Below is a quote from John Piper’s Brothers We Are Not Professionals, which is a book of short essays which look at the importance of the pastor (and I would say all ministry leaders) abandoning the professionalization of the pastorate/church and pursue the prophetic call of the Bible for radical ministry. I’d highly recommend this book if you are a pastor or are in ministry. (Please forgive the complementarian title and tone of the book, I promise the content is fantastic.)
How astonishing it is that God wills to do His work through people. It is doubly astonishing that He ordains to fulfill His plans by being asked to do so by us. (…) I was amazed once to hear a seminary graduate say how adequate he felt for the ministry after his years of schooling. This was supposed to be a compliment to the school. The reason this amazed me is that the greatest theologian and missionary and pastor who ever lived cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Not because he was a bungler but because the awful calling of emitting the fragrance of eternal life for some and eternal death for others was a weight he could scarcely bear. A pastor who feels competent in himself to produce eternal fruit–which is the only kind that matters–knows neither God nor himself. A pastor who does not know the rhythm of desperation and deliverance must have his sights only on what man can achieve.
Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to “nothing.” For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer. (…) Both our flesh and our culture scream against spending an hour on our knees beside a desk piled with papers. It is un-American to be so impractical as to devote oneself to prayer and meditation two hours a day. And sometimes I fear that our seminaries conform to this deadly pragmatism that stresses management and maneuvering as ways to get things done with a token mention of prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit. Refuse to believe that the daily hours Luther and Wesley and Brainerd and Judson spent in prayer are idealistic dreams of another era.
Over the past few years, Jared C. Wilson has become one of my favorite authors as he writes from the heart in a gospel centered, directly to the point, somewhat sarcastic manner. I appreciate his personal stories of the hardships of ministry, and that he has shared some of his ‘worst’ moments in his books with readers who need to hear exactly these things. In his most recent book, The Story of Everything, Wilson looks at the overarching story of the Bible and how everything that happens in life has a God ordained purpose.
Wilson walks through important topics of life and looks at how they fit neatly into God’s redemptive plan for humanity and history. Looking at God’s grace, suffering, the gods we create, Wilson puts life into picture by showing that Christ is the centerpiece of it all, and “the story is not about us, but it is for us.” The topic of the story of God has become a popular one over the past few years, and Wilson’s book here is another one in the mix. What I appreciate about Wilson over some other writers is that he has lived what he shares and has been through some rock bottom difficulties in his life, in his ministry, in his story so I appreciate that he is open and vulnerable in this one.
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand their place in life and why everything that has happened, is happening and will ever happen occurs. Check out Jared C. Wilson’s The Story of Everything.
I recently finished Eugene Peterson’s classic book, The Contemplative Pastor, and I am studying through it with a pastor friend of mine. In this book, Peterson looks at returning the art of spiritual direction during an age where churches and pastors are over-busy, overworked and in many ways overlooking the essentials of ministries. The Contemplative Pastor is over 25 years old but sadly much of what Peterson addresses is still relevant or in some cases worse off. Here are a few of my favorite quotes that hit me the hardest as I read. I would highly recommend this book to any Christian, pastor or ministry leader who desires to step away from the noise of society that has infiltrated many churches and get back to the lost art of listening and presence.
- A healthy noun doesn’t need adjectives. But if the noun is culture-damaged or culture-diseased, adjectives are necessary. (15)
- How can I lead people into the quiet place beside still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place? (19)
- I want the people who come to worship in my congregation each Sunday to hear the Word of God preached in such a way that they hear its distinctive note of authority as God’s Word, and to know that their own lives are being addressed on their home territory. A sound outline and snappy illustrations don’t make that happen. (21)
- Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith. (33)
- With programs shaping the agenda–not amazing grace, not stubborn sin–the pastor doesn’t have to be patient. (48)
- What we do on Sundays has not really changed through the centuries: proclaiming the gospel, teaching Scripture, celebrating the sacraments, offering prayers. But the work between Sundays has changed radically, and it has not been a development but a defection. (57)
- It should be clear that the cure of souls is not a specialized form of ministry (analogous, for instance, to hospital chaplain or pastoral counselor) but is the essential pastoral work. (59)
- The central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language. (89)
- The Son of God empties himself of prerogative, of divine rights, of status and reputation, in order to be the one whom God uses to fill up creation and creatures with the glory of salvation. A bucket, no matter what wonderful things it contains, is of no use for the next task at hand until it is emptied. (102)
I highly recommend you grab The Contemplative Pastor and put it on the list of one of the first books you read in 2016. It will challenge you, frustrate you, and leave you thirsting for Christ more in all areas of your life and church. We all could use more of that!
I’m not a big biography reader, but I have been incredibly pleased and have enjoyed the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway. I have now read four books in this series, and have thoroughly devoured and highlighted heavily each of these books. Most recently I have read Owen on the Christian Life. Along with not reading many biographies, I have not read any books by John Owen. I have had Mortification of Sin on my reading list for about five years now, but just haven’t read it. However, I have heard a great deal about this theologian and so I was immediately interested in diving into this book from Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin.
One thing that I have loved about this series is that they have taken theological “giants” and made the accessible for all levels of reader whether new believer, long time believer, pastor, seminarian, etc. Barrett and Haykin walk through the life of John Owen as well as looking at the doctrines that he contributed to the most, and shown how his life and his understanding of a specific Christian doctrine help the reader to be able to live their own Christian life better knowing this all. Barrett and Haykin (as well as all the others/editors in this series) have done a great job of showing Owen and the other theologians in this series are human and have questions about many doctrines and how they walked through Scripture and life to put their understandings into practice. We all need to see this as we all go through these same walks.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to all Christians to want to know how to pursue God more fully. I am appreciative to Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin for this book, and I am more appreciative to John Owen for his passion for Christ and desire to show Him in all that He did in his life.
I read Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans this past summer, and I have recommended it to many people. In the book, Evans walks through seven of the sacraments through stories that help the reader to see what it really means to be part of the Church. She walks through her story of doubts about the church and the faith of her childhood. I think this resonates strongly with many people today, and I know it resonated well with my upbringing.
Searching for Sunday is a brutally honest look at evangelicalism and the raw messiness that makes up community and the church. I would highly recommend you pick up Searching for Sunday and see the hope for the church within it.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book, in no particular order:
- When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church. (xiv)
- We all long for someone to tell us who we are. The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. (19)
- The people didn’t have to go to God anymore; God was coming to the people. And God, in God’s relentless love, would allow no mountain or hill–no ideology or ritual or requirement or law–to obstruct the way. (37)
- Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary. (73)
- No one ever said the fruit of the Spirit is relevance or impact or even revival. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–the sort of stuff that, let’s face it, doesn’t always sell. (…) There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one. (112)
- Whenever we show others the goodness of God, whenever we follow our Teacher by imitating his posture of humble and ready service, our actions are sacred and ministerial. To be called into the priesthood, as all of us are, is to be called to a life of presence, of kindness. (116)
- The church is positively crawling with people who don’t deserve to be here…starting with me. But the table can transform even our enemies into companions. The table reminds us that, as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family and invited to God’s banquet, we’re stuck with each other; we’re family. (152)
- Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route. But the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished–proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS! (…) But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. (208-9)