The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. This book is by far one of the most honest pastoral ministry books I have ever read (Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp would be another one of those). In this book Eswine helps pastors see that despite what the “celebrating pastor” culture is telling them, pastoral ministry is more about walking with Jesus and serving Him in the local context He has placed you in. Throughout this book Eswine uses the example of Jesus to show what pastoral work looks like. From this approach it’s easy to see that our current model of pastoral work doesn’t always match up with what Jesus had in mind. This book was refreshing for someone like me who during college and seminary was influenced heavily by what we may call “celebrating pastors.” Reading and listening to guys like Mark Driscoll and Steven Furtick often times left the impression that if I didn’t serve at a big church or had as much influence as them I was a failure in ministry. At times it feels like I came out of college and seminary more prepared to climb the “ministry ladder” rather than serve Jesus daily in pastoral work in whatever context He put me in. This book helped me leave some of that baggage behind and focus on what really matters, which is following Jesus daily and serving Him daily in the church context He has placed me. I would highly recommend this book to pastors, especially younger guys in pastoral ministry.
Vertical Church by James McDonald. This is a book that had been on my list to read for quite some time. I decided to grab it and give it a read after hearing both good and bad things about it. In this book McDonald argues that churches should be “vertical.” By that he means that churches, particularly in their weekly worship services, should be about the glory of God and helping people experience that glory. The bottom line seems to be that churches should be more about God’s glory and not cultural relevance or anything else that drives churches and directs what they do. The first half of the book deals more with a Biblical basis for the “vertical church” model and the second half is more practical in that it explains how a church can be “vertical.” In the second half of the book, McDonald goes through several pillars of a vertical church – unashamed adoration, unapologetic preaching, unafraid witness, and increasing prayer. Overall I enjoyed this book. However, there were a few things that didn’t sit well with me. First, McDonald seems to have a “my way or the highway” approach. This makes sense when you realize McDonald argues that the “vertical church” model is Biblical. He has a deep and strong conviction of that, which leads to his dogmatic tone. But at times it came across a bit much. Second, his chapter on worship (unashamed adoration) seemed to make the case that expression in worship is the end goal and when one lacks expression in worship they lack true worship. I like his heart behind this chapter – that true worship seems to show itself in expression (we see that in the Bible, especially in Psalms). But true worship (which we need to be careful not to just consider singing in church as worship, worship extends beyond just singing), doesn’t always show itself in outward expression. Tim Challies shares more about the weakness and danger in this chapter as well as some other chapters in this book in his review.
When Trouble Comes by Phil Ryken. I read this book in preparation for a series I did with our students called “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.” This book not only gave me some nuggets for that series but also helped me understand how to respond when troubles comes into my own life. This book works off the premise that trouble is a part of our lives in this fallen world. Life is tough and trouble comes our way more than we would like. In this book, Ryken uses various Biblical characters and their troubles to show us how we can walk with God when those kinds of troubles come at us. Each chapter is very practical and easily to apply to your life, especially if you’re going through the same type of trouble that Biblical character is going through. This is an easy read that I would recommend to everyone.
Two others books I recently read that I chose not to review were Culture Making by Andy Crouch and Excellent Preaching by Criag Bartholomew.
A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll. Mark Driscoll is one of my favorite writers. I usually try and read his books when they come out so when I heard about this one awhile back I knew I needed to grab a copy. I’m very glad I did. A Call to Resurgence is an interesting book in that Driscoll covers a lot of ground. Everything from surveying modern culture, tribalism, sexuality, the Holy Spirit, and more. Much of what Driscoll writes is nothing new. It’s stuff he has been saying via speaking and writing for years. However, the timing of this book is perfect. Our culture is rapidly changing and become more and more anti-Christian. With that wave coming and coming fast, we as Christians need not to run in fear, but hold tight to what we believe and move forward with the life-changing truth of the Gospel. That is what Driscoll calls for in this book. He reminds us of where we have been as a culture and where we are going, but more importantly reminds Christians what we believe and what God calls us to be and do. In Driscoll words the book is “for those ready to dig in and hang on…this book is an unflinching look at what we’re up against and what it will take to not just survive but to thrive and accomplish the mission God has given us to extend a hand of rescue to those drowning all around us. It is a call not of retreat but to resurgence” (page 29).
