Book Reviews

The Inevitable Stress

In my work, I get to talk to a lot of pastors.  I try to encourage them by reminding them, and anybody else who will hear me, that one of the hardest jobs in today’s world is to be the pastor of the local church.  I know this, because I’ve been one.  One of the inevitabilities of being pastor of the local church is stress, usually in copious quantities.

Tony Pappas wrote a little book back in 1995 that I wish I had read back in 1995.  It’s entitled Pastoral Stress:  Sources of Tension, Resources For Transformation (Alban Institute).  In just over 140 pages, he writes helpfully and with personal anecdote about how to recognize and deal with stress in ministry, and where much of that stress comes from, in terms of family systems.  The role of the pastor in the system or systems that make up the church can be major stressors. 

Stress can be a gift if we recognize it for what it is and seek God in the midst of it.  Anxiety, on the other hand, is purely optional.  Anxiety is often our natural response to stress, yet God invites us to look beyond the immediate moment to the bigger picture of what his Body in that particular place is, and can be.

It would take too long to delineate the examples and the sources that Pappas offers in his book.  Suffice it to say that, had I read this book back when it was published, I might not have made some of the mistakes I’ve made.  (Alternatively, I might have made them with at least a greater sense of conviction!) 

Much of the book may make more sense to American readers, since he writes from within that culture and context, but Canadian pastors and church leaders will strongly identify with much of what is in this book.

Toward the end, Pappas points out that the culture around the church is changing, and the church (and its culture[s]) have a responsibility before God to grapple with that.  When this book was published, some of those cultural shifts which we consider normative today were just poking above the surface of the landscape (to mix my metaphors).  This is one of the greatest challenges that faces the church of Jesus Christ today, and while Pappas did not deal with it at length, his work gives the reader several tools for discernment.

I recommend this book.

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Encouragement From The Word

Sleeping through

I awoke this morning at approximately 0815.  When I staggered out to the living room, my wife asked me if I had heard all the sirens.

“What sirens?” I asked, knowing nothing of which she spoke.

“The sirens out on the 401,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “I heard them when I woke up at twenty to seven.”

Now, my wife is a light sleeper.  “How light?” you ask?  Most mornings, she hears her clock radio go click before the alarm comes on, and shuts it off, rising.  Not me.  Not only did I miss those sirens, only a few hundred metres from my ear, I have been known to miss – back in my undergraduate, pre-CPAP days – university dorm fire alarms.

I’m fairly sure I’d hear the smoke detector go off, but sirens on the 401?  Not today.

It got me thinking:  What kinds of things do we sleep through?  The parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25.1-13 is a good reminder.  What are our priorities?  What matters to us?

Was I going to be able to do anything about those sirens on the 401?  Nope.  Could I do anything if my smoke detector went off?  You bet.  There’s the difference.

When it comes to waiting for the Bridegroom to reappear, there is something we can do:  “So you, too, must keep watch!  For you do not know the day or hour of my return” (Matthew 25.13, NLT).