All posts by Bob Ewell

“The Church has failed us.”

A friend of ours, in her 80s, was talking with June about a new experience she was having. Our friend is politically liberal, and, as nearly as we could tell, theologically nowhere. She and her husband hadn’t participated in church much until they retired and moved to a Colorado mountain town. There, they were going to a church in which they could discuss, as nearly as I could tell, their political causes.

So June was shocked when she said something like this: “We’re not going to church anymore, but we are participating in a discussion group that meets at 7am. We’re reading the Bible and sharing what we’re hearing from God. Have you ever heard of ‘Lectio Divina?’” (Lectio Divina, Latin for “Divine Light” is, at its simplest, a way of reading the Bible to listen for God to speak.)

Then our friend said, “The church has failed us.”

By which she meant, I’m over 80 years old, and I’m just learning how to read the Bible in a meaningful way.

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church, said much the same thing in an oft-misunderstood quote back in 2008:

We made a mistake… What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and became Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self feeders. We should have gotten people (and) taught people how to read their Bible between services (and) how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

Bill discovered that Willow Creek Church, for all the good it was doing, hadn’t been teaching folks to read the Bible for themselves, and in that omission the church was failing its members. It was failing to make disciples. I’m afraid most churches and pastors fall into that trap. Churches have replaced training the people to be in the Word for themselves with never-ending spoon-feeding.

Ed Stetzer, a well-known church researcher, reflecting on what Bill Hybels said, wrote:

Willow is … repenting for what 95% of churches in America should also repent– not creating Christ-honoring, spiritually formed disciples. For thinking that sitting people down and having them read studies will make them disciples.

Folks, if you’re not yet reading the Bible for yourself, please click The Adventure Series tab at the top of the screen and scroll down for some resources. I recommend Brief Instructions and Journal for Daily Time with God that I wrote. There is more detail in my book Join the Adventure or Growing Strong in God’s Family or Every Man a Warrior, both described on the Adventure tab.

If you’re a pastor, please tap into these resources to help your members. Feel free to contact me at, and I or one of my Navigator colleagues can help. Let it not be said of us that we failed to train people to read the Word and hear from God for themselves.

A Biblical Perspective on Work

I like to work! I’m 71 years old and NOT retired! Today, with The Navigators, I get to spend time helping pastors be more effective making disciples in their churches. I also mentor younger men and analyze corporate data for The Navigators. Before that, I was in the Air Force for 20 years and had my own statistical consulting business for 10.

Work itself is an honorable and necessary thing.

The first picture we have of God is that he is a worker (Genesis 1 and 2)

Many of God’s key people worked at “secular” jobs:

  • Joseph and Daniel were Prime Ministers.
  • Moses was a liberator and led the people through the wilderness.
  • Joshua was a general.
  • David, who wrote about half the Psalms, was also a military man and a king.
  • Continue reading A Biblical Perspective on Work

    The Closest Thing to a Minister

    I was at a dinner party recently, celebrating the birthday of a friend. There must have been about 30 of us there, and as we were mingling before dinner, the hostess came to me and asked, “Would you mind saying grace for us?” I told her I would, and I turned to my wife and said, “I must be the highest ranking clergy here!” Sure enough, when the hostess wanted me to pray, she said, “Bob is the closest thing we have to a minister so I have asked him to return thanks for the meal.” I didn’t know everyone, but I knew that well over half of us were believers so I said, “I’m glad to pray, but we’re all ministers here!”

    Please see a few of my posts: “Imagine if Churches were Equipping and Sending,” March 2017; “Women in Ministry,” February 2017; “What part of ‘all’ do we not understand?” January 2015. A pervasive problem that I decry in these posts is that we tend to see only a few as “ministers” and everyone else as…what? Consumers? As long as this is the case, we won’t be nearly as effective as reaching our neighborhoods, communities, and the world.

    After dinner, my wife and I had a delightful conversation with someone who does get it. She and her husband just bought a car wash, and they see their interactions with their employees as front-line ministry. A chance to make a real difference in people’s lives.

    “We’re all ministers here” is the best message I could give, I think. I’ve written a book on it. Please click the Join the Adventure tab at the top of the screen, and start thinking of yourself as on the adventure…because you are. We’re all ministers here…and wherever you are.

    Imagine if Churches Were Equipping and Sending!

    Why did 80-plus men and women—including 14 senior pastors, four associate pastors, and more than 60 other church leaders—brave snow and ice to converge on Navigator headquarters on Friday, February 24? Some driving more than four hours to be there?

    Imagine on the Road - 2
    Dr. Neil Hudson challenges a room full of pastors and church leaders to equip their members for their scattered life outside the church.

