christmas scene it

Christmas Scene It

The students in our youth small group love playing Scene It – the movie trivia game. So when the youth leaders and I were planning for our youth group Christmas party in 2011, we said we wanted to play Christmas Scene It. No one we knew had the game, so I took a look on Amazon to find it. No luck. They have every other variety of Scene It imaginable: Harry Potter, Disney, James Bond, and even Twilight. But no Christmas Scene It.

So I decided to make one. It is a modified version of the game: it shows clips from movies and then asks a question about those clips. It is available as a Keynote presentation that includes all the video clips: Christmas Scene It – KeyNote[ZIP]. The students loved playing it, and so will your group.

Feel free to use this for your youth group or small group Christmas party, or even for your extended family’s Christmas gathering. Be sure to let me know how and where you used it.

UPDATED LINK November 28, 2012 – For all those asking, here is an updated link for Christmas Scene  It – Keynote. It is on my public file in Dropbox, the best cloud storage system out there!
UPDATED December 10, 2013 – I just made the file available in PowerPoint too: Christmas Scene It – PPT [ZIP]. Let me know how it works!

Read More

evernote and pastoral ministry

Organizing a Pastor’s Life in Evernote

evernote pastorBack in college, I remember taking a class that helped you with practical advice in ministry. One week, we were told to create a filing system for your office, something that was expandable, yet easy to navigate and search. The reason is simple: pastors need to collect and save a lot of info—from journal articles on a specific passage, quotes, and sermon illustrations. Our professor stressed the importance of having a filing system; otherwise you would collect all these pieces of information and never use them. He said this system would become your brain, storing all the info until you needed it.

For this class, I created a rudimentary filing system on my laptop. Using nested folders, I could separate categories and topics; inside each folder was a scanned picture or text document. This simple setup met my needs; as I added more ideas, I simply added folders. But in 2008, these folders were permanently replaced by Evernote, my new digital brain.

About Evernote

Evernote is a collection of apps that allows you to store, access, and search any type of file from any device. Their motto is simple—Remember Everything—and they succeed in helping users do that. What started as a desktop and web-based application has expanded rapidly to virtually all platforms, and has even developed an ecosystem of additional apps that can interact with your Evernote account.

How I Use Evernote

Since Evernote is such a flexible system, you can use it however you want to; there is no “right” way. Here’s some examples of how I use Evernote as a young pastor, in hopes it might help you think of a new way to store and access your information.

Collect Everything

First, I see Evernote as being a large bucket with which I can collect everything. From articles I find interesting, to youth group game ideas, to all my research on a particular passage, all of it goes into Evernote.

This is made easy by all the ways you can put info into Evernote. With browser extensions, I can clip any webpage with just a few clicks. If I download a PDF onto my desktop, I can easily drag the file into the desktop app, creating its own note. Several of my iOS apps can send info directly into Evernote, including my scratchpad (Drafts), my read-it-later app (Instapaper), and my RSS reader (Mr. Reader). If there is a tweet I like, I have set up an IFTTT recipe to copy that tweet and send it to Evernote. I can even forward emails into Evernote, using a personalized, secret Evernote email address all members are given.

Organize Everything

While the search functionality in Evernote is stellar, I still like to organize my notes. This is done by creating Notebooks (think categories), using Tags, and even creating a table of contents note. Here are a few ways I utilize these tools in my system.

Notebooks as Categories

I have created 38 notebooks in Evernote, divided into large categories. I view these as big buckets in which to dump all related notes. Categories like Old Testament, New Testament, Church & Ministry, Personal Stuff, and Culture are large notebooks, containing hundreds of diverse files—but all fitting under each general headline. I also have an @inbox notebook, which serves as a catch-all. It is the default notebook which all new notes first appear in, before I sort and move them into the proper bucket.


In my Personal Stuff, I place all my tax-deductible receipts from ministry—whether they are forwarded from email or scanned in. But I need to distinguish between receipts from different years; this is where tags come in handy. I use descriptive tags—like TD 2013—to tell what tax year this receipt came from. So when I prepare to meet with my tax guy, I can simply go to the Personal Stuff notebook and search for all notes tagged with TD 2013. Super simple!

My Own Commentary

Warning: this might get really nerdy!

A few years ago I tried compiling all my notes and thoughts on biblical passages in Word documents—one document per book of the Bible. However, I found this to be clunky, hard to scan through, and annoying to maintain. Then I listened to a lecture by D.A. Carson on preaching, in which he gives a glimpse into his note-taking system, comprised of looseleaf notebook paper. It was then that I came up with the system in Evernote that I use now.

