the king without being killed himself? He told him a story. He engaged the king in a story about a man who stole another man’s sheep. When he got to the end the king was angry and the one who had stolen the sheep. “You are the man,” said the prophet, and the king could hardly reply. He was caught by a story.

This is my own rendition of the exchange between David and Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. It shows the power of story. Story has the ability to get past the barriers of our opinions and positions. A story has the power to shape values and spark action. A shared story can create a group or family. Conflicting stories can breed hatred and wars.

If I asked you who you were, you might start with a few facts—name, age, job, birthplace… But pretty soon you would have to start telling stories about your life. Why is that? I think it is because we are fundamentally storied-beings. Our stories define us. We live to create and tell stories. We naturally tell and hear stories. As children we learn the welcome of “Once upon a time” and the invitation of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” If something happens to us we are driven to tell others. This is why Facebook and Instagram has become so popular: we can all present the stories of our lives through pictures and status updates.

Stories make us human and shape who we are. We love the stories of books, movies, and TV shows. Stories captivate us. They also spread like facts do not. We retell good stories. This is why marketing is now storytelling. Some commercials are still about the products and why you should buy them over others. But the really good marketers are the ones who tell stories in their commercials. They often have no words and have few references to the products. Instead, they engage you in a story.storyteller

Ask yourself these questions:
What kind of story do you see yourself in?
What is the story of your church or organization?
How do you interpret your last few chapters?
What do you think will happen in the next chapter?

Leaders have the ability to use story to their advantage, or if they ignore the power of story a leader may find that they are telling stories somewhere else.