Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry by John Piper. B&H Publishing Group, 2002. 286 pages.
Brothers We Are Not Professionals by John Piper is a very encouraging book. It is written to pastors as a call to for Jesus Christ to be the center of every aspect of a pastor’s “life and ministry and culture”. (xi) Piper biblically challenges pastors with his ministerial convictions after 22 years of experience (at the time of publication) as a pastor. The book is a call to go against the cultural norms of people pleasing for Jesus following. There is certainly irony and sadness in the subtitle, “A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry”. Ironic in that all Dr. Piper is calling pastors to do is follow God’s inerrant, infallible word, the Bible, which should be a given for pastors. Sad in that this timely book even had to be written.
Unfortunately, the call to conform to Christ no matter what the cost does seem radical today. However, pastors are called by God to serve His purposes and people. Pastors are not called to a professional position where they strive to climb the corporate ladder as high as they can. Piper takes the reader through 30 chapters of pastoral exhortation and instruction. He calls on pastors to live and teach their flock the full council of God in every area of life and ministry.
This book will challenge the biblically convicted to act on those convictions while the reader who seeks professionalism in ministry will be convicted to do otherwise. Piper uses biblically challenging and convicting language to persuade pastors to abandon pastoral professionalism. For example, when contrasting the two positions he states,
“There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (2 Cor. 2:15-16).” (3)
Bold statements like this with biblical references are found throughout the book. They cut to the heart to what it is to be a pastor called of God to serve Him by serving His people.
It is not hard to understand how a pastor might be drawn to professionalism in ministry. It’s all around us. It is the goal most every boy is taught from grade school through high school and college. Success is often seen as the promotion of self and the accumulation of things. The greater the expense and quantity of accumulated things along with increased notoriety the more successful one is thought to be. This might easily translate into a pastor’s life in desiring bigger congregations, lavish buildings and self-serving publicity. It’s easy to understand how a pastor might fall into this trap.
One of the first challenges Piper offers to avoid such traps is concerning God loving His own glory. Piper states, “…God loves His own glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us.” (7) If the reader is unfamiliar with John Piper a statement like this might be hard to digest at first. This approach to understanding God also becomes clearer as Piper imports atleast two popular principles he is known for in his ministry. Those principles are the Debtor’s Ethic in chapter 5 and Christian Hedonism in chapter 7. This is another reason to read this book to see how these two items practically relate to the topic at hand.
It might surprise some readers that in chapter 6 Piper tells pastors that it might be time to tell people “not to serve God.” (39) This deals with properly serving God under His own conditions. We serve God in the grace He provides to His glory. This approach is not hard to understand, but Piper puts it in such a way that it almost has some shock value. A biblical shock value that is very much needed today. For a pastor to tell his congregation to not serve God in this way is very encouraging. Some church members may not quite understand which is why the target audience of the book should include church members as well as clergy.
Church members should be encouraged as Piper even challenges pastors in telling the story of a very studious lay person.
“IN 1982, Baker Book House reissued a 1969 book of daily Scripture readings in Hebrew and Greek called, Light on the Path. The readings were short, and vocabulary helps were given with the Hebrew verses. The aim of the editor, who died in 1980, was to help pastors preserve and improve their ability to interpret the Bible from the original languages. His name was Heinrich Bitzer. He was a banker.” (81)
This memorable reference to Bitzer opens chapter 12. I can imagine the conviction and encouragement this should move pastors’ to in their study of biblical texts in the original languages. Bitzer’s story shows how a lay person can actually be a tremendous help to pastors as they struggle to keep up with their ministerial duties and studies. The flip side of this is that sometimes church members can put undue stress on their pastors which does not allow them to so easily do the work of ministry. Thinking through this chapter should help both clergy and church member understand more of how to biblically work together in the local church.
It is so important that church members understand the “what” and “why” of their pastor’s struggles and temptations. Reading this book should greatly help church members understand the pastoral role. Members would better realize not only why, but how different decisions are made within the church by the pastor(s). Members would greatly benefit and be encouraged in their submission to biblical authority. The pastor needs the church as much as the church needs the pastor to function as a body. My recommendation is that not only every pastor, but every member of a local church read this book also.
Overall, this book shows the hard work of ministry that a pastor must endure. There is not just one force the pastor must deal with in fighting professionalism. A pastor faces many temptations from himself as well as from others. Piper offers the cure for such temptations in this book offering biblical Christ-centered approach. This book gives a good practical overview of what a pastors deals with from theological positions and practice to pastoral counsel and social issues. There are 30 chapters in the book which might fit nicely into 30 days of devotion.