Tag: Pastoral Care

5 Reasons to Write Books For Your Own Congregation

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Even though we are in the midst of a Christian publishing boom, writers often overlook their most obvious audience: their own congregations. I hate to break this news to all of us aspiring writers, but most of us are not going to write the next Purpose-Driven Life, or Love Wins, or any other bestseller.

But why not write a book for your own congregation? Here are five reasons I think writing for your own congregation is an opportunity waiting to be seized:

  1. You know your audience. I’m talking to pastors and church leaders primarily here, I suppose. I think the Number One reason to write for your own church is because you know your congregation. You know the struggles, opportunities, challenges, and spiritual needs your congregation is facing. You know your church’s theology, its practices, and its short-comings. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.
  2. Writing to congregations is as old as the New Testament. Could there be a better book to make the case for writing for your own congregation than the New Testament? Of course, Paul wasn’t the only New Testament writer to address specific communities. John, Peter, the Gospel writers, and whoever wrote Hebrews (if Paul didn’t) all were targeting specific Christian communities.
  3. You can publish your book for free. In this age of Amazon and Kindle, anyone can publish their book for free. I self-published my book, The Reconciling Community, for next to nothing compared to conventional book publishing costs. Actually, I could have published it for free, but I added some options like registering with the Library of Congress and getting some professional help with formatting.
  4. You can give your book away. I did not write my book to make money or become famous. That’s a good thing because I have achieved neither fame nor fortune. That’s fine with me. I published my book to make my ideas accessible to the widest audience possible. That’s why I’m on Amazon. I also published it to be able to give copies to my church. When my book was published, I offered a print copy free to any member of my congregation who wanted one. My author’s book cost is about $4 per copy, so I could afford to give it away to all who wanted it. I decided to give as many copies away to my congregation as I could because they supported me while I wrote it. The work is mine, but the time and encouragement to write came from them. In addition, a peer-learning group wanted to use it, so I donated 20 copies to our state denominational office for them. I have mailed out about two dozen copies to other individuals who expressed interest. Of course, I occasionally do sell a copy on Amazon. I’m averaging one print book and one e-book purchase per month! Not big bucks, but that small amount has almost paid for the few publishing costs I incurred.
  5. Your congregation will benefit from your writing. Whether you write a devotional guide, a Bible study book, a church history, or Christian fiction, your congregation will benefit from your writing. They will get to know you as an author, in addition to being their pastor. They’ll be able to share your work with their family and friends. And, finally, they will grow spiritually from your helpful writing. Just like Paul, you can offer guidance, correction, instruction, and encouragement, in the form of a book, to those closest to you — your congregation.

I enjoyed the experience of writing a book for my church so much, that in September I’m going to start another one. This time the congregation is going to help me gather information and insights from our church’s 157-year history. Together we’re going to write a new church history. But, this won’t be the typical “buildings, baptisms, and budgets” review. Instead, I have divided the church’s life into 7 eras from 1857 to 2014. We’ll look at each era, and examine the context of world events, local culture, and church life as a whole. The point is not just to record our history, however. The primary purpose is to examine our history in order to reflect on when and how we have been successful in our ministry, and when we have missed opportunities along the way.

The scheme for doing this involves taking each Wednesday night from September, 2014 through May, 2015 for study, presentation, and research. Congregational members will help by providing stories, photographs, and artifacts from each era. In addition, we’re utilizing the research available to us through the Virginia Baptist Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. The goal is to have a published book containing our annotated church history, plus our dreams for the future.

The working title for this project is Cast a Wishful Eye: The Memories, Hopes, and Dreams of Chatham Baptist Church. I took the phrase, “cast a wishful eye” from the grand old hymn, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand. I thought it was an appropriate image for our reflection on the past and gazing forward into the future. Here’s a link to the entire outline, if you’re interested in doing something like this in your church.

I would encourage you to consider writing for your own congregation. Both you and your members will benefit. And, you won’t have to ask all your pastor friends to write a review on Facebook. That’s reason enough for me!

Five Things I Learned in the Hospital

duke_univ_hospWith my almost 3-week hospital stay behind me, I realized there are several things I learned from the experience. Here are five of them:

1. People who are in the hospital are really sick.

You might think that would be obvious, but when I say sick, I mean really sick. With today’s cost-driven medical care, you’ve got to be really sick to be admitted, and really, really sick to stay for almost 3-weeks like I did. Recognizing the degree of a person’s illness should have a great deal to do with how we minister to those in the hospital.

2. Brief visits are good visits.

While I enjoyed seeing everyone who came to see me, when I was at my sickest the shorter the visit the more I appreciated it. There are several reasons for brief visits. First, the patient is really sick (see Item #1 above). Second, being really sick means your attention span, your strength, and your ability to carry on a conversation are all limited. Third, hospital patients often have to use the bathroom more frequently than others due to the nature of their illness and medications they might be receiving. Keeping your visit short avoids the embarrassment of their having to ask you to leave while they call for the nurse for assistance.

3. Privacy and Dignity Need to Be Preserved by Visitors.

I discovered that being in the hospital means that doctors and nurses ask you about bowel movements, urination, incontinence, and other personal body functions. Often they do this right in front of everyone in the room, assuming that its okay to ask any question with guests present. Visitors should help the patient preserve what little privacy and dignity they have left, by excusing themselves when the doctor enters the room, or the nurse comes in to check on the patient. By exhibiting sensitivity toward the patient’s privacy and dignity, guests will show respect for the patient.

4. Let Sleeping Patients Lie.

Believe it or not, hospital life is not conducive to sleep. Almost every night at 3 AM, a lab technician would come in to draw blood for lab tests. Of course, she had to turn on the overhead light, and I had to sit up for her to find an unused vein (they grew harder to find each day) from which to draw blood. So, if you come into a hospital room where the patient is asleep, write a note and then quietly leave. The patient will appreciate your visit and your thoughtfulness.

5. Offer specific ways you can help.

Offer specific ways you are able to help make the patient’s stay easier. While there we had people offer to take our dirty clothes home and wash them. Others brought us food, or drinks, and some offered to do so when we got home. Two men in our church installed a new shower head in our shower so I could shower seated. Others offered transportation, help with travel and parking expenses, and many assured us of their prayers. Saying, “I can’t do everything, but I can wash clothes. Can I take yours home and wash them and return them tomorrow,” is a great way of offering to do something specific.

Of course, I learned more than 5 things while in the hospital and maybe I’ll share some of those later. But for now, these are things that can enhance your hospital ministry whether you’re a pastor or concerned church member. I’m also interested in what you’ve learned from your experience being hospitalized. What things would you add to this list. Put them in the comments, and I’ll add them in a later post. Thanks, and it’s good to be home again!

The Possibility of Cancer

The doctors now suspect that my symptoms of pain, loss of feeling in my hands and feet, and difficulty walking may all be caused by some type of cancer. Today I am having a neck CT scan with contrast dye. While I’m in the CT scan, the doctor will biopsy some of my lymph nodes.

So far I’ve had 3 MRIs of head, neck, and lower back; 2 CT scans of chest and heart; 2 chest x-rays; a spinal tap; and, lots of blood work. Physical therapy will start working with me today as I continue to lose the ability to walk. I appreciate your continued prayers.

Crafting a new definition of forgiveness

Debbie commented today, after looking at all the books on my desk, “Do you know you have 31 books on forgiveness?” Actually, I didn’t but she’s pretty close.  I’m working on a writing project about forgiveness.  In the process, I am trying to craft a new definition for forgiveness, which is harder than you might think.

I’m interested in a definition of forgiveness that can be applied in pastoral ministry in the local church.  In other words, I’m looking for a definition of forgiveness that pastors can share with their members to encourage them to practice “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I am advocating for a new definition of forgiveness that:

  • Takes into account the idea of forgiveness as a process;
  • Produces an effect that is recognizable, so that a person can determine if they are acting in a forgiving manner;
  • Values the broken relationship;
  • Is useful both in situations where the offender has asked for forgiveness, and in situations where he has not done so;
  • Seeks reconciliation as the final goal of forgiving acts;
  • Attends to the psychological and spiritual health of the offended;
  • Deals with the problems of memory and emotions in the forgiving process; and,
  • Can be practically applied in local church ministry to assist and encourage the forgiving process.

What definition of forgiveness meets all of these criteria, and is clear enough to be helpful to pastors in their local church ministry?  Any thoughts?  Fire away in the comments.  Thanks.

When Death Comes To Our Community

This is the sermon I am going to preach on Sunday, February 21, 2010.  It comes on the occasion of the death of one of our members tonight, Saturday, February 20.

