Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book Review: Next: Pastoral Succession That Works

I've written short book reviews here for Speakeasy and -- and I'll be starting to add some for NetGalley, Brazos Press Bloggers and Baker Books Bloggers.  This will be the first example for Baker. 

Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird (Baker, 2014).

From its first words -- "Every pastor is an interim pastor" -- to its diverse potential audience, there's much to commend about Next. The authors have clearly done their homework concerning the challenges of transitioning from one pastor to the next; in fact, it's their work with pastors and churches whose transitions didn't work well (and many others that did) that drives their concern. Whether the reader is a newly appointed pastor, one approaching retirement or a move to another post, or a new or longtime church board member, there are lessons worth remembering here. The authors are also aware that many of their readers will find themselves in more than one of the above roles over the course of their ministerial lives -- which makes this as valuable as a later reference text as it is for a first-time reading. 

Vanderbloemen and Bird wisely note that there's no single formula for a successful succession from one pastor to the next, but they aren't afraid to name names in recounting disastrous transitions, either (nor to protect anonymity, when necessary); and to their credit, even as they gather lessons from such disasters, they're careful not to make too much of the scandal involved, but to call their readers toward greater expressions of grace. They also explore the close interconnections of pastoral vocation, church mission, and personal identity, which (when undervalued) can make pastoral succession such a sensitive issue. And as the spouse of a pastor just entering her second year of ministry at our church, I appreciate that at least some of their stories involve female pastors (notwithstanding the males shown in transition on the front cover!). I did wish that more of their examples drew from smaller churches, but I recognize the difficulty of getting accurate data there. I wondered, too, if there wasn't too much emphasis on "seamless" transitions: a succession should hopefully be smooth, yes, but isn't there a potential idol to be dealt with in wanting it to show no seams, no visible places of continuity (or healthy discontinuity!) at all? That said, there's a great deal of wisdom in this book, including the "Next Steps" at the end of each chapter -- many of which will offer helpful challenges to anyone with a role to play in their church's next pastoral succession.

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