A Feature Review of
The Resilient Pastor: Leading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World
Reviewed by Joel Wentz
If I had to summarize the experience of reading the entirety of The Resilient Pastor in a single word, that word would be, well, pastoral. Some books about the vocation of pastoring lean into practical advice, or inspiring and energetic vision, or maybe intellectual theory and cultural engagement, but while this book certainly contains elements of each of the above, it is defined primarily by care for pastors, particularly in our post-Covid moment. Each chapter contains pages that radiate gentle concern for those in full-time, local-church ministry leadership, and as a result the reading experience is reminiscent of sitting with a deeply loving mentor or spiritual director.
To be honest, this surprised me, given the publishing partnership with Barna and the prominence of new survey data associated with its release. I expected more of an executive summary of Barna’s extensive research, possibly infused with some of Packiam’s own advice and pastoral experience, but instead I found it to be quite the reverse. The Resilient Pastor is a book that is primarily concerned with speaking to the heart and soul of broadly-evangelical pastors today, a task that is enriched and supplemented by Barna’s up-to-date and insightful data.
Resilient Pastor is organized to respond to two broad areas of significant challenge today: the struggling pastor and the struggling church. Under the first category, Packiam addresses how vocation, spirituality, relationships and credibility are pressing challenges for the individual pastor, while the second section addresses worship, formation, unity and mission. It’s a fully- orbed discussion, and while some chapters are certainly stronger than others, I was quite encouraged and pleased by the overall breadth of issues that are engaged.
For example, a chapter on relationships addresses the perennial struggle of loneliness among pastors– a struggle that is well corroborated by Barna’s research– and Packiam provides a memorable prescription for intentionally seeking out a “fellowship” (inspired by Tolkien) of relationships that may help the pastor avoid the deadly experience of isolation. This is followed by a chapter on credibility (my personal favorite, and the one I’m the most grateful Packiam included) that is concerned with the right use of power in the pastoral role, and is unflinchingly honest about the reality of how misused power has generated a profound credibility crisis in the profession.
The second section of the book is more overtly theological, as it deals with topics like missiology and ecclesiology, but the suggestions and questions posed in these chapters are consistently supported by Barna’s extensive data. In general, the chapters directed at the life of the individual pastor are more effective, as they are more pointed and direct than the later chapters, which can feel like broad theological summaries on topics like “worship” and “mission” that would be better served with a fuller, book-length treatment. All that said, however, few books on ministry that I am aware of combine so much personal experience and wisdom across such a breadth of topics as well as significant quantitative and statistical data.
It is also worth discussing the presentation of the data itself, which is an element that sets Resilient Pastor apart from many otherwise-similar books. I am not a reader that typically notices the production quality of what I am reading, but I found the visual appeal and the graphic design of Resilient Pastor very attractive and conducive to a positive reading experience. The relevant pieces of survey data are threaded throughout every chapter, and are presented in elegant, clean designs that are easy to understand and actually provoked a reflective, meditative response in me as I progressed through the book. For example, in one of the first chapters (on vocation), data is presented on how pastors feel about their own job right now (responses to questions such as, “Are you satisfied with your work?” or “Does your congregation know what you do day-to-day?”), and is further broken down by age category. This means that a pastor reading this book gains an immediate sense of how they align (or not) with how other pastors are currently struggling, and how that feeling may contrast with pastors in different age brackets. I actually found this quite encouraging, on a personal level, and I can imagine a lay-person gaining a good dose of empathy for struggles their own pastor might be facing in this post-Covid moment.
As mentioned previously, this presentation of data serves as a supplement to the “main course,” which is Packiam’s heartfelt, gentle and wise writing. The tone is consistently encouraging, deeply thoughtful (Packiam demonstrates a wide engagement with sources like Charles Taylor, Eugene Peterson, Allan Kreider and Tom Holland, among others) and, it’s worth repeating, pastoral. The Resilient Pastor is incredibly timely, and a welcome addition to the vast body of literature on the pastoral vocation. Whether your pastor needs to feel less alone in the challenges they face today, or simply needs a refreshing “reset” on their own sense of vocational purpose, time spent reading The Resilient Pastor would be time well spent.
Joel Wentz is currently the Executive Pastor at Missio Dei Church in Portland, Maine. He previously served in college campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In addition to reading and writing, his passions include tabletop gaming, music, and coffee. His favorite book genres are epic fantasy and epic theology. He lives in Portland, Maine with his wife and son, and his personal writing and podcast are at: joelwentz.com