    They came because they wanted to learn how to empower Christ-followers in their churches to see their lives as meaningful and live as fruitful whole-life disciples on their daily frontlines in the world, wherever they find themselves.

    Neil Hudson, author of Imagine Church: Releasing Dynamic Everyday Disciples, presented a six-hour workshop teaching and motivating these church leaders for a different perspective on church. Neil emphasized that church is not primarily a gathering place but a training and sending place. One of Neil’s key concepts was phrased in the form of a question: “How are you using the (at most) 10 weekly hours that your members spend in organized church activities to prepare them for the 110 waking hours weekly that they are living their lives in the world?” (Neil’s book, Imagine Church, is also available on Amazon.)

    At least one participant is already thinking about changing the language used in his church: “We need to talk with people not about, ‘How can we use you in our church?’ but, ‘How can we help in your life, your 110?’ ” Another participant said the main takeaway was that the appeal of the church ought to be that “we’re inspiring people about living missional lives right where they are.”

    We weren’t just “preaching to the choir.” We were sowing new seed among people who want to be engaged in more meaningful ways and just don’t know how. One lay church leader came to me during the day and said, “I’m so glad you invited me . . . . This is all new to me.” Another participant said, “This wasn’t about motivating people to take on more church activities. Therefore, this is a more sustainable approach to ministry.”

    Several participants were moved by the diagram Neil showed them about being scattered into the world. The first grouping reflects a more traditional way of defining church: We are “red dots” who pull away to be together once a week. A better way, the missional way, is to see ourselves as the church scattered out in the world—what we in NCM often define as “where we live, work, and play.” One participant commented, “I need to make sure I ‘stay red’ when I’m out in the world.”

    LICC Red Dots2
    Diagram courtesy LICC (

    One of the senior pastors who has already begun to implement some of the Imagine Church concepts said to Neil, “I think you should change the name of your book. It should be called ‘Reality Church.’ My church is the ‘imaginary church.’ ”

    “Imaginary” is not where “Imagine Church” comes from, but I like this pastor’s heart and desire to change his church culture. We in NCM in the Rocky Mountain Region will follow up with these pastors, most of whom we invited directly, to help them implement the concepts of whole-life discipleship as Neil, as well as The Navigators, defines a disciple: “learning to live like Jesus in your context at this moment.”

    One of our guests wrote: “It was a really, really great day! Time very well spent and very inspiring!”

    Don Pape, publisher at NavPress met with Neil on Thursday and attended part of the workshop, said it well: “Neil is onto something and Navigator Church Ministries could instigate a revolution.” May it be so.

    Women in Ministry?

    I just listened to a recording of a well-presented sermon from a denominational leader making the case that women should be ordained. His argument was based on the many examples of women actively teaching, preaching, or prophesying. For example:
    – Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21)
    – Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18)
    – The woman at the well (John 4)
    – Mary Magdalene after the resurrection (Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20)

    I won’t comment on this approach because I think it’s the wrong issue. If the question is, “Should women be in ministry?” the answer is a resounding yes, of course. So should men, and old people, and young people, and people of all nationalities, races, and ethnicities. Note that in Acts 2.3, 4, the Holy Spirit came upon “each one of them.” In Acts 4.31, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God with boldness.” (See my blog from January 2015.)

    Churches give far too much attention to ordaining people as pastors and missionaries (church-paid workers) and far too little attention (almost always no attention) to ordaining people for their ministry in everyday life.

    As one person said, “I spend an hour a week teaching Sunday school and they haul me up to the front of the church to pray for me. The rest of the week I’m a full-time teacher and the church has never prayed for me. That says it all.”

    This glaring omission is well-articulated by Mark Greene (whose pamphlet The Great Divide contains the above quote) and Neil Hudson of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. I strongly recommend Neil’s book Imagine Church, available on Kindle and in paperback from The Vere Institute. Mark Greene’s The Great Divide is also available from The Vere Institute. My book, Join the Adventure! has suggestions to get you started. Click on the Join the Adventure tab above.

