CHRISTIANITY TODAY'S PASTORAL/CHURCH LEADERSHIP BOOK OF THE YEAR 2017
“In my first seminary class, we were asked to introduce ourselves and say why we enrolled. I'll never forget what one student said…
'My denomination wants me to have an M.Div., but once they see I can grow a big church, I don't think they'll make me finish the program.'”
The priorities of this future pastor were startling, but he's not alone in them. In the years since that class, author and minister Skye Jethani has seen more and more pastors swallowed by the celebrity syndrome.
Not long ago, ministers were among the most trusted and admired people in our culture. But not anymore. A 2013 study from Gallop revealed that Americans' admiration for clergy has reached an all-time low. That, taken with reduced trust of institutional religion overall, makes it easy to see why ministers feel insecure about their calling.
In response to this trend, some pastors have looked to emulate those who are praised by the culture—business leaders, entertainers, and social activists. This has led to a new understanding of what a minister should be. We've turned away from viewing our pastors as shepherds, and now expect them to be celebrities.
Immeasurable will help ministers recognize the cultural forces shaping their view of the calling, and then reimagine what faithful church leaders can look like in the twenty-first century. Through short essays and reflections on the pastor's soul and skills, this book will help prospective pastors explore their calling to ministry, and it will help veteran pastors reframe their vision for the work.
Drawing on cultural dynamics, personal stories, and his own experience working in a church and with church leaders, Skye Jethani will address matters like ambition, anger, community, consumerism, fame, health, justice, platform, preaching, rest, simplicity, success, vision, and more.
There are endless resources to help pastors do the practical work of ministry, but there are far fewer that speak to the pastor's soul and spirit. Immeasurable provides affirmation and encouragement for church leaders faithfully serving God. It commends the true work of ministry—shepherding, teaching, encouraging—while redefining what we mean by success in ministry. It's a book church leaders can return to again and again for insight and inspiration.
Yet again, Jethani's piercing insights into the flawed structures of the American church prove a useful tool for church leaders and laypeople alike. His wit, wisdom and insight cut to the heart of the issue - in this case, our broken understanding of how churches should work - and offers redemptive ways to reclaim a vision of the Church as Christ imagined it. Basically, 10 out of 10, would recommend. But I truly feel that way about anything that Jethani writes.
As an aside, if you're not familiar with his work/perspective on things, definitely listen to an episode of The Phil Vischer Podcast, which he cohosts. I'd recommend starting with episode 250: What's Wrong With Religion?
Skye Jethani's Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. means to refocus ministry away from all those silly business metaphors we pastors hear regularly, and place it back on the work of God in Jesus Christ for the world's sake. If you're like me, and you grow weary with all the consumerist microwave-esque cultural trends in church leadership, Immeasurable is the book you need to read.
Here, Jethani encourages pastors to take a look at what they are doing and reflect on the benefits of what they are doing. Jethani argues that our churches have succumbed to the consumer culture rampant in America, and that it's causing pastors to be overworked and burnt out. We've begun to build our churches after business models. We've created programs and services to grow numbers, but are we growing disciples? Jethani brilliantly captures a truth that most of us know in our hearts, but seem unwilling or unable to combat in our lives: You can't program faithfulness.
Each chapter shares Jethani's reflections on a particular issue, and pastors (and other church leaders) will find enough fodder for reflection that you'll take your time. At the end of the chapters, Jethani includes a couple questions for readers' reflections. These questions not only challenge the pastors to reflect on their leadership but also encourages them to seek counsel and admonishment from other members of their leadership team.
In our culture -- where newer, bigger is always better -- Jethani stands as a prophet to say to the priests: Fidelity to the work of God in Jesus Christ is all that matters.
A good friend of mine has often spoken fondly of Skye Jethani, though until now, I have not taken the opportunity to read anything he has written. When I saw Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. (Moody, 2017) I decided to give it a go. Jethani does his readers a welcome service by providing a number of essays addressing the modern church, helping to reveal blind spots and suggesting ways forward. For example, he offered push back on the celebrity church culture, viewing church as transactional rather than relational, and, ironically, reading the latest Christian books. I especially liked his chapter, Illumination, in which he explored the differences between preaching and teaching. Another friend and I have been talking about the differences between these two things recently and after reading this chapter, I am going to work hard to call what I do on Sunday mornings preaching rather than teaching. I am there to proclaim.
On the whole, this is a really good book full of welcome insight. The chapters vary considerably in length which tripped me up perhaps more than it should, but whether two pages or a dozen, each section contains something beneficial to ministers of the gospel
I've noticed that the glorification of business is catching my attention a lot lately. I’m not sure if this is because I’m getting annoyed by our consumer, microwave-esque culture or what, but so many of us are living lives at a ridiculous pace. Those with families are running from one activity to another, eating supper in the car more often than eating at a table, and even single people are filling their schedules to the brim “because they have the time.”
