The Well-Read Pastor | Influence Magazine


Pastors wear many hats in their congregations. On any given day, someone may ask them to explain a particular Bible verse or help mend a marriage or supervise an audit of the church’s finances. No wonder the average U.S. pastor buys four books a month, according to a 2013 Barna report! Pastors have a need to know.

Because reading is so important to ministry, pastors must think carefully about what and how they read. Over the years, I have developed 10 convictions about my own reading habits that may be helpful to you.

  1. Reading is a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is any habitual activity that helps you become Christlike. Obviously, Bible reading is a spiritual discipline, but so is all reading. You are — or you become — what you read.
  2. What you read shapes how you lead. Reading also shapes your ministry. Practical leadership books do this directly, but other books do it indirectly. Great insights into leadership often come from unexpected sources.
  3. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The goal of pastoral reading is to become, and to lead, more like Christ. Being well-informed is important, but the Bible prioritizes love over mere intelligence. As Paul wrote, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
  4. Well-read is better than widely-read. Whenever I go to a bookstore, I think, So many books, so little time! Given limitations on your time and budget, prioritize reading classics over fads.
  5. Read both widely and deeply. This conviction stands in tension with the previous one, but it’s still true. Because you wear so many hats, you need to know a little about a lot. So read widely. But because you are leading your church to Christ, focus on core topics: Bible, theology, ethics, spiritual disciplines and church history. On those topics, read deeply.
  6. Read your friends, neighbors and strangers. For me, “friends” equals fellow Pentecostals. “Neighbors” means authors from non-Pentecostal Christian traditions, such as Calvinists or Methodists. “Strangers” refers to authors from non-Christian religious or non-religious backgrounds. Reading these groups helps you better understand both the breadth and the borderlines of Christianity.
  7. Old books often say it best. “Every age has its own outlook,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Including our own. That outlook isn’t true just because it’s contemporary or because it’s ours. The only way to test its truthfulness, Lewis went on, is to “keep the clean sea breeze of the ages blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
  8. The best book is a shared book. If it’s good, it’s good enough to share with others. If it helped you, it will help them.
  9. It’s OK to read fiction. Fiction has been defined as “the lie that tells the truth.” The events it describes didn’t happen, but they nonetheless accurately depict the human condition. Perhaps that’s why psychologists have found a connection between reading fiction and empathy. The best novels help us understand others better.
  10. Above all, be homo unius libri — a man (or woman) of one Book. Your church needs you to be an expert on the Bible more than anything else. So, read many books, but read the Book most of all.

In the Introduction to his volume of sermons, John Wesley wrote: “[Christ] came from heaven; He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God. I have it; here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri!”

May that be a well-read pastor’s prayer too!

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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How to Overcome Cynicism, Compromise, and Disconnection | Influence Podcast


Cynicism. Compromise. Disconnection. Irrelevance. Pride. Burnout. Emptiness.

No one expects to experience these negative feelings, but everyone does. As Christians and as leaders in the Church, the question we need to ask ourselves is what we should do about them.

That’s the question I explore with Carey Nieuwhof in Episode 152 of the Influence Podcast. Carey Nieuwhof is teaching and founding pastor of Connexus Church in Barrie, Ontario, and author of Didn’t See It Coming, published by WaterBrook.

P.S. This article is cr0ss-posted from Influence Magazine with permission.

Head, Heart, and Hands: Three marks of a holistic Pentecostal ministry


On any given day, an Assemblies of God pastor may read a scholarly commentary in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, counsel a church member who is experiencing an emotional crisis, and help a poor family in the community pay its bills. Pentecostal ministry is holistic, in other words. It encompasses what we believe, what we feel and how we behave — our head, heart and hands, respectively.

The biblical foundation of this holism is the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34–40). Asked to name “the greatest commandment in the Law,” Christ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Great Commandment is not the gospel, it needs to be emphasized. “This is love,” writes the apostle John:“not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as anatoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God’s love for us in Christ is the gospel. The Great Commandment merely summarizes our response to the gospel. God’s love for us precedes our love for Him and makes it possible.

