Second Reformed Church

Friday, February 07, 2014

Review: "You Lift Me Up"

I highly recommend Albert N. Martin’s, You Lift Me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges, to every pastor – it would probably be good for every seminary student to read it as well.

The first two-thirds of the book – on ministerial backsliding and ministerial burnout – were originally delivered as a series of lectures.  The final third – on what he calls “credibility washout” – is an addition to this material (9-10).

Martin discerns four causes of ministerial backsliding, which he explains includes a decline in prayer, a decline in obedience, and a loss of progress in sanctification (11-12).

First,“if you would avoid ministerial backsliding, beware of allowing the demands of your official ministerial duties to erode the disciplines of the devotional nurture of your own soul” (19, italics his).

Martin argues that it is of primary importance that the pastor be about the health of his own salvation – in Bible reading, reading good books, fasting, and praying (19-28).

Second, “if you would avoid ministerial backsliding, beware of thinking that the performance of specific ministerial duties justifies or excuses the non-performance of generic Christian duties, especially with regards to one’s family” (29, italics his).

Martin argues that a pastor is also a Christian – he is not merely a functionary of the pulpit, he is a real human being saved by Christ Alone who must live as Christ has called all Christians to live (29-36).

Third, if you want to avoid ministerial backsliding, “beware of trading off a good conscience before God for proven giftedness and apparent usefulness in the service of God” (37, italics his).

Here, Martin warns pastors not to be so enamored with their gifts as to think that God will wink at their sin for the sake of their proficiency in the ministry.  Pastors must avoid temptation and repent of sin even more quickly than parishioners, because they will be judged more harshly (37-44).

Fourth, if you want to avoid ministerial backsliding, “beware of allowing the position and duties of the ministry to isolate you from the nurture of the body of Christ within which you serve as a special gift of Christ” (45, italics his).

Pastors, as all others Christians, are nourished and encouraged through the Body of Christ.  Pastors must be accountable, not just to Christ, but to the congregation in which they serve (45-54).

Martin discerns three causes of ministerial burnout, which he explains includes an erosion of “resiliency and buoyancy,” chronic slowness, a lack of creativeness, a loss of concern, and an avoidance of work (13-14).

First, he warns pastors to “beware of allowing the use of your time and the proportions of your pastoral labors to be dictated by the perceived needs of your people” (58, italics his).

On the one hand, the pastor needs to remember the biblical call to which he is accountable – to pray, study, preach, and teach.  All other activities, no matter how worthwhile, must be secondary to accomplishing those tasks.  There are others in the congregation who can and ought head up other things for the good of the people – the pastor is replaceable (58-73).

Second, he warns pastors to “beware of confining your studies to the reading and thinking necessarily and patently precipitated by and connected with your regular sermon preparation” (75, italics his).

Although studious preparation of the sermon is a good and necessary thing, if the pastor only reads those works which contribute to his preaching, a mental dullness will form.  In addition to good preparation and study for the sermon, Martin urges pastors to read general works during the week, read a variety of types of writing, if possible, spend time (he suggests two weeks a year) alone studying a work intensively, and take a mental Sabbath once a week, as one ought take a Sabbath generally, to refresh the mind (75-86).

Third, he warns pastors to “beware of allowing your official position and functions in the ministry to become a wall behind which to hide your real humanity, or a cocoon within which to imprison your humanity” (87, italics his).

Martin encourages pastors to be human – to share their struggles and triumphs with the congregation so they may stand by him and rejoice with him and that they would see the Gospel contained in the clay jar that he is (87-100).

Martin then looks at “credibility washout” in which he warns pastors to “beware of seeking to serve God in the office and functions of the ministry as though you were a disembodied spirit, rather than a creature of flesh and blood” (104, italics his).

Pastors are called to care for our physical bodies both in obedience to Christ and as an example to our flocks.  If we do not care for our bodies and let our people see that we care for our bodies, they will think they have no obligation to care for their bodies (104-135).

Finally, Martin concludes, with an encouragement to take these things seriously and to be about correcting and preventing backsliding, burnout, and washout.

Matin uses Scripture diligently and looks to good books to give examples of these things.  This books is well worth reading and referring back to for guidance, encouragement, and correction.

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