I have been wanting to read John Piper’s “Brothers, We are Not Professionals” for years, and was delighted to read through his recently updated version (2013) the past several weeks. The push among many Christians and pastors to adopt “professional” techniques and attitudes in order to have a dynamic leadership-driven expanding “successful” ministries has long disturbed me, and in this book Piper shows the error of those who seek to do this. Yes, we should take and redeem the knowledge and wisdom of the world and utilize it in our ministry–Augustine called this “robbing the Egyptians”–but, we must not view ourselves as “professionals” in the sense that our occupation is like others. We have different goals, different aims, a different Master, and trying to ‘be the professional’ is as Piper states “a constant threat to the offense of the gospel” (3). There is no “professional weeping, professional praying, professional fasting, professional trusting in God’s promises, professional rejoicing in the truth, professional treasuring the riches of Christ, professional perseverance in our marriages,” etc. (ix.).
Piper begins his book with a call to reject the “professional” approach to understanding ministry, and then gives his readers 35 short chapters on how pastors can avoid the professionalizing approach. If you have read any of Piper’s other writings or sermons, much of what he argues in the first 10 chapters will be familiar: God made us for His Glory; God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (Christian hedonism); God is the gospel. The rest of the work if full of practical and theological examples on how to reject “professionalism.”
I found a several chapters especially convicting and helpful. In ch. 10-12, Piper warns about neglecting the vital work of prayer and time spent reading and meditating on God’s Word. These things can easily be replaced by ministry tasks or what Piper calls “sacred substitutes.” As a Christian minister, I must make time spent with the LORD a top priority in my day and week, even if that means less time spent in committees and ministry appointments. My heart must be full, or I will have nothing to share with others. I also appreciated ch. 14-15’s plea to do your own exegetical work in the text and not neglect the ancient languages. These are often seen as irrelevant to the exegetical task by many pastors today who merely take exegetical insights from others and fill their sermons other people’s comments, rather than doing the laborious work of seeking to understand the text themselves. In ch. 18, Piper reminds readers to follow the tone of the text when preaching; every text has a different tone (joyful, sorrowful, hopeful, etc.) and fits into the overall tone of the gospel and storyline of Scripture. We must let each text’s tone come through and show how how the diverse voices of the Scripture fit together. In Chapter 20, Piper challenges readers to feel the truth of hell, which ought to lead us to weep for the lost. In chapter 21, Piper calls pastors to lead listeners to repentance through pleasure: they must see and savor the glory of God, then they will see the gravity and horror of their sins and thus their need of a Savior (unsurprisingly very Jonathan Edwards-esque here)..
In chapter 22 (144-154), Piper deals with the topic of sanctification. He gives an acronym that I will continue to use in the future: A.N.T.H.E.M. (AVOID temptation, Say NO! within five seconds, TURN to something magnificent, like Christ crucified, HOLD the pure thing in the mind until the temptation is gone, ENJOY the greater pleasure of the blood-bought promises of God, MOVE on to meaningful Christ-exalting activity (150). Piper also gives practical and timely advice on matters like physical exercise, epistemology, missions, loving your wife, and how to speak out on abortion.
In conclusion, Piper’s book has been a true blessing to me as I prepare to enter full-time vocational ministry. I resonate with his heart and want to avoid the mistakes of approaching ministry like a “professional” endeavor. Going into ministry is following God’s calling and is a holy vocation which by its very essence will look different from the “professionalizing” tactics of the world. It is work empowered by God Himself for God’s glory.