    Keep It Simple: Let the Word Do Its Work

    I received the most marvelous testimony of the power of God’s word from a pastor friend of mine, Dr. Mark Johnson. On January 8, he wrote to his Baltimore congregation:

      Dear Friends,
      Welcome to the second newsletter of 2017. Some might question the point of emailing a newsletter on a weekly basis to the members and friends of Mt. Olive United Methodist Church. … The fact is, I want you to have the “Daily Bible Reading Plan” in your email each Sunday morning.
      I am what some may call a cradle Christian. Maybe you are, too. I started attending worship as an infant and Sunday School as a small child. You probably did, too. When I was 14 or so, I was recruited onto a church committee and at 16 I was a delegate to Annual Conference. You can probably make a similar claim. I, just like you, was baptized, communed, and confirmed. But for me there was still a big void in my life.
      One Sunday – I was probably in my early-30s at the time — I was sitting in choir loft on a Sunday morning. It came time in worship for the Gospel reading and we all reached for a Bible. For whatever reason, there was only one Bible in our row. The fellow next to me handed me the Bible and said, “Here, you probably need this more than I do.” I took his remark as a friendly jab, took the Bible and turned to the morning’s lesson. As I began to follow along, I was transfixed. The story spoke right to me and even though the Liturgist stopped reading, I continued. I finished that chapter and went on to the next. I continued reading through the sermon. When I got home, I found my Bible and picked up reading where I left off. I felt like God grabbed my heart and soul and wanted me to know – to be – something.
      There are lots of reasons to read the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” There is a lot to consider in those two verses but let’s look at “all scripture is inspired by God” and why that is important.
      We might define “inspired” as influenced, motivated or encouraged and might say that a favorite teacher inspired our love of reading. But such a definition of “inspired” does not do justice to what the author, Paul, was getting at when he wrote about the inspiration of scripture. Paul used, and perhaps coined, the term “theopnuestos” which we translate as “inspired.” It is a combination of “theo” (God) and “pnuestos” (breathed). “Pnuestos” is related to the word, “pnuema” which means both wind and Spirit. Paul is telling us that the Bible is “God-breathed”; that is, God’s Holy Spirit flows through the Biblical text to interact with the faithful reader.
      That kind of makes the Bible sound like an enchanted object straight out of a Harry Potter book, doesn’t it? Really, the actual physical Bible is just ink, paper, and binding. But the stories, histories, songs, poems, letters and revelations within the Bible have been recognized for thousands of years as authentic and authoritative remembrances of the Holy at work in the lives of faithful, and some not so faithful folks, like you and me. As we read, hear, study, and tell scripture the Holy Spirit moves within us in ways that reveal God’s self to us. As God reveals God’s self to us, and we make our lives open to God, a deep and life-changing relationship is built.
      I can point to that Sunday in the choir loft when God grabbed me — heart and soul — as I read the Bible as the day my life changed. My journey with Jesus began when God-breathed scripture connected my life to our living LORD.
      This newsletter is first and foremost an invitation through daily Bible reading for your life to shaped, formed, and illuminated by God. Really, could anything else be more exciting? See you in worship.
      Pastor Mark

    Here’s the rest of the story from my perspective, and I share it with his permission. Fast forward 20 or 30 years, and I taught a simple method for time with God to Pastor Mark and his staff at a church in Colorado Springs. At our next meeting, Mark said, “I was really excited to practice what we had learned, so I got up the next morning and sat down to read Romans with my Bible, journal, commentary, and Greek New Testament. After a couple days of this I realized that’s not what Bob asked us to do. So I put away my Greek New Testament and my commentary and worked through the process: read, reflect, respond, record. And I said to myself, ‘This is insanely simple.’”

    It appears that Mark’s seminary tools had temporarily distracted him from the simplicity of taking in the God-breathed Word that he had been so excited about.

    Keep it simple, folks. God wants to speak to us. And thank you, Mark, for the stunning reminder of the power of the Word. Your congregation is blessed.

    PS Clicking on the method link gets you the short version of a simple method. Or, click on the Join the Adventure tab at the top of this page and order my book! I discuss time with God in detail in the middle section.

    Discipleship Takes True GRIT

    I am coming to understand that true GRIT is the essence of disciple-making: the process of helping people follow Jesus.

    GRIT is an acronym. Effective disciple-making must be:


    Jesus’ strategy with the disciples was Relational. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4.19) “[Jesus] appointed twelve that they might be with him…” (Mark 3.13)

    Jesus also was Intentional and his goal was Transformational. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

    And of course, making the disciples fishers of men was a Generational strategy. The generational piece is critical. We must teach in such a way that people can pass it on. That’s what Paul wrote to Timothy in his very last letter.

    “The things you’ve heard from me commit to faithful men who shall teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2.2)

    Consider Hebrews 7.23. The context is how Jesus is superior to the Old Testament priests, but here’s a simple (and, I think, slightly humorous) truth:

    “There were many of those priests since death prevented them from continuing in office.”

    That’s as good a reason as any to invest in the lives of others! Each of us is here for a limited time only.