The Judgment Seat of Christ by Samuel Hoyt. One of my favorite topics to study when it comes to eschatology (the study of end times) is the judgment seat of Christ. However, not many books have been written specifically on the judgment seat of Christ. Most of the time it is simply just given a section within a systematic theology book. Hoyt even points out that “the doctrine of the judgment seat of Christ often has been denied or relegated to minimal consideration under the subject of a general judgment” (page 13). He furthers explain this idea of a general judgment in chapter 2 of this book where he explains the proponents of this theory “believe that there will be one final judgement at the consummation of the world. At this time all people of all ages, both believers and unbelievers, will be simultaneously resurrected and judged. At this event the righteous will receive reward and the unrighteous will be condemned to eternal punishment” (page 17). However, the Bible speaks much about different future judgments and is clear that believers will one day stand at the judgment seat of Christ. Hoyt writes this book to support the judgment seat of Christ and give the reader a thorough understanding of what the Bible says about it. He does everything from explain the historical background of what was going on when Biblical writers like Paul mentioned the judgment seat of Christ. He also explains the nature, purpose, extent, and rewards of the judgment seat of Christ. The thesis that Hoyt sticks to throughout this book is “the judgment seat of Christ is a most solemn evaluation at which there will be no judicial condemnation, nor will there be any judicial punishment for the believer’s sins, whether confessed or unconfessed, but rather commendation according to the faithfulness of the Christian’s life” (page 15). Throughout this book Hoyt supports that thesis with solid Biblical research and exegesis. If you want to learn more about the judgment seat of Christ than I recommend this book.
Disciples Are Made Not Born by Walter Henrichsen. This is a book that was originally published in 1974, but is still a very good read for Christians today. The whole idea of this book is discipleship. Henrichsen spends the first part of this book talking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In the second part of the book Henrichsen talks about how Christians should share the Gospel and disciple others. He explains how Christians should practice evangelism and then help those they reach with the Gospel start to grow in their faith. Chapter by chapter, he goes through certain topics and things Christians needs to communicate to newer Christians in order to help them grow. This part of the book is extremely practical and contains a ton of great points on discipling new Christians. This is a short book that I recommend to anyone who is interested in becoming a more fully devoted follower of Jesus and want to help others follow Him as well.
Up next on my reading list is Gospel by J.D. Greear and Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon Fee.
Overwhelmed by Perry Noble. This is the first Perry Noble book I have ever read. I really enjoy listening to him preach and reading/listening to his thoughts on leadership so I was excited to dive into one of his books. The overall theme of this book is pretty straight forward-we all face overwhelming circumstances that cause stress and anxiety, but through Jesus we can have victory. Throughout the book Noble uses the story of Daniel to illustrate how God can work in our overwhelming circumstances. One of the things I really appreciated about this book was Noble’s transparency and honesty as he shared about his story of depression and anxiety. As someone who struggles with worry and stress very often, this book helped me a lot and I would recommend it to anyone who feels overwhelmed (which is basically all of us). I plan to read Noble’s other book Unleashed soon.
Criticism Bites by Brian Berry. About two years ago I read Brian’s book As For Me and My Crazy House and loved it (click here to read my review). So when I saw Criticism Bites at SYMC this past year I knew I had to grab a copy and read it. Criticism Bites is a book about dealing with criticism. It’s written with youth pastors in mind so most of the illustrations and ideas are geared towards those in youth ministry. However, the book is still very applicable to those not in youth ministry. Berry dives into why criticism hurts us so bad and how we can effectively handle it when it comes our way. Youth ministry is a ministry that seems to attract criticism. You have parents, students, and other adults in the church who all have an opinion on how the youth ministry should be ran. Many times those opinions are very different than yours and usually are masked in criticism. Youth pastors need to know how to handle and respond to criticism. In this book, Berry does an excellent job at explaining how you can do that. I’d recommend this book to youth pastors and anyone who ever finds themselves on the receiving end of criticism.
A Youth Ministry Volunteer Speaks His Mind by Rick Williams. I picked this book up a few years ago, but have always left it on my shelve. It may be because the title scares me. I want to think I am pretty good at leading a team of youth ministry volunteers. I want to think I have it all figured out and that my volunteers think I am the greatest youth pastor on the face of this earth. But that’s not always true. I have a lot to learn when it comes to leading a team of volunteers and one of the best ways to learn is to listen to them. Ask them how I am doing and what I could do differently. What I loved about this little book is that it was like sitting down at a table with one of my volunteers and asking them to be brutally honest with me. At times, it made me mad and at other times it made me feel very encouraged. In this book, Rick Williams, a youth ministry volunteer since 1981, tells youth pastors what their volunteers are really thinking. I picked up a ton of practical things from this book on leading better meetings, recruiting volunteers, communicating to volunteers, and more. I’d recommend every youth pastor pick up a copy of this book and read it so they can better lead their volunteer team.
Up next on my reading list is to finish A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll and to start The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli. Reviews coming soon.
