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Wounded Pastors: Navigating Burnout, Finding Healing, and Discerning the Future of Your Ministry

"The authors ... beautifully model opening their lives to what God’s Spirit might be doing next, reminding us that God is never finished with us, with the church, nor with this yearning creation."  — Patti Snyder

James Fenimore and Carol Howard
Westminster John Knox Press, 190 pages
Published January 16, 2024

If you are a profoundly wounded pastor, or one who just knows that something has not gone as it should and seek a quick fix, this is not the book for you. If you are eager for a heady theological dive into Bowen family systems theory, this is not the book for you. If you are uninterested in reflecting deeply on your history; expectations; needs; circumstances and vulnerabilities, this is not the book for you.

That leaves a great many wounded pastors for whom this book was written. Some may be stuck in or struggling to recover from a particularly troubling situation, while others might be navigating a new season of ministry or seeking a resource to share with colleagues. James Fenimore and Carol Howard’s work is for these pastors.

I was surprised at how brief the book is; after all, it is a weighty topic. I found the relatively short chapters cursory, at first. But I sensed that brevity was an expression of the authors’ compassion; it is profoundly difficult to consider reading this book amid a wounding situation. With inviting vulnerability, the authors share their stories, offer tidbits about the wider context of ministry in this time, (“post-” Covid and a quarter into the millennium), and offer nods to Bowen family systems theory (to which they are indebted). Most importantly, they generously offer succinct suggestions for each phase of facing our woundedness, as they describe both injuries inflicted by specific individuals, and by the mashup of who we are and who the congregations we serve were, who they are and who they might become.

Perhaps you are tired of thinking about the seeming impossibility of ministry, when you have staked your life, and the life of your family, in the church community? Or you are loathe to call yourself wounded, or even to believe there is anything salvageable in your call? You might jump to the suggestions at the end of each chapter — they are provocative and wise. Start with the first suggestions, and then move through the later ones, and you will likely be curious enough to read the book. There is plenty here. Jump in where it seems right to you.

The authors embody that about which they write, offering their own woundedness and admittedly unfinished stories. They beautifully model opening their lives to what God might do next, reminding us that God is never finished with us, with the church nor with this yearning creation.

As a recently retired pastor who, for the most part, enjoyed a fruitful and wound-free 35 years, you might think that this book was not written for me. But it was. Not to dismiss profound abuses, but we are all wounded, by the actions of others, and by our own blind spots. Even in retirement, there is more to come if one is willing to open up – individually and collectively – to the reformation of God. Fenimore and Howard open the door to numerous ways to do just that in Wounded Pastors.

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