Reading The Bible In Community

Years and years ago, back when I was working as a personal trainer, I’d often train people in groups. That is, me as the trainer and then 2-5 others all working out together under my guidance. They may have been friends who wanted to workout together. They may have been mum’s who trained together after school drop-off. They may have been colleagues who would train together on the way to work. Whatever the case, it was common to have a group of people to train together rather than just a one-on-one session. 

Now, economics was often part of that decision. It was cheaper for those who were being trained to split the cost across a group than for an individual session. But  even greater reasoning was the aspects of motivation, accountability, and having fun together. There was something about training together that made the experience of fitness work more enjoyable. There was something about training together that provided better results because clients were spurred on by one-another to do the work.  

As I continue to write about Bible reading in 2023 this got me thinking about what it means to read the Bible in community. 

Reading the Bible on our own over and over and over again is not an easy thing to do. We may wish to have it be a delight rather than a duty but there can come a point, perhaps even 3 days into some new Bible reading plan whereby we get a little lost in what we’re doing. We get a little deflated because reading the Bible can be a hard exercise and discipline to do on our own. We get confused by what we’re reading and can’t understand what’s going on. We can quickly become unmotivated to do what we set out to do because we don’t have anyone around to encourage us. 

Like group fitness sessions we gain motivation and encouragement from reading the Bible with others. In fact, throughout the course of Christian history the Bible has been read in community, whether it has been spoken to a group, shared with others in public, or remembered through story around the table. The Bible is a book to read communally.

Even if we think about Paul’s letters for a moment, they are all written with the view of being read to all in a public setting. Before the printing press the Bible would be read aloud in churches by the clergy. And it really is a modern phenomenon that the Bible has been able to be read privately on the comfort of our couch. 

But there are key advantages to reading the Bible in community, reading the Bible with someone else or in a small group. Below I’ve outlined five of these and I’m sure you’d be able to come up with more.. 

First, reading the Bible in community means more people need to listen.

When we read the Bible alone and for ourselves then we really have to concentrate on what is being read. Of course, this needs to be the case with another person too, but when we read in community we have more people around to help us listen to the Word. Each person hearing the Word will listen differently and listen to the reading in different ways. The more people listening to the Bible being read can only be a good thing. As the Word is read or heard the Spirit works within, and the more ears to hear provides greater opportunity for depth in conversation. 

Second, reading the Bible in community means there can be conversation.

When you read alone you can only have a conversation with yourself. Of course, the Lord is there with you and you can be in prayer about the passage with him. But in reality there are more times than not whereby we read the passage and then move onto the next task, rather than dwelling on it and thinking through what is being said. When reading with another there is opportunity to have a conversation about what is being heard. There is the chance to actually talk about issues of life and faith with another. There is a mutual encouragement and growth that comes from this kind of conversation, hearing perspective, ideas, and thoughts about a passage of scripture. 

Third, reading the Bible in community means there are different perspectives given.

Linked to the conversation aspect of this is the hearing of different perspectives. More often than not these are helpful. If you’ve ever been in a small group where there are one or two who think they have the answers for everyone else then I will admit this can get awfully tiresome awfully quickly. Some perspectives are not worth sharing. But in my experience there is more benefit than not in hearing how others are reading the scriptures and listening to what is being said through them. 

And as a quick sidenote, if this group is intergenerational then I think this provides even more perspective due to life experiences and maturity in the faith. 

Fourth, reading the Bible in community means there is mutual encouragement for one another.

Christians love to use the word accountability and I’m deliberately avoiding that in this post. It’s such a Christianise word. I prefer to think reading the Bible together, particularly when it is with someone else or only 3-4 people as being mutually encouraging. I still remember going through university reading Romans with two other people and gaining such encouragement from the wisdom, insight, and teaching from the people I was with. Reading the Bible in a community like this can be so formative and encouraging, even years later. 

Fifth, reading the Bible in community means we recognise its power and authority.

Whenever we come to the Bible as God’s revealed truth to us then we are recognising its authority and power over us. Through the Word of God the Holy Spirit reveals more of God to us. It is an exercise in humility to submit to the Lord through listening and obeying his Word. In community this becomes even more powerful as the group discerns what is being said together and reflects on its meaning and application in their own lives. Through the conversation that flows there is often encouragement in faith and encouragement in life–to keep on in the scriptures and in obedience to God. 


