ReSET: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, David Murray, Crossway, 2017, 100 pages, ISBN: 9781433555183, List price: £11.99
David Murray writes as a pastor whose ever-accelerating ministry drive was brought to a shuddering halt by an unexpected medical crisis. Reflecting on his experience and that of other burnt-out pastors, he concluded that the root issue is “deficits of grace” (p.12) in their experience. Despite being committed to a theology of grace, many leaders, he argues, lack the motivating, moderating, multiplying, releasing and receiving power of grace in their lives. In ReSET, Murray aims to correct these deficits for Christian men, whether pastors or not. A second book, co-authored with his wife Shona, entitled ReFRESH, is written for women. The content of the book has been developed through a period of supporting men through an informal process to reset their lives “by establishing patterns and rhythms that will help you live a grace-paced life and get you to the finishing line successfully and joyfully” (p.23-24).
Using the image of repair bays in a garage through which we, like conked out cars, can move in a process of resetting, Murray leads us through ten words beginning with re-. His first two chapters are about assessing our current health (1. Reality Check) and seeking to understand how we reached this point (2. Review). He then moves through several disciplines for healthier living – sleep (3. Rest), exercise (4. Re-Create), patterns of regular breaks from work (5. Relax), healthy reflection that reorders our thinking in line with truth (6. Rethink), decluttering and simplification (7. Reduce), healthy nourishment for both body and soul (8. Refuel), and restorative relationships (9. Relate). In each of these chapters, Murray provides practical suggestions and personal illustrations as well as some insights from sociological and medical research. The final Chapter, entitled Resurrection, summarises the ways in which working through the preceding repair bays have hopefully changed the reader’s perspective as they leave the ‘Reset garage’.
Murray’s recognition that grace must be more than a theological concept is surely a vital insight for people in Christian ministry. Too readily, we reduce grace to the means of our salvation from sin rather than embracing every aspect of wholeness in life as a gift from our gracious God. Murray is right to recognise the importance of what may seem to be simple or even ‘unspiritual’ things – sleep, food and exercise – for our overall wellbeing. ReSET is an exercise in correction for unhealthy dichotomies between body and soul and unbiblical notions that faithfulness in ministry is a purely spiritual matter that has no relation to physical health. Murray writes engagingly, with frequent illustrations from his life or the media, and he is constantly attentive to the practical, proposing many concrete changes that can be made to redirect life in a healthier direction and away from burnout.
When we consider the issue of burnout, as well as making practical changes to our lifestyles, it is undoubtedly vital to correct the wrong ways of thinking about ministry that feed into the problem. Murray pays less attention to these in ReSET. Perhaps this reflects his decision to address the book to a more general readership rather than specifically to pastors, and it must be acknowledged that he briefly indicates some of the destructive ways we can think about ministry in the Introduction and the Chapter entitled Rethink. Still, it will be important for Christian ministers to explore each of these in more detail and work harder at the root issues of motivation and identity so that their ministries will be fully glorifying to God. Pablo Martinez’s book Take Care for Yourself, which pays more attention to heart issues and less to practical advice, may be a useful supplement to ReSET and vice versa. Another addition I would have liked to see to the book is tools for self-assessment and questions for discussion, as much of the advice will be more likely to be beneficial if it is worked out in relationship with supportive others.
Inevitably, a book that covers so many areas in under 200 pages will lack depth of analysis in at least some areas. Murray includes theological insights along the way, but he does not present a fully developed theology of humanness or the aspects of it that he addresses. His “theology of the body” based on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (pp.74-75) is illustrative of this weakness. This deficiency could be overcome by pointing the reader to fuller theological and biblical sources, but Murray’s footnotes seldom do so, and he has not included a list of recommended further reading. Unfortunately, he also includes a couple of examples of high-profile pastors that have not aged well in the four years since the book was published due to subsequent developments and would be best removed in a revision (pp.32 and 38). Reading as a medic, at times I felt that Murray’s comments on scientific perspectives were a little superficial too – his sources are generally popular-level media reports rather than original research and, in a few places, I was not convinced that the medical evidence was as strong as he suggested. Having said all of this, I still admired what is a thoughtful attempt to integrate biblical truth with scientific understanding.
In conclusion, I would recommend ReSET to any Christian man and especially those in ministry. The book is aimed at preventing burnout, but it is a helpful read for every man, whether he seems to be at risk at present or not. Its down-to-earth advice, if followed, will save many ministries and marriages and may even save some lives. It is also the kind of book that could be useful read multiple times, perhaps as part of a periodic review of life and especially for those in life’s middle years, or returned to as a reference (helped by the useful Index) when specific issues arise. If we want to survive in ministry for the long-haul we could do with periodic visits to the ReSET garage.
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