    GRIT helps us remember the characteristics and is itself a characteristic of the kind of effort required. Daniel Pink makes the following statement about “mastery” in his book Drive, and I think it applies well to relational disciple-making:

    Mastery is a Pain. Mastery takes effort over a long period of time, is often not much fun, requires lots of mundane practice, and takes grit…The determination to work over a long period of time without seeing much short-term improvement is required. (Emphasis mine)

    The problem is that we all want shortcuts. Jesus chose to work in depth with just 12 men. We want to do it faster. Can’t we just put 1,000 people in a room and lecture them for one hour a week? Can’t we just develop sure-fire materials that will get the job done? The short answer is, no, not any more than one can teach people to play the piano by taking them to concerts or giving them a book. It takes a teacher (R) who guides the student to the appropriate exercises (I) which, when practiced over time, result in skill (T). The teacher herself went through that same process (G).


    Contrasting the big ineffective splash versus doing small things that really matter, Greg McKeown in Essentialism: The Deliberate Pursuit of Less writes:

    Instead of trying to accomplish it all—and all at once…start small and celebrate progress. Instead of going for the big, flashy wins that don’t really matter, pursue small and simple wins in areas that are essential.

    Paul has all the elements of GRIT in 2 Timothy 2.1, 2.

    Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (T). And the things you’ve heard from me among many witnesses (R), commit to faithful people (I) who will teach others also (G).

    Resolution: No Labanizing! Part 2

    Labanizing is my word for putting off doing something that you know you need to do. It comes from the story of Abraham’s servant getting a bride for Isaac in Genesis 24. Please see the previous blog.

    Another example of Labanizing occurs later in Israel’s history. The people who returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple weren’t getting it done. Then Haggai rolled in and assessed the situation:

    In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest:
    “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”
    Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet,
    “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1.1 – 4, ESV)

    The people didn’t say that rebuilding the temple was a bad idea. It just wasn’t the right time. It didn’t have to be done now.

    Of course they had been in country 15 – 20 years, but the time still wasn’t right apparently.

    Haggai would have none of it. He told the leaders and the people:

    This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says, … “Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD.” (Haggai 1.7, 8, NLT)

    “Now go up, bring down timber…” sounds hard. It will take intentional effort. They will have to stop other things they are doing. In chapter 2, as he affirms their initial efforts, Haggai challenges them to be strong and do the work.

    Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts. (Haggai 2.4)

    And God blesses them for getting started (see Haggai 2.9).

    Let’s make 2017 the year we quit Labanizing and get started! I have written a little book, Join the Adventure! A Practical Guide to Mission and Discipleship for Everyone. You can read about it and order it by clicking the Join the Adventure tab at the top of this page. One key idea is starting small—pushing over the ¼-inch domino that sets off a great chain reaction. And this blog is not meant to be a book promotion! There is enough information on the Join the Adventure tab to get you started whether you buy the book or not!

    Resolution: No Labanizing!

    Let’s make our primary New Year’s Resolution: I will not Labanize!

    You don’t know the word Labanize?! You probably don’t since I’m the one who invented it (as far as I know) a few years ago and haven’t published it except in an article in a church newspaper! What is Labanizing and why do I not want to do it? Please read on!

    I write and speak frequently about the benefits of various spiritual disciplines such as daily time with God or the importance of being on mission, but often I encounter people who smile and nod but don’t ever get started. Many of us are like Laban in Genesis 24.

    Genesis 24 contains the beautiful story of Abraham’s (unnamed) servant who undertakes a long and treacherous journey to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. It’s a story of faith, prayer, sovereignty of God, and guidance. After he encounters Rebekah, the wife-to-be, the servant tells Rebekah’s mother and Rebekah’s brother, Laban, the story of God’s leading. He concludes with:

    I praised GOD, the God of my master Abraham who had led me straight to the door of my master’s family to get a wife for his son. (Genesis 24:48, MSG)

    But the question is, will Rebekah’s family let her go? The servant needs to know:

    “Now, tell me what you are going to do. If you plan to respond with a generous yes, tell me. But if not, tell me plainly so I can figure out what to do next.” (Genesis 24:49, MSG)

    What is Laban’s response? Is he opposed to Rebekah’s returning with the servant to become a bride for Isaac? Apparently not:

    Laban answered, “This is totally from GOD. We have no say in the matter, either yes or no. Rebekah is yours: Take her and go; let her be the wife of your master’s son, as GOD has made plain.” (Genesis 24:50 – 51, MSG)

    So the servant prepared to do just that, but notice Laban’s reaction:

    [The servant] and his men had supper and spent the night. But first thing in the morning they were up. He said, “Send me back to my master.”
    [Laban] said, “Let the girl stay a while, say another ten days, and then go.” (Genesis 24:54 – 55, MSG)

    Laban was all for Rebekah’s leaving as long as she didn’t have to leave now. “Why isn’t later all right? No need to rush into these things. There are preparations to be made, parties to give. We have to get used to the idea….”

