Next to my desk I have a small stack of books. These typically aren’t the most popular books or the “best” books. The books that remain next to my desk are a few chosen friends that I read and reread. In a sense, they are friends that have shaped me and continue to have a voice when all the other voices around me become too loud.
Recently I added a friend to this stack. That new friend is Jonathan Dodson’s The Unwavering Pastor: Leading the Church with Grace in Divisive Times. Not only did this book become a friend, it truly kept pointing my eyes to the Friend above all friends (John 15:13), the Lord Jesus Christ. What follows is a review, and I believe this book will be helpful for all pastors, but much of what I have written is personal and may not apply to all.
A Little Backstory
The church I pastor is wonderful. I don’t say that because I have to. I sincerely mean it. After all the cultural, political, and virus upheaval that 2020-2021 caused, our church stayed unified around the gospel (Phil. 1:27). However, I have been a pastor for over a decade now and it’s inevitable to lose friends, hurt people, be hurt by people, and sometimes accumulate years of confusion, sorrow, and anxiety. For some reason, 2020-2021 caused a lot of these things to pile up and hurt in a way I wasn’t prepared for. I began asking myself, “Can I continue pastoring for the rest of my life? Should I even be a pastor? What would it be like to just be a member at our church and not be involved in every little thing?” The questions and feelings kept piling up. A lot of these questions inside me led to shame and guilt because what kind of person shepherds Jesus’ people and also wants to avoid his people? Like we do with most shame and guilt, I shamed and guilted myself for such feelings.
MEETING A NEW FRIEND
The day Jonathan Dodson’s book came in the mail, I had an uneasy feeling. I was uneasy because I had a feeling that the book may cause me to look at some of my current feelings and circumstances in a way that I would have to process more deeply. I almost put the book away for another time but decided to open in up. The structure of the book was immediately like I was sitting with a friend who loved me enough to tell me, “I love you and understand..,” while also saying, “…but I also need to correct some things.” This made the book one of those rare gems that you know you need to put it down and process but you also want to continue the depth of the discussion.
The Unwavering Pastor is a mix of a couple really necessary things: First, it’s an exposition of 2 Timothy, a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to his timid son in the faith, Timothy. Second, the book has a helpful thread of Jonathan’s own experiences, sorrows, and victories. Third, there are questions that made me face some of the things I felt deep down inside me, but in a way I had to process them.
The 8 chapters are faithful in their exegesis of 2 Timothy, while also extremely helpful in assessing the divisive times we live in and the unique challenges to pastors. There were numerous times where I found myself shaking my head in agreement, and others where I was angry that pastors are often mistreated. Yet, the inescapable reality is that there is only one Shepherd who ever shepherded without sin. Dodson leads readers to the Good Shepherd to heal our wounds, forgive our sins, and find the Friend we all long to be with. The tears that poured were evidence of the Shepherd’s kindness and faithfulness.
Every chapter is great and beneficial, but one particularly stood out to me. The chapter titled Redeeming Pain became a timely balm and comfort to me. The current cultural narrative highlights abusive pastors and all the immorality in Christ’s body. I’m so thankful for this things being exposed but, if we are honest, its led to a lot of faithful pastors enduring a lot of hurt and pain causing them to leave the ministry. My default in these times is to not defend myself but to suppress it and let people air their grievances. What Dodson helps is leading readers to confront our pain, honor the broken pieces, entrust our pain to Jesus, and expect pain because we are not above our Master (Matt. 10:24).
When we can be honest about our pain with the Suffering Servant, we find a Friend who cares for us and gladly takes our anxieties (1 Pet. 5:7). What this new friend of mine did was remind me of King Jesus over and over, particularly his heart for pastors and his church in the midst of the mess. Dodson helped me fix my eyes on Jesus in a way that helped me to wonder at grace again, while trusting the Spirit to be the Helper as I shepherd his people at our little church. My wounds are still tender, my heart often hurts, and I am still asking questions. In his kindness though, Jonathan has written a book that may just be another friend that the Friend himself uses to keep me shepherding. All shepherds need to be shepherded by the Good Shepherd. Our call is to lead them into the presence of the one we ourselves our being shepherded by.
To close, buy this book. Give this book to your fellow pastors/elders. Buy this book as a gift for your pastors. Let me leave you with my favorite quote from The Unwavering Pastor: “Until then, corral his sheep toward the door of life. Guide his people through dirt and ash into soft, verdant pastures. And remember, Christ is their crystal spring, not your perfectly crafted sermon. Jesus is their fresh pasture, not your warm pastoral presence. The Son of God is their Savior, not our strategies. Jesus, alone, imparts abundant life. So, look to Christ. Hope in Christ. Preach Christ. Rest in Christ. Jesus Christ is the only leader who will never let his people down. Be ok with that. Be thrilled with that. His power and grace are unrivaled. Endure with Christ. The war is worth it” (Dodson, pg., 131-132).