Friday, April 20, 2012

Review of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry by David Rohrer

There is a spot on my stomach—somewhat stretched from too much McDonalds—that is a reminder of my days as an avid baseball player.  I am not certain that it would classify as a scar.  It’s nothing gnarly.  It is not a portrait of a painful injury or anything of the sort.  It is simply a discoloration of the skin that certainly belongs in the scar family but probably as a sissy third cousin. 

That “thing” on my stomach comes from not one play but a lifetime of aggressive baseball.  It probably originally came from diving for ground balls playing shortstop or second base.  It grew more pronounced with each stolen base and head first slide.  It comes from stretching singles into doubles.  And also of doing really silly things like trying to score from second on a potential double-play. 

Honestly, I never really think about that “scar”.  But it is there and in a very real sense it is a part of who I am.  It has become a part of my life though there was nothing cataclysmic that birthed it into existence, nor does it possess a  neon light that causes me to notice it in my every day life.  Some books are like that.  You probably only vaguely remember them but they have somehow become a part of you.  They get under your skin and shape you in ways that you really are not aware of.  (For some reason I feel like Garth from Wayne’s World right now). 

I think David Rohrer’s book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry will be like that scar.  Nothing earth shattering.  Nothing that I will really fully remember.  But something that will latch onto me and become a part of who I am.  

Weird skin analogy over…


At the heart of Rohrer’s book is the belief that pastors are not fundamentally organizational managers but prophets called by God to proclaim His timeless Word of truth.  The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry compares the life and ministry of John the Baptist with the contemporary preacher.  At its core this work is a pastoral theology.  But it is more gritty than abstract and more practical than it is heady. 

In each of the nine chapters Rohrer pits the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist versus an aspect of pastoral ministry that the contemporary preacher can be tempted to drift towards.  They are as follows:

  1. Making Ready a People Versus Being the Parson
  2. God’s Work Versus Our Vision
  3. Proclaiming the Good News Versus Managing the Message
  4. Accepting Our Office Versus Cultivating Loyalty
  5. Inhabiting a Place Versus Propagating a Program
  6. Inviting Awareness Versus Administering Anesthesia
  7. Trusting Truth Versus Fearing Instability
  8. Risking Doubt Versus Denying Dissonance
  9. Receiving God’s Blessing Versus Seeking Approval

He closes the book by reminding the pastor of his role to “carry a light that is not his”.  As such we are not called to save the church but to point a bony finger towards the One who did and still does.

My Take:

I did not expect to fill this book with underlines.  I assumed that it would be occasionally pithy but mostly a call to “take care of yourself” and “find peace with Jesus” or some other trite phrases.  What I found inside the pages was everything but.  I felt as if David Rohrer was a dear pastor friend that knew the war that often waged within my heart.  Throughout the book he does what he encourages his reader to do; namely, shine the spotlight on Jesus. 

This book is gritty and gutsy.  Rohrer does not mince words, nor is he afraid to call out shoddy excuses for pastoral ministry.  Yet, he does it gently and what seems to be as admonishment from the lips a friend.  This is but one sample of the type of penetrating insight that fills the book:

…if the avoidance of controversy and the maintenance of the appearance of stability is our aim, it’s a safe bet that we will not venture very far into the work of being a prophet.  Instead we will find ourselves in spaces of anxiety about abstractions such as the well-being of “the ministry” or “the good of the congregation,” but the real work of connecting people with the earth-shattering good news of God’s invitation to an eternal covenant relationship will have little space in our schedule.  Our calling is to trust the truth of our message rather than to fear the unpleasantness that comes when people initially deal with waking up.  (117)

Again, none of those statements are really all that cataclysmic.  Nothing in there really strikes me as new information.  But there is something about the way that Rohrer writes as a pastor/friend that causes the truth of what he is saying to seep deep into my soul.  I know that as I carry around the scars from aggressive baseball I will carry around this book throughout my ministry.  It is simple yet engaging and profound. 

Should You Buy It?

It may sound a little ridiculous to suggest this to those that are not in pastoral ministry but I would do just that.  Few books I think really would give the non-pastor a glimpse into the heart, soul, and frustrations that come with pastoral ministry.  It can help you to serve that fellow pilgrim in your life that people call “pastor”. 

Certainly, if you are a pastor I would suggest this book.  If you are an avid reader like myself, and have read scores of books on pastoral ministry, there will not be new information.  But that is not why you should read this book.  You should read this book because it will cut to the heart.  You should read this book because it will probably be used by God to expose pastoral idols in your heart and it will point you to the life-giving Jesus. 

You can buy it here: The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry

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