Prophet to pioneers – review of Stepping into Grace

My book, Stepping into Grace, is a series of reflections on the book of Jonah and on the experience of pioneer ministry. It explored themes of ambition, vocation, mission spirituality, leadership and discernment. Phil Potter generously described it as ‘a must-read for aspiring pioneers’. Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, has recently reviewed Stepping into Grace for the Church Times.

You can read the review here:

THE Book of Jonah is bigger than it looks. Four short chapters of parable, drama, and psalm hide uneasily among the minor prophets. The story delights children and defies the literalists. Jonah’s story, read well, draws us into an ever deepening reflection on our calling and life and service.

Paul Bradbury’s short guide to Jonah is also somewhat bigger than it looks. There are seven short chapters on themes that arise jointly from the text and from Paul’s experience of pioneer ministry in Poole. The chapters explore big themes: ambition, fear, chaos, darkness, limits, grace and the contemplative life. For me, the most helpful chapters were the first and the last.

The book owes an acknowledged debt to Eugene Peterson’s profound reflection on Jonah (Under the Unpredictable Plant: A study in vocational holiness, Eerdmans, 1992), which I have read at almost every vocational junction. The insights from text and context here are fresh. Peterson’s book is shaped to be a call to a long obedience in the same direction. Bradbury is wrestling with the call to pioneer in new forms and places and styles. He challenges some emerging myths about new forms of ministry and wrestles with some classic temptations.

The scholarship is excellent. I enjoyed most the careful attention to the Hebrew texts. Bradbury quotes Rowan Williams, Richard Rohr, Pope Benedict, Brene Brown, and many others. The writing is in parts very clear and in other parts very dense and concentrated. The author has almost too much to say in some of the chapters for the space available.

Pioneer ministry is still a relatively recent development in the Church of England’s long experience of ministry. The literature remains small, and I am not aware of many books that offer biblical and theological reflection in this depth. I hope that Stepping into Grace will find a place on reading lists for those considering ordination and those being formed for pioneer ministry. It would be a good Lenten companion for anyone wanting to reflect on ministry and discipleship in any context. The reader should be prepared for challenge as well as fresh insight.

 

Dr Steven Croft is the Bishop of Oxford.

Stepping into Grace is available from BRF – www.brfonline.org.uk/9780857465238/

Ali Middleton, a pioneer who trained with CMS has also read and loved the book. Here’s her review:

In Stepping Into Grace, Paul Bradbury, Ordained Pioneer Minister in Poole, speaks from the heart of his own experiences, wrestles and failures. This book speaks into the heart of a pioneering spirituality and uses Jonah’s story to theologically reflect on the highs and lows of pioneering. Paul does this in a highly readable format, I read the whole book in one day, yet he doesn’t shy away from deep challenges in how we live out our pioneering vocation.

He asks searching questions such as;’ What place does ambition have in vocation?’ And challenges us to ‘Knock out of the centre our need to be busy’. Paul shows a deep honesty about things that have failed in Poole and the effect that had on his own spiritual life. He talks about the temptation to over inflate achievement and success which actually becomes like the Wizard of Oz, in that we become all show and actually reduces the role of apostle and prophet. The wish to escape to our own Tarshish is something that probably resonates with us all at some time or another.

The world of grace is described as being an unfolding one, where the next chapter is opening up ahead of us. Learning to live in this world, Paul describes, is about reducing the need to be the centre of events but instead to wait and be attentive to what God will do. This attitude of voluntarily vulnerability allows the moment to seize us, I pray that we will.

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