The title is stark, as is the cover. But with this book, Christopher Thoma has done a great service for the church. To be honest, I had it on my shelf for a month, and opened it up because my wife didn’t like the sound of the tv. But after biting on one chip, I finished the bag. The morning after, its images are seared on my brain. The accounts are fiction, the stories are real. They are what every pastor has felt. Now, mind you, this book is not an invitation to a pity party. But, it’s about the human condition, as seen from the pastor’s perch.
For starters, Thoma has a way with words, but more than words. He’s letting you inside the mind and heart of a pastor. What he does in these ten little vignettes is to offer an intimate picture of the pastor’s life, his joys and frustrations. In a sense, the pastor-people relationship is like a marriage. You get what you put into it. Do you want a pastor who is faithful and loving, one who cares for you, and for the things of God? One who cares for your eternal soul? Chances are, you already have one. And, to borrow a line from Stephen Stills, it might be the better course to love the one you’re with.
The stories here are poignant, insightful, full of joy, but also heartache, real heartache. In one, we’re told of a pastor receiving an anonymous letter, that is a love and prayer on the surface, but poison underneath. In another, we feel the pain of a pastor’s wife who feels invisible. We see a congregational member being sucked into a unholy cabal, under the guise of caring. We hear the story of a pastor eating cold spaghetti, bills mounting, wife fretting, while congregational members seem to be living a much easier life. Along those lines, there is the “careless word,” what happens when a snarky member comment on the pastor’s wife’s “new” 55,000 mile used mini-van. We get the pastor’s kid, the good kid, who loves his dad, but is under the prying eye of an unsympathetic member. And, we see a bishop who acts nothing like a bishop. You can also feel the smarm dripping off the page, the unctuous piety, the oily words that undermine so many a young pastor, sympathetic counsel that has no sympathy.
This little tome from Thoma is a must-read for church members, church councils, boards of elders, and, most definitely, every call committee and district president. Our pastors are doing good work, they love their people, but we can do a better, a much better job, of caring for them. And, the least we can do, if we love them, or if not them, the Lord who sent them, is to see the thing from their perspective. I spend my time now as a professor, but the words ring true, and remind me of my own brief time doing that which faithful pastors are called to do for a lifetime. Read this book and you’ll be informed. Changed, even.
[Originally published on Dr Scaer’s Facebook page; re-published with permission.]