Whilst listening to the For the Church Podcast the other day, the question posed was something like “What books have been helpful for you as a pastor?” The immediate response was “The Pastor’s Justification” – of which…I have never heard…until that moment. He said it so matter of factly that I was embarrassed I hadn’t heard of it, nevertheless read it. Good thing I was alone in the Mighty Tundra.
Being that we live in the age of one-click, I actually ordered it from the Amazon app while driving [I’m sure it was safe], and had it in 2 days.
I consumed it shortly thereafter, and I must agree…it is profoundly helpful.
Jared Wilson is a ridiculously talented writer. I don’t say that just in hopes that he re-tweets this, but because it’s true. He knows what pastoring is like and he translates that with transparency, depth, and humor that makes for a profoundly helpful read.
As the title indicates – pastors, like most perhaps, are prone to searching for a ‘justification’ – something to ease the nagging questions of the tired soul. “Am I doing enough?” “Am I even good at this?” “Am I doing too much?” “I’m probably terrible at this, right?” Jared proclaims what we all need to keep our drooping soul’s eyes fixed on – “there is no Justification 2.0 for ministers of the gospel. There is only the gospel itself – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” . How to get that thru our thick skulls and into a Monday reality is what this book is all about.
The pastor, although still working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, is still the one called to lead the church to their own maturity, through their own muck and mire. On Sunday, as he stands in the pulpit and pours out what the Holy Spirit has been pouring into him all week, he walks in full – while the church walks in empty. On Monday morning the reverse happens, the pastor is now empty, drained from the whirlwind that was Sunday, and the church is full. Happy Monday. I agree the “Monday morning pastoral hangover is real.”
For me, this is a mixed blessing, as I truly love what I’ve been given the privilege of doing. Let’s face it, it’s joy and an honor. But the image of a stone that is pushed up a hill all week only to watch it roll back down to the bottom each Sunday afternoon. Monday afternoon, it’s time to get rolling again. My routine side loves that [Nerd Alert/Routine Idolatry], but the reality is that many Mondays, my arms are tired, and my soul is achy. Isn’t that the same for all of us?
Pastors are to be free – free from sin through the justification by faith in Jesus. Free from the sin of being arrogant, from ruling harshly, from leading with selfish gain.
Pastors are to be holy – and we rest again in the justification of Jesus who accomplished this for us. “Be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:16] is “both a command and a promise (thank God.)”. . Yet, we are called to be killing sin, and growing in personal holiness. Robert Murray McCheyne famously said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” Not better programs, though we should be innovative. Not better sermons, though we are called to be diligent. We need to submit ourselves to the Word that we are proclaiming on Sunday mornings. We will be holy, if we obey, so obey.
Pastors are to be humble – this, even in a small church context is challenging. There is a constant flow of compliments, and to balance them…some critiques as well. But the reality is that if we are being faithful, God is at work and people will change and they will be thankful. Wilson reminds us that we need to be humble in all things – in suffering, in ‘messy ministry’, in prayer and in the Word.
Pastors are to be confident. Not in ourselves, for we are to be “point them to the real Jesus and away from yourself.”  We are to be cultivating a “gospel-wakened” sense that goes beyond worship styles, “petty criticisms and legalistic slander.” 
Pastors are to be watchful. Watchful toward those who need Jesus, even (especially?) those who are ‘less-than.’ Watchful against heresy – an ever increasing risk in this internet age. Watchful against apostasy – a casual glance at Twitter of late will show only an increase in big name apostasy. How do we work through that and in our own people? Watchful against gossip. Watchful against division. And watchful against ourselves – as Wilson repeats several times…and it hurts every time (thanks Jared) “Remember, the pastor’s biggest problem is himself.” . Who watches us? We can certainly isolate ourselves and there is where the danger is. Tell the truth. Let people in. Trusted mature brothers. [and I’ll add for good measure – listen to your wife. She is a good and Godly gift to see our hearts when we don’t want to]
Pastors are justified. Our security, the one that shakes when things don’t go as planned, must be in Jesus. Fire our internal defense lawyer. Christ justifies. Not us. “I am a dummy, and God is good.” . Again, thanks for that, Jared.
In Part 2, Wilson anchors the “glory” of pastors in the gospel, using the Five Solas. Sola Scriptura – Scripture is authoritative and complete, so we preach God’s Word and we stand on it’s authority, not ours. Let God’s Word do God’s work.
Sola Gratia – we are saved only by God’s grace, so we model grace to our people. We “seed grace in every space.” . This speaks to the need for gospel intentionality in all things – the gospel of grace first, not programs. This quote is soooo good, I just have to drop it – “A community whose culture is gospel-intentioned is the antidote to programmed discipleship, where “church” is not the people but a set of programs and activities, and its relegated to fitting into the sovereignty of peoples schedules.”  #Boom.
Sola Fide – we are justified by our faith alone, in Jesus, so we pastor by faith, and that includes letting people in. Being transparent. [See Wilson’s story of the start of his pastorate in Vermont…] We faithfully preach God’s Word and we let it do It’s work.
Solus Christus – it’s only Christ, so we make him the center. If you are familiar with the FTC podcast that’s Wilson’s thing “May Jesus be big.” Since it’s Christ who justifies us, it’s all about Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria – it’s all about God’s glory, not ours, so we pastor to bring honor to Him. “The pastor who will see God’s glory is the pastor who pursues God’s glory in exclusion of everything that falls short. All lesser glories may be placed on the altar.” . He must increase, I must decrease…
This book hurt a little. The good kind of hurt. Part of it was validating…maybe I’m not crazy…maybe we are on the right track. Part of it was encouraging…maybe I’m not the only guy that thinks these things. Part of it was confronting…Pastors, we have a precious calling, but a dangerous one. We must be every vigilant, to proclaim not our own justification, but only the justification of Jesus in all we do.
One thought on “Book Review – The Pastor’s Justification”
It sounds like “imposter syndrome”, a very common malady for the rest of us in soul-sucking professional careers. As a project manager, I remind myself “if it were easy, anyone could do it. It’s not easy, so I must do it”. Not quite a spiritual calling, but it gets me through the tough times. Questioning our own motivations, impact, and effort levels is a sign that we’re well-grounded and leading correctly. It’s when we think we’re doing everything perfect, that we’ve surrendered to hubris.