A few weeks ago Mars Hill Church released a free ebook called Puff or Pass: Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not? by Mark Driscoll (click here to read the introduction and download the entire ebook). I don’t remember how I ran across this ebook, but I’m glad I did. With marijuana being legalized in a few states and the probability that we will see that happen in other states as well, I believe it’s important for Christians, especially those of us in church leadership, to have a handle on this issue and be ready to give a solid answer on marijuana. For instance, if marijuana becomes legal in your state, how will you respond when someone ask you what does the Bible say about marijuana? If your answer is “because the Bible says doing marijuana is a sin” than you need to read this ebook. That’s not the best answer and doesn’t address the issue in a way that communicates Biblical principles to someone.
What I loved about this short ebook is the way Driscoll addresses the issue. He doesn’t try to give a quick Bible answer and run from the complexity of questions that may come next, like should it be used for medical purposes. Instead, he addresses the issue with Bible principles, such as drugs harm your body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit and believers shouldn’t be controlled by anything other than the Spirit. However, Driscoll does feel that medical use of marijuana may be permissible (page 36). I personally I’m not sure where I stand on the medical use of marijuana. I believe the recreational use of it is wrong, but need to do more research and thinking before I come to a conclusion on it’s medical use. I appreciate Driscoll’s humility in this book as he explains he is not a medical doctor so he doesn’t feel comfortable discussing the medical benefits.
Two things stood out to me as I read this ebook that make it a book that I highly recommend. First, Driscoll did his research. The whole first part of this book is statistics. Driscoll shares the stats on marijuana from about every angle possible. When we are discussing a topic like this, it’s important to know the facts and Driscoll make sure those are communicated upfront. Second, Driscoll doesn’t just give an answer and run, but he shares multiple viewpoints that exists among evangelicals when it comes to this issue of marijuana. He basically asks two questions: Should marijuana be legal (the legal question) and should Christians use marijuana (the morality question)? To each of these questions Driscoll shares three options most evangelicals take.
I recommend this ebook to every Christian, especially pastors, student pastors, and anyone in church or para-church ministry. It’s a short, easy to read book that you can get through in one setting. To download this ebook for free just go to this post on the Resurgence website.
We are relational beings. We see this in Genesis 2:18 when God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We have always been creatures who crave and thrive on relationships. Even in our culture today, we still place relationships as a high priority. This is why relationships are huge in student ministry as well as any other ministry in the church. A student pastor will be foolish to forsake relationships for any other area of ministry. Often times we allow the busyness and work of ministry to keep us from building relationships with those we are in ministry to and with. The more I grow and learn as a leader, I am seeing that there are five major relationships a student pastor MUST work to maintain and grow:
1. His relationship with God. The first relationship a student pastor must maintain and grow is his personal relationship with God. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post called “The Most Important Part of Student Ministry” that talks about this topic. In that post I said, “I believe, with all my heart, that the most important part of student ministry is the student pastor’s relationship with God.” One of the biggest struggles a student pastor will face is maintaining his relationship with God, but it’s a relationship we must keep number one.
2. His relationship with his family. The second relationship a student pastor must maintain and grow is his relationship with his wife and children. No where in the Bible will you find where God says to put ministry before your family. So many student pastors sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry. Student pastors are called to be pastors at home before the church. I remember watching a Mark Driscoll leadership coaching video awhile back where he talked about famous preachers in the past who neglected their families and where “famous” in the church, but no so famous at home. I would rather be famous at home before I am famous in ministry.
3. His relationship with his leaders. Now we are getting to the student ministry relationships. I purposely put a student pastors relationship with God and family before any ministry relationships because that is the way it should be! Another important relationship a student pastor must maintain and grow is his relationship with his volunteer leaders. A student ministry will not grow and be effective without a group of Godly volunteer leaders to serve alongside the student pastor. Student pastors need to pour into their leaders relationally as much as they can. This will encourage and motivate them as they serve in your ministry. I recently wrote a post about mentoring your leaders that would be worth checking out on this topic (click here to view that post).
4. His relationship with the parents. Being a student pastor is more than just hanging out with teenagers. A student pastor is someone who should come alongside the parents to support, encourage, and equip them as they disciple their children. A student pastor must serve the parents as well as the students. That is why one of the key relationships a student pastor must maintain and grow is his relationship with the parents.
5. His relationship with his students. And then comes the relationship many student pastors put first, which is not a good idea, is his relationship with his students. Building relationships with students if huge! It’s one of the most important parts of being a student pastor. It’s easy as a student pastor to miss this because we are so focused on teaching and building an effective student ministry. Those things are important, but teaching and having an awesome ministry will just allow you to speak at the students. Building a relationship with them will allow you to speak into the students. Students pastors must maintain and grow relationships with their students so their teaching and ministry will truly reach into the hearts of the students.
There may be a few more you could add to this list, but these are the relationships I believe are the most important for students pastors to maintain and grow. Chris Wesley has written a series of blogs on this very same subject. Much of what I have said in this post can be found in his blogs. His blog series on relationships is defiantly something worth checking out (click here to view that blog series).