Review: Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine

Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being by Zack Eswine

“What if the ordinary is the larger mountain?”

I have wanted to review this book for the last 6 months, but the ordinary became the larger mountain in my life, and it sucked away much of my ability to get things done. I’m determined to post this review this week, though I am still savoring Zack’s book. There is too much meat in the book, too much to stop and ponder, for me to finish it on a deadline. There is too much wisdom that is deeply relevant to my current issues in life for me to read quickly and put it away. I will finish this book soon, and then I will read it again. It is that kind of work.

I sense that Zack writes primarily to pastors caught up in the church growth movement that dominated conversations on church planting over the previous decade. His own interpersonal struggles along with the suicide of a pastor friend of a growing church moved him to reexamine the views of “successful” ministry that had come to dominate his life. I note Jesus would be marked an utter failure during His lifetime by some modern ministerial standards. He primarily discipled 12 men who mostly scattered at the moment of His death. Zack returns to the example of Jesus to help modern pastors evaluate what ministry in the image of God should look like.

I have a pastoral heart, but by conviction I will never hold the office of teaching pastor or elder. Yet, Zack writes in a way that, while not aimed particularly at a woman in lay ministry, felt deeply relevant to me. I think any person, male or female, who is burdened for ministry at any level in the Body of Christ would benefit from his words.

In my own journey of life and ministry, I was moved by Hannah Anderson’s Made for More to contemplate the recesses of my humanity that reflect my creation in God’s image to live out His character into the world. Sensing Jesus expounds on this in the particular area of ministry to others. There are profound ministry principles to be gleaned from how Jesus did ministry. We were made in God’s image and are called again and again in Paul and Peter’s letters to be like Christ. Yet, many of the high pressure church growth methods employed over the last decade reflect little of Christ. People became commodities, and the pressure to perform eclipsed the obligation to shepherd. Jesus shepherded. He slowed down. He certainly ministered to large crowds, but the deep work He did was with the twelve, and then with the three. And He did all of His work in a tiny little area of the world, without podcasts and twitter. Jesus was rooted in a particular region, invested in a particular region. Having recently moved, I found Zack’s discussion of being rooted in an area as essential for ministry helpful to think through.

I could go on and on about this book, but I will simply say that if you would like to be mentored by a pastor who has learned a bit about ministry the hard way, I highly recommend this book. The book doesn’t follow an ordered outline. It’s not a manual on how to minister like Jesus that relies on points and sub-points. It’s more like sitting over coffee and listening to a wise counselor, one who occasionally takes rabbit trails in conversations. But after a few months of weekly coffees, you start to see the principles that tie the rabbit trails together. I’ve been blessed by Zack’s meandering thoughts and, despite the fact that it seems aimed at pastors, I have been inspired to rethink my own ministry opportunities and how I will respond to them as an image-bearer of God.

by Wendy Alsup


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