5 Reflections on Zack Eswine’s book, The Imperfect Pastor

Here are a few things I really appreciated from Eswine’s book:

1.    Eswine points out that “We’ve grown reactive, consuming of others, and hasty, and all of this for God. This means that we are likely to mentor others into these qualities as well” (149). Sadly, I see this propensity in my own life. My thinking sometimes goes, go, go, accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. Eswine reminds me of the importance of embodied presence. Even when it seems less efficient. 

2.    I can be envious of other places and other people. When I read this from Eswine it convicted me: “Please forgive me. I have prayers to say for persons you’ve never heard of. I’d best get on with this good work of the day. You’d best get on with yours too” (145). How true! I’m abrogating my responsibilities when I’m envious of someone else’s responsibilities. I shouldn’t envy other people for the places they serve. And I shouldn’t envy others for the gifts they have either. I found this helpful to reflect on too: “Anything another minister does well becomes an occasion, not for our gratitude to God for the sake of the other minister and the cause of the gospel in our generation, but a reason for us to wring our hands and pressure ourselves because now we too must equal or better what that other minster can do” (145). This should not be so. I should rejoice at the gifts and abilities of others.

3.    Eswine reminded me of the broken nature of all people, spiritual leaders included (Cf. 100-101). Noah had courage and faith as well as a lapse of drunkenness. Abraham is remembered and honored for his faith but he sometimes acted in selfish fear. Moses led courageously but he also murdered, shrank back in fear, and his bursts of anger cost him dearly. We sing songs that David pinned but we also read of the chaos he wrote. Jonah preached and many turned in repentance to God but Jonah raised his fists at grace. James and John were close to Jesus (and they wanted to be at His left and right hand), so close that Jesus gave them a nickname—“sons of thunder.” Paul teaches us and tells us of transforming grace, grace he himself experienced as an accomplice to the first Christian martyrdom. Peter boldly exalts Christ but he also repeatedly and cowardly denied him. We too are like the heroes of the faith. We are struggling saints and sinners.

4.    I think this quote gets at one of the most helpful things in the book: “We cannot do everything that needs to be done, which means that Jesus will teach us to live with the things we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try” (99). It is vital that I remember that “sickness, death, poverty, and the sin that bores into and infests the human being will not be removed on the basis of human effort, no matter how strong, godly, or wise the effort is” (97). I must humbly recall “There is nothing we can do in ministry that does not require God to act, if true fruit is to be produced (John 15:5). Everything pastors hope will take place in a person’s life with God remains outside the pastor’s own power” (97). These truths are humbling but they are true. They are also comforting. I don’t have to be the Lord, I can’t. I’m not. I need to repent of even trying. And I need to rely on and pray to God for help.

5.    I grew up in a small poor town. And I left as soon as I saved up enough money to do so. I was nineteen. Yet, as Eswine says,“The Holy One of God has a hometown” (76). The Holy One of God inhabited a locality on earth. He limited Himself to a specific place at a specific time. And in many ways, His hometown was a small poor town. It’s wild and powerful to think about Jesus walking those streets and working as a carpenter. And He did so for thirty years. “Jesus had a world to save, injustice to confront, lepers to touch. Isn’t greatness for God squandered by years of obscurity? What business does a savior have learning the names of trees?” (77) I need to learn from Jesus. I need to be satisfied and faithful no matter the season. I need to remember that the poor small town that I grew up in is not insignificant. I also need to trust my Father’s will for my life, whatever that looks like.

About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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