Jared C. Wilson. The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 192 pp. $15.99.
The pastor’s calling is the perfect union of highs and lows, joy and pain. No pastor need be told this, and after only a short time serving in this calling will he learn the reality of what few understand. Add to this calling the unending variety of temptations for worldly success, comfort, and popularity, and the pastor can quickly transform into either an arrogant, “self-important blowhard,” or “a milquetoast whiny-pants” (26-27). In reality, the dangers the pastor faces come not from the outside, but from within.
Jared Wilson accurately yet winsomely depicts true pastoral ministry, at least for the average American pastor. He honestly reveals each of our inner thoughts and graciously exposes our “functional idolatry.” The book is divided into two sections: the first of which paints a picture of the biblical, gospel-driven pastor by walking carefully through Peter’s exhortation to the elders of the local church (1 Peter 5:1-11). The second section very practically applies the Five Solas of the Reformation to pastoral ministry.
Page after page, Wilson pleads with the pastor to stop calculating “ministry success” based on what is immediately made visible to us. If we validate our achievements on quantity (which could be much or little), we are “laying up our treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy” (84-5). The gospel, Wilson says, is the answer to our arrogance or self-deprecation: “You, brother pastor, are way in over your head. You need Jesus. But as a believer, you have him” (102). Wilson then repeatedly challenges us to constantly return to the life and work of Christ, to behold the beauty of Jesus and to bask in his great faithfulness to the Father. Once we see that our concocted notions of success are grossly inferior to the joys of being in Christ, only then can we faithfully lead Christ’s body and “trust God despite what we see” (150).
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Our modern ministry culture is driven by the twin engines of success and self-advancement. It seems as though every pastor wants to appear likable and desirable, ever hoping that someone on the evangelical stage will notice us and call us up to the head of the table to sit with them. “‘Who are we?’ we ask ourselves. ‘We’re awesome!’ we answer” (88). The desire for success and self-advancement is an idol that is always beckoning us to bow to it.
Jared Wilson challenges us to reevaluate everything we think ministry is. Ministry is always about Jesus and is never about us. It is about wholly and freely loving our communities because Jesus first loved us. It is about giving a cup of cold water to those who are dehydrated, and feeding our flocks with the Bread of Life. It is about the glory of God, even when half the congregation seems to be spiritually asleep and our days are fraught with stress:
“When God calls a man to pastoral ministry, he calls him to deal exclusively in the glory of God. God’s glory is our trust, our means, and our end. Suffering is promised us, but for those of us who are committed to the calling of God’s glory, there will be an all-consuming vindication. And Peter says in 1 Peter 5:10 that God himself will do it.
Pastor, are you broken down? He won’t outsource your restoration…he will confirm your status himself…he will establish you himself” (110).
The Pastor’s Justification gives us hope that “because Christ is king with total dominion, simple faithfulness to his kingdom is success” (111). And because we are in Him – because we exist by him, through him, and for him (Colossians 1:16), we have exactly what we need to faithfully and regularly turn our church families on to the beauty of Christ and all his glorious riches.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
The Pastor’s Justification is a must-read for every current or soon-to-be pastor or ministry-leader.