While taking a few vacation days last week, I read The Jenkins Institute’s Before I Go: Notes From Older Preachers. I like the work that TJI is doing (helping to train and equip preachers), and I like gleaning wisdom from learned people who have come before me, so I was glad to have the opportunity to read it.
The premise of Before I Go is that several experienced preachers write on certain topics and share what they have learned from their many years of working in congregations. Combined, the authors represent over 1,000 combined years of preaching with 100,000 lessons preached. Clearly, these are preachers who have been in the trenches and have some valuable advice to share.
Before I Go is a quick, easy read. One of the good things about preachers is that they know (or should know) how to communicate well, which makes each chapter easy to understand. Furthermore, the book is only 182 pages long, and the type font is pretty large, so it did not take me long to read.
As mentioned above, Before I Go is an anthology with a different author writing each chapter. The problem with having different authors in each chapter is that it gives the book a very uneven feel: some authors write better than others, and significant differences in writing style and organization from one chapter to the next can have a jarring effect on the reader. I find this to be frequently true of anthologies (and is the reason why I am generally not a big fan of them).
Also, I thought the editing could have been better: there were several typographical errors that I found reading through the book.
In a book of practical advice from older preachers, you would expect to find some good quotations, and I certainly did. Some of my favorites are below, along with occasional commentary from me in brackets:
“I try to choose my battles carefully because not everything is worth going to mat for.” (26)
“Place the best interpretation possible on what others say and do; give them the benefit of the doubt. The judging of hearts in in good hands, not yours and mine.” (36)
“You must never be the source of a leak of information which is obviously confidential. This is especially true when elders disagree over a matter. You should never say anything to anyone that indicates that not all the elders thought a matter should have been done.” (52)
“Don’t harm His beautiful bride just to make yourself feel better. Leave so peacefully that perhaps someday they will invite you back for a homecoming or to preach in a gospel meeting. His bride is far more important than the hurt you feel when you are asked to leave.“ (53-54) [This is in the context of a preacher being fired and being careful about how he responds and leaves the congregation.]
“If I want to serve beyond my death, I had better build relationships with people who will outlive me.” (61)
“The preacher’s education should never stop; for if it does so, his message will grow stale.” (95)
Before I Go is a helpful addition to a minister’s library (especially a young preacher), and I recommend it. Learning from those who have gone before us is a key component of education in general, and I think that is especially true for ministers.