Well, it seems I’ve begun the year and a return to writing regularly by focussing on Bible reading. There could be worse topics to write about, couldn’t there? In any case, if you like to catch up on some of the posts that focus on reading the Bible then feel free to browse along:

The Best Bible To Read

There is plenty of debate in the Christian world as to what version of the Bible is best to read. I have often found myself in discussions, which inevitably turn into debates, about what version or translation of the Bible is best to preach from, best to do devotions from, or best to read with others in Bible study. 

For some it’s a serious issue, for others it’s weird, and for others it’s just amusing. I probably sit in that camp. Amused.

As we’ve begun the year thinking about Bible reading the question of what translation of the Bible to read is a genuine one. Like all secondary issue discussions they can get more heated than they need to be, but we do have preferences. I have preferences, I’m sure you do too.

What we do need to be careful about though is whether the expression of our opinion and preferences in regard to Bible reading is helping or hindering the spiritual life of a person. For the reading of the scriptures is to be a delight, yet a cautionary tale of discussions turn debates are that what is said can become another burden placed on a person seeking to grow, relate, and be with God through his Word. 

Since writing last week I have been thinking about how much harder we can make Bible reading for our brothers and sisters when we slap various preferences and rules onto them. In our firm suggestion of how others should read the Word we need to be clear about the different ways and different types of reading that can take place for spiritual nourishment. 

This isn’t just about what version of the Bible you are reading. It also speaks into how you read the Bible, where you read the Bible, when you read the Bible, and how much you read the Bible. 

I know different people who love to read the KJV for an hour each morning, in the same chair they have done so for years. But then I know others who simply try to read a few verses as they try to follow a plan on their phone while waiting for their coffee to be made at the cafe. Each person is doing what they can to engage with God, bringing themselves under the authority of the scriptures in different ways and at different times. And I’m sure that in reading those different scenarios we may even begin to judge whether one is better than the other. 

But I suppose this is getting to the point I’m making this week. 

The best Bible you are reading is the one that is in front of you. 

I want to encourage you, whether you are reading a little or a lot of the Bible, that you continue to do it. Don’t read it out of duty and guilt, but read it out of delight and gratitude. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 1 writes, “Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” And who can forget the whole of Psalm 119, which highlights just how much of the delight the Word of God is for us of faith. An example of which can be found in v92, “If your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction.”

The best Bible you’re reading is the one that’s in front of you. It’s the one you’re reading now. May the reading of God’s Word be a delight for you as you embrace your freedom in Christ to be with him.

Bible Reading In The New Year

For many years I had the goal of reading the Bible from cover-to-cover in a calendar year. I reckon I’ve completed that goal once in the last 15 years. My routine from January first was to start at Genesis 1:1 and make my way through at least 4 chapters per day. Yet, by late January I’d be stuck in Exodus reading about the plagues, the Red Sea, and the journey into the wilderness and already finding myself too far behind to catch up. 

Perhaps this is a familiar experience for you as well.

As one who comes from a tradition where the regular reading of the Bible is engrained from a young age, being unable to do this can trigger some sort of guilt trip. Thankfully, this need not be the case and my legalistic view of Bible reading has changed somewhat. This is not to say that my view of God’s Word has changed, only the perceived necessity to read through the entire Bible each year. 

As I seek to worship God in the everyday I seek to engage with God’s Word in various ways and at various times throughout the day. This may involve reading a select passage of scripture, listening to worship music focussing on the words of scripture, or reading a portion of a Christian book that leads me to contemplate the ways of God more deeply. 

The sidebar to this that I can’t help but make is that God’s Word is not on even par with a worship song or a Christian book. No other book or words written in human history is “…God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It’s got to be said. 

But still, perhaps you are like me and require some structure, some idea of what you’d like to do. In growing as a disciple, in our experience, knowledge, and follow-ship of Jesus it’s still good to have a plan or approach to scripture reading. As a regular practice of our faith, and as the year is now underway, I wonder whether a way to approach this might be to think small, think regular, and think expectantly. 

