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Building a goldy ministry or building a personal legacy?
on January 12, 2004
What happens when a pastor builds a church in his own power and for his own glory, instead of keeping the focus on the leading of God? The results can be disastrous, both for the shepherd and for his flock...and Francine Rivers' And the Shofar Blew (Tyndale House) illustrates this vividly.
Francine Rivers is one of my favorite authors, and this book reminded me just why that's so. It's been a while since I read one of Francine's books. Once I obtained a copy of this one, I plunged in headfirst and came up for air only when absolutely necessary.
As a pastor's daughter married to a pastor's son, I can tell you firsthand that a pastor's life is a difficult one, and the same goes for his wife and children. If the pastor's focus on the Lord wavers--if his desire to build a ministry shifts to personal ambition and a need to create a monument to his own glory and legacy--everyone suffers.
As the story begins, we see Centreville Christian Church literally dying...peopled with a handful of senior citizens who are weary or ill or both. The hero of the book, to my mind, is Samuel...the aging elder whose godly wisdom and steadfast devotion to the Lord and His Word form the anchor for all of the characters and action in the book. When the elderly pastor suffers a serious health crisis and has to retire, Samuel persuades his crusty fellow elders that the church should go on, but with a new pastor.
Enter Paul Hudson. Young, bright, enthusiastic, and full of energy and ideas, Paul hits the ground running. But he carries his own heavy baggage in that he is the son of a famous pastor of a megachurch...a father who never had time for him and whose approval he can never quite earn. Early on, he begins to run roughshod over anyone who stands in the way of his ambition, ignoring and even resenting Samuel's wise and godly counsel.
We sympathize with Paul's wife Eunice, who suffers mostly in silence as she watches her husband slowly turn into a copy of his dad. Some reviewers have critized Eunice's inaction and ultra-submissiveness, but I've seen many such pastors wives--lovely and godly women who are simply trying to please God despite their husband's increasing neglect and even cruelty. I don't believe this makes Eunice a less appealing character; as a reader, I found myself drawn to her and hurting for her.
Eventually, though, even Eunice has to take a stand as matters come to a tragic head. The story is truly a cautionary tale about what happens when a pastor's zeal for the ministry becomes a quest for personal glory and validation.
A subplot about Stephen Decker, a contractor who becomes caught up in Paul Hudson's ambition, is interesting, but was sometimes a bit distracting as I found myself more concerned with what was happening with Paul, Eunice, their son Timothy, and Paul's parents.
Also, I would have to agree with the reviewers who were a bit skeptical of Paul's sudden change of heart. Damascus Road experiences do happen, but the turnaround can include massive struggles. I would have liked to have perhaps seen Rivers write a sequel in which she dealt with the aftermath of Paul's repentance.
But those a minor criticisms. Overall, an excellent and absorbing read that packs a powerful message.