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The Unwavering Church Member
A Review of the Unwavering Pastor by Jonathan K. Dodson
Look out for Part III of the Schilder Series on Sunday the 14th of August.
“I’ve received some more death threats, that’s normal,” he said, “but I shouldn’t bother you with that.”
He was a pastor and a friend, but somewhere in the tension between those two titles was an idea that we shouldn’t discuss the incredible difficulties pastors go through as par for the course, even if it would help me to understand him more and love him better as a result.
In his new book, the Unwavering Pastor, Jonathan K. Dodson says the following:
“This book is, in a sense, a long prayer. A flaming arrow shot into the darkness of trial, with the hope that every leader who reads it, and every pastor who engages it, will feel seen and known, not merely by me but by their Father in heaven and the compassionate Savior at his right hand. I hope you sense divine attentiveness, and even if you don’t, that you will believe it—a God who is always for you and not against you, especially when things are bleak.”
I hope we can add a third party to that list, “every pastor who engages it, will feel seen and known, not merely by me but also by their congregation, and by their Father in heaven and the compassionate Savior at his right hand.” Sure it’s important for pastors to look out for one another, and to look firstly, finally, and ultimately to God, but if church members are not looking out for the needs of our pastors, how can we expect them to grow, to feel loved, and to look after their own families. Can you imagine doing the same to any other member of the church? Sunday rolls around and you turn to Stanley and say, “Hey mate, we’re stretched pretty think here, how would you feel if you just look after yourself from now on? We don’t want to hear about the troubles you’re facing, the struggles at work, or what your family is going through right now, that’s your job from here on out, okay?” How long would Stanley stay? Would he feel like the Church cared? Would you expect him to stick around and serve at events, be a part of the welcome team, or run the kids work?
My guess is that not only would he leave fairly quickly, but you also wouldn’t be surprised.
So often I hear pastors lamenting this heart-mentality towards them though, so much that it breaks my heart. It’s true that one bad pastor can be devastating for a church, but given that a church could have up to—or beyond—one hundred church members per pastor, it’s worth taking time to think about how many of those members it would take to devastate or destroy any given pastor.
In the face of that, when we as members choose to read the Unwavering Pastor, it’s worth asking ourselves throughout, “How can I be an Unwavering Church Member?”
Dodson lays his heart out in this book, in fact in the course of writing the book, his heart broke. Walking to Church one day he found himself overwhelmed to the point that he was left with no choice but to take time away to recover. I’m thankful for the work God has done in Jonathan, but unfortunately many pastors around the world—especially after the effects of the past few years—are in need of a similar restoration but have had no opportunity to do so. I remember early in the pandemic seeing building works which had been left to sit with no support but the temporary scaffolding around them. Many pastors are the same, some were young and just being built, some had been in the process of renovation and were left with pieces hanging off, and some were almost at the point of removal but stayed on later than their time, often to their own detriment.
If your pastor is currently going through even one or two of the challenges presented in this book, ask yourself two questions:
Can we make a difference as Church Members?
If not, who will?
Throughout the book, Dodson leaves challenges for pastors like:
An Unwavering Pastor:
Seeks to be sober-minded by staying close to God.
Clears the clutter through regular, dependent prayer.
Endures suffering by trusting Jesus to do the heavy shepherding.
Gets the gospel out into the world and down into the church.
Fulfils the ministry with confidence that the Lord stands by us.
In other words, to be an unwavering pastor, build your house on the only firm foundation. Being an unwavering church member means being a member of the body of Christ, accepting Christ as our head and foundation and accepting our place as the eyes, or the hands, or the little toe of the body and carrying out our role in that capacity. As you read the book, look for clear pathways to serve your pastor in their needs. You have no idea what a difference it could make.
An Unwavering Church Member:
Serves the pastor through regular prayer
Gets the gospel out into the world
Offers to serve where possible
Asks after the pastor and their family
A Challenger Approaches
“While it is important to consider how not to use words, it is even more important to know how to use words. Paul’s solution to fighting words isn’t merely to correct, but to handle God’s words like a workman, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” ([2 Timothy] 2:15)
Having said this, I’m not saying that you’re never to question, challenge, or disagree with your pastor. In fact, good challenges, with the right heart, can be incredibly helpful and are necessary for the upbuilding of any member of the church. Questions, challenges, or disagreements do not have to generate division. There is a whole chapter in this book dedicated to helping pastors navigate that path, but how excellent would it be if we as members met them halfway?
