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

Friday, November 14, 2014


"Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you."  (Philippians 4:21)

(Forgive me; the first couple of paragraphs will be kind of "overly detailed introductory material".  If you want to skip them, you may, but I felt they were rather necessary to make you appreciate the rest of the piece!)

I almost could have called this piece,  "Friday Throwback", for in some ways that's what it felt like.  It would really take pages and pages to tell you of how much Barnabas Ministries, Inc. and its "John 17:23 Fellowship Groups" have meant to me.  That ministry was started largely though the efforts of The Rev. Dr. Richard A. "Dick" Germaine over twenty years ago.  (Dick's story could really be made into a Christian film.  He came to Hopkinton, Massachusetts pastor a "liberal" New England Congregational church in the early 1970s and saw God transform that church into one of the most important and dynamic evangelical churches in New England.  Dick resigned that pastorate over a decade ago but remains very active as the Executive Director of Barnabas Ministries, Inc.)  During the final six years that I was pastoring in Framingham, I was a Member of a "John 17:23 Group" led by Dick himself.  I got to know him very well and was the recipient of lots of prayer and helpful counsel from him.  One of the ministries of Barnabas Ministries, Inc. is the "weekly pastors prayer outpost".  I know, that almost sounds like a title from the Old West!  At least, it always did to me.  On Friday mornings, Dick and a group of Intercessors meet in the "chapel" at Faith Community Church in Hopkinton and pray for all of the pastors who are involved in any way with the "John 17:23 Fellowship" and specifically pray for requests that various pastors have e-mailed in to them.  The pastors prayer outpost is always open to any pastor who has a need or who just wants special prayer.  He or she can just show up and receive that prayer blessing.

For a couple of years, I became a "regular" at the Friday morning prayer times; usually going every other week, but occasionally even attending weekly.  There have been many losses in my life over the past six years or so.  For me, a couple of the greatest losses have been the "John 17:23 Fellowship Group" which met every other week on Wednesday mornings and the Friday "pastors prayer outpost".  Due to my secular work schedule, I had to drop out of each- and considering I was not pastoring anymore, I really didn't meet the criteria for the Wednesday group.  I have occasionally attended the Friday prayer times since the church has closed and I've moved out of the area; but over the past three years, such Friday mornings have been very rare and I don't think I'd been to one for over a year prior to today.

It's most unusual for me to not be assigned to work at the answering service on a Friday morning.  When I saw that time slot was "open" I began thinking about going to the Friday morning pastors prayer outpost.  There were some mixed emotions.  Am I a pastor or not?  I am still an Ordained Minister.  However, I get very mixed messages about that question:  Am I a pastor or not?  I'm not currently pastoring a church.   I don't generally go around telling people I'm a pastor.  I usually just introduce myself as "Bob Baril" and say nothing about the pastor stuff.  Some people insist on calling me "Pastor Bob Baril".   Others have pretty strongly let me know I'm definitely not "Pastor Bob Baril".  I just kind of keep it neutral and "go with" however that other person wants it to be.  I wondered if it would be a good idea to attend the pastors prayer outpost or not.   Last night, the weather forecast was calling for "two inches of snow" especially in central Massachusetts.  I figured it was pretty definite I would not be going to the pastors prayer outpost, but would rather be scraping down driveways and walkways with a shovel.  I was surprised and relieved when there was no snow on the roadways this morning and no more than an inch on most lawns. 

I was just a bit nervous and uncomfortable as I walked into the chapel at Faith Community Church at 8 a.m.  I was warmly received, and literally hailed as a pastor.  I wondered if I really deserved that title and recognition.  The intercessors are usually divided up into several groups- there were three groups today.  I used to be really "into it" when I'd be part of these prayer meetings years ago.   As we prayed for various pastors and churches and situations I realized I was pretty much "out of the loop".  I did not recognize quite a few of the names of pastors.  After several years, there have been a lot of pastoral changes in the area.  It still felt great to be part of it, however.  I was blessed that a pastor in the small group in which I was praying specifically prayed for me and my situation.  I did not ask for this at all, but it almost moved me to tears.

Toward the end of the Friday morning intercessory time, everybody goes up to the front of the chapel and stacks of cards (I think they're 4 x 6 cards) are passed out to each person.  On each card is the name of a pastor and the place where he or she ministers.  (If the pastor is retired or in transition, it may just include the pastor's name.)  One person reads a Bible verse and leads in a general prayer; then we each simultaneously read the names of each of the pastors out loud.  Finally, when all of the names have been read, we close with an "Amen".  I always find it interesting if the names of some clergy friends of mine are found on any of "my" cards when we do this exercise.  I was rather blessed that today I had the name: Dan Condon, Meeting Place Church.  (He is the pastor of the new English-speaking Assemblies of God church in Framingham.) 

When we finished, I had this thought:  "They probably don't have my name on one of these cards anymore.  Why would they?  I don't pastor a church and I'm not even likely to do so again."
No sooner had I finished that thought, when Jay Germaine, Dick's wife turned to me with a big smile.  "I did not get to pray for you in the small group today," she said, "but I had your name on one of my cards so I did get to pray for you!"

Boy, was that a surprise and an encouragement!

I have not yet told you what I will call "the frosting on the cake" about this morning:  I met a fellow Assemblies of God minister that I did not know.  He's a black African guy who is starting a brand new church in Milford, Massachusetts.  His name is Christophe Akagla and the church will be a multi-cultural church known as "The Mount of the Lord".   It turns our there are some mutual pastors we each know.  Christophe [like a lot of black African pastors] is young, happy, energetic, and friendly.  We had a chance to chit chat for a couple of minutes afterward in the parking lot.  He was so happy to meet me, and, well, that made me very happy!

Yes, it was kind of a "Friday Throwback" but more than that, it was a Divine appointment!

Incidentally, for more information about Barnabas Ministries, Inc., please check out: