Chris Jackson may be a pastor, but sometimes he feels that unnerving paradox when he simultaneously loves and hates certain aspects of the church. Having experienced firsthand the deep hurt that can come from church leaders and churchgoers alike, Jackson has mixed emotions that resonate with virtually every believer. Yet his latest book, Loving God When You Don't Love the Church, is far from a believer's rant. Instead, the senior pastor of Grace Church of La Verne in Southern California offers poignant, timely and constructive insight on how to survive the ups and downs of God's favorite institution.
MINISTRY TODAY: A major theme of your book is confronting disappointment with church leadership. Why do you think pastors are often at the core of such hurt?
CHRIS JACKSON: The gospel attracts hurting people. We all come to Jesus because we need ministry; we need a savior. People in the church are automatically vulnerable even before they choose to get vulnerable and drop their guard. They're looking for life and answers, so there's a predisposition to vulnerability. On the other hand, we pastors are only human and the expectations on us are often overwhelming and unfairly demanding. The unfortunate reality, then, is that hurt will happen between pastors and parishioners. The bigger issue is how we respond to that and how quickly we can begin to heal.
MINISTRY TODAY: Sadly, there are plenty of pastors who can identify with your book's title. What would you say to them as they continue to somewhat begrudgingly lead their congregations?
JACKSON: I would tell them they're God's heroes and His champions. Pastors have a very high but equally tough calling. They need to know God's crazy about them. Those who are beat up and hurt need to go on a retreat with the Lord. They need to cry, vent, unload and fall in love with Him again. Unfortunately, many pastors feel trapped. They're gifted and skilled, but their professional background is only in the ministry, and so they feel bound. They can't just change careers at 40 or 50 years old, and yet ministry is a death sentence if it ever loses that fresh vibrancy.
D.L. Moody was asked late in life how he continued to preach and carry on with as much energy as he had. He said very simply, "I never lost the wonder." I think the primary aim of pastors is to recapture the wonder in Jesus before they'll ever hope to have it back in the church. It's impossible for us to export what we don't have, and so, as basic as this sounds, the cultivation of our personal relationship with the Lord is paramount.
MINISTRY TODAY: Why do church wounds run deeper and take longer to heal than most wounds?
JACKSON: Those who come to church are often vulnerable to begin with. We in the church tout an ability to answer and heal life's deepest questions and hurts, and so we attract people who are vulnerable and searching for those answers.
Second, the church is the last place somebody expects to be hurt. If Jesus loved the world so much He gave His own life for it, people expect to go to His institution and feel that same level of love. It's like in boxing. A boxer can weather the most brutal of punches, but it's the one that he doesn't see—the unseen punch—that will take him out. People don't expect to get hurt in church. And since they don't expect it, they're even more vulnerable when it happens.
Most pastors are amazing people doing their best to love and please God. I don't think anybody intends to hurt people. But when it happens, all those dynamics converge to create a wound that can take a long time to move past.
MINISTRY TODAY: You compare church leaders to overweight salespeople trying to pitch workout equipment. So what's killing our "sales pitch"?
JACKSON: That's a dicey question because it's not just church leaders. All of us who have Jesus, who have the Holy Spirit inside of us, we have the answer for the world. It's profound and mind-blowing to think that Jesus entrusted the salvation of the world not only through the price He paid, but also through what we would do as His ambassadors. It's a huge responsibility and we have the answer. But if the answer isn't working in our own lives—if we haven't laid down our lives to create marriages that are 10 times better than the world's, if we haven't paid the price to walk in such a relationship with God where His life is manifesting through us—then what good is it? Nobody needs more rules or principles. There's a principle to live your life by on every street corner and in every religion.
I believe in this 21st century, we have to get back to those basics of the first-century church: focusing solely on Jesus and paying the price for a vibrant reality with Him. People can see through the stuff that's fake, phony and contrived.
MINISTRY TODAY: How can leaders avoid losing their cutting edge in ministry?
JACKSON: We're given two different extremes in Scripture. Jesus says in John 15:5, "Apart from Me you can do nothing." Paul says in Philippians 4:13 that with Him we can do everything. So really for Christian leaders there's no middle ground; it's either nothing or everything, and it all hinges on the state of our relationship with Him. Unfortunately, because of the demands of leadership and running a corporation, it's easy for pastors to let our personal time with the Lord go out the window.
