Love the cover: cool, crisp, clean. Love the title: when you give a nod to Rainier Maria Rilke, I expect good things.
In this case, I wasn’t disappointed. Calvin Miller’s letters cover a wide range of issues that young pastors will face. He is candid, as if writing to a dear friend, and wise with all his years of being a pastor.
I settled quickly into Miller’s writing; I loved it. For once, an author who doesn’t endeavor to oversimplify everything, as if readers are stupid. Plus, Miller is funny–dry humor, good taste.
The letters are the perfect length and weight: substantial without being overbearing. I’m not left wanting at the end of each letter (which happens a lot to me when I read most devotionals out there today).
I recommend it to all pastors and church workers, young and old.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook (September 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
Dr. Calvin Miller’s first full-time pastorate was at Plattsmouth Baptist Church in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, from 1961-1966. He went to Westside Church in Omaha, Nebraska, in January 1966, where he served as senior pastor for 25 years. During his pastorate the congregation grew from ten members to more than 2500 members. From 1991-1998, Miller served as Professor of Communication and Ministry Studies and Writer-in-Residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas. In January 1999, he joined the faculty of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, where he is currently Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry.
He is the author of more than forty books of popular theology and inspiration. His poems and free-lance articles have appeared in various journals and magazines such as Christianity Today, Campus Life, Leadership and His. He has served as an inspirational speaker in various assemblies and religious convocations, both in his own denomination and other Christian gatherings.
Visit the author’s website.
Getting out of bed on Monday is a grumpy chore, and overcoming the cloudy-headed daze that almost always characterizes the second day of the week requires a lot of coffee and even more determination. Mondays are hard for us all, but they are particularly difficult for pastors because they have to come down from the “Sunday high.” It’s something few can identify with, but for most pastors it’s a haunting reality that accompanies a litany of stressors like dealing with divisive people, balancing the budget and leading difficult staff members. As a result, a lot of young pastors are desperately hungry for someone older and wiser to walk with them over the mountains and through the valleys of church ministry.
For decades, as an author, poet, pastor and educator Calvin Miller has been a lively and creative voice in the church. Having survived some of the most tumultuous decades of evangelicalism, his latest book, Letters to a Young Pastor (David C Cook), shares his wisdom and experience, his successes and his scars, to help today’s young pastors fulfill their calling…and maintain their sanity. In this humorously authentic collection of letters, he encourages young pastors to fight the good fight, stay the course and keep their eye on the Author and Finisher of the faith—no matter how frustrated they may feel.
Letters to a Young Pastor offers every young pastor an invaluable mentor with a heart for sharing his hard-won insights with those who enjoy the victories and carry the burdens of the pastorate. Dr. Miller’s appeal to young pastors lies not in his overwhelming successes, but simply in the fact that he’s been there and done that. As Dr. Miller says, “The all-time great reason that you should listen to me is that much of what I write about in this book is written from the edge. Ministry is not for sissies, and the requirement of the tough times brings us to the edge of our commitment.”
Regardless of the situation, Dr. Miller’s creative and cordial counsel poetically prods pastors along the path of ministry. To the young pastor struggling with the validity of his calling, Dr. Miller advises, “Young minister of God, keep that little sparkle in your eyes, and then write down how your call came to you, and when you’ve written it down in fire, defend it that way.” For those wrestling with conflict, Calvin challengingly suggests, “Cowards are never good at teaching courage.” Even the pastor who’s not sure whether he’s promoting God’s vision or his own image finds these wise words from Dr. Miller: “This is the foundation of significance: Settle on your vision, and your image will be authentic. But pursue image, and you may miss your vision altogether.”
Many things have changed over Dr. Miller’s pastoral years, from switchboards to smartphones and big-haired evangelists to cigar-smoking emergents. But two things remain the same—God is love and people are broken. Letters to a Young Pastor is a warm, honest and often humorous collection of letters to young pastors and leaders, encouraging them to love Sundays, fight through Mondays and look forward to the day when they’ll hear that great “Well done.”
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook (September 1, 2011)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Seeing the Significance of Your Cal
Whatever the Congregation’s Size
“For all the usual evaluative purposes, the large and global churches are obviously the most important. But for deep spiritual renewal, the recognition of identity, the birth of awe, the small, local church serves every bit as well. Perhaps, they serve even better. In my history of small, local gatherings, the rooms were full of characters—divorced bankers, cantankerous physicians, drama queen choir members, faithful janitors. Characters. I have never been able to look upon people in any other way since. I hope I learned something from praying with the same lady who taught me English, from singing with the same man who bagged our groceries, from listening to the same preacher who also tucked me in at night. A small church like that, one big enough to house the people that you meet each day, can be both lonely and grand and simple. It is as good a place as any for the experience of learning to be content in any and every circumstance. Save a piece of locality like that intact, and it does not matter in the slightest that only a couple of hundred people every year will go into it. That is precisely its value; a theography of hope.”2
Dear Young Pastor,
Sum up reality and opt for hope.
