Friday, December 9, 2011

Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller

No matter how I feel, I still consider myself a young pastor. While I feel much older, I am only 38 years old. I have been in pastoral ministry for 13 years, but am coming to the close of my first year as a Senior Pastor. For those reasons, I was drawn to Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller.

This is a book written by a seasoned veteran in pastoral ministry, serving as a pastor in one church for twenty-five years and then teaching pastoral ministry in seminaries. He is very vulnerable, sharing the highs and lows of what he has learned over the years. At the very beginning of the book, he gives the main reason why he wrote this book and why men like myself should read it:
"But the all-time great reason that you should listen to me is that much of what I write about in this book is written from the edge. Ministry is not for sissies, and the requirement of the tough times brings us to the edge of our commitment. Would it surprise you to know that I almost resigned the long-term pastorate after my second year at my church? Would you further be surprised to know that I genuinely believed I came very close to burnout in my twenty-fifth year in the church? These kinds of experiences are what I am speaking of when I talk of letters from the edge. If you have not encountered such dark times in your leadership, you are fortunate. But the truth is, if you haven't, these experiences are likely ahead of you. Perhaps I can help you build up a trove of courage for the times ahead." (23)
What I found as I read this book were some good nuggets that can help me be a young pastor. Let me share a few of the things that I can learn from:
"So many of the letters in this book focus on the long haul and the power of sticking to one thing: tenure." (21) 
"Surveys indicate that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression from time to time . . . The dropout rate for seminary-trained pastors is estimated to be as high as 80 percent." (50-2) 
"It is impossible to serve a church for many years and not here and there reap the scorn of congregational gossip." (66) 
"Pastor, consider this: Church members have a way of emulating their pastors. Only when the pastor cares will the people care. Only when pastors are big of spirit will their people be." (112)
There are many good things in this book that were helpful for me to think through. But there were also some strange things. Some things that I just didn't get. I want to be teachable and learn, but they just seemed strange. Allow me to share just one. He is making the argument that we are much too concerned about the "big boys" in the evangelical circles. He says,
"The quarrels rage, however. Is Rob Bell a universalist? Is Rick Warren? Is there consequence in John Piper inviting Rick Warren to his annual Desiring God conference? Does it matter that Andy Stanley doesn't like the word shepherd? (Yes, but only to Andy Stanley, I'm sure) and if Brian McLaren wants to widen orthodoxy, can it really matter in the realm of those who must still concern themselves with joblessness or the heartbreak of psoriasis? Is N. T. Wright too revisionist with Pauline theology as John Piper asserts, or is Piper himself, as McLaren might assert, too stingy with his orthodoxy? Is Osteen conservative or only cute? While I hate to spoil the playground of those who see their dialectic as all-important, the truth is the world is too needy to care about what is going on at the top of evangelicalism." (126-7)
I get what he is saying to a certain point (other than how John MacArthur missed that list). I really don't have time to consume myself with the ins and outs of what those guys are doing . . . unless my people are reading Rob Bell or Brian McLaren. Maybe it is his age, but in our digital world,, I think he has underestimated the impact these "big boys" in the evangelical circle have on our people. They need to be warned against certain people and doctrines. And it is our job as pastors to shepherd, warn, and protect our sheep.

I guess this book helped in some ways, but was not the best book I would recommend on this issue of young pastoral work.

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