The Regional Pastor’s Bookshelf: On a Journey

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A review written by Norm Thomasma, part of a new newsletter for Regional Pastors.

Two books that make my recommended list for regional pastors follow the theme of being on a journey. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Transformation by Robert Mulholland, and The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation, by Herrington, Creech and Taylor are good reads for those wanting to walk with pastors along the unique ways of parish ministry.

“Journey” is the word of the season. Journey captures our thematic movement from a focus on organization and institution to that of pilgrimage and the capacity to adapt to a changing world. Our Journey 20/20 has become a signature theme for the CRCNA. This is the world in which pastors are leading churches many of which were founded during a time when the local church was both the goal and means for the transformation of individuals and communities.

In 1980, the year I moved from academia to parish, the landscape differed significantly from what it looks like today. It was the season of “church growth,” the wisdom of homogeneous congregations leveraging numerical growth and the requisite resumes of pastors pointed toward leadership traits and tactical skills for growing significant churches. Many of us flew to southern California to learn the lessons of church growth from Dr. Schuller; leader to Willow Creek and Saddleback.

Lest this be seen as a critical caricature of these activities, I would attest to their value. I still remember some of the poignant stories and illustrations I heard at the Crystal Cathedral. I was blessed to be there. But, with the changing landscape has come changing expectations for pastors and other leaders. Broadly stated the shift has been from church growth to church health to wondering if organizing as church is even helpful. For pastors, again broadly stated, the move has been from leadership traits to authenticity, character, qualities of the heart, and the journey of growth and transformation. Perhaps Ruth Haley Barton’s words approximate this shift, “The best thing a leader can bring to the community they lead is a transforming self.”

This dynamic led to creating the Pastor’s Spiritual Vitality Toolkit, a guide for pastors that arose out of a pilot project with 16 CRC pastors over 18 months. That initiative is emblematic of the current emphasis in pastoral leadership, an emphasis that resonates with the wisdom of Christian practitioners down through the centuries. Pastors, like all believers, are challenged to not be conformed ... but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

You who are Regional Pastors hail from various decades and have “cut your teeth” during various seasons of congregational ministry. Recognizing this reality, I recommend these two books that may provide fresh language for Regional Pastors as you connect with colleagues in this season of the church’s life.

Invitation to a Journey, a Road Map for Spiritual Transformation (IVP 1993) is a foundational work. Here Robert Mulholland provides a basic summary and primer on beginning or re-engaging the journey of personal spiritual transformation. A classic theme of Mulholland is that we are called “not so much to be in the world for God, but to be in God for the world.” He provides a clear and compelling description of the life lived first of all in response in God, and secondly, in response to the ministries entrusted to our care. His emphasis on the classical spiritual disciplines and his appreciation for the unique way in which each of us has been created is helpful. He expands on the unique way each of us develops spiritual rhythms by introducing the Myers-Briggs typology, a typology that respects the truth of how each of us needs to customize the classic spiritual disciplines into the fabric of our own personalities and ministries.

The Leader’s Journey, Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation (Jossey-Bass 2003) focuses more on the leader and particularly the dynamics involving the leader and the organization being led, such as a congregation. Here, Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor also demonstrate respect for the long-tenured wisdom of the church relative to developing spiritual practices that lead toward personal transformation. And, like Mulholland, they emphasize the priority of personal transformation should a pastor seek to be a transforming agent for the congregation. Being on the journey of personal transformation is core to leading the congregation on its own journey of renewal.

The critical and new perspective offered in The Leader’s Journey derives from the authors’ familiarity with family systems theory. This is a critical lens for pastors today. One observation that many of us can make is that too frequently Christian leaders seek to work out their “family of origin” issues in the church they are now serving. This is consistently unhelpful and, oftentimes, destructive. The Leader’s Journey challenges each of us to work out our Family of Origin issues with our families of origin yielding more capacity for us to be differentiated leaders in the local congregation.

I recommend both these books to pastors, and particularly to Regional Pastors. They can provide a lens and language that could generate vital conversations in one-to-one or group conversations with pastors. Such conversations resonate with both books which place a high premium on the role of others to help us deepen and clarify life along the way. Pastors need communities of honesty and love. Regional pastors can be members of such a community.

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Great books on spiritual growth.  Thanks for posting these reviews.  Makes me want to read them again.