Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: Too Great a Temptation (4/5)

In a recent conversation with a pastor dealing with transition of leadership, I was turned on to Dr. Joel Gregory's book about his short tenure at First Baptist Church Dallas in 1991-1992. He wrote the book two years later (1994) in an attempt to clear the record about what happened during his two-year stint as the pastor. As a guy who came to faith in Christ through a Baptist church, served on staff at a Baptist church, and went to college at a Baptist University (Baylor), I have many connections to the characters that Dr. Gregory writes about in this book.

After struggling at the church and abruptly resigning, you would think Gregory's accounting would be more harsh about the church. In reality, he is very careful to still sing the praises of his predecessor, W.A. Criswell, while pointing out the two major issues that derailed his ministry at the church. I think there is much to learn in these two principles.

1) Dr. Criswell would not step down as pastor so that Dr. Gregory to take on full leadership of the historic church. Gregory's account is a good reminder that we all struggle with self-awareness, not seeing clearly what everyone else around us sees. According to Gregory's account, everyone at the church knew that Criswell needed to step down as pastor, but no one was courageous enough to say it to his face. Here's what I'm taking away - will I be able to let go of ministry that has been important to me for the sake of the church and the kingdom? OR, will I hold on to things too long in order to maintain my own importance? Who will speak clearly and truthfully into my life when my presence is hurting the ministry rather than hurting it? Self-awareness is really difficult.

2) Dr. Criswell had built the ministry of First Baptist Dallas around his wonderful speaking gift in the pulpit. So, when the time came for transition, the ministry was too directly connected to his speaking abilities. How do we as pastors make sure that the church benefits from our ministry but doesn't become dependent on it? I've always tried to make sure that other guys get time in our pulpit, but I'm still not sure how to lead the church this direction. Especially in a situation where the pastor is the founding pastor or a long-tenured pastor, the church needs to be taught that their identity is not connected to the pastor. And the pastor needs to recognize that his identity is not connected to that church family. Both challenging things to do, but very important.

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