Today, many pastors and ministry leaders are facing burnout and exhaustion, feeling the weight of their job responsibilities. Pastor and author Jeremy Writebol wrote Pastor, Jesus is Enough to challenge and encourage pastors to rely on sufficiency, not their own.
In the following interview, Jeremy Writebol talks about his goals in writing the book, speaking to the hearts of pastors who are trying to shepherd in a pandemic-shaped world.
Lexham Press: What inspired you to write Pastor, Jesus is Enough?
Jeremy Writebol: As a pastor myself, I wanted to be able to encourage and refocus the gaze of pastors today on Jesus Christ. I began writing it to address some of the ways we as pastors place deeper significance and develop our identities based on the size of our “platforms” or our strategic methodologies instead of Christ and him crucified and raised. However, in the subsequent years between writing it and now, pastors have witnessed massive pressure and change and so now it seems we’re more at a point of weakness and inability than ever before. Pastors need to see Jesus isn’t weak or insufficient, instead, he is the all-sufficient one to sustain us and carry us in our ministries. So this is an invitation to draw near to Jesus, to repent of our own “enoughness,” and to abide in Christ.
LP: Who should read this book?
Writebol: Well, first—pastors should read this book. That’s who I am primarily addressing. However, I am also speaking to Christian leaders in the church in various roles and capacities. If you have responsibility for the oversight, leadership, and care of the church then this book will help you.
Finally, I’d love for members of our churches to read this book. It will give them a unique view into the heart, trials, and burdens that their pastors carry. They will be able to help point their pastor to Jesus as well as look to Him for their own sufficiency.
LP: How are Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Revelation relevant for pastors?
Writebol: I am of the persuasion that when Jesus says at the beginning of each letter “to the angel at the church of …” he’s addressing a human leader or pastor. Although the letters are for the churches, Jesus starts by addressing the leader(s) of that church. The saying “as the leader goes, so goes the church” fits the focus, where Jesus addresses these pastors and the implications of what he says to them involve and impact the entire church.
So each letter has a specific need or burden that Jesus is addressing in that pastor’s life and in the church as a whole. What I find so fascinating and engaging is the timeless nature of these letters. While what Jesus says has very specific details to each city and context, these are universal issues in the church today. So we are still dealing with people who do the right things and say the right things, but yet do not have a priority of love to Jesus above all. We still see a facade of spiritual vitality, yet the interior of a pastor’s life can be completely dead. We still wrestle with false teaching and disqualifying immorality in the church today, especially in leadership. Pastors still suffer.
All these things resonate with our lives today but so does the power of the gospel that Jesus brings out in each letter. We have precious promises from Jesus that we need to embrace and remember often.
LP: What are some anxieties that pastors face, and how does this book address them?
Writebol: As a pastor, there’s a constant pressure to perform and to be enough for the people of our community and church. We’re called to be “on” almost 24/7 and be competent to deal with the situations and experiences of our people. I don’t want to say something that won’t be helpful or give counsel that isn’t adequate. I don’t want to preach a lousy sermon either. I want to be enough to build, strengthen, and sustain my church. And that’s one pressure I need to be challenged in. I can’t be enough. I can’t—and I won’t—be the messiah, who is everything to the church. Only Jesus is!
A more recent anxiety is that of being forgotten, ignored, or insignificant. Culturally speaking, churches overall are declining in membership and size. Confidence in the ethical integrity of pastors is at an all-time low, and the church in Western contexts is not valued or seen as a trusted community for formation, growth, and support anymore. So we’re a bit of a dying breed. And that terrifies pastors. Many went into this wanting to be the leader and help people and grow thriving ministries and hold big stadium gatherings like Billy Graham and others. By-and-large, many pastors are afraid of being ignored or forgotten. Jesus speaks to that and says, “I see you. I have you in my hands. I’ve placed you in that community with a specific call and mission to glorify me. Don’t ignore who I am for you in an effort to possess a place of influence or power I haven’t given you.”
There’s a whole host of other anxieties and concerns that we carry, and I hope that Jesus’ words help address and refocus our lives on his greatness to settle our hearts.
LP: How should a pastor’s understanding of their union with Christ shape their ministry?
Writebol: One pastor I know has this beautiful statement with his church, “Because I am united with Christ, what is true of Christ is true of me, what belongs to Christ belongs to me. My future is as bright as the glorified Christ in heaven.” I just love that statement and it’s what I am getting at in this book.
In Revelation 2–3, Jesus doesn’t just crack a whip over his pastors and say “get this done!” or “change your ways.” To every one of them, he offers himself! He starts each letter with a specific vision of who he is and his sufficiency for the church. He ends each letter with a specific promise or blessing that he has already won for the pastor in order to inspire them to “overcome” or press on in him.
So the issues of our identity, (who we are), and our vocation (what we do) really have to be assumed in Jesus’ identity and vocation. If we are united with Christ then we have everything we need, and actually, beyond what we need because he is infinite in glory, power, and wisdom. And he loves us. I don’t have to seek approval from members of the church to help lift my sails because I have the approval of the Father already. I don’t need to build a ministry resume that will put me in the “Hall of Faith,” because Jesus has won for me—and given to me—a name that no one can take away. I don’t have to hide my sin and cover my weaknesses because I am already loved and my sin has been paid for by Christ on the cross. He invites me to repent and open the door to fellowship with him again.
These letters are full of beautiful reminders of what we have already in Christ so that we will press on and “overcome!”
LP: What do you hope will happen in the lives of pastors as a result of reading this book?
Writebol: First, I hope that pastors get a bigger vision and glimpse of the greatness and goodness of Jesus. I want our affections and love for Christ to increase because we see him and all his sufficiency. I hope pastors will be able to worship Jesus because of who they see him to be for them.
Second, I hope pastors will be encouraged and reminded of who they are in Christ. They are loved! Jesus holds us with affection and care in his hands! We’re secure. So yes, these letters contain some hard warnings and a stern rebuke here and there. But they are effusive in Jesus’ love for his church and for his pastors.
And it’s from this reminder of our identity in Christ and his sufficiency that one more thing happens: we’ll serve Christ and the church well. I hope this book is a bit of a realignment to the pastoral vocation and calling that we have and that pastors will get at the work of ministry in a more Christ-dependent, Christ-exalting, Christ-empowered way. I am praying that this brings us out of the human-centered malaise that exists in so many ministries and churches these days. Pastor, Jesus is Enough is a call to pastors to get our eyes on Jesus and follow him as the All-Sufficient One for the church.
Jeremy Writebol is the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, Michigan, and executive director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present.