Suffering, Shepherding, and Seasons of Faith


What this month’s books have in common is simply my fondness for the authors. Two are not widely published, and the third is not widely read by subscribers to CHRISTIAN STANDARD. But all three are worth knowing.



Responding to Suffering
I had already admired Lynn Gardner for decades when I read Where Is God When We Suffer? (College Press, 2007). I was preparing for some lectures on suffering for a retreat for furloughing missionaries, who probably know more about the subject than I do.


But not more than Gardner does. As his brother-in-law Sam Stone says in the Foreword, “When it comes to the topic of suffering, Lynn Gardner has earned the right to be heard.” His brother was severely handicapped, his sister Gwen (Sam’s wife) the victim of complications from a near-fatal automobile accident. His wife, Barbara, is battling cancer. Lynn himself was rescued from a terminal illness only by a double-lung transplant. And he and Barbara lost their adult son in yet another highway accident.


Through all this (and more) he has walked by faith and earned a sterling reputation for 34 years as Bible scholar, professor, and dean of Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. Few have been hit harder by life’s exigencies. No one has complained less. When he speaks about suffering, we listen.


In these pages Gardner reveals the source of his strength. He shares enough of his and his family’s trials to establish his credentials, but his focus, in chapter after chapter, is on scriptural reasons for hope in spite of hurt. There’s no self-pity here, no dwelling on life’s injustices, nor any crying out for answers to life’s imponderables. What you will find is an honest facing up to reality with courage and trust.


And with concern for others. The last section, “Helping the Hurting,” is vintage Gardner. He draws on his personal experience to help his readers know how best to respond to other people’s heartaches, including unwitting offenses to be avoided. He’s been there. He knows.



A Return Visit
I first met Lynn Anderson as a fellow guest lecturer at St. Louis Christian College a few years ago and was, and continue to be, impressed by his wisdom. His They Smell Like Sheep, published in 1997, remains on my list of recommended books for church leaders.


Now comes They Smell Like Sheep, Volume II (Simon and Schuster, 2007). More of the same, admittedly, but reading it is like a return visit to a trusted mentor. (Mentoring, by the way, is Anderson’s vocation now, much to the benefit of his mentees.)


We need his counsel. Leading a church of any size involves the calling, teaching, laboring with, and encouraging one’s fellow leaders. Wise ministers, far from seeing themselves as “God’s (sole) man for the church,” encourage teamwork. The strength and unity of a congregation depend on a seasoned and caring team of leaders.


Most leadership books concentrate on the leader, not leaders. Because of my teaching, I’ve read many such volumes. To be honest, I’ve grown a little weary of them. There are only so many principles to be mastered. Most current publications just rework old ideas. They have much to say about techniques, structures, goals, policies, and practices, and not enough about the character of the leader. They borrow more from corporate management than from Scripture, which emphasizes character above all else.


Anderson does not make that mistake. He cares more about the welfare of the people the elders oversee than about the budgets and buildings and programs that consume the average leadership board’s time.


A sampling of chapter titles could be a personality profile for the ideal church leader: “A Heart on Its Knees,” “In Search of Integrity,” “Shaped by the Holiness of God,” etc. To such a shepherd’s heart you can entrust the care and feeding of the sheep. This nontechnical book is written for the average reader. Applied, it will lead to above-average shepherding.



‘Seasons of Faith’
In our churches we have some pretty strong ideas about the place of women. And “that place” often doesn’t include the pulpit. Many of us preachers, though, have profited richly from women who teach in colleges and seminaries and books.


I have never met Barbara Brown Taylor, but because I have appreciated her earlier writing, when Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (HarperOne, 2006) appeared, I was curious to learn why this pioneering Episcopalian pastor was “leaving church.”


She tells us. This autobiographical book frankly tells her story as a female believer who felt called to preach for 20 years as an ordained priest, during which her life went through what she calls three distinct “seasons of faith, not once or twice but over and over again. Jesus called them finding life, losing life, and finding life again.”


Many pastors could have written her summary of life with her parishioners:




Together we explored the mysteries of holy baptism and communion along with the vast and varied books of the Bible. Together we navigated both the predictable passages of human life on earth and some of its more unusual cruelties, taking comfort in the cycle of the church year, which never led us into the pit without lighting a way out again. Together we even managed to overcome our preoccupation with our own needs long enough to tend the needs of our neighbors, although never without the strong temptation to congratulate ourselves for our good work.



After serving as an associate pastor, Taylor became rector of a small, rural Georgia church, a risky venture for an urban woman and her husband, and a brave decision for the country church. The book recounts her side of their love affair, from the earliest, tentative, get-acquainted days, through the predictable storms and stresses of pastoral work, to the bittersweet decision to leave for a new career on a university campus. She feels relief in shedding the duties and often unrealistic expectations of the pastorate, but her heart still feels tugged toward that home.


As a longtime minister in a nonliturgical, nonhierarchical, nonbureaucratic, and male-dominated church fellowship, it has been good for me to hear Taylor’s story, even though she frequently speaks of a church world I know little about and offers a woman’s perspective that I needed to listen to.


