Don’t Forget the Congregation!

Changing My Focus

Going from a large church to a small one can be a jarring transition. I grew up in a church of about four hundred people; not a mega church by any means, but not small by any means either. When I was at Heartland Baptist Bible College, I attended a church that ran over two thousand people on Sunday mornings!

The church I have served in since graduation is small; we run about fifty people. There are definitely a lot of changes to get used to when you start serving at a small church; and as time has gone one, I have begun to appreciate those differences; not just the bad ones, but the good ones as well! One area where I have had to have a paradigm shift is our focus in the music ministry.

We have six singers total that are involved in any way with our music program; that’s far fewer than the churches I grew up in. We also only have one piano to practice on…and it has to be set up and taken down every Sunday and Wednesday. Because we rent out building, we sometimes simply don’t have any time to practice between setting up, tearing down, and getting out when our rental is up. These challenges can make it difficult to have a lot of vocal groups singing on a regular basis.

When I first started at Foundation Baptist Church, I brought my “large church” mindset with me. I wanted to have as many groups singing as often as we could; I wanted to do the same songs larger churches were doing with five times the people, and twice the available practice time. I saw great choir and group specials going on at other churches, and I wanted to have that at our church!

Mostly I felt frustrated. It seemed like there was never enough time to practice everything (and it still does). It was difficult not to stretch busy people too thin by scheduling them to often (it still is). Things didn’t always come together like I hoped they would. Don’t get me wrong! I am incredibly blessed by the people we have in our music ministry; they are talented people who love the Lord, work hard, and have excellent spirits; but there is only so much a small group of people can do with limited resources (and a music director who struggles to stay on top of everything that needs to be done)!

I gradually began to have a paradigm shift; I began to realize that my large-church mindset was keeping me from capitalizing on the opportunities I have! For example, I have lots of adults, teenagers, and kids who want to learn to sing better. I was putting so much effort into matching what larger churches were doing that I was not making time for them. I also failed to put proper emphasis on the congregational singing. I gradually began to shift my efforts in that direction; focusing on training and developing people, as well as making our congregational singing great. I am still trying to do those things, and still struggling quite a bit with handling everything that a music ministry entails, but here are a few things that have helped our congregational singing flourish:

  1. Make it real

It’s so easy to come into church, sing the songs, and let your heart be a million miles away! Even as the worship leader, I often find myself thinking about other things. The congregational singing can easily become mundane and rote; or it become an extra ten minutes to get to church, get your coffee, and mingle with your brothers and sisters.

But it should be so much more! Congregational singing is an amazing time that comes once or twice a week. It’s a time for us to gather as a church family and praise and worship our God! I’ve tried to make it a point to encourage 100% participation through exhorting people to sing. I may also emphasize the words by commenting on them, reading some applicable Scripture, and having one of our members sing a verse as a solo.

2. Keep it Fresh

There are some truly great old hymns that minister to our church and communicate great truths about God! I don’t ever want to stop singing great hymns like “How Great Thou Art”, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “There is a Fountain”. I do try to keep our song selection fresh, though, by introducing new hymns to our services. By “new”, I don’t mean they have been written in the last twenty years (although some have). I simply mean hymns we have never sung before. After all, why should the age of a song matter? Age has nothing to do with the quality of a hymn. There are some hidden gems that I’ve found in our hymnal. This year, our theme has been “The Just Shall Live By Faith”; I have loved seeing our congregation rally around the hymn “By Faith” by Keith and Kristen Getty. The excitement and heart are palpable every time we sing it!

3. Learn to Sing Parts

If you use screens in your church, you’re a liberal! No, just kidding. There’s nothing wrong with screens at all! They would certainly make my life easier; I often print out music for hymns that aren’t in our hymnal. It’s a real pain keeping up with all those papers, and reprinting when needed! But we go through the hassle because we want to teach our congregation to sing parts!

