Book Review – Sent

Sent: How One Ordinary Family Traded the American Dream for God's Greater Purpose

by Hilary Alan [WaterBrook]
Rank/Rating: 1295067/-
Price: $9.17

 

I received a pre-release Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is much to like about this book. It is the story of an American family living “the dream” who is called by God to give it all up to move to a different country and culture filled with people living a different religion in order to help with disaster recovery after a tsunami. Hilary Alan recounts the fears, struggles, joys, and blessings of the adventure God called her family to. The Alan family are a faithful and faith-filled family. Because of that, they hear God’s call and they obey.

Throughout the book Hilary Alan uses her experiences to drive her understanding of scripture and God’s purposes for Christians. Alan shows the power of the gospel and how it can break into lives, even the lives of strict Muslims. She also reveals the power of God to work in the life of a family that fully embraced the American dream and how they discovered God’s dream is bigger than they ever imagined. It is a wonderful story of faithfulness, sacrifice, and genuine love.

While there is much to like, I also had some uneasy feelings as I read her story. I believe the source of my uneasy feelings is unmet expectations. This was a book about a family who traded the American dream in order to follow God’s greater purpose. This created a set of expectations for me. I will mention three expectations that weren’t quite met:

1) I expected that Alan would have written from a more family perspective. While she did discuss her family, the book seemed to be mostly from her perspective. I’m not sure how her husband felt about everything, but I learned about her perspective on her husband, what he was going through, and very little about his work. For some this will not be a problem. However, I kept wanting to know a bit more about her husband’s perspective.

2) I expected that she would dive deeper into internal struggles that a new culture brings. She does recount struggles of uprooting family and moving to a new culture. Yet, I did not sense there was any time where she felt she had ‘missed it’. I would think there would be times of great and deep confusion as cultures clashed. Instead, she seemed to know what to do and when to do it. Perhaps this reflects how deeply culture is imbibed. As an American, I’ve become sensitive to how we seem to always believe we have the answers to anything we come up against, even believing we know more (or better) than those who are native to the culture. I expected more of a deep questioning of the American way of thinking and doing.

3) I expected that they lived in southeast Asia more than three years. I’m not sure that three years is not enough time to mentally move out of one’s culture. I think this is the main source of my uneasiness. I expected that this book was by a family who had moved to southeast Asia to stay and it recounted their struggles as they grew to appreciate a new culture, while seeing the flaws of the old culture. Three years is quite a while to live outside your home culture, but I’m not sure it is enough to truly understand the culture.

Given the nature and story of the book, I feel bad for my mixed feelings. Again, there is much to like and enjoy about this book. The Alan’s spent three years overseas.Their faithfulness should be recognized and imitated. Yet, three years is not enough to fully understand or perhaps even appreciate a foreign culture. Perhaps acknowledging their time there, while at the same time, recognizing there was much more to learn about the culture may have helped.

I do recommend this book, because it is an honest account of an American family who heard the call of God to a greater purpose. God continues to invite each of us into adventures of his kingdom. They might not look like the Alan’s adventure in southeast Asia, but the Alan’s journey of faithfulness and answered calling is one we can and should discover for ourselves.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Barely Bearable

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So, this is what I have to carry through Walmart because I love my son. No, the bear wasn’t for him. It was for his girlfriend.  Because I was going to be in town,  I said I would pick it up not thinking about the looks and questions I would get.

Love makes you do things you wouldn’t normally.  For my son it was getting a four foot bear. For me it was being seen in public with it.

Pastors and Expectations

Someone once told me that a pastor is the only person who has two hundred bosses. That is…if you serve a church with two hundred members. The larger the church, the more ‘bosses’ you have. Of course I chuckled at that. It isn’t nearly that bad, but one of the pressures of being of pastor is a sense that you have different sets of expectations that aren’t always compatible, thus the idea of multiple bosses.

In the previous article I listed the expectations the Discipline has. They are varied and many. Yet, there are times when the district has their own set of expectations (that are usually backed up in the Discipline) as does the conference. There are also expectations coming from your church, your community, your family and even yourself. Over and beyond that we have a sense that God has expectations too. So, what is a pastor to do? Who trumps whom? Should we always meet expectations coming from our church, or should it always be the district/conference? Or maybe our family? Where do our own expectations formed in prayer, silence and spiritual practices come into play?

