There is a certain romanticism about Christian ministry. Many – dare I say, most – people who enter ministry, especially younger in life (as I did), tend to have a view of pastoral leadership as something ideal: we get to preach God’s Word, share in people’s highs and lows of life, and live as full-time disciples of Jesus.
While all of that is true, there are many other aspects to ministry that our romanticized view conveniently blots out. They are not as fun, not as exciting, and often highly challenging.
Carey Nieuwhof, Founding and Teaching Pastor at Connexus Community Church (with campuses in Barrie, Orillia, and Midland, Ontario) has written a book which will be most helpful to all people in church leadership, especially younger leaders. Having gone through a career change early on (he studied and practised law briefly before accepting God’s call), being appointed a student pastor while still studying for ministry, leading a congregation through exponential growth and eventually out of the denomination in which he had served, he found himself at one point – about 12 years ago – in a period of burnout, from which he initially wondered if he would ever recover.
I was keen to read this book, not only because Carey is a longtime friend of mine, but because the latter part of that story eerily paralleled my own.
When I started in ministry over 30 years ago, the church and the social landscape were vastly different. I was educated to lead a church in a Christendom world, where churches were strong and pastors were well-respected. Today, those realities, in the Canadian church at least, are long gone, and we live in a time where change is the only constant. There’s a lot of adapting that needs to be done, by church leaders and congregants alike.
Younger leaders may find this season in history especially challenging, because they are starting at the bottom of a steep hill. Didn’t See It Coming, while applicable to everyone, is especially helpful, I think, to those younger leaders who are starting out in the pioneering work of bringing in God’s Kingdom on earth.
Carey addresses cynicism – how we get there and how we get out of it; he addresses intellectualism – how we are trained to think but also need to learn to experience God’s goodness and grace; and he addresses character – how Christians, and especially church leaders, need to be honest and transparent about developing lives like Jesus. Most of the rest of the book builds on these themes.
Readers of Carey’s blog (careynieuwhof.com) will find some familiar words in this book, as much of Didn’t See It Coming piggybacks on a number of Carey’s more popular posts. But there’s sufficient illustrative material and extrapolation to warrant reading the book, even if one has already read the blog. I am a faithful reader of the blog, and still gained insight from the book.
Carey addresses a number of issues about which I wish I had learned as a younger leader, especially before my season of burnout – topics like solitude versus isolation; personal growth preceding helping others grow; technology, with its ups and downs; and studying culture.
From his own experience, Carey uses this book to help readers avoid the pitfalls he faced. While, by grace, he did not find himself in a situation of moral failure as some other prominent church leaders have, he has written Didn’t See It Coming as a tool to help other church leaders avoid the challenges that can lead to ministry-ending situations.
I recommend that all church leaders read this book. It is not a long read, but it is a thought-provoking read. It will be widely available as of September 4, 2018.
Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges that No One Expects and Everyone Experiences, by Carey Nieuwhof (New York: WaterBrook, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018).
Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher, electronically, of Didn’t See It Coming.