Template for a chapter of the Bible.
Template for a chapter of the Bible.

First, I created a template note for a biblical chapter, featuring room for an outline, verse by verse exposition, and a list of sources. Second, I duplicated the template enough to create a file for each chapter of each book of the Bible. Next, using the Copy Note Link feature, I created two large documents, sort of like a table of contents for each testament of the Bible. Now, whenever I am working on a passage, I can keep all my notes and thoughts in the Evernote note for that chapter.

Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away
Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away

Two advantages for this system: First, it is completely expandable. Each note can be as large or as small as it needs to be. Second, I can link other notes easily to the chapter note. So if I find a helpful journal article on a passage, I can add it to Evernote and link to it in the footer of the relevant chapter note. It may seem like this would take a long time, and let me assure you it will take 3x longer than you think! But having a system in place pays off immensely in the long run, especially if you plan on using your system frequently.

Recall Everything

The final strength of Evernote is the powerful searching feature. At the top right corner of the desktop app, there is a search bar. With this bar, you can search for any word or phrase found in your notes. But you can get even more specific: you can limit the search by Notebook, Tags, and even by when the note was created. And the real power comes in Evernote’s OCR technology, which means you can search through PDFs and other files (a Premium only feature). So if you are looking for that Word document you placed in Evernote two years ago, you don’t need to remember the title, or even the notebook, if you remember and can search for the subject of the document. This is immensely helpful to me; often I am pleasantly surprised by what a search returns to me, as I had forgotten about a file.


By now I have spend so much time and energy placing articles, thoughts, and ideas into Evernote, I can’t imagine ministry without it. If you are looking for a way to easily store and retrieve your myriad of files, articles, and illustrations, or if you are looking for a digital replacement for a paper-based system, I would encourage you to check out Evernote.

One word of advice for younger pastors or seminary students who are about to start with Evernote: be sure to stay on top of your organizing. You get what you put into your system. If you don’t spend the time, your system will not be as helpful as you hoped it would be. Take the time—like a free Saturday or a few open evenings—to develop and organize you system. Your future self will thank you.


organizing-pastors-life-evernote-screenshotFree eBook!

I have put together an eBook with additional tips on organizing a pastor’s life with Evernote. Click here to sign up for your free eBook.

Read More

The Church is Not a Social Club

Most cities in America have social clubs: an official location where a group of homogenous people can gather together. Sometimes these people share the same economic class or recreational activity (country club). Other times it is a shared life experience (VFW) or a desire to spend time with friends (Elks Lodge).

Millions of men and women find value in these social clubs. Sometimes it is the friendships they value, meeting people that share their perspective. For others it is the business or political connections; with apologies to Michael Scott, the golf course is where business happens. However, some of these same people view the church in the same light; it has become nothing more than a church social club.

Attributes of a Social Club

church social clubMost social clubs share the same three attributes:

  1. It is designed for insiders
  2. Members pay dues
  3. Membership receives benefits

Sound like some people in the church?

For some, the church will be nothing more than a social club. They will give their offerings (dues), expect ministries catering to their every (insider) need, and look to hold power by serving in leadership positions (benefits). These views give the church a false identity, harmful to the body of Christ.

Alternative to the Church Social Club

Here are three alternative attributes of a church that challenge the social club mentality:

1. Designed for Outsiders

The church cannot be a sealed-off club, only allowing members through the doors. It cannot be exclusivist, because Jesus Christ was not exclusivist! He dined with and died for sinners. God’s grace does not work differently for members in a church and the stranger outside; his love covers all.

In fact, the church exists to reach out to the outsiders! If we take Jesus’ commands seriously, then believers are charged to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are not optional; Christians in the church are to seek, love, and disciple those far away from Christ.

2. Free-will Offerings

God is our everything; He created us, continues to sustain us, and has poured out His grace and mercy upon us. He alone controls and owns all, including the contents of our bank account. As believers, our response to all God has lavished upon us is not dues paid to an organization; it is a natural overflow of our worship to Him.

In the early church, people were selling possessions and bringing what they had to the apostles. They weren’t giving with strings attached, nor expecting a tax-deductible receipt or a plaque on the wall; they gave willingly for the betterment of the body of believers.

3. Covenant Membership

The term membership carries too much baggage in our consumer-centric society. Membership implies something is due to the member, benefits flowing one way from the organization to the member.

Instead, I love using the term covenant to describe membership in a church. Drawing from the rich covenantal images in the Bible, this concept signifies that both parties make promises to the other. To the covenant member, the church promises to protect, equip, and disciple. To the church, the covenant member promises to submit, serve, and be a functioning part of the body.

