Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Patterson. So You’ve Been Called to a Church - A short book review

Patterson, Paige. So You’ve Been Called to a Church. Wake Forest: Magnolia Hill Papers, 1996.

In this captivating essay, Patterson shares words of wisdom with the fictitious new pastor of New Mercy Seat Baptist Church. Since, in this candid heart to heart talk, his purpose is to address a new vocational pastor of a typical Baptist church, I will force myself to abstain from arguing matters of ecclesiology, and will just critique the work, given the audience for whom it is intended. Actually, regardless of the audience, the majority of his counsel is priceless and right on.

The bulk of Patterson’s plea with his readers consists of six existential insights. First, he makes a plea for anybody entering such a position to do so only because of the call of God on their lives. This comment cannot be understated and should more over be expanded to all believers, for as servants of the Most High, we should all seek to follow God’s calling on our lives. Second, he encourages his readers to “rule by love” or “not rule at all.” Patterson revels in pointing out that the KJV uses “rule” as a translation for hegeomai, yet he perceptively describes hegeomai as “moral ascendancy.” Translation issues aside, the point is that anybody whom the Spirit of God has put in a position of leadership can only do so by modeling the attitude of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He must love all, he must walk with God, and he must serve all. Only after years of modeling godliness and love, will anyone truly be considered a leader. Third, Patterson pleas for integrity and incarnational living; this implies honesty and humility. Fourth, he urges his reader to be courageous. He defines this attribute, which he has observed is frequently missing, as bravery, not bravado. It “is the ability to stand for truth and justice,” and is “characterized by restraint.” It is often needed on behalf of others and should be done with the fruits of the Spirit, not “allowing the root of bitterness to spring up in one’s life.” Fifth, due to the responsibility of teachers to indoctrinate their pupils, Patterson makes a plea for expository preaching. Here Patterson probably assumes a little of his audience, for he does not define expository preaching except for an indirect comment from Jeff D. Ray who claims that it is “difficult, laborious, and time-consuming to dig out an adequate interpretation of a passage of Scripture and coordinate the results of that patient digging in an effective, logical outline” (emphasis mine). His insistence on sola scriptura in preaching is appreciated, and so is his definition of fervency, for which he also pleas; by fervency he means “that the message is prepared in arduous study and marinated in prayer until the aroma of God has so permeated it in your own soul that your audience is riveterd to your message.” His sixth and final plea is for a consistent walk with God. This is as much for the preacher’s relationship with the body, as it is for his own personal life.

Patterson uses this topic to transition to a warning to his reader that the venture on which he is about to embark will be a torturous one. Due to human sin and churches’ abandonment of church discipline, troubles will come. This view of the church is a sad reality, but even sadder is the view of the preacher’s solitude in this situation (bar his relationship with God, of course). While Patterson does not advocate solitude, he seems to succumb to its apparent inevitability and is transparent about of his own grief in the matter. He is therefore compelled to give his reader some advice on what do to in those circumstances. First, keep on following one’s calling. Second, do not turn a pulpit into a “bully pulpit.” Third, trust in God.

Overall, most of Patterson’s insights to his fictitious pastor are beneficial to any believer who takes his call to be a minister seriously. This comes as no surprise since pastors and leaders are called to be examples (1 Pet 5, Heb 13). Having said that, vocational ministers who seek to glorify God in this vocation, more than anybody, should take this wisdom to heart.

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