Rainer Publishing, 2017. 143pp.
An eagerness to fulfill our calling doesn’t necessarily mean we will, at least not without taking important practical steps along the way. The first step, according to Scott Douglas, is to start well. In this volume, appropriately titled, Start Well, the author offers seven key priorities to help pastors and church leaders start or restart their ministry in a way that creates the best opportunity for success.
Starting well does not guarantee a good finish, and we can overcome a bad start and still finish well. But Douglas observes that many pastors “fall out of ministry not because they weren’t smart enough or gifted enough preachers; they fall out because they got off to a bad start and weren’t able to recover.” So he makes a preemptive strike by showing us what a good start looks like.
Start Well begins with a chapter titled Prioritize Spiritual Growth. Just as Jesus made an intentional effort to cultivate a relationship with the Father, so we who are in ministry must do the same. Douglas states, “Practicing spiritual disciplines provide fuel to accomplish the work.” He leans heavily on Don Whitney’s work Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life as an apt guide.
Moving on from the spiritual life of the pastor, Douglas tackles the issue of personal calling and identity. He highlights the necessary work of understanding how God created us, what our experiences have taught us, and what our passions really are. He goes on to encourage pastors to find mentors who are older, experienced, and available to invest in us. In chapter 4, Douglas takes the opportunity to help pastors establish boundaries that will “give us the chance to serve, love, teach, and lead with excellence, while maintaining our own soul care and keeping our families a priority.”
Starting well also means understanding the unique culture of our ministry setting. In chapter 5, Douglas explains that culture is discovered in the context of relationships. As we build trust, then we can lead change. So the remaining chapters provide practical insight for pastors as we build genuine friendships, agree on a shared vision, and lead our congregation well.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
I remember my first hour as a part-time youth minister. After unloading my box of commentaries to the one shelf available in the recreation office, I sat at the desk provided and thought, “Now what?” After the interview and relocation process, we finally get to the starting line. We have dreams and aspirations, church members have expectations, Sunday is coming, and other programming needs call for our attention, but we often lack clarity about how to actually start.
Whether just beginning ministry or making a new start in a new church setting, Start Well provides practical and easily applied guidance to help pastors take good first steps. Douglas’ emphases on the pastor’s spiritual life and developing healthy relationships are essential fundamentals for everyone who intends to lead God’s people. The work of ministry is too intense, too demanding, and offers too many temptations for the pastor to neglect cultivating a deepening relationship Jesus. But nurturing one’s spiritual life alone does not guarantee a successful start.
The daily responsibilities of ministry require clear understanding and wise practices. So Douglas’ counsel to pastors to “figure out your calling” may be the first step before the first step. Many pastors assume a general call to ministry means they could flourish in any ministry setting or assignment. But as we determine our unique bent, gifts, and passion, we discover greater fruitfulness and fulfillment.
Throughout this accessible work, the pastor or church leader will get a strong sense that ministry success is largely about building healthy relationships, and Douglas helps us see the value of finding good mentors, developing relationships, building teams, and earning the trust necessary to shepherd the congregation God gives to us.
The demands of ministry are diverse and can be overwhelming in the beginning, but Scott Douglas gives us a roadmap for good decision-making that help us to not only start well, but to stay the course for the long run.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By