Monday, June 23, 2014

BookPastor >> "Letters to a Young Pastor" (Calvin Miller)

TITLE: Letters to a Young Pastor
AUTHOR: Calvin Miller
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2011, (256 pages).

This book comprises 35 letters that flow out of the life of an experienced pastor, who personally learned through the school of hard knocks. In discipling a young pastor, he covers five key areas any budding pastor ought to learn, especially at the onset of ministry. The first words in the book, "Walk with me" is an invitation for the young pastor to continue the journey of learning. Graduating from seminary or Bible school does not constitute the end of a theological education. It marks the beginning of how one puts theory to practice, to hone not just the skills needed for pastoral work but to grow as a person. As a wise guide, Miller, a Professor as well as a respected pastor teaches with humour without becoming too "preachy."

First and foremost is the question of identity. Beginning with a story of how one preacher prefers to clothe himself with copied sermons and duplicated mannerisms, one must be authentic. In other words, authenticity means that even after peeling away the layers of a person, the very core inside reflects the same outside. The failure of many pastors begin in the failure to love. In fact, that is what grieving the Holy Spirit is all about, according to Francis Schaeffer. One is called to a congregation regardless of its size. With the call, there is a need for passion. For example, one preaches not because one have to, but because one loves to. The love to preach is a call in itself. Whether one's Church or ministry is significant or not is not how the world sees it but how God sees it. Reputation is key as as it is linked to behaviour. Discouragement, depression, and despondency are the threats to effective pastoral ministry. Learning to be honest and open is crucial. He also addresses the issue of eros and agape warning about temptations of the sexual kind. The role of a pastor goes beyond the Church. It includes being a father-priest at home to one's children.

The second theme is about one's parish. In terms of size, is it the small Church or is it like what John Wesley famously said: "The world is my parish?" In administration, pastors need to learn to look at ministry as a team. Some things are best learned by serving, like changing diapers. One serves not hooked on the narcotic of success. One serves together as a community in spite of failure. Take time to differentiate between putting resources into building up a fragile image versus creating and building a vision for the future. The chapter on "never resign till Tuesday" is a fascinating chapter about limiting one to a six-day workweek. Use Mondays to process Sundays. If there be any drastic activity, do it on a Tuesday instead. It is also important to get rid of "safe and sameness" mentality. In relationships, Miller shares about a very difficult time when he was planning to resign. A wise counsel from a friend was a act of saving grace that enabled his parish to grow in the pastor-parish relationship.

The third theme is about discipleship and to learn to work in teams. He gives tips about how to avoid getting stuck in the rut; avoiding the success syndrome; and building trust, even with the most difficult people.

Section Four touches on the preparation, the delivery, and the homiletics of sermons. Telling stories, tailoring brevity, and cultivating listen-ability are the three hallmarks of a good delivery. He provides tips on avoiding potholes that can stumble a young pastor.

Finally, the key to spiritual health is to be conformed to Christ. The problem with conforming to the world or human preferences is the restrictions that come with it. He addresses four demons that hem us in. The demon of ignorance tempts one to look for answers in all the wrong places. The demon of heredity locks one into an archaic view of self. The demon of age lets our youth gets in the way of maturity. The demon of inferiority keeps us from taking a bold step of faith.

The 35 short letters are written with wit and wisdom. Readers will find a lot of frank comments as if Miller is speaking directly to us. The humour within and the personal stories make this book up close and personal. Though some of the ideas are unconventional, it reminds me of 1 Timothy 1:5.

"The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5)

That is the spirit of the letter, from a wise pastor to a young pastor. In fact, one does not need to be a pastor to benefit from the book. One can simply be an apprentice to learn about ministry and the unique challenges that come with it. Maybe, it can help readers learn how to pray for their pastors.

Great book!


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