What were you hoping to achieve with Bugles in the Afternoon?
I had an uncle, Glen Edwards, who was my “go-to guy” when I grew discouraged or disillusioned as a pastor. He was a pastor, too, and had “walked miles in my shoes.” So whenever my ministerial well ran dry, I either called or went to see him. His wisdom, spirit, and perspective always lifted my spirits. I wrote Bugles in the Afternoon hoping that it would do for weary church leaders what those conversations and visits with my Uncle Glen had done for me.
What is the central lesson that you can offer to ministers trying to survive the pain ministry brings?
I think most ministers need to be disillusioned. There are many illusions that we should give up, so I spend some time in the book dealing with six of them specifically.
We enter church ministry with the illusion that we will hear Trumpets in the Morning, which was the title of a book I bought when I first became a pastor. I soon discovered that ministry is full of stress and conflict. That’s why I titled the book Bugles in the Afternoon. We ministers won’t be able to hear trumpets every morning, so we might as well get rid of that illusion and be content with bugles in the afternoon.
How did you come to see disillusionment and conflict as necessary, although painful, features of pastoral ministry?
I learned the benefits of disillusionment and conflict primarily because I had to deal with them so often in my years as a pastor. I either had to let them defeat me or learn what they were trying to teach me.
And I discovered that disillusionment taught me to be honest and to get rid of my false expectations as a pastor. Conflict taught me that disagreement is not always negative. Also, community can grow, not just in spite of but because of our disagreements. Both taught me that I was more resilient than I thought I was. Through both disillusionment and conflict, I discovered that, like the apostle Paul, I could do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.
You structure your reflections in Bugles in the Afternoon around various characters and stories from the Old Testament. How did you choose these illustrations?
The Old Testament is brimming with characters who grew discouraged and disillusioned in their work for God. The primary character I use is Elijah, who sat dejectedly under the juniper tree. I’m convinced that most ministers can relate to this story. Ministers who have served in churches for at least ten years without becoming discouraged would be able to hold their annual convention in a phone booth.
I’ve preached about many of these Old Testament characters who spent time under some juniper tree or other. And they begged to be included, as they survived similar experiences and came out stronger on the other side. So depressed Elijah and company are kindred spirits.
But as helpful as these characters are, they are not quite as encouraging as living, flesh-and-blood people who allow their ministers to be honest, real, and human.
How do the requirements and challenges of preaching inform your writing?
When I was preaching every week, I had three goals for my sermons. I wanted them to be fresh, brief, and understandable. If I could deliver a creative, concise, and comprehensible sermon on Sunday, I felt I had a good chance of communicating the Good News to people. Now that I’m hacking away at my laptop at Starbucks most afternoons, I find I have the same three goals for my writing.
Throughout the book, you repeatedly assure pastors that their ministry does not end after leaving vocational church ministry. Why do you see this movement of ministry outside of the church as being so important?
It’s ironic that we ministers, who constantly remind other people that God is at work beyond the four walls of a church building, are so devastated when we have to leave those four walls. Couldn’t God be calling some church leaders to leave the institutional church and find a ministry elsewhere?
What do you hope laypeople can take away from this book?
Two things. First, I hope lay people can use the book to better understand their church leaders and the pressures they’re facing. Second, I hope laypeople can profit from some of the ideas in the book, because job stress is not limited to ministers. One doctor who read the book commented that it has a lot of implications for her work as a physician.
How has Bugles in the Afternoon surprised you, either in writing it or after its release?
I’m surprised that it didn’t immediately soar to the top of the New York Times bestseller list!
No, actually I’m surprised and delighted, as always, to see a published book with my name on it. I love to write, and having a book published is both fun and exciting. I hope Bugles in the Afternoon will discover its audience and encourage a few people who find themselves sitting under juniper trees.