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Book Review:

Because There Was No Shepherd:

Ministering to the Walking Wounded of Churches

Knowles, Brian William, 2000. Because There Was No Shepherd: Ministering to the Walking Wounded of Churches. Monrovia, California: Wild Olive Publications. ISBN 0-9703930-0-8

In Operation Desert Storm, 24 percent of all the Americans killed in action died from "friendly fire." In World War II, "only" 2 percent of all battlefield casualties were from misadventure (roughly 15,000). Death by friendly fire is increasing.

It is also increasing in the Church.

The Body of Christ, sadly, is an internecine war zone for many of its members. Not only are the heresy hunters out in force, but party spirit is rampant throughout.

p. 15, Because There Was No Shepherd

In this book, Brian Knowles deals with a topic seldom touched on in Christian writings: the damage churches inflict on churchgoers. As he says, in these days, the damage is increasing. I know. Not only was I one of those "walking wounded," (though, thank God, He has bound up my wounds, and begun healing me) but I returned to God through a startup church that was planted with the sole purpose of "being church" for people who had been hurt by churches. Financed by a denominational church, it is run as a non-denominational church. It is called "New Hope," and it had no problem, in its first month, filling a school gym with hurting people, just in the local neighbourhood, who wanted to return to God! This is the kind of ministry that needs, more and more, to be done.

Knowles fearlessly catalogues the kinds of things that drive people out, but basically, it comes down to pastors who are not "shepherds" caring for the sheep, but "hirelings" caring only for their paychecks, promotions, and church statistics. They approach their churches like businesses – and bad businesses, at that, since good businesses care about "good will," customer loyalty, and customer retention. Even good businessmen know it is cheaper to keep a good customer than to try to get a new one, who may never become a good, loyal customer. These heartless pastors don’t even care about their flock as much as a businessman cares about his customers! But then, to the businessman, they are "his" customers: he feels they belong to him, and he wants to care for them, and keep them, so he doesn’t lose them. The pastors, on the other hand, care only about pleasing their bosses: the church members are not "their" people, so they don’t care about losing them.

The rest of Knowles’ book, after describing how people get pushed out of churches and often turned off of God, deals with how, if you are one of these people, you can return to God, and deal with your traumas, and find a way to fellowship with other believers again, without expecting to find a perfect church or having to rely on anyone else for your own spiritual development. He also deals with the importance of forgiveness and letting go, since he knows by experience that it is impossible to move forward with such unfinished business in your heart.

This is a kind, book, though, and does not harangue people who have been wounded, or blame them for their wounds, but it does, gently, tell them that they need to be able to take care of themselves, spiritually, at least enough to re-establish their own links to God, and rely on Him to work with them in their healing journey, as well as their life journey.

There is no "get over it!" impatience, no blame, no judgement of those who leave, and often abandon God and turn to sin out of revenge for their wounds, but there is a gentle reasoning, based on his own confession, encouraging a person that God is still waiting, lovingly and patiently, for each one of His sheep to return to Him, and He is actively searching the hills and valleys to find them, and bring them back, if only they will listen to Him, and return.

This is a book of hope, and a book of healing, though it pulls no punches about the causes of the problem in the first place. Since Mr. Knowles was not only someone who left his church, but a minister who did so, he experienced the special trials of wounded ministers. Many are left without pensions, without job skills, without a means of making a living, and are even more thoroughly rejected by people than regular members who walk away. He has a special section at the end of the book, talking especially to ministers who have left their churches, and don’t know what to do or where to turn. Again, he uses the confessional method to describe his own experiences before giving advice.

This book was recommended to me by another Christian who has experienced this mess himself. He said, "It is a healing book, but I could have used it better three or four years ago, before I’d figured a lot of this out myself. Still, it did reinforce what I learned, and it was nice to see. I’m lending it to a friend who has just been pushed out of her church."

She will probably read it soon. I hope it helps her: it certainly couldn’t hurt.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever left a church because of offense, and has never dealt with it, or even if they have dealt with it, there may be issues they haven’t considered, or – even like my friend – would appreciate a little reinforcement of what they have found for themselves, and further encouragement on their path.

My only criticism of this book is one that is probably unfair. I sense, by the tone of the book, a certain tentativeness, a certain lingering depression: it feels like the author has so recently climbed out of the Slough of Despond that he is still wet with it. While this makes the book more immediate, I felt a bit down after reading it, rather than feeling better: I think the author brought me backward, into where he is now, and I feel I’ve moved beyond there. How can I criticize him for this? I can’t. The book is needed now, and he’s written it now. I suppose I would like to see a sequel a few years from now, when he’s fully gotten his joy back.

For myself, the thing I got most out of New Hope was the sheer positivity and joy of the minister, who had hit rock bottom spiritually, after tragedy struck his family, and he was left questioning his whole life – but he’d rediscovered the eternal God of the Universe, though he’d never left his pew – and he had a vibrant, lively, joyous faith, though his family circumstance is not one that will ever pass, but must be lived with and suffered through. Mr. Knowles doesn’t write as though he has quite managed to reach this place, yet, so all I would say to potential readers is that he is chronicling his journey on his way back, and he’s gotten pretty far, but, to rephrase the movie title, "This Isn’t As Good As It Gets." It does get much, much better, yet. The gloom lifts, and joy comes in the morning – and, eventually, God’s grace touches us all with the Peace that Passes All Understanding – and we can have it no matter what our outward circumstances.

A good book to read after this book would be "Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy" by Larry Crabb. While Crabb’s criticism’s of the church are sometimes more pointed than Knowles’, since he finds fault even at the best the church often has to offer (which, in all fairness, having left the church Mr. Knowles did, I know that he and I never saw that best, so to us, it would seem like an oasis in the desert). Mr. Crabb seems to have gone farther along that pathway to joy, and I felt much better when I read the book, though I find it necessary to re-read it several times, since it has to really sink in.

These two books do deal with different topics, though. Brian Knowles deals with abusive churches and heartless, uncaring hireling pastors in any churches – and he backs it up with data from general, mainstream churches – and the special problems people have in coming back to God when it is churches who drove them away in the first place. Larry Crabb assumes you are in a church and happy enough with it, but that you have been hit by severe circumstances that have broken your heart, and you find the church often too clueless and shallow to offer you the comfort you need. He does touch on the fact that, for some people, this may also drive them from the church, but he does not dwell on this.

For people who feel the need to return to God, but bad church experiences are getting in the way, "Because There Was No Shepherd" is a good start, but I would move from there to Crabb’s book, to give you at least a taste of the joy that awaits you.

Reviewed by Jesse Ancona
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