by Thomas W. Currie
Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Ore. 266 pages
REVIEWED BY AUGUSTUS E. SUCCOP III
I have listened to colleagues tell of how pastoral ministry has been a source of pain, not blessing nor satisfaction. Not a few pastors have known the cost for undertaking the pastoral journey, and congregations have measured that cost in a pastor’s loss of passion to preach, to listen and to be with God’s people. To such colleagues, I would give a copy of Thomas W. Currie’s new book, “Bread for the Journey.” Written to encourage those in preparation, Currie’s “notes” are of no less value to those who are surrendering to the lassitude of pastoral ministry, who find themselves seeking early retirement, refuge in interim ministry or, sadly, outright exit.
The key word in this book is encouragement. Currie is keenly aware that pastoral ministry has been often misunderstood by pastor and people. Penned while dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte (where he served for 13 years), Currie’s book provides a clarifying voice for what pastoral ministry is and is not. He points out to his audience, many second-career, that the Lord never intended pastoral ministry to be endured, but enjoyed — and enjoyed unapologetically. His joyful advocacy of pastoral ministry may surprise. He is under no illusion: Pastoral ministry has its challenges. He arrived at Union with years of pastoral experience in Texas. He, too, listened to colleagues wail from their wounds, and he laments with compassion that more than one pastorate, once framed with flawless faithfulness to the gospel, became disfigured due to dependence not on Jesus but on a flawed model of “success.” He writes with a candor and credibility that point to a lesser-known truth: Pastoral ministry’s challenges are too well known; its joys not known well enough. Currie has stood in our shoes and has tasted the joy. This is a deceptively important read for both new and “seasoned” pastor.
Written with an inviting winsomeness, Currie makes it clear that pastoral ministry is not a calling to be enjoyed alone. The context of pastoral ministry is the good company of friends (if not saints), some whom we met in our theological training (think Calvin, Dickinson, Barth, Schmemann, Nouwen, Peterson, etc.) and some whom the Lord sends to us, despite appearing to be the “wrong” people. Such companionship speaks not of those “with whom we are stuck”; rather, the Lord sends us companions who encourage by sharing in our struggles and who help uncover the joy of our calling. Notably, the risen Jesus plays no small role. The Lord’s nourishment (think bread) is essential. The promise of the “good companion” being with us, people and pastor, is unfailing. His companionship rescues us from believing in our best effort.
This book is peppered with an engaging syntax, phrases that point to the indicativeness of God’s intention for us in Jesus Christ: glory of the ordinary, asking is the way, largeness of faith, costly joy, obstinately joyful, relentlessly gracious, thank you and, of course, bread. The latter points to the bread of heaven, the ultimate nourishment. However, Currie shares with us what he has been blessed to know by faith, the bread of encouragement, a provision he hopes we will share and do so joyfully, despite what the “facts” of pastoral ministry would have us believe.
AUGUSTUS E. SUCCOP III has been the pastor of the Quail Hollow Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, for 22 years.