good books

“Pastors at Greater Risk” 
by H.B. London, Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman
(Regal Books, 2003)

This book was first titled “Pastors at Risk” and published by Victor Books (1993).  Now, ten years later it is updated, revised with some new insights added.  It is now titled “Pastors at Greater Risk” because the authors sensed that “the risks in ministry are greater than ever” (p. 14).  It is under a different publisher.  This is a book for pastors and church leaders as well.  By the way, this is one of those books you do not want to speed read.  It is serious reading, but easy reading.

It is divided into three sections, which "deal with the risks that pastors tell us they face.  In section 1, we explore in detail where these  risks come from.  In section 2, we investigate the risks pastors face right in their own families.  In section 3, we look at the risks confronting pastors in their inner, personal lives" (p. 16).

Dr James Dobson in the foreword writes: “It is impossible to overstate how deeply I feel about the importance of upholding the men and women who serve us through the ministry of the church….  The pastor, in addition to carrying this heavy responsibility for the church and society, usually has a family of his own at home”  (p. 9).

This shared concern of Dr Dobson for the personal and professional life of the pastor was first aired on his “Focus on the Family” broadcast.  In that conversation, which is the book’s first chapter, “Warning: Crisis in Progress,”  London recites a list of alarming risk factors gathered by the 1991 Fuller Institute Survey of Pastors.  Here are some:

  • 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours per week;

  • 80% believed that pastoral ministry adversely affected their families;

  • 33% said that being in the ministry was an “outright hazard” to their family;

  • 90% felt they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands;

  • 37% confessed being involved in inappropriate sexual behaviour with someone in the church;

  • 70% did not have someone whom they can consider a close friend.

(p. 20)

The authors reinforce these shocking statistics with the findings of other pastoral surveys.  In Focus on the Family’s random survey of 5000 pastors, 40% said they considered leaving their positions in the previous three months (pp. 25-26).  

In chapter two, the authors dealt with “Ministry Keeps Getting Tougher.”  The advice is “Ministry is vastly different from what it used to be---I must retool my ministry with strategies to meet effectively the challenges I’m facing” (p. 37).  Then they went on to list some 20 hazards ministers face today.

“Who Decides What You Do?” (Chapter Three) addresses the problems of inflated expectations and the resultant leadership crisis.  To help fight the downward spiral of disillusionment, the authors encourage pastors to redefine their vision for the ministry---including themselves and their families---according to the Golden Rule, in a set of worthier, more realistic expectations.  Goals should include the pursuit of excellence and a life “saturated with Christ.”  But they must also recognize human limitations and consider the source when expectations are expressed by others.

Chapter Four, “Avoiding the Hazards in Ministry Marriage,” the authors zeroed in on pastors’ marriages.  With the help of Gordon and Gail McDonald, whose lives and ministry were pulled apart by infidelity but eventually were restored, London and Wiseman trace the pitfalls set in the way of ministers and their spouses.  The McDonalds point out that, ironically, in an age where sex is all around, intimacy is often lost, and self-deceit is a key factor in entertaining temptation, in a cultural climate where truth is becoming less and less valued.  Pastors are especially vulnerable to moral failure when they feel they are above reproach, and when their congregation accords them success and accolades. 

The authors then made the following prescriptions for nurturing a healthy pastoral marriage (pp. 109 – 113):

  • Allow your pastoral and marital vows to complement one another, making both an adventure.

  • Focus on the process of marriage; fulfilling moments will often form milestones along the way.

  • Spot warning signals, before becoming locked into a dreary, unfulfilling routine.

  • Live by spiritual principles of mercy and forgiveness, as an example to other married couples and as a marriage energizer.

  • Commit to wholeness, tending to the matters of spiritual care and emotional nourishment.

  • Put marriage on the calendar, and let nothing get in the way of time together. 

  • Remember that pampering is never deserved and that this generosity is simply a gift of appreciation.

  • Develop a small group of splint people.  “Give such a group opportunity to hold you accountable and tell you what needs to be fixed, changed or eliminated."

  • Live a repentance lifestyle.

In Chapters Five and Six (“God Made Your Wife Special” and “Showcase Kids or Strong Families” respectively), the authors visit the pastor’s home to consider the pastor’s family; his wife and the notorious PK (preacher’s kid).  In a true example, a 16-year old caught drinking wreaks havoc on the family and the ministry of a pastor who looks good from the outside because of his outward achievements, but, says the authors, “his inner spiritual resources are dry and brittle” (p. 150).The authors offer some advice in this matter here.  They say that the pastors with this kind of dilemma should be more concerned about their children than their reputations.  Instead of looking for someone to blame, this pastor needs to show unconditional love while confronting the problem, realizing that the teen will soon be an adult and recognizing that there must be support from the congregation for “a serious bump in the road” which is “not a life-threatening episode.”  Meanwhile, the minister must confront his own insincerity.

It is especially important for pastors and their spouses to provide guidance and leadership for their children through the career crises and inconveniences that often come with being part of a pastor’s family.  The authors advise parents of “PKs” to remember to please the people that matter most to them---their families---by nurturing their relationship with God and by seeking outside support for their lifetime role as parents.

