Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a LifetimeWritten by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr., eds Reviewed By Simon Manchester
The purpose of this book is to help pastors who are going through deep waters and are struggling to stay afloat in the ministry. Experienced contributors answer twelve heartfelt questions that have to do with pastoral griefs, doubts, struggles and setbacks—seeking to provide help to “finish your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5).
Each chapter “begins with a question that reflects a scenario commonly faced by pastors” (p. 12). So, the questions may be invented, but they are certainly real issues and are dealt with by men who are familiar with pastoral struggles. In fact, as someone ordained forty-three years ago, I was amazed by how many of the contributors have been through exactly the same troubles that I, and so many of my pastoral friends, have faced. That in itself may be of great comfort to readers—you are not alone in any sense.
The first question has to do with a church that has plateaued and a pastor who is listless. I expected the veteran (Tim Keller) to apply some soothing ointment and perhaps recommend a holiday. But instead, out comes the scalpel to deal with the deeper issue of pride. Keller pinpoints the dangers of knowing stuff but not appreciating it, equating yourself with your ministry and faking your faith. If this sounds tough (and I found it to be so), he then shows that the hardships come from a good God to drive us to himself. So, he deals with a deep issue—searchingly.
The second question asks if and when it is time to stop, and the answer comes from someone who has been serving in the same place for forty years (!). D. A. Carson’s advice is very shrewd. If there are no clear reasons to leave—moral failure, sickness etc—then you might adjust your energy levels to a different pace in order to “tackle the remaining things with enthusiasm and gusto” (p. 24).
The third question has to do with a sense of dull preaching—surely a desperate feeling for the pastor and the congregation. Bryan Chappell’s advice includes the vital reminder that preaching should not just inform but transform. Is this an easy quick-fix answer? No. But a reminder that the One who speaks is even more interested in the Word benefitting ourselves and our people than we are.
The fourth question addresses the painful topic of criticism. Dan Doriani deals with this under the headings of “the deserved, the inevitable and the undeserved” (p. 45). This brief chapter is worth reading for realistic expectations in ministry. (I remember Spurgeon saying somewhere that we should thank the Lord for the person who keeps our feet on the ground.)
Question 5 concerns taking on a church that you would never attend yourself! Tom Ascol urges us to see it as a privilege to get to work on such a place and see progress under God’s kind hand. Question 6, which is answered by Juan and Jeanine Sanchez, deals with the pain of seeing one’s wife and children being hurt by the church and how much to keep from them so that they aren’t irreparably wounded.
Question 7 deals with the grief of having people leave and Dave Harvey very beautifully shows how Paul (and King David) experienced this long before us—and dealt with it. (How helped I have been over the years by Dick Lucas who taught me to “accept all resignations with a smile.”)
Question 8 raises the question of the “small church” and whether that means failure. This is a big issue in the city (Sydney) where I work, and Mark McCullough helpfully identifies three things that are much more important than being successful or famous: the joy knowing and being known by God, the joy of making God known and the joy of knowing others.
Question 9 has to do with the pastor who is worn out. Question 10 is for the pastor who feels that he has no answers for the ‘next stage’ of the church. Question 11 concerns the financial constraints under which the pastor serves and question 12 is for the man who now wonders if he was really called to ministry.
At the close of the book is a brief interview with John MacArthur, in which he reflects on fifty years in ministry in California. His reminders to “love your people” (p. 144) and to know that ministry is not primarily “about you” (p. 142) are great words indeed.
Is Faithful Endurance a good book to buy for a pastor? Yes! It will help the pastor to know that he faces the same challenges and privileges that have been and are being faced everywhere. It acknowledges the struggles without descending into gloom or self-pity. And it will help laypeople also gain an insight into the weird and wonderful work of a pastor.
Reflecting on this brief book as a whole, I valued the wisdom and thoughtful reflections of seasoned pastors, but I especially valued the journey into the Scriptures which some did very faithfully and movingly. Behind the heart of the biblical shepherds, like David and Paul, lies the massive heart of the Chief Shepherd, and it is his comfort and counsel that really keeps us going.
All Saints Woollahra
Woollahra, New South Wales, Australia
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