Book Review: The Imperfect Pastor (Zack Eswine)

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The landscape of books on pastoral ministry is so broad that it’s tough to discern what you’re going to get when picking up another book on the subject. You can almost categorize most of these books into simple summary statements:
“Care about your leadership more than your people.”
“You need the right charisma and strategy to win people.”
“God put you in this position because he wants you to succeed.”

But what about when people write books that say “the key to pastoral ministry is realizing you can’t.”? Do pastors have a category, much less a bent towards these books? Probably not.

But we need these books. So badly. The Imperfect Pastor is a message every single current pastor and future pastor needs to hear. Megachurch visionaries and community church shepherds alike will benefit greatly from what Eswine has written here. A gentle but firm reminder that we are, indeed, imperfect, but have been employed by and serve a perfect Jesus.

There are two phrases near the beginning of this book that struck me and have stayed with me since finishing. Both are ideas not often found in books like these:

Almost anything in life that truly matters will require you to do small, mostly insignificant tasks over a long period of time…the pastoral vocation, because it focuses on helping people what truly matters, is therefore no exception.

Out desire for greatness in ministry isn’t the problem. Our problem rises from how the haste of doing large things, famously and as fas as we can, is reshaping our definition of what a great thing is…Desire greatness, dear pastor! But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. As I dive into a life of ministry, where’s my heart? What are my motivations for preparing sermons or discipleship meetings or contributing ideas for church events? Am I desiring greatness in these things because I love seeing Jesus’s mission fulfilled, or my own? Am I basing what’s “successful” off of rigid, lifeless statistics and retweets, or off of watching how Jesus has cleaned up my messes? Mostly, am I okay with a life of ministry that’s unflashy, mundane, and mere foundation building, setting up the revival to happen in fifty years, when I’ll then be all but forgotten?

The thing I appreciate most about The Imperfect Pastor is that Eswine has unclipped the rope barrier and ushered us into seeing his ministry, his life, his feelings, his thoughts in a sort of “I’m with you, brother” fashion. The entire book reads like he’s shepherding us along the way through these oftentimes convicting and difficult truths to admit, never failing to make sure our soul is cared for as he repeatedly points back to the Founder and Perfecter.

In The Imperfect Pastor we find a wealth of wisdom in facing the four main subheadings the book is divided in — The callings we pursue, the temptations we face, reshaping our inner life, and reshaping the work we do. There’s no “8 Steps to Becoming a Better Communicator” jargon here. It’s time and time again, “the boundaries of your calling reveal God’s pastoral care for you.” This is a book for any and every pastor. Young, old, experienced, novice, extrovert, introvert, they all need these words. The last thing we need is a puffed chest, another to-do list, or a hopeless discouragement. Eswine has written the manifesto our brotherhood needs: “What I’m trying to say is that life and ministry are an apprenticeship in Jesus in which, by his grace, he recovers our humanity, and for his glory he enables others to do the same.”

One of the best, most encouraging, and helpful books I’ve read this year. I hope to return to it as I grow in ministry and need these words over and over again.

Stars: 5.0/5.0

Note: I received a review copy of this book from Crossway in partnership with NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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