I would like to stop here and continue this review in the next issue of BTW.  But, dear fellow ministers, I would highly recommend you to purchase a copy and read it.  I have discovered it to be an exceedingly helpful book that brings significant hope and practical solutions to the constant and major changes so many pastors faced today.

(Reviewed by Dr John Lim)

CHAPEL NOTES

At chapel on 21st January, our guest lecturer Dr. Douglas Milne spoke on the topic of ‘Spiritual Debts’. Debts are generally held to be bad or shameful: we seek ways of discharging them, and are happier when we have none. But there is a distinctively Christian way of looking at the topic of debt, as in the hymn where the writer declares himself to be ‘a debtor to mercy alone’. There are some debts which Christians should not seek to avoid and, indeed, cannot do without.

Against this background, Dr. Milne looked at four references to ‘debt’ or ‘obligation’ in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The first is found at Romans 1:14–15, where Paul declares himself to be ‘obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish’; obligated, as v. 15 makes clear, to preach the gospel. We, too, have this obligation. We have received God’s free grace, and sharing the gospel is a debt we owe to those around us. Like Paul, we should be ready to cross cultural boundaries to discharge this debt, and we should be willing to share the gospel with both wise and foolish, for all need it.

Secondly, we are debtors to the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:12ff). Paul puts this negatively in Rom. 8 – we are not debtors to the ‘flesh’, the old sinful self which will lead us to death – but it is clear from the context that the positive side of what Paul says is that we are under obligation to the Holy Spirit. Paul lists our debts to the Holy Spirit in ch. 8: he is the Spirit of life (v. 2); we have the mind of the Spirit (vv. 5–6); the Spirit will transform our bodies (v. 11); the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are God’s children (v. 16); and the Spirit helps us in our intercession (v. 26). How are we to pay our debt? We are to be led by the Spirit. This is not simply a matter of guidance, but relates to the general moral character of our lives, our conformity to the likeness of Christ.

Thirdly, we owe a debt of love: ‘Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another’ (13:8). This is not a crippling debt, but a fulfilling one, one which enriches us as we pay it. Origen spoke of the debt of love in this way: ‘We should pay it daily and always owe it.’ We owe this debt to everyone we know, everyone we meet, everyone we come to befriend. Love, after all, fulfils God’s law. It is the heart of Christian ethics; understandably so, for God himself is love.

Fourthly, Paul speaks at 15:27 of the money he has collected from Gentile churches, for distribution among the churches of Jerusalem and Palestine: ‘If the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.’ In a similar way, wealthier Christians today are under an obligation to share their wealth with poorer brethren. This sharing can take various forms: gifts of money; ministry; helping to supply a better infrastructure; giving Bibles; and so on. Such giving is an act of fellowship, reflecting the fact that we all belong to one family.

In all this Jesus is our example: he shared the gospel; he honoured the Holy Spirit with his manhood; he practised love; and he cared for the poor. If he took these debts seriously, then so should we.

 

Chapel Speaker next week on 11 February will be Mr Hosea Lai.

NEWS BITS

  1. Interested in Biblical Archaeology? Recently there have been exciting reports of the discovery of three well-preserved jars dating from about 700 years ago from the grounds of St Andrew’s Cathedral. BGST specializes in the presenting of this exciting study area to the Singapore public and we are happy to announce that in 2004 we are offering not just one but three courses in biblical archaeology, all 1.5 credits and taught in four double sessions): 

  • Introduction to Biblical Archaeology (OT/NT186), by Dr Quek Swee Hwa, commencing Feb 21 (note new date!). This is foundational to the other two courses.

  • Ancient Cities - A Study of City Life in the Ancient Hebrew and Graeco-Roman Cities (OT/NT190), taught by Dr Quek SH and Dr Michael Pucci, commencing April this year.

  • The Archaeology of Ancient Jerusalem (to be confirmed), taught by Dr Alan Millard (Guest Porfessor from University of Liverpool), commencing August this year.

The course descriptions of the new courses will posted on our website in due course. But we are inviting registrants to sign up NOW. You may register for credit ($150) or register for audit ($75*)

*All participants of last year’s Bible Lands Study Tours will need to pay only $10 for the course manual when they sign up for audit.

  1. Courses commencing next week:

  • The Christian Faith (starting 9 Feb, Mon)

  • Qualitative Research & the Christian Ministry (starting 10 Feb, Tue)

  • Issues in Spiritual Warfare (starting 13 Feb, Fri)

  1. Our heartiest congratulations to Mr & Mrs Leong Kok Weng on the arrival of their 2nd child, Hannah, on 30 Jan 04. May the good Lord bless them with all the joys of parenthood!

Building Fund as at 3 Feb 2004

A BLESSED 
BIRTHDAY TO ...

Mr Raymond Wong  2/2

Ms Chan Ee Yuee  2/2

Mr Siew Kim Siang  3/2

Mr Tan Keng Lak  3/2

Mrs Susan Lim  4/2

Dr Wong Lea Choung  4/2

Mr Siow Yew Mun  4/2

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