What does it say about the way we’re approaching the ministry if we who have been trained for it do not know how to follow Jesus when we have our pajamas on? –Sensing Jesus, page 286
That quote encapsulates what Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus, is all about. His desire is that we learn how to do life and ministry as human beings. Eswine is real about his own humanity and the humanity of many of our ministry heroes (noting at one point that Jonathan Edwards passed gas).
Eswine believes that “the stale waters of celebrity, consumerism, and immediate gratification” (17) has infiltrated pastoral ministry. As a response he has written a poetic and autobiographical book with the aims of guiding our hands into the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.
After the two introductory chapters, the book is divided into two sections. The first section exposes our temptations. Here Eswine tackles our desire to be everywhere, to fix everything, and to know everything. In the second part Eswine examines our mentoring. This is where the title sensing Jesus comes from. Here he considers the physicality of ministry and confronts such cultural idols as celebrity and immediacy. The book closes with a conversation with a young minister that serves as an apt summary of the book.
Zack Eswine is not an old man. But he has been doing ministry for over twenty years. He is a seasoned pastor that we can learn from. The book reads as if this gracious and battle-tested pastor has agreed to meet with us once a week over a cup of coffee to discuss life in the ministry.
He writes poetically but it does not feel forced. It feels like a wise sage picking up a dandelion, blowing it in the wind, and teaching us about life as he does so. Here is an example. Read as Eswine describes a bagpiper at a funeral:
…the bagpiper stands as if ugly and holding a goose. He breathes in and out into a moaning that wheezes air into a haunting melody of ‘Amazing Grace’. A swan of music emerges and takes flight. Sobs and whimpers accompany the tune with red eyes, along with tear-stained mascara bleeding on cheeks. The wind ripples through the fall leaves…
The writing style makes the reader pause and feel. You can almost smell the coffee (if I drank coffee) rise to your nose as you listen to this pastor tell of his journey and the lesson that we can learn. Eswine forces pastors to feel. Which is something that many of us have perhaps given up on years ago.
I believe the book will stick with me. Much like meetings with pastoral mentors that I have had in the past. I might not even remember where it came from but as I guide others into an everyday relationship with Jesus, or shepherd other young men into pastoral ministry, I’ll be drawing from these encounters.
Should You Buy It?
Pastors really ought to buy this book. But not only pastors, any church leader would benefit from a month of Thursday’s over a coffee with Pastor Eswine. But not only church leaders, every disciple would benefit from thinking through doing life in Jesus as a real human being. The draw to celebrity snares far more than just pastors. We all need the message of doing life and ministry as human beings.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It is not a quick read but it is a necessary read. I imagine I will be revisiting this one a few more times in the upcoming years.
Here is an interview that Zack Eswine did with Justin Taylor on his book Sensing Jesus: