Former pastor of Belmont Temple in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of the new book The Faith of George W. Bush, Stephen Mansfield shares with Ministries Today his insights on the president's strengths and flaws, and the leaders that have shaped his faith.
Ministries Today: You were a pastor for 20 years. What did you take away from this process, from a pastoral perspective?
Stephen Mansfield: What impacted me the most was that Bush attended church all his life but never had a sense of purpose or destiny until he found a personal relationship with Jesus. We have a lot of people like that, who are well-conformed to the church but haven't had their hearts changed, because they're not really connected to the person of Jesus.
Ministries Today: What were some aspects of George W. Bush's life and faith that surprised or inspired you in the course of your research?
Mansfield: I was surprised by how much he feels called to the presidency. He once said to James Robison before he was president: "I know that my country is going to go through a major crisis, and I believe my country is going to need me at that time. I don't want to be president, but I believe God wants me to be in office during that crisis."
He's also said to people: "Look, I'm happy to not be re-elected. I believe God wants me to be, but I'm more interested in doing God's will than I am in creating votes." The man's not perfect, but he absolutely is trying to fulfill the calling of God.
Ministries Today: What is the primary thing you want your readers--pastors in particular--to learn about the president?
Mansfield: I would like the church, in particular, and pastors in general to understand that the man in office is a symbol of our times--a man who's had moral trouble, a man who's failed, a man who's been wounded a bit, broken to some extent, but for whom faith has meant a kind of rebuilding, a resurrection.
Faith has helped Bush overcome his weaknesses, and faith is what makes Bush what he is. He's not the smartest man in the universe. He's not the most articulate. He's not the best looking. He's not the most experienced. But his faith drives him and compels him forward to be what is looking like a pretty good president. And to the extent that people and churches and pastors value him, it's faith that makes him what he is.
Ministries Today: Whom does Bush call "pastor"?
Mansfield: James Robison. There's a close relationship. Bush certainly is not controlled by anybody--especially spiritually--but James Robison speaks into his life. Any president probably has a lot of pastors talking to him and a lot of voices in his ear, but I think Robison's a real straightforward, solidly biblical, manly Texas kind of voice.
Ministries Today: Will this book be perceived as an attempt to build support for Bush in the evangelical community?
Mansfield: I hope not. Bush did not personally have anything to do with the book, and I think what we have done is take his faith seriously. If that's a positive reflection on him, that's OK with me. We've also taken him on about a few things. We think he's made mistakes. We think he's done some things improperly in office--not morally improper--just some unwise things.
Our goal here was to tell the story of his faith, not to criticize his policies or play partisan politics. If people of faith find common ground with him because of his faith, that's OK with me. I'm not trying to endorse him. I'm trying to explain an important part of American history.
Ministries Today: Bush's politics have alienated some people in the church. Will this book confirm their fears or alleviate them?
Mansfield: I wrote an entire chapter in the book called "Bush Unbound" to say that this guy is outside-the-box. Bush does not fit easy categories. This is going to make Christians pay a bit more attention.
For example, if someone is radically pro-Israel in a way that Christians can be. Bush is not a doctrinaire. He's not theologically oriented. So on the one hand he talks about our unshakable friendship with Israel, and on the other hand he gives strong support for a Palestinian state.
That's going to upset some folks. There's not an easy comfort in this book for people who are concerned about Bush's politics. He is a little inconsistent. He is a little bumpy. He is a little out-of-the-box. It's not easy to say, "Here's his theological line, and therefore here's what he'll do in his politics."
Ministries Today: What are the practical lessons that pastors and leaders could learn from Bush's experiences in relating to those in their care?
Mansfield: Bush has been deeply impacted by strategic sermons at critical times in his life. I think that pastors need to be challenged to really hear the word of the Lord and make sure that every time that they speak to their congregations they are, as best they can, speaking a strategic word, speaking the word God is saying at the time. The fact is that Bush's entire sense of calling to the presidency may have started with a sermon.
