Dluxe's World

Tuesday, May 2

Wrap-up: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Piper)

Well, the reading program is now underway... If you've been watching the list, you'll note that it has evolved a bit thanks to recommendations from some of you! A major-league order has been placed from Amazon in conjunction with Mixxy-Mike...

I wrapped up reading Piper's book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals a few nights ago. This books was graciously sent to me by the cool people at Desiring God Ministries in re: an email I sent. So, many thanks to them for their generosity.

Piper's thesis in the book is that pastors have put being professional above being pastoral. Driven by human desires for acceptance, material success, or simply more time on the golf course, pastors have emasculated the ministry and God's particular call on the pastorate. Piper says:
"There is no professional childlikeness (Matt 18:3), there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph 4:32), there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1)... I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world. We are fools for Christ's sake, but professionals are wise. We are weak, but professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute... [W]e have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor 4:9-13). Or have we?" (p.2)

The remaining chapters in the book serve to focus this call to 'unprofessional', radical ministry on specific aspects of a pastor's life. Some chapters are plainly theological, exhorting pastors to cling to and proclaim critical points of our faith (God's passion for His glory, substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone). Others highlight practical concerns (wrestling with original laguages, building a robust devotional/study lilfe) and cultural issues (abortion, racism) which are always confronting the church. If you were to read any chapter in isolation, you'd know immediately that Piper's the author... The book drips with the passionate devotion to truth and exhortation that defines his writing and ministry.

My take on the book is likely different than most. As someone just setting out on the road into pastoral ministry, I was using this book more as an early guidepost versus an exhortation to return to the core of my calling. With that in mind, this jumped off the page:
I was amazed once to hear a seminary graduate say how adequate he felt for the ministry after his years of schooling... The reason this amazed me is that the gretest theologian and missionary and pastor who ever lived cried out, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:16). Not because he was a bungler, but because the awful calling of emitting the fragrance of eternal life for some and eternal death for others was a weight he could scarcely bear...

[B]rothers, the proper goals of the life of a pastor are unquestionably beyond our reach. The changes we long for in the hearts of our people can happen only by a sovereign work of grace. (p.54, emphasis mine)

It's nice to be reminded of your place once in a while... How many of us really consider the implications that our life in ministry brings? And I'm not speaking strictly of 'preachers'... Any of us who step up to the plate to disciple or teach others take on a similar role. That alone should drive us to our knees.

In another chapter, Piper addresses the tension many people feel balancing unscripted 'passion' and more carefully planned, crafted words in ministry. He alludes to the almost painstaking construction of Lamentations ("This seems to be the most formally crafted book in the Old Testament."). After outlining the careful selection of words, images, and acrostics, Piper says:
Now what do these ... observations imply? First, they imply that genuine, heartfelt expression of our deepest emotions does not require spontaneity. Just think of all the mental work involved in finding all the right words to construct four alphabetical acrostics! What constraint, what limitation, what submission to form! Yet what passion and power and heart! There is no necessary contradiction between form and fire... If the heart is aflame, no form will quench it. (p.147, author's emphasis)

It is interesting how we have an unusual idea surrounding prepared prayers, sermons, etc. At times we seem to value the emotionalism of being 'in the moment' above the clarity and impact of the message. Obviously, the two don't need to be separated (spontaneous words can be eloquent and powerful). Yet, I can see in myself some degree of disdain for pastors who use scripted prayers... And I feel convicted over that. After all, I approach the printed word of Scripture expecting it to come alive and be active. Is there really any reason to expect the Holy Spirit to cease operating if someone else is reading their reflections?

The one downside to the book is the same downside I've found with almost every Piper book I've read except Desiring God. The books seem to be front-loaded with content. The thesis is clear and supported well in the early chapters. As the book moves on, there's a "more of the same" mood that settles in... There's certainly great stuff, but the underlining and page marking seems to diminish further into the book.

If you're considering an entry into ministry, I think that this book would serve you well. If you've read much of Piper's stuff, it might not be the 'freshest' read that you've ever had... Still, there's enough gold in there to be worth the price. I also think that pastors who are adrift or in need of a recharge would find this book encouraging and correcting.
Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord. (p.4)

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