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When Less Is More: A Book Review

WHEN LESS IS MORE: A Paradox of Christian Leadership – by K. Paul Dawson.

This is a highly readable, intensely personal, but widely needed book on stress in Christian ministry. Dawson does not just talk about stress; he has lived it for much of his 35 years in active ministry, which includes 20 years as a missionary high up the Amazon River in Brazil and 15 years of church renewal ministry in Texas and Florida. I thank him for the privilege of reading this book when it was nearing its final draft. I just wish I had read it 50 years ago (I’m now 78); however,I likely wouldn’t have accepted it then.

The book has 204 pages, 12 chapters in four parts, a Forward, and an Epilogue. The four parts are: “When Less Is More,” “Emptiness,” Fruitfulness,” and “Control.”  It is available from Amazon in paperback for $13.95.

This is a book with stories. The author makes Bible stories, such as Gideon with his 300 routing the horde and David facing Goliath, sparkle with light to show how God makes our less into his more. Some stories are personal to the author, like the stress that put him in the hospital while he was preparing for a return to Brazil to speak to former friends and associates, some of whom would travel more than 1,000 miles to hear him talk about how to manage stress.

Then there was the story of the elderly minister friend who confessed before a group of ministers that he began his ministry by making a bargain with God: he would work and take care of the church if God would look after him and his family. But as time went on, he worked himself into a mental breakdown – because God, it seemed to him, did not keep his part of the bargain. His therapist taught him a lesson: God had not signed off on the deal. Yet, assumptions such as that are common among us ministers.

Each of these examples leads us deeper into the real subject matter of the book: growth is natural to a living organism, and the church is an organism – not an organization. It is because we treat it as an organization that we have much self-generated stress from burdens that are not ours to bear, but we take those burdens on ourselves anyway.

He reminds us that when we plant and water, God gives the increase. Of course, we know this – but Dawson makes this truth come alive in this book. He tells how in Brazil he lived in a town at the junction of the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers. He met a man from far up the Rio Negro and baptized him. Then, panic-stricken, he wondered how he could nurture growth in this babe in Christ with no program in place. Years later he noticed that when Philip baptized the Eunuch (Acts 8) Philip was caught away, and the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing. How was he to survive as a Christian? God led him. The tradition in the Ethiopian Church today is that this man was the father of that church.

With many other stories as examples, he helps us see that much of our stress is because we take ourselves too seriously and do not give God enough credit. He finally realized he did not convert anyone. God did. He did not make anyone grow. God did. Those realizations put his ministry “Under New Management” (the title of the first chapter of Part 4 on Control). He asks:

We acknowledge that we are unqualified to direct our own steps (Jeremiah 10:23) but insist on our competence to lead others! How odd is that?

His solution? You’ll have to read the book to get his complete answer, but the greatest stress-reliever is to let God get all the glory.

This means we must learn to live by God’s time, not ours. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his time is not our time. We may live 80 years, but God’s promise to Abraham was 2,000 years in coming to fruition! We expect to conquer the world – or at least our part of it – within our lifetime. God focuses on multi-generational plans and projects.

So, what are we to do? We are simply to do what he has called us to do – offer others love and words of encouragement or instruction as we are able, and trust God to do his thing – give the increase in his own time. The offering of such service is, Dawson says, our fruit. This is in keeping with the apostle’s description of the “fruit of the spirit.” Our author notes that you cannot manufacture fruit; it must grow – and growth takes time.

This is not a book for every Christian, though many “lay” people would benefit from it. It is a book for church leaders, whether in a congregational or a denominational leadership capacity. Leaders of para-church organizations can also benefit. It is a book that humbles us, knocks us off our high horses, and teaches us to depend more on God than on ourselves. I hope to buy it for all the leadership of the church where I worship and serve as a deacon. After reading it, you may want to do the same.

— Jerry Starling, a Minister of Christ for nearly 60 years

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