I’m not allowed to take painkillers, though I’m in serious pain most of the time. They clash with the medication I’m on and though I’m sure there are some I could take, my doctors have wisely suggested I don’t take any at all because it will be a slippery slope to painkiller addiction. I can, however, play video games, one of the few ways which has been shown to relieve pain without the use of medicine. When you begin playing some games, you’re left in the awkward position of playing against others online with only the most basic tools, while they—already proficient in the controls, layouts etc—get to use the more efficient ones. It’s only by continuously losing that you slowly gain the necessary abilities to play on an equal footing, and thereby begin to win games. This is how it can be for pastors sometimes, wave after wave of church members approach, equipped with mountains of research into exactly what they’ve done wrong, and begin to chisel away at a pastor who’s not yet even found out what the rules of engagement for this new challenge are.
“Wives, become an expert on your husband’s strengths not simply a noticer of his weaknesses.”
Since I first heard Chandler say this—and I’m sure he’s said to husbands also—I’ve tried as best I can to make this a principal in my marriage. I leave notes for my wife, I try and tell her as often as I can how proud I am of her for specific things she’s said or done, and when we argue/strongly disagree I try as hard as I can to hear what she is saying and why she is saying it so as not to misrepresent what she’s saying. I do not always do this perfectly, and I’m sure I’ve not done this perfectly when it comes to pastors either, but what if we made this a rule that:
“An unwavering church member is an expert on their pastor’s strengths not simply a noticer of his weaknesses”
This might seem like I’m contradicting my previous statements as in the first section of this article I encouraged you to read this book, at least in part, in order to become acquainted with the struggles your pastor is facing and to know about the weaknesses he may be experiencing. I don’t want that to be the end of the journey though. Read the book → learn what your pastor is facing → and think and pray about what you might be able to do to serve him. One of the ways to serve him might be bringing challenges to his door wrapped in love.
“I am sure this wasn’t what you meant, but when you said X in the sermon today, I felt like Y.”
“I was doing the kid’s work today and I had some thoughts, is there a good time to discuss those?”
“I’m struggling to reconcile this aspect of what our Church does with the Bible, I know you love the word, could you help me to see where we’re getting this from?”
Don’t just say things like this though, mean them, if you can’t mean them, wait until you do.
Side-note: I’m not talking about serious Church-shattering issues, I’ve been in a Church which almost fell apart because the pastor ended up in prison, I am not in any way saying that if I’d just turned to him and said, “I know you love the word,…” that it would have changed everything—I wish I didn’t have to say this but I do. Please understand I’m talking about 99% of situations in which the disagreement you have is not a matter of life, death, or criminal behaviour.
“I needed this book. If you’re a fellow weary pastor, you do too. And I didn’t know how much I needed it till reading it.”
Dane Ortlund, from the Foreword
I was going to end by saying, “If you don’t buy this book for yourself, buy it for your pastor.”
Then I realised what I should actually say is:
Whether you read this book yourself, or you gift it to your pastor, buy it for your pastor.
Those are your two options, my hope is that if you decide to pick this book up you will be affected by it to the point of action. I have an upcoming article I’ve been writing for about a month called “And…?” in which I will discuss why reading for the sake of knowledge is—usually—fruitless. When we read a book we should be constantly asking the question, “And…?”
“And… what do I do with that information?”
“And… how does that affect how I run a small group?”
“And… how do I carry that out in my own marriage?”
Books like this are an excellent way to exercise that muscle, to begin to ask these questions of the books you read. Your pastor is unlikely to lay their heart out for you, Dodson has, let that help you to ask yourself hard questions. In the foreword, Dane Ortlund begins by stating how much he needed this book, he is not alone. I’ve heard many different statistics and anecdotes about the number of pastors who have almost decided, or have decided, to leave their ministry in the last couple of years. Whatever the actual number, it’s clear that it’s high, far too high. I don’t know what the size of your church is, how your pastor is doing, or what you’re already doing to support them. I will simply say this; if you think you could be serving your pastor better, go and grab a copy of the unwavering pastor, read it, and then pray about what you can do to become an unwavering church member.
Grace and Peace,
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