There have been times when I’ve felt like I’m running around trying to keep multiple plates spinning at once. Other times I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope high above the cold hard ground trying to stay balanced. Keeping conflicting expectations (which do occur) balanced isn’t so much a science than it is an art. I believe age and maturity can help us prioritize our lives. Our understanding of worth and where we receive a sense of validation is one of the main factors in how we keep things in balance and decide what we must do and what we can leave undone. If we receive our worth and feelings of validation from being viewed as the pastor who has it all together and can do ‘all things’ then the church’s expectations will probably win. If our validation comes from a positive view of our DS, bishop or other connectional colleague, then we will try to meet and exceed our conference/district expectations.

A sense of worth, validation and esteem are powerful motivators. Jesus even spoke to this. He asks, what good is it to gain the whole world, yet loose your soul? I have to ask myself: What good is it to have all those around you sing your praises if you are empty inside? If we get our sense of worth and validation anywhere other than God, there is a possibility that we will be led to a wrong end.

We will always have conflicting expectations. The question is, will we be able to manage them? I suggest spending time discerning what God’s call is for you as a pastor. What passions has God placed in your life? There will always be expectations surrounding you and ministry, but it is important to spend time allowing God to leading to those one or two things God has called you to. This is not as easy as it sounds. We must first put aside all of our agendas and ambitions. We must stifle the voice of the culture that will try to define what ‘success’ looks like. Success is discovering God’s will for you and following that without guilt or apology. Listening in prayer is important and so is listening to spiritually mature individuals whom you trust.

Once you believe you know what God’s call for you is, then it is time to deal with issues such as productivity, distractions, time management, delegation, etc. I will discuss these things in later postings. The first task is to spend time with God discerning God’s will and praying the prayer that Jesus prayed (“not my will, but Your’s be done”). God’s will is the foundation from which ministry will flow.

On Pastoral Work

Okay. I’ll admit it. I’m a pastor. It is what I do. It is who I am. I can’t get away from it. Every Monday morning I get up and I start the week doing the work of a pastor. I know I’m not alone. There are a lot of pastors out there. Perhaps you are one…or know one. But what does it mean to be a pastor? What is our work really about? How do we know when we are doing the work of a pastor? How do we know if we are doing the work of the pastor?

The Book of Discipline has some things to say about pastoral work. Even though pastors are ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service there are many things that potentially includes. Here is what 2004 Book of Discipline says (I’ve condensed some of this so it isn’t ‘word for word’ but it does include all of the responsibilities listed in paragraph 340):

  • Word
    • Preach, lead in worship, read and teach the scripture and engage the people in study and witness
      • Ensure faithful transmission of the Christian faith
      • Lead people in discipleship and evangelistic outreach
    • Counsel persons with personal, ethical, or spiritual struggles
    • Perform the ecclesial acts of marriage and burial
      • perform marriages after due counsel in accordance with state laws and rules of the UMC.
      • With funerals/memorials provide care and grief counseling
    • Visit in the homes of the church and community, especially the sick, aged, imprisoned, and others in need
    • Maintain all confidences inviolate except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law.
  • Sacrament
    • Administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance
      • Prepare the parents and sponsors before baptizing infants or children, and instruct them concerning the sacrament’s significance and their responsibilities.
      • Encourage reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and renewal of baptismal vows at different stages of life
      • Encourage people baptized in infancy or early childhood to make their profession of faith, after instruction, so that they might become professing members of the church
      • Explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness
      • To select and train others to serve the consecrated communion elements
    • Encourage the private and congregational use of the other means of grace
  • Order
    • To be the administrative officer of the local church and to assure that the organizational concerns of the congregation are adequately provided for
      • To give pastoral support, guidance, and training to the lay leadership, equipping them to fulfill the ministry to which they are called
      • To give oversight to the educational program of the church and encourage the use of United Methodist literature and media
      • To be responsible for organizational faithfulness, goal setting, planning and evaluation.
      • To search out and counsel men and women fo rthe ministry of deacons, elders, local pastors and other church related ministries.
    • To administer the temporal affairs of the church in their appointment, to the annual conference, and the general church
      • To administer the provisions of the Discipline
      • To give an account of their pastoral ministries to the charge and annual conference according to the prescribed forms
      • To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation
      • To promote faithful, financial stewardship and to encourage giving as a spiritual discipline
      • To lead the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative, and benevolent funds
      • To care for all church records and local church financial obligations, and certify the accuracy of all financial, membership, and any other reports submitted by the local church to the annual conference for use in apportioning costs back to the church
    • To participate in denominational and conference programs and training opportunities
      • To seek out opportunities for cooperative ministries with other United Methodist pastors and churches
      • To be willing to assume supervisory responsibilities within the connection
    • To lead the congregation in racial and ethnic inclusiveness
  • Service
    • To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministries and servant leadership
    • To give diligent pastoral leadership in ordering the life of the congregation for discipleship in the world
    • To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world
    • To participate in community, ecumenical and inter-religious concerns and to encourage the people to become so involved and to pray and labor for the unity of the Christian community.

