Among the books I mentioned this one by Peter Scazzero had clubbed together with other books and experiences in my sabbatical with a determination to cause me to think deeply.
Judith and I read it chapter by chapter alternately – as we often do with books like this – and then talked about how it had spoken to us after we’d both read a section. I recommend this type of reading technique especially for husbands and wives in leadership; it enables regular reflection, the pausing before rushing into the next chapter helps you listen to one another. [This might not work with a novel!]
So I want to just take a moment to commend this little tome to you. Much of it was very familiar to us after 20 odd years in ministry. (‘Odd’ being the operative word!) But I think for newcomers to pastoral leadership it was essential to include this, and it gave Judith and I an opportunity to assess and agree what we have learned about shepherding the flock of God and where we would do things differently now in retrospect.
“Righteousness is easy in retrospect” so said White House chronicler Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and I guess inevitably everything is easy in retrospect. It doesn’t hurt however to learn from the past in a positive way because we are responsible for handing on the baton to the next generation, and even if our past mistakes cause consequences or are unlikely to reoccur, it is a healthy exercise to quietly and graciously review the way we have undertaken decisions and actions. It is emotionally healthy to do so.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray as he did, he taught them to ask our Father to “…forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. Now unless you’re a weird dispensationalist who believes that this prayer should not be used until the millennium or after the pre-wrath mid-tribulational rapture then this principle in the Lord’s prayer applies today, to you and me. And it involves retrospection to do this: In order for us to fully and properly forgive others who have sinned against us we must acknowledge this sin and who they are, and in so doing we release them from our judgment and we receive grace from the Lord to know and realise our own forgiveness for having sinned against him.
Living in the past of course is not good or godly. Many Christians sadly still do this, labouring under a burden of imaginary sin that was cancelled at the cross. As a result they are demotivated, joyless and a poor witness to the abundant life in Christ.
In Jesus God crossed out our sins on the cross! Past, present and future!
But that also does mean we should be consciously grateful for this and live a different life in this world as a result. This involves forgiving others the way we have been forgiven too. Full of mercy, full of grace. Not looking for it to be earned. Taking the initiative like Jesus did – not waiting to be asked – for it was “while we were still sinners that Christ died for us” [Rom 5:8]
In the early chapters the author describes from painful personal experience how, although superficially his life and marriage looked great and he was involved in leading a highly healthy and successful church by anyone’s standards, internally both individually as especially within their marriage relationship things had been deteriorating for some time. He points out that the reason that he did not initially acknowledge the extent of this impoverishment was because this was an emotional deterioration. It suddenly came to a head when his wife exclaimed that she loved him, but she was going to leave him.
He paints the picture more gloomily as he begins to realise that they are not the only ones in this dire situation, in fact because of the way he has led and undertaken his ministry and where others have sought to copy him, there are fractures within many lives. To begin with he tries the “I can fix this” mentality which is common to most leaders… well, men… well, common to me certainly. The idea is you add some ‘healing’ structure to the problem (e.g. seeing a counsellor) and carry on as before. He soon realises this will not do. The only solution is to stop what he’s doing and together with his wife and then his leadership, review what has happened and turn around (i.e. repent) from the direction they were heading in.
One of the best chapters of the book is entitled Leaders need to lead out of Brokenness and Vulnerability. In this section he presents some solid biblical principles, touching especially on the misnomered story of the Prodigal Son which alludes to the brilliant handling of this by Tim Keller in The Prodigal God. Scazzero also refers in some detail to the Rembrandt painting Return of the Prodigal Son. I was deeply moved by this chapter personally sensing that God the Holy Spirit was doing something profound in my soul. I am learning to let God teach me what this means for my life and leadership because this is not the way I have led in the past. So together Judith and I thanked God for having arrested us at such a time as this and we began to feel more than ever that this sabbatical was heaven-planned, not so much for me to learn from great and growing churches, but for a great and gracious God to grow my heart in a new direction.
Not all of Scazzero’s book is as profound or secure as this however – some parts I found woolly on the nature of personal sin and being sinned against. Similarly I would have valued more reference to the redemptive power of the cross in dealing with our sin. Nevertheless it is a book that did me good. At the right time in the right place.
It made me “want to be a better man” [Jack Nicholson’s awkward OCD character Melvin, to Carol, played by Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets] Remember that line men!