Friday, March 29, 2019

And the Shofar Blew

And the Shofar Blew, Francine Rivers

In this book Rivers tackles the risks and pitfalls of ministry. Paul Hudson is a keen young pastor, excited about preaching the word of God and bringing people to saving faith. Recently graduated from bible college, with his wife Eunice and infant son Timothy, he is called by the small and dying congregation at Centreville Christian Church to replace their beloved ill pastor who has faithfully served for over 40 years.

Paul and Eunice are thrilled and after prayer and consideration take up the post moving across the country.

Things are great in the beginning: Paul builds a youth group, takes time to get to know locals and preaches faithfully. Eunice joyfully leads the singing with her extensive music gifts and meets with elderly congregation members.

Paul, however, is driven to succeed and to prove himself to his father who runs a mega church, who had no time for Paul when he was younger, and is never pleased with him no matter what he does.

In time, Paul starts chafing against the older elders he has inherited and their grumbles about the way he is changing things. These are faithful godly men, somewhat set in their ways, but also prayerful and wise. Paul feels constantly questioned and challenged, they feel unheard and ignored.

In time, the desire for a large church and a larger building mean that Paul has to cut things people no longer want to hear. The gospel becomes watered down. Big donors are chased regardless of their belief. New elders are appointed without ensuring they are truly men of faith.

Meanwhile, Eunice is faithfully standing by her husband, but increasingly concerned about his change of direction and behaviour. Once he had time for his family, but now they always come last. He counsels everyone in his congregation with love and patience except his wife and son, with whom he is abrupt and harsh.

Some of the most encouraging characters are the elder Samuel and his wife Abby. Married about 60 years they encourage each other to godly living and prayer, and also have fun together. Samuel prays constantly for Paul over the whole 15 years, first with eager joy and expectation, then with disappointment and later pleading with God to change him and bring him to repentance. This example of long term prayer in the face of changing circumstances, but a reliance on a sovereign God is very edifying.

Being a minister’s wife myself, I found Eunice an interesting character. Paul stops listening to her opinion, and changes her involvement at church. She is aware of the damage he is causing to their son. While she maintains her own faith and devotion, she struggles with whether to speak up about what Paul is doing, whether as the minister’s wife it is her role to do so, and if anyone would really hear her. Her mother in law, Lois (note the numerous name echoes of biblical characters throughout this book) tells her: “When you live with a faithless man, you learn to lean on a faithful God.” Eunice knows the damage that revealing Paul’s sin would do to the church, and so she battles with how to manage.

In many ways, it’s a depressing account of a ministry skewered in a faithless direction. Sadly what is portrayed here reflects some people’s reality. Yet, it is still a story of God’s faithfulness despite our faithlessness, and a reminder to all that no one in ministry is exempt from sin or temptation. Both challenging and encouraging at the same time.

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