Second, I think pastors need to do everything they can to ensure that new converts are discipled. If there's anything that is of concern in Bush's life, it is because he became a believer as an adult and then immediately got into politics and sports management. He's inconsistently disciplined, and it shows. So it's been a harder road for him to come to full holiness and come to Christian maturity. And I think had the people around him pressed in on that a little bit more, he might have been a more solid man earlier.
Ministries Today: What should congregations be praying for the president?
Mansfield: George Bush really does draw a strong sense of purpose and calling from prayer. The church needs to be careful not to be the Republican Party at prayer, but rather just be the people of God at prayer. They need to be constantly praying that he has the sensitivity to God's voice and leading that he desires, that he is kept free from the moral quagmires and temptations that befall anybody in leadership, and that he knows what voices to listen to.
A man in leadership--especially a man like that--hears a lot of voices of people giving him advice, people calling for action. He's got to know which voices to listen to, even in his own administration. I think it's important that we pray for protection over his heart, that he's not deeply wounded by things that are said about him. This next election is likely to be extremely abusing.
Ministries Today: What character traits does Bush possess that are worth emulating?
Mansfield: Bush is a simple man, simple in his faith, simple in his ways. He once told James Robison when he was governor of Texas, "Look, all I want is that when I'm an old man buying my fishing lures at Wal-Mart, I just want people to point at me and say, 'That was our governor.'" In other words he's not deeply ambitious. He just wants to do God's will. I like that. I like his sense of humor, his playfulness.
I like his deep devotion to his wife. When he was campaigning for his father, he insisted on being flown back to his wife every other night. He would not spend more than one night away from home at a time.
Once, he was on an airplane with a congressman and a senator--both of whom were bragging about their affairs. He raised his glass of Diet Coke and said: "I want to toast Laura. I'm just so lucky to have her." And he began to just celebrate his wife and his love for his wife. I really admire that.
Guidelines for Pastors
Pastors at Greater Risk
By H.B. London Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman
240 pages, hardcover, $18.99
Reviewed by Ken Walker
If pressed for time, consider starting this book with Chapter 9 on managing priorities, which contains compelling insights from Dr. Richard A. Swenson on admitting one's limits and restoring balance to life. A side benefit is his reminder that 21st century parishioners also grapple with stress and overloaded schedules.
Other valuable guidelines appear in chapters on pursuing and practicing personal holiness and a review of 12 steps to more effective ministry.
However, be warned that the first two chapters are so depressing that you may be tempted to cast the book aside. And, ironically, although the authors mention a female friend planting a church at age 59, they write as if only men serve as pastors.
Focus on the Family Marriage Series
Group Starter Kit, $79.99
Reviewed by Karen Schmidt
The all-in-one concept for VBS and children's programs has graduated to adult curricula with Focus on the Family's Marriage Series. Based on Al Janssen's book The Marriage Masterpiece, this array of resources provides all the ingredients to teach couples about biblical marriage.
The seven study-guide books for group or couple study are compact, containing four studies each. Couples could easily opt to study one or more on their own, or create a home Bible study using these books. Topics cover unity, commitment, intimacy, communication, service, adventure and devotion.
The contemporary and airy design invites couples to discover biblical guidelines and then apply them realistically and purposefully. A man's pragmatic perspective, and a woman's relational and emotional sides are both accommodated in the discussion questions and application suggestions. These study guides can also be bought separately.
Couples on their own and churches who want to strengthen their congregants' marriages or create a ministry to serve the community and reach out to the unchurched will get plenty of well-rounded help with this kit. It's a masterpiece: complete, well-produced and user friendly.
The Heart of Worship
By Jason Breland
Reviewed by Margaret Feinberg
Recorded live at First Baptist North Mobile in Mobile, Alabama, Believe features worship leader Jason Breland and the North Mobile Worship Choir. Breland, a former lead singer and music director for TRUTH, now serves as a worship minister at the church.
Breland's musical gifting is well-displayed on this album, which features a seven-member praise team and live instruments. The recording opens with the big-church sounding "Make It Glorious" and flows into the upbeat "Let There Be Blessing." "Everyday" is sung in a contagious, fun rhythm reminiscent of Darrell Evans. The track slows down midway through with the tender, soulful "To You" and concludes with the piano-laden "When I Think About the Lord."
