Christopher Ash has not written another book for pastors on self-care. Nor has he written a book on training church leaders how to relate to their pastor. The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read: (but is too embarrassed to ask) is a small primer for the average person in the congregation. Based on Hebrews 13:17, this book is about how you can care for your pastor.
Think about your pastor. What are his strengths? In what ways does he struggle? Ash asks, “What might be going on in their mind and heart this Monday morning? For God has entrusted them with this work in the concrete reality of all their history, their personality, their interests and their circumstances—in all the strange mix that is their full humanity.”
When you think about your pastor, do you focus on how he doesn’t measure up to your ideal of what a pastor should be? Or do you think about who he really is, with all of his brokenness and his struggles? Ash says we need to have this realistic view because “That’s the pastor you need to care for.” He says, “Our pastors are people. Well, you say, of course they are; I knew that. Yes, but it is easy to forget. It is natural to think about our pastors in terms of what they do—how they lead and pray and preach and teach and so on; but what about who they are?”
Do you care for your pastor?
Christopher Ash wrote this book to train the people who make up our churches how they can motivate, encourage, and care for their pastor. The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read is structured around seven virtues for each church member to adopt:
- Daily repentance and eager faith
- Committed belonging
- Open honesty
- Thoughtful watchfulness
- Loving kindness
- High expectations
- Zealous submission
These virtues, when lived out, will strengthen, encourage, and motivate a pastor to care for his church. “We all need to look after our pastors and—paradoxically—it is in our own best interests to do so. If you and I do not care for our pastors, then they will not be able to care for us.”
Virtues that encourage your pastor
Ash unpacks each of the seven virtues in surprising ways. For example, have you ever thought about how your attitude in listening to a sermon has the power to encourage or discourage your pastor?
“Nothing so drains a pastor of vital energy as having to preach to, having to go on praying for, having to try to lead and care for men and women who are impervious to the good news of God’s grace. Hardness of heart is the great pastor-killer.”
“Few things so encourage a pastor as eager listeners and learners. ‘I am so looking forward to Sunday’s sermon!’ I remember a church member saying this to me, and the effect on my prayer and preparation was electric: ‘If they are so eager to hear, the least I can do is get out of bed in the morning and labour hard at the word, so there is something worth hearing!’”
What make the difference in these two attitudes? Preparation.
“How can you prepare yourself for Sunday’s sermon? It is a good discipline to pray for your pastor each week. Read for yourself the passage they will be preaching. Pray for their heart, that God may weave the Bible passage not only into their mind but into their heart, their conscience and their feelings. Pray for your own heart, that as you hear the passage preached, God will weave that same passage into your own mind, heart, conscience and feelings.”
If we have this approach, God will use even a bad sermon to transform our hearts. Convicting sermons will not offend but we will respond with gratitude. Instead of criticism or offense, we will respond in a way that encourages – “Rather, a faithful pastor longs to hear, ‘Thank you. I didn’t find that easy to hear. I don’t really want to listen to this. But I know that I need to. And I know it will move me to a healthy change of life. So thank you for having the courage to say it.’”
Strengths and Weaknesses
This book has two great strengths – it is unique and it is brief. I know of no other books teaching a church member how to care for their pastor. There are a few on how to pray for your pastor, but we need more that have a comprehensive approach to caring for a pastor holistically. This book fires the opening shot for the church in the battle against pastoral discouragement.
Ash has also recognized that if the average church member is going to read a book like this, it must be brief. There is no use in writing an exhaustive treatise on caring for pastors if no one is likely to read it. This book is a short and clear introduction to the topic. Church members would do well to read it, understanding this is just the beginning of learning to care for their pastor.
As in many things, our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. The brevity of the book prevents the author from explaining how his instructions can be taken in the wrong direction. For example, in his chapter on high expectations, Ash doesn’t warn that these cannot be personal expectations to be imposed on the pastor by each individual in the church. That will drive a pastor crazy! Instead, they need to be mutually agreed-upon and biblically-based expectations. There are several areas in the book where I wish Ash had issued a warning to the church about how each virtue can become a vice when applied wrongly.
Who should read this book?
As I was reading this book, I recommended it to my church board as a useful tool for a small group study. One of the board members asked, “Should we buy a copy for every member in the church?” I said, “That would be great!”
I heartily wish that every church member in every church would read this book. It would be a useful part of a new members’ class or as one element in a larger discipleship program. I believe the church would be best served if an average church member would make it their mission to teach this book to the whole church. A true grass-roots movement of encouraging our pastors would transform most churches!
What if we really believed the teachings of Hebrews 13:17?
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”