Reviewed By Dale Fife
I wasn't so sure that what we needed was another book on prayer and personal growth as much as we needed to actually practice prayer and grow in Christ , but I couldn't resist the title of this book as my eyes scanned the shelves in the Christian bookstore. It was not until I arrived home and began to leaf through the pages that I discovered that what I had purchased was a compilation of 30 strategies to "transform your ministry" garnered from successful pastors and leaders throughout the United States. I had stumbled upon a goldmine of experiential knowledge that not only encouraged my determination to be more faithful in the area of spiritual disciplines but also gave me some practical and very useful "how to's" as well as the wisdom to deal with my personal shortcomings in this area. Ever since reading the statistics from Peter Wagner's survey of 527 American pastors across regional, age, and denominational lines I have been acutely aware of the need for a more disciplined life of prayer among church leadership in general. His simple quest was to find out just how many hours a day pastors spend in actual prayer. In this survey he was not counting Bible study, reading devotional books, listening to worship tapes or other components of a fully rounded devotional life. He dealt only with prayer. The results were that the average prayer time was twenty-two minutes daily, as compared to a similar survey in Korea where the average is ninety minutes. Deepening Your Ministry Through Prayer and Personal Growth is not just a spiritual smorgasbord of ideas, hastily prepared, but a well ordered and balanced table to help correct the serious malnutrition of soul that exists in the Church and in particular, the ministry .
In the first section the focus is on prayer; intimacy with God. "Pastors often must tell Christians not to follow their emotions (they are the caboose, and all that). But intimacy is a feeling. Though we can¹t base our assurance of salvation on emotions, feeling close to God is important. The key is waiting quietly on God until [one senses] His presence." In order to have intimacy with God we need two things: quietness and time. One writer suggests spending a whole day in prayer. My first thought was, "Who me?" Spend a whole day in prayer? I'm too busy!" Bingo! There is a sign reputed to be on the Alaskan Highway that says, "Choose your rut carefully. You'll be in it for the next 200 miles." Perhaps we have gotten into an ecclesiastical rut and need to break out of it.
I know what you're probably thinking, "I'm just not disciplined enough." My personality type is my excuse. "After all God made me this way." Charles Killian addresses this problem in chapter nine "Disciplines for the Undisciplined.". "The greatest need of unstructured people is to accept and celebrate who we are in Christ." Killian says that he went forward so many times to be born again he ended up with stretch marks on his soul. What finally brought him stability and peace was the realization that his salvation was Christ's work, not his own. "I no longer had to 'do' in order to please God, but could simply 'be' in Christ, which included my devotional life. There is more to spirituality than discipline."
In section two the focus changes to personal growth. Mark Gali addresses the "Perils of the Professionally Holy." He writes, "The call to pastoral holiness, then, is right. It's reasonable. It's also ridiculous." Dave Hansen has a powerful chapter entitled, "Pulling Weeds from Your Field of Dreams." "Toxic weeds thrive in visions for ministry. A fertile spiritual imagination is just as good at growing weeds as a crop." He addresses three 'weeds' that can flourish in our pastoral vision: the dream weed, the greed weed, and the hero weed. The next chapter in this section, written by John Ortberg, was the icing in the Oreo for me. He deals with the issue of criticism, especially 'friendly fire', that can pull the plug on our motivation and energy. He writes; "Giving effective spiritual leadership will surely mean doing things that displease the very people whose approval we desire. But our strong reaction to criticism reveals a serious addiction problem; craving for approval. Its primary symptom: the tendency to confuse my 'performance in ministry' with my worth as a person; to seek the kind of approval from people that can only satisfy when it comes from God."
With all of the current hype on Emotional IQ in the educational field right now, you are sure to enjoy Bill Hybels chapter on "Reading Your Gauges". He writes concerning the overlooked emotional depletion that plagues the ministry referring to what he calls IMAs - Intensive Ministry Activities. He gives some excellent guidelines to help you avoid exhausting yourself emotionally and then recharging your emotional batteries ( a must chapter).
Eugene Peterson addresses the need for all of us to find a spiritual director. "There is a radical difference between a book and a person. In meetings with my spiritual director, I have often had the sense of being drawn into a living, oral tradition. I am in touch with a pool of wisdom and insight in a way different from when I am alone in my study." He adds, "as responsibility and maturity increase in the life of faith, the urgency of having a spiritual director increases." We never outgrow our need for a spiritual mentor!
There is an entire section in this book dealing with managing your time. Having read Stephen Covey¹s material, I doubted if I would find anything left unaddressed, but I was pleasantly surprised. Under this rubric the subjects of "Procrastination, the Sly Saboteur" , "Feeling Good About the Non-Urgent", and "Renewing Your Strength Without A Sabbatical" are addressed. Who among us could not profit from a fresh assessment of priorities?
In the final chapters the whole issue of character is approached. "Strengths alone do not a ministry make" seems to summarize the article by Kent Hughes titled "Going to Your Left"."Developing a Christian Mean Streak" seems like an oxymoron but Steve Brown speaks again to the reality that we just cannot please everyone. Don McCullough writes on "Expanding The Mind". He states that, "Study waits quietly, almost helplessly, like a doctor who can¹t get near a victim because of the frantic activity surrounding the scene of the accident."
The book climaxes with a final call to renewed intimacy with God. Titles like: "What I Want to Be When I Grow Up", " Being Holy Being Human", and "Renewing Your Sense of Purpose" hit the mark. Deepening Your Ministry Through Prayer and Personal Growth is a compendium of ideas and life experience that will water the dry soil of your soul and call back to life the romance of intimacy with God. It is good counsel and advice from some of the most successful leaders of our day. Consistently recurring throughout the book are the themes of intimacy, journeling, renewal, corporateness and collegiality of ministry, and mentoring. This book is practical and motivating! Use it as a daily devotional.