This view of church membership looks less consumer-centric and more like a marriage commitment. The member is less likely to ask “What is the church doing for me?” and more likely to ask “What can I do for the church?” It also moves the focus away from the preferences of the individual and toward the needs of the community.


The way we view a church’s identity affects our expectations, desired outcomes, and even our theology. The view that the church is a social club promotes the idolatry of self, as seen in the culture of consumerism. This view is wrong and is harmful to the unity of the body of Christ. We need to purge this and other false identities from our congregations. The only way to do that is to preach, teach, and model the biblical roles and purposes of the local church.

Series on False Church Self-Identity:


Read More

George Whitefield on Preaching

George Whitefield quote on preachingGeorge Whitefield, one of the greatest evangelists in church history, was a pioneer in open-air preaching. Rather than having the people come to him, he went where the people were. This itinerant ministry took him throughout England, Scotland, and several times to America.

Here’s what Whitefield had to say in 1741 on his open-air preaching:

Let not the adversaries say I have thrust myself out. No;they have thrust me out. And since the self-righteous men of this generation count themselves unworthy, I go out into the highways and hedges, and compel harlots, publicans and sinners to come in, that my Master’s house may be filled.  (quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: God’d Anointed Servant, Kindle loc. 686-689, emphasis mine)

Read More

On the Church as a Refuge

This past Sunday in ABF we were talking about the nature and purpose of the local church. It was a good, lively conversation, with everyone contributing their perspective on the matter. One image that came up in the discussion is that the church serves as a beachhead of God’s kingdom into this current world. It’s a place of refuge where we go to resupply and encourage one another before we head back into the battle.

After the discussion I was reminded of Douglas Jones’ book Dismissing Jesus: How We Evade the Way of the Cross (my review), and especially this quote:

Christ’s gospel is the story of deliverance, a release from a spiritual-material tyranny, the principalities and powers of Satan/Mammon. The church is the new kingdom of refuge: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col 1:13). We too often understand Paul’s summary in purely spiritual-intellectual terms, but for the weak the church is an actual place of refuge and freedom. It is supposed to be a move from an unjust and uncaring domain into a kingdom of support, justice, and friends. It is the move from one political entity to another, and if that move is incomplete or merely about “worldview,” then we haven’t yet been delivered from the kingdom of Mammon. We’re called to create a whole, competing city, not just a lecture room. (Jones, Dismissing Jesus, 238)

Read More

How Does It End?

choose your own adventureBack in my elementary school days, I remember reading—and loving—the Choose Your Own Adventure books. For those not familiar, this was a book with an evolving storyline, entirely shaped by the reader. You would read a page of a story, then get to the bottom and choose between several options. Each option lead to a different page in the book, thus changing the storyline.

What made this type of book so great was the endings. Sometimes you would get a few pages into the story, only to discover you chose the wrong path and your character died. Then you would have to go back to the beginning, hoping to choose better this next time and make it to the end.

Endings of books are important. They conclude the story, tying up loose ends. Hopefully, the ending of a is satisfying, leaving you with a big smile of content as you close the book.

This Sunday at church we will look at the ending of the book of Psalms. By looking at the very last psalm (Psalm 150), we will hopefully be able to summarize the entire book of Psalms in 3 words or less! Be sure to join us at North Baptist Church this Sunday at 9am.

Read More

Our God-Given Calling Shapes Our Story Today

Here’s a great quote by Michael Williams on how the kingdom of God impacts a Christian’s story today:

The kingdom of God calls the redeemed into faithful enlistment in the cause of Christ in the world, and for the world. Far from entailing a disdain for the creaturely realm, saying yes to Christ entails, not a rejection of creation but a rejection of sin and a deeply religious affirmation of the things of God. Our God-given calling includes reflecting God’s self-sacrificial, redemptive concern for a sin-scarred world.

Michael D. Williams, Far As The Curse Is Found, p. 295 (emphasis mine).

Read More

Autopsy of a Deceased Church – A Review

autopsy of a deceased churchIntroduction

A few weeks ago, as my wife and I were on vacation, I drove through some small, rural towns in Upstate New York. I could always tell the center of one of these small towns: there was a stop sign (the only one for miles), a restaurant or gas station, and a beautiful, old church building. Or should I say former a church building.

Some estimate that over 4,000 churches close their doors—effectively dying—each year. None of these deaths happen suddenly; rather, they are a result of years of decline. In Autopsy of a Deceased Church, author Thom Rainer does a post-mortem evaluation of 14 of these churches, identifying 10 characteristics common in most of them. The purpose is not to depress or discourage, but rather the inspire action in churches that can still be saved.


