This is the first Book Review I’ve done this year, largely because this is the first book I’ve finished since I started blogging again! In doing these, my aim is not to provide a critical “good or bad?” analysis, or to puff myself up by showing how many books I’ve read (it probably won’t be that many!), but rather to give an insight into what I’m learning this year. I’ll be focussing therefore on the key things that stood out for me from each book and helped me in my walk with Jesus, in the hope that they might be helpful for you too.
Having read a couple of excellent Christian books over the past few years with a number of guys from the CU, but not done much outside that, it was admittedly a struggle at times to keep going without the structure of a “one chapter a week, then gather to discuss it” model. Alongside this, The Heart of a Servant Leader has quite a unique style; it’s a collection of letters written by Jack Miller (I hadn’t heard of him either) to individuals he was mentoring, arranged into quite broad sections and covering a huge range of pastoral issues. As someone who feels wholly inexperienced in this area, I found myself reading just one or two letters a night in order to try and absorb as much of it as I could. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean that it took quite a while to get through! Ultimately though, the truth is that I could never remember his exact response to each individual pastoral situation anyway, and even if I could, my experiences in real life will necessitate so much more of a personal response than any copy and paste answer, no matter how good it seems. Instead, here are a few helpful principles that stood out to me as I read the book:
Jack’s reliance on prayer comes through time and time again in his letters, as does his high view of its importance for Christian life. So often, it’s the starting point for dealing with the most difficult issues and the fuel to keep going during the toughest times. Jack is particularly bold in asking how specifically he can pray for those he is writing to, and for humbly asking for prayer from them too. I know that’s definitely an area I need to grow in.
Alongside asking for prayer for all kinds of different struggles in his own life, Jack models a gospel humility throughout his letters. He’s honest about his own faults and failures, but doesn’t dwell in misery, using his weaknesses to give the glory to God and demonstrate how God has moulded and shaped him through them. In speaking challenges to sinful behaviour, he never fails to offer up examples of where he too has fallen short and needed the truth to be spoken in love to him; alongside recognising that he could be mistaken and asking his recipients to simply prayfully and honestly consider whether changes were required in their own lives.
The Power of the Gospel
In the midst of such a wide range of pastoral issues, another highlight is Jack’s belief in the power of the Gospel to change any life and transform any situation. From missionaries struggling with the fear of violent oppression to fellow pastors whose churches have split apart, Jack remained convinced that the gospel was sufficient to provide hope in the darkest situation. For me, this was a real challenge for the Church to raise our eyes and raise our expectations of what Jesus can do with any person or situation; to reject a watered-down Jesus and embrace the crucified yet conquering Saviour.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Heart of a Servant Leader. Despite most of the letters being written at least twenty years ago, they addressed issues which are real and relevant for us in the Church today, and Jack Miller brings a lot of wisdom to what are often difficult and complex situations. I’ve certainly learnt a lot from it, and from him.