Think Small

Everyone has different capacities as to what they can achieve in a day or a week or a year. Often we might be surprised at how much we can accomplish when we are consistent in doing little things throughout the year. 

I’d encourage you not to think about reading the whole Bible as one complete project for the year. Radical, I know. But instead, think about it in little chunks. Think about reading one Proverb a day and repeat it every month. Think about working through a gospel one chapter at a time and digesting it properly. Or think even smaller, contemplate 1-2 verses of Paul’s letters. Or perhaps limit yourself to 5 minutes a day for January with the goal of increasing it a minute each month. 

 It is the little done over time that produces a significant amount. You’ll be surprised at how much of God’s Word you will end up reading if you think small. 

Think Regular

Thinking small leads to thinking regularly. Doing the small means approaching the reading of the Bible as a consistent discipline. 

Perhaps reading everyday is not a possibility for you, that’s OK. How do weekdays suit? How does committing to a Saturday and Sunday schedule sound? I’m not sure what’s best for you, but it is in your hands as to when and how regularly your Bible reading might be. 

At the moment I’m probably hitting 4-5 days per week of significant reading whereby I’m seeking to connect with God and grow in him. Outside of this I am in the unique situation where I’m given the opportunity to dip into God’s Word in various ways – sharing with others, preparation for sermons, and in faith conversations with church and community members. Nevertheless, what I’ve found helpful is to have a committed time of reading that’s in the calendar or on the to-do list (and prayer is always helpful alongside this). 

Think Expectantly

The final idea in approaching Bible reading for this year is to read expectantly. 

How often Bible reading can become a duty rather than a delight because we come to God’s Word not expecting to hear from him! Not expecting him to change our hearts and minds, not to conform and have our mind renewed (Romans 12:2-3). 

Often we will find connections, greater knowledge of God and his ways, and be willing to hear from God when we come to his Word expectantly. Sure, sometimes Bible reading is hard and difficult and doesn’t make sense to where we find ourselves, yet God has revealed himself through his Word and continues to make himself known by it. It’s why part of our discipleship is to go to God’s Word and hear what he has to say to us. 

I’d encourage you to have a go, to think small, to think regularly, and think expectantly as you approach the reading of God’s Word this year. 

My Top Posts of 2022

I’ve done very little writing on this blog in 2022.

So little writing you’d almost think I’ve given this away!

But, this isn’t the case. Life circumstances have changed and publishing content through this website hasn’t been a priority these past 12 months. A change in churches and moving into a Lead Pastor role has meant I’ve continued to write, just not for my personal blog here. There is a hope that as I continue to settle into the role I will begin publishing here again. As I posted last week, I continue to read which often leads to review posts or reading recommendations here and there.

Nevertheless, this year has still seen plenty of visitors and people checking out some old posts. Below is a bit of a summary of who has popped by and what they’ve been interested in. This is something I’ve done in previous years, which you can find here: Top posts for 2021, 202020192018201720162015. I also have a collection of writings published elsewhere on the inter-webs, which you can read here.

As to what has been popular on joncoombs.com this past year, here are the top five posts for 2022:

  1. God’s Love Expressed: Through The Cross
  2. My Top Books for 2022
  3. Martin Luther On Complete Forgiveness of Christ
  4. The Sparkle of a Youth Ministry First-timer
  5. 11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

All in all I have only posted 4 times this year, one of those posts being this one. However, in total I have had:

  • 7662 views from 4828 visitors.
  • I’ve had 7 comments and 28 likes on these last 3 posts.

A big thanks to all those who do come and have a read. It’s quite humbling and amazing anyone would come and check this place out. Look out for more via social media or go ahead an subscribe so I can regularly hit up your inbox.

Thanks, and have a good New Year.

My Top Books of 2022

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’ll know books play a key role in my weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythm. I have numerous books going at once. I am surrounded by books in my office. If I’m not reading then I don’t think I’m living a particularly healthy or helpful life. And when it comes to holiday periods I’m usually struggling to decide which books to leave behind and not take with me. 

This year has involved a few changes in life circumstances but it has also included a strong desire to keep reading, even though there have been times where it has lapsed for weeks on end. In any case, this year I’ve managed to work through 36 books, ranging from biography to practical theology to trashy crime novels. And, as usual, I have a few here to recommend to the interested reader.

Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life: From the Cross, for the World by Stephen J. Nichols

I can’t recommend ‘The Christian Life’ series enough, so much so that there are two on this list. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer then this is a good introduction to him. He is considered a friend to both liberal and conservative theologians with much written about his days as a pastor-theologian in Germany during the 1930-40s. It is clear Bonhoeffer was a very smart and clever man, someone with an exceptional intellect who could interact with scholarship. However he is also known for his mentorship and community-driven focus on what it means to be the church together. This book highlights Bonhoffer’s life in Nazi Germany and the tension of being a disciple in such a regime, his heart as a pastor, and the various theological themes that helped guide his life and understanding of God.

The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones – 1899-1981 by Iain H. Murray

I think this is the best biography I have ever read. Murray condenses his large two-volume set on Lloyd-Jones into one, and I think he makes it better, sharper, and more poignant. 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a significant Welsh evangelical pastor of the 20th century, sensing a call to the ministry while entering the echelons of the medical fraternity in London, England. Lloyd-Jones’ upbringing wasn’t easy, with his father making some unwise decisions for the family unit that meant they struggled financially. However, given his aptitude and some help along the way Lloyd-Jones studied and was mentored in medicine by the top doctors in Harley St, London. However, in his late-20s he sensed a call to preach and with his wife moved back to Wales to serve in a local church. After 7 years he then moved to London again and was involved as assistant or senior minister at Westminster Chapel. 

This biography gives a terrific outline of his life and the major turning points in his faith. It works through his childhood and some tragedies that occurred during that time that may have shaped him further in life. The book I have now has oodles of underlines in it and it is an encouraging and inspiring read, particularly for anyone considering or in ministry. Those seeking to know more about a minister-preacher a generation or two behind us will also find it enjoyable. 

Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus by Jeramie Rinne

I found this a helpful book to consider what the criteria for elders is and also how to think through their role in the local church. It gives a clear understanding of biblical eldership, although some will debate the complementarianism that is explicit throughout. Nevertheless, this is a book worth working through with leadership groups or other pastoral staff. It is worth talking through the chapters presented with elders themselves. This book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re in church leadership or at a church that has people considered ‘elders’ then this would be a helpful volume. 

Teach Us to Pray: The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church and Today by Justo L. González

I read a number of books on prayer in the lead up and during a series I preached through the Lord’s Prayer. I found this work to be the most fascinating as it works through each line of the prayer through a historical theology lens. That is, it talks about the meaning of the text as it has been understood by the great theologians and pastors of church history, working from the early church fathers, through the middle ages, into the reformation and then more recently. I just found this so helpful and it provided more insight into the text. It was also comforting to know how powerfully this prayer has been through the ages and that we continue to be part of that today. 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Narnia series is almost an annual read for me and in this year’s read through I was struck by the classic story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Perhaps part of the joy in reading this again was that I read it with my daughter too, but it again highlighted those Christian themes of discipleship, love, sacrifice, and the whole good versus evil things as well. If you’ve never read it then you’ve got to grab a copy. If you have and it’s been a while then I’d recommend returning to it. 

Preaching for God’s Glory by Alistair Begg

Preaching has gone up a step for me this year. In becoming a senior pastor the majority of the years preaching has now fallen to me. This being the case I thought this short book on preaching was a helpful reminder in the task. While I may have read plenty of books on preaching there is always more to learn, think through, and be reminded of. I found this book does all of these things. Plus, Alistair Begg is my favourite preacher of this era so I knew I was going to like it. 

Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary by Jeannine K. Brown

Next year our church will spend a significant amount of time in the Letter to the Philippians. As part of my preparation I read through this commentary on the book. It’s a reasonable length, published in 2022, and an update in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. 

I found Brown engaging in her writing of this work and it gave me good insight into the issues that modern scholars are thinking through about the letter. Because it has been so recently released I feel like it has given me good oversight of things commentaries in the past may not have been thinking about. If you’re leading a Bible study on the book, preaching through the letter yourself, or just want some further depth to personal study then you won’t find much better. 

The Work of The Pastor by William T. Still

I’d never come across William Still before reading this book. He happens to be a 20th century minister of a church in Scotland and had a strong expository preaching ministry. Again, like Begg’s preaching book above, I found this a helpful volume as I stepped up into the senior leadership role. 