I will say that sometimes a season of busyness is needed. There are times in our lives when we have to pack our schedules full because that’s just how life is at that particular moment. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’m afraid we can’t keep up our dead-sprint way of living forever. Sprinting is meant for short bursts, and if it’s abused something is going to break.
The thing that bothers me the most about having such a busy lifestyle is I don’t think we take time to stop and reflect on what we are doing. We just go and go and go without necessarily thinking about why we're going and going and going. This is surprisingly evident in the church as well. We’re so busy creating programs and serving in all possible areas, swearing all our work is for God, but are we stopping to ask ourselves if we’re doing the right work?
In his book Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc., Skye Jethani encourages pastors to take a look at what they are doing and reflect on the benefits of what they are doing. Jethani argues that our churches have succumbed to the consumer culture rampant in America, and it’s causing pastors to be overworked and burnt out. We’ve begun to build our churches after business models. We’ve created programs and services to grow numbers, but are we growing disciples?
While I’m not a pastor, I would recommend Immeasurable to anyone interested in church leadership or anyone who works with people. Each chapter shares Jethani’s reflections on a particular issue, and there were many tidbits that I felt were applicable to my life. At the end of the chapters, Jethani includes a couple questions for readers to reflect on. These questions not only challenge the pastors to reflect on their leadership but also encourages them to seek counsel and admonishment from other members of their leadership team.
With a culture that is continually shouting bigger is better and more is greater, it’s important for us to take a step back and make sure our churches are offering programs that encourage spiritual maturity in people, not just growth in the number of people sitting in the pews each Sunday.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher to review.
Skye Jethani brings to light some concerns with the 21st century model of church that is so prevelant in our world today and calls us back to shepherding, loving, protecting, and providing rest for God's people. Each chapter is a short essay or thought that will challenge your thinking and habits in ministry if you are a pastor or push you as a layperson to see what is the driving force behind your church's mission. Is our highest goal life with Christ or life for Christ? "So few of us have been given a vision of a life with Christ, and instead we seek to fill the void with a vision for ministry-a vision of a life for Christ." (p. 188) Skye concludes each chapter with a reflection/application section that teams or invidividuals can go deeper with. I would encourage not only pastors, but all Christians to read this challenging book.
Imagine shaking a tree to dislodge and retrieve fruit that is hanging there. As you shake, eventually the fruit comes free and falls into your waiting arms – you have received your reward, and simultaneously rid the tree of dead leaves and limbs. Imagine this scenario and you have a good idea of what Skye Jethani is doing as he shakes our ministry “trees” trying to free good fruit while also ridding our ministries of that which is dead or dying by suggesting new ways – paradigms – of looking at and doing ministry in Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. (Moody Publishers, 2017). More than just another book on pastoral and church ministry, this collection of essays provides some keen insights into how we can better do ministry in the Western world in the early years of the 21st century.
The world of Church, Inc., is described right away in the introduction: “It is shorthand for ministry devoid of mystery, for pastors who assume that the exercise of their calling is a matter of skill more than the gravity of their soul. It represents the exchange of the transcendent calling of Christian ministry with mere management of religious institutions and services. If ministry is encountering the heat and light of an uncontrollable sun, Church, Inc., is the tanning salon in the local strip mall.” The book moves from there to address such things as motivation for ministry, control, the biblical role of pastors, preaching, rest, consumerism, technology, engaging in ministry, and several other relevant themes. Along the way, Jethani does a masterful job providing powerful observation and wise advice to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear – and hearts to understand. It’s not always a pleasant journey, and toes will be stepped on, but the exercise of thoughtfully reading this book is helpful (and sometimes painful), but worth it in the end – even as the paradigms for ministry are not-so-gently shaken.
Are all Jethani’s pieces of advice perfect? Should the reader soak it all in without critique? No, not at all. Personally, for example, this pastor and preacher is still processing how I feel about the chapters related to preaching. I find myself not fully agreeing, but still my mind is stimulated enough to go deeper. There are other areas that any reader will likely find the same kind of tension; even so, explore the tension and take the advice that is offered.
In the end, I highly recommend this book to any and all pastors, church leaders, denominational executives, college and seminary professors, and anyone interested in effective church ministry.
In the era of aggressive individualism, ministers are being distinctly called to look outside of themselves, into the systems of "church" and contemplate what is the soul of the Church.
IMMEASURABLE is geared towards ministry leaders, but the benefit towards all who care about the health of the Church is easily seen. We are reminded that while God does grace his Church with leaders, we are all, in the end, followers of Christ.
Jethani’s book is prophetic in that it seeks to keep people free to follow God rather than being tied to a cultural tradition of church. As we recall the 500 year anniversary of the reformation this year, IMMEASURABLE calls out to re-establish foundations, cast off the chains that bind, and listen for the ever present impressions of the Spirit.
The format and style of the book make is accessible while still providing deep content presented in a compassionate way to chew on.
[Please note, I was given the book ahead of publication date to read and review honestly.]