Chasing after Wind: A Pastor’s Life

Philip Reed reviews Douglas J. Brouwer's new book.

Douglas J. Brouwer
Wm. B. Eerdmans, 238 pages | Published March 1, 2022

“We are fascinated by two mysteries at work in the world, according to Augustine, the mystery of God and the mystery of human life,” writes Richard Lischer. In Chasing after Wind: A Pastor’s Life, Douglas Brouwer describes the life of a pastor at the end of the Christendom era. It is a fascinating read.

Brouwer grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the Christian Reformed denomination. He became Presbyterian and embraced the vision for pastoral ministry prevalent in the 1970s/80s: Start as associate pastor and learn the ropes from an excellent mentor; move on to a medium-sized congregation to preach weekly and learn how to be in charge; graduate to a tall-steeple church and wear nice suits every day. (Alas, this vision was principally for White, heterosexual males.) The church will pay you enough to provide for your family, drive a nice car and earn pension credits for a comfortable retirement.

Brouwer fulfilled this vision enviously, becoming known as an outstanding preacher, engaging author, supportive caregiver and capable administrator. Brouwer describes finding his voice in the pulpit, pastoral conversations that made a difference in people’s lives, building programs and parking lots completed or – in one telling circumstance – abandoned. He shares useful insights such as, “church people turn out to be our best teachers … They teach us how they want to be loved and cared for.” The take-away: Listen to the people you are there to serve! This was Brower’s secret to becoming an exceptional pastor, and it can become ours as well.

Despite this, Brouwer experienced personal and professional disillusionment, and his memoir is especially fascinating when he describes the times when his work felt “empty and without meaning.” The title echoes the Book of Ecclesiastes and are words Brouwer’s grandmother used to describe futility and pointlessness. At the conclusion of 40 years as a pastor, the retired Douglas Brouwer believes he disappeared into the role. He writes, “I kept coming to the conclusion that I, like my Grandma Brouwer, spent my life chasing after wind, that in the end my work didn’t add up to much.”

Brouwer acknowledges that some of the disillusionment is consistent with the end of Christendom as we’ve known it. We do not know what the future church will be, but it certainly will not enjoy the privileges of the past. The pastoral career path, if it exists, will be vastly different than what is described in Chasing after Wind.

Nonetheless, there is hope. Two mysteries at work in the world fascinate us: the mystery of God and the mystery of human life. These mysteries combine, like a double helix, and weave together meaning and faith in ways we cannot perceive in the moment and perhaps not even in retirement. Our lack of understanding, however, does not mean God is absent or that God’s work is not accomplished. It simply means that God preserves the mysteries, allowing us to value the gift of grace and trust in God. Thank you, Doug Brouwer, for your honest and fascinating memoir of pastoral ministry at the end of Christendom.

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