Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. 272 pp.


The title of Zack Eswine’s book, The Imperfect Pastor, reminds me of a line from the movie A Few Good Men. During the iconic courtroom scene, Jack Nicholson’s character speaks about “danger.” To this, Tom Cruise’s character asks, “Grave danger?” Nicholson responds, “Is there another kind?”

The Imperfect Pastor, huh? I stare at this title and like Nicholson’s character ask, Is there another kind?

There is, of course, just one perfect pastor, but you’re not it, and neither am I. Nevertheless, too often this doesn’t stop us from shepherding with the illusion that we are perfect, and when we do, we wear a harsh yoke and pull a heavy load, one never meant for our feeble shoulders. Balsa wood, no matter the color we paint it, will never be tempered steel.

Eswine is a pastor at Riverside Church in St. Louis, the author of several books, and a part-time faculty member at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Early in the book, he tells a story about meeting with a young pastor for lunch. The eager-beaver declared to Eswine his desire to “go all out for the ministry.” After some pauses, Eswine responded, “If the ministry is what we go all out for . . . then how we define ‘the ministry’ seems important, you know?” (p. 23).

In this conversation, we see the heart of the book: a book about definitions. And definitions are important, aren’t they? We evangelicals opposed the redefinition of marriage, and rightly so, but I wonder how many of us are as concerned about the redefinition of ministry. The Imperfect Pastor critiques the view that prizes all things “fast and famous” (a phrase used frequently), while offering a better, more biblical way to do ministry. “Christian life and ministry,” Eswine writes, “are an apprenticeship with Jesus toward recovering our humanity and, through his Spirit, helping our neighbors do the same” (p. 35).

Eswine uses the whole book to flesh out that definition, and as he does, I found it very convicting. I could list dozens of sections from the book that poked my pride and revealed my sinful misconceptions about ministry. Take this one for example: “To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting our important work for God done” (p. 28). Ouch. Someone hand me the sackcloth.

For Eswine, his own ministry and marriage have not been without a few bumps, some of them quite significant. As he talks about these struggles in the book, we believe him when he writes, “I know firsthand the beauty and arson of ministerial desires” (p. 19). In this way, we might say the book has translucence; he doesn’t hide his faults from readers. And speaking of readers, though geared towards pastors, any thoughtful Christian engaged in ministry shouldn’t feel left out.

After that young pastor had told Eswine he wanted “to go all out for ministry,” Eswine attempted to say a few things to expand his definition of ministry. To this, the young man responded, “I don’t know where to start with all that” (p. 25).

Where to start, huh? Perhaps you feel this way too. If so, reading The Imperfect Pastor would be a perfect place. In the years to come, I know I will certainly return to the book to throw off the yoke of perfection and find joy in my dependence upon Jesus, the only perfect pastor and the only one with shoulders of steel and a gospel of grace.


[Picture by Sam Carter / Unsplash]