08 Mar 2023: The Flourishing Pastor – Book Review
The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 256 pages, 2021.
Reviewed by Ricky Wilson
DMin Student, Liberty University
Nelson wrote this book for those pursuing a call to pastoral ministry or those already serving in that call. The book is filled with resourceful ways to flourish in pastoral ministry and live a holistically healthy life being shepherded as the pastor shepherds the flock. Creating an environment where pastors can flourish and live in the power of God. He lays out some illustrations overused in many pastors’ books, such as the one he uses to desirable a lost pastor, celebrity pastor, visionary, and lone ranger. These illustrations lack the power to wake the reader up to their need for holistic health because they are not attention grabbers that deliver a revolutionary thought to the reader but almost cause you to want to skip over the cliché they provide. Despite the lack of compelling illustrations, the author lays out a clear path using scripture and real-life stories and experiences to create a relatable medium for the reader in ministry to realize their need to be shepherded. He also lays out a clear vision to develop a deep community with other ministry leaders to have accountability and coaching to help one flourish in their life and call. “A distinguishing mark of our cultural moment is a haunting loneliness,” he writes. Never before in history have we been more connected to others through technology and the many tributaries of social media. Yet, at the same time, so many feel so deeply alone and isolated.”
Nelson begins the book by looking at the state of pastoral ministry and how pastors struggle beneath the surface with myriad emotions. Smiles on the outside or a successful church ministry give the perception that everything is excellent when on the inside, below the surface, pastors are struggling with emotional pain, pride, and fear as they minister in one of the most challenging times in history. In the culture, there is high opposition to God and the church. As a result, pastors struggle with anxiety and rejection and the complex pressures associated with the call of pastoral ministry. “What we uncover behind professional Sunday smiles is pastoral isolation and burnout; struggles with relational, emotional, physical, and spiritual health; increasing expectations of congregations; conflicts with governing boards as well as increased complexity of the pastoral vocation.” The author couples these quotes with very compelling statistical data to show the reader the great need to care for the pastor’s heart to get below the surface and work on the person holistically their spiritual, emotional, and physical health.
The book then works through the steps needed for a pastor to recalibrate their lives by finding their true north, being shepherded by God, and allowing others to invest in their lives. Creating a holistic life of health, redefining the mark of success, and creating a church culture rooted in authenticity and vulnerability. “We nurture a relationally healthy culture that promotes loving, close-knit relationships at all levels of the organization through modeling authenticity and pursuing vulnerability.” The author contributes a much-needed influence here for a change in culture in the local church and a desire to see a church where people can live openly with others and have deep, meaningful relationships. Nelson clearly articulates to the reader a plan that allows this culture to be achieved and practical steps that can be taken to help that happen in the church context in which the reader is leading. This is an excellent contribution to the field of discipleship because it is not only a plan for discipleship but hits at the church’s core by creating a plan and a culture that cultivates discipleship and relationships.
The author articulates well the heart of a struggling pastor and encourages, along with practical advice to the pastor delivering a way to begin to move into a healthy, flourishing holistic life. Nelson does not offer any revolutionary thoughts for the reader. This book resembles many books written in this field except for the occasional quip. This book is a great encouragement and could be used well in teaching ministerial students or those praying about a call into ministry. However, it does not offer many significant contributions to the area of discipleship. The greatest is the desire to see a movement of holistic health among pastors, further elaboration and insight into this area would have set this book apart significantly.
The book’s great strength is that it is well-written and offers a clear need for pastors to gain spiritual, emotional, and physical health while providing compelling statistics and reasoning for the condition of pastors. The great weakness is that it cannot grab the reader’s attention and offer revolutionary ways to take the following steps that leave the reader with a clear path after finishing the book. The book feels much like the Emotionally Healthy series by Peter Scazzero without clearly formulated plans and evaluations. The book does not offer the reader or the study area any new ideas. Still, it is an excellent maintenance to remind the reader and redirect them to the need to be shepherded and return to the heart of Christ from the ministry business and live in the community instead of isolation.