One of the greatest gifts younger men in ministry can receive is the wisdom of older men. It’s why so many of us seek to find mentors, both living and dead—we want to know what we don’t know and learn from the more experienced. In his new book, Letters to a Young Pastor, Calvin Miller writes a series of notes to young pastors, sharing his experiences and insights from more than thirty years in vocational ministry.
Miller’s gift as a storyteller is on full display in this book—he’s consistently witty, insightful and engaging in each of his letters, whether dealing with a case of the Mondays (a preacher’s worst day), seeing the significance of your call (regardless of your church size) or venting about how megachurches pretty much stink (more on that later). And that, perhaps, is his biggest asset. Miller’s writing is a pleasure to read. For example:
[M]ost pastors who fall form grace sexually are not involved with strangers; they get involved with someone right in their own church. So be extra careful in this regard. I once had a secretary who surprised me by telling me on a nameless Tuesday that she couldn’t live without me. I don’t know what kind of reply she expected from this, but I said, “You’re fired!” . . . I might have seen this whole thing coming if I had done what I now am going to give you as a great principle for keeping your eros hidden under several thick layers of agape: Listen to your wife.1
(For a good laugh, read that excerpt with Bill Cosby’s style of delivery in mind.)
The best of Miller’s advice is practical and genuinely helpful—the stuff that seems like you should say, “Well, I should hope so” afterward… until you realize that you’re assuming you know it, but don’t. Little things like remembering that because Monday is your worst day as a preacher and you’re thinking about quitting, maybe wait to see how you feel on Tuesday.
What you won’t find too much in this book is a great love for megachurches and “famous” pastors. In fact, his harshest words in this whole book are not for those who would use their position to lead the faithful astray… it’s for the guy with the big church. Considering that at one point, Miller himself pastored a church of more than 2000 people, and the generosity he shows to so many within the pages of the book, I was a bit taken aback.
The other thing that will be off-putting for some is that Miller’s a real mixed bag theologically. As much as there is to applaud, there’s quite a bit that is cringe-worthy. For me, these occurred in chapters that drew more from pop psychology than Scripture for their foundation—self-forgiveness, fixing stuff for God, faking it till you make it… These were a few things that left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, but certainly not to the point that I’d say toss out everything he’s got to say (if I thought that, the rest of my review would have been less than positive).
In a book of this nature, you’re guaranteed to not write something that everyone’s going to agree with. And frankly, I think that if Miller had tried, Letters to a Young Pastor would have been far less genuine and far less enjoyable. There’s much in this book that is helpful and to be commended. I hope that readers, especially young pastors, will read this book, weigh Miller’s advice carefully and affirm and practice that which is worthy of praise.
Title: Letters to a Young Pastor
Author: Calvin Miller
Publisher: David C. Cook (2011)