The tragedy when this happens is that although our gifts keep functioning, there's no lasting life apart from Him. In fact, I recently heard of a delegation of Chinese pastors that visited several churches in America. Their conclusion was that they were surprised and impressed with how much the church in America could do without the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now that's a very broad statement, and I don't know all the details behind it. I also know it obviously doesn't apply to every church in America. But the bottom-line conclusion is important for all pastors: If the Holy Spirit completely backed out of our ministries, would everything carry on as usual? It frightens me to think that I can spend a lot of time building the house, but if I'm doing it apart from Him, my life work could be titled "vanity" (see Ps. 127). I don't want to wake up in the middle of my life to find that, despite endless spiritual activity, I'm really spiritually bankrupt. The cutting edge in ministry is intricately connected to our relationship with Him. If we cling to Jesus, we'll never lose the edge and the fruit that we produce will "remain." MINISTRY TODAY: How can leadership within a church avoid forming its own "spiritual frat house," as you describe it?
JACKSON: Forming a clique isn't necessarily a bad thing. Part of the abundant life Jesus promised us is having relationships with like-minded believers. So being part of a close group of friends is actually a blessing. But church leaders need to be intentional with not sending a message that there's an inner circle that nobody else can penetrate. Church leaders should have a fraternity; they should have people they can be real with, connect with, have poker nights with, unburden their soul. But they shouldn't flaunt that in front of the church.
In church settings they're there for the people. Staff members and key leaders should be mingling with the people and shaking as many hands as they can instead of visiting with the same little group. There needs to be an intentionality to broaden the circle. When Jesus and His disciples were grieving the death of John the Baptist, they were trying to go away alone and they looked up and saw the multitude following. So Jesus just drew a bigger circle—pulled everybody into His clique. We need inclusive cliques. It's OK to have those deep friendships—they're crucial—but not at the expense of sending a message that other people are not welcome.
THE CRUCIFIXION OF MINISTRY:
SURRENDERING OUR AMBITIONS TO THE SERVICE OF CHRIST
Author: Andrew Purves
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
File Under: Ministry
Many of today's ministers are tired—from pressure, pain, disappointments, unfulfilled dreams, the hard work of people care ... the list goes on. What about the purpose-driven, highly motivated, never-going-to-stop-until-we-succeed leaders? Their high-speed life in ministry keeps score and expects results—quickly. They'll soon tire too, as spouses and children wonder why serving God is not much fun.
Where is Christ in the rush of accomplishing large ambitions? Where is the biblical formula of dying to self?
In The Crucifixion of Ministry, author Andrew Purves suggests a frequently forgotten approach to ministry: Let God kill our personal plans. Purves, who holds the Hugh Thomson Kerr chair in pastoral theology at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, guides today's spiritual leaders through the oft-neglected territory of self-crucifixion. Only when we experience that, he argues, can life arrive as ministry survives and succeeds because of God's work rather than people's.
While avoiding preachiness, Purves reveals what's wrong in today's congregational culture and offers biblical strategies for surrendering ministry. Yes, many of today's pastoral efforts rely on self-ability; yet Purves convincingly presents ideas for dying to selfish motives and turning it all over to God. His personal honesty and practical examples present an attainable plan, while his themes of spiritual healing, priorities, Christ in resurrection, Spirit empowerment, joyful discipleship and grace testify truth.
At the core of Crucifixion is the argument that Christ must be allowed to do the work rather than us. Through case studies, investigative questions and transformational strategies, Purves suggests that if readers choose to regularly ask the book's two main questions—Who are You, Lord? and What are You up to?—they will see both personal and congregational change. Given such a promise, the book becomes vital for any spiritual leader.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5).
Reviewer: Chris Maxwell
LEADERSHIP FROM THE INSIDE OUT:
EXAMINING THE INNER LIFE OF A HEALTHY CHURCH LEADER
Author: Kevin Harney
File Under: Leadership
As its subtitle suggests, Leadership From the Inside Out stresses the need for leaders to live a self-examined life in order to avoid the devastating personal and professional failings that many church leaders experience. "The vision of this book is to assist leaders as they discover the health, wisdom and joy of living an examined life. It is also to give practical tools for self-examination," author Kevin Harney writes.
Harney is the teaching pastor and evangelism champion at both Faith Church in Dyer, Ind., and Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Mich., and he serves on the teaching team of a campus ministry. It is from this wealth of experience that he shares his treasure trove of wit and wisdom. Inspired by a life-saving visit to his dermatologist, from which he learned the value of regular checkups, he urges readers to examine themselves and, as necessary, recruit others to examine their blind spots. It is only through self-inspection and inviting others to question us about our inner selves that issues are revealed, he argues. Once illuminated, we can then deal with them at the source instead of merely at the surface.
Incorporating the "body" theme, Harney advocates in successive chapters that leaders examine their hearts, minds, ears, eyes, mouths, hands, funny bones, libidos and backs. Discussion questions and prayer prompters are included for further examination. Veteran leaders could benefit from the book's useful reminders, while novices should pay special attention to its message of self-analysis and the need for a system of accountability.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (4).
