Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.
By Skye Jethan
–Review by Landrum P. Leavell III, ThD.
I like the writing of Skye Jethani. He writes from the inside but with outside eyes, always challenging and informing. Having read his The Divine Commodity: Discovering Faith Beyond Consumer Culture and WITH: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, I was ready for his wayfaring guidance and gestation in this one. In Immeasurable, he addresses the question, “Are we doing the right work?” What do renewed postures toward our sacred calling look like? Have we bought into unbiblical definitions of success? What about doing the kind of ministry that can’t be measured
One of the first things that struck me in the book was the dedication: “Dedicated to: Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson.” That quaternity will get your attention. Those four men (“…giants in the earth in those days.” Gen. 6:4, KJV) have indelibly marked me and in some way, most everyone I know in ministry.
Immeasurable is a collection of essays on the current state of pastoral ministry. There are 24 brief essays covering a wide range of relevant topics from the dailyness of ministry. At the end of each essay is a succinct but poignant Reflection and Application. These are thought-full, sobering, and probing. For example, at the end of the essay on Complexity: “Consider how God has metaphorically messed with your dog food in the past.” (#awesome) (92) At the end of the essay on Justice: “Which side of the artificial evangelism/social justice divide are you most likely to fall on? How do you unintentionally place certain elements of God’s work above others or diminish other Christians’ callings?” (183)
Some of the essay subjects and their descriptors will give you an idea of the content and direction: Wastefulness—True worship is never transactional. “True worship can never be wasteful because it seeks no return on investment.” (31) Vampires—When we lose sight of God’s plan for the church, it sucks the life out of His people. Vampire church is predicated on a misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission, assuming our Lord created the universe and then retired into full-time church work.
Shepherds—The danger of pastors taking responsibilities that only belong to God. “When we overstep as shepherds…when we assume the responsibility for a disciple’s specific calling, what Peter attempted to do with John, a tendency our culture’s understanding of leadership often encourages.” (55)
Enemies—If church leaders really understood their challenges, we’d pray more. Application: “Why don’t we have a prayer audit? What would it look like to make prayer an indispensable component of your work and community?” (67)
Complexity—A church and its mission are messier than ever. Thank God! “The complexity and chaos we are experiencing is meant to drive us back to dependence upon Him and shatter the false trust we’ve put in our system, structures, institutions.” (85) Redundancy-In a healthy church no one should be irreplaceable but Jesus.
Illumination—Preaching is about revealing God’s beauty, not merely teaching His truths. “We are so preoccupied with the details of the service that calming our souls and communing with Christ is nearly impossible.” (113)
Comfort—We’ve made church too easy—a little difficulty actually leads to more growth. Rest—The real meaning of our work is only found when we stop doing it. “The fruit of our work is not determined by how much we accomplish around us, but by how connected we are to God’s Spirit within us.” (130)
Platform—The danger of basing our ministry on popularity rather than presence and proximity. Celebrity—How authority in the church is now determined by the marketplace rather than maturity. “In the place of a church hierarchy, we’ve built the Evangelical Industrial Complex; we expect publishers, conferences, directors, and radio producers to protect the flock from wolves.” (145)
Witness—The temptations of social media and learning to live with an audience of One. “But as church leaders, we are tempted, perhaps more than others, to believe that our value is defined by the visible, quantifiable, and tweetable aspects of our lives.” (170) Technology—How phones give the illusion of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence—and the danger to ministry.
Missionalism—The problem with prioritizing what we do for God above God Himself. Rehabilitation—Restoring the dignity of broken people by incarnating the presence of God. “To be a pastor is to freely give what we possess, which is nothing the world values and yet is the most valuable thing in all the world. The world values what is useful, which is what Church, Inc. tries to provide, but all we have is Jesus.” (210)
Immeasurable is worth your time. Challenge, encouragement, clarity, and forward-looking and thinking.