This is part biography, part war stories, and part ministry tips. It’s not a long book, it’s full of examples that relate to anyone who has been in ministry for a while, and it provides insights to the work from a Scottish perspective. I was encouraged and inspired in parts as it reminded me of the main focus of pastoral ministry.

Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life: Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire by Jason C. Meyer

Yep, you read that right, another Lloyd-Jones book, this time in ‘the Christian Life’ series. Flowing on from the Murray biography is a dense volume that not only dips into aspects of his life but gives a greater focus on the theology Lloyd-Jones taught and lived. From a theology of God the Father and God the Son through to the work of the Spirit to a theology of prayer and preaching this isn’t an easy read but a worthwhile one in thinking through such themes. I took a few turns in getting through it but found it helpful in my understanding of God and living the Christian life with solid foundations. 

Well, this now makes it nine years in a row where I’ve published my favourite books of the year. If you’re game enough you can go back and have a read of previous years here: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021

If you’re that keen to know all the books I’ve read in 2022 then head to Goodreads to see a summary.

3 Specific Reading Reflections

Reading is an important building block in my life. It’s part of my relaxation and leisure time, it’s part of my role as a pastor, it’s part of my development both personally and professionally. Reading, forever and a day, has always been part of my life and I can’t really think of a time when I haven’t read. Maybe late high school and into university, but that’s about it.

Each year I have a certain number of books I seek to read. This number of 26 (equivalent to one per fortnight) hasn’t changed since I was 24 years old. Some years I don’t make this target, most years I exceed it. And I don’t say this for boasting sake, but I say it for goal-setting purposes. I know I won’t be able to finish a book each week. I know I won’t be able to retain as much information as I would like if I read more non-fiction than I already do. I know I prefer to read physical books over audiobooks and ebooks. I know certain things about my reading habits, now having analysed my last 15 years of reading.

However, over the years I have learnt certain aspects to reading that has helped me know myself more. This includes these three tips below. Perhaps they’ll be helpful for you as you think about your reading too.

1. Choose Books You’re Interested In

If you’re not interested in the topic or theme of a book don’t waste your time. There are too many books out there to waste time on ones you’re not interested in. For example, I’m not particularly interested in reading about military battles, so I don’t really read anything military related. I’m interested in sport biographies, particularly cricket and basketball. I’m interested in Christian history. I’m interested in junk-time crime thrillers. None of them may interest you, you may think they’d be so boring. Stay away then. Pick books you’ll be interested in, it makes reading easier.

2. Stop Reading The Book If It’s Terrible

There is no need to finish a book if it’s not happening for you. If you are finding a book isn’t meeting your expectations then just stop and leave it. You don’t have to finish every book you pick up. Last year I tried to read a very popular leadership book by one very famous and highly recommended leader. I got about 60-80 pages in and pulled the pin. I found the writing terrible, the examples used were lacking depth, and it just didn’t seem like a book worth the expectations. It was time to finish up.

3. Use A Pencil, Mark-up the Margins, and Dog-ear the Pages

A book is to be read, and to be used. Show me a book in perfect condition and I’ll show you a book that either hasn’t been read, thought about, or digested.

A book is one of the cheapest development tools, particularly if we’re thinking non-fiction, and so we should mine the gold as much as possible. What other lifelong development tool is available for $15-$25?!

When reading non-fiction I like to use a pencil to underline important sentences and paragraphs. I’ll also dog-ear the page so that I know there’s something important in the book that I can go back to and make reference to or re-read later. I also make notes or comments in the margins that spark thoughts or memories or questions. Sometimes I even write short notes at then of chapters. Doing this slows my reading down, but it also allows me to think through the various issues and helps me learn more from the book. At the end of every read I usually copy those underlines and dog-eared paragraphs into a searchable digital format.

I get it. I enjoy reading. I enjoy learning. I think it has a place and priority in life. You may not. I get it. However, if you want to get more into reading or would like to improve in it then that’s a few random reading reflections for you. Any you would add?

My Top Posts of 2021

I continue to write and seek to express myself and hopefully encourage others along the way too.

