Book Review: 7 Challenges Pastors Face, by David Horner
David Horner, 7 Challenges Pastors Face: Overcome Common Struggles and Thrive in Ministry. Baker Books, 2008. 283 pages.
If you want to be a competent golfer, you need to know the challenges of the course you’re playing—or so I’m told; I’m a terrible golfer. Good golfers know where the hazards are, when the fairway doglegs, which club to use at what time and in which circumstance.
In his book, 7 Challenges Pastors Face: Overcome Common Struggles and Thrive in Ministry, David Horner lays out the difficulties of the course pastors are playing. He writes as a seasoned pastor to rookies and novices. He wants readers to know “how to develop and maintain a balanced spiritual life in the midst of challenging ministry situations” (10). Whether you’ve been a pastor for a day or a decade, you know that there is no shortage of these situations in your future, so you’d do well to prepare for them now—if you haven’t been already.
Horner organizes the book in seven parts—each one a challenge faced by pastors.
- Calling: How do you know if you’re actually called to pastoral ministry?
- Vision: What vision has God given you for your ministry?
- Teams: How do you balance the stress of ministry by building teams?
- Humility: How can you cultivate genuine humility?
- Troubles: What do you do when you’re always pastoring through crisis?
- Change: How do you get people bought into your vision?
- Dryness: What can be done to diagnose and prevent your own spiritual dryness?
In each section, Horner considers different aspects of each challenge and provides clear outlines of where each chapter is headed. This arrangement may help anyone interested in hopping around in the book because the book doesn’t need to be read consecutively—Horner says as much at the outset (10).
WHAT DOES “CALLED” EVEN MEAN?
In part one, Horner discusses the challenges of juggling the pastoral calling. He never, however, takes time to define what he means by the word calling, and we’re left to try and deduce it on our own. He asserts, rightly, that a pastor’s calling is from God (27), but the meaning of that calling remains subjective. For instance, he writes, “Our responsibility in meeting the demands of ministry consists of being and doing all that fulfills God’s purpose for our lives” (28). You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with that statement, but it also doesn’t really tell us anything.
His understanding of calling is also individualistic and seems to assume that pastoral ministry is what we want it to be as long as we’re faithful to Christ (31). But the Scriptural obligations pastors need to heed should be at the forefront of any discussion of calling, not our own personal vision for our ministry.
The Bible has a lot of objective things to say about what a pastor is called to do. We are to lead the church in making disciples (Matt. 28:19), preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2), and exhort and rebuke with all authority (Titus 2:15) to name a few. These things will certainly be carried out differently depending upon context and how God has created the individual pastor, but all pastors have the same job description from the Lord. With such an abundance of objective descriptions of what pastors have been called to, I found it odd that Horner’s description of calling remained so ethereal.
A year ago, my wife and I took the time to prayerfully determine our highest values for our home. Then we typed them up, printed them out, and pinned them up in the kitchen. By seeing this list we are consistently confronted with how we want our home shaped, which ultimately helps us determine where we invest our time, money, and energy.
In part two, Horner challenges pastors to find their vision for ministry—their dream—and create priorities around it. If you don’t, he warns, “Instead of finding your dream, the one given to you by the Lord, you end up nowhere close to where you intended” (61). In this section Horner rightly urges readers to seek out the biblical principles for the church (55)—a point certainly worthy of commendation. Yet I found that this section shares some faults previously mentioned.
For instance, Horner’s vision for ministry stems from Ephesians 4:11–12 and 2 Timothy 3:16. He feels called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and he believes that God’s Word is sufficient to do so (74, 168)—a conviction I hope all pastors share. In fact, I would commend Horner for these biblical commitments; I hope his readers learn from his wisdom on this point.
Yet Horner also suggests that his vision for ministry is distinctly his own. He recalls stories of the founding of several parachurch ministries as examples of people following different visions God had given them and the growth that ensued (75–81). But parachurch ministries are not the local church and leaders are allowed more flexibility in their vision. Again, Horner’s admonition that leaders identify and commit to a thoughtful vision is certainly helpful—there’s wisdom in these pages. We simply need to remember that even under visionary leaders the local church is regulated and normed by Scripture. A vision for the church that is not the biblical vision for the church is not a God-given vision for the church.
WORTH THE READ?
That being said, anyone that has pastored for 30 years (not to mention in the same congregation!) has wisdom to share. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to young pastors—I believe Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp is much better on the subject. However, for a seasoned or mature pastor, who knows what he believes, you’ll undoubtedly find a few helpful tips in these pages to help you navigate the hazards of the course you’re playing.