John Piper’s Brothers We Are Not Professionals is a powerful address of the professionalization of Christian ministry. When Piper first wrote it in 2002 the professionalization he was addressing was manifest in the form of running the church as a manager and running it therapeutically, preaching a therapeutic self-help message of assuaging guilt and avoiding hardship. With the updated version—released earlier this year—Piper still sees the need for a call to radical biblical ministry, but the professionalism requiring address is not that of CEO but one that subtly pressures the pastor to be “as good as the professional media folks, especially the cool anti-heroes and the most subtle comedians” (ix). It’s a professionalism that calls for cutting edge communication over penetrating Biblical exegesis, for captivating visuals and constant stimulation over hard-hitting truth and readily applicable, counter-cultural, Gospel centred content. Piper delivers a resounding call to the pastors whom he is addressing. It is a call to radically gospel centered ministry;
Brothers, we are not professionals! We are outcast. We are aliens and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20). You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it. And it is being killed. The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions. It is precisely by the failure to see this that we are dying (2)
The audience for whom Piper is writing is pastors, calling each and everyone one of them to biblical ministry, but will probably find its biggest audience with those pastors seeking a God-entranced and a Gospel centred worldview. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals consists of 36 chapters which flush out the theme of Biblically centred ministry through brief expositions of various topics relating to the core of pastoral ministry in our day and culture. The topics cover an extensive range, including: the core theological truths of the Christian faith which need to undergird our ministry and soar in our sermons, such as Justification by faith (ch. 5) and the horrifying reality of Hell (ch. 20); daily activities called for in Scripture that provide the foundation for godly living and ministry, such as a heart of God glorifying worship (ch. 34); and the social outworking of Scriptural truth, such as the need to address abortion and racism (ch. 32 and 33).
As with any work that attempts to apply Biblical truth to our life and culture, interpretive biases show up as Piper works out his thesis in these chapters. Piper’s biases emerge out of a deeply God centred worldview formed over years of Scriptural exposition in his role as a pastor and a teacher. His biases are defended in this book minimally, but when they show up Piper provides a wealth of references for delving deeper into the Scriptural basis for, and the journey in which he came to, these biases. Piper writes to his pastoral audience in such a way that avoids the overly simplified presentation of many books aimed at laymen while navigating the shoals of overly academic works to produce an easily accessible, yet well supported, and highly practical work. The fact that Piper is not writing an academic work is clear, and as a result one coming to the book expecting a 50 page bibliographic supplement aiding further study will walk away disappointed, that being said; this does not mean Piper makes blind assertion without support. Piper consistently goes back to Scripture to build his points and follows up with citations for further in depth exegesis of these passages. Piper also includes citations from relevant historical and contemporary works when his topic of address requires so. The bibliography found throughout his endnotes proves to be a useful resource for navigating related works he has authored and will provide a stepping stone into relevant works, especially those by prominent historical theologians such as Calvin, Edwards, and Luther.
Reading through the book I found myself riveted by the weighty subject matter of radical pastoral ministry and found myself repeatedly challenged on habits I should be forming now, before I even consider entering the field of pastoral ministry. I found within almost every chapter a challenge to apply to my life as I grow as a leader. One of the unfortunate tendencies I have displayed as of late is an overly serious approach to life. In chapter 13 Piper calls for pastors to be Bible and not entertainment oriented, in doing so he addresses the modern penchant for flippant and causal attitudes even towards the weighty truths of Scripture (87) while cautioning against the opposite extreme of the over serious approach of the somber and melodramatic preacher who misses out on the joys of God’s creation (86). This latter caution is one I will have to be aware of and make an active and conscious effort to avoid. Piper also levels a penetrating exhortation for prayer at his readers (68-73), calling for pastors to spend time on their knees rooting themselves in Him upon whom they depend for any success in ministry; this is something which God has been teaching me as of late, but unfortunately have begun to neglect. This chapter really challenged me in getting back on my knees and spending that vital time with God. Piper’s call for radical ministry in this book is a much needed one, and it is effective; Piper’s work of applying God’s word to our cultural context and the wealth of insights from over 30 years of ministry merge through the pages to present a practically scriptural expression of pastoral wisdom.