Throughout the book, Rainer highlights the gradual slide of a church: from a healthy church to a sick church, and from a sick church to a very sick church, and finally from a very sick church to a church that no longer exists. This slide took years, and was so gradual that most church leaders didn’t notice it until it was too late.

In each brief chapter, Rainer focuses on one characteristic of a deceased church. But all can be traced back to a single, deeper condition: an inward-focused church. All the churches Rainer examined had, in the declining years, turned their focus increasingly inward. They neglected the Great Commission and rejected the surrounding community, opting for keeping current members comfortable and happy.

Rainer provides a partial definition of a church, which is helpful in determining how and when a church dies:

“A church by definition is a body of believers who function for the greater good of the congregation.” (52)

This means that inward-focused churches are not only dying, they are also becoming something other than a church. Whether it looks more like a country club or a walled fortress, the dying church does not look like the bride of Christ. This also means that when a church turns it’s focus inward, it is on the path to death; it might take years before the doors are closed for good, but it is well on that path.

My Thoughts

Several churches where I have served or worshipped have been on this spectrum, from slightly sick to dying. As I read this book, I could see exactly how several of these churches fit Rainer’s description. From an outsider’s view, the characteristics are clear; but for the members of the church, and even the leaders, this unhealthy, inward focus was a blind-spot.

The value of this book is not in helping dying churches; though Rainer writes to them directly in the last 5 pages, his advice is on how to die with dignity, passing on your building and remaining resources to another church. Instead, the value of this book is for leaders and members of sick and healthy churches. For healthy churches, leaders can use this book as a thermometer, making sure they stay healthy and not slipping into unhealthy territory. For sick churches, leaders should use this book like an outside consultant: telling you the harsh truth and giving advice on how to get healthy again.


In Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer has done a service to the greater Church by drawing attention to the inward-focused tendencies that can kill a church. My prayer is that this little book will encourage church leaders to change their direction of decline, develop a renewed embrace of the Great Commission, and return the church to healthy.

Book Info

Thanks to B&H for a review copy of this book!

Read More

On Conflict, Defending Yourself, and the Gospel

A few weeks ago, Tullian Tchividjian—grandson of Billy Graham and pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church—removed his blog from the website of The Gospel Coalition—the fellowship of churches founded by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller. This led to plenty of speculation by nosy observers, trying to surmise the “real” reasons for this break-up. It also lead to a few accusatory blog posts from both sides, each trying to set the record straight.

This past week, after some of the dust had settled Tullian wrote a new post called Reflections On My “Break-Up” With The Gospel Coalition. In this post you will find no dirt, no hidden backstory, and no final barrage. Instead, you will find a heart-felt apology for the way he handled the situation. Here’s a few quotes from the post, but I encourage you to read the whole thing here.

First, I want to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for saying things in my own defense. One of the things that the gospel frees you to do is to never have to bear the burden of defending yourself. Defending the gospel is one thing. But when a defense of the gospel becomes a defense of yourself, you’ve slipped back under “a yoke of slavery.” I slipped last week.

Third (and finally), I want you to know that while Christians have differences on a wide variety of issues, I believe that the world is big enough and the harvest is ripe enough for well-meaning brothers and sisters to agree to disagree.

Having been involved in ministry settings where deep, unity-breaking conflict has taken place, I know how un-Christian we can be in our behavior. Often it is masked as “speaking the truth,” “defending myself,” or “setting the record straight,” but as Tullian notes, the gospel has freed us from defending ourselves. Moreover, these actions become bitter infighting between brothers and sisters in Christ, through which the love of Christ is not on display.

I thank God for Tullian, The Gospel Coalition, and for the work both do on behalf of Jesus. While I hate seeing strife and disunity, I am grateful for this display of humility and love. I pray that I will see more of this in churches, replacing the vicious, prideful attacks too commonly seen.

Read More

The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible

scarlet thread through the bibleBack in college, I received a worn copy of The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible by W.A. Criswell. The book was originally a 5-hour sermon preached on New Year’s Eve 1961.

In this sermon, Criswell traced redemptive history through the entire Bible—from the blood spilled after the Fall to the redemption of the saints in Revelation. The book, which is a compilation of his sermon, provided later readers with a breathtaking grand narrative of Scripture.

While the book has been out of print for some time, the folks at LifeWay have republished The Scarlet Thread as a ebook. Best of all, through The Gospel Project, they are offering it as a free download (PDF and ePub)! If you are interested in this rich resource on redemption, be sure to check it out!

Download The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible today!

Read More