The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry: Preparing a People for the Presence of the Lord
by David Rohrer
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Every once in a while, a book comes along that helps me as a pastor to slow down, take a deep breathe, and see what ministry is about all over again. The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry is just such a book.
The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry sets John the Baptist before church leaders as a model of pastoral ministry. This is a brilliant idea, if for no other reason than that most people do not think of the cousin of Jesus as a model of a leader of a local church. He was a prophet after all, not a pastor.
The prophetic nature of John the Baptist is, of course, why Rohrer thinks we need to look at John the Baptist as a model of ministry for our time. Pastoral ministry is a unique calling, lived out in response to the Holy Spirit's leading. Too often, Rohrer teaches in a number of ways, pastors adopt models of their vocation that are prescribed by the surrounding culture.
Much of the way we lead the modern church has more to do with common business practice that spiritual leadership. Often pastors are tempted to build a little kingdom with their church, to make a name for themselves, and to gain esteem from others inside and outside of the church. In contrast to this we have the model of the Baptist, who goes out into the wilderness, speaks truth to power, and calls people to a radically different way of living together.
A lot of what Rohrer does in this book is to challenge the narcissism that is prevalent in churches and pastoral ministry. We as pastors need to constantly be on guard against attempting to make our churches reflections of us. As pastors, we need to be the kind of people that point people to Jesus instead of drawing attention to our skills and accomplishments. We need to have the courage to hear the hard truth of the gospel in the context of where we live, and we need to have the courage to teach and preach that truth even if it means being rejected by those whose gifts provide our financial stability. Pastors need to be less concerned about developing programs, and more concerned about being present with their congregation and parishioners in meaningful ways.
The gift of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry is not just what has been said though, it is how Rohrer says it. He is adept at bringing his narrative alongside the narrative of John the Baptist and the Corinthian church in order to communicate a counter-cultural way of leading a congregation. It reminded me of the writings of David Hansen (The Art of Pastoring: Ministry without all the Answers) and Eugene Peterson (especially Under the Unpredictable Plant and Working the Angles) in some ways, only based mainly in the Los Angeles metro area. Rohrer is perhaps less poetic than either of these guys, and yet he is more raw, honest, and vulnerable about the challenges and sins of his pastoral journey.
This book should be a text in a class focused on the practice of ministry, and it should find its way to every pastor's bookshelf. It is just that thoughtful. It is just that good.