I highly recommend you buy a copy of Jason Hanselman's new book, Not a Rock Star Pastor, if you are considering becoming a pastor or are rapidly burning out in your pastoral role.
This book is particularly useful and compelling for all of us who have been frustrated by the ugly underbelly of professional Christian service: the absolutely horrific way that we train and screen young pastors, launch them with inadequate skills into dysfunctional churches, and then callously look the other way as too many end up quitting the ministry all together.
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Although Hanselman only hints at a solution to this disgrace -- always implementing standard human resource practices, never leaving the top job vacant, and fearlessly broadening the definition of a successful ministry -- he does provide a fresh, original and at times painful to read look at what it is like to endure the less pleasant aspects of professional Christian service as a rural pastor, a bible college president, a mega-church planter.
For full disclosure, I should point out that Hanselman is a former graduate student of mine and that I have been begging him to put his ideas on paper for years. From my perspective, Not a Rock Star Pastor is a beautiful autobiography for a fairly new writer who unflinchingly records telling details, poignant moments with his wife, and heartfelt rage when he recounts a face-to-face confrontation with a former church employer who slandered him in his own community.
Although I had never heard the sad and comic story of him applying for food stamps for his family, I was aware of virtually all the other stories in the book. For the skeptical reader, I can confirm that Hanselman has written a truthful and accurate history of his life. You will have to buy the book, however, to discover how he leverages every tool at his disposal to eventually weave his misfortune, inexperience and just plain bad luck into a transforming personal and spiritual triumph.
Given my respect and affection for him, it pains me to make even the smallest criticisms of this book. Still, I owe him my best work.
If he revises this volume, I wold like to see him put all his stories in exact chronological order. This way the charming story of how he fell in love with his wife will be a terrific foundation for the rest of the book and not a somewhat awkward way to close it. In fact, I noticed that I started losing interest in narrative at about three-quarters of the way through the book when it seemed to me that his stories regarding his job losses seemed to circle back on themselves. At that point, I got confused about which job he was talking about because he was referring to jobs mentioned earlier.
Next, I'd like to see Jason loosen up even more and simply name names and be honest about the people that mislead or harmed him during his rocky pastoral career.
Frankly, I suspect Hanselman is being too cautious since insiders who are familiar with the small world of Christian pastorship will figure out the main character's real names faster than a National Enquirer reporter chasing an Ashley Madison information dump.
I think Hanselman's use of pseudonyms undermines the clarity of the book and robs the reader of some of its most penetrating insight.Given the state of Christian ministry, I do not think we are going to fix things without a large dose of honesty delivered with little or no compassion for the feelings of those who have made a mess of things.
Just as David Bowie carved out a niche separate from the Beatles, I think this book offers the possibility of opening up a new niche for the non-rock star pastors who will never be the Rick Warren of their generation. Consequently, Hanselman lays out the ground work for the non-rock star pastor by highlighting the value added by pastors who are graduating from lesser schools, working in more isolated areas, or locked into smaller communities where a full-service mega church will only appear by way of large speakers and a theatre style HD television screen.
In my view, Not a Rock Star Pastor should be required reading at Bible colleges, seminaries, and pastor conferences all around the world. Anyone looking to enter the ministry, or stay in the ministry, will benefit from reading about Hanselman's painful, but often comic challenges and the tortured path that led to his right-sized redemption.
John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.