I recently finished reading Fit For The Pulpit: The Preacher & His Challenges, a book written for preachers, by several preachers, and edited by Chris McCurley.
As the title would indicate, this little volume (138 pages of actual text) focuses on different challenges faced by preachers, and offers guidance and advice on how to deal with each. The topics of time management, relationships, discouragement, stress, criticism, family, finances, sin, attitude, laziness, and the “core” of the preacher are covered.
Technically, I am not a “preacher,” but I am a minister who preaches on occasion, and virtually all of this material applied to me in some way. I have read a lot of books on ministry of one sort or another, and while I wouldn’t consider this to be a great book (more on that below), it is still a good book, and fits in well alongside other books on ministry.
I’ll share three gentle criticisms of this book that I had, and then share some good quotations.
First, the book is an anthology, with ten different ministers writing the eleven chapters. I’m sure the idea was to get the voices and perspectives of several different experienced preachers on the various topics which were covered, but honestly, the cumulative effect for me was that the writing was somewhat choppy and disjointed. Some chapters are better than others in large part because some writers were better than others. Also, one particular biblical story regarding Elijah was used as an illustration in three different chapters, which seemed pretty repetitive. I don’t think this would happen with one author.
Secondly, there is a very practical chapter on the preacher and his family which provides some valuable suggestions and insights on how a preacher can care for and be the spiritual leader of his family. This was definitely a needed chapter: there are a lot of good, well-meaning men who have devoted their lives to ministry but who forgot to devote much of anything to their families and as a result, have a variety of tragic issues to deal with (divorce, faithless children, addiction, etc.). What I disliked about this chapter was that I thought it too easily glossed over the inherent tension between our devotion to Jesus and our devotion to our families. Jesus said some tough things about the importance of our families relative to Him, and part of the true difficulty of being a minister is identifying those things which are “just” work and should therefore be a lower priority than our families, and those things which are directly tied to our answer to the call of Christ and therefore are of the utmost importance. Certainly not everything in ministry should come before our families, but I think the clear biblical teaching is that some things should. Unfortunately, this chapter didn’t address this crucial topic.
Finally, on a book about preaching, I wish there would have been a chapter devoted directly to the practice of Bible study and putting a sermon together. Look, preachers do a lot of things and wear a lot of hats in their jobs, but none of them compares to the public proclamation of God’s word. Unfortunately, we have gotten to the point where too often, the preacher is so busy with other things that he has to squeeze in his sermon preparation into a couple hours at the end of the week, which is just not enough. Even worse, the ready availability of hundreds or thousands of free sermons online has made it easy for some preachers to frequently skip Bible study altogether. This is a real problem, and though the importance of preaching and Bible study was mentioned multiple times throughout the book, a good chapter explicitly focused on the centrality of preaching and the task of sermon preparation would have been a good feature.
Here are some of the good quotations from the book [with my comments added in brackets]:
“The local preacher’s primary responsibility is to preaching; therefore, he must give the proper amount of time and attention to study of God’d Word.” (p.13) [As you can surmise by my statements above, I am in full agreement with this quotation. I just wish it would have been fleshed out more in a full chapter devoted to sermon preparation.]
“Time management must include the ability to say “No!” to some things…Many things are important, but not everything is a priority or a must.” (p.20) [This is a ministry lesson I am still learning!]
“…In establishing a long stay with a church, the preacher should also choose his battles carefully. Every issue that arises in ministry is not worth “going to the mat” for.” (p.51)
“[Preachers] live with the realization that everyone who accomplishes anything worthwhile will face criticism.” (p.60)
“We are rich in our country, and we were not blessed to increase our comfort, but to bless others.” (p.85)
“Watching for Satan starts with knowing our personal weaknesses.” (p.97)
“We can seek to restore New Testament Christianity in our worship, our leadership structures, or in any other category. But if we don’t have love, we have no legitimate claim to be the “of Christ” designation on our church signs.” (p.107) [It would probably benefit me, and you too, to read this statement every day of our lives.]
Despite the criticisms I mentioned above, Fit For The Pulpit is a good book with helpful, practical advice. I would recommend it to other ministers, but also to church members, who would do well to get a better idea of “what the preacher does all week” and the challenges he faces.