She persuaded me that my kind has some things to learn from her. Still, I am satisfied to belong to my church. Satisfied, but not smug.







LeRoy Lawson, international consultant with Christian Missionary Fellowship International, is a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee. His column appears at least monthly.

You Might Also Like

Focusing on Failure

Focusing on Failure

The Right Reason

The Right Reason

A Christian’s Thanksgiving

A Christian’s Thanksgiving

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

I Thank My God for You

I Thank My God for You

Thankful

Thankful

Except for God

Except for God

‘The Church of the Air’

‘The Church of the Air’

Impressions

Impressions

Armistice

Armistice

The Inspiring Leader

The Inspiring Leader

Above All Else

Above All Else

Harmony in Giving

Harmony in Giving

Again

Again

SCJ Conference Plans for 2020 Announced

SCJ Conference Plans for 2020 Announced

An 1800s Preacher Shares His Story

An 1800s Preacher Shares His Story

The Sweetest Love of All

The Sweetest Love of All

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Small Churches: Responding to Some Stereotypes

Small Churches: Responding to Some Stereotypes

The True Test of Faith

The True Test of Faith

When He Appears . . .

When He Appears . . .

Blood and Victory

Blood and Victory

The Influential Isaac Errett

The Influential Isaac Errett

Better Promises

Better Promises

Disciples See Deep Drop in Attendance

Disciples See Deep Drop in Attendance

The Meaning of Our Labor

The Meaning of Our Labor

Returning to Palestine

Returning to Palestine

First Memories

First Memories

Who Will Fill Their Shoes?

Who Will Fill Their Shoes?

Faith of the 21

Faith of the 21

On-Time Delivery

On-Time Delivery

Help the Fish

Help the Fish

A Moment

A Moment

Godliness

Godliness

A July 4th Message from 1960

A July 4th Message from 1960

Taking on the Tobacco Habit

Taking on the Tobacco Habit

KCU Recruiting Bass Fishers

KCU Recruiting Bass Fishers

THE BOLD MOVEMENT

THE BOLD MOVEMENT

Rusaw Takes on New Challenge

Rusaw Takes on New Challenge

Changing the Scorecards

Changing the Scorecards

What Are You Doing Now?

What Are You Doing Now?

Multisite Comes of Age

Multisite Comes of Age

Off on a Side Track

Off on a Side Track

Church Letters of the 1800s

Church Letters of the 1800s

‘Your Debt Is Forgiven’

‘Your Debt Is Forgiven’

God’s Love for a Lost World

God’s Love for a Lost World

Left Behind

Left Behind

Wrestling with Scripture

Wrestling with Scripture

Elder Killed in Canadian Church Shooting

Elder Killed in Canadian Church Shooting

Let the Church Be the Church

Let the Church Be the Church

The New Birth

The New Birth

Restorer of Gospel Evangelism

Restorer of Gospel Evangelism

News Briefs for Feb. 27, 2019

News Briefs for Feb. 27, 2019

Let’s Help the Disabled

Let’s Help the Disabled

A ‘Day of Pentecost Every Sunday’

A ‘Day of Pentecost Every Sunday’

Good Strategies for a New Year

Good Strategies for a New Year

Meditating on Joy

Meditating on Joy

‘Glory to God’ Must Come First

‘Glory to God’ Must Come First

God Touched Man

God Touched Man

Our Plea Restated

Our Plea Restated

A Thanksgiving Editorial from 1881

A Thanksgiving Editorial from 1881

The ICOM 2018 Recap

The ICOM 2018 Recap

Acclaimed Church Building Copes with Aging

Acclaimed Church Building Copes with Aging

First Christian: A ‘Modern’ Masterwork

First Christian: A ‘Modern’ Masterwork

1964: When the NMC Traveled to NYC

1964: When the NMC Traveled to NYC

Elders Cast Vision

Elders Cast Vision

Elders Chart the Path Forward

Elders Chart the Path Forward

Leadership Insights from the Trail

Leadership Insights from the Trail

God’s Grace to Make Decisions

God’s Grace to Make Decisions

Big Preaching

Big Preaching

Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, Decisions

Richard Baxter: Timeless Advice

Richard Baxter: Timeless Advice

Why Build Grundy Academy?

Why Build Grundy Academy?

Change

Change

Stone Announces Retirement from Southeast

Stone Announces Retirement from Southeast

Carolina Churches Cope with Hurricane

Carolina Churches Cope with Hurricane

Legacy

Legacy

A California Hindu Discovers Christ Online

A California Hindu Discovers Christ Online

Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing

Differences

Differences

Publishing Committee Insights

Publishing Committee Insights

Faith vs. Sight

Faith vs. Sight

From Unanimous . . . to Unity

From Unanimous . . . to Unity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for Free!

Subscribe to gain free access to all of our digital content,
including our new digital magazine,
and we'll let you know when new digital issues are ready to view!