I remember the date: December 2007. I was nine years into pastoring a church, and I felt dry. I’d somehow heard of a book by Jack Miller called The Heart of a Servant Leader. The book arrived just before New Year’s, and I spent the final days of the year transfixed.
“Really, there are only two steps to gospel wakefulness: be utterly broken and be utterly awed,” writes Jared Wilson in his book Gospel Wakefulness.
I had been broken: broken by years of ministry — nothing exceptionally bad, but the accumulation of years of criticism, and a soul that felt increasingly weary. I knew that I was struggling, but didn’t know what to do about it.
What I needed was to be awed. Miller’s book did that in ways I hadn’t expected.
Jack Miller was a Presbyterian pastor who’d himself been beaten in ministry. In 1970, while pastoring a small church in Pennsylvania and teaching practical theology at Westminster Seminary, he became so discouraged that he resigned from both his church and the seminary.
He “then spent the next few weeks too depressed to do anything except cry.”
Gradually, Miller realized the problem wasn’t his church members or students. He was the problem. He had been motivated by pursuing his own glory rather than God’s. He rescinded his resignations, took his family on an extended sabbatical to Spain, and spent his time studying the missionary promises of God.
“As he studied, he was captured by the vastness of God’s promise to fill His kingdom with people from every tribe and nation,” writes his daughter. “He also realized in a new way that the promise of the Holy Spirit’s help, comfort, and encouragement was not just for the disciples of long ago; it was for every Christian. He went back to the United States full of hope, not in his abilities, but in the power of the Holy Spirit to be with him, to change his heart, and to use him to bring all kinds of people into the kingdom of God.”
Miller’s son Paul writes, “A constant theme of Dad’s preaching that fall was that, since the Spirit has been poured out on us, we can be daring just like the first church in Acts … Because of Dad’s newfound confidence in the Spirit, he began to take prayer more seriously.” People sensed the difference.
As I read the book, I realized that I, not the church, was the problem. Miller showed me what it was like to come alive to God again. The book, a collection of letters, challenged me. His writings, while simple, refocused me. “What I finally came to as I walked and prayed for you is the old, old story of getting the gospel clear in your own hearts and minds, making it clear to others, and doing it with only one motive—the glory of Christ,” he wrote in one letter. “Getting the glory of Christ before your eyes and keeping it there — is the greatest work of the Spirit that I can imagine.” That’s exactly what happened as I read this book.
I still have no idea why Miller’s book helped me, but it changed my life. Sometimes God gives us the right book at the right time. For me, at least, The Heart of a Servant Leader was the book that encouraged me in my weariness and reawakened my soul to the beauty and glory of Jesus.