And not only for Him, of course, but for others. John goes on to write: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). Our love for others does not stop at our front porch or our neighbor’s front door, however. God commands us to love not only those who are like us — neighbors, brothers and sisters — but those who are unlike us too. This means that we ought to love the “foreigner” (Leviticus 19:34) and our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

A cool head that discerns truth. A warm heart that invites relationship. An open hand that gives freely to the poor. These are the hallmarks of a holistic Pentecostal life and ministry.

This is fundamental Christianity: God’s love for us calling forth our love for Him and others.

So, how do we grow in our love? How do we keep the Great Commandment in ever-increasing measure? Especially as pastors, how do we stay on the leading edge of love?

For me, this is where the head-heart-hands schema becomes important. That schema reminds me that my love for God and others must be characterized at all times by a cool head, a warm heart and open hands. Love cannot be a fraction. God does not want one-third of our love or two-thirds. He wants the whole of our love. Our lives and our ministries must be characterized by orthodoxy(right belief), orthopathy(right feeling) and orthopraxy(right behavior).

Head. I have quoted 1 John 4 twice already, but permit me to quote it again, for the chapter begins in an interesting way. “Dear friends,” John writes, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God … ” (verse 1).Notice two things right away: First, John assumes that God continues to speak to His people. There are “spirits” — which I take to mean “gifts of the Holy Spirit” — that come “from God.” A cool head, an orthodox mind will be open to hearing from God.

Yet, by the same token, that cool head will exercise discernment “because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (verse 1). How do we know the difference? John offers a doctrinal test focused on the Incarnation: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (verses 2–3).

Paul offers a similar doctrinal test focused on the lordship of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3). These are not the only tests, of course, but they are fundamental. My takeaway from these passages is this: In my love for God and others, my mind should be curiouswithout being credulous, and what helps me keep that dynamic is a constant focus on Christ, who is himself “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Heart. The heart is the seat of human emotion. Here is where our deepest loves and hates, hopes and fears reside. And these deepest affections and emotions shape our actions. Christ Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). No wonder, then, Scriptures exhorts believers, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

A warm heart, an orthopathic heart, is fairly easy to diagnose, in my experience. In Galatians 5:19–23, the apostle Paul differentiated between “the acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” What’s interesting to me is that the acts of the flesh are fundamentally selfish and have the effect of pushing people away. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit describe a healthy self whose personality pulls people closer. A loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled personality is an attractive one. Like the sun acting on planets in our solar system, a warm heart pulls people into its orbit.

In my love for God and others, do my affections and emotions selfishly pushothers away, or do they pullpeople into a deeper relationship with me — and, through me, with God?

Hands. Orthopraxy, right action, is part and parcel of Christianity. In the apostle Paul’s immortal formulation of the matter, we are saved by grace throughfaith forworks (Ephesians 2:8–10). A deedless Christianity is a Christless Christianity — in other words, a contradiction in terms.

But while we ought to follow Christ in every area of life, the Bible emphasizes our duties to the poor, weak and powerless in particular. So, Christ Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). His brother James asks, “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:16). The apostle Paul writes, “Command [wealthy believers] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). This is why I like to describe orthopraxy as an open hand.

In my life and ministry, is my hand open to all, but especially the poor, the weak and the powerless in my community? Do I seetheir needs and take actionto meet them?

A cool head that discerns truth. A warm heart that invites relationship. An open hand that gives freely to the poor. These are the hallmarks of a holistic Pentecostal life and ministry.

P.S. This article first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com. It is reposted here by permission.

