So… there I was, sitting at Craft Kafe with my friend Tim Wolter, discussing one of our favourite topics, church. He had been reading this book and was about 3/4 of the way through it and asked if I would read it as well and comment on it. He graciously let me borrow it, and as soon as I finish writing this, I’ll return it to him.
The book is divided into three sections, based off of Psalm 78:72 which reads:
“He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands.”https://bible.com/bible/1713/psa.78.72.CSB
Psalms 78:72 CSB
The first section is about “The Shepherd,” the second is “Integrity of Heart,” and the third is “Skillful Hands.”
One of the themes that runs through the book is transforming the reader, who is a pastor, into someone that thinks not only about Sunday, but about Monday, specifically about the work situations of the congregants and equipping them to be an effective witness for Jesus in those environments.
I found this book tough slogging through the first two sections. I wanted to put it down. That part felt forced, like maybe the editor or the publisher wanted it in there. Pastor Nelson, hit his stride in the third section, where he got into the “skillful hands” and it was obvious to me that he had some things he wanted to say and thought they were helpful.
And they were for me. Let me give you a couple of excerpts that appealed to me, and may prove to make some wholesale changes in my life.
First, on pages 154-155, he starts by quoting psychiatrist Curt Thompson. Pastor Nelson writes:
“Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson makes the point that our brains are actually altered in storytelling. ‘People change not just their experiences, but also their brains — through the process of telling their stories to an empathic listener. When a person tells her story and is truly heard and understood, both she and the listener undergo actual changes in their brain circuitry.’ If congregations are to flourish, shepherding leaders must realize that everyone has a story to tell and everyone needs someone to whom they can tell their story. Every person who is entrusted to us within the congregation needs to know others and be known by others. Storytelling is a primary way that deep relationships are formed and sustained and that joy is released. As shepherding pastors, we must grasp the importance of encouraging and equipping our congregational members not only to share their stories with one another, but to share their unique story with others who may not yet know Jesus.” “The Flourishing Pastor” by Tom Nelson, pages 154-155
I think this is clutch, especially in our cultural context. That practice we did of breaking into groups of 3 and 4 people to share testimonies and what we were grateful for at Calvary was profound in forming relationships. On top of that, and not only equally important, but maybe more important was taking a few minutes at the close of our Sunday morning gatherings to break into groups of 2 and 3 to pray for each other. I felt affirmed in that practice after reading this.
The next excerpt is much longer and for me was more personal. It’s from pages 113-114 in the second section “Integrity of Heart” in a chapter called “Pursuing Wholeness.” Pastor Nelson writes:
“I will never forget the advice a wise executive gave me when I was a seminarian… ‘love where you go home to at night.’… He simply reminded me that our homes are a place of refuge from the world, a place of rest and renewal. These wise words have guided me over the years, and my wife, Liz, and I have invested time and treasure in making the place we live a place of rest and beauty, one conducive to hospitality. As pastoral leaders we don’t have to have elaborate homes, but within our budgetary capacity we are wise to invest resources in making our homes a refuge, a place of beauty and serenity. Creating beautiful, warm and inviting spaces in our homes enhances the flourishing and joy of others who share with us times of celebration, laughter, and fun. Surrounding our lives with beauty is not only a way to minimize the corrosive effects of evil, it is also a way to bring joy and well-being to our lives and relationships. We were created to flourish in a beautiful garden, and even though we live in a fallen world, we are renewed when we encounter beauty. “The Flourishing Pastor” by Tom Nelson, pages 113-114
That struck me. I’ve thought of that idea over the years, but it’s been quite some time since Gen and I have invested time and treasure into the furnishings and decorations of our home. Part of that is because we had growing children and between the pace of life and how hard that season of life is on our effects, we were just surviving! A few days later, these words from Proverbs jumped off the page:
“A house is built by wisdom, and it is established by understanding; by knowledge the rooms are filled with every precious and beautiful treasure.”https://bible.com/bible/1713/pro.24.3-4.CSB
Proverbs 24:3-4 CSB
We have recently emptied out our storage unit and brought everything to the condo we are temporarily living it. It’s time to do some cleaning! So, with the encouragement of Pastor Nelson, and the criteria of “precious and beautiful” we have some work to do. And, yes, we will say “thank-you” to stuff like Marie Kondo.
Overall, I found the book helpful. Frankly, it must be said, that I usually find myself out of step with most of what is produced by people associated with The Gospel Coalition (TGC). There are exceptions, of course. And, that’s what I struggled with through the first two sections of the book.
Here’s the questions I had after finishing the book: I wonder if my colleagues that have swallowed Calvinism, or like one person said: “invited John Calvin, or John Piper into their hearts,” are struggling with the intimacy and integrity part of their personal relationship with the Lord? Is that why the first two sections were included?
Or, was it a publishing decision to have a larger book, a little more comprehensive, and not just be a technical, practical encouragement in the skill part of pastoring?
But, like I said, overall, I found that third section helpful and helpful enough to recommend the book to others.