I received the book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals from Barry Carpenter of Expositors International Ministries over 9 years ago. I placed it on my book shelf and neglected to read it. However, this summer I am taking the Applied Ministry class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and it is one of our required readings. I can not commend this book to pastors or those who aspire to be a pastor enough. Piper brings out a lot of key issues pastors deal with on a day to day basis, all the while reminding pastors to keep God in the center of all that they do. I wish I had read it before now, but I know I have appreciated this book more now than I would have before.
The first significant lesson I gleaned from Dr. Piper’s book was that being a pastor is not glamorous. The secular world has outlined a false reality when it comes to being a vocational minister. The minister’s life is one full of messes and not one of ease, as some would think. No-- being a pastor is hard work. The life of a pastor is one given to prayer and the Word of God. These two things take much time and labor if done correctly. I have struggled with both of these in my ministry for the fact that I do not see them as laborious. Regardless of how much time and energy I have put into praying and studying God’s Word, I have felt like I have not truly "labored or worked." The reason behind this is the false perception I was given while growing up in the church. The pastor was nothing more than a glorified chaplain. In other words, he really did not “work” because work consisted of hard, physical labor. Even though the pastor may not do physical labor, the mental and spiritual work is often just as laborious, if not more so. However, by God’s grace, I am learning each day that prayer and the study of God’s Word is essential and difficult work. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
The second significant lesson learned was for me to stay fervent in God-honoring, Christ exalting, and gospel-centered prayer. A reality for me has been falling into seasons where I honestly fail to pray. It was not that I did not believe prayer to be important, but I failed to pray. I would think about praying; I even knew that I needed to pray, but I did not pray. As a pastor, I believe that this is the very thing in which Satan wants us to fail. If Satan can make the men of God too busy to pray-- not only for his family, church members, community, and the lost-- but also for his preparation of sermons, then Satan has accomplished his mission. The pastor’s sermons will be dead, dry, and dull without the aid of the Holy Spirit. A truth I have learned is that when I begin my day by praying for my family, God’s people, and for opportunities to share the gospel, I find the power and the presence of God to be so much stronger. A pastor who fails to pray is a pastor who thinks he can accomplish what only God can accomplish.
The third lesson I gleaned from Piper’s book was the life-giving doctrine of justification by faith. As Piper so well stated, “The preaching and living justification by faith alone glorifies Christ, rescues hopeless sinners, emboldens imperfect saints, and strengthens fragile churches” (17). The doctrine of justification by faith glorifies the Lord because it strips man’s ability in setting himself free from the bondage of sin. This freedom from sin is due to the fact that God chose to send His Son to provide a way of escape for all those who would believe upon Christ by faith. Living by justification by faith sets not only the believer free, but also the one who preaches this doctrine. I have found that living justification by faith is much more of a reality for me, as I continually embrace this truth on a daily basis. It allows me to live without any condemnation because I am justified in Christ by faith alone. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The fourth lesson gleaned from the book was that I need to watch out for sacred substitutes. Piper stated, “Ministry is its own worse enemy.” There are several interruptions that can prevent the pastor from doing what he has been called to do. One survey surprisingly showed “the three top ministry obstacles were; busyness (83 percent), lack of discipline (73 percent), and interruptions (47 percent)” (59). Thus, Piper combated, “The great threat to our prayer and our meditation on the Word of God is good ministry activity” (60). I can certainly relate to this survey. Often I find myself being busy, yet rarely ever accomplishing work. I have to continually pray and seek wisdom from above in making the right ministry decisions of where I will spend my time. This particular chapter was convicting, yet liberating.
The fifth and final lesson I gleaned to be valuable was “Brothers, Fight For Your Life.” I found the quote by Dr. Martin-Lloyd Jones to be of great value, as he expressed the importance in fighting for your time. As a pastor, I must be growing continually by reading, studying, meditating, and writing as I lead to teach and grow God’s people. This takes time-- precious time. I have found myself wrestling with the idea of not being available for people. I think this largely stems from being prideful thoughts, such as, “My people need me.” It makes me feel wanted. In reality, it is sin of which needs to be repented. However, by God’s grace, I am working at fighting for my life by reading in twenty minutes spurts throughout the day, turning my cell phone on silent, and turning off e-mail and social media in order to accomplish the work which is placed before me each day.