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Thursday, June 2, 2016

"After 50 Years of Ministry" (Bob Russell)

TITLE: After 50 Years of Ministry: 7 Things I'd Do Differently and 7 Things I'd Do the Same
AUTHOR: Bob Russell
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (224 pages).

It has been said that success depends on making the right decisions. The right decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making wrong decisions. Ministry is basically all of that. In a book that reflects on his 50 years of ministry that spans from a small community Church of 120 members to over 180000-sized Church today,  veteran pastor and leader Bob Russell shares of fourteen lessons he has personally learned. Seven of them he would do differently while the other seven he would continue the same.  Briefly, the seven things he would keep on doing the same are:

  1. Priority and Preparation for Expository Preaching
  2. Not to Underestimate the Demands of Ministry
  3. Incorporate Humour
  4. Disciple New Leaders
  5. Avoid the Celebrity Temptation
  6. Maintain the Course with the Tried and Proven without being distracted by the latest fads
  7. Longevity in Church service in one place

The other seven things he would do differently are:

  1. Ministry more by faith rather than fear
  2. Watch less television
  3. Pay less attention to criticism
  4. Be kinder and more attentive to his wife
  5. Stop comparing himself with other preachers and other churches
  6. Be generous inside and outside
  7. Do not attempt to cover up a moral failure of fellow staff member.

It all begins with a question: "If I could do ministry again" to birth the book of reflections and honest sharing. Fully intending to use it as a way to encourage other ministers both present and future, he goes far back to his first call when he was just 22 years of age, having to minister to a small congregation of 120 which several members more qualified and experienced than he was. He learned that worry is a way in which we give in to fear. The key task of a preacher is to preach while others build the Church. From fear of speaking to a large congregation to the task of trusting God to raise the needed funds for a Church building, the enemy of ministry is fear. As ministry workers, the most common daily winding down activity is to turn on the TV set. The problem is not about the relaxation but the way idleness in front of the box can lead to paths of darkness. Using the story of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda, we learn of eight tips about TV watching that range from subscribing to premium movie channels to fasting from TV altogether. In fact, godliness can be cultivated even more with the TV set turned off. On criticism, the bigger the church becomes, the sharper the criticisms. Of all the criticisms, the ones that come from within the community are the ones that hurt the most. It is only when we let the criticisms get to us that we become handicapped. He gives some great tips on how to manage and how to determine which criticism to ignore. More importantly, pay attention to those who needed more of our attention. On his marriage, he realizes how in ministry we tend to ignore the most important people in our lives by giving them the least attention and energy. As a preacher and pastor, there is a constant temptation to compare with others, especially with those more popular than us. The key problem is our insecurity. Along the way, he shares ten tips on when to consider leaving a parish. He highlights the beauty of generosity through observing the lifestyle of Paul Meyer. He leaves the toughest thing to the last, about covering up staff moral failures. Whether it is adultery or financial misappropriation, truth must be revealed. Repentance must come before restoration. Most importantly, one needs to remember that God's kingdom is more important than our small parishes.

The second part of the book affirms all that the author had been doing all along. Give primacy to expository preaching; learn to cope with ministry pressures; to instil healthy humour in ministry; to disciple leadership teams; to avoid the celebrity mentality; to stay with what works and not to try too many fancy ways to do the same thing; and to learn to be faithful as long as possible. He closes the book with two final exhortation to preachers, that ministry and service need faithfulness. It also needs joy.

Bill Russell continues to speak and teach widely in his circle of influence. He became pastor of Southeast Christian Church at the age of 22. From a small community of 120 members, the Church is now one of the largest in America, with over 18000 people each Sunday over four services. He ministers through Bob Russell Ministries. He is husband to Judy for over 50 years and has two sons and seven grandchildren.

So What?

The author has produced a very balanced view of Christian ministry after 50 years in service. With seven different and seven similar things he would do if he had to do ministry all over again, he shows us that ministers are not perfect. So frequently, the phrase "nobody is perfect" has become a cliche that we pay lip service to this. By humbly admitting the first seven things he need to do differently, he presents to us a confession of how imperfect his ministry had been, despite helping the Church grow from hundreds to tens of thousands. At the same time, by setting out seven things he would continue to do the same, he shows us that we need not throw away all the good things we have done. In fact, there is a lot of affirmations in this book to encourage those of us in ministry with regard to things we are already doing. Like expository preaching, leadership development, faithfulness, and the need to stay low on the ground when tempted by the highs of celebrity worship. The practical advice given should not be dismissed too quickly. For even when certain tips are not immediately relevant, there is no telling how important they could be over time. Like the one on covering up a staff member's moral failure. Just because there is no such incident in our churches now does not mean it will never happen next time. When that moment arrives, being equipped with the knowledge and experience of what Russell could have done will guide us, especially during times of emotional uncertainty and spiritual turmoil.

For all ministers young and old, leaders both now and future, this is a wonderful book to learn about the realities of pastoral ministry. Russell tells it as it is, often sharing his personal stories of how he learned the lessons the hard way. As with any ministry leader, the part about pride is most challenging. Everyone of us are vulnerable to the trappings of pride and arrogance. Humility is a slippery virtue because the temptations toward fame and all kinds of gain are always there. It takes a Christ-honouring heart and transformed mind to be able to fix our attention on Jesus. Ministers are expected to be Christ-followers themselves. The more we be like Christ, the more credible and biblical our messages become.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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