Sometimes massive suffering comes so close to home that for a brief season the fog of our foolish security clears, and we can see the sheer precipice of eternity one step away. The cold wobble passes through our thighs, and for a moment everything in the universe looks different. Those are good times for pastoral realism. Oh, how hollow much of our lives and ministry seem in those moments! The last thing we regret then is being less professional” (ix).
With those words one begins the reading of John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry (Broadman and Holman, 2002).
Every December I attempt to read Brothers. The thirty chapters and preface allow for thirty-one days of devotional reading. The annual ritual is an attempt to keep grounded in faithfulness to my calling as shepherd of God’s people—that as opposed to being faithful as a CEO of a staff of ministry experts and perfectionists who have mastered the art of top-notch programming and marketing of products called “church” and “worship” to demographically targeted focus groups so that more customers will shop at my franchise for the items missing from their lives’ pantries. Brothers is a strong reminder that I am not a stock boy filling shelves of items ordered from the social-scientific, faux-Tinsel Town warehouses of pragmatic items requested by those who are most likely to come to stores like the one I manage. Instead, as Brothers reminds me, I am a shepherd-herald with the stewardships of proclaiming one undesirable, unmarketable (if you tell people what is really being offered—Mt. 16:24), inglorious-to-man-but-all-glorious-to-God message of Christ and him crucified, and of living out that message before and among the lives of those I have been appointed to serve. Reading Brothers helps to keep my thinking about ministry “success” grounded in the Cross. (In a similar vain, in January I attempt to read Hirsch’ Validity in Interpretation and Johnson’s Expository Hermeneutics to keep me grounded in the text of Scripture as spoken by God, the Author, and not as spoken by me or anyone else by means of some form of a reader-response theory. God has spoken. I do not need to reshape his words by my social context—not even my evangelical one. I preach the text of Scripture in the hopes that God’s voice will be heard by other brothers who need to be rescued from the wrath of God.)
It is easy for pastoral ministry to sink into occupational professionalism. In my experience, some times of ministry frustration come from expecting immediate results rather than the slow-work of Gospel transformation. I need to be awakened from expecting such results, for I am not assembling computers or selling real estate; I am shaping souls. I am helped by reading words like
increasingly, ministry under the banner of Christ’s supremacy will be offensive to the impulses of professional clergy who like to be quoted respectably by the local newspaper. The title of this book is meant to shake us loose from the pressure to fit in to the cultural expectation of professionalism. It is meant to sound the alarm against the pride of station and against the expectation of parity in pay and against the borrowing of paradigms from the professional world. Oh for radically, God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilizing, soul-saving, culture-confronting pastors! Let the chips fall where they will: palm branches one day, persecution the next (xi-xii).
These are the sort of words I need when the legal wall against same-sex marriage breaches in the jurisdiction just four miles from my church. No form of professional ministry can help me prepare my people for the sort of confrontation with the world that is now coming (cf. John 16:2). My humble flock needs to hear unprofessional truths about being fools for Christ’s sake.
As I read Brothers this month, I have four prayer requests before the Lord that I ask those serving with me also to remember on my behalf for the thirty-one-day reading period. Because Brothers is so inherently saturated with the truths of I Cor 4:9-13 with 2 Cor 2:14-17 and 4:1-18, my hope is that I will become soaked with Paul’s radical concept of Christ-centered ministry. This year, I would like for you – the blog readership – to join me in these requests, and in the reading of the book if you have a copy of Brothers. The invitation to a fellowship of prayer and reading is given with the hope that the Spirit of God might bless many churches – including my own – to have thoroughgoing cruciform pulpits and pastorates, for the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth, resulting in a revival and reformation of the church in the States. Here are the four requests:
1. That I (you) would have certain solid convictions on each of the truths covered in the daily chapter of reading.
2. That I would be saturated by these truths, with the fruit thereof coming to my family, my church, and those we are trying to reach with the Gospel.
3. That the men serving with me would gain settled conviction of these truths by seeing them modeled in me, and that we would have mutual favor among one another in Christ because we are being shaped by the Cross of these truths.
4. That the nations would hear the message of Christ because I am faithful to the charge that lies behind these truths.
The peace and satisfaction of our aching souls—and our hungry churches and the waiting nations—flow not from the perks of professional excellence but from the pleasures of spiritual communion with the crucified and risen Christ. I am jealous to spread this joy to (and through) my fellow pastors, which is why I say, “Brothers, we are not professionals” (xiii).