Piper, John. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, Updated and Expanded Edition. Revised ed. Nashville: B&H Books, 2013, xii+308p. $14.99, paper.
Review by Shane Shaddix
The first edition of John Piper’s Brothers We Are Not Professionals was the first book on pastoral ministry I ever read. It was given to me by a seminary student while I was in high school. Having never heard of John Piper, I asked why this book by this guy was the one he wanted me to read. He explained Piper’s passionate preaching and his singular focus on the glory of God in all things. This book was that passion and that focus applied to pastoral ministry.
As I dove into the pages of Brothers, I was not disappointed. There is a certain simplicity to the book that fleshes out the argument Piper makes in the first chapter (and in the book title): pastors and pastoral ministry must be categorized by something fundamentally different than the professionalism and flashiness of the world. The chapters are short and pithy, filled with Scripture. They don’t provide strategies and self-help tips, but rather exhort those shepherding the flock of God to demonstrate and live out the same God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent ministry that Piper himself has been marked by for many years.
Piper shows in Brothers that pastoral ministry is glorious, but in a veiled way. It isn’t glorious in the same way that leading a fortune 500 company or playing for a professional sports team is glorious. It is glorious because it is the awesome task of leading, feeding, and protecting the people bought with the precious blood of Christ. And just as the glory is of a different sort, so also is the very nature of ministry fundamentally different from professionalism. Indeed, the two are opposites by definition. Piper explains,
“Our first business is to pant after God in prayer. Our business is to weep over our sins (James 4:9). Is there professional weeping? Our business is to strain forward to the holiness of Christ and the prize of the upward call of God (Phil. 3:14); to pummel our bodies and take up the blood-spattered cross daily (Luke 9:23). How do you carry a cross professionally?…What is professional faith?” (1-2).
Piper goes on to answer:
“Brothers, we are not professionals! We are outcasts. We are aliens and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20). You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it. And it is being killed” (2).
So Piper, throughout the book, offers 36 exhortations in 36 chapters for pastors to have their ministry marked, not by professionalism, but by radical devotion to Jesus Christ. This “radical ministry” involves both right doctrine and wise practice. It means preaching justification by faith (chapter 5), cherishing the glory of God (chapter 2), and weeping over the reality of hell (chapter 20). But it also means reading good Christian biographies (chapter 16) and studying the original languages (chapter 15). A de-professionalized ministry—radical ministry—means delving into the depths of doctrines like the love of God (chapter 2) even as we bring doctrine to bear on everyday life as in issues such as abortion (chapter 33) and racism (chapter 32). It is a ministry of desperate dependence (chapter 10) and deep passion (chapter 25).
Such was the call of Brothers when it came out 10 years ago. And this new and revised edition includes 6 new chapters, but the heart is the same. Piper reveals in the Preface to the New Edition that these six chapters flow out of his own ministry experience over the past 10 years. Some of them were written to provide theological balance to emphases such as God’s love for his own glory (chapter4). Others are more practical, like the pastor’s need to take care of his own body (chapter 27). These new chapters show Piper’s own development, but they fit perfectly within the original 30. This is because, as Piper explains,
“Instead of going away, the pressure to ‘professionalize’ the pastorate has morphed and strengthened. Among younger pastors the talk is less about the therapeutic and managerial professionalization and more about communication or contextualization… This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the stuffy upper floors, but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring. This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA but in being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world. This is the professionalization of ambiance, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force” (ix)
Wisely, Piper then asks,
“If this can be called professionalism, what does it have in common with the older version? Everything that matters” (ix).
Anyone familiar with the evangelical landscape knows that Piper is exactly right in this diagnosis, and that is precisely why this book is as relevant now as it was 10 years ago, if not more so. The dangers of professionalism are more subtle, but no less real. My prayer for this new and expanded edition is that many more high school future-pastors (as well as present pastors!) will drink deeply from the wisdom of a pastor who has long modeled what he commends, and that they will resist the soul-killing lure of professionalism in favor of faithful, biblical, radical ministry.