Book Review: Didn’t See It Coming

by Nancy Austin

I have always been a reader. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of cracking the spine on a new book. When I taught elementary school, I always spent the first week(s!) of summer vacation reading crime novels and mindless fiction. One summer we went to dinner with my husband’s boss, the dean, and his wife who was the dean of my graduate program. I was a bit intimidated. Over the course of dinner, they discovered that I loved to read and asked what I was reading. To my everlasting shame, I had to admit I was reading The 27-Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murder. (You can’t make this stuff up.) The good news is that I can track the shift in my reading habits to that very dinner. I still read fiction pretty regularly but I try now to include what I call good-for-me reads too.

I have a new title to add to my favorite ministry good-for-me reads. I received an advanced copy of Didn’t See It Coming by Carey Nieuwhof for review in anticipation of launch day, which is today! Here are four take-aways from this easy-to-read, inspiring new book.

Ministry is Hard. For many of us, the chance to do vocational ministry came with so much excitement for the task and such wonder to be asked, that experiencing the challenges of ministry took our knees out from under us. Nieuwhof addresses some of the key challenges by name: cynicism, compromise, and disconnection all make up the regular every-day issues leaders face. Unaddressed they lead to pride, burnout, and emptiness. And meaningful ministry doesn’t flow from there.

Struggles are Real. One of the temptations in vocational ministry is to let struggles go unnamed and unacknowledged. We pretend that if we don’t admit them, they won’t exist. Remembering those rosy first days of serving, we feel shame and confusion when we discover our own weaknesses. For Nieuwhof, it was an appetite for more numbers, more growth, more success. For me it was seeking an illusive sense of approval from others—if only I did more, led more, taught more, gave more, perhaps then they (who is that anyway?) would approve of me.

“We avoid confession because it requires us to look in the mirror. It demands revealing the real you that you don’t want anyone to see. This is the you God would love for you to bring to Him, but you (and I) steadfastly refuse to surrender.”

There’s Relief in Knowing You’re Not Alone. Whatever the case, whether your struggle is with cynicism, compromise, emptiness, or somewhere in between (or maybe all of the above) there’s a freedom that comes with realizing you’re not alone in the struggle. Nieuwhof’s candid and vulnerable truth-telling is refreshing and encouraging.

We are Designed for Something Greater. My favorite part of the book is the conclusion. (#spoileralert) It’s here that Neiuwhof reminds us of what we already know: “If you want to beat emptiness, find a mission that’s bigger than you.” We who follow Christ already know this: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

“If you regularly do what you were created to do, the likelihood of growing cynical, disconnected, proud, or irrelevant diminishes.”

There’s a lot more to this book. He deals openly with heart-breaking realities that many of us face and honestly uses his own life experiences to point out the redemptive plan of God. Here are a handful of my favorite quotes:

  • The thrust of the gospel is that Jesus sees your hate and meets it with love. He sees your despair and counters it with hope. He sees your doubt and lobs belief back at you again and again. Cynicism melts under the relentless hope of the gospel.
  • Every time I line up my public talk to match my private walk, it makes my private walk better.
  • The challenge is not to resist change but to learn how to thrive in the midst of it.
  • Love has a speed. And it’s slower than I am. There’s a good chance it’s slower than you are. Love pauses. Love lingers. Love offers full focus and gives far more than it takes. When I run too fast, I outrun love, and the people I love pay a price.
  • The goal is not to chase culture, morphing into a different person every season. No, the goal is to understand the culture well enough that you are able to speak into it.
  • Secure people take issues seriously; they just don’t take them personally anymore. They realize that who they are and what they do are separate things.
  • You might say, “oh, it’s just a busy season.” But don’t fool yourself. I used to say that all the time. You know what’s true about seasons? They have beginnings and endings. If your season doesn’t have a beginning and ending, it’s not a season; it’s your life. Remember, working is healthy; overworking is not.

I will probably read this again. And maybe again after that. Even just looking over my notes to write this makes me want to re-read some portions. (You can purchase a copy here.)

What about you? What books are on your re-read list or are so highlighted that it’s easier to say what you didn’t underline than what you did? I’m always on the lookout for more titles to add to my To Be Read list so let’s make a list here: enter your favorites in the comments.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bill Vermillion says:

    Excellent review Nancy, brief, clear and great illustrations of major points. I especially enjoyed the comment about culture.Thanks!.


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