It says you’re not good enough, your work is never adequate or finished. It can destroy self-worth and leave gifted and successful people in despair.
I’ve struggled with perfectionism in much of my creative work and ministry, and have seen the consequences of such an outlook. It steals joy and productivity by focusing on what is always out of reach: perfection.
Perfectionism seems to also be a special temptation for those in ministry, and Zack Eswine’s book The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering joy in our limitations through a daily apprenticeship with Jesus (an updated and shortened version of Sensing Jesus) provides a needed remedy. The book is written as a memoir that interlaces personal anecdotes with Scriptural remedies for maladies encountered by many in the pastorate. These maladies include a desire for a “successful” ministry, the celebrity pastor mentality, the temptation to know-it-all, and more.
The book is divided in four parts, (1) The Calling We Pursue, (2) The Temptations We Face, (3) Reshaping Our Inner Life, and (4) Reshaping the Work We Do. Eswine wants to share his experience of being, “rescued from ministry struggles by the abounding grace of Jesus.”
Eswine writes, “Ministry success so often is defined in worldly terms like skills in preaching, size of church, when you speak in conferences instead of obedience in pastoring and as a husband and father.” Eswine admonishes readers to, “Desire greatness, dear pastor! But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us.”
I am grateful for Eswine’s openness and honesty in discussing his past struggles and challenging circumstances, along with the biblical remedies that turn struggles into a reason to draw near to Christ. The way God convicted me through this book is much like my experience in Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.
Many pastors and ministers will find this book invaluable to anchor their ministry dreams in biblical truth and to remember the need to see and sense Jesus everyday in their ministries. I encourage you to read this book slowly, prayerfully, and with a pen in hand. It may not be easy (unless you like drinking conviction from a fire-hose), but in the end the wrecking ball of conviction will demolish toxic thoughts about ministry and help you rebuild your life and ministry upon the person of Jesus and the truth of Scripture—something we all need.
Here are some quotes to give you a taste of the book:
- Desire is a firework. Handled wisely it fills the night sky with light, color, beauty, and delight. Handle desire poorly, and it can burn your neighborhood down (James 4:1–2).
- I hope you will soon see that I am writing to you as one who feels profoundly rescued from himself by the abounding grace of Jesus. But the stale waters of celebrity, consumerism, and immediate gratification had infiltrated my drinking water. My pastoral desires had become tainted, and I did not realize it. A lot of us don’t. We and our congregations suffer for it.
- I had not yet associated pastoral desire with the love of money (Luke 16:14), networking for position (Matt. 23:6–7), the lust for power (Acts 8:18–21), or the advancement of my own name. I did not know yet that serving God could be used, even by me, as means to try, in line with the Serpent’s old whisper, to become like God (Gen. 3:5).
- One can receive accolades for preaching Jesus, yet at the same time know very little about how to follow Jesus in the living rooms of their ordinary lives.
- To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting our important work for God done.
- Desire greatness, dear pastor! But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us.
- Where Jesus is our portion and desire, we lack no true treasure.
- I believe that Christian life and ministry are an apprenticeship with Jesus toward recovering our humanity and, through his Spirit, helping our neighbors do the same. All of this is for, through, by, with, and in him for the glory of God.
- Pastors are long-distance grace runners. Congregations provide the route their marathons will take.