Book Review: Going the Distance

Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry

Title Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry
Author Peter Brain
Pages 260
Publisher Matthias Media
Year 2004
ISBN 1 876326 73 5
Purchase Matthias Media or Moore Books

God gave me the gospel and a horse. Now I have worn out the horse and can no longer preach the gospel. Robert Murray M'Cheyne

The quote from the prominent but short-lived Scottish minister sums up one of the great hidden dangers of ministry---burning out well before the race is finished. How do we ensure ourselves that we would be able to serve God faithfully over the remainder of the time God give us, which can be anywhere between (say) 1 hour and 60 years?

Regular readers would have noticed that I have spent a bit of time thinking about ministry in general, and so wouldn't be surprised that I picked up this book. I finished it in about three weeks, which is pretty good since I am very busy these days, and I am writing this as soon as I have finished the last page.

The premise is that we need to conduct what Brain describes as "intentional self-care" in order to avoid premature burnout. This does not mean laziness or selfishness, but rather arranging things to result in sustainable ministry over the long term. It is about denying ourselves without denying that we are still human.

Broad elements of "self-care" are covered: stress, (non-clinical) depression, anger, family and friends, sexual temptation and the need for planning. This is followed by specific advice to various groups of people, and a reminder of the liberating effect of the doctrine of justification by faith.

Overall, the book contains practical advice. One can see how much the author has been influenced by Archibald Hart, H. B. London and Neil Wiseman---he quotes extensively from their works. Don't let that distract you: I don't think it's uncommon for common wisdom to be passed around like so.

The book is primarily directed at paid ministers in local churches, and is written within that context. Nevertheless, I believe that, given there is no theological difference between ministers that are paid and those that are not, the advice contained in the book is applicable to everyone. Buy two copies---one for yourself to read, and one to give to your minister.

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