My Fanatical, Regrettable Tour of Ministry by Ron Mahler (Word Alive Press)
Released September 2011
Every once in a while, a new book comes along that is dubbed a “must read.” I have purchased and read quite a few of these books. The book you hold in your hand, however, at one point held a very different status; it was a “must finish.” Though I have spent three years writing this book, it has been in the works for over forty years! That’s because it’s a book about my life; more to the point, about my time serving God as a pastor in church ministry. Completing it has been a little like nursing an obsessive habit; wherever I went, my laptop and book went with me. I even made sure that the book’s document file on my computer, the copy of it on my memory stick, and the updated printed copy were never in the same place for very long—in case of fire.
I know it sounds crazy, but the whole experience makes me feel like I’ve been sitting on an egg for the last three years, waiting for it to hatch! Far from being an exercise in reliving past hurts and disappointments, working on this project has been a convicting and therapeutic endeavour. Writing it has forced me to reflect upon and further process the many trials I have experienced as a man and leader in the church. Interestingly enough, I never aspired to be a “writer,” per se. Like other pastors who have been preaching for a good number of years, I have written a ton and instinctively know the mechanics involved in putting together a three-point sermon. Writing a book, however, has been an entirely different, and rather arduous, task.
Initially, I sensed a personal need to begin putting my thoughts down on paper. My sole intention was to journal through my feelings about how some of the unfortunate events I’ve encountered in the pastorate have affected me as a child of God. That naturally led me to digress even further back in my life. The result was not only a re-evaluation of the steps that led to my call to the pastorate, but an autopsy on how my life, in B.C. time (before Christ), conditioned and shaped who I am now as a man and leader. I felt it necessary to write not only for my own emotional and spiritual benefit, but in passing along some of my own hard lessons serving as a pastor it has become a ministry to other leaders in the church.
In the course of my writing, I heard a saying that went like this: “The world will tell you who you are, until you tell world who you are.” These words arrested me as I began to relate them to the trials I’ve experienced as a leader in church ministry. Almost instantly, I felt that my motive in writing this book was affirmed. From that point, the basis for getting this work “out there” was born. Jesus Christ, as my personal Saviour, continues to change my life; that much I do know! However, in terms of some of the struggles and painful failures that mark my years in ministry, God has given me a choice as to how I want them to affect me. I have chosen to believe, therefore, that though trials threaten to deflate our faith and siphon our hope, they don’t have to flatten our dreams.
In this book, you’ll find that I have covered a vast array of spiritual themes and issues pertaining to the Christian life. At times I speak from the perspective of a Christian leader, where at other points I shoot from the hip simply as a Christian man. This book is not a thesis on how to decipher the vocational call of God upon one’s life, though you will surely find traces of how God led me to embrace His will for me. This book is not a manual for formulating church growth, either, even though I do interject some of my own findings on that convoluted subject. Lastly, though the book never claims to reveal the steps one needs to take in order to become a great leader, I do discuss some key learning curves and ministry insights that have been impressed upon me.
So what is this book really about? I begin by presenting a snapshot of my upbringing in a broken home, my personal struggles to come to faith in Christ, and my subsequent call to ministry. I document some of the more dominant trials I endured in the first four churches I ministered in as a pastor. I address, as well, the plethora of challenges I encountered within the cultures of churches, challenges that envelop almost every facet of church leadership. This is a book that I hope will be beneficial for other leaders, especially those who are feeling alone and stuck in seasons of criticism and conflict. But if you feel called to vocational ministry, this book may also be for you.
Finally, it is a book for believers who may feel bogged down in the spiritual quagmire of perceived personal inadequacy and professional failure. If you have blundered greatly in the ministry and wonder whether you could really be trusted by God and used of Him again, I definitely advise you to read on! Please note, however, that this book raises more questions about the complexities of church leadership than it provides answers. I realize that there’s always more that can and should be learned and experienced about church leadership, so take my writings for what they are. I haven’t got it all figured out; I simply aim to draw biblical conclusions that directly relate to my own experiences.
Therefore, I invite you to read of my fanatical, regrettable tour in the ministry. It may be a familiar one to some and foreign to others. Yet if my story encourages, ministers to, promotes dialogue in, comforts, or teaches anyone, I’ll consider my mission to be accomplished. It is my prayer that you enjoy reading about my tour in the ministry, and will see something of your own life reflected in these pages—whether you are in the ministry, or not. Though the events described in this book are very real, the names of the individual churches and people I refer to (predominantly pastors) have been altered, to preserve privacy. Indeed, this book is not intended to be an indictment against the character of anyone whom I have been associated with in ministry.
I have no illusions of where my proper place is in the Kingdom of Heaven. There is only One Judge who has the right to pronounce a final, perfect verdict on our lives, and I, like you, will face Him one day. We are all flawed servants of God who say and do things we can later regret. Ministry is difficult, and if we could all go back and do things differently, we would. Although it may seem at times that I have some sort of axe to grind, I can unequivocally assure you that I do not. Life is too short, and forgiveness and mercy too rich of spiritual treasures, to waste!