This past year has seen my writing develop in different ways, and less so on this blog than I would’ve liked. I’ve been taken up with writing more sermons due to an increased teaching role at my church. And, one of the unique writing projects I completed this year was a weekly review focussed on Supercoach (fantasy AFL) during the footy season. This meant that time and dedication to writing in this space dissipated from previous years. And to be honest, another year of lockdowns had an affect on this too.

Nevertheless, I continue to commit myself to writing. I find it is the best way for me to express myself and to find clarity of thought. It’s also an enjoyable experience to have written, to finally hit publish on a post about an idea that I’ve been mulling away on for a while.

Having only posted 13 times in the past 12 months you’d think people would simply stop reading the articles and posts I have here. However, this hasn’t been the case. There are still a number of popular posts that continue to have traction with people, which is certainly pleasing as a writer! It seems that I had about the same amount view this blog as I did last year, which is to say just over 9200 hits all up.

As to what has been popular this past year, here are the top five posts for 2021:

  1. God’s Love Expressed: Through The Cross
  2. The Lord of The Lockdowns (published in 2021 and on TGCA)
  3. Martin Luther On Complete Forgiveness of Christ
  4. My Theological Library
  5. 11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

If you’d like to explore more of what has been popular on here in previous years you can do so here: Top posts for 202020192018201720162015. I also have a collection of writings published elsewhere, which you can find here.

My Top Books of 2021

I’ll be honest. I’m not particularly satisfied with the balance of my reading this year. Sure, I well and truly went over my goal of 26 books for the year, but the balance of authors and topics just wasn’t right. If I was to analyse it I would say that I didn’t have enough ‘old’ books, ones which might have helped my understanding of the present world from the perspective of a different time and place. Perhaps this might change as I begin to think about next year’s books.

Nevertheless, there were some great books I did read this year, many of which I would strongly recommend to others and, in fact, have purchased as Christmas presents to fellow pastoral staff members. The books below are all books I gave 5 out of 5. In my opinion they were excellent.

The Care of Souls by Harold L. Senkbeil
It was no surprise this book won a 2020 Christianity Today Book Award. While Senkbeil is not of my denominational persuasion, it is clear that he has a great grasp on what it is to minister to people in a congregation. The book walks through aspects of pastoral ministry, highlighting the need to pastor souls within the system of the whole. What I found most helpful was the reminder to focus on people over programs, and the encouragement to give thought to helpful ways in which to care for people in life and death.

Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund
This book has also won many plaudits and has been promoted heavily in certain circles. I loved the reminder of Jesus’ own description of himself as ‘gentle and lowly.’ I found the first half of the book the most compelling—so compelling that I used Ortlund’s angle in a sermon I preached on Matthew 11:28-30. In a time of busyness, change and added pressure, this book helped to remind me of how Jesus is the one in whom we can rest.

Spirit and Sacrament by Andrew Wilson
Our young-adults group did a four-week series on spiritual gifts earlier this year. I read plenty about the topic but found this book most helpful. While the Baptist in me had a few quibbles, the understanding of the Spirit’s work through the gifts today helped solidify my continuationist position. This is not a long book, but it is profound and gets straight to the core issues surrounding spiritual gifts and ordinances.

Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times by Peter L. Steinke
What other book does one need to read in the times we live when everyone seems anxious, weary, and stressed by the pressures of the day. Despite being written a little while ago, it is still helpful and helps the reader understand the ‘system’ of our churches. It can help us appreciate, not only understand, the levels of anxiety within our communities, and also how best to lead a congregation in these times. An excellent read for anyone in pastoral ministry

Visit the Sick: Shepherding the Afflicted and Dying in Your Congregation by Brian Croft
This is a short practical guide to help pastors and pastoral carers help those who are sick. Brian Croft uses his years of expertise in ministry to provide practical suggestions in how to care for those who are locked-in due to their health, or who need visiting in hospital or at home, or who need to be cared for because loved ones are dying. A perfect book to work through with a group of people and apply it to your local church community.

