The Terror of Being a Christian Who Is Asked to Recommend a Book, Movie, Musician, Etc.

“I don’t agree with everything the author says”

is Christianese for

“Knowing you, you’ll find something wrong with this book. Don’t burn me at the stake when you do.”



I’m a reader. I read so much people even know I’m a reader. I’m not one of those readers who wanders around telling everyone how much they read. I’m reading.

I’m also a pastor, which means everyone is trying to prove to me how spiritual they are.

When you combine those things, it results in many people giving me “Christian” books to read, but then they get nervous because what if pastor doesn’t like my book? Then I won’t be spiritual.

Therefore, every book a Christian has given me to read has been prefaced with, “I don’t agree with everything the author says.”

Continue reading “The Terror of Being a Christian Who Is Asked to Recommend a Book, Movie, Musician, Etc.”

If It Weren’t For Criticisms of My Sermons, My Sermons Would Be Terrible

If you agree with your pastor 100% of the time, you’re in a cult.


There is nothing more discouraging to a pastor than spending all week preparing a sermon, getting it together, feeling good about it, and bursting at the seams to deliver it. The juices flow, dreams flash in the mind of conversions and changed lives with weeping and dancing with joy.

Then, three minutes after the “amen” of the closing prayer, Tim, long-time member of the church, walks up and says, “Um, the word you based your sermon on? Yeah, that’s a different Greek word than all the other words those other verses use. Your point doesn’t really carry over.”

If I were a balloon, this would be the time when all the air would blow out of me; I’d make that weird deflating balloon noise, and spin around in the air and then fall flat on the floor. I never checked the Greek. I try to play it off cool, “Oh, well the idea is kind of the same, but yeah, OK, I’ll check on that.”

I go home and check. Yup, Tim was right. I was wrong. My point isn’t actually the point of the rest of those verses. My whole sermon, nay, my whole last week is shot. I blew it. How could I miss that detail? It’s not like Tim isn’t checking everything on his phone the entire time I’m preaching. I know better.

Tim’s are annoying. Tim’s are also amazingly helpful. Tim’s typically share their information well, they try not to be jerks, they know you and you know them. Tim is trying to help. Yet no matter how well Tim helps, how gracious he may be, the deflation is real. Being corrected like that is no fun.

But over the years of dealing with the Tim’s of the church, along with the ones who argue and are wrong and the ones who argue and are right, sometimes done with grace, other times down with disrespectful anger or glee, the pastor grows.

Even when people are completely wrong in their arguments, even when their complaint is perhaps the stupidest thing ever, the pastor can still learn. I listen to the complaints and the fault-finding. Right or wrong they make me think. They make me prepare better for next time. They help me analyze a point or an angle on a subject I never considered before.

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Sometimes Sermon Criticisms Are Actually Compliments

Criticism from “certain people” is often the best way for the pastor to know his sermon was spot on.



For the most part, I get zero feedback from people about my sermons. Therefore, I have to do a little digging to figure out how “well I did.”

Typically the same people will tell you “good sermon” every week. This means very little. I look for the person who asks a question about something I said. To me, that’s a compliment. I got them thinking.

Then there are the criticisms. It’s easier for people to criticize than to praise. If I mispronounce a word or give the wrong reference, you would think I’d just dropped a hydrogen bomb on a village of innocent women and children.

Then there are those who will walk past quickly, not making eye contact and then will write an email on Tuesday. They always wait until Tuesday. They lull you into calm. “I didn’t hear anything bad on Sunday or Monday, guess I did ok! I must be in the clear!”

Nope, Tuesday morning has an email waiting for me. The email begins with:

“On Sunday you said. . .” something that I sort of said but not entirely. By the time Tuesday comes their emotions have stretched what I said into something ridiculous. They will then copy and paste 327 verses pointing out how “what you said Sunday” is not right.

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No One Cares About Your Theological Opinions

Whenever I’m tempted to spout theological wisdom, I just remember: Nobody cares.


Social Media has taught us that success depends upon branding yourself. You have to produce content, get followers, retweets, and likes. Get your message out there. Effectiveness is measured by how many people you can prove bumped into your content.

This mentality has come into the Christian world as well. Pastors feel this pressure constantly.

We are told to follow the Big Name pastors out there and we’re basically taught to envy their numbers. John Piper can put some cheesy good morning poem on his Twitter feed and by noon it has 2.5k likes. I put out one finely crafted Tweet succinctly summing up justification and it gets zero response.

I then feel pathetic and dumb. John Piper, bolstered by the 2.5k people who liked his poem, continues to write weird poems as though people need such things for sanctification to continue. He Tweets away, then occasionally lectures people for spending too much time on social media.


I did a theologically minded blog for over 15 years. There were about five people who regularly read it. There used to be nine, but I banned four of them from commenting anymore, so they eventually left.

I put out all kinds of stuff for my church people to use. I speak three times a week, yet hardly anyone shows up. I put out, what I think, is good theological content. Really helpful and inspiring stuff.

No one cares.

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Why Do We Rely on Church Tradition?

Do something stupid in church long enough and it becomes infallible, authoritative Church Tradition.



