Recently, my wife and I found ourselves as members in a ‘turnaround’ church for a couple of years. It was the sort of place that would never be used as a case study in the glossy magazine for supporters of that church’s network.
For starters, it wasn’t a new plant, so it didn’t grab those looking for an adventure; the building we used was old and cold; had one toilet (which you had to go outside for!) and of the congregation, 80% were self-confessed non-believers who were only there to get a free ticket into the associated school. It hardly dynamic . . . it was majorly discouraging, and we often thought, What’s the point?
It was out of the challenge, despair, and fatigue of serving such a place that Facing Snarls and Scowls was written. Authors Brian Croft and James Carroll write from a place of first-hand experience. The fact that it’s such a real and honest book is what makes it so valuable. This isn’t a book to show you how to preach (though there is a chapter on the basics of expository preaching), nor is it a book that will make everything perfect (no book will do that). But, used prayerfully, this is a book that will encourage weary pastors to keep going, challenge them to stay sharp, and persevere with the “main things being the main things”.
This isn’t (you’ll be pleased to know) just another book on preaching, but the majority of the book is going to impact your preaching. Croft and Carroll know what it is like to be struggling in a church where the preaching of the Word wasn’t appreciated. So this book is written first to help the preacher stay on course with preaching the Word, and then, once on track, to stay on track for the long haul—even when the grass seems greener elsewhere. As they do this, they show examples from the history of the church that’ll help the reader see that they aren’t alone in the slightly peculiar practice that God has chosen to use—namely, preaching.
First, they show that biblical preaching is a Bible pattern. Right from the start, the Devil has been asking… “Did God really say…?” The authors show the Bible’s answer is always to turn to the Word and teach what God has said. Second, they show from history that this is the continuing way to answer the Devil’s retort. As they do this, however, they point out the little specs of rot that can take root in the preacher as they doubt whether this is really what we should be doing. Perhaps, as a preacher, you’ve been prone to wonder: Is the Bible really what our congregation needs? Sometimes what I’m trying to communicate to them seems so disconnected from everyday life. Are there other ways? It’s these questions (and the replies they give) that are so helpful. It’s like the authors are reading the readers, rather than the other way around! I encourage you, let them read you like they were reading me—because as they did, they could speak truth in a way that wasn’t pleasant to hear but was good and needed.
I think the best section of the book, however, comes in the chapter entitled Bad Preaching Deserves Rebuke. We have a guide in our house that we use to judge how good a book is: How much of the book have you marked? And then also, how often do you stop to re-read out loud to anyone who is nearby and will listen?
It’s no exaggeration to say that 80% of this chapter is underlined. It’s simply superb. Again, it’s the honesty and humility of the authors that is so helpful. They draw out five key marks for healthy, godly, and life-transforming preaching. These pages make the book worth twice whatever price you’ll pay. This chapter should be compulsory reading for anyone, anywhere, who will ever preach a sermon.
The book concludes with how preachers and pastors can keep going for the long-haul—and with the foundation of the previous chapter, it’s a great way to sum up their message. We keep going, they argue, because God’s Word is powerful, life-changing, joy-bringing, and ultimately the thing our church family needs brought to them each week.
As I look back at the church our family we were in for that brief period of time, this book helped me realize that God actually was at work. It was worth going (even though we often didn’t feel like it). It was worth the fight. That small, less-than-spectacular church was worth preaching to—even when the faces looking back weren’t warm and friendly!
This isn’t a book to simply give you a quick pep-talk. No, this book, even though it’s, small does much more than that—by the Holy Spirit, it reinvigorates your soul for the long haul. The road of a preacher is long, winding, and has many bumps, but books like this can keep us on the right path—with joy, humility, determination, and a drive that knows we’re on the side where the Captain has already won the day.