I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a church where the congregation has been trained in part-singing. Normally it would be the choir members and other singers who may sing a part, but most in the congregation wouldn’t know how. Both my pastor and myself have a burden to truly engage our people in singing praises to God; we believe a significant way to engage people in singing is to teach them to sing parts.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know where to start when we first decided to start teaching parts. In fact, we are still learning! But we have already seen some great success; we simply took a hymn and spent several weeks learning the different parts, much as you would teach a choir song. I explained how to read music, and then we would practice just the sopranos, then altos, then the men.

We also learned an actual choir song and sang it together as a special! Our pastor (who has a great voice) sang the first two verses as a solo, and the congregation joined in four-part harmony on the chorus and last verse. It was the most exciting and worshipful our church has ever sung! It has also sparked an interest in singing among our people. Some who thought they could never sing suddenly found that they could, and that they enjoyed it! I have had some of those come to me and express interest in working on singing one on one!

This is still very much a journey I am still on; but as we head into another year, I am looking forward to focusing more on encouraging and training our church to all take part in praising and worshipping God through singing!



Lessons from Woodworking

“That’s going to be a table?”
These are the words my wife uttered in disbelief this past weekend during our trip to Lowes in Amarillo. I had a project to build two end tables for a coworker and I was picking up some lumber. After planning out what I would need, I only needed three pieces of wood, so my wife’s surprised reaction was somewhat warranted. The next day I went over to my friends house who had a couple of tools I needed and I finished the tables that I had set out to build.

Through the whole process, I was reminded of a wise and loving Master builder- Jesus. Ephesians 2:10 reads: “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Not only is Jesus our Master builder, but we are a workmanship or masterpiece. As I reflected over the events of this past week, I was reminded of a few truths about our Master builder.

  1. God has a plan. 
    My wife didn’t know how three pieces of wood was going to become to end tables. While they weren’t ornate or extreme my complicated to build, they weren’t simple either. However, I knew exactly how three pieces of lumber would turn into what I wanted.

    Sometimes in my life, I think to myself: “What is God doing? I don’t see how He is going to use me.” But it is in that moment that I forget that God is a Master builder, and while I may not know how everything is going to turn out, He has a plan for my life.

  2. It might take longer than expected.
    I have to admit something: I’m somewhat new to solo woodworking projects. I’ve helped a lot of people and have watched others, but this was my first. Because I was going to my friends house to borrow some tools, I communicated with my wife what time I thought I would be done due to having only one car and needing to be picked up. I told her a time and got to work while she went home. Fast forward a couple hours: Crystal comes back, and I’m no where near being finished! Fast forward a couple more hours: I finished one. The last one came together fairly quickly after the first, but the entire process took a lot longer than I expected.

    While the illustration somewhat breaks down at this point, because I as the constructor should have expected it, There is never anything that takes God by surprise. While we think that what He is doing is taking longer than we thought, it is taking exactly the amount of time God wants it to.

    My brother in law waited for a long time to get married. He waited while all his friends were getting married. He went on staff as assistant pastor as a single guy. It wasn’t until he was 32 when God brought along the lady he would marry. All through the process, He knew that God was in control. It took longer than he expected, but it happened at the exact right time.

    Maybe God has called you to pastor, but He hasn’t opened the door yet. Maybe you’ve been praying and praying for children, but your family is still only two people. Perhaps you’ve planted a church and the amount of people is not going very quickly. Don’t forget that God’s timing is perfect.

    He has a plan for you. It might seem that God’s plan doesn’t make any sense. You lost your job that provides well for your family, allows you to be involved in giving much to missions and be a blessing to those around you. God calls you to move states to start a church where you know nobody and your family is no where near.
    The last lesson to learn is this:

  3. God’s plan has a beautiful finish.
    While I am thrilled at how the tables turned out, I would be lying if I said they were without flaws. One of the three pieces of lumber I chose was far less than perfect. (I’m told that is part of the learning experience.) While God’s plan doesn’t always make sense and takes longer than expected, His plan is beautiful (and perfect) when it’s completed. Those who wait to marry who God wants find God’s plan is beautiful. It might seem like it takes a long time, but the church God leads you to will be the best church for you. New people will hear the Gospel and be discipled at the church plant that took you from everything familiar. God’s plan is wonderful when it’s completed.