“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Those are the alleged words of Vladimir Lenin, one of the greatest propagandists of all time. Lenin used his propaganda skills to gain power and wield it authoritatively over a helpless people.

One would hope only blatantly evil people would use such tactics to gain power. Unfortunately, hoping this would require you to be unfamiliar with human nature.

I’m stunned by people who believe things based on “church tradition.”

I mean, seriously, have you ever been to church? Have you ever hung around one for years, knowing its intimate details and goings-on? For the love of all things beautiful and good, why would you base your beliefs on what comes out of there?!

This is especially glaring for those who emphasize Sola Scriptura, the notion that Scripture is our sole authority for life and doctrine. Sole authority. “Sole” there means something. “Sole” means the only one!

“Well yes, but Scripture is hard to understand, so we need to get help. Relying on those who came before us is a safeguard for knowing what Scripture is saying.”

So, I need 2,000 years of insane people doing insane things in the name of Christ to properly understand the Scriptures? How about the Holy Spirit? Is He enough, or do I need all kinds of dead guys?

“Well, we test what the Spirit says by seeing if He said the same thing to others in the past.”

So, the only test of whether the Spirit is teaching me is if the teaching lines up with people I have no guarantee had the Spirit?

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How to Tell if a Visitor to Your Church Will Be Back

VISITOR: How long have you been at this church?

ME: Since 7am.



Visitors to a church are typically nervous, so I give them some slack. They don’t know what kind of group they are walking into, they don’t know anyone, nor how we do things. This could either be their spiritual home or another place they will run from and never return to. One never knows.

But you can learn a lot about a visitor by the questions they ask.

Visitors who ask for a doctrinal statement:
These are a dying breed and I appreciate them. They want to know what food they’ll be served. They want to know up front where we stand. It shows a certain care about the actual function of a church—teaching believers to grow in Christ. God bless visitors who care about doctrinal statements. And also, they aint coming back.

Visitors who ask about you, the pastor:
“What’s your other job?” is my favorite of these questions. It’s sort of an accusation, and if nothing else, a meant disrespect. Where did you go to seminary? How long have you been here? Where did you pastor before this? Then they will tell you about their old pastor and how great or awful he was and make comparisons for good or bad. And also, they aint coming back.

Visitors who ask about the size of the church:
Building a new building soon? Are you growing? Any new families lately? Then they will tell you about what they did in their old church that worked to bring people in and how you should try that here as if you’ve never heard of church growth ideas and live in the backwoods of spiritual ignorance and churchly incompetence. And also, they aint coming back.

Visitors who don’t ask anything:
Yeah, over the years, these are the ones most likely to come back. They don’t feel a need to interrogate, insinuate, compare, or examine. They just want a place to go. If they like it; they like it. If they don’t; they don’t. They may ask some surface questions and make conversation, but for the most part, they hold off the interrogations and seek to observe. These ones might be back.

One couple who visited our church asked for a doctrinal statement and then expressed surprise at my message, which they thought contradicted the doctrinal statement. And, in all honesty, it may have to a degree (I did not write the statement myself after all). But the wife just launched on me. She went hard after the doctrine and argued. Her husband stood quietly by. I kept looking at him here and there and he just nervously smiled.

I’ve never had a visitor quite go at me like her. I never saw them again, but I have several times prayed for that poor husband. I could tell by his looks he gave me this wasn’t the first time and he was sorry.

It was also nice that all the board members completely left me standing there alone after church with this couple. They all scattered. No man stood with me. It was me and this couple in the building. That was it. That was not cool.

I handled them the best I could and held no expectation they would be back, and they never returned. But I still pray for that poor man.

Visitors are testing the waters, as much as the waters are testing the visitors. Most visitors don’t come back. I’m always amazed at the people who stay. They were typically the ones I hardly remember their first coming. They just melt right into the group. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and more so since it’s so rare.



Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
–Hebrews 13:2

Why Pastors Skip Verses

Ignoring verses in the Bible doesn’t mean they aren’t still there.



We all ignore verses in the Bible. Many verses are inconvenient to our doctrine, our firm statements, and our way of life.

I’m not talking about ignoring verses because you’ve never read them. I mean, you know the verses are there, you just choose to ignore them.

I think of this every time I hear a Calvinist and an Arminian argue. They both ignore the other side’s verses and flop out more of their proof texts. Nothing is resolved except letting the argument’s listeners know that neither person is entirely dealing with the Bible.

This is, in fact, probably the only redeeming aspect of Christian arguing: it lets the hearers know that the talkers have little idea what they are talking about.

Over my years of preaching I have covered every single book of the Bible. I’ve preached many an uncomfortable sermon. Like, uncomfortable to me, ones that hit a little close to home. As a pastor I can choose to skip passages. Maybe end my text right before that one verse because it makes an inconvenient point to my sermon. No one will know, it’s not like anyone is listening anyway.

But I know those verses are there. I know what verses I skip and why I skip them. I have faces that pop into my head when I read verses. “Yup, that guy will get ticked if I bring this up.” Or, “that woman will fly into a tailspin of doubt if I bring that one up.”

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