Reviewer: Sean Fowlds
15 CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE PASTORS:
HOW TO STRENGTHEN YOUR INNER CORE AND MINISTRY IMPACT
Authors: Kevin W. Mannoia and Larry Walkemeyer
Publisher: Regal Books
File Under: Pastoral Ministry
Imagine sitting at a dinner table with Jack Hayford, Gordon McDonald, H.B. London and other revered spiritual leaders as they discuss ministry. Instead of debating the latest trend or tools of the trade, consider that they spoke about personal spirituality. Kevin W. Mannoia and Larry Walkemeyer give us that opportunity through 15 Characteristics of Effective Pastors as they compile many of today's key leaders' thoughts and advice.
Through stories, quotes, biblical texts and relevant examples, the authors and contributors invite pastors to live as servant leaders and see effectiveness not as increased numbers but as true spiritual growth. Maintaining proper priorities, regular self-evaluation, training and mentoring all emerge as imperatives for both inward growth and congregational improvements.
Leaders can walk away from this book knowing more about holiness, their personal call to ministry and what it means to be held accountable by others. They'll also be inspired to action by such quotes as one from former President Lyndon Johnson's wife, who confronted her husband about being overweight by saying, "You can't run the country if you can't run yourself." Johnson responded by losing 23 pounds.
After reading 15 Characteristics of Effective Pastors, those hoping to lose unneeded spiritual weight will have the impetus to do just that as they follow the spiritual disciplines of the church's most effective leaders.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5).
Reviewer: Chris Maxwell
THE MINISTRY OF THE MISSIONAL CHURCH:
A COMMUNITY LED BY THE SPIRIT
Author: Craig Van Gelder
Publisher: Baker Books
File Under: Missiology
Craig Van Gelder, a seminary professor of congregational mission who is considered a pioneer voice in the missional church conversation, calls for the church to become a community led by the Spirit in his latest book, The Ministry of the Missional Church. Rather than focus on contemporary church-growth methodology, he suggests that the Spirit-led ministry model naturally results in growth of the church.
According to Van Gelder, understanding the nature of the church is foundational for clarifying the purpose of the church and for developing and organizing its ministry. He suggests that the nature of the church is to function as a Spirit-led group of believers with the purpose of spreading the Word of God, irrespective of the societal pressures it faces. "The call of this book is simply this: let the church be the church—a Spirit-led, missional church that seeks to participate fully in God's mission in its particular context," he writes.
Spirit-led ministry is discussed from the standpoint of the Bible as well as the specific context of the United States and the missional church in general. Though the book's premise is simple and its principles straightforward, Van Gelder's writing gets bogged down in places, weighty with research. Despite this, pastors, elders and other church leaders will benefit from the thought-provoking challenges presented in this timely release.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (3); Insight (4); Theological Depth (4); Readability (3).
Reviewer: Sean Fowlds
THE GOD CONVERSATION:
USING STORIES AND ILLUSTRATIONS TO EXPLAIN YOUR FAITH
Authors: J.P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff
Publisher: IVP Books
File Under: Apologetics/Evangelism
Research shows that after a conversation has ended, more than half of all people immediately forget what was said. Eight hours later, those who do remember can recall only 20 percent of the discussion.
It's because of these and similar statistics that popular apologist J.P. Moreland and Biola University communications professor Tim Muehlhoff insist that illustrations, stories and quotes are key to making a lasting impact in exchanges with unbelieving friends. By the authors' accounts, these are the most effective vehicles for creating an effective and memorable impression when it comes to matters of faith. To that degree, their book, The God Conversation, serves as a training manual of sorts for conveying the gospel in fresh and compelling ways.
Moreland and Muehlhoff take their own advice, filling their work with engaging stories and interesting factoids. But their book deals with content as well as style. The duo tackles common, difficult questions such as, Where was God during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or Hurricane Katrina? Don't all paths lead to God? How can Christians claim to have the corner on truth? Drawing on varied sources from Bono to J. Budziszewski, the authors answer these and other questions with sensitivity and depth.
Although apologetics is a topic often addressed in tangled academic prose, The God Conversation is a breath of fresh air. Moreland provides the grounding in philosophy and apologetics, while Muehlhoff makes the ideas accessible with generous reference to popular culture. The result is a must-read for those serious about sharing their faith, whether they do so from a pulpit or across a coffeehouse table.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (4); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5).
Reviewer: Drew Dyck
3 Reasons Why you should read Life in the Spirit. 1) Get to know the Holy Spirit. 2) Learn to enter God's presence 3) Hear God's voice clearly! Go deeper!
What are you doing to actively grow your ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit? When people catch on fire for God, there's no telling what you can accomplish. Life in the Spirit is a teaching series designed to move people from the back row to the front lines. Order this Spirit-filled resource Let God work in your ministry.