At the turn of the last century (1900) there was a ratio of 27 churches per 10,000 people, as compared with the close of the century (2000) where we have 11 churches per 10,000 people in America! What has happened?
Given the declining numbers and the closures of churches compared to the new church starts, there should have been over 38,000 new churches commissioned to keep up with the population growth. The United States now ranks third following China and India in the number of people who are not professing Christians; in other words, Americans are becoming an ever-increasing “unreached people group.” Half of all churches in the United States did not add any new members in the last two years.
I’m hard but honest when speaking to graduating preachers. I always say something like this to them: “Most of you will be taking churches of 100 members or less. Twenty years from now, 80 percent
of you will no longer be a pastor, having chosen another profession primarily because the pain of hanging on was greater than the risk of letting go. The 20 percent of you who have continued preaching will
still be in churches of 100 members or less.
The work is hard, and the pastoral survival rate is scary. Every year 4,000 churches close their doors forever, compared to just 1,000 new church starts. Between 1990 and 2000 the combined membership of all Protestant denominations dropped 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 11 percent. Each year 2.7 million church members fall into an “inactive” status. In probing for a reason for this dropout rate, the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development found that these people were leaving because they were “hurting and wounded victims—of some kind of abuse, disillusionment, or just plain neglect.”3 The Schaeffer Institute did not comment on why pastors were leaving, but it is probably for “abuse, disillusionment, or neglect” also. Since both pastors and laity are abandoning the church, we can infer that churches are not just dying; they’re dying unhappy.
It is this inference that bothers me.
Doctrinal differences are not the only thing that is killing evangelicalism.
We are dying from a deep infection in our own group dynamics. We don’t love each other enough to cling to each other and survive. Forget love. We don’t even like each other. That’s the core reason we are dying. And into this painful cauldron of ill will we drop young preachers and expect them to save the church. But most soon leave behind the notion of trying to save the church and commit themselves to trying to survive the church.
Here are the reasons we give up on Christian ministry:
First, we die because we suffer from congregational social schisms that result from huge doses of unforgiveness between jealous, wrangling laypeople.
Second, we have too many pastors who compete within their denominations and fire at each other with blitzes of resentment.
Third, many preachers who resent each other’s success within their city limits participate in sanctimonious name-calling: “Easy gospel church! Calvinist Mecca! Bible-free preaching! Social gospelers! Modernists!” Most of these churches rarely say these things out loud, but they do say them. Even statements like “Come to our church; it’s the largest church in the city” say it. Or as I saw painted
on the back of one church bus: “Follow me to Exciting WestBrook!” All such labels divide and destroy.
In 1970, Francis Schaeffer wrote a thirty-five-page book titled The Mark of the Christian. In a little more than a hundred paragraphs he gave us the only possible solution to the dying of evangelicalism:
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another;
as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all
men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,
that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou
hast sent me” (John 17:21).
What then shall we conclude but that … we as Christians are called
upon to love all men as neighbors, loving them ourselves.… We are
to love all true Christian brothers in a way that the world may
observe. This means showing love to our brothers in the midst of our
differences—great or small— loving our brothers when it costs us
something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional
tension, loving in the way the world can see. In short we are to practice
and exhibit the holiness of God and the love of God, for without this
we grieve the Holy Spirit.4
It took me years to understand what Francis Schaeffer meant when he said that grieving the Holy Spirit was a direct result of our failure to love. But now I do understand: Grieve is a love word! This is what Paul meant when he said, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). When we sin, we do not infuriate God, our Lover. We only hurt Him. We grieve Him! Until pastors and churches come to understand this, evangelicalism will continue its decline.
When we fail to love each other, there is an empty ache that runs throughout the halls of heaven. And people who wanted more from us and expected more out of us will leave the church hurting, and we who are pastors will leave the church hurting, all because we have read the Bible all our lives—even knowing it in Greek and Hebrew—and never caught the connection between John 13:35 and Ephesians 4:30.
This is not a truth that can ever be sold on a group basis. You can solve the dilemma only within the singular, narrow place that is your soul. And you can solve it there. Here’s your chance to turn things around.
Christ is on the mound.
You’re at bat.
Save the game!