Overall, Believe is a solid easy-listening worship album with variety and a strong song selection.
Kiss of Heaven
By Darlene Zschech
Reviewed by Natalie Nichols Gillespie
Australian worship leader Darlene Zschech (of Hillsong albums and "Shout to the Lord" fame) releases her first solo effort with Kiss of Heaven, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. The worship pastor and songwriter wrote or co-wrote everything on this 14-song collection with the exception of the old hymn "Beautiful Savior" and a fine cover of U2's "Walk On," featuring Delirious' Martin Smith.
Zschech remains mostly grounded in personal worship songs throughout Kiss of Heaven, and veers only slightly to incorporate earthly romance on "Everything About You," the singer's unashamed declaration of love for her husband (and an album highlight).
The evidence of Zschech's gift as a worship leader is is felt throughout Kiss of Heaven. It draws listeners into a spiritual encounter through the sheer beauty and urgency of worship songs such as the title track, "Faithful," "Irresistible" and "Wonderful You." It builds to a climax with the powerful rendition of "Shout to the Lord" and follows that with the gentle "Dream."
Praise and worship fans can seal their collection with this Kiss.
Reviewed by Margaret Feinberg
In 1990, 4HIM released their self-titled debut album. More than a decade later, the band is still encouraging believers with pop worship songs and church anthems. In the last 13 years, they've garnered 22 No. 1 singles and recorded 10 studio albums, including their newest offering, Visible.
Songs on this album fuse easy-listening Christian music with worshipful lyrics and moments. As usual, the four guys--Andy Chrisman, Kirk Sullivan, Mark Harris and Marty Magehee--add heartfelt harmonies to their timeless musical sound.
While songs such as "Bigger Than Life" are a bit predictable, most listeners will find the lyrics filled with words of encouragement and inspiration. Standouts on the recording include the opening "Fill the Earth" with its reflection on God as Creator and the worshipful, "It's All About Jesus." "The Final Word" is an infectious ballad about the true meaning of love.
Visible is a great album for fans of 4HIM as well as listeners who like adult- contemporary Christian music.
I Just Want You
By Vicki Yohe
Reviewed by Natalie Nichols Gillespie
Worship leader Vicki Yohe has resurfaced as the first artist on CeCe Winans' Wellspring Gospel (besides Winans herself). Yohe's I Just Want You is a smooth, inspirational collection of worship that should be familiar to fans used to seeing her guest star on Trinity Broadcasting Network's Praise the Lord program.
Yohe's album is a capable collection of choir-backed worship that will fit right into the contemporary church. The music here is simply background for Yohe's clear vocals and the powerful choir who accompanies her. Throughout, Yohe worships with straightforward lyrics, an updated version of fan-favorite "Mercy Seat" and the title track, "I Just Want You," which sums up the theme here. The only time Yohe really tries to pick up the pace is with the jazzy "Almighty" and the pop tune "Help" that closes this project.
By John Tesh
Reviewed by Natalie Nichols Gillespie
John Tesh Christmas Worship follows Tesh's pattern of combining instrumental arrangements, modern worship songs featuring Tesh and background vocalists singing, and Tesh performing spoken interludes over his piano arrangements all on one project. Incorporating worship songs with classic Christmas carols here makes a unique and engaging marriage.
Vocalist Leann Albrecht shines, for example, on the Vineyard hit "Hungry" (by Kathryn Scott), which is sandwiched between the Tesh/Scott Krippayne love song "It Wouldn't Be Christmas Without You" and an updated instrumental arrangement of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," featuring a pretty oboe solo.
While Tesh co-wrote the seasonal opener "This Is Your Gift," and it is a nice enough addition to the repertoire of contemporary Christmas heartwarmers, the instrumental numbers are truly the highlights here. Less successful is the standard rendition of Rich Mullins' "Awesome God."
Tesh continues to create music the masses love, and Christmas Worship will be no exception. Also, consumers will receive a free DVD that Tesh shot with his band in Positano, Italy.