    It didn’t work on the servant.

    He said, “Oh, don’t make me wait! GOD has worked everything out so well—send me off to my master.” (Genesis 24:56, MSG)

    How about us? How often do we “Labanize”? We say, “I can see why daily time with God is a good thing, but I don’t have time right now. Maybe later.” “I know I should be involved in mission, but I really don’t have time either to do it or to learn how to do it.”

    How many practices are we wildly enthusiastic about as long as we don’t have to do them now? (In addition to spiritual disciplines, diet and exercise come to mind!) How many good ideas for change do we endorse as long as they don’t have to be implemented now? What personal sacrifices are we willing to make—just not right now?

    Let’s make 2017 the year we quit Labanizing and get started! I have written a little book, Join the Adventure! A Practical Guide to Mission and Discipleship for Everyone. You can read about it and order it by clicking the Join the Adventure tab at the top of this page. One key idea is starting small—pushing over the ¼-inch domino that sets off a great chain reaction. And this blog is not meant to be a book promotion! There is enough information on the Join the Adventure tab to get you started whether you buy the book or not!

    It’s Just a Job

    I was really exercised about the last blog I wrote on pastor burnout and suggested there might be a follow-on article. I didn’t know it would take me 9 months to get to it! One of my goals for 2017 is to publish more blog articles. In the meantime, however, I have written a book! Click on Join the Adventure! at the top of this page for more information or go here to order directly from Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

    I suggested in the previous article that perhaps one of the contributing factors to burnout is that pastors take on too much. They try to meet everyone’s expectations whether those expectations are biblical or not.

    Then I discovered a provocative perspective on physician burnout that may apply to pastors as well.

    Dr. Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He’s God. He wrote a marvelous article published October 22, 2016, on LinkedIn. When I wrote to him and told him it had some ideas I would want to use in a future book about work or in presentations about work, he gave me permission (as long as I attribute to him and send him a signed copy of the book!).

    You can read Dr. Profeta’s whole article here.

    Dr. Profeta told a conference of physicians and other medical providers that while what they did was important, rewarding, self-fulfilling, and made a vital contribution to society, in the end, “It’s just a job.” While that sounds demeaning of the medical profession, what he really did was elevate all professions. That’s the part I will use when I teach on work. He opens with this story:

    “What do you do for a living,” the young man asked me.

    “I’m an emergency physician. How about you?”

    “I’m just a chef,” he replied.

    “Pal, I can live a lifetime without medicine. I can only live a week without food.”

    But my subject today is pastor burnout, and I wonder if this paragraph near the end of Dr. Profeta’s article applies equally to pastors as to medical professionals.

    Listen, no matter how we like to hold up ourselves as the pillars of compassion, the keepers of the public well-being, we are just one profession out of countless others that keep our world moving. We are no more heroes than the social worker visiting homes in the projects, the farmer up at 4 to feed the cattle, the ironworker strapped to a beam on the 50th floor. We are no more a hero than the single mom working overnight as a custodian, trying to feed her kids. We are no more heroic than countless others who work in jobs they perhaps hate in order to care for and support the people they love.

    Dr. Profeta says he’s been an ER physician for 25 years and no one in his large group has burned out because they all believe “It’s just a job.” Should pastors have such an attitude?

    Some would say no. In my blog Focus with Pacing, published October 1, 2015, I quoted a pastor who said, “Fatigue is the price you pay for trying to change the world.” I believe everyone should be about changing the world, not just pastors. In fact, that’s the theme of my book, Join the Adventure! But burning ourselves out to do it is not biblical. The late well-known Bible teacher Howard (Howie) Hendricks used to talk about how pastors often declare, “I’d rather burn out than rust out!” Howie would respond: “Fine, but either way, you’re out!” Or, “The devil never takes a vacation!” To which Howie would say, “I didn’t know the devil was your role model!”

    Pastors might be better served if they had the perspective another pastor friend of mine shared when thinking about “fatigue is the price you pay for trying to change the world.” He said, “We’re just ants in the colony.” I think that’s a paraphrase of, “It’s just a job.”

    Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5.16) That is, he kept communion with his Father the main thing rather than his work. When the work in one place was just getting started, Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other villages as well because that’s why I was sent.” (Luke 4.42) He left people unhealed and other needs unmet because he didn’t try to meet them all. In fact, he invested heavily in a relatively small number of people rather than run around trying to do everything.