Notes to New Pastors
By Ben Chamness
Reviewed by David Williamson
In order to appreciate Notes to New Pastors, it helps to know a little about its author and the occasion that prompted its writing.
Ben Chamness entered the ministry in 1959 as a student pastor, and over the next 49 years he served in a variety of settings and roles — from pastoring small rural congregations and large urban churches to serving as a district superintendent in Houston and as the bishop for the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. In 2007, as Chamness entered into his final year of his ministry before retirement, he began writing a series of reflections on the lessons he had learned throughout his years of ministry. The theme of the series was: “If I Could Do My Ministry Over . . .” These articles originally appeared in his monthly conference newsletter and then were gathered into the present book. Although not originally intended exclusively for young pastors, the theme of his reflections lends itself most to those who are starting out in ministry and who have the opportunity to apply the wisdom of his experience to their own ministries from the very outset.
The book is broken into 15 chapters, none of them longer than a few pages. Each chapter represents an area of ministry that Chamness believes should deserve the full attention of any pastor; he covers a wide range of topics, from “Developing Dynamic Worship” to “Involving Laity” to “Building Friendship among Colleagues.” Perhaps Bishop Chamness’ finest chapter is his final reflection upon “Trusting God.” It is a reminder that, though ministry is full of many challenges, there is a God who is bigger than all of those challenges. And though we are sometimes tempted to “work overtime” in order to help God accomplish the goals we’ve set for our churches, the more we trust in God’s power and God’s leading, the freer we are to enter into and receive all the blessings that ministry affords.
As a young minister still in his first appointment, I greatly enjoyed reading Chamness’ book. There were times when it seemed, in describing his own first experiences in ministry, he was describing mine as well. But his words have the added weight of perspective: Chamness is writing from the view point of one who has “been there and done that,” and is, therefore, able to look back at those early years and see the habits and foci that would have made his ministry more meaningful and effective.
As I read his book, there were times I felt a sense of confirmation, the joy of being affirmed in some of the choices I’ve made in ministry so far. But I also experienced many moments of conviction that reminded me of areas of ministry I have tended to overlook. It was perhaps these dual sensations of confirmation and conviction that made Chamness’ book so enjoyable and helpful to read.
It is important, though, to remember the goal that Chamness had in writing this book: Not to provide an extensive roadmap for successful ministry, but to touch upon key issues like “Visionary Leadership” and “Youth Ministry.” He gives them meaningful time and attention despite the fact that they merit more extensive treatment than he can provide in these reflections. In other words, though Chamness is unable to tell us how to develop the leadership potential of our laity or how to maintain a vibrant personal devotional time, he is able to raise our awareness about the importance of these matters. To be sure, there are other resources that can address each of these topics with greater depth and detail. The beauty of Chamness’ book is that in a few short pages he is able to point us towards those topics that deserve our highest effort in order for us to have a fulfilling life in ministry.
Williamson is newly ordained pastor serving at Milroy United Methodist Church in Milroy, Ind.
Reprinted with permission from Circuit Rider (February/March 2009). All books reviewed may be purchased from any Cokesbury Bookstore, at www.Cokesbury.com or by calling 1-800-672-1789.