Remember as you go through this week that He is a wise and loving Master builder. You can trust His plan.


Listen Up!

Last week, I read a book with some great thoughts on communication.

“That’s really good,” I thought. “I think I’m doing pretty well on some of these. I’m going to start practicing these tips right away!”

The next day, I ended up making a mountain out of a molehill because I jumped to conclusions about something, instead of listening to what was being said to me.


To make it worse, I was actually discussing these communication principles when the misunderstanding happened.

After I finally listened to what was being said to me, I realized that I was being silly. But why did it take 20 minutes for me to realize that?

All of us struggle with listening. You can know, intellectually, all kinds of great ideas and principles about communication, but it’s very difficult to put those things into practice! We get so caught up in what we want to say, that we don’t take time to understand others. We can jump to conclusions so quickly that we don’t really hear what’s being said to us. We can create frustration, hurt feelings, and resentment because we fail to listen to others.

Consider these two verses from Proverbs 18:

Proverbs 18:2

A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.

A foolish person doesn’t take any pleasure in understanding others. All he wants is to discover his heart; to tell what he thinks, share his ideas, explore himself. The fool, while he has no interest in learning or understanding others, is supremely concerned that others understand him! It’s easy to fall into this trap; how often do we find ourselves planning our response instead of listening to what’s being said to us? I know I am often more interested in being understood than I am in understanding others.

Proverbs 18:13

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.

This is exactly what I did. I started answering and responding before I really understood what the other person was saying. I ended up just looking foolish, and needing to apologize. Our natural inclination is to emotionally react to things we may not like to hear instead of thoughtfully considering what is being told to us.

We can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we will listen to what others are saying. Steven Covey discussed this in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; Habit number five is “Seek First to understand, Then to be understood.” We like to say, “Don’t Care to understand, Fight to be understood!” That mindset is what has gotten me into trouble more times than I would like to admit. Don’t be so focused on what you’re saying that you fail to really hear what’s being said to you. Listen up!


What Churches can Learn from Apple

It’s indisputable that Apple is one of the world’s most successful companies. Not only are they financially stable, but their customer base is one of the most loyal among brands of any kind. They didn’t get there on accident. The philosophy they held to back when they were still operating out of a garage has shaped them into the great company they are today.

While reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, I came across the three philosophies that have shaped Apple into the brand they are today. I believe that ministries of every sort could learn from these three philosophies:

  1. Empathy
    From the beginning of the company, Steve Jobs was determined to understand and meet the needs of his customers in a way other companies wouldn’t. This is why Apple refuses to survey customers to see what they want in a product. They follow the thinking of the late Henry Ford, “If I had asked the customer what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”

    The trend of the business world to survey customers has leaked into the church world. Many who read this blog would be familiar with churches who base their philosophy, service structure, and even doctrine on what people want.

    Yet, shouldn’t church leaders, of all people, know what church goers need even better than the church goers themselves? We have the Bible, God’s Word, that tells us what people need: they need salvation through Jesus. They need to be baptized. They need to be taught how to live a life that reflects Jesus. Yet, even conservative churches can veer away from their mission by focusing on programs that meet a want, but neglect meeting what people truly need. That’s where the next value comes in.

  2. Focus
    In the business world, it’s common to diversify—to spread sources of income across a bunch of different products so that the company can handle bad turns of the market. On the other hand, Apple has decided that, “in order to do a good job on those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” Steve Jobs was relentless about killing off projects that were not core to who Apple is as a company. His focus on the important has paid off, making Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.

    Churches are very susceptible to a lack of focus. It’s common for churches to miss out on opportunities to do gospel-centered ministries well because they give attention to unimportant opportunities. Too often, a fellowship event at church receives more attention than discipling new believers. Too often, big budgets are granted to pet ministries of long-time church members while giving token attention in the budget to actually fulfilling the Great Commission. Consequently, churches have many “ministries”, but do very little that fits within the bounds of the Great Commission.

  3. Presentation
    People DO judge a book by its cover. That’s why Apple made sure that their standard of excellence didn’t just apply to the product, but to every aspect of the customer experience. Could Apple save millions of dollars if they packaged their phones differently? Sure, but they knew that nobody would ever pay attention to the quality of their product if it was packaged poorly.

    As churches that declare the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have something of excellence to offer the world. Those who have tasted of the goodness of Christ have never regretted it. Jesus didn’t have to give a return policy for salvation because it’s never been needed. Yet, how often are churches guilty of packaging something as excellent as the transforming gospel of Christ in an unattractive way? What does it say about the gospel when people selling clothes have cleaner facilities than churches do? What does it say about our message when people find a more friendly, authentic community at a coffee shop than they do at church?

    The message of the gospel deserves to be marketed with excellence because people do judge a book by its cover. That doesn’t just include making sure that church invitations are attractively designed and look up to date, but it also includes having a church campus that reflects how serious you are about representing the gospel. It includes how church volunteers treat guests every week. This doesn’t have to be costly. For some, it could be as simple as making sure the chairs, hymnals, and offering envelopes are straightened and the floors are perfectly cleaned. In some cases, it might mean a cosmetic remodel project at the church. It might require some to pay a small cost to get a new design for their church invitations. The cost and time is worth it because the world will judge the gospel by the way it is marketed.

Jesus Himself said that there would be areas in which the children of this world would be wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8). It’s perfectly OK to look at some traits that have made Apple successful and apply them to our ministries, making them more gospel-centered and more effective at reaching people than ever before.


Stewardship and Faith

Perhaps many, if not all, of you have heard of Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover. (Let me preface that while there are many great ideas in his book, it’s not perfect, and shouldn’t be treated as such. However, his methods have been proven not only his own life, but countless others as well.) In his book, he chronicles the steps (what he refers to as “baby-steps”) that he took to overcome bankruptcy. The very first of his baby-steps to get out of debt is perhaps counter intuitive to many people, at least to me. My initial reasoning would be to retire debt as the first step. If you want to get out of debt, then pay your bills. However, Mr. Ramsey proposes a different first baby-step: build up a $1000 emergency fund. While this amount isn’t very much in comparison to various circumstance that could come my way (loss of job, car breaking down, etc.), it would be a big help to compensate for some of those times when a larger amount of money is necessary.

My goal today, however, is not to discuss Mr. Ramsey’s book at length. After talking to a number of people who disagree with the ideas of the book, I find that most disagree, mainly, with the first step (and a subsequent step that deals with building a hefty savings account). The common conception is this: by saving up an emergency fund, faith in God’s provision is taken out of the equation. By saving an emergency fund as a Christian, you do not have faith that God will provide in times of financial struggling. While, as I said, Mr. Ramsey’s book isn’t perfect, it teaches a very important Biblical principle that doesn’t replace faith, but rather complements it: stewardship.

Stewardship is the job of supervising or taking care of something, in our case specifically, money. We don’t have to look far in the Bible to find the command to be good stewards of what God gave us. The command is clear: what God has given us should be well taken care of.

Please understand that I am not saying we should not have faith. Having faith is an integral aspect of the Christian life. I would never want to downplay its importance. Having faith is an act of obedience.

I submit to you that being a good steward is just as much an act of obedience as having faith in God’s provision. The weekly denial of various activities or unnecessary items in order to save money is just as God honoring as trusting Him when a need arises. Because the fact is: God can provide for a need through an emergency fund. It’s like the man who had a bill that needed to be paid and he didn’t have the money for it. He prayed and asked God that He would provide miraculously for the need. The next day at work the boss asked the man if he would like to work some additional hours overtime. God provided for the man’s need, but he didn’t miraculously send a check in the mail. God can absolutely provide for an unexpected need by sending a check in the mail. However, He also would like to provide through the diligence and stewardship of his children.

The idea that saving an emergency fund negates the necessity of faith is somewhat misguided in this: unless you were able to save an astronomical amount very quickly, there will still be needs that an emergency fund will not be enough for. Faith is still necessary with a hefty savings account. Stewardship and faith go together. They are complementary.

I’m not a master at this, admittedly; but I am trying to be a good steward and have faith. Are you being a good steward? You don’t have to give up faith to be a good steward. They can go together.


Event Idea: Youth Recharge

The most amazing thing about being in the ministry for me has been seeing God work in our teenagers and watch them grow in their walk with Him! Through our regular class time, as well as activities, youth rallies, conferences, and camps, we try to make spiritual growth the focus of our ministry.

Throughout the year, we have a lot of fun activities; sometimes we have a devotion, and sometimes we just have fun together. I have found that simply building relationships is one of the most beneficial things you can do with activities; it helps the teens become more invested in the youth group, and in church in general! Last year I started doing an activity that I hope becomes an annual tradition: I call it the Youth Recharge.

The goal of the Recharge is simple: take one particular topic I think our teens really need, and take a few nights to preach on it! We include food and games as well, but the focus is on the preaching. It’s sort of like a youth rally, but just for us. The benefit of this is that I can really tune in and focus on what OUR teens need for the coming year!

Last year, our theme was “Take Up Your Cross”. I perceived that while we had a lot of “good kids”, not all of them were truly interested in walking with God. We had the Recharge three Saturdays in a row, and each week preached on the importance of taking up your cross and following Christ. There ended up being far more guests than I had expected, so I ended up shifting my focus to be more evangelistic for the last two meetings. It was a great event, and I have been in awe of how God has worked in the lives of our teens over the last year: they have been growing by leaps and bounds! Many of them have taken the message of last year’s recharge and taken up their cross.

This year, our theme is “Find Your Place”. I’m going to be preaching on spiritual gifts and the importance of each member using their gifts to serve God. My goal is to help them know that they have been given a spiritual gift, and that they need to use it to serve God! I want to see our young people to be actively involved in serving. Honestly, they are doing a great job already! Many of them have been stepping out and serving in some big ways that they have never done before. I want to encourage them to continue growing in that, and help them find some of the ways they’ve been gifted!

I think the Recharge is a very important event for our youth group to grow together. We have a lot of fun, and it gives me an opportunity to really challenge them to grow spiritually in one area that I can see we really need. You may find something similar to be helpful at your church!


Get More Done

Everyone seems to share this common problem: we feel like we don’t have enough time to give our best to our God-given areas of responsibilities.  That’s the case if you’re in full-time ministry, a stay-at-home mom, a teacher, a plumber, or a high school student.  All of us know the feeling of being behind on a project, forgetting an important deadline, or letting down someone on the other end of a commitment.  While I’m not an expert on the time management, here are a few time management “hacks” I’ve learned that have helped me tremendously:

  1. Have a System
    One of my guiding principles when it comes to time management and organization is assume that you won’t remember later.  This one principle can be a real game-changer for a lot of people! If you have a system to record items that need to be done, you can then make it your first instinct to write down those tasks as soon as they are assigned to you or they come to mind.
    Here’s what I mean by a task-management system: a central location to record and schedule every future task.  Your system could really be anything, as long as it’s a central location where every task is recorded: you could use a legal notepad, an app, or a planner.  For me, it’s helpful to use an app on my smartphone because those tasks are synced between my phone and computer, it’s more affordable, and a lot more portable.
    There are plenty of apps that can function in this way (Apple Reminders, Wunderlist, and Todoist), but I have found Todoist to be the most user-friendly.  Todoist works well for me because it shows me each day what tasks I have scheduled for that day.  It also allows me to set recurring reminders for tasks, such as a reminder every Wednesday to update the sermon audio on our church website.  Having a system where I can record everything has truly been a life-saver.
  2. Start with a Plan
    As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  This is especially true when it comes to daily time management.  Something has to fill our waking hours, and that something is rarely meaningful if we aren’t intentional about how we will spend our day.
    Here’s how I go about starting my day with a plan.  Before I begin my work day, I do a quick “Daily Review”. During this review, I do a small number of things to help get me ready for my day:
  • Check my calendar for any scheduled meetings or obligations
  • Look over my task list and mark the most important tasks (it’s my way of telling myself, “Don’t procrastinate on these!”)
  • Decide if there any tasks that can be done immediately (see number 4) or delegated.
    This daily review rarely takes more than 5 minutes, and it is 5 minutes that have always been worth the investment.
  1. Prayer Increases Productivity
    It was Martin Luther who said, “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”  I would guess that many of the readers of this blog would agree with the importance of prayer, but how often do we fail to practice its importance in time management?
    I’m starting to learn that the most productive days are those in which I spend time praying for God’s help to accomplish the tasks that are in front of me.  Here’s the thing: in my power, a biblical message can only get done so fast.  In my own power, I often sit at my desk in frustration, trying to finish a media project for my church.  In my power, I am less effective, less productive, and less patient, but God’s grace enables me to do more than I can do on my own!  While I’m nowhere close to spending the first three hours of my day in prayer, I have incorporated a daily time in my morning routine to pray over what needs to be done that day.  Personally, I’ve seen a major difference since I began this habit.
  2. The 2-Minute Rule
    Some of my most common failures in the area of time management have happened when I failed to do a task that would have taken me just a few minutes to do.  This is why the 2-minute rule has helped me so much.  The 2-minute rule says that anything that takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish should be done immediately.
    If an email lands in my inbox that only requires a brief response, then I take care of it immediately.  If something comes to mind that needs to be put on my to-do list, I input it that moment.  If the Lord prompts me to text somebody, then I try to do it right away.  If my wife asks me to take out the trash, well…sometimes I still procrastinate!  If it is going to take less than 2 minutes, just get it done now!
    These four time management hacks have helped me tremendously.  Incorporate them into your life and you’ll likely see some major changes in your productivity as well!

What tips do you have for managing your time?



Four Tips for Effective Bivocational Ministry

I have the blessing of working as the youth director at my church. When I moved to Fritch over two years ago, I started teaching the youth Sunday School class, organizing activities, as well as other responsibilities outside of the youth group. It’s been a blessing to see a number of teenagers come to know Christ and grow closer in their walk with Jesus.

My wife and I have tried to make an impact in our small corner of the world, and we wouldn’t want to do anything else. However, we have had to do something else. Because the church is financially unable to support another staff member, I have to work somewhere else. My wife has had to work as well until a few months ago. While working a full time job outside the church has proven to be a difficult task, it is not impossible. Here are a few things I’ve learned since being in Fritch on how to effectively minister while holding a full time job.

  1. Use prewritten curriculum.

    For the first entire year I studied and prepared my own messages. While it was beneficial to study the Word in that fashion, it took a significant amount of time. I hadn’t thought about using prewritten curriculum until I was talking to another youth director who was also bivocational. The suggestion to use a curriculum opened my eyes to the possibility of being able to do other things instead of spending most of my free time on preparing a message. There are a number of good sources that offer curriculum at a fair price. I don’t use other people’s work all the time, but it is a good investment.

  2. Use time wisely.
    Using prewritten curriculum leads us to this related tip. Holding a full time job, fulfilling church responsibilities, spending time with my family, and up keeping my house is a lot to balance. While I haven’t mastered this balance yet, I recognize its dire importance. Sometimes I spend too much time working and not enough time with my family. Sometimes I haven’t made enough time to finish my church responsibilities. However, just like a tightrope walker is always making corrections and never 100% balanced, I always have corrections to make. If necessary, make a written schedule in an attempt to balance your time.
  3. Say no.
    I suppose that this may be true of someone who works full time at the church as well, but it is especially true of a bivocational minister. Because our time is limited, we must be careful not to add too much to our plate. Please understand that I am not saying to say no to everything. There are times when it feels like we simply cannot add another responsibility. In those times, we must step back and ask ourselves if it would be harmful to add another listing to our job description. If you feel like you are not able, politely decline, or ask if you can delegate this to someone else who would be able to fulfill the requirements.
  4. Remain dependent on Christ.
    This is, and always will be, the most important aspect of ministering. We have to recognize that using curriculum, making a schedule, or even denying some requests will never replace the power that comes from Christ. We start to fail when we do everything in our own power and in our own way. Bible reading and prayer must be essentials in our busy schedule. I’m reminded of Proverbs 21:31 “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.” Solomon teaches his son that he can prepare his horses for battle. He can make sure they are physically ready. They can be fitted for battle armor. Their riders can be expert soldiers, but God gives safety. We can plan activities, write messages, organize ministries, spend time with family, and work, but power comes from Christ.

