Tuesday, November 25, 2014


"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.    
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30) 

I have just finished reading a most unusual book.   Ironically, I received this book "by accident".  It's probably not a book that I would ever have purchased [otherwise] nor had any desire to read.  Its title is pretty unappealing:  "Fail".   I have belonged to the IVP Book Club for probably thirty years.  IVP is a Christian publishing house.  During the years I was pastoring I purchased a number of books through them.  I'm not sure why I have not cancelled my membership in the club.  I almost never order books anymore.  Frankly, I just can't afford them.  "Fail" was part of a recent "Double Main Selection" offered by the book club.  A few weeks ago, I suddenly realized I had forgotten to cancel that "Double Main Selection".  I tried to cancel on-line, but I was too late.  The two books were shipped to me.  I left that mailing packet just sitting in my bedroom for a couple of weeks.  Reluctantly, I opened it up, glanced at the books, wrote out a check, and mailed in my payment which was already late at that point.

About a week ago, I started reading "Fail"The author, J.R. Briggs, is a pastor who has experienced some great disappointment and failure in his life and ministry.  This has led him to do heroic ministry to scores and scores of men and women who have "failed" at pastoring churches, or in their personal lives.  Almost none of the failure Briggs deals with are the kind of failures we usually hear about when we think about ministers who fail.  We usually think about the guy who ran off with his secretary, or the pastor who had a homosexual affair with the church organist, or the female pastor who embezzled funds from the church.  Briggs rather focuses on the type of failure he experienced:  "amoral failure".   The ministers who have experienced "amoral failure" are the ones who have seen the churches they pastor decline from average Sunday morning attendance of one hundred fifty to average Sunday morning attendance of thirty.  They're the ones who are honored for serving twenty years in the ministry on one Sunday evening and then fired at a surprise Board meeting on the next Sunday evening- only to then discover that no church has the slightest interest in employing them.  They're the ones who have a teenage daughter attempt suicide and then are asked to resign because they seemingly have no ability to inspire teenagers.  They're the ones who are grossly underpaid, run their credit cards over the limit, can't pay their bills, and are dismissed for being poor stewards.  And, in almost every case, they're the ones, like me, who believed the success or failure of the local church was entirely up to them- who may have gone through the motions of reading their Bibles and praying every day, but who tried desperately by "hard work" and manipulation to "build" and "hold together" a church, only to see their ministries crumble before their eyes.  They're the ones who are often suicidal and bitterly angry in the aftermath, and who sometimes walk away from God as a result. 

Initially, I found it to be a very tough book.  On the one hand, I seemingly couldn't get enough of it, but then after I'd read a chapter, I would have seen so much of myself in it and re-lived so much of my own feelings of pain and loss that I'd have to put the book down for awhile.  At this stage of reading, I commented to two close minister friends of mine that the book was very tough reading and that I only hoped it would have a happy ending. 

The enemy Briggs takes on in "Fail" is not church board members.  It's not denominational hierarchies.  It's not self-absorbed pastors.  Oh, he touches on the failures and problems of all of those, but the enemy he takes on is the completely unscriptural "success" culture of the evangelical Christian churches of North America.  Briggs is not entirely against those "church growth" and "ministry success" conferences, but he warns the reader that we can't take that stuff too seriously and that no matter how many vision statements we draw up or how many marketing strategies we implement in our churches, if we fail to love the Lord Jesus Christ will all or our hearts and give our loyalty to Him;  and if we fail to truly love people, disciple them, and build relationships with them, even if we do succeed in building megachurches we have totally failed before God.  Yes, it's that whole worldly success culture that he believes we need to flush down the toilet, and I agree. 

Some of the stuff in the book made me uncomfortable.  Briggs believes we have to be raw and authentic in our prayers.  He quotes one pastor who yelled the "F" word at God (and I don't mean "fail" I mean that word) and sees that as a good and healthy thing to do.  Listen, I've poured out my heart to God in a similar manner to Job in the Bible at times, but as far as yelling the "F" word at God, well, to me that's a bit much!  And, Briggs comes from more of the style and culture of today's young evangelicals (he was born in 1979- the year I graduated from Bible college) which encourages social drinking.  There are mentions of going to bars and having glasses of wine.  Listen, I know Jesus drank wine, but I'm from a teetotaler denomination that I'm just a lot more comfortable with, thank you. 

The bottom line is the book does have a [fairly] happy ending.  Briggs believes there is absolutely recovery and a bright future ahead for ministers who fail if they will really allow the Lord to do the work in their lives that He wants to do.  [Briggs includes a lot of practical advice about how to recover from ministry failure- the book is not all theoretical.] 

This book is new, just published in the spring of 2014.   This may seem like an extreme thing to write, but I honestly believe it should be required reading for every pastor and associate pastor, for every church board member, for every denominational executive, and for any mature Christian.  [I don't think I'd recommend it for any "new" Christians- too intense for them!]

 For more information about the book and ordering it, check out: http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=4111

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