Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Review: Lies Pastors Believe by Dayton Hartman

We are all constantly tempted to believe lies.  The lies we are typically tempted to believe are self-serving.  As Pastor Dayton Hartman explains in his latest book, Lies Pastors Believe, the shepherds among us are not immune to this temptation.  He explains:

"As each year of ministry passes, I'm amazed by the lies I have believed.  As I've matured, I've found that one of the best defenses against believing lies is knowing the kinds of lies that tempt me.  I'm on guard for them before I believe them, and so the temptation to believe and speak things I know are untrue has increasingly diminished.  But still, even with greater awareness, I'm continually identifying lies that I tell myself" [p. 2].

Through various conversations with other pastors, the author has also discovered that they too are tempted to believe many of these same lies.  And while Hartman does not pretend to have identified a comprehensive list of lies pastors are tempted to believe, his purpose in his latest work is to "lay bare" many of the common lies pastors are seduced by.  His hope is that this will keep pastors from being misled about themselves and their ministries.

The author further acknowledges that it can be difficult for the pastor to face the untruths they have been misled to believe, but he is emphatic that they must.  He writes:

"Ignoring the lies you've believed will not protect you, your family, or your church from the eventual fallout.  Therefore, you must begin rooting out the idols of your heart that give rise to the deceptions you so willingly embrace.  You cannot be passive in the war against self-deception.  Be on guard!"
[p. 4]

And Hartman is wise enough to recognize that simply identifying the lies is not enough.  As he contends:

"We must respond to our self-deception with corrective actions.  That is why I have suggested a series of actions steps to help you overcome the lies you've believed" [Ibid].

Chapter 1: The Visionary- "Jesus has called me to lead a movement."

 Many pastors today go into ministry with the desire to do big things for God.  They imagine themselves preaching to the masses and hundreds of people getting saved in the process.  They believe that their job is to cast their vision for God and become the next John Piper, Tim Keller, or R.C. Sproul.  However, as Hartman argues, being in the "pastoral ministry isn't flashy; it is faithful service.  It isn't about building a brand; it is about pointing people to Jesus.  It isn't about growing a platform; it is about advancing the kingdom...[o]ur job is not to cast our vision; our job is to announce Jesus's promise to save sinners and change nations" [p. 9-10].

Chapter 2: The Iron Chef- "No one has ever fed them like me."

Another lie pastors face is that they believe their own hype!  On a regular basis, they may have people around them telling them how great they preach and how gifted they are.  However, in the process, there exists a real danger that their sermons can become more about them and less about Jesus!  As the author notes:

"If you want empty sermons, make sure you and your personality take center stage...[w]hen we become focused primarily on what we have to say, we end up saying nothing at all" [p. 18].

Hartman goes on to offer pastors some practical ways to be sure their preaching focuses on "the only One who truly preaches with authority: Jesus" [p. 25].

Chapter 3: The Achiever- "Jesus loves me, this I earn."

Hartman continues in the next chapter by explaining how many pastors believe that they need to strive for God's approval.  Not only is this attitude personally destructive, but it is also anti-gospel! This reviewer took great comfort in the author's reminder that we have nothing to prove to God the Father.  I am in Christ so, "He already fully approved of me in Christ" [p. 34].

Furthermore, Hartman challenges the pastor with some difficult questions.  He asks:

"What will your response be if your ministry is largely anonymous, without any books, blogs, conference invites, or respected titles?  How you answer those questions will reveal a lot about why you are aspiring to be a pastor" [p. 35].

The church does not exist to fulfill the unmet emotional needs of the pastor, but to serve and glorify Jesus Christ.

Chapter 4: The Called- "I'm called to be a pastor"

As someone who has struggled with the question, "Am I called to be a pastor?," I found this chapter most helpful.  Pastor Hartman does a great job explaining how many have been deceived into believing that "one's calling was personal, subjective, and ultimately between that person and God"
[p. 40].

He concludes by laying out what the Bible has to say about men aspiring to serve the church in this capacity.

Chapter 5: The Holy Man- "My perceived holiness is more important than my pursuit of holiness"

Whether you are a pastor or not, most Christians are tempted at one time or another to put forth a facade of sinlessness, all the while struggling in our private life.  Hartman believes that the first step in changing this atmosphere of perceived holiness is for the pastor himself to concede that he is also a sinner...from the pulpit.  After all, as he explains, "If the pastor is broken, messed up, and sinful" [p. 51], then the congregation will be more willing to admit that they are as well.

He also goes on to explain the dangers of believing the "Holy Man Myth" and offers tips on how pastors can seek true, rather than false, holiness.

Chapter 6: The Anti-Family Man- "I must sacrifice my home life for my ministry life"

Readers of this blog may know that this particular chapter has had a personal impact on my own life.
As I noted here, it was through reading this particular section of Hartman's book that I realized that I was guilty of chasing after certain ministry goals and aspirations at the expense of my own family.

The author argues that while the pastor may be tempted to spend the majority of their time shepherding their church, they are wise to focus on their family first and foremost:

"...prioritizing the church may appear more urgent and more rewarding.  But in the long term, prioritizing our families will produce greater fruit- both in our own families and, through our example, in others" [p. 64].

Hartman continues by suggesting practical ways a pastor can be sure they are cultivating their marriage and their relationships with their children.

Chapter 7: The Castaway- "I'm the only one on this island"

Relationships are central to a successful Christian walk.  In fact, as the author argues, " of the ways we most clearly reflect the image of God is our innate longing for relationships.  God is a perfect community of divine relationships within his triune nature of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Thus, the human desire to have meaningful relationships reflects our longing to be like our Creator" [p. 78].

However, in Hartman's experience, pastors are often guilty of distances themselves from their congregations.  Sometimes, this is actually due to some poor advice they have been given!  However, according to the author, this is a grave mistake.  He writes:

"We [pastors] told ourselves that common Christians need community, relationships, and friends, but pastors do not.  This is a lie that denies our own humanity.  God's triune nature, and our bearing of the image of God" [p. 79].

Pastors must seek to befriend members of their own congregation and would be wise to seek friendships with other local pastors.

Chapter 8: "The Invention of Lying"

As Hartman brings his work to an close, he suggests 3 "Actions Steps" for those pastors who have discovered that they are believing lies about themselves, their ministry or their family.

His closing advice certainly rings true with this reviewer:

"Rest in grace.  Make Jesus the hero of your life and the hero of your ministry.  Point your family and your church toward Jesus" [p. 92].


Whether by design or providence, one of the most helpful features of Dayton's Hartman's books are their short-length [106 pgs].  I mention this only because I know from experience that most pastors are very busy.  Outside of their own study time, some have little time to spare for personal reading. Hartman's books are both concisely written and short in length so that even the busiest shepherd can find the time to benefit from the truths therein.

Furthermore, having had the opportunity to personally fellowship or work along side numerous pastors, I know from experience that Hartman addresses many of the struggles pastors deal with on a daily basis.

If you are a pastor and you are looking for an honest, Christ-centered assessment of your ministry priorities and personal motives, Lies Pastors Believe is the book for you!

I highly recommend this work!

You can get your copy here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Related Posts

Book Review: Church History for Modern Ministry by Dayton Hartman

Dayton Hartman on Pastors and Apologetics

An Interview with Dayton Hartman

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