Read to Lead by Jeff Brown
I jumped on one of those pre-release deals to gain a whole lot of other resources alongside this book. I suspect that any of us who have written at TGCA or in these ‘Year in Books’ series would agree that our leadership has been helped by our reading. This book offers both anecdotal and research-based insight into the value of reading. It is a personal growth book with the sole purpose of encouraging leaders to read more and make time for it. I was inspired by the reminder of how the accumulation of reading helps widen and mould my leadership. The importance of reading can’t be underestimated.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
With the 20th year anniversary of 9/11 this year, there were plenty of books, podcasts, and documentaries reflecting on its impact. I found myself listening to this in-depth audiobook, covering everything from the beginnings of Al-Qaeda, the political climate of the 1970s through to 2001, and the formation of those participants involved in the event itself. It was a compelling 15-hour listen, and I’d recommend it.

Expositional Preaching by David R. Helm
Again, this book isn’t a long one but is a great reminder of the importance and place of expositional preaching in the life of the church. While there is a brief case made for the priority of this preaching in the church, I found the practical aspects formational. Topics such as the importance of systematic theology; the balance of contextualisation; the arrangement of material in the sermon; effectiveness through understanding your audience, make this book a great gift for your pastoral team or a book to work through together.

Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say – and What You Don’t by L. David Marquet
Leadership has evidently been a theme in my reading this year, and this was probably the best of the secular leadership books I read. Marquet is known for his TED talk and first book, Turn The Ship Around, which focusses on how, as the commander of a poor performing submarine, he made it the best performer by enabling others to make decisions. Leadership is Language focusses further by highlighting the need to not only ask others to collaborate but also to give people time to pause and reflect on what might help make the work more effective.

I found this book helpful in providing me with better questions to ask. Marquet provides great examples of when and how to put intentional leadership into practice through the language we use, rather than stifling collaboration through directive and authoritarian questions. This is certainly a worthwhile read for those of us leading teams of people.

This is now the eighth year in a row I’ve published a post that outlines my favourites books for the year. You can go back and have a read of previous years here: 201420152016201720182019, 2020.

This post was also published at The Gospel Coalition Australia as part of their ‘My Year In Books’ series.

If you’re that keen to know all the books I’ve read in 2021 then head to Goodreads to see a summary.

Soft Serve Ice-Cream or How I am Trying to Avoid the Harm of Wealth Hoarded

Below is a guest post by Steve, a member of my church, who writes a terrific little thoughtful piece that will make you think and have a chuckle at the same time. Enjoy.


Recently my Mum passed away after a short illness. She was a generous soul. The whole experience has triggered a number of thoughts, including her lived example and images of soft serve ice cream.

It’s a metaphor.

Soft serve ice cream is hardly a food, certainly not one that is healthy or that we need but on occasion it is okay to have as a treat. In fact I believe it is very good to do so, and one day we won’t be able to treat our loved ones because they have gone; either passed on, or just away.

In some ways my two children are smarter and, in some cases, even wiser than me (they must have had a good upbringing). I’ve had a tough time at work recently, actually over the last couple of years, and one of my children has repeatedly said to me that I should retire. True enough it would be good for my mental health. The reality is that it would mean quitting my job without an alternative source of income, which is not an ideal situation. Financially I am in an okay spot, and working keeps me in a good spot. However, my intention is not to store up riches upon riches as an end to itself but rather to prudently save. With enough extra for soft serve ice cream once in a while, of course. Neither extreme is good for me spiritually. To ask a rhetorical question – Why does God bless us with gifts, talents and finances if not to give them away?

The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-20 are helpful for me in this.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Are there certain lessons which we only truly learn through age and personal experience? Even though it ends up being an expensive way to learn. Probably.

Of the times that I could have treated my children but didn’t for fear of spoiling them (and there were not many of those) I wish that I could go back and treat them ten times over. Perhaps this is also an impact of COVID lockdowns.

We have all lost a lot, not the least of which is time, which is difficult to replace. I get the impression from reading the gospels that Jesus was always in the moment, blessing as the occasions presented and required.

If I could have time with my Mum back what would I want to do?

Probably go out for a soft serve ice cream.

6 Encouragements To Live By Faith

In my last post I described walking through Hebrews 11 like entering a corridor at the museum. Paintings hanging on the walls, dim light from the ceilings and windows, and statues and busts of important people lining each side. Next to each of their depictions sits a plaque with the little description we find in Hebrews 11, all beginning with “By faith…” 

They are highlighted by the writer because they are people who provide an example of what living by faith means for those who come after. For us. 