These are not all the things I have learned, but I hope they were a help. Whether you work with youth or adults or are even a bivocational pastor, rely on God for help, and be wise about your time.


Four Fiction Books You Should Read

One of the first articles I wrote for The Ministry Wire was “Four Reasons You Should Read Fiction”. It seems like fiction often gets overlooked, even by avid readers. I get it; we all have limited time with a lot of demands. “I can’t read everything, so why use my valuable time reading a novel?” Fiction actually has several benefits for us, though! I gave four in my earlier article: fiction develops a love for reading, fiction can be a great way to communicate truth, fiction can help you communicate more effectively, and fiction is fun.

With that in mind, I would like to recommend four of my favorite novels. I have found these books to be challenging, thought-provoking, full of truth, and great reads.


Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens when a group of British schoolboys crash on a deserted island? Written in 1954, Lord of the Flies follows the boys as they struggle to work together to survive on the island. Although they initially attempt to set up some form of civilization, electing leaders and establishing laws, the boys quickly descend into tribalism and savagery.

What makes Lord of the Flies so compelling is its’ exploration of human nature. Many people are comforted by the idea that man is essentially good, and evil is a product of a corrupt environment. Golding takes the most innocent of men (children) and places them away from all corrupting influences. As they descend into chaos and violence, Golding illustrates the depravity of man in a shocking and impactful way. Golding effectively shows that man is inherently sinful and evil, a truth found many times in the Bible.


The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Imagine a great, grey city. In the center of the city is a bus that will taken anyone to heaven who wants to go. Not only that, but once in heaven, anyone who would like to can stay forever. Would not everyone go?

Lewis answers with a resounding no. Most refuse to ever get on the bus to heaven. Those who do go rarely stay for long. As Lewis states, there is a “great divorce” between heaven and hell. You cannot have both. What keeps so many away from salvation is their desire and love for their own sin. In the book, those who arrive in heaven from the grey city have the opportunity to stay and be with God forever, yet they almost always refuse because they refuse to repent of their own sins.

The most compelling imagery in the novel is the grey city with the bus to heaven. As men sin, they travel farther and farther away from the bus stop. Everyone can return to the bus if they wish; but the farther away they get, the harder it is to come back. Is it not so with salvation? No one is beyond hope. The worst sinner can repent, believe, and be saved; yet the more men indulge their sin and walk away from God, the harder it becomes to repent.


Animal Farm by George Orwell
Truly a masterful work about the dangers of socialism. When the animals on a English farm revolt against their human masters, they believe they have set up a perfect society with equality for all.

Yet it’s not long before the pigs begin to claim more and more power and become more and more like the humans they so despised. Animal Farm is a great example of the power of a story to illustrate truth in a way that is so much more compelling and memorable than an essay. Even if you are not particularly interested in politics, this is a fantastic read.

Orwell expanded on these ideas in 1984. While I consider 1984 to be the superior work, I must caution that there is some inappropriate content in the middle of the book, and as such, I cannot wholly recommend it here.


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My favorite novel, and one of my favorite books. Focusing on Alyosha, Dmitry, and Ivan Karamazov, the novel explores themes of justice and (most importantly) the effect that faith has in life.