Leading the Church in a Polarized Era


Yesterday, I published an essay on InfluenceMagazine.com entitled, “Leading the Church in a Polarized Era.” Here is the introduction:

Regardless of who wins the presidential election on November 8, you can be sure of one thing: Half of America will be disappointed with, if not outraged by, the results. In nearly 30 years of voting, I have never seen the electorate so polarized about candidates and issues. It has been said that war is the continuation of politics by other means. This year, reversing the terms of that statement seems truer: Politics is the continuation of war by other means.

I mention this not because I want to talk about politics per se but because I want to talk about leading a church in the current political environment. It would be naïve to think that we can avoid polarization entirely. After all, even Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Sometimes, controversy is unavoidable.

By the same token, however, it would be presumptuous to think that we are always right in any given controversy. After all, when Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23), He was speaking to neither the devil nor the Pharisees. He was speaking to Peter, His own disciple, chief among the Apostles. Sometimes, we meet the enemy only to discover that it is us.

So, as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, how do we lead our congregations—neither naively nor presumptuously—in this era of American polarization? Let me suggest that we need to pay attention to four things…

Read the whole thing at InfluenceMagazine.com.

The Best Is Yet to Come: Why Credentialed Women Ministers Matter to the Assemblies of God


From Enrichment Journal:

That’s a critical point for young women who are very sincere and see this servant model of leadership in Christ and are not comfortable with a rights issue. This has nothing to do with rights for men or women in ministry. That’s not the rationale for following Jesus in leadership in ministry. Don’t we cripple ourselves in the Kingdom by not empowering both men and women to use their God-given gifts?

Wood: I’ll tell you a sad story. Just a few months ago, a very competent, young, ordained, seminary-trained, female graduate interviewed for a pastoral position of a church of about 100 to 150 people. At the end of a process, the board said they were not going to recommend her election to the membership of the church. Two of the board members came to her privately and said, “You know, we all realize you’re the most qualified person to be pastor. But two of the board members are opposed to having a woman as pastor. Therefore, the person we’re going to recommend is not as qualified as you.”

My heart just sank at that. I thought, That is not right.

I feel passionate about changing the situation at the local level. Now, if the woman candidate had been less qualified than the male candidate, I would feel equally upset if they said, “We’re going to choose you because you’re a woman even though you’re less qualified.”

Either way, that has to be taken off the table. The bottom line is: Is this person qualified? Is she gifted? And what’s the Spirit saying? Let’s not use artificial, secular means for making decisions in the body of Christ.

George Barna & David Kinnaman on the Rise of the Churchless – Barna Group


From the article at Barna.org:

In Churchless, their first collaborative effort, Barna Group founder and former president, George Barna, and current Barna president and owner, David Kinnaman, take a look at the rising population of adults who do not attend church.

Based on two decades of Barna Group interviews with thousands of churchless men and women, the book outlines a profile of the unchurched and the cultural context that has led to the trend away from church.

“It’s critical to recognize these trends have a huge impact on how our churches and faith organizations work,” says David Kinnaman in a joint interview with George Barna. “It is harder today—based on this data—to go out and say ‘invite your friends to church.’ So recognizing the context in which these trends play out is very important for church leaders, and for us as researchers.”

According to the Churchless data, in the 1990s, 30% of the American population was unchurched. Today, two decades later, that percentage has risen to more than four in 10 Americans (43%).

“If we want to turn that trend around,” says George Barna, “we’ve got to understand what these people are thinking, what they’re doing, why they are making these particular choices, what we could do to actually serve them better, to understand them, to love them, to do everything we can to help them get closer to God. . . . Armed with this kind of information, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll come up with a strategy that enables you to have positive impact on the lives of such people.”

Kinnaman agrees, “Jesus asks us to be faithful wherever we are, in whatever context we are. So good information helps us to learn how to be faithful.”

George Barna & David Kinnaman on the Rise of the Churchless – Barna Group.

‘Praying in the Spirit’ by Dr. George O. Wood


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In this video, Dr. George O. Wood speaks on the topic, “Praying in the Spirit.” His sermon was part of the Assemblies of God’s annual Prayer & Bible Conference, held this year at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.