When Pope John XXIII lay dying, the Pope’s physician is reported to have said, “Holy Father, you have asked me many times to tell you when the end was near so you could prepare.”  The Pope replied, “Yes.  Don’t feel badly, Doctor.  I understand. I am ready.”

With that the Pope’s secretary, Loris Capovilla collapsed at the Pope’s bedside weeping.

“Courage, my son.  I am a bishop, and I must die as a bishop, with simplicity but with majesty, and you must help me.  Go get the people together.”

His reply was, “Santo Padre, they are waiting.” — Accompany Them With Singing, Introduction.

Last night one of our own left us.  Earl Hedrick went home to be with God.  I had planned to preach today on angels as God’s ushers, bringing us at death and at the end of time into the presence of God.  And while that might be a subject of great interest to us at another time, I felt today I needed to speak to you as your pastor about death, and what happens when death comes to our community.

This is not Earl’s funeral or eulogy, but because his death came so close upon our gathering here today, and came as such a shock to each of us, I want to take a few minutes today to talk about death and how we as followers of Christ deal with the grief and loss that accompanies death.

Dying Is Part of Our Life’s Journey

We all know we are going to die someday, but the will to live that beats in our chest does all it can to push death away.  We have sought to remove death from our lives, our homes, even our churches so much that when death does come in unexpected and surprising ways, we are struck with its finality and force.

There was a time when death was seen as the shadow companion of life.  Walk through any old cemetery where the grave stones display dates that reach back a hundred or more years.  What strikes me each time I visit an old cemetery is the number of small

Continue reading “When Death Comes To Our Community”

Reveiw: Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures by David Augsburger

With the rise of multi-ethnic congregations, global mission trips, and world-wide communication, church leaders should read Dr. David Augsburger’s book, Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures.

Augsburger guides the pastoral counselor, or church staff member, on a tour through alternative worlds by exploring the care of souls across the rich variety of social contexts found around the globe.  Augsburger carefully and in compelling detail expands the Western pastoral counselor’s worldview to include a rich panoply of cultures which approach differently the experiences of conflict, individuality, the social group, mental health, family, and other issues of concern to our common humanity.  The reader learns, in other words, that her or his own culture is not normative for all cultures, thereby opening the reader to new insights in the pastoral counseling task.

Helpful chapter themes include subtitles which both describe and guide the reader on the intercultural journey.  Subtitles include: A Theology of Presence, A Theology of Culture, A Theology of Humanness, A Theology of Grace, A Theology of Value, A Theology of the Family, A Theology of Liberation, A Theology of Moral Character, A Theology of the Demonic, A Theology of Human Frailty, and, Models of Pastoral Counseling and Theology.

Two particular insights emerge as the reader moves from chapter to chapter.  First, human beings, despite wide cultural variance, hold basic human traits in common.   In other words, we as a species are similar in our common humanity, while at the same time we are diverse in our cultural expressions.  Secondly, the existence of dominant cultures does not mean that one culture is inherently superior to another.  The intercultural pastoral counselor learns to move from his or her culture into another culture, and back again, providing help at the “borders” of cultural intersection and insight.

Taking these two insights as the guiding light for the “interpathy” of the pastoral counselor, she or he is then able to resist the temptation to make others in their own image, or the image on their own culture.  Rather the aware intercultural pastoral counselor is able to help those in need within the context of the counselee’s cultural values, groups, constructs, assumptions, and traditions.  This allows the person helped to find their way to wholeness as defined by the society in which they live.

Intercultural awareness also enables the counselor to move beyond the idea that his or her culture is superior, and by extension, that his or her culture is the norm preferred by God.  This insight expands the theological framework of the intercultural pastoral counselor, providing the opportunity to relate to the God of all creation and cultures in a new, positive, and helpful manner.

By the same token, the book opens the idea of community to the whole world of cultures encountered by the counselor.  By developing cultural awareness, bridges can be built from the counselor’s culture into the cultural milieu of others, thereby expanding the communal relationships available to the counselor, and reciprocally to the counseled.

Augsburger even tackles the world of the mystical and apparently supernatural, providing access through both reason and faith to that which seems to be beyond scientific analysis.  Augsburger’s even-handed approach to the mysteries of demon possession, shamanism, and supernatural healing grounds the counselor in a real world, while allowing for the inexplicable and transcendent.

