Looking at a church from the outside can leave an interesting first impression. Seeing a church up close (especially the microscopic upcloseness of those who have been leaders in ministry) can be downright ugly. Richard Lischer in his book, Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through a Country Church
, shows us the microscopic ugly side and then helps us see that ugliness from a totally different – I believe more God-ward- perspective.
The book is the true story about his first pastorate in a small country church in Illinois. As he shares the three years he spent at this church, he discloses both the dirty glory of people that at times shine the love of Christ as well as the mixture of immature and inexperienced mistakes he made as a young senior pastor. Without glossing over reality, he tells a touching, subtly humorous story about how God works in marvelous ways through His body, the church.
There were several parts to the book that I appreciated:
- In one chapter, Lischer introduces the idea of pastoral gossip. While denouncing non-pastoral gossip as sinful, Lischer also recognizes that if there is no talk whatsoever about the struggles that people are going through that rather than helping them, we are abandoning them to a life of solitude at the point when they most need the community of the church. He gives a good example of when gossip that is pastoral is not only appropriate but necessary if we are to build up and encourage the church. I found this very helpful.
- I was also struck by how he showed that behind every life there is a story. It is too easy to see only what is occurring right in front of our faces without realizing what is behind the pain or sin that we see. I was told once as a ministry leader that the work (a controversial change to the ministry) that I was doing was of the devil. While recognizing that statement actually put me in pretty good company, it still hurt. After reading Lischer’s book I am still convinced that the person was wrong in stating that, but I am more inclined to recognize that there is more to the statement than the statement itself.
- Additionally, God is at work and sees lives differently than we do. What seems so broken down and, if we as ministry leaders are honest, useless may very well be his next Moses, Samson, or Peter (among hundreds of others that we could mention). This book is a good reminder that we as ministry leaders are serving – God is the one working through His church to accomplish His glory.
- One of the main themes of the book is that any ministry leader must understand the culture that they are ministering to. Sometimes, that will be impossible to completely get our hands around, but if we are going to minister to others, it is necessary to understand their history, their language, their hopes and fears. Without this, we will find ourselves more at odds than working together.
Overall, I found this book a very enjoyable book – the kind that you can just sit in front of a fire and read from beginning to end. It reminds us (and this is a necessary reminder especially for those of us in the blogosphere) that when the theology is all hashed out and we know we’re right, that it then needs to be applied to real life – unfortunately, the two don’t always meet well and it is then that we must rely on God to give us direction – whether to capitulate the theology for the sake of a person’s life or stand firm for the sake of a person’s soul. The answer is not as black and white as one might think and this book makes that clear. Finally, from a ministry perspective, it captures the heart of anyone that has done any leadership in ministry. I highly recommend it.
--Posted by PhilThreeten to PhilThreeten at 1/08/2006 06:07:00 PM