Book Review: Lies Pastors Believe, by Dayton Hartman
Dayton Hartman, Lies Pastors Believe:Seven Ways to Elevate Yourself, Subvert the Gospel, and Undermine the Church. Lexham Press, 2017. $12.99.
I’ve not been a pastor long, but I’ve learned already that the struggles within at least equal the struggles without. My heart daily runs through a whole host of difficulties, temptations, sins, and doubts. At the root of these struggles is often an inability to know, believe, and act according to the gospel’s answer to the question: “Who am I?”
This is the common experience of many pastors. When we fail to ground our identity in gospel truth, we craft an identity for ourselves and ground it in the unstable sands of our accomplishments. These false identities reveal our own self-deception, a danger that Dayton Hartman writes to warn pastors against in his new book, Lies Pastors Believe.
Each chapter outlines our different identities, the lies we tell ourselves to undergird those identities, and the way back to gospel truth. If you’ve been in pastoral ministry for any length of time, you’ll likely find yourself described somewhere in these pages. Are you the “Visionary”? The “Iron Chef”? The “Anti-Family Man”? It will be worth your while to look and find out.
This book is for both pastors who don’t think self-deception is a concern and pastors who know they can be self-deceived. If you don’t know which category you fall into, read the book to find out. Hartman helpfully combines honesty and humility as he prompts us to truthfully ask and answer the question: “Who Am I?”
HONESTY IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE
Hartman’s focus is to lovingly reveal places where pastors have wrongly adopted a false pastoral identity. He writes, “One of the greatest temptations for those in ministry is to tie our identity to what we accomplish rather than what Christ has accomplished” (3). Sound at all familiar? Yeah, me too.
Hartman offers the reader a pact: he’ll be honest with you, even when it hurts, if you promise to be honest about yourself. If you’re really willing to be under Scripture’s scrutiny, then you’ll find Hartman to be a careful surgeon, putting the knife to pride, selfish ambition, misplaced desires, and ungodly motivations. But like any good doctor, Hartman presents the cure provided to us through Christ’s grace.
CHOOSE HUMILITY, NOT HYPOCRISY
To benefit from this book, you’ll have to follow the author’s lead and let the hammer of conviction fall where it may. You shouldn’t be able to close the book while still believing the pastorate is a safe place to hide hypocrisy. We need to be reminded that even though we’re busy on Sunday morning “truth-telling,” we still need to make sure we’ve got “truth-indwelling” Sunday through Saturday.
Even if you’re not in the heat of the battle against self-deception right now (praise God!), I encourage you to read this book to prepare for the days ahead. The arrows of Satan’s deception hit pulpits all around us, and we’d be foolish to think the next ones aren’t aimed at us.
It’s easy to match every chapter’s caution with a known public example of a pastor whose ministry went up in flames when their self-deception finally caught up with them. But don’t be afraid to be called out by this book in order that through correction, you might save yourself, your church, and your ministry.
HOW TO USE
So, fellow pastors, read this book—for your reflection, correction, and instruction. Then give it to others. With reflection questions at the end of each chapter, this book easily translates into study with others.
If you have interns at your church, or seminary students, or pastors-to-be, assign this and talk about it with them. Use these pages to help them prepare for ministry.
Read it with your staff team and elders for your accountability and theirs. Tell them the lies you’re tempted to believe, and ask for prayer. Don’t rob yourself of the spiritual benefits that will accrue when you invite the help of your brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Use this as a springboard to build a culture of godly criticism and godly encouragement.
One more note: the two appendixes—Appendix 1: Elder Qualifications & Appendix 2: Recommended Reading—are excellent. If you get the book for these resources alone, you’ll be helped).
Humility and honesty should typify our ministries and our churches. You’ll find both in Lies Pastors Believe.