I commented to Debbie as I read through this book, that Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures contains enough material for several books.  This is not a fluffy, insubstantial volume.  But the persistent reader will find tools for personal reflection, and cross-cultural engagement.  If you need a good book about pastoral counseling, that also expands your cultural horizons, then this is the book to read.

Augsburger, David W., Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures. The Westminster Press (Philadelphia:  1986), 373.

Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy of this book from Amazon, and received no inducement to write this review.

Grief as the surprising companion of cancer

As cancers go, it was the best kind to have, the doctor said.  Basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, that lives at the base layer of the skin, but rarely metastasizes to other parts of the body.  The bad news, he said, was that it was in the worst place it could be — in the middle of Debbie’s upper lip.  It would have to be removed.  There would be a scar.  He couldn’t work miracles.  That was only for Hollywood, he said.

Debbie had noticed what appeared to be an enlarged pore just at the bow of her lip.  Early last summer, she noticed a lump inside her lip just under this pore.  Summer was busy, though.  We had Vacation Bible School in June.  In July, my brother died and we made a week-long trip to south Georgia for his funeral.  In August, I spoke at a conference at Myrtle Beach, where we had a few days in the sun.  In October, Debbie went to a new dermatologist because the lump was bigger.

The dermatologist immediately diagnosed the enlarged pore and the lump as skin cancer, probably basal cell.  We were both stunned.  Neither of us had thought about cancer.  A cyst, maybe.  A clogged pore.  But cancer was a complete surprise.  A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.  Then we had to wait for an appointment with the surgeon.  Debbie had the option of scheduling a consultation with the dermatological surgeon prior to her surgery.   On a November day we met him in his office.  That’s when he told us the good and bad news.  Most of it seemed bad to us.  Surgery was scheduled for December 11.

Last Friday, she went in for what would be called minor surgery by a casual observer.  With Mohs surgery, they don’t even put you to sleep.  She walked into the clinic, then out again four hours later.  The cancer was excised, and the doctor, who is also a plastic surgeon, did a wonderful job of repairing her lip where the cancer had been.  It was larger than he thought it would be, he said.  About the size of a nickel, right on her upper lip.

What surprised us both was the grief that was companion to the cancer.  Our first reaction was shock and disbelief.  How could this be cancer, even the least invasive kind?  It didn’t look like cancer.  Not like all the warning signs of cancer you typically see.  Our shock turned to anger at another doctor who had dismissed the enlarged pore with an “I don’t know what this is, but don’t worry about it.”

And then we prayed.  And read books on healing, and wondered if somehow God would not heal her so she wouldn’t have to go through the surgery.  And we prayed until we could not pray about it anymore.  We had no more words, no ability to sit together and ask God for anything — healing, peace, grace, calm, nothing.  We had come to the end of our prayers.  We had to hope that Paul was right, that the Spirit would pray for us because we did not know how to pray for ourselves.

And we cried.  We cried in our private moments, when we turned out the light at night, lying in bed.  We held each other and cried for the uncertainty, the loss, the fear, and the anxiety.  We wept because we had no words with which to comfort each other in the face of this disease that had crept into our life and now occupied almost our every thought.

We cried for each other when we were not crying for ourselves.  We grieved the loss of this part of Debbie’s body, this part of her lip on which I had seen a million smiles take form and blossom.  We grieved because no one else could grieve for us.  Because all the well-intentioned assurances did not help.

But the prayers of others did help, we believe.  The surgery went well, the doctor was skillful, and Debbie is healing.  Her lip no longer has its Cupid’s bow, as that little curved part is called.  But she’s well, the cancer is gone, and we’re on the other side of this experience.  What surprised us was the grief, whose shadow is just now fading.

I have always tried to visit my members who were facing in-patient surgery, and I have sat with families waiting the outcome of open-heart, cancer, and other types of major surgical procedures.   Day surgeries don’t seem as serious.  Medically, I suppose, they are not.  But few will know the emotional and spiritual pain accompanying those procedures we call ‘minor.’  Grief, however, makes no distinction and visits us at surprising moments of our own vulnerability.  I’m going to remember that, I hope.

Jesus never denied the presence of grief, never dismissed it, but always was present with those in grief.  “Blessed are those who mourn,” he said, “for they shall be comforted.”  I want to be among those who are the comforters, as well as the comforted.