That is quite a list. It is important to notice that while there are many responsibilities, they also vary greatly. For example: Pastors are supposed to be counselors and administrators along with teachers and in some respect scholars. Added to those four roles, pastors are also to be able to communicate, that is preach, effectively. Is it any wonder why pastors can find their task challenging and at times frustrating. I also wonder if there is any one person who can adequately, let a lone successfully, fulfill all of the varied roles.

Yet, there is another aspect to pastoral work. The Discipline can say all it wants about pastoral roles, but most pastors believe they also have a calling from God. One of my wonders is whether it is possible for one person to be all the Discipline calls him or her to be and all God calls that person to be. Is it possible that if a person fulfills the calling of the Discipline they may fail their calling of God? How can one know? How can a pastor know he or she is being faithful rather than shirking his or her responsibilities?

It would be easy for a pastor to get by with doing little or not much at all. Most pastors don’t have anyone holding them accountable for how they spend their time. While some pastors spend as much as twenty hours on sermon preparation, others could just ‘wing’ it. There may be a segment of pastors who know that and exploit it for their benefit. That being said, I find the vast majority of pastors have a strong work ethic and probably do more than their congregation ever knows about. They are diligent workers because they are trying to please their Lord.

I’m planning on posting several articles exploring what it means to be a pastor. I want to explore the ambiguity, difficulties, loneliness, joy, struggle, emotions that are connected with being a 21st century pastor. These articles will be my perspective and opinions. You can feel free to disagree and you probably will. I am also interested in your experiences, thoughts, opinion and stories. How are you doing in ministry? Is it a joy or burden? Are you doing well, or are you struggling? I don’t plan on posting anything you send to me unless you give me specific permission to do so.

If you comment on this article it could begin a conversations.

The next article in this series will be Pastors and Expectations.

The Last Goodbye

It was the last goodbye. The only thing was, I didn’t know it at the time. My father seemed like he was feeling better. It had been a week since we learned the news that he had cancer. Before that, he simply wasn’t feeling right. After a couple of weeks of feeling bad he decided to go to the hospital. There he received medical attention and started feeling better.

Then there was the surgery. They needed to remove fluid buildup. After that, he said he felt much better. In fact, he wanted to go back home, but not eating much in the previous three weeks left him weak. This meant he would go to a nursing home/rehab facility until he could get his strength back.

When I saw him he was in good spirits. He talked about going home on Friday, but since he wasn’t able to get in to see the oncologist the trip home would have to wait. They needed to hear from the doctor before they would release him from rehabilitation.

My time in Forsyth was mostly spent sitting in his room talking with him, well, actually he did most of the talking, but I sat and listened. I realized that was the best thing I could do at the time. I heard stories that I knew and a few that I didn’t.

It was Wednesday when I saw him last. We had made a trip to the doctor’s office to see his surgery doctor. It was there dad learned that he would be staying in the rehab center a bit longer. He took the news in stride. He wanted to go home, but he knew that he would have to wait. He said it was fine. He said at least at the rehab center he had people bringing him his food and washing his clothes.

Wednesday night we sat together and watched a children’s choir from a local church. It looked like they had all ages from kindergarten to middle school. In total, there were seven children. Not a big group, but from the looks on the faces of those sitting in the dining hall it didn’t matter. My dad enjoyed it immensely.

After the children finished singing we sat and talked with a couple of friends of his who came to visit. Dad had been on a couple of mission trips with them (my dad went on mission trips even though he was in his mid 80s). It was a good visit.

After the festivities I said my goodbyes. I was getting up the next morning and traveling home. I had no idea it would be the last goodbye. I had no idea that three days later he would no longer be with us, but rather he would be in the hands of God who loved him and who he loved.

I want to thank all of you for the cards, the words, the prayers, the help and the hugs you have given to my family and me these past few weeks. Many of you have walked this road. Some of you are walking it right now. Not knowing when that last goodbye will come. I have felt your prayers and love. It makes a huge difference. Thank you!!!

I guess I’m learning that sometimes it is good to put things on hold. Sometimes the best thing that we can do is take the time to be with those we love because none of us know when the goodbye will be the last.