Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary: Lessons for Successful Ministry in Your Church.

What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary…
Author: James Emery White

Baker Books, 2011, 188 pp., $17.99US

 Reviewed by Matthew Kratz

Many an ordination counsel has lamented the examination of a young Pastor fresh from seminary. Often the critique from either these counsel's or search committees, is the evidence of book but not heart driven ministry. The local Church must be the developing environment for new pastor's, what White calls the "Farm League"(p.29). But what if the young Timothy does not have a Paul mentor?

James Emery White's experience as a seminary professor,  former president of a seminary, and senior Pastor helps him deal with those things the Seminary did or could not convey. The personal examples, stories and specific warnings give an informal, personal feel to his writing. This is both the strength and weakness of this book. The introduction should put the theological student on notice of what Churches are looking for.

The general concepts for church growth and concern often come without explicit biblical basis or specific steps of achievement. When Scriptural citations are given from "The Message", there are more conversational, than instructive. The cutesy/vague titles in the table of contents show you that this is not a theological tome or Biblical examination of how to pastor but a collection of various observations after years of ministry.

Even from the first chapter on "Emotional Survival" White's advice to "develop a way of life that protects, strengthens and replenishes you emotionally" (p.21), as well as having "Clear Boundaries Regarding Giftedness", reflects his focus on the personal life of the pastor.  Chapter two deals with what to look for in staff and volunteers.

Chapter three is a good example of what is right and wrong with this book. White warns of the lure of the new and that "churches are successful because they know why they do  certain things" (p.34). The big problem is any lack of what specifically "successful" means. I appreciate the value of advancing ministry but the advice that "this means you are the originator, the creator, the one who is fashioning new solutions and opening new vistas"(p.36) is dangerous. We are not the originator, for God established the expectations and procedures from scripture. Although, I suspect White would argue that this is implied, the relentless drive of pragmatism is the very danger he is warning against. Tying finances with overall kingdom objectives in chapter four, brings this back on track.

Chapter five: "It's the Weekend, Stupid" is one of the few aptly titled chapters. The contents on what people are looking for Sunday: (friendliness, children's ministry, music, and building) is pretty basic. Moving right to "Sexual Fences" in chapter six, this is a good example of my continual wonderment of transition. A good editor would have mentioned to White to group or transition the topics in a more logical manner. Instead of another anecdote of sexual failure a simple verse of 1Co 10:12  "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" was screaming out to be added, like at many, many other times in the book.

Chapter seven on envy takes one of the few opportunities to actually define, but not cite, an appropriate standard: "Crowns in heaven will not be based on numerical attendance, growth, acres or even decisions to follow Christ. For pastors and churches, it will be based on faithfulness to the vision of the church as cast by the New Testament" (65). Having zero tolerance for the quarrelsome (chapter eight), is one of the few "hard lined" approaches that White takes. Personal experiences of loss and devastation from the quarrelsome were especially informative. The need to involve young adults of chapter nine is straightforward enough, yet once again, chapter ten on "Hills to Die On", lists some helpful church practices (it is not on the essentials of the faith by any means) but by in large lacks scriptural reference which would show why they should be hills to die on. Chapter eleven on Vision would have tied in better with the practices of chapter ten. Likewise, dealing with the disgruntled who leave their church and arrive at yours (and talking to their old pastor) would have tied in better with dealing with the quarrelsome of chapter eight. Once again, chapter thirteen on the pastor's personal spiritual life, should have been tied to emotional survival of chapter one and sexual fences of chapter six.

Chapter fourteen on Church growth was probably the most refreshing of the book. White seemed to turn his approach around. On why the church must be different than the world: "People already have these things. They do not need to go to church to find them" (p. 107). His treatment of Acts 2:42 on the Lord adding to the church, yet us not being passive, struck the right balance. The rest of the chapter and self-test could be an excellent book in itself.

I appreciated the time considerations of chapter fifteen, yet the chapter lacked a Christ like sensitivity that Jesus would have shown in searching for the wandering sheep. The Bystander effect of inaction is true enough in chapter sixteen, yet curiously, White does not deal with the solution.

Committee structure and responsibility of chapter seventeen is linked well to the story of Numbers 13 (not directly referenced) with the spies sent into Canaan. It is a good link to the dangers of majority rule. Yet, the issue of confrontation with chapter eighteen would have a better link to the quarrelsome of chapter eight.

Chapter nineteen has an excellent quote on personal responsibility and expectations: "it's not about whether you got anything out of the service but about whether you gave God anything of service" (p. 138). We then deal with preaching (Chapter twenty) then with the personal issues of having a confidant (twenty-one) and our children as fellow ministers (twenty-two).

"What a leader does" (chapter twenty-three) is the single best chapter I've read on leadership. Twenty-four is an intriguing look at Phil. 2:25 linking our interpersonal, purpose and functional roles, and closes with the tyranny of the urgent with time considerations in twenty-five.

All in all, pastoral ministry is very much like the triathlon that White closes with in the afterword. His subject matter was broad, yet not deep, practical, not theological. His treatment on leadership (chapter twenty-three) is worth the price of the book itself. The reader who wished to be mentored by Dr. White, will indeed make "the most of the time" (Ps. 90:10).

Product Details

·  Paperback: 192 pages

·  Publisher: Baker Books (August 1, 2011)

·  Language: English

·  ISBN-10: 0801013887

·  ISBN-13: 978-0801013881

·  Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches

·  Shipping Weight: 8 ounces

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

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