The most important event of the novel is the murder of the brothers’ father, and Dmitry’s implication in the murder. Dmitry’s trial, and the question of his guilt, illustrates the philosophical struggle in the book between faith and skepticism. Alyosha is a monk who devoutly believes in God, and is therefore motivated to live righteously and love others. Ivan, on the other hand, is an atheist, who holds that without God “all things are lawful”. The novel explores how these beliefs determine the fate of these men, and how our belief in God determines our view of right and wrong.

These are a few of the books I’ve read that have made a particularly strong impression on me over the years. Besides being excellent reads, they each contribute truth in a profound way that could not be accomplished outside of a story. Jesus Himself often used stories to teach spiritual truth; these great books do the same.


The Wife-ologist

Men, have you ever wondered why your wife sometimes expects you to read her mind? Have you ever joked, “I’ll never understand her ways”. Turns out, not only does your wife expect you to understand her on a deep level, but God expects you to as well.

Hear me out on this one!  In a classic passage on marriage, God called us husbands to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge” (2 Peter 3:7).  The idea in that verse is that we ought to be ever increasing in our knowledge of our wives, and adjust the way we dwell with them to the understanding we have of them.  It means that we ought to, over the years, be able to know more and more about our wives than we did before.  God has called you, in other words, to be a wife-ologist.  Don’t worry, God hasn’t commanded you to understand every wife (thankfully!), but He has commanded you to grow in your understanding of the one that sleeps next to you every night.  For me, God has called me to be a Shelby-ologist.  Fill in the blank with your wife’s name: that’s what God has called you to do.

While I have much ground to cover in my journey as a Shelby-ologist, here are 3 areas that might give you a start on your own quest to becoming a wife-ologist.

  1. Learn what she likes and dislikes
    I’ve found it amazing (and convenient) how my wife remembers if I liked or disliked an experience that I had several months ago.  She can tell me if I liked the fries at the burger place we ate at on vacation and she can recall if I enjoyed the movie we watched several months ago from Redbox.  What I’ve found convicting is how many times I can’t recall those same details about her likes and dislikes.  As I husband, I ought to pay attention to her well enough to learn what she likes. 

    To get down to the nitty-gritty, if a husband is going to dwell with his wife according to knowledge, he ought to be able to order her drink for her at a restaurant if she is running the kids to the restroom.  He ought to be able to pick out a decent Christmas or birthday present for his wife because he is familiar with some of her wants.  A developing wife-ologist ought to know that it drives his wife crazy to not put his socks away or to put his feet on the coffee table.Tip: When you go shopping, take the time to walk around your wife’s favorite part of the store and take interest in the things she likes.  If you’re smart you’ll take a mental note of the style of purse she wants or what small appliance could her life a little easier.


  2. Learn how she communicates
    It’s no secret that men and women communicate in very different ways.  If there’s any area in which I struggle the most as a wife-ologist, it has to be the area of communication.  I’m learning that when my wife asks a question, she isn’t always looking for an answer.  I’m learning that when she presents a problem, she isn’t always looking for me to analyze it to death and present my solution.  Chances are, when a husband decides to put his wife-ologist hat on, he might find out how his poor communication has been causing many of their arguments, or that his wife isn’t insensitive (and how he truly was being a jerk).  It’s a lot of work, but loving your spouse as Christ loved the church is going to take some work! 
  3. Learn what she needs (before she asks)
    This is where I’ve especially found myself excusing myself with the line, “I can’t read your mind!” And while it is true that I’m no mind-reader, I’m probably a better mind-reader when I engage my thinking.You’d be surprised how well you can “read your wife’s mind” when you pay attention to things like her spirit, her tone, and body expressions.  A simple attentiveness to those things will often give the observant an opportunity to fill a need before his wife asks.  When a husband comes from work, he can usually get an idea if this is the kind of night that he needs to take her out for dinner, take a walk in the park, or watch her favorite TV show, rather than bothering her about something else he needs her to do.


No man will ever arrive at a place where they know everything about their wife—I know I’m not even close!  But the wonderful blessing of pursuing your calling as a “wife-ologist” is that it is one of the many ways God gives life-long marriages a depth that no other type of relationship can offer.