blog post book review

Insufficient: Book Review

Insufficient: Pursuing Grace-Based Pastoral Competence

Insufficient: Pursuing Grace-Based Pastoral Competence by Randy Nabors
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was gifted to me by kind Church members, and they were interested in hearing my thoughts about it. I have great respect for Randy Nabors, and so whatever I have to say about this book should be taken in that light. Nabors tries to balance two ideas in this book: the pastor is insufficient, but must be competent in the ministry. As I read through the book, I kept a list of things I appreciated, and things I did not appreciate. These lists are basically equal, and so I will simply spell them out here:

First of all, there are a number of things I appreciate about this book. For one, Nabors is a genuine evangelical with a concern for the pastors of other denominations. He is interested in discussing the Scriptures that are relevant to each topic that he covers. He focuses on our need of grace and dependence upon Christ in the pastoral ministry. He also includes a good description of preaching against sin while offering grace, and points out that we must explain the gospel in our sermons. I enjoyed his chapter on worship, and was edified by his chapter on evangelism, especially the portions on the evangelism of children. He makes excellent points about leadership and people-pleasing, as well as having friendships in the Church. I appreciated that as he discussed certain areas of culture, he asks more questions about transformation and culture than he gives answers. I liked that he sought to avoid debate about culture, and seeks to provide only the pastoral reality that we must understand it and converse wisely with our communities.

Secondly, there are things I did not appreciate about the book. I found the discussion of holiness (p. 21-22) confusing and at times somewhat fallacious. I thought that there were numerous generalizations about black-white relationships that end up distorting the purpose of his discussion on sin, which is that we ought to be pointing out particular sins, and not generalized past sin. I also wondered if there could be more of a focus on how our racial relations reveal our insufficiency. Nabors focuses on our need for competence in regards to this area, but at times it feels lacking in grace or mercy to those who are insufficient for the task of “maintaining the Spirit of unity in the bond of peace”.

Another area I did not appreciate was one aspect of the role of the minister. Actually, while I may disagree with certain assumptions that Nabors makes about the role or task of a minister for which we must be competent, I thought Nabors was mostly careful about not being too heavy-handed in his perspective. Unfortunately, he does insinuate that certain perspectives on ministry, or approaches to it, are sinful rather than different. I did not appreciate the multiple insinuations, and at times outright disparagement, of certain types of ministers. He suggests on p. 61 that we are unfaithful in our application of Scripture, and that, p. 61, “many White preachers have no idea that their preaching and living are out of balance,” note the word “many”. The description he gives of what that looks like rests upon the idea that we ought to be welcoming to those with different-colored skin, and different economic classes. This suggests that “many” White preachers do not seek this. It may be that Nabors thinks this because we do not all agree on the way in which we are to seek this, and our ministries may not look the same as his. Further, on p.210 he suggests that being middle-class leads to non-involvement in the affairs of others surrounding us, and on p. 221, that “Reformed Pastors often” note the word “often”, “often condemn the physical and emotional”. While this may be the experience of some ministers, I’ve never heard a Reformed Pastor condemn the physical and emotional, or be uninvolved in the larger community surrounding them, and I’ve been Reformed for 30 years. I find these sorts of quips and insinuations to be generally unfounded, and that they end up detracting from the main purpose of his book. It makes it seem as if he believes his fellow White ministers are sinning if they have not adopted his perspective on cross-cultural ministry, or are not in an area where they can engage in cross-cultural ministry in the same manner as him.

Overall, Nabors book is a helpful, unique, and interesting read on pastoral ministry. It is a Reformed perspective on ministry in a difficult situation and time in our nation. I found multiple areas that were insightful and thoughtful, and to which I will return for help in my future ministry. And while I may disagree with some of Nabors’ perspective on the task of a minister, I didn’t find this disagreement to be my main issue. My main issue with the book is with what I consider rather graceless and possibly straw man insinuations about certain kinds of ministers. In the end, my main take-away is this: Yes, we must be competent, but yes, we must also pursue competency by admitting our insufficiency, and clinging to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to reconcile His people to the only wise God.

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