Book Review: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, by John Piper
I was fortunate to attend a very healthy seminary. That said, I recall being assigned a book in a pastoral ministry class that discussed the color of socks a pastor should wear. I also endured a lecture that instructed us to dress from the “upper third of your wardrobe.” While I’m confident my professor was a godly man and a wonderful pastor, this comment seems to owe a little too much to the professionalism that has taken root among American pastors. And a focus on appearance is just one facet of the professionalism which John Piper takes aim at in his recent, updated and expanded edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.
This updated edition has a new introduction along with six additional chapters. The reason Piper gives for these additional chapters is that “they [have] pressed themselves on me. One for personal reasons like health (chap. 27 [Bodily Training]). One for family reasons relating to my own sanctification (chap. 22 [Act the Miracle]). Two for theological reasons where I felt I needed greater clarity or correction (chaps. 4 & 6 [God does make much of us & God is the Gospel]). And two in pursuit of being a better preacher (chaps. 13 & 18 [Bible oriented & Tone of Text])” (xi).
This re-release comes at the close of Piper’s 33 years as pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As Piper looks back on the ten years since the release of the first edition he not only remains convinced of the need for this book, but believes that the “pressure to ‘professionalize’ the pastorate has morphed and strengthened” (ix). As such, the book, and in particular this new edition, would encourage and instruct many Christians, but its aim is pastors.
After completing the book, I agree with Piper about the need for this edition. Consider this sequence: “You are precious to God, and the greatest gift He has for you is not to let your preciousness become your god. God will be your God. God alone forever. And this is infinite love. This is how much He makes of you.” (24)
These types of appeals are like a can of Red Bull energy drink amidst evangelicalism’s sleepy afternoon. Just as Piper instructs his pastor readers about the tone they should adopt in their preaching (ch. 18), so he adopts his own tone of a pastor speaking a straight word with a hard gaze. Indeed, the simple repetition of the word “Brothers” at key points gives the reader a sense of a closed door, heart to heart address from a senior leader.
The additional chapters and new introduction are welcome additions that improve the book. For pastors who struggle to help their people feel valued by God without compromising the truth that God himself is the goal of the gospel, this new edition will be helpful. Backing up a step, if you’ve never considered the idea that God is the goal of the gospel—the thesis of Piper’s book God is the Gospel—there’s a new chapter which summarizes that crucial point. Piper also practically describes how we can eat, exercise, and rest in ways that will not only glorify God, but increase productivity.
While these new chapters are a welcome and helpful addition, the reader will be able to tell these chapters were added at a later date. The thread of the book runs smoothly at times, but more jagged at others.
No book can say everything there is to say about pastoral ministry, but there are a couple topics the book doesn’t address that I would have loved to hear Piper treat. For instance, a chapter entitled “Brothers, Go to Lunch” would help pastors develop a disciple-making mindset that extends beyond the pulpit. Also, a chapter entitled “Brothers, Love your Children” would follow well behind the chapter on loving our wives. We all know too many pastors’ children who wind up loathing the pastorate due to its demands upon the man.
This book is everything we have come to expect from John Piper. In particular, this book will provide a laser-sharp vision for a young pastor just getting his feet wet in the ministry. It would also be a helpful jolt to the pastor who has slumped into sterility. In either case, this new edition will serve as a profitable exhortation to awaken men to be “stunned by the God centeredness of God.” (6) This exhortation is one that we always need ringing in our ears as we lean into the task of bringing God to his people.