All of these people mentioned in Hebrews 11 are commended for the faith they had. They didn’t receive what was promised to them in this life, but they continued to live by faith because God had revealed to them something greater. A future together as his people, living under his right rule, in his perfectly created place. 

In v39-40 we read,

“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.” (CSB)

The writer reminds us that living by faith is for the long-haul. It’s no short, sharp, snap discipleship program. It’s a lifetime of living by faith. Throughout the chapter we read of those who in their lifetime suffered and did not acquire the fulfilment of the promises given to them by God. Yet, they endured in the faith, by faith, so that they would be made perfect at a later time. And that later time is when all of God’s people are gathered. When all of God’s people are together in the place he has set out for us. 

All the saints, whether old or new, will be made perfect when all of God’s people are together. Whether that be the Old Testament saints, the Hebrews themselves, or whether that be us. There is a future hope of being together with God in perfection. 

So as we walk this corridor of heroes of the faith we can be encouraged to live by faith ourselves. To be followers of Jesus for the marathon of life, not just the sprint of this season. With this in mind, here are six ways this passage encourages us to live by faith for the long-haul. 

First, Hebrews 11 helps us when we are in times of doubt. 

While doubt is not the opposite of faith, it certainly has an impact on our faith. Whether we are struggling to see God, doubting his goodness and faithfulness, or when we’re confused by what he is doing in our lives then we can lose sight of what he has promised. Hebrews 11, however, enables us to see that he is indeed faithful to his promises and that those who went before us held fast to Christ knowing there was something better in the future, something worth holding on to. 

Second, Hebrews 11 helps us when we are struggling with sin. 

We might feel plagued with sin. We might feel guilty. We might feel ashamed. We might be holding on to certain sins like a comfort blanket, always reasoning with ourselves that we will be able to battle with it and get over it at some point in the future. Instead, we can take confidence in knowing that Christ has that sin, has forgiven us for it, and is in the process of making us perfect in him. Therefore, we live by faith that he has taken the sins of the past, present, and future, and has dealt with them decisively for eternity. 

Third, Hebrews 11 helps us when we wonder what we’re meant to be doing for God. 

Those who were commended were people who lived by faith. They didn’t sit and wait around to be taken to a better place. They didn’t live in laziness, twiddling their thumbs wondering what they were to do. Instead, they trusted God in the ‘now’, obeying his commands and trusting his judgements. The future is in God’s hands and for us we are to trust and obey. Anyone remember that old hymn, “Trust and obey”? 

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

This may involve choices we make about our lifestyle, or our career, or our relationships, or our spending habits, or our social media use, or our use of time, or our service, or our attitudes, or our behaviours. God, of course, doesn’t just deal with one aspect of life but the whole of life. Our response is to live by faith. 

Fourth, Hebrews 11 helps us know we’re not alone. 

Thank goodness we aren’t the centre of the world. We aren’t the centre of reality. God is. And we see through this list that we also need to put our life in perspective. 

God is the one who is to be the centre of our worship, we aren’t. 

God is to be the centre of our lives, we aren’t. 

Yet, God is with us. We are not alone. 

Further, we know that so so so many people have gone before us, treading out a path like a walking track in the bush. Someone else has done this and so can we. Someone else has walked the same path we’re on and lived by faith. So can we. These millions of believers before us can inspire and encourage us to live by faith. 

Fifth, Hebrews 11 helps us to know we are being made perfect. 

Those final two verses show us that we aren’t perfect and nor are the saints of the past. The aim isn’t perfection in this lifetime, the aim is to live by faith. 

And so, we take encouragement that we are being made perfect through Christ, who uses our lives and our experiences to shape and mould us into more like him. This is also living by faith. 

Sixth, Hebrews 11 helps us to know there is a better day. 

I’m not sure what you’re going through right now but I suspect there’s something. Everyone is always dealing with something. With this being the case Hebrews 11 provides for us a hope. A future hope. A hope that one day things will be better, that one day we will be with God and it all will be made perfect. One day the acute pain of living now will be made into sustained enjoyment with God. 

And perhaps this is the key. 

With God. 

For as we walk with God by faith we walk in the shadow of those gone before, encouraged and inspired by their faith.