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Plenty of books have been written on how to be a great pastor. Far fewer teach us how to be great church members. This seems strange considering that vocational pastors make up such a small percentage of the church.
Christopher Ash fills the gap with The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read. His goal is to encourage “a healthy two-way dynamic in which pastors care for people and people care for pastors; and both pastors and people grow in a glad Christ-likeness” (p. 12).
In the first two chapters, Ash lays the groundwork for why it’s so important that we care for our pastors well. He gives us several vignettes of pastors with different backgrounds and personalities, to remind us that pastors are humans too. Considering the heavy weight of the pastoral calling, we should seek to live out this vision:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
The majority of this book sets out the seven virtues of church members which will greatly impact their pastors: daily repentance and eager faith, committed belonging, open honesty, thoughtful watchfulness, loving kindness, high expectations, and zealous submission. Ash succeeds in considering the pastor’s life and work from various angles (spiritual, physical, relational) while keeping the chapters short. Brevity and practicality are strengths of this book. You could finish it in a few sittings or take it slowly over a couple of months, reading about one virtue each week with plenty of time for reflection.
Ash frequently prompts us to stop and think of a practical way to move towards a particular virtue. There is also a prayer at the end of each chapter, so you can ask for God’s help in putting into practice what you’ve read.
This book was doubly helpful to me: as a church member with pastors over me, and as a ministry apprentice. I appreciated that Ash doesn’t only consider senior pastors, but rather uses an array of gospel workers in his examples (including part-timers and women).
As a church member I was challenged on the importance of the everyday stuff of the Christian life: "The very best thing you can do for your pastor, and I for mine, is to repent daily of sin and trust afresh daily in Jesus" (p. 38). On a practical level, this means being more thoughtful and intentional about how I engage with the weekly sermon. It will encourage my pastors if I pray for them each week, thank them, and then live out what they preach.
This doesn’t mean I must be perfect. Ash points out that it’s actually better for our pastor if we are open and honest about our sin, and allow them to do the same. Instead of trying to impress them with our godliness, we should share our struggles so they can care for us as they are called to.
Although this book wasn’t targeted specifically at pastors, it was helpful for me as an apprentice to think about what a lifetime of ministry might look like. Both the joys and challenges of pastoral work are addressed. Ash emphasises the high expectations of a pastor’s character and warns us about common temptations like pride, refusing to delegate, oversensitivity to criticism, and a need to be admired. This book also made me grateful for all the ways I’ve already been cared for as a ministry worker, both by the church and my pastors.
Every church member should take the time to read this book and prayerfully live it out. We will have happier pastors and happier churches for it.